Every Movement Fails. Until It Succeeds.

I have friends on both sides of the Bernie-Hillary divide. And tonight on Facebook, they’re all posting articles that give the edge to their favored candidates, articles that anticipate alternative—and conflicting—futures. And that is as it should be. Politics is not a science of representing reality exactly as it is (that is, uni-dimensionally). It is an art that sees reality in all its flux, a mode of judgment that identifies multiple paths and possibilities, a mode of action that presses harder on some of those possibilities—pushes further along some of those paths—than others. Not because they’re more probable but because they’re more desirable. Which is why I have so little patience with the armchair strategists in the media, those political meteorologists who spend their days forecasting the future, who tell you there’s no point in voting for a candidate because there’s no way he or she can win, as if the end is a fact of nature rather than a choice of citizens. Or their counterparts in the electorate, those anxious realists who demand that you lay out the path for them, assure them of the destination, before they even take a step. Oh, to know the end of the day ‘ere the day is done! The fact is: Every movement fails. Until it succeeds. And then, when it does, everyone says, of course it succeeded, it had to succeed. No, actually, it didn’t have to succeed. But what made it succeed—or at least helped it succeed—was that men and women, for a time, shook off the need for certitude, let go of the bannisters of certainty, remembered that they are not scientists, and put themselves into motion. Without knowing where they’d end up.


  1. Barry Carr February 2, 2016 at 9:27 pm | #

    ‘let go of the bannisters of certainty’. I like that expression!

  2. Analog Chew (@2inchtape) February 2, 2016 at 10:03 pm | #

    I see that art as the application and rather pure practice of Aristotelean rhetoric as he laid out centuries ago. It’s a beautiful thing for those who engage in earnest.

  3. UserGoogol February 2, 2016 at 10:08 pm | #

    This kind of logic seems kind of reactionary. It’s exactly the logic Karl Rove was making with his famous attack on the “reality-based community.” If reactionaries believe in will-power and conflict to support power hierarchies, the left needs to do the opposite.

    Human beings are bags of meat before we are citizens, and no amount of political organization will remove us from the inexorable forces of nature. Every movement fails until it succeeds, but it doesn’t succeed because it tried extra hard, it changes because the forces of history allowed it to succeed.

  4. jonnybutter February 2, 2016 at 10:56 pm | #

    Every movement fails. Until it succeeds. And then, when it does, everyone says, of course it succeeded, it had to succeed. No, actually, it didn’t have to succeed.

    This is everything. Contingency can be scary but even more than that, it’s freeing. Political theory, and philosophy in general, are as endlessly interesting as a certain kind of academic political ‘science’ is – or tends to be – boring and dispiriting (cough, LGM, cough), i.e., the one which always has everything figured out – sees everything as inevitable, obvious, true to script, etc. As if politics is about the (boring) boring of hard boards (Hard Choices!). But if the study of history (or of biology or of physics) shows any one thing, it’s that *nothing’ is inevitable.

  5. Roqeuntin February 2, 2016 at 10:59 pm | #

    I agree. I generally do see political movements like weather patterns, but even with that metaphor a forecast is pretty much worthless more than three or four days out. Even the most skilled prognosis doesn’t see for long. There’s way too many variables and anyone who tells you differently is lying.

    As deterministically as I tend to see things (I’m a big fan of Spinoza), that’s no excuse not to get involved. Now more than ever we need to give this all we have. If you stay at home, if you’re too lazy to get off your ass, the billionaires win. That’s exactly what they want. Crushed spirits, despair, and an “inevitable” candidate who represents their interests instead of ours.

    • Thomas Rossetti February 3, 2016 at 2:15 am | #


  6. jerrysisti February 3, 2016 at 12:36 am | #

    I see that art as the application and rather pure practice of Aristotelean rhetoric as he laid out centuries ago. It’s a beautiful thing for those who engage in earnest.

  7. Nqabutho February 3, 2016 at 4:43 am | #

    A realist (in a sense of the term I prefer in this case), as opposed to a pessimist, fatalist, biological determinist or panglossian, can see the possibilities implicit in the pregnance of the present moment. Absolutely essential is the willingness to engage imagination, political imagination in this case, and to recognize possible openings. A goal of economic activity generally governed by ethical principles properly so called, rather than by the profit motive and maximization of profits: the point of transformation could be the university, now seen (more as it may once have been) as a haven for the pursuit of learning and understanding, pure inquiry, including critique of political action, a public good (with a broad public appreciation of the notion of ‘public good’), rather than a locus of early entry into the rat race of career survival and atomising capitalist market forces (such a soul- deadening view), made possible by the availability of free higher education for all, free tuition, books and all the rest of it. If you want to study poetry, the taxpayer can pay for this, because the community could benefit from more poetic sensibility. Better than corporate welfare and more war-making weapons. People are saying this idea of Bernie’s, for example, is impossible, for this or that usual obstacle. It’s not impossible! There probably exists, in the world at present, capital in excess of what can be applied to the usual kinds of entrepreneurial investments. It should be put to use funding the public good, rather than constituting pointless capital inflows.

  8. Mushin February 3, 2016 at 12:16 pm | #

    We humans are social beings engaged intimately in networks of conversations committed to embodied effective actions in domains of permanent human concerns. We have all the time in the world and not a moment to waste. The global economy currently directed by 18th century narcissistic bean-counters in western leadership has failed. I am a Bernie supporter because the millennials are the founder’s of new shared economy transcending the 2,500+ years of a mistaken observer error that any creation is separated from the creator. The hero’s journey implied in Donald Trump’s newest Cartesian emperor demanding obedience through polarized bullying ignoring and denying our evolutionary fundaments in our shared human concerns is ending. Enlightened entertainment is its worst enemy and is now at a tipping point in the attention economy looking for authenticity.

    The pathway to a useful and fruitful tomorrow emerges as we walk together in appreciative conversations committed to effective actions birthing a new beginning by becoming human beings, not knowing where it leads, other than the spirit-sense of love for the evolutionary swept along drift we belong to, and our passionately desire to continue becoming human in playfulness. I submit that this hard-wired biological ecological knowing trumps current global politics, media, economics, Cartesian philosophy and AI technology.

    Human experience proves this in our daily lives as we passionately desire to be friends rather than enemies with one another. Friendship is an authentic social domain based in freedom and love. We are all star dust and all cultures belong to one universe not two. Love is an ethical act operating moment to moment in cognitive circular realization in living. The western splits and creation of a psychological narcissistic self importance is based in the illusionary notions of an ego separated from its creations with “others.” I submit this notion is DOA in the 21st century. We live in abundance, creativity and celebratory experiences of life, not scarcity, fear, ignorance, war and limitations. Love constitutes our human presence as we mature within these regressive and reactive discourses of adolescent bullying the playground in higher education. Yes, its free and life-long in the process of appreciative triadic inquiry and dialog in our daily oral languaging called society.


  9. cynicalatheist February 4, 2016 at 9:24 am | #

    It’s all about letting go of delusions of control.

  10. Niki Ghini McKenzie - friend of Laura February 10, 2016 at 4:30 am | #

    Hi Corey, may I translate the above into Italian and use it for our grass-roots movement association to promote organic farming in our area? What you say here applies to little farmers who are discouraged from political actions that don’t reach them and are sitting on the fence to see us fail, and if not and it’s convenient maybe they’ll join…Of course proper credits will be given, Let me know

    • Corey Robin February 10, 2016 at 7:18 am | #


      • Niki February 10, 2016 at 3:11 pm | #

        thank you

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