Ethics of Democracy

Part 1, The Democratic Optimist
Chap. 3, Optimistic Pessimism

Cease to do evil; learn to do well.

- Isaiah, Ch. 1., vs. 16-17.

What youth-hope for spirit when striving is old?
What warmth-hope for heart with a hearthstone a-cold?
What joy-hope for birth while a birth-right is sold?

- E. J. Salisbury, in The Public, February 3, 1900.

See how the passing age toils on its way
Down Time's long thoroughfare. Erect by day,
In painful show of pride, by night it creeps
Toward Babylon along the sombre steeps
That bound Oblivion. Huge, weary, old,
The passing, dying age, grown rich, grows cold.

But once this age was lithe, once strong and young,
Once leaped its heart, once rang the song it sung,
Once Freedom was its queen, and from her throne
Men heard the wonder-words : "Ye are your own!"
Then eager Hope looked forth to halcyon days
Of earth all beautiful and life all praise.

But now the watchers stand, and now they peer,
And those of fainter heart grow sick with fear
To see the old, weak age draw near the line
Where reckoning History waits to whisper: "Mine!"
But down from other heights a gladder cry,
Swift-winged of joy "A dawning age!" sweeps by.

And Hope shall find an endless halcyon day,
And Freedom, crowned again, shall reign for aye,
While Music sings the mother-song of earth
To men made men again, where highest worth
Leads on to Love; when once again is blown
The clarion-call of Truth: "Ye are your own !"

- E. J. Salisbury, in The Public, December 2, 1899.

For though the laws of Justice seem to sleep,
They never sleep; but like the ocean's flood
They creep up to the water mark of God,
And when they ebb there is but silent slime.

- C. E. S. Wood, in The Public, April 26, 1902.

"They have turned earth upside down,"
Says the foe;
"They have come to bring our town
Wreck and woe."
To this never-ending cry
Boldly here we make reply:
Yea and no.

Upside down the world has lain
Many a year;
We to turn it back again
Now appear.
Will ye, nill ye, we will do
What at last no man shall rue;
Have no fear.

- Stephen T. Byington

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The Ethics of Democracy

by Louis F. Post

Part 1, The Democratic Optimist
Chapter 3, Optimistic Pessimism

WHILE much that passes for optimism is not so in fact, - while it is, as already suggested, a manifestation of mental and spiritual indolence, indulged in by good-natured people who find it easier to trust in God lazily and praise His name vociferously than to help Him industriously, - so, on the other hand, there is much genuine optimism in what passes for pessimism. There are times when the best expression of Godward optimism is an aggressive "pessimism" vitalized with a keen sense of outraged justice.

The man who, though hopeless of the triumph of justice over injustice, of right over wrong, yet fights for justice, dies for justice if need be, lives or pleads or suffers for justice, even scolds for justice's sake if he can do nothing better - that man, though he deny God with his lips, cherishes Him in his heart. He may profess to be hopeless, but his life testifies to his faith. At the worst he is an inverted hypocrite, and that is vastly better than an inverted saint. In comparison with pessimists of this kind, the happy-go-lucky lotus-eating optimists are sorry creatures, though they be in the majority a thousand to one.

To warn an erring people that they must mend their ways or perish is not atheistic pessimism. It is Godward optimism at its best but hardest and most thankless work. Doubtless the spurious optimists of Nineveh thought Jonah an atheistic pessimist when he dolefully foretold the destruction of their proud and prosperous city. But Jonah was certainly not an atheist, and his pessimism was their salvation. Noah, too, was a pessimist; and if his pessimism did not save the happy-golucky optimists of his day, who thought the deluge "wasn't going to be much of a shower," it was because they refused to heed his prophecies of disaster. In our time, as in Noah's and Jonah's, God sends his warning messages through so-called pessimists. "If ye keep on denying in your lives this truth and that," say they, as Jonah said to the Ninevites, "ye are doomed ! Unless ye mend your ways, ye shall surely perish !" That has been the cry of the pessimism that in reality is optimism, all down the ages. It is the cry that has made the world advance.

For the world has advanced, and it does advance, not only in victories over external nature, but also along the lines of moral righteousness. Though there are fluctuations, now up and now down, now forward and now backward, the trend is ever upward and onward. He would be blind who could not see it. But every one does see it, and because that is so it is the jolly stock in trade of happy-go-lucky optimists. None of their kind ever helps to make or maintain this trend, unless by accident and after the worst of the work is over. They do not give warning like Jonah, nor are they disposed to mend their ways like the Ninevites. Their principal function seems always to have been to sing about accomplished progress while good naturedly obstructing further progress.

The lesson these spurious optimists need to learn is that a jolly state of mind is not necessarily optimism. If it were, the mother weeping over the dead body of her first born would be a pessimist, while the heartless fool laughing at the funeral would be an optimist A gloomy outlook is not necessarily inconsistent with optimism, although it does make useless demands upon the vital energies ; nor is a smiling face necessarily inconsistent with pessimism of the deadliest type. Whether one is a true optimist or a true pessimist depends less upon such superficial things than upon the direction of his life. To live towards the development of righteousness is to be an optimist; to live indifferent to righteousness - no matter whether sadly indifferent or cheerfully so - is to be a pessimist.

The selfish man is no optimist, however contented and happy and cheerful and hopeful and churchly he may be. The happier he is in his selfishness and the more hopeful about it, the less right has he to rank as an optimist. Nor is the unselfish man with a gloomy outlook a pessimist. No one can be inwardly hopeless of ultimate righteous adjustments who gives the first place in his life to a just though unpopular cause.

It is by striving to uproot injustice and reverse its destructive social tendency, that men prove their optimism and godly faith. Tried by that test, the blindest atheists and deadest pessimists of any day and generation are to be found among the most pious and cheerful "optimists." True optimists, on the contrary, may often be found verbally denying God and hopelessly declaring that all is vanity and vexation. They wear outwardly the gloomy mask of atheistic pessimism, but all within is devotion and faith.

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