Poetry from the Future: Why a Global Liberation Movement Is Our Civilisation's Last Chance (Penguin) by Srećko Horvat

Srećko Horvat's latest book is a synthesis of reportage, philosophical essay, social history and popular science. As a young Croatian philosopher who is also the co-founder of DIEM25 — a pan-European social-democratic movement — Horvat is drawn as much to activism as to academic debates. In Poetry from the Future he presents himself as a preacher of the New Left and this book should be treated mostly as his sermon.

Horvat presents the history of the Croatian island Vis, where he visits when not travelling around Europe, as a metaphor for a new stage of occupation. One of the first islands liberated from fascist rule — a local revolt that succeeded with the help of Tito's men — Vis has become a mecca of tourism and capitalism, in part due to its role as the backdrop of Mamma Mia 2. A peaceful place to live, according to Horvat, has been destroyed by consumerism, while the islanders lack the power to defend their homes.

He uses the history of the island to draw a catastrophic portrait of modernity. Fukuyama's theory of “The End of History” has expired, Horvat says, placing the Western consensus around liberal pluralism and rationalist debate under threat. Populists and even fascists – like Brazil’s Bolsonaro, Hungary’s Orban or India’s Narendra Modi – are taking control of the world. The general public are more fascinated by apocalyptic ideas than reassuring placidity.

But Poetry of the Future is not all doom and gloom. It can also be read as a manifesto and an incitement to act. When everything collapses, the left must return to its roots and fight for the people. Otherwise, a second Middle Ages, where totalitarian religion rules, may sweep across the globe. To make this argument, Horvat draws on The Coming Insurrection, an anarchist tract written under the nom de plume The Invisible Committee.

“The question”, he writes, “is no longer when the catastrophe will happen, and what will happen when it happens. The most pertinent – and constructive – question is: what if the apocalypse is already taking place around us? Instead of waiting for the Messiah (...) the main task of today is both to focus on local struggles and to question the very temporality of ‘capitalist realism’, the prevailing feeling that the apocalypse is yet to come and that there is no alternative, while in fact it is happening now and the alternative has to be built on its ruins."

Horvat is often associated with another Balkan philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, with whom he wrote his breakthrough book in English What does Europe want? Reading Poetry of the Future, it's difficult to view him as the heir of the Slovenian Marxist. While Zizek is interested in modern culture, Horvat favours military history and current affairs, placing his emphasis on poetry and rhetoric and referencing thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Albert Camus, both literary figures as well as philosophers and critics.

It might be easy to dismiss the book as an eccentric publication with little relation to real-world events. But we might do well to remember how many global revolts were incited by clergymen. Didn't Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism begin by giving lectures, like the Serbian Orthodox revolutionary monk Gapon, not to mention Karl Marx?

Horvat is a dreamer, but not a romantic. In Poetry from the Future he presents himself as a revolutionary atheist preacher.