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Negative Hopes: Social Dynamics of Isolating and Passive Forms of Hope

by Sylvia Terpe
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

Sociological Research Online, 21 (1), 15
DOI: 10.5153/sro.3799

Received: 9 Apr 2014 | Accepted: 28 Aug 2015 | Published: 28 Feb 2016


This article critically questions the popular idea of hope as a motivating emotion as well as the more specific idea of hope as engendering solidary ties. Both notions can be found in social movement research and will be introduced in the first section. The idea that hope is such an activating force that binds people together is challenged by reports of some survivors of Nazi concentration camps. In the second part I will turn to a selection from the writings of Tadeusz Borowski and Ruth Klüger, both of whom survived Auschwitz. They emphasize that it was (besides other factors) the prisoners' hope that isolated them from each other and which prevented them from undertaking acts of resistance against their tormentors. In the third and main section a close reading of Friedrich Torberg's novel Vengeance is Mine will help to identify particular features of such numbing forms of hope. Although fictitious, this novel broadens our understanding of hope by revealing two social dynamics encouraging hopes that have isolating effects and that induce passivity. I will close with reflections on how these negative accounts of hope can be integrated into a general conception of hope. I suggest differentiating between two meanings of hope: the one refers to ideas of a better future, the other one to the ways by which such futures may be achieved. It is useful to distinguish these two meanings analytically in order to understand the empirically different forms of hope.

Keywords: Hope, Social Movements, Resistance, Passivity, Isolation, Literary Analysis

Hope as a motivating emotion engendering ties of solidarity

1.1 The idea of hope as an activating and empowering force pervades so many different areas of life and genres of writing that one may call it a dominant cultural pattern – at least in the Western world. It can be found in popular politics (Atwater 2007; Civettini 2011) as well as in political theory (Deneen 1999), in everyday life practices (Terkel 2004) and in discourses revolving around health, illness and healing (Petersen & Wilkinson 2015). In this article I will take the reception of this idea in social movement research as a starting point to reconsider this assumption. Hope is frequently addressed in those strands of social movement research that take into account the emotional dimension of action (e.g. Flam & King 2005; Gould 2009; Jasper 1998; Jasper 2011). Most of these accounts of hope agree upon its potential to motivate action (Aminzade & McAdam 2001; Benski 2011; Benski & Langman 2013; Flam 2005; Summers-Effler 2002; Wright 2008). Hope is ascribed an 'activating role' (Flam 2005: 20) and it is regarded as being able to 'energize action' (Jasper 2011: 291). Furthermore, hope is seen as 'the necessary affective bedrock' for the emergence of social movements altogether (Aminzade & McAdam 2001: 31). While an emotion like 'anger' is regarded as promoting 'other (usually individual) forms of resistance […, it] is only when anger gets joined with hope that the forms of action we normally associate with social movements and revolutions are apt to take place.' (Aminzade & McAdam 2001: 31-32). By seeing hope as an indispensable ingredient for collective (and not only individual) action – in particular for their more enduring manifestations in social movements – the idea of hope as an activating force is coupled with the additional notion of solidary ties being fostered by it.

1.2 However, it is important to note that many social movement researchers do not regard hope as an essential antecedent for initial collective action – in other words: they do not assume that hope necessarily exists prior to social movements. Rather, they locate the origin of hope in the experience of participating in a common activity and/or being part of a solidary network created via joint action. This literature emphasizes that hope emerges from 'solidarity experiences based in ritual interaction' (Summers-Effler 2002: 42), that it builds on the capacity to 'relate to others' and that it 'draws on connection and on the work of creating and recreating solidarities' (Wright 2008: 224). Some authors point to the significance of so called 'key events' or 'transforming events' (like a protest march or a gathering) which serve 'as important generators of hope, while simultaneously undermining the fear' participants would feel if they would be thrown back to being on their own as single individuals (Aminzade & McAdam 2001: 33). Such 'key events' provide an opportunity for 'ritual interactions' and the hope produced in the course of such events serves as a motivating and binding force able to put the collective action on a more solid basis. Accordingly, hope does not in all cases precede initial collective action, rather it is generated through such action and then in turn fuels subsequent common activities.

