Hope is for Individuals

The following passage is from Joseph Pieper’s Hope and History (1969) in which he notes the difference between collective and individual ideas of hope, and why the former is fundamentally impossible.

Herewith we come to the radical question of what the Golden Age, the “world without disappointment”… can amount to, so long as death exists. What becomes of our hopes if we must die after all? Hope is directed towards salvation…. To be sure, it is true that “the class” does not die, any more than does society or the cosmos or even “evolution”. Only the individual person dies. But precisely here lies the ground for that link between death and hope which nothing can shatter. It is absurd to imagine that a collective… is capable of hoping; in any case, to speak in such terms would be to misuse the word. Strictly speaking, hope, exactly like dying, can only be the act of a person. To say this is naturally not to count on the possibility that death can ever be eliminated from the world.

As Pieper defines it earlier in the book, hope is not the same as anticipation, as in the case of the coming of the “classless society” or hoping nebulously “in the future.” We cannot predict what we hope for. Rather, hope is a confident desire for something possible, but it is also something over which we have no control. Finally, it must be something that we desire as individuals, not as collectives. If some vision of “progress,” indefinitely postponed (as is often the case) does not benefit us in this life (or the next), then it cannot form the basis of hope at all.

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