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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the René Wellek Prize

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Guardian, The Millions, and The Sydney Morning Herald 

A profound, original, and accessible book that offers a new secular vision of how we can lead our lives. Ranging from fundamental existential questions to the most pressing social issues of our time, This Life shows why our commitment to freedom and democracy should lead us beyond both religion and capitalism.

In this groundbreaking book, the philosopher Martin Hägglund challenges our received notions of faith and freedom. The faith we need to cultivate, he argues, is not a religious faith in eternity but a secular faith devoted to our finite life together. He shows that all spiritual questions of freedom are inseparable from economic and material conditions. What ultimately matters is how we treat one another in this life and what we do with our time together. 

Hägglund develops new existential and political principles while transforming our understanding of spiritual life. His critique of religion takes us to the heart of what it means to mourn our loved ones, be committed, and care about a sustainable world. His critique of capitalism demonstrates that we fail to sustain our democratic values because our lives depend on wage labor. In clear and pathbreaking terms, Hägglund explains why capitalism is inimical to our freedom, and why we should instead pursue a novel form of democratic socialism. 

In developing his vision of an emancipated secular life, Hägglund engages with great philosophers from Aristotle to Hegel and Marx, literary writers from Dante to Proust and Knausgaard, political economists from Mill to Keynes and Hayek, and religious thinkers from Augustine to Kierkegaard and Martin Luther King, Jr. This Life gives us new access to our past - for the sake of a different future.

©2019 Martin Hägglund (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Gives fresh philosophical and political vitality to a longstanding question... Much in the book will resonate with a democratic left that has gained strength in the seven-plus years since Occupy - in Black Lives Matter and the Sanders campaign, in the vision of the Green New Deal, in the Fight for $15 and in North Carolina’s Moral Mondays. This Life attempts to deepen the philosophical dimension of this left and to anchor its commitments in a larger inquiry: What kind of political and economic order can do justice to our mortality, to the fact that our lives are all we have?... This Life presents a vital alternative.” (Jedediah Britton-Purdy, The New Republic)

"An important new book.... Always lucid.... Beautifully liberating...I admire his boldness, perhaps even his recklessness. And his fundamental secular cry seems right: since time is all we have, we must measure its preciousness in units of freedom. Nothing else will do. Once this glorious idea has taken hold, it is very hard to dislodge...I finished This Life in a state of enlightened despair, with clearer vision and cloudier purpose - I was convinced, step by step, of the moral rectitude of Hägglund’s argument even as I struggled to imagine the political system that might institute his desired revaluation of value." (James Wood, The New Yorker)

“This is a rare piece of work, the product of great intellectual strength and moral fortitude. The writing shows extraordinary range and possesses an honesty and fervor which is entirely without cynicism. Beneath Hägglund’s affirmation of secular faith and a life-defining commitment is a compelling reworking of the early Heidegger’s existential analytic, especially his understanding of finitude and ecstatic temporality. With the great difference that this is a distinctly leftist project, where secular faith leads to spiritual freedom which is understood as a Hegelian-Marxist affirmation of democratic socialism. Hägglund is a genuine moralist for our times, possessed of an undaunted resoluteness and a fierce commitment to intellectual probity. Maybe he’s the philosophical analogue to Karl Ove Knausgaard.” (Simon Critchley, curator for The New York Times' The Stone and author of Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us)

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Almost there for me

A thought provoking work. Hägglund's basic thesis, developed out of a close inspection of primarily Marx (but decorated with dozens of writers and thinkers), suggests that both capitalism and religious faith limit our ability to maximize our freedom and our quest for the good.

I'm with him about 4/5 of the way. I wish he had edited the book down a bit (he got a bit repetitive and could have probably said the same thing in 1/2 the words). Like I said, I need a bit more time (my leisure) to really clearly communicate the areas I enjoyed (there were many) and the areas I thought were a bit self-indulgent (also many). I think as I get older I get a bit more suspect of so much certainty, whether religious, economic, or philosophic.

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Truly remarkable!

This is the most satisfying book I have ever experienced. A tour de force of the human experience.

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A modern must-read.

