( Originally Published 1916 )
THERE is an intelligent optimism, and there are several varieties of fool optimism.
There is a theological optimism that claims to have proved that this is "the best possible world" ; it is a hopefulness built on logic, and is rather unconvincing to the modern mind.
There is a kind of self-willed optimism, an assumption that all is well whether it's well or not, a postulating, assertive optimism that grins even at funerals, from a sense of duty. People of this cult are rather trying. They are always telling you that "all is for the best" when you know very well that certain things are for the worst.
Intelligent optimism, however, does not declare that all is good, including the devil and disease, but it asserts that the general law of progress is upward, that there is much good in things as they are, that it is conducive to our comfort and efficiency to let our minds dwell upon that rather than upon the evil, and that we are capable of making things better and propose to do so.
Our confidence in the constant improvement of the world is not a matter of faith. We do not need to shut our eyes, cross our fingers, and repeat a creed. Our assurance is based upon knowledge. An understanding of history, of the conditions of society in former times compared to this time, and of the steady growth of liberty and civil rights, forms the foundation of our conclusion.
Further ground for our hopefulness consists in our realization that it is in men's power to improve the world they live in. We are finding out that human welfare grows, not only by Providence or superhuman "laws," but also by our own efforts. By organized exertion we have over-turned tyrannies, abolished slavery, removed plagues, and rendered life in the twentieth century a hundred times more agreeable than it was in the eighteenth. What we have done we can continue to do. We can go on improving our state, we can produce wealth less wastefully and distribute profits more fairly, we can raise the condition of the workingman, liberate woman, give children better training, curb swollen fortunes and wealth-combinations, take better care of our unfortunates, and do much toward preventing crime and poverty. We no longer look to kings and nobles to do those things for us, we no longer merely pray and hope for the Deity to do them, we are conscious of the ability to help along by our own activities. Hence our optimism.
But optimism is not only a logical affair. It is a state of mind, a temperamental product. Wherever you find health, vigor, and work, you find optimism. Pessimism is a secretion of a morbid mind, of weakness, anemia or idleness.
We are optimists because we are better fed, housed, and clothed, have more books and news-papers, have the remedy for social wrongs in our own hands in the agency of democracy, and in short have a faith and joy in life and its possibilities not based upon tradition or authority, but upon facts, upon instincts, and upon the consciousness of our own strength.
That is why this great people front the future with "morning faces," and refuse to melt in fear at the alarms of the calamity-howlers.