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Quiet Desperation

By Charles Payne, CEO & Principal Analyst

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

-Henry David Thoreau 

In 1849, Henry David Thoreau released Resistance to Civil Government, more commonly known as ‘Civil Disobedience.’ It underscored the abolitionist’s disdain for slavery and war.  There are several parts of this essay that rang loud and clear on Monday, including the following notions:

  • ‘The best government is that which governs least’
  • ‘The government is the agent of corruption and injustice’
  • ‘It is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize’

However, the line from Thoreau that has stayed with me most has never been more reflective of today’s society:

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

Thoreau believed that supporting an unjust government made citizens just as culpable in the government misdeeds. And yet, he understood how helpless regular folks felt with respect to their ability to dictate change. Their resignation or acceptance was a form of confirmed desperation.

It would be easier to count how many Americans these days aren’t living in quiet desperation. What is interesting this time around is that Thoreau is largely a hero to the left; he may be speaking for  Republican and Independent voters in 2016 as well.

In a so-called change election, how far out of their character or wisdom will voters go to do desperate things?

Charles Payne
Wall Street Strategies


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