Schadenfreude is not the most noble of human emotions, but it can certainly be very sweet. I must confess that to me the most enjoyable thing about the recent Tory election victory in the UK is the impotent rage and naked despair in the left-wing English newspapers. I don’t much like what passes for Tory politics in England nowadays, and I don’t actually think this Tory victory will make much difference, but the progressives’ despair is really amusing. For a moment the worshipers at the idol of progress doubt their god, and shout in rage at the meaningless nothingness left over after his absence.
In The Guardian Giles Fraser turns against one of the most important elements of progressive ideology: the idea that democracy is a progressive force. The leftist Anglican vicar, who once told us that Jesus would have voted, now suggests that democracy is a false religion, with voting being its idolatrous liturgy. For the moment he feels like agreeing with the following dictum:
elections require the complicity of all participants in a deliberate mis-recognition of the emptiness of its procedures and the lack of any significant changes which this ritual brings about, but are a necessary charade to mollify a restless electorate.
He is not entirely convinced of this position, but after the election he is in a despairing mood; the real gods are the evil capitalist propaganda makers, and there is no defeating them:
We try and control the gods of Rothermere and Murdoch with our electoral intercessions. But maybe they are just too powerful, too remote. “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods.” Shakespeare had it right.
Another Guardianista, Stuart Heritage, describes his despair in even more drastic and comical terms:
The country is screwed. The electorate is evil. The UK has become a flat, ugly, smouldering disaster zone, and by the year 2020 we’ll all be dressed in rags…
He then, however, points out that it doesn’t matter much after all, given the meaninglessness of things in general:
We live on a coldly rotating speck in an ocean of total nothingness, and nothing we do can ever truly matter. All is blackness and abstract cruelty. There is no point to us, and soon we will be gone. The universe will spin on, oblivious.
There is of course an element of hyperbole in such declarations of despair. And the mood won’t last; soon these temporary prophets of doom will return to optimistic hopes of the world being saved by the rising tide of young egalitarians, LGTBQ activists, and radical environmentalists, but it is sweet while it lasts.
I think Fraser is absolutely right to see the situation in terms of the unmasking (however temporary) of a false religion. I think that what is really behind the despair is the pseudo-religion of progress. I am reminded of the following passages from a retreat on the theological virtues preached in 1986 by the future Pope Benedict XVI:
It dawned on me […] that “optimism” is the theological virtue of a new god and a new religion […] The goal of optimism is the utopia of the finally and everlastingly liberated and fortunate world, the perfect society in which history reaches its goal and reveals its divinity. […] The immediate aim, which as it were guarantees the reliability of the ultimate goal, is the success of our ability to do things. […]
But this means that the product of optimism is something that we must ultimately produce ourselves, trusting that the blind process of development in connection with our own activity will finally lead to the right goal. The gift of the promise of [Christian] hope, on the other hand, is precisely that, a gift that as something already bestowed we await from him who alone can really give: the God who in the midst of history has already begun his age through Jesus. This in turn means that in the first case there is in reality nothing to hope for, because what we are awaiting we must bring about ourselves, and nothing will be given us beyond what we can achieve ourselves. But in the second case real hope does exist beyond all our potential and possibilities, hope in the unbounded love that at the same time is unbounded power.
In reality ideological optimism is merely the façade of a world without hope that is trying to hide from its own despair with this deceptive sham. This is the only explanation for the immoderate and irrational anxiety, [the] traumatic and violent fear that breaks out when some setback or accident in technological or economic development casts doubt on the dogma of progress. (pp. 42, 46, 48)
Update: J.W. pointed me to a jewel of resentment by philosopher Rebecca Roache, who explains why she ‘unfriended’ all the conservatives whom she knows on Facebook: «Life is too short, I thought, to hang out with people who hold abhorrent political views, even if it’s just online.»