Of Making a Better World

 

Freedom as we have come to know it is not the true freedom we will come to know when we have won the battle for democracy against plutocracy.  The freedom we know is simply not enough freedom.  It is a basic philosophical challenge for freedom-seekers to find a way to imagine and to describe true freedom to those who only know a questionable freedom, an ambiguous freedom, a make-believe freedom.  We will never fulfill the optimistic predictions of humanistic idealists and philosophers, past and present, until we cast off our over-stressed pessimism about human nature.  We need a way of thinking that allows us to come to optimistic, but realistic conclusions.  All too often, realism has been associated with pessimism.  But a philosophical optimism can be realistic while being visionary.  The goal of happiness is a legitimate goal for humanity to work for.  The goal of happiness, the pursuit of happiness is proper to human nature.  The human aspiration to happiness can only be achieved by human beings and by human means.  We can create a new humanity.  Although human perfection may not be possible, yet we can still have faith in the perfectibility of human beings.  We do not know the extent of human perfectibility.  We do not know the limits of human excellence, of human virtue, of human improvement.  We Americans have too much of the New England Calvinism in our thinking, and too little of the Enlightenment thinking of Virginia Deism.  We need more of the optimism of Jeffersonianism, and less of the pessimism of Calvinism.  We can and must live together on the assumption that human beings are good.  We will flourish on this assumption, and on the assumption that we the people are capable of working out our own salvation.  In time, democratic institutions will overthrow even more of the defective institutions of the past.  The American optimistic tradition is as American as apple pie.  We don’t need to preserve the American way of life; we need to supplant its corrupted and criminal conventions, while supplementing its worthy customs and policies.  We need to stop allowing our intellectuals and politicians to invoke the failures of the past as an excuse for giving up all hope for a better future.  We must never stop inquiring into how a better future might be done.  There are conservatives who will invoke the failures of the past—for example, the recent failures of socialism.  Conservatives and pessimists like to say that because humanity has never been able to constitute a modern-day democratic and socialist commonwealth, so far, it is obvious that we never can constitute such a republic.  What we are being given over and over have been superficial examinations and explanations of socialist failures.  Democratic socialism has, thus far, not been made a reality.  Democratic socialism is not a reality, so far; it is a reference.  And as a reference, democratic socialism condemned Soviet-style bureaucratic and authoritarian socialism as much as it condemns Yankee capitalism.                 

 

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