Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito, wrote the Roman poet Virgil in “The Aeneid” in the first century BC. It’s commonly translated from Latin as “Do not give in to evil but proceed ever more boldly against it.”
How one carries on in the face of unavoidable catastrophe is a matter of temperament. In high school, as was custom, I had chosen a verse by Virgil to be my motto: Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito…I recalled these words during the darkest hours of the war. Again and again I had met with situations from which rational deliberation found no means of escape; but then the unexpected intervened, and with it came salvation.
The darkest hours of World War I were exceedingly dark indeed, yet the great economist always found hope. Because of it, he never quit. It proved to be a monumental blessing to humanity that he didn’t give up, because his best work was yet to come.
Hope and Pressing On
This is what truly good and admirable people do. They don’t surrender to evil. They don’t give in. It doesn’t matter to them how dark it gets. They press on. Darkness often is the crucible in which their character is tested and strengthened. In the struggle, they shine a light where little or none shone before; as a frequent result, the future turned out better than all but a few expected.
It’s not the odds that decide the mental attitude or the physical effort of the truly good and admirable; it’s the principle of the thing—in other words, what’s ultimately right. By their example, they give others reason to persevere as well.
To have hope is to possess a measure of confidence or optimism beyond what present circumstances seem to justify.
All over the world, people who love liberty naturally ask the same questions that kindred spirits throughout time have asked: “Will the future be bright or dark? Will we live free or in thrall to the state?” Even as tyrants steamrolled across continents, Mises refused to throw in the towel.
Hope. It’s not something you can touch, smell, or see, but it’s powerful stuff, a compelling motivator. It’s a feeling—a premonition, perhaps. It’s a sense that something desirable and worthwhile can be achieved, acquired, or realized even if obstacles appear insurmountable. To have hope is to possess a measure of confidence or optimism beyond what present circumstances seem to justify.
Hope in Latin America
Credit for the genesis of this article belongs to Maria Jose Bernal, a tireless young activist for liberty and FEE alum in the South American nation of Colombia. Maria assembled large audiences at various schools for me to speak to in Medellin last November. Within an hour of picking me up at the airport, Maria expressed a wish:
Larry, we must find hope here in Latin America. So much is going in the wrong direction. If you can give us hope, then you should write the article that does just that. We really need it!
Maria is one of those truly good and admirable people I mentioned above. Her convictions are strong and her character is solid so I know she will not give up no matter how rough the going ever gets. She is, I am quite certain, a life-long crusader for people to be free. She knows that liberty is worth fighting for because as much as anything, it makes life worth living. Though it can hardly be obvious to her today, her perseverance will likely inspire dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of people in the years to come.
Wherever you live, if you love liberty you must have hope. Here are some reasons why:
Hope Is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
It makes you work harder for your goals. Give up and you cede the field to the opposition without a fight. The opposite of hope is hopelessness and I know of no context in which hopelessness improves matters.
Hope Is Healthy
People who have hope are better off mentally, spiritually, and physically because of it. Despair and pessimism drag us down in every way, making it even harder to prevail. Hope and a sense of humor go hand in hand: If we can laugh at our predicaments because we have confidence that we can overcome them, we reduce stress and blood pressure.
Hope Conquers Fear
Very little that’s worthwhile is attained easily and if it is, it probably won’t be valued highly. What’s both worthwhile and highly valued—and this is especially true for liberty—often produces enemies who don’t want you to have it. You can fear them and thereby be disabled; or you can overcome them with the confidence to resist.
Hope Helps Keep the Conscience Clear
If I knew I had given up on the principles I knew to be right, it would forever haunt my soul. That inner voice we call a conscience would never cease to remind me that I had surrendered. For your own peace of mind, hope for a better future and pitch in to make it happen!
Hope Makes You Think
Reflect for a moment on the endless inventions that benefited humans. If their inventors hadn’t had hope, they would have stopped the very thought process that produced results. Nobody thinks much about possibilities if they focus on what they pre-determine is impossible.
Hope Wins Converts
It attracts others to your objective. It makes both your personality and your ideas magnetic. Nobody wants to sign up for a hopeless cause or work with people who exude discouragement.
Hope for Liberty's Future
Ultimately, no one knows the future, right? So what’s the point of giving up on it before it happens, before you’ve done your best to affect it for the better yourself? That’s exactly what the opposition wants you to do. Why accommodate them?
History is full of moments when liberty’s prospects appeared as dim as a 5-watt bulb. How about the freezing patriots in the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge? Consider the plight of British slaves before the anti-slavery movement began in the 1780s. Or recall the late 1940s: FEE was founded amidst a world that believed central planning was divinely-inspired because it seemed to have just won a major world war. Leonard Read would never have founded FEE and Mises would never have written Human Action if either one thought liberty’s future to be hopeless.
The line between having hope for the future and acting to make that future better and freer is as direct as it gets.
Big, positive changes that improve things have occurred often in history, usually at inauspicious moments, reinforcing the old adage that “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” Unpredictable constellations of personalities, events, and ideas appeared that not so long before seemed improbable if not unthinkable. Upon examination, it becomes apparent that these constellations did not materialize out of nowhere; they were made possible by people who never gave up because they had hope. The collapse of the old Soviet Union is a classic case in point.
I recently watched a good movie called The Aeronauts. It’s loosely based on the story of the pioneering English meteorologist James Glaisher. At a time (1862) when science scoffed at the notion that weather was predictable, he and an associate ascend to a height of at least 30,000 feet in a balloon to prove otherwise. They succeeded. At the conclusion of the film, the soft voice of a narrator declares:
You don’t change the world by simply looking at it. You change it through the way you choose to live in it.
Think about that. It’s more profound than you might at first imagine, and I believe it’s very, very true. We are not puppets on a string. We are human beings—each one of us unique, inner-motivated, and able to affect the future if we put a thoughtful mind to it. That alone should give us all hope that we can make a positive difference, maybe even a really huge one.
"Esperanza" in Comuna 13
A thief may take your stuff, but he cannot take your hope. You are in charge of that. The line between having hope for the future and acting to make that future better and freer is as direct as it gets.
While in Medellín in November 2019, a FEE colleague and I walked the streets of Comuna 13, a section of the city that barely two decades ago was among the most violent neighborhoods in the world. It was infested with killers and kidnappers associated with drug cartels. Hundreds of people were murdered every year. Hope is a potent stimulant. Never, ever let it slip away. No matter what.Everyone lived in constant fear but most never lost hope.
Today, Comuna 13 is a far more peaceful place full of merchants, artists, performers, and boisterous, smiling faces. Wall after wall is adorned with colorful street art. I took many photos, including one proclaiming “Esperanza”—which in Spanish means “Hope.” (See cover photo.) If these people can emerge from gut-wrenching terror with their spirits intact, then go on to make their neighborhood a beautiful tourist attraction, anything is possible, anywhere.
Hope is a potent stimulant. Never, ever let it slip away. No matter what.