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
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. Library Journal
Lear, a psychoanalyst and professor of philosophy, delves into what he calls the "blind spot" of any culture: the inability to conceive of its own devastation. He molds his thoughts around a poignant historical model, the decimated nation of Crow Indians in the early decades of the twentieth century...What makes this discussion relevant to mainstream readers is his application of the blind spot hypothesis to the present, in which the twenty-first century was ushered in by terrorist attacks, social upheavals, and natural catastrophes, leaving us with "an uncanny sense of menace" and a heightened perception of how vulnerable our civilizations are to destruction, as were the Crow. Publishers Weekly
A sustained meditation on cultural collapse, a brilliant, moving discussion of what it means to lose sense of one's existence without losing hope that existence makes sense. Lear's meditation centers on Plenty Coups, the last great chief of the Crow Nation, who watched, and in many ways directed, the transition from a nomadic hunting culture to one confined to reservations. Lear argues that he exhibited a special version of courage, an ironic and transcendental courage in the form of radical hope. His account opens up meaning for anyone, anywhere, who lives in and thinks about his or her world. Susan Salter Reynolds - Los Angeles Times Book Review
Radical Hope is a very rich and complicated repast that a reader can savor over and over again, discovering new insights with each reading. My review, in short, cannot do Lear’s book justice. Luke Gibbons - Field Day Review
This is a philosopher making use of anthropology and history in a way that is quite uncharacteristic of philosophers. It is an attempt to throw light on the concepts of courage, of practical reasoning, of identity, and of hope through a study of the autobiographical testimony of the last great chief of the Crow nation, Plenty Coups, concerning the events which deprived the Crow of their traditional way of life. Plenty Coups said of the extinction of the buffalo, that "After this nothing happened." Lear asks and answers the question of what Plenty Coups could have meant by this. This is a remarkable little book. Alasdair MacIntyre, Senior Research Professor of Philosophy, Notre Dame University
In this very engaging book, Lear examines the cultural collapse of the tribe of Native Americans known as the Crow Nation. He describes his analysis as a form of philosophical anthropology, as he focuses on the tribe's thinking and how its members attempted to live when their values and lifestyle were being threatened. He begins by examining the importance of bravery, courage, and honor within the tribe's culture and how these values were tested when the Crow were forced to abandon their warrior lifestyle and move onto a reservation. Their chief, Plenty Coups, inspired the Crow to use what Lear describes as "imaginative excellence" by trying to imagine what ethical values would be needed in their new lifestyle. Plenty Coups did this with a combination of such traditional sources as dream interpretation and past ethical values, which gave the Crow an opportunity to overcome their despair and lead a meaningful life. In his analysis, Lear creatively uses philosophical ideas to explain what it must have been like for the Crow to make this radical change. Scott Duimstra
There is so much to learn here; Lear parses the differences between mere optimism and radical hope, as it is manifest in Plenty Coups' "fidelity to his prophetic dream." It's one of those books you want to put in the hands of leaders the world over. Deborah Donovan - Booklist
Jonathan Lear's latest book, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation consists in an inquiry, properly characterized as a form of philosophical anthropology, into "a peculiar form of vulnerability" that is arguably part of the human condition...The general problem, however, that he deals with has to do with what he calls the "blind spot" of any culture: the inability to conceive of its own destruction and possible extinction...I can only add my comments of well-deserved praise to an already long list of similar comments by illustrious commentators...Lear's book is not only a masterfully crafted and deeply moving narrative, but it also offers us a timely philosophical reflection that is highly relevant to our current condition at this juncture of history. Needless to say, we live in an age of deep and profound angst that the world itself, as we know it, is vulnerable and could break down...Lear may be right when he says that "if we could give a name to our shared sense of vulnerability, perhaps we could find better ways to live with it." But, being naturally more pessimistically inclined, and therefore arguably more realistic, I sincerely doubt if this will suffice. Mark Kingwell - Globe and Mail
Lear's book breaks new ground, in an extremely interesting way...What do I take away from this short, illuminating book? My own version of radical hope, applied to very different circumstances...This is what makes Lear's well-written and philosophically sophisticated book so valuable. As a story of courage and moral imagination, it is very powerful and moving. But it also offers the kind of insights that would-be builders of 'new world order' desperately need. Nader N. Chokr - Metapsychology
A beautifully crafted and skillfully constructed examination of the dreams and hopes of Chief Plenty Coups, the last principal leader of the Crow people. Lear succeeds admirably in portraying the ethical and social issues Plenty Coups overcame to bring his people into a new, dramatically different reality. Charles Taylor - New York Review of Books
[A] luminous book. Timothy P. McCleary, Little Big Horn College, Crow Agency, Montana
[Lear‘s] book exemplifies the best features of recent breakthrough works in philosophy: it is analytically rigorous, yet grounded in both history and anthropology, and open to world-views other than those safely ensconced in the Western academy...Lear‘s account of cultural devastation serves as an important rejoinder to those constructions of society based on the beliefs of liberal individualism. Michael Ignatieff - New Republic
Thought-provoking and highly-recommended...As Lear points out, with the onset of reservation life it became increasingly problematic to define what a warrior was and there was no longer a clear sense of what it was to be outstanding as a chief. In a very real sense, Lear’s observation holds true today. The tribal water quality specialist may do excellent work and the recipient of a tribal scholarship may be a top-notch student. They may also be aware of the tribe’s history; participate in tribal ceremonies, and understand the importance of place in tribal culture. But neither understands how to constitute themselves as persons who need to internalize the ideals associated with those social roles for the benefit of the tribe...An examination of Lear’s book is an excellent starting point for those planning tribal workforce development programs. Ryan LaMothe - Psychologist-Psychoanalyst
Don't be alarmed by its grimly academic title; [Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation] is one of the most profound and elegantly written books to come out in decades. The book discusses a Crow Indian leader named Plenty Coups, who led his people through their brutal transition from a nomadic hunting culture to confinement on a government reservation. This is not a work of history or anthropology, however, but an inquiry into how an entire society can radically transform itself in order to survive. Lear's book is visionary and--if you take its message to heart--transformative. He has done one of those rare things: produced a work that applies to literally every person on the planet. Mervyn Tano - International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management
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
Protecting a Way of Life
Gambling with Necessity
Was There a Last Coup?
Witness to Death
Subject to Death
The Possibility of Crow Poetry
II. Ethics at the Horizon
The End of Practical Reason
Reasoning at the Abyss
A Problem for Moral Psychology
The Interpretation of Dreams
The Virtue of the Chickadee
The Transformation of Psychological Structure
III. Critique of Abysmal Reasoning
The Legitimacy of Radical Hope
Radical Hope versus Mere Optimism
Courage and Hope
Virtue and Imagination
Response to Sitting Bull