Should we despair, giving up on America?

Summary:  So far as I can tell from reading the media, the mood of America – both Left and right – is depressed. The situation looks bleak, so it’s time to consult the pros for advice. (This is an update of a post from 2012.)

"Despair" by Edvard Munch (1893-94)
“Despair” by Edvard Munch (1893).

 

It’s an article of faith on the FM website that only cold analysis can provide the basis for accurate diagnosis and treatment of the Republic. That is the best bet to restore our lost liberties and return us to the path of wisdom and prosperity.  With 4,500 posts and 55 thousand comments since 2007, its authors, guest authors, and commenters have provided analysis totalling tens of millions of words.  Combined with the work of greater writers elsewhere, also working for the reform of America, the Republic would be saved by now – if words alone sufficed.

But as Spock reminds us in Star Trek IV, “logic is only the beginning of wisdom”. Logic gives us no motivation, no energy, no drive. But worse, if relied upon alone it can lead to despair. Fortunately, we can turn to the sages for the solace and inspiration that reason cannot provide. First let us consider the wisdom of despair. And then the see the necessity of hope, which is our greatest resource.

For Roman Catholics, despair is a sin against the First Commandment. Rightly so.

By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins.  Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice – for the Lord is faithful to his promises – and to his mercy.

— Article 2091 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest Doctors of the Roman Catholic Church, asks “Is Despair the Greatest of Sins?” His answer can help us all.

Saint Thomas Aquinas.

If, however, despair be compared to the other two sins {disbelief or hatred of God – or, in this context, Liberty} from our point of view, then despair is more dangerous, since hope withdraws us from evils and induces us to seek for good things, so that when hope is given up, men rush headlong into sin, and are drawn away from good works.

Wherefore a gloss on Proverbs 24:10, “If thou lose hope being weary in the day of distress, thy strength shall be diminished,” says: “Nothing is more hateful than despair, for the man that has it loses his constancy both in the every day toils of this life, and, what is worse, in the battle of faith.”

And Isidore says (Sententiarum seu De summo bono, ii, 14): “To commit a crime is to kill the soul, but to despair is to fall into hell.

The Summa Thologica, Part I – Treatise on the Theological Virtues, section I, Question 20 – About Despair, Article 3

Even popular fiction sometimes has wisdom. There is much of it in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings saga, a story of people working to better the world in a struggle without rational hope of success.

“Despair or Folly?  It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope.”
— Gandalf at The Council of Elrond, in Fellowship of the Ring.

“Do not cast all hope away. Tomorrow is unknown. Rede {council} oft is found at the rising of the Sun.”
— Legolas, in The Two Towers.

“The counsel of Gandalf was not founded on foreknowledge of safety, for himself or for others. There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.”
— Aragorn, in The Two Towers.

“For thus it is spoken: ‘Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.'”
— Legolas in The Return of the King.

A darker perspective about despair and hope

While that good news is inspiring, much of the time these demotivational posters better express my mood. Which is why we need faith to keep us moving even when despair has driven away hope.

Despair

Hope

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

f you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see some of my posts about good news for America and the world, and especially these …

  1. Some good news (one of the more important posts on this blog) –  We need not fear the future. This remains a great nation, not because of our past but because of us and our polity.  We differ from almost every other nation because of our commitment to our political order, of which our Constitution is the foundation.
  2. An important thing to remember as we start a New Year — As we start a New Year I find it useful to review my core beliefs. It is easy to lose sight of those amidst the clatter of daily events. Here is my list.
  3. Is America’s decline inevitable? No. – Why be an American if one has no faith in the American people?  How can you believe in democracy without such faith?
  4. Let us light a candle while we walk, lest we fear what lies ahead — Many people look to the future with fear. We see this fear throughout the web. Right-wing sites describe the imminent end of America: overrun by foreigners, victim of cultural and financial collapse. Left-wing sites describe “die-off” scenarios due to climate change and ecological collapse accompanied by takeovers of theocrats and fascists.  Most of this is nonsense, but not the prospect of massive changes in our world.
  5. Good news about the 21st century, a counterbalance to the doomsters.
  6. Some thoughts about the economy of mid-21st century America — Optimistic words from the greatest economist of the 20th century.

