Brilliant! A preview of his recent book, The Uses of Pessimism: And the Danger of False Hope, finds philosopher Roger Scruton defending negative thinking. He makes the connection that we are most interested in, namely, that a “pessimistic” view of human potential is a necessity if one is to love another person, that even if it weren’t born out in scripture and experience, a “low anthropology” is important for the compassion it enables and the contempt/self-righteousness it softens. Or as Southern writer Reynolds Price once said, “The whole point of learning about the human race presumably is to give it mercy.” I recommend Scruton’s entire preview and have reproduced a few notable portions (ht MS):
The belief that humanity makes moral progress depends upon a willful ignorance of history. It also depends upon a willful ignorance of oneself – a refusal to recognize the extent to which selfishness and calculation reside in the heart even of our most generous emotions, awaiting their chance. Those who invest their hopes in the moral improvement of humankind are therefore in a precarious position: at any moment the veil of illusion might be swept away, revealing the bare truth of the human condition. Either they defend themselves against this possibility with artful intellectual ploys, or they give way, in the moment of truth, to a paroxysm of disappointment and misanthropy. Both of these do violence to our nature. The first condemns us to the life of unreason; the second to the life of contempt…
In order to see human beings as they are, therefore, and to school oneself in the art of loving them, it is necessary to apply a dose of pessimism to all one’s plans and aspirations. I don’t go along with Schopenhauer’s comprehensive gloom, or with the philosophy of renunciation that he derived from it. I have no doubt that St Paul was right to recommend faith, hope and love (agape) as the virtues which order life to the greater good. But I have no doubt too that hope, detached from faith and untempered by the evidence of history, is a dangerous asset, and one that threatens not only those who embrace it, but all those within range of their illusions.
Pessimism is needed, not in order to neutralize the belief in human uniqueness, but in order to protect it.
We rational beings depend for our fulfillment upon love and friendship. Our happiness is of a piece with our freedom, and cannot be separated from the constraints that make freedom possible – real, concrete freedom, as opposed to the abstract freedom of the utopians. Everything deep in us depends upon our mortal condition, and while we can solve our problems and live in peace with our neighbors we can do so only through compromise and sacrifice. We are not, and cannot be, the kind of posthuman cyborgs that rejoice in eternal life, if life it is. We are led by love, friendship and desire; by tenderness for young life and reverence for old. We live, or ought to live, by the rule of forgiveness, in a world where hurts are acknowledged and faults confessed to. All our reasoning is predicated upon those basic conditions, and one of the most important uses of pessimism is to warn us against destroying them. The soul-less optimism of the transhumanists reminds us that we should be gloomy, since our happiness depends on it.