Excerpted from Henry Giroux, "When Hope is Subversive"
[S]ome theorists have suggested that democratic politics as a site of contestation, critical exchange, and engagement has come to an end. We must not give up so easily. Democracy has to be struggled over, even in the face of a most appalling crisis of educational opportunity and political agency. Cynicism breeds apathy—not the reverse. The current depressing state of our politics and the bankruptcy of our political language issues a challenge to us to formulate a new language and vision that can reframe questions of agency, ethics, and meaning for a substantive democracy.
Crafting such a new political language will require what I call “educated hope.” Hope is the precondition for individual and social struggle. Rather than seeing it as an individual proclivity, we must see hope as part of a broader politics that acknowledges those social, economic, spiritual, and cultural conditions in the present that make certain kinds of agency and democratic politics possible. With this understanding, hope becomes not merely a wistful attempt to look beyond the horizon of the given, but what Andrew Benjamin, in Present Hope, calls “a structural condition of the present.”
[The philosopher Ernst Bloch] argues that hope cannot be removed from the world. Hope is not “something like nonsense or absolute fancy; rather it is not yet in the sense of a possibility; that it could be there if we could only do something for it.”
In this view, hope becomes a discourse of critique and social transformation. Hope makes the leap for us between critical education, which tells us what must be changed; political agency, which gives us the means to make change; and the concrete struggles through which change happens. Hope, in short, gives substance to the recognition that every present is incomplete.
[...] hope is more than a politics, it is also a pedagogical and performative practice that provides the foundation for enabling human beings to learn about their potential as moral and civic agents. Hope is the outcome of those educational practices and struggles that tap into memory and lived experiences while at the same time linking individual responsibility with a progressive sense of social change. As a form of utopian longing, educated hope opens up horizons of comparison by evoking not just different histories but different futures. Educated hope is a subversive force when it pluralizes politics by opening up a space for dissent, making authority accountable, and becoming an activating presence in promoting social transformation.
The goal of educated hope is not to liberate the individual from the social—a central tenet of neoliberalism—but to take seriously the notion that the individual can only be liberated through the social. Educated hope as a subversive, defiant practice should provide a link, however transient, provisional, and contextual, between vision and critique on the one hand, and engagement and transformation on the other. That is, for hope to be consequential it has to be grounded in a project that has some hold on the present. Hope becomes meaningful to the degree that it identifies agencies and processes, offers alternatives to an age of profound pessimism, reclaims an ethic of compassion and justice, and struggles for those institutions in which equality, freedom, and justice flourish as part of the ongoing struggle for a global democracy.