Living for the Future and Living in the Present

Lecture by Roberto Mangabeira Unger

The struggle with the world locates the Supreme Good in the future, whether it is the providential future of divide salvation or the historical future of the reconstruction of society. We, however, do not live in the future; we live right now. The only good that we have for a certainty is life in the present moment, and life is nothing but a succession of present moments.

And so it seems that, if we follow the teachings of the struggle with the world, we will always be estranged from the only good that we have for a certainty, which is life in the present.

There are two false escapes from the peril of estrangement. The first escape is to retreat into the small euphorias of personal life and to deny the humanity-defining attribute of resistance and transcendence. If we surrender to the arrangements and the assumptions that are now established, we do not become more alive; we give life away, because we reduce ourselves to the condition of playthings of this established order, and deny our own nature.

The other false escape from the estrangement that results from the fixation on the future is the danger of Prometheanism. We imagine that we can strengthen ourselves, that we can make ourselves, as individuals, powerful in some way that will make it possible for us to deny the consequences of our mortality, our groundlessness and of our insatiability. But this Promethean attempt to rescue ourselves through power results in a denial of the truth about human life, the truth of our frailty, of the incurable defects in the human condition and drives us into an anxious search for power, into the vigilence of subjugation and dependence.

What must we then do? Is the struggle with the world to be repaired or is it to be replaced? How can we live for the future in such a way that living for the future becomes a way of living in the present, as a being not determined by the present circumstances of its existence? We must reorganize society and reorient life. We cannot renew the force of the struggle with the world without radicalizing and reinventing it.