In light of Barack Obama's victory on the wings of rhetoric that contained much use of the term "hope", and the right's dismissal of such talk as empty, this seems like a good time to talk about Ernst Bloch's The Principle of Hope.
As a practical matter, Obama's speeches may not have spelled out in detail of what our hope should consist, although I think this is misleading. All one had to do is check out his campaign website, or listen carefully to his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, and we had all sorts of policy proposals, sometimes in excruciating detail. Those who insist his talk was as empty as his suit simply refused to do their homework.
Bloch was a Marxist, perhaps the most important Marxist philosopher beside Vladimir Lenin. Hardly doctrinaire, however, he pursued his Marxist philosophy in a spirit that ended up with him out of a job in East Germany, spending his last years in exile in Tubingen, where he became active in the student protest movements in West Germany in the late 1960's. He was also a huge influence on theologian Jurgen Moltmann, whose The Theology of Hope Karl Barth denounced as baptized Marxism.
The central thesis of this massive work - three volumes of lyrical, sometimes near-indecipherable poetic prose - is that "hope" is the most important practical tool human beings have. It is hope that drives us, it is hope that keeps us going in the face of a past and present that should drive us to despair. Hope is nothing more and nothing less than the real future pulling us toward us, driving us towards its realization. Hope makes itself known in dreams, in art and architecture, in religion - in all those social and cultural spheres in which we attempt to do something new, to make real what cannot even be imagined. In its most pregnant form - politics - it is the pursuit of justice in the face of reactionary forces that insist the world cannot be other than it is. It is the force that keeps people pursuing the goal of justice and equality in the teeth of a violent status quo that refuses to relinquish its perquisites.
Thus, hope is hardly empty. Indeed, it is the most full notion we have, keeping us going when all the odds, all the experts, all those forces of inertia tell us that we cannot achieve what we need to achieve to make our world, and our lives, better.
I do not know if Obama has ever read Bloch. Nor do I care all that much. His attraction for me is that it reminds me that, sometimes, hope is all we have, yet it just might be everything we need.