1.3 The emphasis on the motivating force of hope generated in common activities and in the experience of being related to others is a common feature in social movement research. Yet these accounts of hope differ in respect to the particular content of hope, that is according to the object which hope is directed at. Although marginal at first sight, this difference will turn out to be crucial for conceptualizing hope itself (see the last section). Many authors identify the specific content of hope as the image of an alternative and better future. They regard hope as 'the anticipation of a better state of affairs in the future' (Jasper 1998: 406) and as the vision of 'alternative social arrangements' (Langman 2013: 513), they speak of the 'hope for a better world and better life' (Benski & Langman 2013: 535), they identify the content of hope in the 'prospects for future change' and in the belief 'that things can be different' (Aminzade & McAdam 2001: 33, 47). Desroche (1979) observed that hope, in the sense of the ability to imagine an alternative world beyond the given one, is characteristic for many religious and non-religious social movements. These images of a future better than the present are not to be regarded as mundane wishes, desires or preferences; in the context of social movements they are rather seen as coupled with 'the stronger, normative claim that things should be different' (O'Brien 2010: 33). Following Joas' distinction between values and desires one could say that such images of a better future signify values, they 'do not [just] express desires, but instead imply what is worth desiring' (Joas 2000: 17). Accordingly, what is expressed in these visions and experiences of hope is regarded as valuable because hope bestows life with (moral) meaning. From this perspective, hope is an emotion that, just as some other emotions, 'incorporate[s] a sense of what is important to us qua subjects, or to put it slightly differently, of what we value, or what matters to us' (Taylor 1992: 60). In an almost ideal-typical way this perspective is exemplified by Pope Francis in his claim: 'When a Christian forgets hope, or worse, loses hope, his life is senseless. It's as if his life hit a wall: there's nothing.'[1] Yet while this statement may hold for (Catholic) Christians, other religious or non-religious worldviews may provide a 'context' or 'complex of meaning' (Weber 1978: 8-9) in which sense-making is not necessarily bound to hope but is constituted by other combinations of ideas and emotions (see below).

1.4 Besides the designation of hope as the image of a better life in the future, some authors of social movement studies shift the object of hope to the acting persons themselves. According to this interpretation, hope is associated with the belief that one's own actions will lead to a change for the better. For instance, for Benski and Langman participants in so called 'progressive movements' are characterized by 'the belief in the ability to change the course of events' by themselves (Benski & Langman 2013: 533). In a more general way Summers-Effler even claims that '[h]ope is the anticipation that struggle will produce positive results rather than making the situation worse […], when there is hope other parts of the self tell the "you", "you can do it!."' (Summers-Effler 2002: 53-54). Jasper describes this aspect of hope in a similar way when he speaks of an '[h]opeful anticipation of an impact' and of the 'hope that victories were possible' (Jasper 2011: 291, 256). Some authors, like Jasper and Benski & Langman, regard this type of hope as additional to the previously discussed meaning of hope, that is in the sense of an imagined better future. Other authors, like Summers-Effler, restrict the meaning of hope to the self-image of persons, namely as capable to act and to change circumstances by themselves. Yet in this latter interpretation the other dimension, the ability to imagine alternative worlds, is lost. I will come back to this point in the last section.

