1. Optimists are irritated by pessimists who condemn the present as a fall from the past. But to criticize the pessimists is to condemn at least one class of people as inferior to those of the past, since for the optimist, the pessimists of the past had more to complain about.
  2. Popular culture is commonly pessimistic. Everything is going wrong, things keep getting worse. This is absurd and self-indulgent. But isn’t this absurd self-indulgence a demonstration that things are indeed getting worse?
  3. Thus the optimist must say “things are getting better; you (who have gotten worse) are an aberration.” Aberrations like you can flourish only because things have become so good. But this implies that the better things become, the more people enjoy finding that things have gotten worse. This expresses a far more pessimistic vision of the human condition than that of the pessimist, who believes our complaints are justified by bad conditions.
  4. The optimist and the pessimist express attitudes, fundamental anthropological postures. The pessimist plays the originary central role of the victim. We say he does this to avoid blame for his failures and to gain our sympathy. But averting the resentment of others is the most critical human problem–not the most fundamental problem of human beings, who like any animals must eat and reproduce, but the most critical problem of the human, of the creature who defers violence through representation.
  5. The dichotomy optimism vs. pessimism is a product of the emergence of the model of market exchange as a challenge to the ritual vision of society. Voltaire‘s famous critique of optimism in Candide attacks Leibniz‘ theodicy–whose “optimism” is in fact a translation of market-inspired openness into transcendental terms–on behalf of bourgeois realism. Candide and his friends at the end of the story, who cultivate their garden and sell its produce on the open market, have rejected optimism, but they are not pessimists: they are open to the never fully predictable verdict of the marketplace.
  6. The optimist is a variety of pessimist–just as Kojève defines the bourgeois in Hegelian terms not as a master but as a freed slave. The bourgeois is optimistic because he has left the ritual world of persecutors and victims for the world of exchange.
  7. Both optimism and pessimism are about the market, which means that neither can be contained within the market. A bear is no more a pessimist than a bull: he can sell his stock and get rich if he guesses right. The optimist and the pessimist argue whether the market system as a whole, no alternative to which appears to exist, is compatible with moral reciprocity.
  8. The Romantic culture of the nineteenth century rejects both Leibniz and Voltaire; it defends the cultural-victimary model against the encroachment of the modern exchange system. It sides with popular culture, which has always been deeply pessimistic because it is based on a permanent state of resentment. The bourgeois believer in progress, who belongs neither to the intellectual aristocracy nor to the people, is derided as a Philistine. The most crucial intellectual effort of the nineteenth century, that of Marxism, is devoted to reducing the new exchange model to the old ritual model, modernizing victimization as exploitation.
  9. Today’s intellectuals share the pessimism of the Romantics, but they no longer believe in high culture as a vehicle for the transcendence of individual resentment. Instead, they not only side with the people, they have joined them: PC also stands for popular culture.
  10. The adherents of the old high culture now defend market society against the purveyors of the ritual-cultural model. They have become optimists not because they view the world positively, but because they view cultural pessimism negatively, being unable to profit from the victimary role that the postmodern era defines in collective terms. We should call them neo-optimists.
  11. The pessimist resents–personalizes, demonizes–the state of things; the neo-optimist resents the fellow humans who profit from this demonization. In the face of the former’s ritual attitude, the latter is tempted to forgo aprioristic value-judgments on the state of things and rely on the market’s self-determination. This “Voltairean” position now finds itself opposed not to optimism but to pessimism.
  12. The saint is without resentment, or rather, always alert to its danger. He is therefore neither a pessimist nor an optimist. He loves both and seeks to wean them from their resentment. He tells the pessimist: if things are so bad, work to make them better; to the optimist: if you think things are getting better, do something to prove it.
  13. The idea of sainthood implies the possibility of a personal intuition of God’s will, or in human terms, of an ability to judge the state of things objectively according to the model of moral reciprocity. The saint is he who has no need of the marketplace to tell him how to act. But the truths about the human revealed in the marketplace are unknowable a priori. The saint does not take himself for God–that would be just the opposite of sainthood. So the saint forbears to judge the state of things in general; he does so only in concrete situations that offend his moral sense. But when he puts his residual resentment in the service of defending victims, he must residually resent as well the recipients of his defense; otherwise, he becomes a fellow-traveler of the pessimists.
  14. The pragmatist seeks to identify the dangers of violence that face the social order. But he has no better measure than his own moral intuition, which tells him what kinds of human difference are intolerable. The point at which transcendental values prevail over the pragmatic is itself pragmatically determined. But the sign that accomplished our originary pragmatic deferral of violence did so as the signifier of a transcendental Being. The pragmatist acts before the same horizon as the saint.
  15. At the end of history, there will be neither optimists nor pessimists; we will stop caring about the future, because all human violence will have been abolished. But this can occur only with the abolition of our enemy, us. More even than socialism, the end of history is potentially the bloodiest utopia of all. Far better that we remain divided between optimists and pessimists.