Another Version of Hope and Change

By Olsen, Cyrus | Modern Age, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Another Version of Hope and Change


Olsen, Cyrus, Modern Age


Hope in a Democratic Age by Alan

Mittleman (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009)

Liberal democratic politics requires a certain kind of hope in order to flourish, argues Alan Mittleman, professor of Jewish Thought at the Jewish Theological Seminary. The kind of hope he has in mind is the conviction that good moral action is not only possible but real, ennobling, and worth our effort. Hope of this kind becomes confidence in the individual's ability to change the world for the better. Today's fatalism in the face of inexorable "progress" chips away at a person's confidence that his actions contribute to the greater good. "Systems" and "structures" and "historical forces" replace the primacy of the person and render him a pawn in a larger and largely hostile cosmic game. Stories of this kind are ancient indeed, and have long rivaled alternative wisdom traditions, but in the end they lead only to despair. Mittleman thinks that biblical restoration narratives, and their humanistic development, provide proper ground for an ever-expanding horizon of insight into the free action proper to man. "Somewhere there must be a control upon will and appetite; and the less of it there is within," wrote Edmund Burke, "the more of it there must be without." Like Burke, Mittleman wants to strengthen internal controls upon will and appetite, controls best gained in the quest for virtue. But that quest requires background beliefs and narratives capable of sustaining the journey. Citizens today must renew hope in the freedom and dignity of individual acts of goodness if our democratic age is to be redeemed.

Admirers of Alasdair MacIntyre's work will find in Mittleman a similarly deft guide through the historical transformations of hope in Western culture, beginning with the Hebrew Bible and culminating in more recent philosophy, religion, and political theory. Essentially Mittleman argues for the metaphysical stand asserted by acts of hope, which human beings cannot but make as long as they live. "To hope is to assume or to affirm a vision of the world that places human (and, for religious Jews and Christians, divine) agency and the confidence that attends agency at the center" (4-5). In order for human action to be oriented to a goal the person must be able to place an end before the mind's eye. How that end gets situated in the imagination, and so becomes capable of animating the pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful, is the business of beliefs, stories, and metaphysics.

The first chapter synthetically presents a case for Jewish biblical hope as it has been enriched by cultures across the world, from ancient Greece to modern democratic political theory. It is in this chapter that hope itself is examined as a virtue. That virtue is then contrasted with negations of hope, as these are found in the Stoic praise of suicide, for example, as well as in such thinkers as Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. Analyses of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures are also offered as necessary correctives to ongoing critiques of hope. Selected philosophers of hope, such as Condorcet, Kant, Bloch, and Arendt, give further bite to the metaphysical and ethical implications of hope in the contemporary world. Theologies of hope are also examined, from Hermann Cohen, Rosenzweig, Buber, Rauschenbusch, Hauerwas, Moltmann, and from a text of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes. Mittleman concludes with suggestions, "Towards a Politics of Hope," which include a subtle defense of what some would call subsidiarity, or the building blocks of civil society, understood as the seedbed of virtue necessary for the flourishing of liberal democracy.

Although the myth of the juggernaut called Progress, conceived as a kind of fate, charges through our advertisements and political campaigns, supposedly unstoppable and inevitable in its motions, Mittleman argues for a recovery of individual responsibility to act in light of the good, even in the face of potential opposition and indeed failure. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Another Version of Hope and Change
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.