Notions of numbing effects of hope in survivor's narrations

2.1 The idea of hope as a positively motivating emotion is challenged by narrations of some survivors of Nazi concentration camps, such as Tadeusz Borowski and Ruth Klüger. They emphasize the occasionally inhibiting effect of hope on action.[2] Borowski, a Polish writer and journalist, was arrested in 1943 as a political prisoner and deported to Auschwitz. After the war he reflected on these experiences in his written prose, especially in a collection of short stories translated into English as This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (Borowski 1992 [1947]). In the central passage on hope in this book Borowski makes the following comment:

'Do you really think that without the hope … that the rights of man will be restored again, we could stand the concentration camp even for one day? It is that very hope that makes people go without a murmur to the gas chambers, keeps them from risking a revolt, paralyzes them into numb inactivity. […] Never before in the history of mankind has hope been stronger in man, but never also has it done so much harm as it has in this war, in this concentration camp. We were never taught how to give up hope, and this is why today we perish in gas chambers.' (Borowski 1992 [1947]: 112)

2.2 The last sentence of this passage is quoted in turn by Ruth Klüger, another survivor of Auschwitz, in her own memories Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered (Klüger 2001 [1992]). In an interview with a German magazine she commented the final words in Borowski's quote affirmatively: 'What a stunning sentence, so true. It was exactly like that in Auschwitz: people who thought that it will get better somehow finally perished.' (Klüger 2012: 54, translation S.T.) Nevertheless she emphasizes in her memories: 'I never gave up hope' (Klüger 2001 [1992]: 90). Therefore, both Borowski and Klüger highlight the occasionally ambivalent character of hope: while hope maintains the idea of a better future, it may carry people through hard times. Yet the very same idea of a better future may also prevent them from engaging in any acts of active resistance.

2.3 In the next section I will discuss the social conditions and underlying mechanisms of such hopes in which actors remain passive. I will do so by making use of a piece of fictional literature, the novel Mein ist die Rache (Vengeance is Mine) by Friedrich Torberg (2008 [1965]). I do not use this novel in the sense of empirical data about the actual conditions in concentration camps. Nevertheless fictional literature provides valuable 'data' for the study of emotions (cf. Hogan 2011). For the purposes of this discussion, the value of Torberg's novel is twofold. Firstly, it helps us to get a better understanding of those forms of passive hope addressed only briefly by Borowski and Klüger. What are the particular features of such hopes? In which broader context of meaning do they make sense? Additionally, this novel represents hope not only as inducing passivity, but also as dissolving social ties. Thereby it connects the two antipodes of those notions of hope which can be found in social movement research. By reconstructing parts of Torberg's novel in analytical and sociological terms, one can get an idea of the underlying social dynamics. In this way, the novel helps to broaden and sharpen our theoretical understanding of hope so that it can include a greater variety of its empirical manifestations. These can be divided into active and passive forms of hope as well as into those which engender solidary ties and those which do not.

Social dynamics of isolating and passive forms of hope

3.1 Before I will turn to Torberg's novel, a first approximation to the potential numbing effects of hope is helpful via the epitaph on the gravestone of Nikos Kazantzakis, a Greek author who is famous for novels like Zorba the Greek and The Last temptation of Christ. The epitaph on his gravestone reads: 'I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.'[3] Although not explicated by Kazantzakis himself (at least not to my knowledge), the epitaph seems to contain the idea that hope, just as the emotion of fear often does, keeps us entrapped and ensnared. As long as we hope, it seems to say, we are not free: not only in what we are thinking, but also in what we are doing. In contrast to the dominant notion of hope, which often regards fear as the negative opponent of hope (e.g. Meyer 2008: 100), Kazantzakis seems to dissolve the opposition of hope and fear in regard to their effects. Accordingly, the idea of a better future – as it is contained in hope – makes one susceptible to the fear of losing this very future and in this way may contribute to inactivity. Because people hope for things that are valuable to them, they fear to lose these very things at the same time and hence they may feel limited in the courses of actions available to them. From this perspective, hope and fear belong together, precisely because they are related to and constituted by things which are seen as worth desiring and which bestow life with meaning. Thereby Kazantzakis reminds us not to generalize too hastily the notion of hope as a motivating force per se. I just want to add that Kazantzakis himself does not associate the loss of hope with an empty and meaningless life. Rather, he emphasizes to be released from the constraints of fear and hence to be free to act when one lets go of hope. In this way he sketches (in particular in opposition to the Catholic worldview touched on above) a 'complex of meaning' in which life without hope is connected with fundamental freedom. I will come back to this idea later on.