Hägglund has done an incredible job distilling a wondrous take on secularism without the jarring displeasures seen from many anti-theists. The long chapter on Democratic Socialism alone is worth it. I have a physical copy and an Audible copy and will read and listen to this multiple times. The narrator Kirby Heybourne did a fantastic job with the material.

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I thought it was great I’ve read it several times I would recommend it to a friend also

I thought it was great and I have read it several times. I would recommend it to a friend.

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A Comprehensive Critique of Society and Belief

I chose to read this book in the hope of reading an argument for a Secular Worldview on which to base a Life. What Hägglund has given us is a Critique that takes the reader to a World beyond both Religion and Capitalism.

Using the writings of Aristotle, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Marx and Martin Luther King, he builds a case for a Society based not on Capitalist Theology but on a Secular Faith requiring recognition and appreciation of our finitude and dependence on each other, essentially a Marxist Democratic Socialist Society.

His argument is deeply rooted in the works of these and other writers and ultimately quite attractive. I like his rejection of Eternal Life as the ultimate goal of our days on Earth and of our dependence on profit driven exploitation of wage labor as motivation for getting out of bed each morning. My own politics leans toward this Democratic Socialist model though I’m not sure 21st Century America leans with me.

Whether his vision may ever come into fruition, I think he gives the Progressive Reader some basis for hope. It’s not an easy book, but one definitely worth arguing over. Four stars.

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The book needs some attention to basic facts

In this time of economic and ecological fear, the more ideas the better. Therefore Hagglund's latest book is worth reading. There have been many admiring reviews. But almost every one of them criticizes an argument that is foundational to the book. Hagglund's argument is as follows. A) Religion (and there are almost no distinctions made among religions or religious practices or religious people) values eternity, rather than finite, worldly life. B) However, says Hagglund, it is finitude that gives human life value. Most reviewers think that A is empirically wrong. Many reviewers also have grave doubts about B. I agree with these reviewers. With respect to A, all Hagglund would have had to do would be to walk a little way on Yale's campus until he came to a department of religious studies or anthropology, and ask somebody there if he has it right. Or he could have interviewed some actual religious people -- Jews, let's say, as remarked by Peter Gordon in a review in The Nation.

Then Hagglund gives his exemplar of the secular, non-religious life, and it is a sort of Marxism. His explication is most interesting and appealing. But he calls the kind of secular life he values "spiritual," and "secular faith," and his language and tone is nothing if not religious (with a touch of self-help), as though he were sermonizing. Apparently what he is trying to do is to demolish what he calls religion, and then, in a philosophical twist that is best called "immanent critique," to argue that Christian concepts, once shorn of their religious context, are miraculously descriptive of the Marx-inspired society that is to follow capitalism. We will become altruistic, loving our neighbors as ourselves, once freed from the exigencies of capitalism.

Aside from philosophical sleight-of-hand, I see little reason to share Hagglund's secular faith, appealing as it is. Marxism scares some people, not so much because of the megadeaths it has produced (so have many other ideologies), but because, as here, when theory does not agree with the facts, so much the worse for the facts. Orwell had a few things to say about this in 1984. Sometimes the rarified heights of philosophy need to be brought down to earth, by facts such as the difficulty the Soviet Union had in producing and distributing toilet paper.

5 people found this helpful

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Secular spiritual freedom and capitalism

This book is very insightful. The author systematically develops the knowledge on the basic terms and proposed solution while righting some misconceptions on writings of Marx, Hayek and others. The author proposes a change of value proposition of social wealth namely to change from 'capital growth' to 'individual, available free time.' We often take capitalism was 'God-given' the author makes a good case this is not only false, but ultimately not sustainable or desirable. Great read, great production!

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Not sure what planet Mr. Hägglund comes from

What to say? Hogwash. An ambitious young man with little experience of life and minimal interest in anthropology, reads reality like he reads his authors, i.e. he sees what he wants to see, and judges human behavior by the text, or rather by his critical interpretation of the text. He even has the audacity to brush off that old intellectual corps of Karl Marx and let us know what he really meant. Coming from the manicured faux gothic Chambers of, Yale University, maybe we should not be surprised.