By O. Bennett
What are the capabilities of optimism in sleek societies? How is wish culturally transmitted? What values and attitudes does it replicate? This e-book explores how and why strong associations propagate 'cultures of optimism' in several domain names, comparable to politics, paintings, the kinfolk, faith and psychotherapy.
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Extra resources for Cultures of Optimism: The Institutional Promotion of Hope
Of course, neither Rousseau nor Marx can be held wholly responsible for the abuses that their political philosophies inspired and which they would almost certainly never have condoned. But, with historical hindsight, it is clear that in their eagerness to attack the inequities of the liberal tradition, they underestimated the significance of the liberal preoccupation with protecting individual freedoms in the face of centralised state power. Nevertheless, despite the discouragements of history, the optimistic conviction that human beings are capable of transforming their societies in the interests of all, and that this can be brought about by the greater exercise of popular power, retains a strong hold on the political imagination and finds expression in the contemporary demand for ‘ever-increasing democracy’.
These futures, of course, can express strongly conflicting values and visions, illustrating in the clearest possible terms the relative nature of optimism that I discussed in the previous chapter (socialist utopias, for example, being the stuff of neo-liberal nightmares, and vice-versa). Yet, however much the ‘content’ of these desired futures might differ, it is invariably wrapped up in the same ‘form’ of optimistic expectation. 1 Rorty’s emphasis on secular societies is significant here, because in religious conceptions of human progress there have always been inescapable limits to what a flawed humanity is able to achieve.
But right across this spectrum, democracy at some level has nevertheless come to function as an agent of hope. Actually existing democracy Before we can go on to consider the specific nature of this hope, it is necessary to be clear about precisely what kind of democracy we are talking about. As noted earlier, there are competing ideas of what democracy might mean, even when the Marxist variant is taken out of the equation. This is because the term democracy can refer not only to a set of institutional arrangements but also to a multiplicity of goals or ideals that reflect diverse values and perspectives.