3.2 A particular example of a simultaneous occurrence of hope and fear can be found in the novel Mein ist die Rache (Vengeance is Mine) by Friedrich Torberg, an Austrian and Czech writer and journalist whose Jewish heritage compelled him to emigrate to the United States in 1940. In 1942 he began to write the novel, which unfortunately has never been translated into English.[4] In this novel, Torberg describes the practices of the fictitious SS lieutenant general Hermann Wagenseil, who drives some arbitrarily selected Jewish inmates of a concentration camp into committing suicide. Torberg lets his main protagonist, who is one of the inmates, reflect on it as follows:

'I already mentioned that one of Wagenseil's particular subtleties was the demoralization of any feelings of solidarity. […] When he appeared […] to fetch a new victim […] and when he strode up and down our rows […] and then, suddenly, with a short nod or a scarce gesture indicated the one he wanted to have: then […] besides helplessness and pity […] a quiet gasp of relief crept in, because it was the other one who was hit […] what meant: you, not me.' (Torberg 2008 [1965]: 14-15; translation S.T.)

3.3 By describing the de-solidarizing effects of Wagenseil's practice, Torberg specifies a particular social context in which hope and fear may engage in a vicious circle with numbing effects. Caused by the perfidious strategy of Wagenseil, the inmates developed a form of hope that was directed at individual survival. They did not have a 'social imaginary' (Taylor 2004) any more, that is an image of a common future. Through his procedure Wagenseil managed to drive a wedge between the inmates and to force upon them a focus on their individual existence. At the same time their hope for individual survival was infused with fear of losing their lives – a fear which was justified in the face of Wagenseil's power. But this power was strengthened even more as prisoners distanced themselves from each other in their hope for individual survival: since everybody had the experience of being left on his or her own (and not of being part of a group), their powerlessness and accompanying fear must have been felt even stronger. Hence one can specify the dynamic of this isolating and passive hope in the following assumption: if hope refers to an individualized future, it seems to be susceptible to fear in particular, because the chances increase that the single individual feels thrown back on his or her limited capacities to reach this very future. This seems to apply all the more as this individualized future is restricted – due to circumstances like in concentration camps – to mere survival. What is then at stake is one's life, that is one of the highest values one may have. But at the same time the malicious approach of Wagenseil was able to corrupt even the value-idea of life itself by letting the prisoners hope that another inmate – and not oneself – will be the next victim.

3.4 The novel by Torberg contains yet another hint to a particular form of hope which promotes inactivity as well as – under particular social conditions – the weakening of social bonds. In the further course of events Torberg describes an incident which comes unexpected for most prisoners: one of the Jewish inmates volunteers to be tortured by Wagenseil, a decision which meant certain death. After this incident the first-person narrator has a conversation with another inmate, Joseph Aschkenasy, a rabbi candidate:

'"Why", I said, "Why did he [the volunteer] do that. Maybe this time Wagenseil did not want to pick anybody. Maybe he does not want any other one at all. Maybe he has had enough. Maybe he will get dismissed from Heidenburg [the concentration camp]. Or something else will happen, and nobody has to die any more." Aschkenasy looked at me […] "You see", he nodded. "As long as there is still one among us who attaches his hopes on such a 'maybe' – who believes it would happen 'something' before he will meet the same fate as the others […] as long as one still hopes that it will hit all the others except for him: so long it will hit all of us."' (Torberg 2008 [1965]: 29; translation S.T.)

