THIS LIFE by Martin Hägglund


Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom
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A defense of democratic socialism, grounded in religion, philosophy, economics, and literature.

In a densely argued critique of religion and capitalism, philosopher Hägglund (Comparative Literature and Humanities/Yale Univ.; Dying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov, 2012, etc.) tackles thorny questions of value, freedom, and responsibility. Analyzing a wide range of thinkers—among others, Aristotle, Spinoza, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Marx, Martin Luther King Jr., John Rawls, Friedrich Hayek, and Thomas Piketty—Hägglund asserts that only secular faith and democratic socialism can “provide the institutional, political, and material conditions for spiritual freedom.” In the first part of the book, the author examines the social and moral consequences of belief in eternity, which he sees as central to religious faith. Believing that one’s soul transcends time leads to indifference to worldly events, immunity from grief or loss, and lack of care about the fates of others. God, Hägglund writes, “is completely irresponsible because he is not bound to anything other than himself.” Secular faith, on the other hand, is premised on an individual’s sense of moral responsibility and investment “in finite lives.” Personal attachments leave individuals open to suffering, but they offer “a positive chance of having a relation to others” and to developing and acting upon “an existential commitment—to a political transformation, a filial relation, an artistic creation, and so on.” The second part of the book focuses on an intensive examination of capitalism, which the author argues necessarily undermines individuals’ spiritual freedom and generates political and economic inequality. Neither a universal basic income nor redistribution of wealth “can free us from capitalist exploitation,” he asserts, “since only wage labor in the service of profit” supports the accumulation of wealth that fuels “the dynamic of capitalism.” In order “for democracy to be true to its own concept of freedom and equality,” he writes, “capitalism must therefore be overcome.” Freedom to act authentically, to make choices that support the common good, and to enhance the quality of our free time is fundamental to Hägglund’s argument in favor of democratic socialism.

An impassioned and erudite proposal for vast systemic changes.

Pub Date: March 5th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-101-87040-2
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2018


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