We conclude our introduction to utopian thought and imagination with a small sample of historical and philosophical musings on utopia. In sum, I think they well capture the essence—the necessity and value—of the utopian enterprise. I’ve appended a list for references and further reading should you be inspired by these snippets and the general argument outlined in the previous post. This should further help us appreciate the series of posts on the notion of “general emancipation” in the work of Rudolf Bahro (at ReligiousLeftLaw here, here, and here), which I hope to continue anon. In particular, we’ll examine Bahro’s transition, so to speak, “from red to green” (the title of a book of interviews by New Left Review with Bahro), including his Gandhian-like ideas on the virtue of introducing the monastic (aśramic) ideal into civil society by way of “purifiying” conventional power politics.
“By perfectible, it is not meant that he [i.e., man] is capable of being brought to perfection. But the word seems sufficiently adapted to express the faculty of being continually made better and receiving perpetual improvement; and in this sense it is here to be understood. The term perfectible, thus explained, not only does not imply the capacity of being brought to perfection, but stands in expression to it. If we could arrive at perfection, there would be an end to our improvement. There is however one thing of great importance that it does imply: every perfection or excellence that human beings are competent to conceive, human beings, unless in cases that are palpably and unequivocally excluded by the structure of their frame, are competent to attain.”—Wlliam Godwin
“There are recognizable barriers from which men have always sought to emancipate themselves, in order to obtain access to something, and appropriate something, that is conceived time and again in the ideas of freedom, joy, happiness, etc., which no cynical irony can expunge. The inexhaustible possibilities of human nature, which themselves increase with cultural progress, are the innermost material of all utopias, and moreover a very real, and in no way immaterial material at that. They inevitably lead to the desire to transform human life.”—Rudolf Bahro
“Wittgenstein, Elizabeth Taylor, Bertrand Russell, Thomas Merton, Yogi Berra, Allen Ginsburg, Harry Wolfson, Thoreau, Casey Stengel…Baba Ram Dass, Gandhi, Sir Edmund Hillary…Freud, Norman Mailer…Thomas Edison, H.L. Mencken, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Ellison…Emma Goldman, Peter Kropotkin, [Frank Lloyd Wright, Muhammad Ali, Kenneth Rexroth, Dorothy Day, Malcolm X, Oprah Winfrey, Vaclav Havel, Dorothy Healey, Leonardo Boff, Seyyid Hossein Nasr, James deAnda, Nelson Mandela, Helen Mirren, Pico Iyer, Mose Allison, Jewel, Dame Judi Dench, Aretha Franklin, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso), Leonard Cohen], you and your parents. Is there really one kind of life which is best for each of these people?”—Robert Nozick
“Utopia will consist of utopias, of many different and divergent communities in which people lead different kinds of lives under different institutions. Some kinds of communities will be more attractive to most than others; communities will wax and wane. People will leave some for others or spend their whole lives in one. Utopia is a framework for utopias, a place where people are at liberty to join together voluntarily to pursue and attempt to realize their own vision of the good life in the ideal community but where no one can impose his own utopian vision upon others. The utopian society is the society of utopianism. [….] Half of the truth I wish to put forth is that utopia is meta-utopia: the environment in which utopian experiments may be tried out; the environment in which people are free to do their own thing; the environment which must, to a great extent, be realized first if more particular utopian visions are to be realized stably.”—Robert Nozick
“We may distinguish three utopian positions: imperialistic utopianism, which countenances the forcing of everyone into one pattern of community; missionary utopianism, which hopes to persuade or convince everyone to live in one particular kind of community, but will not force them to do so; and existential utopianism, which hopes that a particular pattern of community will exist (be viable), though not necessarily universally, so that those who wish to do so may live in accordance with it.”—Robert Nozick
“It is, Martin Buber wrote, ‘the goal of Utopian socialism…to substitute society for the State to the greatest degree possible, moreover a society that is ‘genuine’ and not a State in disguise.’ That is as good a definition as you will find—even though it is more complex than it might at first seem.”—Michael Harrington