20 thoughts on “Should we despair, giving up on America?

  1. Not bad but it needs a few more. Jeremiah in Chapter 10 verse 2 writes:

    “Learn not the way of the unbelievers, nor be dismayed at the signs of the stars because the nations are dismayed at them, for the beliefs of these people are false.”

    And no Eastern Orthodox, especially despair and amartia, missing the mark?

    1. DerMaiden,

      “And no Eastern Orthodox, especially despair and amartia, missing the mark?”

      Are you asking why no Eastern Orthodox quotes? I cite from what I have in my tiny box of knowledge.

  2. Alright, I’ll give a few here

    “Truth is not a thought, not a word, not a relationship between things, not a law. Truth is a Person. It is a Being which exceeds all beings and gives life to all. If you seek truth with love and for the sake of love, she will reveal the light of His face to you inasmuch as you are able to bear it without being burned.”

    — St. Nicholas of Serbia, Thoughts on Good and Evil.

    “We have within us deeply rooted weaknesses, passions, and defects. This can not all be cut out with one sharp motion, but patience, persistence, care and attention. The path leading to perfection is long. Pray to God so that he will strengthen you. Patiently accept your falls and, having stood up, immediately run to God, not remaining in that place where you have fallen. Do not despair if you keep falling into your old sins. Many of them are strong because they have received the force of habit. Only with the passage of time and with fervor will they be conquered. Don’t let anything deprive you of hope.”

    — St. Nectarios of Aegina, Path to Happiness, 3.

  3. I’m reminded of a song by 801 from their ‘Listen Now!’ album:

    Is it any wonder you’ve got no power
    When you pay a thief to keep it for you?
    Is it a surprise that your wine is sour
    When you let a liar choose the brew he pours you?
    Talk on the wire about force and choice
    It’s uncomfortable to raise your voice

    Everybody whispering behind their hand
    Selling their despair to any stronger man
    Don’t have to listen now

  4. For what its worth, I’m far less despairing than I was in 2012. I stopped embracing the standard message from the major political parties that they were the only game in town and found a vastly better range of possibilities beyond black and blacker. Now the only questions are which best and how best to achieve it.

    Sadly, I believe we need to destroy both political parties (a process well under way) and perhaps the national government (also a process well under way) to get to a better place.

    1. Pluto,

      “I believe we need to destroy both political parties (a process well under way) and perhaps the national government (also a process well under way) to get to a better place.”

      Wow. That’s a pretty terrifying prospect, imo. History shows that such processes almost always have ugly outcomes. Britain and the US have done so well because we have usually managed evolutionary reforms.

      Whenever I hear people discuss such things with joyful attitude, I remember the enthusiasm with which people in the early 20th century looked forward to the coming big european war. It will invigorate and re-energize society!

      The saying in the Middle East is wiser: better a century of tyranny than a day of chaos.

    2. Agreed on all counts, FM, but the prospects offered by continuing with the current 2-party oligarchic lock on national power are even grimmer. As you’ve pointed out in previous posts, the governmental system that was very well designed for a 3rd world agricultural power in the 18th century does not serve the US very well in the 21st century. The wondrous joy is that we managed to get so far with it before the political and monetary elite managed to permanently hijack it.

      To be clear, I’m not advocating for revolution, just letting the current self-destruction continue unabated until the national government has weakened itself to the point where it can hear the rest of the world again. In the meantime, the state and regional governments must pick up the slack find ways to keep the economy moving in the right direction. Since “the right direction” is subject to interpretation, the state and regional governments will essentially serve as petri dishes.

      Some will succeed and the national government can build off their successes and some will fail (I’m look at the deep South here) and need to be rescued from their folly by a re-energized national government.

      I fully recognize that this is a gamble that doesn’t have a high percentage chance of success but we’re rolling 50+ dice and we only need a few winners.

  5. All good for the Roman Catholic Saints. Self pity seems to lead to despair and depression.

    Latter Day Saints consider Faith, Hope and Charity the fundamentals of a good meaningful life.

    Love your Creator. Fear not. Those guide me as well as the aforementioned wisdom.

