The Unhappy Few

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Stendhal famously said that he wrote for “the happy few.” Meanwhile it’s the unhappy few who have been causing most of the trouble since about the time he said it – nasty nationalists and militant militarists, Marxists, fascists, fundamentalists, fanatics of all stripes. These are people who aren’t just unhappy, there are millions of those, but the much smaller minority of people who are incapable of being happy and who force others to be

That’s why a personal incapacity for happiness so often translates into a personal obsession with power – and why politics is full of such people.

 

as incapable of it as they are. This is usually accomplished by imposing some kind of despotic moral or political surveillance state on everyone else and ruthlessly stamping out all signs that life is something that can sometimes be enjoyed. Which is why a personal incapacity for happiness so often translates into a personal obsession with power. And why politics is full of such people, as is religion, since these are the two fields where the lust for power and the abject worship of it (in the form of all-disposing dictators and Almighty God) are considered normal. So the best examples naturally come from politics when it turns into a kind of mad religion (Robespierre, Lenin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot), and religion when it turns into a kind of mad politics (Torquemada, the Taliban, the jihadists, and, closer to home and to farce, Pat Robertson). The unhappy few, incidentally, are almost always puritans in theory and (a little more sporadically) in practice. And it was Mencken who defined puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

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