What was it about Barack Obama’s campaign of hope that resonated so much not just with Americans, but people the world over? Have we really become so despairing—in the face of collapsed economies and the threat of violence around every corner—that a simple rallying cry to remember hope can have such a powerful effect? In this moving and thoughtful book, Ronald Aronson explores our relationship to hope at a time some have called the end of history, others the end of politics, in order to formulate a more active stance, one in which hope is far more than a mood or feeling—it is the very basis of social will and political action.
Aronson examines our own heartbreaking story: a century of violence, upheaval, and the undelivered promises of progress—all of which have contributed to the evaporation of social hope. As he shows, we are now in an era when hope has been 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 social hope, Aronson argues, still persists. Carefully exploring what we mean when we say we “hope” and teasing hope apart from its dangerously misconstrued sibling, progress, he locates real seeds of change. He argues that always underlying our experience—even if we completely ignore it—is a sense of 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 stunning rise of movement-centered politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, as powerful examples of socially energized, politically determined, and actionably engaged forms of hope. The result is an illuminating and inspiring call that anyone can clearly hear: we can still create a better future for ourselves, but only if we do it together.