The Liberal Imagination of Barack Obama

What messages can we take from this speech? It’s Obama at his most self-consciously inspirational, addressing ‘young people’ pursuing social change. I think it can also be taken as an attempt to outline a worldview in the broadest terms. Here’s some suggestion about the content of what I’ve come to think of as the ‘liberal imagination’:

  • Social decay and fragmentation are partly perceptual. We should understand why people appear to see these trends but we should reject their putative reality.
  • The idea we are “gripped by forces we can’t control” is a reflection of an underlying pessimism, rather than an objective assessment of a challenge.
  • Things are always improving. Now is the best time to be alive.
  • Our capacity to shape the world is unmatched: tools, freedoms, knowledge.
  • We must always reject pessimism and cynicism. Progressive is not inevitable and these things are the foremost obstacle to it.
  • Pessimism often reflects, at least in part, a failure of generational imagination: just because we can’t see the change doesn’t mean future generations won’t enjoy it.