Shake Off That “Debilitating Pessimism”

By: Mike Maharrey

I’ve run into quite a bit of negativity out there lately. It seems like a lot of people are frustrated and discouraged. I get it. But I think there is always room for optimism.

People will often ask me why I invest so much time and energy into the work here at the TAC. They’ll say, “Things are never going to change.” Or, “People don’t want limited, constitutional government, so why bother?” Or, “You can never really bring down the feds. They’re just too powerful.” Or, “Liberty is a fantasy.”

On and on it goes. Reason after reason why we shouldn’t even bother to try. We’re never going to win, right?

As I said, I get it. I am not the most optimistic person in the world by nature. I get discouraged, frustrated and just plain tired. That litany of pessimistic statements run through my head too. Heck, sometimes they come out of my own mouth.

But when I start getting down and feeling like everything is hopeless, I think of this quote by Murray Rothbard.

“For the libertarian, the main task of the present epoch is to cast off his needless and debilitating pessimism, to set his sights on long-run victory and to set about the road to its attainment.”

Debilitating pessimism.

That’s quite an indictment. But you know what? It’s true.

Pessimism is debilitating. It motivates us to do — well — nothing. And no matter how small you think the odds are of winning are even if you do something, I can guarantee you this — if you do nothing, you’ll get nothing.

And here’s the thing: you never know when change is going to happen.

I was a Cold War kid. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s. We lived with the specter of nuclear war with the mighty Soviet Union. It might seem silly now, but it was a fear that was in the back of everybody’s mind. When I was in high school, I would have never believed you if you had told me that within a decade the Soviet Union would just collapse. It just wasn’t possible. Yet in 1991, that’s exactly what happened.

This isn’t an isolated thing. Things change unexpectedly all the time. Think about it. People in 75 AD couldn’t conceive of Rome falling. People in 1750 couldn’t have imagined American colonists defeating the mighty British Empire. And nobody in the early 18th century thought slavery would go away.

I often think of abolitionists in the early day of that movement. To our 21st century sensibilities, opposition to slavery is a no-brainer. But in the early 1800s, it took real moral courage. Almost nobody supported abolition – at least not based on any kind of absolute moral imperative. Abolitionists were marginalized and ridiculed. And yet, a handful of dedicated people drove that movement forward when pretty much everybody hated them. I’m convinced that were it not for Lincoln’s war, they would have eventually ended slavery peacefully.

My point is that if you believe in something – if you are convinced something is right and true – you have to fight for it. Even if the odds seem insurmountable. Even when you’re tired. Even when the crowd tells you you’re wasting your time. Because you never know when something is going to tip that scale and kick off an avalanche of change.

Rothbard was right. We have to cast off the needless pessimism and keep up the good fight for liberty.