3.5 On the one hand Torberg addresses in this passage the first dynamic again and its effect of individualization and separation ('that it will hit all the others except for him'). On the other hand he emphasizes the effects of a hope that is characterized by being attached to waiting for some uncertain 'maybe' or an uncertain 'something'. In this version of 'passive hope' the notion of a better future is interwoven with the idea that this future will be brought about by the interventions of others – persons, institutions, divine or natural powers. Hence 'the person places herself in the position to wait for something to happen to her' (Swedberg 2007: 22). It is important to note that in this mechanism two kinds of hope – or two hopes with different objects – overlap: the one is directed at the images of a better future, the other one at the 'actors' who are seen as able to accomplish this future (see the last section). The passivity of such a form of hope is due to the fact that the person who is waiting for others to intervene may lose sight of his or her own alternatives to act. Or to put it in other words: as long as one relies on, beliefs in or wishes for others to do something, one is distracted from one's own possibilities of action and remains in a state of passivity.

3.6 Torberg's novel draws its particular tension not only from this opposition between hoping and waiting on the one hand and realizing one's own alternatives for action on the other hand – it offers yet another way of seeing things. Although Aschkenasy, the rabbi candidate and conversational partner of the main protagonist, criticizes the waiting for some uncertain 'maybe', he does not seem to approve of open revolt. When the first volunteer has died after the torture by the SS officer Wagenseil, Aschkenasy refers to God's saying: 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay'. Aschkenasy does not only try to speak words of solace to the other inmates with this, but he also seems to imply that it is not up to them to take revenge on Wagenseil and revolt against the concentration camp regime actively. Moreover, he offers a specific interpretation of God's saying when he explains: 'Gods vengeance is ours at the same time. […] It is our vengeance and we avenge unbrokenly by just being, by just still being.' (Torberg 2008 [1965]: 38; translation S.T.) What is striking here is that Aschkenasy no longer speaks of hope; rather he seems to be certain and confident in God's vengeance and its manifestation in 'just being'. This points to a specific requirement of hope to develop at all: it builds on the perception of an uncertain future, that is '[w]hether it [the imagined and wished for future; S.T.] can or will be realized or not, is not known' (Swedberg 2007: 21). If people feel certain and confident about the things to come, there is obviously no need to and no place for hope. Only an uncertain future opens up the possibility for hope.

3.7 Yet on the grounds of uncertainty not only hope can arise. In Torberg's novel the main protagonist, instead of hoping, begins to develop doubts and in his doubts he recognizes the possibility of choice and action: 'We do not have a choice? We have it constantly, always we have it, again and again we must decide; if the decision would have been taken away from us – if we would have no choice – life would be empty and blind and senseless: yes, that is it!' (2008 [1965]: 63; translation S.T.) This quote illustrates nicely that the fundamental human problem of meaning and 'cultural significance' (Weber 1949) can be solved in very different ways. While Torberg's main protagonist finds one of his 'ultimate value-ideas' (Weber 1949: 112) in the possibility and ability to have a choice and to make decisions, other inmates keep up a sense of meaning by hanging on and hoping for a better future (however it might be realized), and the rabbi candidate Aschkenasy in turn seems to live in a world in which meaning is derived from an absolute confidence in God and his or her decisions. It is interesting to notice that all three solutions are coupled with a particular 'epistemic feeling' (de Sousa 2008): doubt, uncertainty and confidence in each case, yet it is beyond the aim of this article to pursue this line of thought further. At this point I only want to mention that the main protagonist finally decides to volunteer to be tortured by the SS officer Wagenseil; in the confrontation with him he manages not only to kill him but to escape from the concentration camp as well. However, he then feels the burden of a lifetime guilt, because he will never learn what has happened with the other inmates and he can only presume that they were probably killed – maybe even in a vengeful reaction to his killing of the SS officer Wagenseil.[5]

