Monday, May 15, 2017


Chicago University Press
THE GENERALIST started reading this book the same weekend that Trump tweeted the single word 'We'. - his first and only message of unity. The tweet was quickly deleted and, according to, 'Twitter users seized onto the mistaken tweet by turning into a full sentence or offering mock interpretations of the word's meaning', 

Coincidence? I don't think so. What goes around comes around and individualism gets boring after a while. Are we witnessing a Me to We movement?
American prof Ronald Aronson's title reference comes from the dystopian novel We by Evgeny Zamyatin (1924) which depicts a totalitarian society of the future that oppresses its inhabitants. Aronson suggests that - in a sense,in our time -  'it is now society and its most vital purposes that are under assault by its individuals'

This brief book (just under 200pp including annotated references) represents, he says, 'a lifetime of writing, reflection, teaching and political action'. Distilled Elder wisdom?

Well Aronson has two mentors - Herbert Marcuse , author of  'One Dimensional Man', with whom he studied the history of ideas at Brandeis University [a private university in Waltham, Massachusetts] and Jean Paul Sartre, whose ideas, Aronson writes, !I have interacted with for fifty years'. Another of his many books documents the friendship and fallout of Sartre and Camus.

'Hope is in Peril' is the title of Chapter 1: 'Today we are losing hope of a better society and a better world, and even the collective consciousness that can pose such goals.'  What's more, we're losing hope in progress, which Aronson says, reached its peak during 'the thirty glorious years of 1945-75'.

He asks 'what has become of the great political and historical goal of making our collective life better, of doing away with repression, of creating conditions in which all human can finally breathe easily? What has become of the common good?'

Aronson is upfront about the fact that he is writing this book 'in an unrepentant mood, as a political and philosophical partisan of the modern left project'. Near the end he admits that many of the ideas he espouses have a 'specific political coloration'. Why, people ask, is social hope a particularly left-wing disposition?
'My answer so far has been that a specific sense of empowerment, democratic participation, equality, and generosity is what the left and no one else has been about. A second answer is that the determination to connect the dots between different kinds of suffering and social  structures is equally a disposition of the left.'
I would dispute this position but that hasn't stopped me from finding a great deal of useful ideas, arguments and thought-provoking material within this heartfelt work.

What is hope?: 'Hope is neither a wholly subjective dimension of life nor a movement of events governed by iron laws. It is potency and possibility.'  'To hope', he writes 'is to have a positive expectation that a desired result may in fact come about.'

He references a number of previous works in this territory, namely 'The Principle of Hope', a 1,400 page work by Ernest Bloch, Terry Eagleton's 'Hope Without Optimism', Jonathan Lear's 'Radical Hope', Patrick Shades' 'Habit of Hope' and the one that attracted me most - Rebecca Solnit's 'Hope In The Dark' which Aronoson says 'takes the form of a series of mini-lectures to activists that aim at strengthening hope by educating them on how to see themselves, their attitudes, their activity and the width, breadth and depth of their results'. [The Generalist has a copy on the way]

He quotes Solnit, who talks about a  "vast inchoate, nameless  movement - not a political movement but a global restlessness, a pervasive shift of imagination and desire - that has recently appeared in almost every part of the world." That' sends some kind of shiver of excitement down my spine.

There's much valuable history here of various important social movements - the fight for civil rights and free speech in the US, the fight against apartheid in South Africa, industrial battles between bosses and unions, the cascading struggles for independence from colonial masters, the '68 battles in France.

'A movement exists in order to bring about certain changes', writes Aronson 'and in the process of participating or identifying with it we change in both our being and our perception.'  He tells us that Napoleon famously said 'First you commit yourself and then you see' a comment picked up Lenin a century later.

Says Aronson: 'Hope then can only be grasped by entering into it. It is something we produce amongst ourselves, in acting...The heart of the matter is in the action itself, including all the steps in organising for it, and in keeping alive the organisation that will carry out the action.'

A useful book to discuss, to meditate on, We is well-timed and helps us think more clearly about the next stage of the global transformation. And don't forget what Studs Terkel said:

 'Hope dies last'.

Source: Clip Art Fest


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