Books / Reviews | RECENTLY PUBLISHED BOOKS ABOUT JAPAN

'The Democracy of Suffering': Wit, erudition and philosophical change

by Barnaby Ralph

Contributing Writer

Violent typhoons lash coastlines and wreak havoc inland. Polar ice is melting. Sea levels are rising. Humanity is facing catastrophe and possible extinction. Climate change might just be the single worst threat to our existence in history. So what do we need? Plato.

The Democracy of Suffering, by Todd Dufresne.
248 pages
MCGILL-QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY PRESS, Philosophy.

That’s the starting point of Todd Dufresne’s panoramic, unconventional polemic “The Democracy of Suffering.” This book, divided into three sections focusing on the past, present and future, sees the Canadian philosopher arguing that, if we are to understand the Anthropocene, then philosophy itself needs a radical overhaul.

Dufresne uses wit and erudition in a discussion that informs as much as it challenges. He argues that philosophies of “now” are morally and intellectually bankrupt, and a philosophy of “possibility” (hence Plato) is needed. Along the way, we are treated to a critique of the apparatus of neoliberalism and a careful unpacking of how we, as a species, arrived at this desperate point.

The book centers on Western philosophy, however the perspective is global. Dufresne considers what could happen to the Asia-Pacific region as existing infrastructure collapses, and the possibilities for Japan may alarm.

This book can be engaged with at any point. It is filled with picture-perfect images and thoughtful deconstructions of cogent ideas on every page. However, it is best read from beginning to end, allowing the force of Dufresne’s argument to build. It is a call for action, but one which begins with our own understanding.