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In this column, and in my book “The Origins of the Fourth World War,” I sometimes paint a dark picture. This is not to frighten people, but to sober them up. Certain facts have been swept under the rug by a culture that is drunk on false optimism. It is an optimism that refuses to apprehend treason and enmity. It is an optimism that refuses to acknowledge that our nation has adversaries — in China, Russia, North Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and others. These adversaries are building (or striving to build) intercontinental rockets.
I ask the question: Why should they build such weapons, and which country would they fire them at? Decades pass and our nation does nothing to defend itself from enemy rockets. We laugh at the idea of bomb shelters. We mock or ignore those who show concern for the nation’s survival. Our leaders, knowing the public mood, seek a solution through a series of arms reduction treaties. False optimism says that Moscow’s gangsters will uphold their end of the bargain. Since 1972 we have drifted from one dangerous acquiescence to another.
So I write these columns as a corrective. And yet, the corrective bounces off the optimists only to injure those already demoralized, already paralyzed by America’s retreat from virtue. And that is not my intention. Instead, I wish to remind those in despair that the danger of false optimism lies in its falseness. On the other hand, pessimism is dangerous in and of itself. Stonewall Jackson said we should not take counsel of our fears. Just as optimism can be dangerous, pessimism can be dangerous. Nothing is possible for a pessimist. To such a person all doors are shut, all defeats are final, every court of appeal is hostile.
To always be negative, to always take the pessimistic view, is to be faint of heart. Consider for a moment how wrong it is to despair. Try and recognize that despair is an inverted faith, which promises inverted rewards. Despair wrongly imagines a place that lies beyond redemption, beyond hope. Faith is the opposite of despair. Here we find an idea, a source of strength, which holds that no place is beyond redemption, no land is beyond hope.
Please realize that despair does not see the big picture. Despair belongs to a specific moment in which the urge to surrender is overwhelming. But we have no right to surrender because moments pass, and better times may lie around the corner. Faith looks to the larger reality — to a higher power and a wider context. Therefore, we are obligated to play out the hand that is dealt to us. We are obligated to be faithful rather than despairing.
Think of that scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: Romeo is on a street in Mantua when he is told of Juliet’s death. The bad news brings Romeo to think of suicide. But the moment is deceptive. Juliet is not dead. Her death has been faked for Romeo’s benefit. As the plot unfolds, Romeo’s misunderstanding transforms a moment’s despair into three needless deaths. Perspective is everything. Today’s loss might be recovered tomorrow. The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, speaking of despair, once called it a tonic leading to “heroic hope.” But despair will lead in this direction only if we have faith and courage.
And this is true, as well, in our political life — in the life of our republic. Faith and courage are what we need when confronting the problems of our time, not pessimism and despair.
The father of conservatism, Edmund Burke, wrote that great states have been “without any regular certain course of elevation or decline … because the public mind … may have its changes.” Burke added that we are “therefore never authorized to abandon our country to its fate, or to act or advise as if it had no resource.”
It is wrong to sell the American people short. “The publick must never be regarded as incurable,” declared Burke in the 1790s. In this context, the hopeless corruption of 18th century England was overcome — through religious revival and careful political reform.
The good in our country is not dead, even as Juliet was not dead to Romeo. It may, in fact, be sleeping. Therefore, to despair at this moment — to assume the worst without playing out the hand — would be a tragic mistake. Conservatives and traditionalists ought to be people of faith. Therefore, we must not reside in despair but in faith. For it is faith that leads us away from cowardly compromises. It is faith that keeps us from surrendering to evil.
It is true; we have a corrupt leadership in Washington. Our liberty is in danger and our national survival is at stake. People cast about for solutions. But I think we’ve been looking for an easy way out.
“We are not at the end of our struggle, nor near it,” wrote Burke. “Let us not deceive ourselves: we are at the beginning of great troubles.”
If this is true today, as it was in Burke’s time, let us look for courage instead of an easy way out. This is the attitude of perseverance.
Never say die.