3.8 Two more things should be said about the passive hope of waiting: the first one refers to the combination of this hope with fear, the other one concerns its effect on social ties. To begin with, in comparison to the other dynamic described above (the vicious circle of hope and fear against the background of an individualized vision of the future), the passivity of the second variant is independent of fear on an analytical level: one may hope for others to do something without having fear at the same time. Nevertheless feelings of fear may occur. It seems reasonable to assume that those who are powerless are more likely to fear lacking the capacity to reach a better future by themselves. Hence they might turn their hopes to the interventions of more powerful actors who could protect them and act on their behalf. Therefore the hope for others to do something may be the result of one's own fear caused by powerlessness. This powerlessness in turn might be, besides other factors, the effect of the individualizing dynamic of the first mechanism. Furthermore, once the hope has developed that other actors will do something, it may be simultaneously complemented by fear (Flam 2005: 33), namely the fear that these other actors will not act, or act too late, or act in ways which one does not wish for. Second, and again in contrast to the first mechanism, the state of waiting and hoping is not necessarily coupled with a loosening of social ties and estrangement from others. People may wait and hope collectively and even strengthen their social ties in their common hope directed at something else or others. Yet under particular constellations and shifts in power balances a dissolving of social bonds is possible too. A contemporary example for this development is described by Deborah Gould (2009) in her study of ACT UP.

3.9 ACT UP was founded as a social movement in 1987 in the USA with the aim of pressing for a coordinated national policy to fight AIDS.[6] After years of successful mobilization, the situation changed in 1993 when Bill Clinton won the election. Many ACT UP activists were hoping then for 'a better leadership on AIDS from the top' in comparison to the Reagan/Bush years before (Gould 2009: 418). One of Gould's interviewees recapitulated his hopes at that time as follows: 'And I really had hope that maybe we were going to be moving into a new era, that maybe something positive would happen […] I really believed that Clinton was somehow going to improve things.' (Gould 2009: 418) Coupled with feelings of great exhaustion from the strain in the years before, this hope in Clinton 'prompted more ACT UP members to exit the movement'; they thought 'that the U.S. government would now do its job without activist pressure' (Gould 2009: 419). It seemed to be sufficient to wait until the government would do its job. With this hope for a government fulfilling the ACT UP members' expectations, the idea weakened that it was necessary to take own measures together with others. Hence, formerly strong ties in the social movement loosened as a result of this new hope.

Discussion: reflections regarding a theoretical conception of hope

4.1 I have begun this article with a recapitulation of the issue of hope in social movement research. A common denominator of several authors in this field is the idea that hope is regarded as a motivating emotion which is generated in common activities. On this view, hope strengthens social ties and enables more enduring forms of collective action as manifested in social movements. However, the writings of Borowski and Klüger challenge the notion of hope as solely a motivating force. They emphasize the occasionally inhibiting effect of hope on action under the conditions of Nazi concentration camps. A close reading of Torberg's novel in the main section revealed two dynamics underlying such passive forms of hope. The first one consists of a process in which (previously collective) images of a better future become individualized vis-à -vis a powerful opponent. In this course the imagined futures become susceptible to fear too. That is because the chances increase that the single individual feels thrown back on his or her limited capacities to reach this very future. Hence in this variant of passive hope the state of inactivity is caused by a weakening of solidary ties. When everybody longs for his or her own individual better future – up to the point where a betterment of the one means an impairment of the other – joint actions are ruled out; at the same time individual actions appear as feeble in front of the powerful opponent and maybe even risky when they are seen as jeopardizing one's better future. The second dynamic present in Torberg's novel consists of a process in which people complement their hope for a better future with an additional hope directed at other actors or forces which are thought to be able to accomplish this future. It is then this auxiliary hope which keeps people in a state of inactivity. In contrast to the first mechanism, the second one is not necessarily coupled with a weakening of solidary ties. Yet as the research of Gould on ACT UP shows, the second dynamic may promote the dissolving of social bonds too, if apparently powerful actors enter the scene and turn the focus away from collective action onto themselves as saviours of a better world.