“The classic utopia anticipates and criticizes. Its alternative fundamentally interrogates the present, piercing through existing societies’ defensive mechanisms—common sense, realism, positivism and scientism. Its unabashed and flagrant otherness gives it a power which is lacking in other analytical devices. By playing fast and loose with time and space, logic and morality, and by thinking the unthinkable, a utopia asks the most awkward, the most embarrassing questions. As an imaginative construction of a whole society, the utopia can bring into play the rich critical apparatus of the literary form and a sensitivity to the holistic nature of society, enabling it to mock, satirize, reduce the prominent parts, to illuminate and emphasize the neglected, shadowy, hidden parts—and to show the interrelatedness—of the existing system. Utopia can be seen as the good alternative, the outline of a better future, an ‘ought’ to the current ‘is.’ The possibility of such a future helps undermine the complacency and overcome the inertia of existing society by showing that it is neither eternal nor archetypal but merely one form amongst many. This need not lead to teleology (i.e. ‘this is your future’), for the alternative has many shapes.”—Vincent Geoghegan
“For [Ernst] Bloch, the enemies of hope are confusion, anxiety, fear, renunciation, passivity, failure and nothingness. Fascism was their apotheosis. But since all individuals daydream, they also hope. It is necessary to strip this dreaming of self-delusion and escapism, to enrich and expand it and to base it in the actual movement of society. Hope, in other words, must be both educated and objectively grounded; an insight drawn from Marx’s great discovery: ‘the subjective and objective hope-contents of the world.’ The Principle of Hope is an encyclopaedic account of dreams of a better existence; from the most simple to the most complex; from idle daydreams to sophisticated images of perfection. It develops a positive sense of the category ‘utopian,’ denuded of unworldliness and abstraction, as forward dreaming and anticipation. [….] This then is Bloch’s great masterpiece. His achievement was to see that utopianism is not confined to intellectuals and their various blueprints of a better life. He saw that, in countless ways, individuals are expressing unfulfilled dreams and aspirations—that in song, dance, plants and plaster, church and theater, utopia waits.”—Vincent Geoghegan
“Marxists have a defensive attitude towards utopias. It was so laborious to escape from them in the past. But today utopian thought has a new necessity. For that historical spontaneity that Marx conceived as a process of natural history and which our Marxist-Leninists celebrate in the name of objective economic law, must be overcome. [….] The problem is to drive forward the ‘overproduction’ of consciousness, so as to put the whole historical past ‘on its head,’ and make the idea into the decisive material force, to guide things to a radical transformation that goes still deeper than the customary transition from one formation to another within one and the same civilization. We are now facing, and what has in fact already begun, is a cultural revolution in the truest sense of the term: a transformation of the entire subjective form of life of the masses….”—Rudolf Bahro
The early utopian socialists: Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen, while not democrats, inspired democratic movements concerned with morality, community and feminism. “It was a movement that gave the first serious definition of socialism as communitarian, moral, feminist, committed to the transformation of work. This tradition came to be regarded as an immature first step, a prelude, rather than as something of enduring value. If there is to be a twenty-first-century socialism worthy of the name, it will, among other things, have to go two hundred years into the past to recover the practical and theoretical ideals of the utopians.”—Michael Harrington
“Certainly, the concept of utopia is only one of the many possible demonstrations of the anxieties, hopes, and pursuits of an era and of a social milieu. The questioning of the legitimacy and rationality of the existing order, the diagnosis and criticism of moral and social defects, the search for remedies, the dreams of a new order, etc.—all these favorite themes of utopias are found in political systems and popular myths, in religious doctrines and in poetry. If the critique of social reality and the expectation of a new City turn toward utopia, that means that a choice has been made among available forms of discourse. What is said in utopia and as utopia cannot be said otherwise. There are ‘hot’ eras when utopias flourish, when the utopian imagination penetrates the most diverse forms of intellectual, political, and literary activity; eras when opposing points of view and divergent main themes seem to rediscover their point of convergence in the very invention of the descriptions of utopias. But there are other ‘cold’ eras, when utopian creativity is weakened and cut off from social, intellectual, and ideological activities.”—Bronislaw Baczko
1. “There is no utopia without an overall representation, the idea-image of an alternative society, opposed to the existing social reality, and its institutions, rites, dominant symbols, systems of values, norms of interdictions, hierarchies, relations of dominance and property, its domain reserved to the sacred, and so forth. In other words, there is no utopia without a synthetic and disruptive representation of social otherness. [….]
