… is from page 1031 of Will Durant’s 1950 volume, The Age of Faith:
There are few things in the world as unpopular as truth, and the backbone of men and states is a concatenation of romance.
DBx: This truth itself is not one that is welcome. We modern humans want to believe that we’re realists who are, at least in the large, unencumbered by superstition and reality-blinding romance. Some individuals do achieve this admirable and happy (Is it really, though, happy?) disposition. But most of us don’t. As observed by David Hume, and as more recently documented by Jonathan Haidt, we humans – equipped with brains large enough to self-delude, yet far too small to grasp more than a minuscule sliver of reality – are quite willing and able to delude ourselves into believing that reality is pretty much whatever we want it to be.
Of course, for simple physical reality, this ability is severely limited. You might desperately want to be able to fly by flapping your feet. But those of our ancestors who attempted this feat from dangerous heights didn’t survive to pass along their genes. But for complex social and economic reality – especially in today’s incredibly complex world – there are virtually no limits on individuals’ abilities to delude themselves, to remain deluded, and to pass along their delusions to others.
Do you want to believe that socialism works? No problem! Believe it! You or some clever professor can explain why apparent failures of socialism in the past do nothing to discredit your belief in the glories and goodness of socialism.
Do you want to believe that America can improve her economic performance through industrial policy? No problem! Believe it! Many intellectuals – real, honest-to-goodness graduate-degreed intellectuals – have written papers insisting that industrial policy can work if it’s carried out by the appropriate government officials. What more proof do you really need?
Do you want to believe that the most prominent founder of public-choice economics, James Buchanan, was a racist? No problem! Believe it! Nancy MacLean wrote an award-winning book to this effect and larded it with lots and lots of footnotes. Case closed! And as for those persons who identified the countless instances in which MacLean’s footnotes do not support her textual assertions, or in which she simply mistakes the meaning of textbook economic terms or removes words from her quotations to change those quotations’ original meanings, well, no need to let those Buchanan defenders threaten your belief – for you know that your belief certifies you as a Very Good Person. Further, these defenders – Very Bad Persons all – are defending a racist white southerner (duh!), and they all have close-enough ties to Koch money so that it’s obvious that these defenders do what they do and say what they say only because they are on Charles Koch’s payroll (duh!). I mean, why else would anyone defend Buchanan against the charge of racism?