Hope against Hopelessness for the New Year

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I am often accused of being an optimist. I write “accused” because I take it as a mistaken characterization. I think it suggests that I am naïve and unrealistic. And as it happens, I don’t think I am naïve or unrealistic, and don’t feel particularly optimistic. I actually have a rather dark view of the human prospect, one of the reasons I am more conservative than many of my friends and colleagues. That said, I do know why people think I am an optimist. It is because I understand my intellectual challenge to be to find the silver lining within the clouds, to try to find ways in which it may be possible (even if unlikely) to avoid the worst. Thus, my study of the politics of small things, which started with the proposition that after 9/11 “it hurts to think,” and also thus, my investigation in my new book of the possibility of “reinventing political culture,” showing that political culture is not only an inheritance that constrains possibility, but also one that provides resources for creativity and change.

In Reinventing Political Culture, I make two moves: I reinvent the concept of political culture and I study the practical project of reinventing political culture in different locations: Central Europe, the Middle East and North America. I plan to use the book to structure a deliberately considered debate early in the new year.  At this year’s end, I thought I would highlight some past posts which examine the power of culture and the way I understand it pitted against the culture of power, which also exemplify the course we have taken this year at Deliberately Considered and a road we will explore next year.

First, there is the link between small things and the power of culture. In a small corner of Damascus we observed people creating an autonomous world for poetry. Clearly the present revolution there is not the result of such activity, though it did anticipate change. But I think such cultural work makes it more likely that the post authoritarian situation will . . .

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