Rieff stumbles around his point (in some really stilted prose), but finally gets there: history offers no hope. True: Hegel and Marx are only two of the many, many examples. And Rieff ends with a rather hollow piece of advice: get your hope some other place.
OK. But where? Presumably he means something off-the-shelf from some meaning shop, or something more do-it-yourself from Home Depot. Home Truth Depot?
Philosophers have long searched for sources of hope, finding them in all corners: in history, in technology, in therapy, in education, in political reform, in “getting in touch with nature.”
Man continues to seek hope everywhere in himself, always coming up empty-handed (and often bloody-handed); all because he thinks so well of himself, that “he just knows there must be a hope in there somewhere.”
It is both natural and appropriate that hope is always sought in triumph over evil. Therefore, the search for hope is conditioned by our understanding of evil.
And it is here that all modernist schools fall short, while biblical religion sees clearly. As Reinhold Niebuhr put it, “The Christian estimate of human evil is so serious precisely because it places evil at the very center of human personality: in the will.”
Biblical religion finds plausible hope because it faces clear-eyed the nature of evil. It therefore offers the only hope that is both plausible and not inconsistent with the observed facts of human nature and history.
So why do so many people embrace such obvioulsy false hopes, while rejecting the most plausible of hopes?
People want certainty, and, as Voegelin observed, “Uncertainty is the very essence of Christianity.” Of the faith that sustains hope, he wrote that “The very lightness of this fabric may prove too heavy a burden for men who lust for massively possessive experience.” “This thread of faith, on which hangs all certainty regarding divine, transcendent being, is indeed very thin.”
The alternative hopes of history seem to have no trouble sustaining themselves as “massively possessive experiences.” A quick reading of Koestler’s Darkness At Noon drives home the point.