Thursday, September 22, 2011

Critique of Thomas Paine's Optimism

"We have it in our power to begin the world over again." -- Thomas Paine

No we do not. George Will has hammered this sophomoric optimism time and again.

Conservative thinker Edmund Burke rejected this over-exuberant principle of man's efficacy in his Reflections on the French Revolution. Alarmed by the rapid move of the French people to do away with time-honored traditions, Burke argued, both persuasively and presciently, that change within society must be gradual, not sudden, nor should it be taken up enthusiastically.

Traditions working themselves in communities permit human beings to thrive, then slowly adapt to change. Extirpating tried and true traditions risks undoing other necessary forces and institutions in society, which in turn threatens the rights and liberties of all.

Communistic regimes, for example, are dedicated to the arrogant humanistic proposition that we can change the world. Yet even economist Friedrich Hayek shut down this myopic idealism, which presumes upon man's limited intellect to factor in and fashion the complex systems of trade and culture. These institutions haev worked themselves out in mankind independent of his design over thousands of years, and any planned intervention on the part of man through the product of his intellect only leads to ruin and devastation.

No, Mr. Paine, we do not have it within ourselves to begin the world over again. It was not within ourselves to bring the world to its present state, and every attempt to change society, its mores, its people, has only lead to disaster, destruction, and death, from the tyranny of the Terror the ash heap of history, the Soviet Union.

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