    The scene looks bleak when the media only reports the ugly. If it bleeds, it leads! I go out in the real world and see vastly more good than bad. So many people are doing good everywhere it overwhelms the bad.

    If only more did. Maybe more will. Maybe not enough are reading fabiusmaximus.com.

  6. My thanks to Steve Crook. I shall hunt down that group and that song. Good music, like gold, is where you find it, I’m not finding it on the radio much, so there’s YouTube and the suggestions of others.

    My only thought is that things look pretty bad, but they looked positively dire in the depths of the Depression, and they didn’t look exactly spiffy the day before Washington marched what was left of the army to Trenton. One thing that stays with me is an essay by Douglas Southall Freeman called Leadership In The Enforced Defensive. It was in book called Douglas Southall Freeman On Leadership, which was a series of lectures he gave at the Army War College back in the 50s. The Korean War was still going on. Freeman advised the Army officers he spoke to to never believe in a chosen people, but not to doubt that the right would prevail. His advice to the officers he spoke to was “Be right in your life, work always to make our country right, and then take no counsel of your fears”. (Old Jack’s dictum is good advice for these times.)

    Incidentally, Freeman is not an easy writer to get to know, since most of his works are these huge multivolume things, with the result that he gets a bad rap because I don’t think half the people who comment on his work have ever read it.

  7. When I was a young lawyer in the 1970s, I commented to one of the partners how bleak the country’s prospects appeared (and they did). Mr. Martin, who enjoyed homespun wisdom, said “Well John, lots of people worry whether the Russians are going to drop a bomb on us. My view is this — If they’re right then we’ll all be dead and it won’t matter; if they’re wrong, some other guy, who pays no attention to such things, will have run ahead and made a great success in life and the guy who spends all his time worried about the future will find something new to worry about.”

  8. HOW PRIVATE PROPERTY WAS POLITICALLY MARGINALIZED

    Here’s a puzzle: how did the populist party of Abraham Lincoln end up being elitist and capitalist, while the elitist party of Jefferson Davis come around to populism and socialism? That’s a gross oversimplification, of course, but it is a way of raising the question as to why neither party today appears to care one bit whether ordinary people can own capital as well as labor and lead productive lives instead of being dependent on a private sector ownership élite or a bureaucratic State élite. . . .

    https://just3rdway.blogspot.com/2018/06/why-not-ownership.html

    Please review the website “www.cesj.org” for an approach to the current situation.

    1. Rudolf,

      The Republican party was never populist. Lincoln was one of the top corporate attorneys in Illinois. It’s strong capitalist backing powered the Republican’s meteoric ascent.

      I don’t know how the current polarization happened. From what little I know, it was in two stages. First, the Dem’s moved to the Left to gain strength during the Great Depression. FDR’s platform in 1931 was in many ways more conservative than Hoover’s. He condemned Hoover’s fiscal deficits.

      The second move came as the two parties polarized on race when LBJ signed the great Civil Rights bills in 1964.

    1. Scarlet,

      The future will be made by those that don’t abandon hope. It is a form of Darwinian selection, where those that despair don’t deserve to shape our world. And won’t. That’s a good thing.

  9. ‘The future will be made by those that don’t abandon hope. It is a form of Darwinian selection, where those that despair don’t deserve to shape our world. And won’t. That’s a good thing.’

    No species has the ability to prevent its own destruction indefinitely. If you’re arguing otherwise, then you’re deliberately assigning to humanity a supernatural destiny that is entirely incompatible with your constant appeal to logic and facts. If you place that faith above facts, bene, but please own it.

    1. Scarlet,

      Yes, everything dies eventually. Even the universe. Giving that as a reason for inaction as an individual, nation, or species, is sophomoric. It is merely another demonstration of my point.

    2. “No species has the ability to prevent its own destruction indefinitely.”

      What evidence do you have that human species destruction is likely in the time frame relevant to this conversation?

    3. John,

      It is a classic argument of the young after their first exposure to knowledge.

      “Clean your room!”

      “Why bother? The Sun will go nova in a few billion years, estinguishing everything.”

      “Clean your room now!”

      “Sartre said the universe is an irrational, meaningless sphere.”

      “I’ll ground you for a week if you don’t get at it.”

      “OK, mom.”

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