Wendy Brown is professor of legal studies and women’s studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her most recent book is States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (1995). She is currently completing a book provisionally titled Liberalism Out of History.
«What is entailed in throwing off the melancholic and conservative habits of the Left to invigorate it with a radical (from the Latin radix, meaning »root”) critical and visionary spirit again? This would be a spirit that embraces the notion of a deep and indeed unsettling transformation of society rather than one that recoils at this prospect, even as we must be wise to the fact that neither total revolution nor the automatic progress of history will carry us toward whatever reformulated vision we might develop. What political hope can we nurture that does not falsely ground itself in the notion that »history is on our side” or that there is some inevitability of popular attachment to whatever values we might develop as those of a new left vision? What kind of political and economic order can we imagine that is neither state-run nor utopian, neither repressive nor libertarian, neither economically impoverished nor culturally gray? How might we draw creative sustenance from socialist ideals of dignity, equality, and freedom, while recognizing that these ideals were conjured from historical conditions and prospects that are not those of the present? My emphasis on the melancholic logic of certain contemporary left tendencies is not meant to recommend therapy as the route to answering these questions. It does, however, suggest that the feelings and sentiments—including those of sorrow, rage, and anxiety about broken promises and lost compasses—that sustain our attachments to left analyses and left projects ought to be examined for what they create in the way of potentially conservative and even self-destructive undersides of putatively progressive political aims.»