by Jennifer L. Hochschild, Harvard University
I examine why contemporary social scientists on the political left are relatively pessimistic about the public arena and its trajectory. To develop an answer, I explore subsidiary questions: What is the evidence of social scientists’ left pessimism? Why is left pessimism not the only plausible stance? Why is left pessimism problematic, and surprising? Why does it nonetheless occur? How can social scientists counter left pessimism?
My evidence comes mainly from research on American racial and ethnic politics, and on the societal use of genomic science. I explain left pessimism as a result largely of the trajectory of social science research since the 1960s, and of the loss of faith in revolutionary inspiration after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I call on social scientists to reinvigorate optimistic visions, perhaps especially in a political era fraught with dangers to liberal democracy.