The World and Us is a from-first-principles reconstruction of our political-philosophical coordinates by one of our leading public intellectuals. A colleague of mine, riffing on Douglas Adams, described it as a life, the universe and everything book. In a remarkable line, Unger describes philosophy as ‘the mind at war’, pushing ‘beyond the boundaries of the specialized disciplines and beyond the established arrangements and assumptions of society’, to the very limits of thought. The book isn’t, then, without a certain ambition. Unger tackles the principal areas in the classical tradition of Western philosophy, from ontology to epistemology and ethics, giving each of these labels new meaning. Virtually free of footnotes, The World and Us sets aside expert discourse to directly address thorny questions of the human condition: mortality and our relations with one another. At once personal, heartfelt and existential, it stresses the social character of our efforts to loosen the bonds of individual finitude.
Roberto Mangabeira Unger is a remarkable figure. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1947 and raised in New York, he got tenure at Harvard aged 29. Verso has published many of his two dozen books on critical legal theory, economics, philosophy and religion including, most recently, Governing the World without Global Government and The Knowledge Economy, and a central work in social theory, False Necessity. Perry Anderson has likened him to Edward Said and Salman Rushdie, ‘part of that constellation of Third World intellectuals, active and eminent in the First World without being assimilated by it’. A wary Financial Times characterises his work as a ‘long guerrilla war against received ideas’. Active in Brazilian politics, he served as Minister of Strategic Affairs under Lula and Dilma, and has urged the current Lula administration to bolder measures. ‘The country cannot pray at the altar of the financial markets and combine this with “poverty”, with the distribution of alms to the poor, as we see today’, he recently told the Metrópoles magazine. He is a fierce critic of neoliberalism, which he derides as the dictatorship of no alternatives.
The latter part of The World and Us applies his heterodox, progressive thinking to our vastly unequal social order and political malaise. It argues for a culture of radical experimentalism, democratisation of the market economy and removal of constitutional deadweight from our politics. Unger recalls a saying from the ancient world, that many things are considered impossible until they are done. The World and Us is the culmination of his lifework and Verso is incredibly proud to be publishing it.
Tom Hazeldine, Editor at large
London, January 2024
The World and Us by Roberto Mangabeira Unger is one of our March Verso Book Club options. Learn more about the Verso Book Club.
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