Theater of Cruelty

Without fellowship, no hope

We. Reviving Social Hope
By studying the modes of hope and the irresolutions of hopelessness, Ronald Aronson shows us what changing the world entails.


It's in the title of the book – We. Reviving Social Hope - at hoped is in a crisis. By examining this crisis, the historian of ideas Ronald Aronson circles the nature of hope. His point of view is the current American policy, which takes place between the coordinates Obama-Sanders-Trump, and the Occupy versus Tea Party movement. Where the picture is broader, the author also interprets the crisis of the left from the late flowering of neo-Marxism in the 60s, when Aronson studied under Herbert Marcuse, through the Thatcher era and up to the world dominance of neoliberalism. When the panorama is fully opened, human nature is held up against the enormous challenges of today. The American context is suitable in any case, as many of the contemporary hegemonic values ​​are strong in the United States.

Two types of alienation. Aronson effectively starts from a dystopian Soviet novel by Evgeny Zamayatin from 1919, which is just named Vi. Here we get a horror vision of a totalitarian mass society where all individuality is erased. Such a management maneuver can be seen as one psycho-politics - a manipulation of man's natural inclinations; of our habits, affections and perceptions. The people of Zamayatin's collective hell no longer have a clear sense of right and wrong – which is rooted in one of the consequences of total collectivization, namely the alienation towards one's self. This horror vision, realized for the benefit of many communist states, finds Aronson a contradiction in today's neoliberal society: here it is individualism that is taken to the extreme – with the result that today we are alienated from any real or possible community. We carry an unclear and cowed longing to "be part of something greater" – in a turn that only confirms the vagueness of longing.

In a stagnant historical period, one can hardly imagine the euphoric experience of opportunities that emerge in revolutions and societal upheavals.

What is hope? To the extent that the author undertakes to understand hoped As a phenomenon, it becomes important to understand it correctly. In Aronson's delimitation of the nature of hope lies a desire to defend the phenomenon against slander and distortions that are themselves political. Hope is easily mocked as a comforting illusion, a soft feeling that one seeks refuge in when one encounters harsh realities. For Aronson, it becomes important to understand hope as a positive expectation that a desired result can actually be realized; to look forward to, but not necessarily expect a positive outcome. Hope is not just a subjective desire, but an attitude where reality appears to be changing and new spaces of opportunity open up.

The bottom line is that we cannot do this alone: ​​Only when we realize that social reality is collectively shaped by people, we can open what Ernst Bloch calls "real opportunities". Aronson refers to Bloch's huge three-legged works The principle of hope, but believes Bloch gets lost in an encyclopedic review of all forms of hope, where he juxtaposes unrealistic daydreams of eternal youth with the political struggle for human dignity and justice. He thinks he can find a better starting point with Sartre and his distinction between US og vi. As an "us", we are isolated individuals placed together in an anonymous row, such as when standing in a queue waiting for a bus. If the bus does not arrive, we start talking together and become a community that is considering doing something about the matter – complain, contact those responsible, arrange alternative transport. Vi- what arises thus changes the whole situation. The same thing happens when hope is sucked up on a larger political scale: Where we previously related to the realities of hardened facts, we are now activated. Anything that provides resistance becomes a seam for weaknesses, strengths, motives and strategies. The stubborn social field assumes a new character and becomes a myriad of obstacles, helpers, enemies and tools. Those who live in a stagnant historical period can hardly imagine the euphoric experience of opportunities that emerge in revolutions and societal upheavals.

Martin Luther King appealed to universal values ​​and went the way of those who were just not in the same group as himself.

Resistance and openings. Hope is thus connected to a community – which can be as fragile as hope itself. Trying to change a given historical situation is always a risk game. Collectives such as Occupy and Podemos flare up, but are also at the mercy of external circumstances where a certain amount of luck and a certain amount of success are required. Hope is a setting and a willingness to act, which often meets the rebuke of other political influences, especially cynicism – which Aronson sees as the diametrical contradiction of hope. Here he builds on Peter Sloterdijk as in his Criticism of the cynical sense (1983) describes cynicism as "the dominant mode of operation of contemporary culture". Cynicism helps to preserve status quo as an unofficial ideology, and deprives the individual of all faith in the public. The cynic does not believe in community or moral ideals, but sees everything – including himself.

Cynicism thus becomes the basic attitude of late modern individualism, which assumes that we are all rational egoists. The denial of the community goes even deeper than this, and helps to discolour hope in various ways: Hope itself is privatized, so that we first and foremost hope for better living conditions for ourselves.

Universal values. Aronson is gradually expanding this point by pointing out that the Tea Party movement is, paradoxically, a collective that fights for the individual's isolated interests and will counteract collective institutions. The whole flora of rights movements risks becoming interest groups that, in their motivation and militant rights rhetoric, differ little from their opponents. Like this phenomenon's stark contradiction, Aronson highlights Martin Luther King, who appealed to universal values ​​and led the way on those who were just not in the same group as himself. In this way he would gain recognition of decent human rights claims on a general basis. Numerous and updated examples from recent American history make the book We. Reviving Social Hope to a deeply entrenched lifebuoy for a new "policy of hope" – and at the same time provides tools for distinguishing between real and false hope.

Anders Dunk
Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.

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