Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy

I wrote Dream almost ten years ago, but for better and worse, it seems eerily relevant today.  Here it is for FREE:

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Please download it, read it, use it and send the link to anyone else you think might put these ideas into action!


From the front flap:

What do Paris Hilton, Grand Theft Auto, Las Vegas, and a McDonald’s commercial have in common with progressive politics? Not much. And, as Stephen Duncombe brilliantly argues, this is part of what’s wrong with progressive politics. According to Duncombe, culture—and popular fantasy—can help us define and actualize a new political aesthetic: a kind of dreampolitik, created not simply to further existing progressive political agendas but help us imagine new ones.

Dream makes the case for a political strategy that embraces a new set of tools. Although fantasy and spectacle have become the lingua franca of our time, Duncombe points out that liberals continue to depend upon sober reason to guide them. Instead, they need to learn how to communicate in today’s spectacular vernacular, not merely as a tactic but as a new way of thinking about and acting out politics. Learning from Las Vegas, however, does not mean adopting its values, as Duncombe demonstrates in outlining plans for what he calls “ethical spectacle.”

An electrifying new vision of progressive politics by a lifelong political activist and thinker, Dream is a twenty-first-century manifesto for the left, reclaiming the tools of hidden persuaders in the name of spectacular change.


Two opposite conclusions can be drawn from the fact that enjoyment is a political factor in late capitalism, that its politics are a politics of fantasies: either a purist withdrawal into desiccated rationality or what Stephen Duncombe proposes, beating the enemy at its own terrain and thereby opening up a new field for radical politics. This book is simply the sine qua non for any renewal of Leftist politics — a must for anyone who wants the Left to overcome its purist shame! — Slovoj Zizek 

Dogged by our dour moralism, it’s high time we improved the quality of life on the Left. Duncombe’s splendid plea for a politics rich in wit, sensuality, and aspiration will light up the path ahead. — Andrew Ross

Boring speeches, denunciations of things that everybody else enjoys, a dour ethos of self-sacrifice — no wonder n one wants to be progressive activist! Of you’re eft-of-center and tired of losing, you need to read this book immediately. Stephen Duncombe — one of the best political writers of his generation — makes an impassioned, eloquent, and entertaining case for a joyful aesthetic of dissent — Liza Featherstone

Imagination is central to all successful political projects and yet the mainstream Left has allowed its imaginative faculty to atrophy in recent years. Duncombe shows how the methods pf some of today’s most creative social movements can teach the Left to Dream again and, by exercising its imagination to create a winning progressive politics. — Michael Hardt

The old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same results couldn’t be more appropriate for today’s politics. Dream inspires progressives to fantasize and re-imagine a new politics and drive to make it reality. — Lisa Witter, Fenton Communications

Duncombe’s is a fresh and original voice that will be welcome in American culture. — Marshall Berman


From reviews:

Reminds us of the passion and creativity of a left political tradition worth reclaiming. — The Nation Blog, Katrina vanden Huevel

Makes the case that spectacle can be an ethical and sophisticated means of appealing to, even seducing, the American public. — Village Voice, Emily Weinstein

His appeal to the Left to think outside the box is a refreshing voice. — Tikkun, Rabbi Michael Lerner

One of those indispensable…books that progressives who are interested in strategies to achieve political power and goals must read. — BuzzFlash

This is not a wake-up call—what Duncombe asks of progressives is to dream better. — Slate, Joshua Glenn

We should thank [Duncombe]: the progressive movement needs a lot more creative thinking if we’re to win over the country. — Daily Kos, David Sirota

[Duncombe] offers a re-imagined brand of progressivism, suggesting that his readers play politics a bit more like a video game. — Boldtype, Justin Kazmark

Arguing that “fantasy and spectacle have become the property of fascism,” theorist, performer and activist Duncombe asserts that progressives should “build a politic that embraces the dreams of people and fashion spectacles that give those dreams form.” His persuasive and pyrotechnic display of radical political thinking draws on a quirky mix of models—celebrity culture, the video game Grand Theft Auto and Umberto Eco’s idea of opera aperta or free interpretation of art—to delineate how progressives can convey their message to a larger audience. What makes this polemic both inventive and exciting is its author’s love of high and popular culture, which allows for deft juxtapositions of cultural icons like Bette Davis, Charles Baudelaire, Dungeons and Dragons and Tony Soprano. While many of his arguments have a flashy aura, Duncombe (The Bobbed-Haired Bandit) also makes incisive observations, such as that Cindy Sheehan and Rosa Parks had significant political experience before they entered the public eye or that politics rests as much on the imagination as reality. Noting that much current progressive writing retools old modes of thought, he persuasively and entertainingly argues that “if we really want to change reality, then we have to try and do something different.” — Publishers Weekly