Why all Wise Men are Sad: The Roots of Reactionary Pessimism

The Orthosphere

“Generally speaking, everybody is reactionary on subjects he knows about” 

Robert Conquest quoted in Kingsley Amis, Memoirs (1991)

“Reflecting on what has been said, we see how quickly men’s eyes may be opened, if knowing that they deceive themselves in generalities, we can find a way to make them pass to particulars . . .”

Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy (1531)

My first epigraph is the first of Conquest’s three laws of conservatism, now perhaps better known in John Derbyshire’s paraphrase: “everyone is conservative about what he knows best.”  What this means is that it requires ignorance to believe that ameliorative social “progress” is easy, efficacious, or even possibility.  Making the world a better place appears simple only so long as one has very little idea how the world works.  The more one knows about some thing, the more one understands why it is done…

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