2. The representations of a different and happy City are the products of a particular way of imagining the social; utopias are one of the places, occasionally the privileged place, where the social imagination is put into practice, where individual and collective social dreams are welcomed, gathered, worked on, and produced. Moreover if utopian imagining activity is focused on overall and synthetic idea-images, it nevertheless is developed through day-to-day reality. The dreams of the happy City are, then, articulated with images of a renewed daily life, and utopias often offer a great luxury of detail in their descriptions of individual and collective daily life. The structural relationships between the representation of the overall society and the detailed images of the ordinary aspects of life are as complex as they are revealing. [….]
3. The alternative society is not only imagined, it is also thought to be consonant with reason, and prides itself on the rationality it brings into play. Utopias want to install reason in the realm of the imagination; in utopias, constant exchanges among social dreams and critical, theoretical, and normative reflection are carefully worked out. The term idea-image to which we often have recourse has the sole aim of bringing these distinctive characteristics of utopian representation to the fore. [….]
4. Utopia is not only imagined and thought, it is made intelligible and communicable in a discourse by which the merging of the idea-images and their integration into a language is accomplished. [T]wo classic paradigms were imposed in utopian discourse from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. The first is the utopia of the imaginary voyage. [….] The other paradigm is that of the utopia-proposal for ideal legislation. [….]
5. Every utopia is not necessarily proposed as a program of action or even as a model that would demand intellectual or emotional support. The novelistic utopias are offered most frequently as intellectual games. They only seek to stimulate both the imagination and the critical and moralizing reflection of the readers…. However, sometimes even the utopias presented in the form of an imaginary voyage inspire a will to act and to give some of their ideas a practical application. [….] But there are utopias that proclaim themselves as both a prophetic and a founding word, and that find their extensions in the establishment of exemplary communities professing to put them into practice.”—Bronislaw Baczko
“Plato in fact comes in rather late, if we focus first on the world of classical antiquity. Utopian themes reach back to the earliest Greek writings. From Hesiod’s Works and Days, of the early seventh century BC, came the canonical depiction of the Golden Age, the bitterly-lamented vanished age of Kronos’ reign: when men ‘lived as if they were gods, their hearts free from all sorrow, and without hard work or pain;’ when ‘the fruitful earth yielded its abundant harvest to them of its own accord, and they lived in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things.’ Reworked by Virgil and Ovid as the lost age of Saturn (the Roman Kronos), the pastoral perfection in the Golden Age reappeared as the classic Arcadia, a time and place of rustic simplicity and felicity.”—Krishan Kumar
“If Arcadia showed man living within, and according to, nature, the Hellenic ideal city represented human mastery over nature, the triumph of reason and artifice over the amoral and chaotic realm of nature. Hence the importance, in the ideal city tradition, of those who gave the law and made the rational order of human society: the founders and framers of cities and constitutions, the philosopher-kings, the architect-planners. An early Greek tradition already venerated the semi-mythical figures of Solon of Athens and Lycurgus of Sparta as the founders and law-givers of their respective city-states. Their idealization, common throughout the classical period, was boosted by Plutarch’s Lives (first century AD), which made of Solon and Lycurgus virtually the creators of utopian societies. As received in Europe through various translations of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Lives, eked out with such celebrated set-pieces as Pericles’ funeral oration from Thucydides’ History, set before European thinkers two sharply contrasting utopian models. There was Athens: democratic, tolerant, boisterous, given over to a cultivated hedonism; and there was Sparta: authoritarian, ascetic, communistic. European utopian writers, along with most other kinds, were clearly fascinated by the alternative possibilities suggested by these two great exemplars of the ancient world. Right up to the French Revolution and beyond, one way of classifying utopias was as ‘Athenian’ or ‘Spartan,’ with Sparta predictably the favourite not simply for matching more closely the utopian preference for a tightly regulated communal order, but as much for its status as the putative model of the most admired ancient utopia, Plato’s Republic.”—Krishan Kumar
