Volume > Issue > Optimism of the Will

Optimism of the Will


By John C. Cort | July-August 1991

I have just returned from another Socialist Scholars Conference in New York. Big crowd as usual, but not very exciting. Too many socialists who ought to know better than to confuse socialism with Communism and be upset about the collapse of the latter. Too many ex-priests (and one ex-nun) who seem to have lost their faith and are looking to socialism for a substitute. On a panel I gave my usual critique of liberation theology and was charged with red-baiting by a Christian socialist in the audience. Depressing.

In a workshop on Antonio Gramsci there came a point when a friend and I could no longer understand what was being said, or care enough to try. We fled to a workshop on “The Future for Trade Unions in the 90s.” Here was language we could understand, and the subject was one we cared about. It was also reassuring that socialist scholars still care about the unions. What was depressing was the excessive pessimism that some of the speakers expressed about American unions.

That reminded me about one good thing we did pick up in the Gramsci workshop, namely, Gramsci’s notion about “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.” But here we had pessimism both of the intellect and the will.

Later we fled the conference in order to make the 5 o’clock Mass at St. Andrew’s in downtown Manhattan. We were too late to hear my daughter Rebecca doing her lector chore and the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, but I was able to find it in the missalette (4:33-35). My Bible has it as follows:

Now the multitude of the believers were of one heart and one soul, and not one of them said that anything he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord; and great grace was in them all. Nor was there anyone among them in want. For those who owned lands or houses would sell them and bring the price of what they sold and lay it at the feet of the apostles, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need.

Sitting there, I reflected on the reading and also on the quote from Gramsci about “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.” From a Christian socialist point of view, which is my point of view, there is reason to be pessimistic. For that matter, from the point of view of anyone wanting to see that passage from Acts implemented in our society anywhere outside of, say, religious orders or Hutterite communities, there is also reason to be pessimistic.

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