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Hope in a Time of Permanent War

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Posted on Sep 6, 2013
bitzcelt (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Henry A Giroux, Truthout

(Page 3)

As power is separated from politics, it becomes more reckless, arrogant and death-dealing. No longer viewed as accountable, casino capitalism and its minions turn savage in their pursuit of wealth and the accumulation. All bets are off and everything is fodder for increasing the wealth of the bankers, hedge fund managers and the corporate elite. Ensconced in culture of cruelty, neoliberal power relations have become global, eschewing any sense of responsibility to an ethics of care, justice and spiritual well-being. Responsibility now floats like a polluted cloud signaling a dystopian future - a symbol of both extreme savagery and corporate irresponsibility. But there is more at work here than a retreat into cynicism or a collective silence in the face of a normalizing disimagination machine. There is a need to craft a new political language that requires a more realistic, impatient and militant sense of hope. Hope, in this instance, is the precondition for individual and social struggle, involving the ongoing practice of critical education in a wide variety of sites and the renewal of civic courage among citizens who wish to address pressing social problems.

Hope is not an individual fantasy or a recourse to a romanticized and unrealistic view of the world. On the contrary, it is a subversive force that enables those who care about democracy and its fate to not mistake the difficulty of individual and collective agency with the urgent need to shape it in the interest of the arc of justice and the promise of a democracy to come. In opposition to those who seek to turn hope into a new slogan or punish and dismiss efforts to look beyond the horizon of the given, progressives need to resurrect a language of resistance and possibility, a language in which hope is viewed as both a project and a pedagogical condition for providing a sense of opposition and engaged struggle. As a project, Andrew Benjamin insists, hope must be viewed as “a structural condition of the present rather than as the promise of a future, the continual promise of a future that will always have to have been better.” Rather than viewed as an individual proclivity, hope must be seen as part of a broader politics that acknowledges those social, economic, spiritual and cultural conditions in the present that make certain kinds of agency and democratic politics possible.

The late philosopher Ernst Bloch rightly argued that hope must be concrete, a spark that not only reaches out beyond the surrounding emptiness of capitalist relations, anticipating a better world in the future, a world that speaks to us by presenting tasks based on the challenges of the present time. For Bloch, hope becomes concrete when it links the possibility of the “not yet” with forms of political agency animated by a determined effort to engage critically with the past and present to address pressing social problems and realizable tasks. Bloch believes that hope cannot be removed from the world and is not “something like nonsense or absolute fancy; rather it is not yet in the sense of a possibility; that it could be there if we could only do something for it.” As a discourse of critique and social transformation, hope in Bloch’s view foregrounds the crucial relationship between critical education and political agency, on the one hand, and the concrete struggles needed, on the other, to give substance to the recognition that every present is incomplete. This is a discourse that must be reclaimed, used and mobilized in the interest of a radical hope willing to struggle collectively, take risks and make education central to any viable notion of transformative politics.

Prophecy, moral witness and civic courage matter more than ever in American society. And we see hits of such practices in the rise of public intellectuals such as Michael Lerner, Stanley Aronowitz, Carol Becker, Angela Davis, Chris Hedges, Amy Goodman, Bill Moyers, Robin D.G. Kelley, Noam Chomsky and too many others to name. We also see the power of collective hope in the increasing resistance by unions, workers and young people to the attack on all things public in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Maine and other states now controlled by right-wing Republican extremists. In this instance, the longing for a more humane society does not collapse into a retreat from the world but emerges out of critical and practical engagements with present policies, institutional formations and everyday practices. Hope in this context does not ignore the worse dimensions of human suffering, exploitation and social relations; on the contrary, it acknowledges the need to sustain the “capacity to see the worst and offer more than that for our consideration.” This reclaiming of hope from the idiocy of consumer and celebrity culture, from a market that turns hope into a commodity and from a government that kills hope with its electronic gulags, its proliferating war zones and its militarizing ideologies and policies is a crucial element for the reclamation of not just hope but a fundamental element of politics itself.


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Hence, hope is more than a politics, it is also the outcome of those pedagogical practices and struggles that tap into memory and lived experiences while at the same time linking individual responsibility with a progressive sense of social change. As a form of utopian longing, democratic hope opens up horizons of comparison by evoking not just different histories but different public memories and futures; at the same time, it substantiates the importance of ambivalence while problematizing certainty or, as Paul Ricoeur has suggested, it serves as “a major resource as the weapon against closure.“Democratic hope is a subversive force when it pluralizes politics by opening up a space for dissent, making authority accountable, becoming an activating presence in promoting social transformation.

The current limits of the utopian imagination are related, in part, to the failure of intellectuals, academics, artists, workers, educators and progressives to imagine what pedagogical conditions might be necessary to bring into being forms of political agency that might expand the operations of individual rights, social provisions and democratic freedoms. At the same time, a politics and pedagogy of hope is neither a blueprint for the future nor a form of social engineering but a belief that different futures are possible, holding open matters of contingency, context and indeterminacy. It is only through critical forms of education that human beings can learn about the limits of the present and the conditions necessary for them to “combine a gritty sense of limits with a lofty vision of possibility.” Equally crucial is the belief that hope needs to translate into collective struggles and disciplined social movements that go beyond popular protest and what Aronowitz calls “signs without organization.” Such struggles are crucial to develop disciplined national organizations, infrastructures, cultural apparatuses and modes of collaboration among diverse artists, intellectuals, workers and others to address the totality of issues confronting American society and the need to get at the roots of those injustices weighing down on America like an all-consuming plague.

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