Democratic Hope

Dr. Jakob Huber

Laufzeit des Forschungsprojekts: 07/2018 – 06/2021

In times of a prevailing sense of crisis and disorder in modern politics, there is a growing sentiment that anger and despair or at least resignation and apathy are more appropriate attitudes to navigate the world than hope. Political theorists have long shared this suspicion and shied away from theorising hope systematically: they see it as expressing a doe-eyed approach to the world that condones complacency or at least detracts from what is to be done ‘here and now’. The aim of the project was to resist this tendency by vindicating hope as a vital component of democratic life. In making this argument, I drew inspiration from Immanuel Kant’s account of hope. For Kant, hope is a foundational kind of state that plays an important role in our practical engagement with the world in general. In particular, hope allows us to retain our resolve to act when the odds of making a difference are dim. Hence, it is not something we take refuge with once there is nothing else left to do but it is intricately intertwined with contexts of action.
The aim was to show that hope, conceived along these lines, is particularly indispensable for democratic agents. For they often find themselves torn precisely between the democratic promise that they can make a difference on the one hand, and the seeming futility of their efforts amidst institutions and processes that are often experienced as slow and unresponsive, on the other. Active engagement in democratic practices thus requires agents to find ways of fending off despair, frustration and demoralisation in the face of their own ostensible inefficacy. This motivated my attempt to develop a systematic account of democratic hope that is sensitive to its unavoidability as much as its dangers.
    
My inquiry proceeded in two stages. At the first, preliminary stage, I investigated the nature, objects and ends of hope more generally. Under which epistemic and practical conditions are we rationally permitted (or even required) to hope, and at which point does our fixation on the hoped-for outcome slide into wishful thinking? What may we hope for, or can “radical hope” even be objectless? Is the significance of hope merely instrumental and, if so, why should we prefer it to darker ‘futural’ orientations such as pessimism or fear (that may be just as efficacious in motivating action)? And how precisely does it relate to other ‘aspirational’ attitudes such as optimism, confidence, or expectation?

At the second, main stage of my project, I turned to the role of hope specifically in democratic life. Here, I zoomed in on three questions. First, in order to see why democratic agents must hope, I sought to identify the structural features of democratic practices and institutions that make citizens particularly vulnerable to despair and resignation in the pursuit of their goals (such that hope is required), but also reflect on those that make them particular prone to hubris and wishful thinking. Second, I asked under which conditions democratic agents can hope. For instance, can we hope under circumstance of severe injustice or if we deeply mistrust our fellow citizens? Third, I investigated the effects of hope on social and political relations. Are hoping agents (as often suggested by political theorists) really bound to be ineffectual in bringing about positive change (when they are paralyzed in anticipation of a desired future while the present falls apart) or even dangerous (when they become too fixated on hoped-for outcomes), or can hope contribute to healthy political relations? What are the conditions for the emergence of “collective hopes” around which a political community as a whole can organise their joint political efforts? And are hopeful agents able to shift the limits of practical possibility by retaining their resolve to pursue distant and ambitious ends?

Most important Publications:

Huber, Jakob, “Looking back, looking forward: Progress, hope and history”, Constellations 28, 2021, pp. 126-139.
Huber, Jakob; Blöser, Claudia; Moellendorf, Darrel, “Hope in Political Philosophy”, Philosophy Compass, 15(5), 2020, pp. 1-9.
Huber, Jakob, “Defying Democratic Despair: A Kantian Account of Hope in Politics”, European Journal of Political Theory, online first, DOI: 10.1177/1474885119847308.

 


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