|THE NEW OPTIMISM|
STATE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA
WE may distinguish three stages in the development of optimism. There was first the old a priori optimism of St. Augustine and Leibniz. One hears no more of this now. You may prove from the good intentions of the Creator that this world must be the best possible one, but the whole argument rests upon presuppositions that have less weight than formerly. Browning, when he cries, "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world," fails likewise to convince us. We prefer to look about the world and in so doing we have little difficulty in seeing many things that are not right.
Then, there is a second kind of optimism which follows the opposite method, the inductive, and arrives at the conclusion that the world is good and beautiful and full of happiness. It may not, indeed, be the best possible world, but it is good and fair and perhaps growing better and fairer. This is the natural, buoyant, hopeful attitude of the normal, healthy individual who enjoys his food, his sleep, his work and his play and who delights to say with Ruskin,
Of this class are the sane and helpful writings of Sir John Lubbock or the exultant songs of Walt Whitman, which refresh us with the optimism of youth, health and springtime. Dickens, likewise, compels us to a bright view of things by his contagious good cheer. Life can not be so very bad as long as there is a tavern near by with a pot of ale and a juicy joint.
Critics may call this the shallow optimism of the eupeptic man, but it is better and more natural than the dismal croakings of Schopenhauer or the songs of sorrow of Leopardi or James Thompson. The truth is, however, that this kind of optimism, as well as that first mentioned, implies a certain blindness to the actual evils and miseries of the world, or, perhaps more often, mere ignorance of them. Our faith in it is rudely shaken by a walk through the hospitals or prisons, the smell of anesthetics, a day's journey with a country doctor, a visit to the slums, a tour of the factories and mines, or a campaign in the regular army.
But now it can not escape the careful observer that there is at the opening of this century a third kind of optimism appearing, which we may call the new optimism. It might also be called dynamic, or practical, or psychological optimism. It concerns itself with no theoretical questions as to whether this world is the best possible one or not. It