Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation


By Jonathan Lear

Harvard University Press, 2006.

Jonathan 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. The last Crow chief, Plenty Coups, told his white friend and biographer, Frank B. Linderman, about what happened to his people “when the buffalo went away.” They were despondent, and in Plenty Coups’ words, “After this nothing happened.” Lear dissects this phenomenon, and the Crows’ struggle for continued survival, in a highly esoteric discussion drawing on the writings of Aristotle, Plato, and other philosophers. 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 was the Crow’s. (Reviewed by Deborah Donovan, Booklist)

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