Hope’s Not a Four Letter Word

Dear Reader (Especially those of you who kept hitting refresh on your email box last night),

Happy Saturday morning. I hate missing any deadlines. And I really hate missing ones for this “news”letter, which has a long tradition of existence for the G-File reading community. But yesterday, after an auspicious start at the Rocky Patel Cigar Lounge in Norridge, Illinois, events conspired against me. I had been optimistic I could get it done, I just hadn’t counted on being squeezed into a seat in steerage that was too small to open my laptop never mind type on it. 

My AEI colleague Yuval Levin likes to say that optimism is the wrong way to think about the future. He once told me on an episode of The Remnant (and on another occasion when he was throwing stale sandwich crusts through the little sliding window of my cell door), that optimism deprives us of agency. Optimism is just a guess we make from the sidelines about how the future will work out. It implies that the unfolding of events is outside of our control. He prefers the word “hopeful” on the grounds that it suggests a goal we can work toward. I’m not entirely convinced that, as a semantic matter, hope implies more skin in the game than optimism—“hope is not a plan” and all that. But I think his intended point is the right one. If we respond to events as if our responses matter, it’s more likely that we can actually shape events, too.  

I’ve written a lot about how I don’t like slippery slope arguments or teleological arguments. There is no “right side of history”—at least not the way people normally use that term—i.e., that a specific future is inevitable and therefore you might as well give up fighting for the one you want. This formulation, as Robert Conquest once said, has a “Marxist twang” to it. 

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