Melanie Phillips

16 June 2011

Unscrupulous optimists and the harm they cause us

Published in: Melanie's blog

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I have just got round to reading Roger Scruton’s splendid book, The Uses of Pessimism and the Danger of False Hope, which was published last year. As in all Scruton’s work, content and style are in perfect harmony: the pellucid elegance of his prose reflects the moral and intellectual clarity of his thinking.

The book is about the catastrophic effects of ‘unscrupulous optimism’, the demented belief that human agency can bring about the perfection of the world that gave rise to the great tyrannies of history.  Deftly and devastatingly, Scruton analyses the multiple fallacies entailed by ‘unscrupulous optimists’, including their compulsion to erect defences against the truth – such as onus-shifting, false expertise, transferred blame, hermeticism and scapegoating, not to mention the ridicule heaped upon those who attempt to warn against these trends. Scruton writes, for example:

Unscrupulous optimists, faced with a real obstacle to their plans, will not as a rule blame the force that create that obstacle; they will blame whatever can be readily changed, whatever responds to blame...It is another of the roots of contemporary anti-Americanism, which thrives in large part because, in all the conflicts and strategies in which it is involved, the United States is alone responsive to criticism. That is why, following the attacks of 9/11, there was an immediate explosion of blame directed at America.

...When bad things happen, especially when they happen to me, I have a motive to seek the person, group or collective that caused them and on whom they can be blamed. And the zero sum fallacy steps in to suggest that the proof of guilt lies in success. In every conflict, therefore, we should blame the party that enjoys the advantage.

...The more America is attacked, the more she will be targeted by her own internal critics. Only the reduction of the USA to poverty and impotence would finally silence people like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky: not because that is what they want, but because only then would blame be redundant.

Anyone seeking to understand why the west appears to have lost its mind would do well to read this profound little gem of a book.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

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  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

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Melanie Phillips
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