May 2, 2004

"as in itself it really is"

Charlene just told me to read this piece by Joseph Epstein in OpinionJournal, on why conservatives ought to be cheerful. The author talks about a very wealthy man surrounded by splendid possessions. But obviously not happy. "Although the sumptuous trappings of his quotidian life gave no clue to this, he was, lifelong, a man of the Left. As such he had certain expectations of the world; and the world--shocking to report--let him down daily."

...But a conservative brings no such expectations to his life. He takes the world as given, a place always full of sin, silliness, and a rich surplus of stupidity--but also much goodness and mirth. The conservative fancies he views the world, as the philosophers say, as in itself it really is. Utopia is not his idea of a good time; it is not, for him, an idea at all but an illusion. If he is sensible, he understands the need to alter social arrangements that are cruel or grossly unfair. But the installation of perfection in a patently permanently imperfect world is not something he has signed on to deliver. This in itself ought to bring a smile to his face.

The barbarians may well be at the gates, but then they always have been. Besides, the gates are a damn good place for barbarians to be. "And now," writes the poet Cavafy, "what's going to happen to us without barbarians? / They were, those people, a kind of solution." Without barbarians, after all, conservatives themselves, in the realm of ideas, would be out of existence. So let us attack our barbarians with wit, mock them with laughter, greet their pretensions to superior virtue with a knowing smile. The duty of a conservative, try to remember, is to be cheerful.

...a patently permanently imperfect world. I like that.

Posted by John Weidner at May 2, 2004 3:51 PM
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