Friday, December 13, 2002

A Quote

Richard Pipes (any relation? yes), in his history of the Russian Revolution, quotes Montaigne:

"There is nothing so beautiful and legitimate as to play the man well and properly...the most barbarous of our maladies is to despise our being." Michel de Montaigne (16th C.).

This isn't just political and social wisdom. There is a good life to be had by the individual who is conservative and realistic in this way. Accept what is and don't rail against the facts. All in all, the facts are good. Change what would be better off changed, but only as long as the change promises to have little effect on other things. Find that part of yourself that is ecstatically glad that there is this world (the one who comes out after a brush with death). I think that a continual discontentment was selected for in human beings, so that we would think about how to improve our lot. The gene is selfish; it drives us to distraction. Don't succumb to its pressure. Look at your life not as a predicament far from ideal but as a good opportunity to build something fine out of what you have.

The socio-political and the individual levels connect. The leftist discontents that Pipes writes about think of poor people as bereft of anything fine or worth living for. They see only injustices inflicted upon them by the Russian monarchy. Leftists in America believe that poor people have been cheated out of the possibility of good lives by the gap in wealth in America. This is to think that a human life with only adequate sustenance is not worth living. But looked at in a different way, lower-class lives are seen to be abundantly worth living. Any injustices inflicted upon them are seen, then, as local, particular, addressable by conservative jurisprudence, rather than as pervasive, all-encompassing, suffocating, and demanding of systemic upheaval. An individual can look at his life in this way, too. This acceptance of what is less than ideal is a tragic attitude; it is realistic, more sane, and conducive to personal fulfillment. The alternative is ill-temper, boredom, and depression. On the social level, the alternative is economic stagnation, oppression, paranoia, and violence.

These are ideas which college students and high school students are not often given to study. But they need these ideas.