The Necessity of Hope in an Age of Despair | Edward Raine
One of the most pernicious elements, that I have noticed, of the young, reactionary movement that exists at the present is a tendency to despair. One of the more popular ways this is seen is in the ‘Doomer’ meme. This despair is understandable; our society has fallen so far into moral and social decline, that it can be overwhelmingly debilitating to the hope of us who wish to change society for the better. One can see the depths of the evils out of his window and naturally think, ‘What can I do?’, and ‘Why bother?’ For a variety of reasons, I find this attitude to be troubling and deeply destructive and we must stop thinking in such a backwards way.
For example, one of the most prominent reactionaries in British society, Peter Hitchens, seems to have perpetual despair and despondent view of society. No matter what happens he is seemingly negative. I do not entirely disagree with him either, there are far more things in society in its present state to despair about, than there is to be hopeful. Yet I disagree with his disposition of constant pessimism, as he seemingly has no hope that things can become better, that the moral and social decline of Britain can be reversed. This view is destructive and does not lead to good, for it is this lack of hope that is the ruin of civilisation. Without hope, civilisation does not survive and therefore this lack of hope is part of the problem.
Despite the present situation there truly is no other option. Civilisation was not built upon pessimism. Pessimism is antithetical to civilization. This is because civilisation requires the hope and the belief of men that what they do is worth it, the buildings they create, the art, the literature, the music, the deeds that they do will be remembered, will be kept for the future. When the Roman Empire was destroyed in the West over the course of the fourth and fifth centuries, the peoples of Western Europe very easily could have fallen into despair. This was the ‘Dark Age’ when the light of civilisation left Europe. And yet it survived. This was due to the hope, the belief that what was may come again, that the darkness and the barbarity of the period were not the only way things had to be.
In his documentary series ‘Civilisation’, Kenneth Clark talks of the fall of Rome and the collapse of the West, but he also points towards how it survived. Lord Clark talks of Skellig Michael, a forsaken and windswept rock, that perches a few hundred feet above the sea and is eighteen miles from the Irish coast. He narrates that “…looking back from the great civilizations of twelfth-century France or seventeenth-century Rome, it is hard to believe, that for quite a long time – almost a hundred years – western Christianity survived by clinging to places like Skellig Michael, a pinnacle of rock…” It was here, and in hundreds of other places that civilisation survived, as Belloc famously says that “The Faith is Europe… and Europe is the Faith”. In the most desolate of circumstances and the most impossible of odds, the moral, artistic, and intellectual light of Europe continued to glow despite the overwhelming darkness outside. To create the monasteries it required great tenacity and courage, as well as that hope, the hope that against all odds and reasonable cynicism that what one does is worth it, that what you create will have a purpose and use for the future.
Sometimes one must ignore one’s head. Most people would say that the moral and social views that we have are ‘regressive’ and that they hold no value today. That we must ‘get with the times’ and that it is ‘20XX’, therefore we must follow what today’s society believes in. I do not care. I will find against the evils of abortion, sexual permissiveness and hatred that we face, not because it is easy and I am likely to win, but because I must. To give up and only care about myself would be selfish and morally cowardly. The idea of running away and living a pastoral life may be very appealing, but it is giving up, it is leaving society to those who despise our beliefs and worldview, and thus dooming ourselves in the long run. Therefore, we must hope and believe that we can make the world a better place.
In Catholic teaching the greatest sin of all is despair. This means that you think your evils so great that they cannot be forgiven by God. I think this belief is something applicable for everyone, even my secular brethren. This is because in life, one only truly lives if you have hope if you have love. Spiritually, both in a Christian and non-Christian sense, without hope you are dead. Despite the tendency, we must have hope in this age of despair, or we will surely perish.