Jonathan Lear is John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor, Committee on Social Thought and Department of Philosophy, University of Chicago. He is the author of Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life and Open Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul (both from Harvard).
"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.--Ryan
[A] luminous book.--Michael Ignatieff"New Republic" (10/08/2007)
[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.--Luke Gibbons"Field Day Review" (06/01/2008)
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.--Mark Kingwell"Globe and Mail" (11/25/2006)
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.--Sebastian Junger"Time" (07/12/2010)
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 wha
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 se
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.--Deborah Donovan"Booklist" (08/01/2006)
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.--Charles Taylor"New York Review of Books" (04/26/2007)
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.--Susan Salter Reynolds"Los Angeles Times Book Review" (10/01/2006)
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, andunderstand 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.--Mervyn Tano "International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management "
[A] luminous book. -- Michael Ignatieff "New Republic" (10/08/2007)
Since the 1980s he has emerged as the clearest and most persuasive voice of Freudian critique writing today. His philosophical rigour undiminished, he now writes with wisdom and grace about everything from Plato's Republic to irony and the culture of pharmaceuticals, teasing out contradictions, probing concepts and challenging assumptions. The Freudian orientation of Lear's work?has constrained his popularity. This new book, a sustained meditation on the idea of cultural collapse, may change that. With an inspired combination of cultural anthropology and philosophical reasoning, drawing on such favored sources as Plato, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Kierkegaard as well as Freud, Lear has rendered a brilliant moving discussion of what it means to lose sense of one's existence without losing hope that existence makes sense.
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.