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by Josh Cohen

An essay about politics, humility, and loss

You are a loser. For psychoanalysis, this isn’t a personal slight, but an impersonal truth. So why have we come to fear losing?

‘Loser’ was Donald Trump’s favourite insult within a hotly contested field. But while progressives disdain his divisive politics, they have mostly failed to challenge meritocratic values that divide society into winners and losers. How might we truly escape our toxic political culture?

In this powerful, wide-ranging essay, psychoanalyst and critic Josh Cohen suggests that the answer may lie in a notion of humility. Far from a sentimental moral virtue, humility may well be the most elusive, precarious, and indeed radical value of all, one which relies upon a full-hearted embrace of one’s inner loser. Enlisting the help of a cast of unlikely comrades – Thomas Bernhard, Franz Kafka, and Robert Walser – Cohen shows how we might move beyond a culture based on enforced positivity, resentment, and humiliation.


‘Josh Cohen has made perhaps the most pernicious, offensive and distracting word in the English language of amazing and illuminating interest. This is a remarkable and clarifying book.’ Adam Phillips

‘With compassion, skill and verve, Josh Cohen eloquently dismantles societal and personal delusions about winning and losing. This is exactly the conversation we need to be having right now.’ Deborah Levy

‘Eloquent, urgent, this breath-taking essay, bristles with wit and analytic understanding. Our social settlements, our lying politicians, our very language of winners and losers has never undergone this kind of rigorous dissection before. A tour de force – or should I say a loser’s triumph…’ Lisa Appignanesi

‘Josh Cohen’s Losers feels necessary: a profound meditation and an ethical salve for a world that wounds us with its increasing ethos of success-at-any-cost. With gentleness, he guides us through the paradoxes of humility, uncertainty, neutrality, and the excess of shame and humiliation that lurks behind today’s peculiar brand of triumphalism.’ Jamieson Webster

About the author

Josh Cohen is Professor of Modern Literary Theory at Goldsmiths, University of London and a psychoanalyst in private practice. He is the author of books and articles on modern literature, cultural theory and psychoanalysis, including How to Read: Freud, The Private Life: Why We Remain in the DarkNot Working, and How to Live. What to Do.