A Huge and Healthy Pessimism

In his splendidly sardonic Devil’s Dictionary, that old gringo Am­brose Bierce defines pessimism as “a philosophy forced upon the convictions of the observer by the disheartening prevalence of the optimist with his scarecrow hope and his unsightly smile.”  Bierce would have smiled—or, rather, frowned—kindly upon John Derbyshire’s new book, an often droll demolition of the facile, smiley-faced optimism that passes for political philosophy these days.  Early on he offers a diagnosis that will warm the cockles of the heart of many a Chronicles reader: Conservatism in America has been hijacked by “infantile . . . temptations to optimism, to wishful thinking, to happy talk, to cheerily preposterous theories about human beings and the human world.”  His prognosis is more succinct: “We are doomed.”  Just how seriously does Derbyshire expect his readers to take his counsels of despair?  Very seriously, indeed, though with a caveat: “Despair should be large and general, not petty and particular.”  I am happy to report that Derbyshire’s despair is as “large and general” as any self-respecting pessimist might wish.

I certainly can’t begin to do justice to the rich profusion of optimistic imbecility on display in Derbyshire’s catalog of happy horrors, so I will peruse a few key chapters.  In “Diversity: Nothing...

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