Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Uses of Pessimism by Roger Scruton.

I've just finished reading a very good book which I am moved to share with you. It's The Uses of Pessimism by my favourite conservative modern day philosopher, Roger Scruton.

Scruton argues that a number of fallacies lie at the heart of much of the misguided thinking we see in politics, art and the humanities today. He argues that, when presented with the grand plans of the theorists and the unbridled enthusiasm of the believers in human progress, a small dose of pessimism and a sprinkling of irony would go a long way towards bringing some reason into the picture.

He lists fallacies such as:
The born free fallacy: the false belief that people are born free and that by removing all societal constraints such as law, custom and traditions, people will be able to live happily, freely and peacefully – free from oppression. He points out that people are not born free – societies have earned (relative) freedom by building institutions, morals, customs and traditions which restrain men's baser instincts and allow strangers to live (relatively) peacefully side by side. He blame many of the innovations in modern education on this fallacy.

The utopian fallacy: the false belief in the existence of a utopian state human affairs towards which we should all be striving and the attainment of which would represent the realisation of a blessed state for human kind. This fallacy lies at the heart of movements such as The French Revolution, Marxism and Fascism. This raises the interesting question of whether it’s possible to be idealistic without being utopian.

The zero sum fallacy - the false belief that one person's gain must be another's loss and that one country's gain must be another nation's loss. From this fallacy is born the concept of the "third world" as the victim of colonialism and the phenomenon of "transferable grievance" of the minority - a perceived inequality in search of an object of blame.

The planning fallacy: the false belief that societal improvement can be achieved by a small group of elites developing a predetermined plan and then imposing it on society by means of legislation. Scruton's prime example of this is the European Union. He contrasts this with the conservative view of society organically evolving one step at a time in a direction known to no one in advance but controlled by everyone by their continuous involvement.


The book is thought provoking in the best possible way and I recommend it highly.

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