When It’s Fashionable to be Cynical

Like now:

President Obama spoke today at a campaign rally in Durham, New Hampshire.

“You know, it’s fashionable right now for people to be cynical. We go in cycles like this and right now a lot of people are saying “Oh, America is doing terribly” and “What are we going to do?”…

Being cynical, however, is the fashionable thing to do because it’s the urbane thing to do.

Let’s consider those supremely fashionable people, the French.   Quoting a passage from Jules Romains, Jean-Baptiste Duroselle makes this point:

Our people with its propensity for ready criticism, irony, spirit of contradiction, its fear of being duped and lack of innocence as well at the inevitable disenchantments that come with being a mature nation, is perhaps, among the great peoples, the one least likely to overestimate its opportunities…It is less prone to spontaneous optimism than many others.  This is good at preventing mistakes.  It doesn’t work as well when it stifles the gathering and galvanising of its energies.

This style of mind, one the one hand, kept enthusiastic fascism out of France, which is more than can be said for Germany and Italy.  It also prevented a reformer like Léon Blum from making the kind of impact that he could have made in a different place, something that François Hollande may find out the hard way.  And it certainly damped French enthusiasm for rearmament that could have kept the Germans out during World War II (although with friends like the British, enemies were useless).

Turning to our own situation, how many years have we been told that we are a bunch of unsophisticated rubes that need to mature as a nation?  Now that our so-called “sophisticates” are in power, they want us to be enthusiastic about their program.  But why?  Enthusiasm is the mark of the rube!

If our cynicism will hold on long enough to prevent serious damage by people who don’t know what they are doing, it will be worth it.  In the meanwhile…

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