Charles Taylor reviews Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation by Jonathan Lear, in the New York Review of Books:
Radical Hope is first of all an analysis of what is involved when a culture dies. This has been the fate of many aboriginal peoples in the last couple of centuries. Jonathan Lear takes as the main subject of his study the Crow tribe of the western US, who were more or less pressured to give up their hunting way of life and enter a reservation near the end of the nineteenth century.
The issue is not genocide. Many of the Crow people survive; but their culture is gone. Lear takes as his basic text a statement by the tribe’s great chief, Plenty Coups, describing the transition many years after in the late 1920s, near the end of his life: “When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened.”
Lear concentrates on those last four words. What can they mean? Of course, they could be an expression of dejection, of depression. But he sets that aside for good reasons. He argues that if we interpret the statement psychologically, we are being “guided by our own sense of what is true” and ignoring the question of “Plenty Coups’s humanity” and the particular cultural circumstances in which he found himself. We have to take this expression more literally.