Utne Blogs > Politics

Pillory the Professional Pessimists

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: Politics, pessimism, Wilson Quarterly,

As a rule of thumb, it’s generally easier to sound smart when criticizing something than it is when supporting it. It’s safer to stand on the sidelines and insult than it is to offer your own ideas. This immutable rule of human interaction has given rise to “professional pessimists,” a class of pundits and professionals who, according to Arthur Herman in the Wilson Quarterly, have been around since at least 2,000 BC. 

Modern pessimists have a lot to criticize. The economy is tanking, bestial influenzas threaten the world’s population, global warming is on the rise, and governments seem impotent to do anything about it. Herman counts Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, and conservative pundit Peggy Noonan among the ranks of the professional pessimists for their collective belief that the “American Century is finally, definitively over.”

The professional pessimist is able to “not only make past successes look like failure, but can present catastrophe as condign punishment for past sins.” Unfortunately for their home countries, these pessimists can convince other people to panic, or to blithely accept a bleak future, making the decline of their civilization unavoidable.

Source: Wilson Quarterly