4.2 Given the opposing results of social movement research on the one hand and the observations in this article on the other, I have to agree with Gould when she says: 'Generalizations about such relationships (e.g., hope is necessary for movements, despair is depoliticizing, anger leads people to the streets) may be useful in providing direction to our inquiries, but the particulars of each situation often require pushing up against such generalizations in order to see how a relationship is working in practice.' (Gould 2009: 416, fn 25) But even if general propositions about causal relationships involving hope (or other emotions) are not possible, it is necessary and useful to make clear analytical distinctions. Therefore I suggest a differentiated concept of hope on the theoretical level; this will help to make sense of and reconcile the seemingly contradictory forms of hope in the empirical world. Based on the discussion in this article, I propose to distinguish between a core meaning of hope and an auxiliary meaning of hope. The core meaning of hope consists of the capacity of people to imagine a future which is better than the present and to sense the wish that this future will become true. This is similar to Swedberg's conceptual proposal who defines hope as '(1) the wish (2) for something (3) to become true' (Swedberg 2007: 21), but in addition to Swedberg I suggest to highlight the capacity to imagine the things to come. This emphasis corresponds to the conception of those social movements researchers who identify the specific content of hope as a 'future change' towards 'a better world', a 'better life' et cetera. In cases of social movements these visions of the future usually have the shape of a ' social imaginary', that is these visions refer to a common future and/or at least to a future which should become true for groups of people or even for the whole humankind. But in order to experience hope one is not necessarily required to have a 'social imaginary'. People can also hope for better things to come just for themselves. Hence, from this perspective it is an empirical question to determine whether specific contents of hope refer to individualized or collective imaginaries of the future. In addition, the sociologist should ask which social conditions foster the one or the other side. For instance, social movement research shows that common activities promote 'social imaginaries'; on the other hand Torberg's novel revealed a mechanism in which increasing power imbalances fostered the generation of individualized images – a process which, of course, is not inevitable but can be thwarted by other social dynamics.

4.3 Besides the core meaning of hope, that is the particular images of a wished for future, an additional auxiliary meaning of hope can develop. This secondary meaning is directed at the 'ways' people think a better future might be reached. They may hope either for the strength and efficacy of their own actions, as individuals or collectives, or they may hope for the interventions of something or someone else. This secondary meaning of hope is addressed by Benski and Langman when they characterize 'progressive movements' by a hope which is directed at the ability 'to change the course of events' by themselves (Benski & Langman 2013: 533). Likewise, the definition of hope by Summers-Effler applies to this auxiliary meaning, since she describes hope as a feeling of self-confidence, 'when […] other parts of the self tell the "you", "you can do it!."' (Summers-Effler 2002: 53-54). In these cases hope is similar to concepts like 'personal mastery' and 'self-efficacy'. Yet I would with Miceli and Castelfranchi (2010) treat these latter concepts as distinct from hope, because people or groups may have a sense of self-efficacy without attaching their actions to an imagined better world, that is without having hope in the first sense. Or to say it otherwise: I would treat self-efficacy or personal mastery as similar to hope (in the strengths of one's own actions) only in those cases in which these actions are aimed to achieve a better future, that is when there is hope in the first sense. In general, it is an empirical question how people think a wished for future may be reached, that is whether they hope for the efficacy of their own, individual or collective, actions or whether they hope that other human beings, divine or natural powers work on their behalf. As the examples in this article suggest, power relations are crucial for the particular forms in which this auxiliary meaning of hope takes shape.

