Republican perspectives on populism and hope (Beyond Christopher Lasch)

Theodosiadis, Michail. 2021. Republican perspectives on populism and hope (Beyond Christopher Lasch). Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This dissertation begins by contrasting hope with optimism and pessimism, the two
‘principal categories of public debate’ that have allowed a particular political ‘culture of
critical discourse’ to settle into place (Lasch 1990: 13). It brings together a great variety of
perspectives (classical republicanism, liberalism, conservatism and religion) and reflects on the
works of Hannah Arendt, Simone Adolphine Weil, William James, John Milton, et al. In agreement with
Lasch, the present study claims that only populism can satisfy the criteria of hope, conceived as a
probability for justice, truth and beauty. This populism (henceforth it will be called the ‘vita
civile’) advocates self-government. It opposes the centralisation of power and the arbitrary
imposition of rule, which political pessimists consider the only safe remedies for lawlessness and
aggression, from the consequences of the (potentially) inherent human hubris (see the glossary). At
the same time, the vita civile questions the quasi optimistic assertions of modern liberalism,
which project the impersonal market pattern as the sole arbiter of all human affairs, seeing
history as a steady trajectory towards a destination of assured happiness. However, the vita civile
does not consider active participation in government a recipe for perfect happiness. Instead, it
seeks to adjust the classical republican/democratic view of popular sovereignty to James’ idea of
meliorism and pragmatism. It questions the rosy view of human nature but instead of surrendering to
the fatalism of pessimism, meliorism (or hope) sees justice and common decency as open
possibilities and shares the unshakable conviction that hubris and conflict could be more
effectively tackled through active citizenship, when (in other words) the ‘common people’
concentrate power as close to home as possible, and instead of being locked out from the political
structures and hierarchies, can access and reshape them. Through this process an ethos of political
experience and virtue is acquired.

Furthermore, this populist synthesis, following Arendt’s insights, is centered in logos— implying
speech, dialogue, open public debate and persuasion—as a means of political action and
participation. In addition, the vita civile shares a high respect for tradition, religion and
heritage. Common memories and lore shape a popular identity that unify heterogeneous crowds,
allowing them to function as political agents.

Transcendent archetypes and religious insights can on certain occasions inspire prudence over
aggression. Finally, several historical events are examined as case- studies: these include the
American Revolution, the agrarian revolt in the American South and West (in the late nineteenth
century), and certain aspects of the American
Civil Rights Movement.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Christopher Lasch, optimism, liberalism, progress, ancient Greece

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



30 June 2021

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

16 Aug 2021 15:45

Last Modified:

23 Feb 2024 02:26


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