Optimistic or Pessimistic About America

"Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Harvey Mansfield," Commentary Magazine, 04 November 2011.


On the whole, I am optimistic about America’s future. But I do not take “optimistic” to mean that things are bound to get better, or even that they have a tendency to do so. Rather than try to predict, it is better to understand things as open to prudent improvement and thus be opportunistically hopeful of America’s prospects.

A big choice lies ahead for America, in which the entitlements we have voted for ourselves now threaten us as if they were our unchosen fate. They are called entitlements because they were supposed to have been chosen for good, past recall, and thus put “beyond politics.” What you are entitled to will no longer be subject to dispute. Now it appears we cannot pay for them, and not just arguably but indisputably. Democrats, who first proposed them, are beginning to agree on this point with Republicans, who at first opposed them. Very few want to abolish entitlements; most Republicans want only to change their terms so as to make them affordable. Still, to change them at all robs them of their character as entitlements and sets a precedent for future changes that might restrict them further. They become mere benefits without the security of special protection in the sanctuary of nondiscretionary payments.

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