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

After 10 years Dream is back in print! And as much as it scares me to say this, it’s probably more relevant now than it was then. Befitting the horror of our current political moment, it has been re-released as Dream or Nightmare: Reimagining Politics in an Age of  Fantasy with a new Forward, “Dreampolitik in the Age of Trump.” It’s being published by O/R Books under the same editor who encouraged me to publish the book a decade ago.  You can buy it here:


Dream or Nightmare


Dream or Nightmare is a book of left wing strategy like no other: It proposes that, to compete with the right, progressives cannot depend on reason and hard fact. They must also deploy drama in the battle of ideas.

Donald Trump’s presidency has shown how this is done, albeit to ends that are deplorable. Abandoning logic and truth, the Fabulist in Chief conjures up spectacle to energize his base. Troops are dispatched to counter a fictional threat from convoys of helpless refugees. A powerful Supreme Court nominee is reduced to tears by accusations from a woman who has been sexually assaulted. Open fascists are described as “good people,” physical attacks on journalists are lauded in front of cheering crowds.

If they are to engage with this Barnum-like politics, leftists must learn how to communicate in today’s “vernacular of the spectacular,” invoking symbol and emotion themsleves, as well as truth. Matching the right in this fashion does not mean adopting its values. Rather Duncombe sets out what he calls a politics of “ethical spectacle.”

Of extraordinary relevance to the dark carnival of contemporary politics, this new edition of the book formerly known as Dream sets out an electrifying new vision of progressive politics that is both persuasive and provocative.

Blurbs for the Original:

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 original 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