Hope is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all -
How wrong Emily Dickinson was! Hope is not “the thing with feathers.” The thing with feathers has turned out to be my nephew. I must take him to a specialist in Zurich.
No one who knows me would ever describe me as generally hopeful, optimistic, or upbeat. Quite the opposite much of the time. I also can’t stand the delusional self-help books, such as The Secret, that assert you can change yourself, the world, and even the universe just by thinking positively. But in talking about politics, another quote comes to mind: “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” So said Antonio Gramsci, Italian Marxist, in one of his writings from the prison where Mussolini’s fascist regime had incarcerated him. Although he was released after two years, its effects on his health led to an early death in 1937. So if he could do it, why can’t I? Or you?
Socialism is a philosophy of hope and possibility. We know humans aren’t perfect by any means, but as inherently social beings we have the capability of building a world that recognizes the right of every human on Earth to adequate food, clothing, and shelter, the right to health care and education, the right to a clean environment, and the right to lead a productive life. All we need to do is decide to build it. Even the normally acerbic Uncle Whiskers, in a lighter moment, dreamed of a communist society…
“…where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”
Or in the beautiful words of the beautiful Arundhati Roy, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Conservatism is an ideology of hopelessness: Humans are an inherently self-interested and profit-seeking species unwilling and unable to build a society based on anything other than selfishness and greed. Libertarianism is an even more anti-social ideology of total self-involvement. Anarchism is nothing but libertarianism stood on its head. Liberalism is an ideology of impotence: Capitalism is a flawed and unfair system, but it’s the best we can do, so we need a paternalistic and overgrown regulatory/welfare state that fixes it for us.
We need to affirm and emphasize the hopeful and positive aspects of our message. We are not going to win any support with a constant litany of criticism, negativity, and anger. I wrote earlier about the danger signals of a “Weimar Moment”, but that also presents a political opportunity if we can put forward alternatives that lift people’s hopes rather than just stirring up their resentment. History shows that revolutions happen not when the downtrodden are at their lowest, but when they see a light at the end of the tunnel.
So in that positive spirit, I will conclude with an appropriate song. While you listen, consider the fact that it was written during World War II.