Introduction
regrettable politics
This book is born of an effort to take regret seriously as a political emotion.
It is also an attempt to understand the oft-professed ­ absence of regret —
the decisive moment in which one declares that one regrets nothing — not
as a sign of virtue, as it is typically heard in boast, but as an expression of
conviction. By “conviction,” I mean a commitment to first principles, or
the betrayal of human complexity and the diversity of life in the ongoing
adherence to what we have only ever believed in one way. If I profess my
conviction, if I give it a name, I usually do so when the corresponding
signs of my belief — what I believe and what I want you to believe even
more than I do, so that I am never left to doubt myself — have gone miss-
ing in the world. If what I believe is best has always been before me in the
right way, why would I protest? The tautological character of conviction
is such that its seeming and ceaseless relevance depends on the constant
absence or presence of whatever this or that holder of conviction seems
to prize most. In order to maintain my sense of conviction, I must re-
main unsatisfied and also always without remorse, so that my perpetual
dissatisfaction can stand as proof that I have only ever been right about
what I believe to be wrong. The political left and the political right are
equally susceptible to conviction in just this sense, which can only name
a perpetual absence that must be corrected by various means of insistence
on what does not change, whether rhetorically, in the form of dogmatic
speech, or else as real violence.
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