4.4 The value of such a conception of hope that differentiates between a core meaning and an auxiliary meaning of hope is twofold. Firstly, it allows to incorporate various empirical manifestations of hope, that is hopes with quite different objects: ideas of a better future on the one hand and ideas about how to approach this future on the other hand. In this regard, the proposed conception also raises the question whether there are systematic connections between the kind of future people imagine (individual vs. collective) and the way they think this future might be reached (individually, collectively, by others et cetera). Secondly, the suggested concept does not confine hope to either active or passive forms, nor to either solidary or isolating forms, but leaves it to empirical examination to determine the specific conditions that make a given case of hope one of the four types identified (solidary activity, solidary passivity, isolated activity, isolated passivity). Taking these two points together, this concept may also explain the occasional ambivalence of hope, like the one which was addressed in the quote by Borowski. On the one hand he referred to the hope 'that the rights of man will be restored again'. This image of a better collective future, that is hope in its core meaning, gave the strength to stand the horrible conditions in concentration camps (in contrast, Torberg's novel outlined how such a social imaginary dissolved into images of isolated people). On the other hand Borowski spoke about the hope which 'paralyzes into numb inactivity'. One can assume that this latter hope was directed at the interventions of others or some uncertain 'something' as described by Torberg. Hence this hope addressed the auxiliary meaning of the imagined 'way' towards the wished-for future. In its specific form it kept people in a passive state of waiting.

4.5 I want to conclude with a particular puzzling phenomenon involving hope and its simultaneous opposite and/or absence: namely, the very first actions of some nascent social movements or of some kinds of individual protest and resistance. They are characterized by having hope in the sense of an idea of a better future, yet they seem to see no realistic way of approaching it, that is they lack hope in its auxiliary meaning. The question then is what drives people into action nevertheless. Authors like Borowski and Klüger ascribe the motivating force in these cases to despair: a despair not of the type that makes one 'listless, sluggish, impassive', but rather of the type which 'enables you to take risks' and which both of them 'held in higher esteem than hope' (Klüger 2001 [1992]: 90). I would assume that this despair is directed at the unbearable conditions of the present and in this way complements the hope for a better, yet very distant future. I would not say that this despair is about one's own powerlessness in the sense of a direct opposite to the hope in the efficacy of one's actions. Instead, in regard to this second dimension I rather assume a state of non-hope which is neither despair nor fear. This can be illustrated, finally, again with Torberg's novel. When its main protagonist decides to volunteer to be tortured by the SS officer Wagenseil, Torberg does not specify the changes he underwent with regard to his hopes. In light of the feelings of guilt he experiences later on, one may suggest that he was still (or again) hoping for a common survival of the whole group of Jewish inmates. Yet, given this imaginary of a common future as the core meaning of hope, it is still open whether he had a particular hope in regard to how to get there. Certainly his hope had diminished that 'something else' would happen or that 'someone else' would intervene. But I am not sure whether this passive hope was replaced by a hope that he could come closer to his wished-for future by his own actions, that is by a belief that he could 'do it'. His decision to volunteer might rather have been motivated by an absence of hope. Maybe the protagonist was able to act eventually, because he did not bind his decision to act on the prospect and hope to succeed. Perhaps he was 'hoping for nothing' – as it is written in the epitaph on Kazantzakis' gravestone – at least in regard to his action's success, and because of this non-hope he might have been free to act at all. It might be useful to consider this state of an absence of hope (whose emotional tone is difficult to grasp) as well as the various opposites of hope (like fear, despair, hopelessness) in further reflections on hope itself.


1 http://www.romereports.com/pg155056-pope-s-mass-a-christian-without-hope-lives-life-without-meaning-en (9 September, 2014).
2 The potential numbing effects of hope are also an occasional topic in the works of Varlam Shalamov, a survivor of the extermination and work camps under Stalin's regime.
3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikos_Kazantzakis (14 January, 2014).
4 In the German edition from 2008 the editor quotes from a letter by Hannah Arendt to Friedrich Torberg from 09 October, 1947: 'Everybody liked Mein ist die Rache as much as I do, but we agreed that it does not fit into the Schocken Library series.' Arendt was a lector at Salman Schocken at this time and also voted against the publication of the novel at Schocken. (Atze in Torberg 2008 [1965]: 94; translation S.T.)
5 The novel has another unexpected ending which I do not want to reveal here in order not to spoil it.
6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ACT_UP (14 January, 2014).


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