Cynicism and Rodney Dangerfield Get No Respect

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Is the denigration of cynicism simply a trick to spawn mass gullibility? Maybe it is only a coincidence that the people who denounce cynicism the loudest are politicians seeking more power.

President Richard Nixon declared on April 30, 1973, the day his top White House aides resigned over their role in the Watergate scandal, “I reject the cynical view that politics is inevitably, or even usually, a dirty business.” Obama has been railing against cynicism ever since he launched his presidential campaign in 2007.

The great Dilbert cartoon spurred me to meander into my old writings on cynicism:

From the conclusion of Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty (1994): The Founding Fathers succeeded in creating a government where individual rights and liberties were respected because they were cynical about political power: they realized that, as George Washington wrote, government was “fire.”

From the conclusion of Freedom in Chains: The Rise of the State and the Demise of the Citizen (1999): We need to expect less from government and more from humanity. It is not cynical to have more faith in freedom than in subjugation. It is not cynical to have more faith in individuals vested with rights than in bureaucrats armed with power. It is not cynical to suspect that governments that have cheated so often in the past may not be dealing straight today.

From the conclusion of Bush Betrayal (2004): If the president is reelected, the more cynical Americans become, the less dangerous Bush will be.

From Attention Deficit Democracy (2006): In politics, “positive thinking” is often a slave’s virtue, something people do to delude themselves about the burdens and chains being placed upon them.

*It is cynical to expect that humanity’s problems will be solved by finding better masters, rather than by removing the burdens and binds on common citizens.


This is not a blanket endorsement of cynicism. I have seen plenty of folks overdose on it. But taken in moderate doses as a tonic, it can help vaccinate against prevailing political delusions.

On Twitter @jimbovard


2 Responses to Cynicism and Rodney Dangerfield Get No Respect

  1. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit March 19, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

    It is not cynical to believe that Lord Acton was correct in regard to power. That’s just an “accurate worldview.”

    “Cynic” and “cynicism” are simply “snarl words” uttered by the less-rational who do not like the accurate worldview being offered by the speaker. Which is not to say that the more blanket the statement, the more likely it is that the speaker really is being cynical, rather than just having an accurate worldview. “Every” isn’t “always” , for whatever values you’d care to have, on any side of an argument.

  2. Tom Blanton March 19, 2014 at 11:49 pm #

    Whenever I have thought I have been too cynical, something happens that makes me realize that I was not cynical enough.

    For example, when I estimate the damage that certain legislation or some jackass politician can inflict on the world, I usually make an estimation of the damage and then double that. This always results in a low-ball guesstimate, proving that had I been even more cynical, I would have been better able to accurately predict the suffering that was to follow.