The election of Donald Trump has exposed American society’s profound crisis of hope. By 2016 a generation of shrinking employment,rising inequality, the attack on public education, and the shredding of the social safety net, had set the stage for stunning insurgencies at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Against this dire background, Ronald Aronson offers an answer. He argues for a unique conception of social hope, one with the power for understanding and acting upon the present situation. Hope, he argues, is far more than a mood or feeling—it is the very basis of social will and political action.It is this kind of hope that Aronson sees brewing in the supporters of Bernie Sanders, who advocated the tough-minded and inspired disposition to act collectively to make the world more equal, more democratic, more peaceful, and more just. And it was directly contrasted by Trump’s supporters who showed a cynical and nostalgic faith in an authoritarian strongman replete with bigotry and misogyny.
Beneath today’s crisis Aronson examines our heartbreaking story: a century of catastrophic violence and the bewildering ambiguity of progress—all of which have contributed to the evaporation of social hope. As he shows, we are now in a time when hope is increasingly privatized, when—despite all the ways we are connected to each other—we are desperately alone, struggling to weather the maelstrom around us, demoralized by the cynicism that permeates our culture and politics, and burdened with finding personal solutions to social problems.
Yet, Aronson argues, even at a time when false hopes are rife,social hope still persists. Carefully exploring what we mean when we say we “hope” and teasing hope apart from its dangerously misconstrued sibling, “progress,” he locates seeds of real change. He argues that always underlying our experience—even if we completely ignore it—is the fact of our social belonging, and that this can be reactivated into a powerful collective force, an active
we. He looks to various political movements, from the massive collective force of environmentalists to the movements around Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, as powerful examples of socially energized, politically determined, and actionably engaged forms of hope. Even in this age of Donald Trump, the result is an illuminating and inspiring call that anyone can clearly hear: we can still create a better future for everyone, but only if we resist false hopes and act together.
Ronald Aronson is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Wayne State University. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including, most recently,
We Have Only This Life to Live: Essays of Jean-Paul Sartre and
Living without God: New Directions for Atheists, Agnostics, and the Undecided.
“An important and original work. Aronson recognizes that there cannot be engaged political action without a reasonable hope that significant change is possible. And he worries that social, political, economic, and institutional changes, both at the national and international levels, have tended to undermine traditional Western values and beliefs about the possibilities of progress in human affairs. Taking stock of that loss of hope and questioning what has led to it, he ultimately provides a path toward a renewal of hope in human progressive social change.”
— David Sprintzen, founder of the Long Island Progressive Coalition
“Timely, stimulating, and creative,
We offers a fresh and very timely perspective on what Aronson correctly identifies as the general loss today of ‘the hope of a better society and a better world.’ In broad but firm strokes, drawing on leading thinkers from Smith to Condorcet to Marx to Sartre, it convincingly traces the historical formation of collective hope, which can today take shape as the capacity for meaningful action.”
— Leo V. Panitch, York University
We is a tonic.At a time in our history when many aredespairing about the turn in our nation’s political life, Aronson has produced a sober yet exhilarating cri de Coeur about why we need not be.Anyone concerned about how ‘we’ might mount resistance to the forces of reaction should read
We and take heart.”
— Steve Fraser, author of The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power
"We: Reviving Social Hopeis not only a testament to Aronson’s optimism, then, but an analysis of the re-emergence of what he sees as a collective, rather than an individualistic form, of political action."
— spiked review
"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'."
— John May, The Generalist
“The author draws on an impressive range of sources, from Yevgeny Zamyatin, author of his book’s namesake, to Jean-Paul Sartre and, most persuasively, the writer and activist Rebecca Solnit. Aronson builds his case for an understanding of hope built on solidarity and mass action, citing the grassroots movements of Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, Podemos and Occupy as exemplars.”
— New Internationalist
"By pointing out again and again that hope and social progress reside in collective action, Aronson calls on us to leave our lonely planets of hyper-individualism behind to join others in common struggles for a better world. Because only when we become active in concert with others, a sense of
weand hope can materialize."