I would think it obvious that it is essential to human equilibrium and a true engagement with reality to acknowledge that tragedy is the defining part of human life and to accept the limits (and opportunities) this imposes, both individual and political. The effort to deny tragedy was among the fundamental factors responsible for what happened in the twentieth century. Utopianism defies tragedy—and fails.

Two of the individuals most important to my discussion, T. E. Lawrence and Vladimir Peniakoff, found a kind of serenity in resolute acceptance of and engagement with the violence in our nature, deriving from it what I would call the only true solution, the classical one, identified by Aristotle as the pursuit of virtue, the only proper pursuit for a human being.

Such is an uncomfortable route toward a solution since it demands individual self-examination and renounces the consoling ideologies and utopian illusions of a collective resolution of the human problem. Virtue is an all but totally ignored conception today, when narcissism and the (futile) pursuit of self-esteem are the prevailing counterfeits of individual worth and achievement, with death denied in the search for the therapy of immortality.

— William Pfaff, The Bullet’s Song: Romantic Violence and Utopia

Pfaff identifies the First World War as the cataclysmic event in which the old certainties were shattered. Since then, we’ve been frantically pawing through the shards, trying to piece them back together, creating various grotesqueries in the process. He also notes the role simple boredom, a frivolous longing for “something interesting,” played in the destruction. A century later, in the midst of unprecedented affluence, other bored people, needing something stronger than video games, prefer to live-action-role-play as Nazis and Communists to make their lives seem significant. As George Santayana said, that is what romantic philosophy would condemn us to: strutting and roaring. The alternative, humility, is more painful than battle.