Overline: Philosophy
Headline: Opportunities for Transformative Politics in Times of Crisis

Transformative politics is not the result of continual progress, nor is it possible to the same extent at all times and in all places. It depends rather on favourable moments, which are described in political theory as kairos after the Greek god of opportunity. In his book Die Gelegenheit ergreifen – Eine politische Philosophie des Kairós (Seizing the Opportunity – A Political Philosophy of Kairos), IASS researcher Alexander Neupert-Doppler analyses the use of this term in modern theories of societal change.

Alexander Neupert-Doppler vor einer Kairós-Statue.
Alexander Neupert-Doppler in front of an image of the Greek god Kairos. private

The book follows the argument of the American political scientist Erik Olin Wright that it makes sense to probe the limits of the possible even in periods of stagnation, since opportunities to initiate societal change often arise unexpectedly and by chance. Thus for people at the coalface of transformative politics, it’s important to “‘seize the time’ when opportunities for transformation occur for reasons not mainly of their own making.” Times of crisis have always opened windows of opportunity, and today we need to use them to set the course for a sustainable future.

Neupert-Doppler is critical of the lack of utopias and critical perspectives in post-modern theoretical approaches. He examines how philosophers have drawn on kairos as a trope from the early twentieth century to the present day. Thinkers like Paul Tillich, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Antonio Negri, Immanuel Wallerstein and Giorgio Agamben all believed that the concept was useful as a way of understanding changes in politics and society. 

According to Neupert-Doppler, the perspectives of these thinkers on historical opportunities can open up avenues for politicising the future. With the end of society’s belief in progress, the future would appear to be closed. It is seen merely as an extension of the present or even as a threat in the context of the climate crisis. But as Neupert-Doppler explains, the idea that we are living in a “kairos time”, which requires us to act with great presence of mind, allows us once again to perceive the future as something that can be formed: “We should neither miss opportunities to act nor take action in the absence of opportunities. Only when the experience of living in a kairos time leads to a conscious realisation of this kairos, are the right courses of action conceivable.”

Neupert-Doppler, A. (2019): Die Gelegenheit ergreifen. Eine politische Philosophie des Kairós, (kritik & utopie), Wien: Mandelbaum Verlag, 310 pages.
Further information:

•    IASS Research Group “Politicizing the Future