The Growth of a Global Community

by Dan Shanahan
Togga, 2011

When we hear the word “growth” spoken in political discourse, we generally think in economic terms—and usually with the implication that growth is a good thing. But at least since E.F. Schumacher’s Limits to Growth, the West has been faced with the notion that economic growth in and of itself may not be the unmitigated blessing we once thought it to be.

If we try to bring the discourses of economy and personal psychology together, we run into real problems: few would argue that “personal growth”—as conceived by psychologists like Rogers or Maslow—is anything but a good. Schumacher’s “limits” don’t come into consideration at all.

At first glance, this is nothing more than cross-disciplinary crosstalk. One discipline using a word in one sense, another in a different sense, and—to paraphrase Mark Twain—you’re OK if the trains don’t meet. But in a new and provocative reflection on the future of progressive political thought, Waiting for Something That Never Arrived: Meditations on a Progressive America in Honor of Tony Judt, Dan Shanahan lets the trains meet. And instead of a head-on collision, we get something more like atomic fission, and it produces a remarkable amount of energy.

As the title suggests, the book is in part an homage to Tony Judt, the brilliant New York University political historian known to readers of the Guardian and the New York Review of Books. Shanahan had a brief set of email exchanges with Judt in the waning months of the historian’s life, which ended last year due to Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Shanahan had been struck by the implied optimism of Judt’s Ill Fares the Land, a 2010 book on the alarming increase in unequal distribution of wealth in Western democracies, so he found himself wondering if Judt wasn’t leaving himself open to the accusation of naïveté with respect to his assessment of the possibilities of social democracy in America. Pondering that question up to and after Judt’s death, Shanahan set out to ask what foundations, beyond altruism and liberal guilt, might exist upon which a progressive vision could be built in the age of Limbaugh, Palin, and the Tea Party.

Enter “growth.”

Shanahan says life has two irreducible qualities: it tries to survive and reproduce, and to aid in that effort, it “grows”—both with respect to its complexity (thus Darwin’s findings on natural selection) and with respect to what, for lack of a better word, we might call “wisdom” in elaborating its interactions with its environment. ...

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Robert Inchausti is the author of Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries, and Other Christians in Disguise and Thomas Merton’s American Prophecy, among other books.

Source Citation

Shanahan, Dan. 2012. "The Growth of a Global Community." Tikkun 27(2): 50.

tags: Books, Politics & Society, Reviews   
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