The early 1800s was the greatest period for critics of optimism. In Europe, Napoleon had been defeated, and the great monarchistic powers of Prussia, Russia, and Austria had formed the Holy Alliance, crushing the liberalist movements established in the previous century. While the older generations clung to hopeless optimism as a remedy, the rest of society knew democracy was about to experience its biggest test yet: The great Age of Reason was coming to an end.
It was up to the famed 19th-century pessimists to give Europeans strength during the resurgence of autocracy. These prominent figures not only changed mainstream perception but helped the people navigate tyranny, which eventually turned into democracy once again. Composers, Chopin, Schubert, and Beethoven produced their most solace-inducing work. Poets Heinrich Heine and Lord Byron expressed their disgust toward political authority. And an eccentric philosopher named Schopenhauer depicted life as a never-ending pursuit for pleasure while offering an escape through asceticism.
As we’ve now entered a similar period in the 21st century, any curious mind who has delved into early 19th-century history will have experienced déjà vu. Hopeless optimism has failed to transform society. The age of American technocracy is reaching its peak. The institutional cycle is approaching its climax and the systems that sustain it lie on the verge of collapse. We have become obsessed with trying to fix it, improve it, shape it to our liking despite the system as a whole becoming the obstacle.
You don’t have to go far to realize it’s slowly falling apart. We must vote for the lesser evil, backing one agenda of two career elites. The education system urges our youth to indebt themselves for life in exchange for an increasingly worthless degree. A house is now a speculative object, not a place to raise a family and call home. We cannot save for our future through stable investments. Instead, we must justify buying risky, overvalued assets since there’s no alternative. Any 19th-century citizen would fail to grasp how we normalized these abnormalities in day-to-day life.
It’s no surprise, then, that whoever assumes power does not become a leader, but a manager, an administrator of a profoundly broken system that no one truly comprehends. We hire experts to run individual parts of the system, but together they — and everyone else — lack the wisdom to combine each part into a complete, functional system. Instead of embracing a system overhaul, we only add to its complexity, we patch over areas on the brink of failure by adding more expertise. And as one leader after another fails to achieve its goals, progress stagnates, and society becomes more resistant to change.
Change, however, is on the horizon, but it’s the pessimists that will spring this into action. The collapse of the elitist institutional system starts with critics, skeptics, and cynics breaking into the mainstream through modern mediums. The Cypherpunk movement has created Blockchain and Bitcoin to challenge the financially repressive regime of the U.S. dollar. The Woke movement — pardon the term — has made progress in the battle for social and racial justice in modern-day America. And more movements keep rising.
These campaigns exist because the people have grown tired of relentless elitist gaslighting. Biden’s victory — and Trump’s defeat — proves that the majority see past the psychological weaponry. They print money, devalue our currency, and say this helps the economy. They divide us into distinct groups through identity, status, and character. Subsequently, we’ve reached boiling point.
Trump’s 2016 victory may have been unpopular, but it spurred a generation into becoming politically astute. A now-wiser silent majority of conservative voters saw Trump implement crony capitalist policies throughout his presidency, then accuse Biden of proposing the same thing. They rejected Trump, voting for Biden, the lesser evil, even though it went against their capitalist agenda. Because, of course, if both candidates vowed to commit economic blasphemy, picking the candidate who would print more money and tackle wealth inequality became a no-brainer.
Trump’s election defeat, however, is simply another case of system modification, not revolution. The Biden presidency will become another irrelevant footnote in the bigger scheme of things. Like in the early 19th century, it's pessimistic yet revolutionary ideas that allow societies to escape perpetual melancholy and enter a new era, not the same-old-same-old.
For now, as a true system overhaul threatens people’s confidence in its creators, these ideas will be ignored. Instead, the elites will choose to stabilize a failed system, mutating it into a virus that will limit progress, change, and innovation. How long this system prevails, however, is the real enigma we have to solve.