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Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastationby Jonathan Lear
Synopses & Reviews
Shortly before he died, Plenty Coups, the last great Chief of the Crow Nation, told his story — up to a certain point. "When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground," he said, "and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened."
It is precisely this point — that of a people faced with the end of their way of life — that prompts the philosophical and ethical inquiry pursued in Radical Hope. In Jonathan Lear's view, Plenty Coups' story raises a profound ethical question that transcends his time and challenges us all: how should one face the possibility that one's culture might collapse?
This is a vulnerability that affects us all — insofar as we are all inhabitants of a civilization, and civilizations are themselves vulnerable to historical forces. How should we live with this vulnerability? Can we make any sense of facing up to such a challenge courageously? Using the available anthropology and history of the Indian tribes during their confinement to reservations, and drawing on philosophy and psychoanalytic theory, Lear explores the story of the Crow Nation at an impasse as it bears upon these questions — and these questions as they bear upon our own place in the world. His book is a deeply revealing, and deeply moving, philosophical inquiry into a peculiar vulnerability that goes to the heart of the human condition.
"Scholar and author Lear (Therapeutic Action: An Earnest Plea for Irony) decodes the courage and wisdom of the last great chief of the Crow peoples, Plenty Coups (1848-1932), in this 'philosophical anthropology' which seeks to pin down the way societies-and the individuals who lead them-carry on in the face of 'cultural catastrophe.' As a jumping-off point, Lear uses a quote from Plenty Coups's oral history, given to Frank B. Linderman shortly before the chief's death: 'But when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground... After this nothing happened.' The first part of the book explores the meaning of 'nothing happened,' explicating the idea that history itself comes to an end when the concepts a culture uses to define its world-in this case, concepts tied to hunting, battle, and honor-become obsolete. The second part tackles 'Ethics at the Horizon,' the possibilities for 'radical hope' in the face of inconceivable cultural change through courage, wisdom and flexibility, on both a personal and cultural level. The third part discusses the ramifications of 'radical hope,' both practically and philosophically. Lear's study is probably too rigorous rhetorically to appeal to a wide audience, and his insistence that 'we live at a time of a heightened sense that civilizations are themselves vulnerable' could have been supported with some explicit contemporary parallels, but for those interested in the final years of the Crow nation or the ethical challenges faced by victims of cultural destruction, this book will prove enlightening." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"As a story of courage and moral imagination, Radical Hope is very powerful and moving. The book deals with a very important contemporary issue, how cultures may seek rescue from near-death; one that cannot help but be more and more relevant to our times. It treats this subject with clarity and depth, drawing on philosophy, psychoanalysis, and anthropology. As a book which straddles these disciplinary gaps it is rather exceptional; but it aptly demonstrates how superior a discussion of this question is, which comes to grips with the details of a paradigm case. It is a valuable addition to important debates today." Charles Taylor, Professor of Philosophy, McGill University
"How does a nation come to life-and-death decisions at a time of crisis when it can no longer live according to its founding values? The strategic brilliance of Jonathan Lear's response to this deeply important question lies in focusing our attention on the exemplary history of the Crow people, and deploying the insights of psychoanalysis to interpret their struggle for survival. With admirable lucidity, in the most clear-cut language, he shows us that besides the glamorous alternatives of freedom or death there is a third way, less grand yet demanding just as much courage: the way of creative adaptation." J. M. Coetzee, winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in literature
Using the available anthropology, the history of the Crow Indian tribes during their confinement to reservations, and drawing on philosophy and psychoanalytic theory, Lear explores the point at which people face the end of their way of life — a philosophical inquiry into a peculiar vulnerability that goes to the heart of the human condition.
About the Author
Jonathan Lear is John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago.
Table of Contents
I. After This, Nothing Happened
A Peculiar Vulnerability
II. Ethics at the Horizon
The End of Practical Reason
III. Critique of Abysmal Reasoning
The Legitimacy of Radical Hope
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