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We Can’t Let Radical Hope Disappear Into the Abyss of Authoritarianism

We must construct a new language of hope that allows us to imagine a future in which democracy can breathe.

On the one-year anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, people march past a federal Department of Justice building in downtown San Francisco, California, on January 6, 2022.

Part of the Series

This interview with Chuck Mertz on “This is Hell!” builds on my Truthout essay, “Amid Apocalyptic Cynicism, Let’s Embrace Radical Hope in the New Year.” It comments on the deeply held sense of cynicism that has been growing in the United States in the aftermath of a right-wing counterrevolution that emerged against the democratizing movements that erupted in the 1960s. This was a reactionary movement that set the stage for dismantling the welfare state, defining government as the enemy of the market, and the market as being synonymous with democracy itself. Prior to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the ideological foundation of the counterrevolution was defined in the 1970s by the Powell Memo and the Trilateral Commission, both of which lauded neoliberal capitalism and disdained movements for social change and racial justice as symptomatic of an “an excess of democracy.” I also talk about how, thanks to the Trump era, the U.S. is in the grip of a different element of the counterrevolution, one that not only attacks the welfare state, but also incorporates a fascist politics rooted in a discourse of white supremacy and a politics of disposability.

The current political moment is dominated by a massive propagandistic machine, fueled largely by right-wing social media platforms that undermine the promise of hope and its foundational political and educational elements that wed truth and the search for justice to action through mass collective struggles. This is a powerful ocular-image-based pedagogical apparatus that both erases history and distorts it. Manufactured ignorance now parades as news, performs as spectacle, and in doing so, sabotages both the truth and democracy itself. Politics has become a form of ethicide — a disavowal of social responsibility and the removal of political, discursive and economic actions from social costs.

The challenging times in which we now live operate as hope’s antithesis by spreading the ideology of regressive individualism, consumerism, deregulation and anti-intellectualism while reproducing a model of gangster capitalism that empties politics of its democratic possibilities. We live in an age in which radical hope faces the challenge of a number of fundamentalisms rooted in economic, religious and educational forms of repression, all of which characterize a brutal form of gangster capitalism. Accentuated by a growing inequality, uncertainty, fear and distrust of the public good, capitalism hides its ruthlessness and criminogenic power relations by saturating U.S. culture with depoliticizing narratives which echo the fatal notion that it “has no alternative.” In doing so, it has deepened the gulf of shared fears and learned helplessness that enable the formative culture that supports a rebranded fascist politics. In this interview, I analyze how a radical and militant notion of hope — along with certain words such as capitalism, class, power and fascism — have either disappeared or are disparaged as being unhelpful in understanding our current drift into the abyss of authoritarianism.

In response to this crisis of agency and politics, I provide a language of militant possibility by talking about the need for developing a comprehensive understanding of politics, one that engages a robust historical consciousness with a further understanding of the role that culture plays as a powerful educational force in shaping individual and social consciousness. In addition, I call for the creation of a mass movement defined by an anti-capitalist consciousness, infused with the ideals and promises of democratic socialist society. Current political commentaries on the left and among liberal progressives give far too little attention to the subjective and cultural conditions that have ushered in an updated form of fascist politics. It is time to resurrect a discourse of radical hope by constructing a new language that allows us to think about alternative struggles, produce empowering notions of freedom and justice, and imagine a future in which democracy can breathe again.