From a major British political thinker and activist, a passionate case that both the left and right have lost their faith in ordinary people and must learn to find it again.
This is an age of polarization. It’s us vs. them. The battle lines are clear, and compromise is surrender.
As Out of the Ordinary reminds us, we have been here before. From the 1920s to the 1950s, in a world transformed by revolution and war, extreme ideologies of left and right fueled utopian hopes and dystopian fears. In response, Marc Stears writes, a group of British writers, artists, photographers, and filmmakers showed a way out. These men and women, including J. B. Priestley, George Orwell, Barbara Jones, Dylan Thomas, Laurie Lee, and Bill Brandt, had no formal connection to one another. But they each worked to forge a politics that resisted the empty idealisms and totalizing abstractions of their time. Instead they were convinced that people going about their daily lives possess all the insight, virtue, and determination required to build a good society. In poems, novels, essays, films, paintings, and photographs, they gave witness to everyday people’s ability to overcome the supposedly insoluble contradictions between tradition and progress, patriotism and diversity, rights and duties, nationalism and internationalism, conservatism and radicalism. It was this humble vision that animated the great Festival of Britain in 1951 and put everyday citizens at the heart of a new vision of national regeneration.
A leading political theorist and a veteran of British politics, Stears writes with unusual passion and clarity about the achievements of these apostles of the ordinary. They helped Britain through an age of crisis. Their ideas might do so again, in the United Kingdom and beyond.
An elegant essay on the need to recognize the value in down-to-earth, small scale activity as well as the grand scheme.
Uncovers a hidden tradition in British politics, one of local attachments and civic pride, which he pieces together from the writings of George Orwell, J. B. Priestley, D. H. Lawrence, and Dylan Thomas, figures who placed as Stears puts it, ‘humble, everyday humanity’ at the center of their optimistic understanding of a politics of a patriotic and progressive left. Orwell et al. are all figures from the past, whose influence peaked during the 1940s. But Stears believes they give hope Britons can escape the current culture war which pits a conservative ‘Us’ against a liberal ‘Them.’
[An] elegiac study of how our literary and aesthetic past might animate our political future…Stears [is] trying to make the larger point that it is in our daily life that the most significant experiences reside and that politics is too often unhelpfully broad-brush, arrogantly distant from the things that really matter.
Stands as a timely and provocative work of centrism.
Beautifully written and evocative, Out of the Ordinary moves artfully between personal narrative and historical reflection, political theory and literary criticism. It is a wonderful book, illuminating and engrossing.
Out of the Ordinary is a brilliant account of a neglected tradition of radical political thought and a compelling contribution to contemporary political debate. Stears deftly evokes a generation of British writers and artists who confronted extremism, technocratic rule, and populism in the mid-twentieth century—and demonstrates that their political thought speaks powerfully to the troubled politics of our own time.
Out of the Ordinary is a moving and intimate reflection on a potent, lost moment in British cultural history and what it still might mean for our political imaginations, and in it Marc Stears has found his voice.
Inspiring and energizing, Out of the Ordinary lays out a vision for social and political progress through solidarity and rooted in everyday human dignity. Against the ideological rigidities of our age and polarization of our thinking, Stears eloquently and movingly draws on a British intellectual lineage represented by George Orwell, Dylan Thomas, and Barbara Jones to show us how tradition can be combined with progress, patriotism with diversity, and individual rights with social duties.
A brilliant, subtle book…Serves up a remarkable lost history of British radical ideas and offers a set of well-conceived policy proposals…Ought to be widely and closely read. As both a historical narrative and a work of political theory, it is an important book.
Stears’ book cites and quotes exhilarating, vivid, poetic descriptions and invocations of shared ordinary life…There is much to enjoy in this readable book.
- 248 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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