At APSA, Prof. Patrick Deneen had a critique of Prof. Dienstag’s Pessimism, which I have discussed many times before, and of philosophical pessimism itself.   He said:

Memory and hope, Christopher Lasch argued – and not pessimism – are the proper antidotes to optimism.

I agree with this, or at least I almost agree.  Pessimism seems to me to be the antidote to the poison of optimism, and then memory and hope function as the proper nourishment that human nature needs to flourish.  Even if undiluted pessimism is a poison of its own, and I might grant that it is in its most extreme despair of any meaning in life, St. John of Damascus said of his heresiological work that it is necessary to make use of poisons to create antidotes. 

I have said many times that the virtue of hope has nothing to do with optimism, and Christians who routinely mistake hope for optimism are very badly confused about what hope is and what they are supposed to be hoping for in this life.  Indeed, to hope for salvation in Christ is almost the opposite of the optimist’s view.  The optimist says, “I will be saved, and I can save myself.”  The Christian says, “I may yet be saved, if it be God’s will.”  Hope and optimism are in fact antithetical, which reinforces my sense that optimism is as vicious as hope is virtuous.  Optimism is as demonic as hope is divine.

My own view is that the pessimists are as close to being right as secular philosophers are likely to be, but that in their denial even of the hope of salvation and their denial of all meaning they have missed the heart of why they are right about so many of their other observations.  They have seen clearly through the vanity of this world and the promises of those who would seek to realise some kind of salvation here below, and we would all be better off if there were more people inclined to see these promises as the hollow deceptions that they are.  However, the only possible pessimism that escapes the ultimate emptiness of this secular pessimism (the pessimists would see it not as emptiness, but as possibility) is a Christian pessimism that understands that redemption is still possible, but it is not one that can be fulfilled in this world.