requiem for certainty

Posts Tagged ‘west

Obama Meliorism and Obama Criticism

with 9 comments

Well what an exciting time!

Obama’s acceptance speech last night offered a true occasion for pause, reflection, and consideration.  I would like to do a much fuller analysis and thanks to some of my students this morning my wheels are really turning about this just now.  But until such time as I can find time to write more let me flag two themes:

“Unyielding hope” – Obama is a meliorist (even if he, knowledgeable as he is, may have to look that word up).  The meliorist is the one who holds dear the conviction that we can, through our own efforts, make better lives for our selves.  The meliorist is neither the pessimist who sees gloom nor the optimist who sees brightness as automatically given.  Betterment is our doing, our energy, our achievement: so says the meliorist.  That Obama is a meliorist makes him a pragmatist and an American of the best variety our history has to offer.  (If you want to see something like a scholarly argument for this last point see my article “Pragmatism as a Philosophy of Hope“, which is a shorter and earlier version of Chapter One of my forthcoming book.)

“This is your election” – Obama is pushing participatory democracy which is much welcome after the eight long dark years of elitist democracy as foisted on us by Bush et. al..  I keep coming back to something Cornel West said in, I believe, his appearance on Bill Maher with Mos Def (but it may have been elsewhere).  He said that he would celebrate all night when Obama was elected but the next day he would wake up and become his biggest critic.  This seems so valuable to me just now because one finally has the sense that the President will welcome that criticism.  Of course one should not expect that Obama himself would actively respond to all of his critics, though it is plausible that he may have some dialogue with West at some point.  What one should expect rather would be that Obama would welcome as vitally important for democracy the process of that criticism and its more extreme forms, such as civil disobedience.  This is in many ways an emphatic inspiration for amateur cultural critics like myself.

If there was one bit of rhetoric in the speech which I did not care for it was the worn-out gesture for something called “national unity” all wrapped up with the bow of a pretty reference to Lincoln.  That much unity is apolitical.  Politics requires a healthy exchange between consensus and dissent.  Let us not pretend that division and difference ever stands in the way of our better unyielding hopes.

Here is what I would like to learn to take away from this moment: For our democracy to work we all must contribute what we can.  For some of us this contribution will be a work that is simultaneously meliorative and critical, hopeful and unsettling, progressive and destabilizing.

Advertisements

Written by Colin Koopman

November 6, 2008 at 7:18 am