The Uses of Pessimism

roger scruton

I get nervous about a writer when I think they write too much. I read my first Roger Scruton book a few weeks ago, The Uses of Pessimism and the Danger of False Hope.

What a title, you’re thinking.

I know. One of my brothers came round and saw it sitting out. That’s the last thing you need, he said.

I read the book and then went looking for more, and I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s writing too many, too quickly, so I might as well re-read this one instead of buying How to Be A Conservative.

Anyway, The Uses of Pessimism is a good book. (You know when I say “good book” it just means “the author agrees with me”).

There are a couple of ideas in it I thought you might like, so here they are, in brief.

  • There are destructive forms of optimism; that people who believe that if you can only change the system, then etc, etc are addicted to unreality.
  • The opposite of this type of person is the Biblical prophet, who is a systematic pessimist. Because of this, such people invest their illusions not in this world, but in the next.
  • That man is not born free, and in fact the institutions of society are part of his freedom, not part of his problem, but that utopian thinking is immune to refutation.
  • What lies at the core of utopian ideas about society is a desire to eliminate all that causes tension and conflict.
  • That Paris 1968 – and all that – might have been a political failure, but the thinking behind it triumphed in the universities ever since (in the humanities departments, with new “tools” of analysis: deconstructionism, post-modernism, etc, etc).
  • He says that to be a conservative means to take a measured view, and to practice a more scrupulous optimism (which means injecting a small dose of pessimism); that intellectuals and leaders who think only in terms of the best possible outcome have often led humanity to disastrous results; and that gamblers are not risk takers because, led by unreal expectations, they fully expect to win.

There’s a lot more in the book than that, but I just wanted to see what you make of that much.

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