“[Thomas] More shows himself, and his Utopia, to the product of a new age. His Utopia has a rationalism and a realism that we associate typically with the classical revival of the Renaissance, and that are to be found equally in the architectural utopias of the fifteenth and sixteenth-century Italy. We should remember that Utopia was published less than three years after Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513). More’s urbane and witty style, his profound sense of political realities, constantly evoke the relentlessly de-mystified world of Machiavelli’s notorious treatise (and, incidentally, remind us that utopia and anti-utopia [‘dystopia’] shadow each other very closely).”—Krishan Kumar
“The realm of utopia is wide but it is not boundless. Utopia is not some unchanging human archetype or universal human propensity. Distinctions have to be made and these must be largely historical. If utopia is not in one very obvious sense concerned with the here-and-now, for the most part it draws both its form and content from the contemporary reality. Whether or not we choose to call Plato’s Republic a utopia, or to accept the idea of a Christian utopia, we must recognize the fundamental difference of intention and concern between them, a reflection of the very different conditions that gave rise to them. Both classical and Christian utopianism persisted well into the modern age. They had—and have—a continuing influence on conceptions of utopia. This can make it difficult to see the even more important differences between these utopian “prefigurations” and the utopia proper, the modern utopia that was invented in Europe in the sixteenth century. The utopia of the ancient world is hierarchical, economically undeveloped and static. The modern utopia is egalitarian, affluent and dynamic. Such a conception emerged under unique historical conditions. As these changed so the content and even, to an extent, the form of utopia changed. So we should not be surprised to find ourselves dealing with utopias of many different kinds, and with many different purposes, in the more than four centuries since More’s Utopia. A strict definition of utopia would serve no useful purpose; as Nietzsche says, ‘only that which has not history can be defined.’”—Krishan Kumar
There was a “direct and dynamic connection between the idea of the American nation as utopia, and the foundations of scores of utopian communities that, dismissing this idea, still sought and found refuge on the American continent. We might borrow a term from the American philosopher Robert Nozick and consider America, in this aspect, as meta-utopia. In this conception, utopia is not one community, one vision of the good life, but a “framework for utopias,” a place which freely allows people to form and re-form themselves into utopian communities of diverse kinds. [….] Nineteenth-century America was this meta-utopia on a grander and more generous scale than ever before or since. The vast size of its still relatively unsettled territory, coupled with the utopian notions that accompanied its entire development as a nation, drew utopian groups to it as to a magnet. On both physical and ideological grounds, nineteenth-century America was the ideal framework for utopias in Nozick’s sense. It set up a dynamic counterpoint between the larger national experiment—America as utopia—and the host of small experimental communities, each pursuing its individual utopian vision. Meta-utopia, like utopia, produced a characteristic literature, the literature of the experimental community. There were the reports and survey of founders, sympathizers and observers, such as John Humphrey Noyes’s History of American Socialisms (1870), Charles Nordhoff’s The Communistic Societies of the United States (1875) and William Alfred Hinds’ American Communities (1878). Noyes founded Oneida; Hinds was a founding-member of it. There was also the autobiographies and memoirs of those who had actually been born or lived for much of their time in utopian communities, such Frederick Williams Evans’s Autobiography of a Shaker (1869), Robert Dale Owen’s Twenty-Seven Years of Autobiography (1874) and Pierrepont Noyes’s My Father’s House: An Oneida Boyhood (1937). All these combine, to a remarkable degree, personal involvement and sympathy with a wide-ranging outlook and refreshingly clear-sighted analysis.”—Krishan Kumar
“[T]here was probably more genuine communism practiced in nineteenth-century America than in any society, at any time, beyond the hunting and gathering stage. This certainly seemed self-evident to many Europeans. The young Friedrich Engels was among the many European socialists who were stirred by the reports of the American communities, and who first looked to them to provide the example and model for European communism. ‘The first people in America,’ wrote Engels, ‘and indeed in the world who brought into realization a society founded on the community of property were the so-called Shakers.’ The American communities, he confidently declared, had demonstrated that ‘communism, the social life and work based on the common possession of goods, is…not only possible but has actually been realized…and with the best result.’ The communities were themselves to a good extent the product of a wider movement of reform that enthusiastically embraced socialism. Socialism in mid-nineteenth-century America was far from being the ‘un-American’ thing it has now become.”—Krishan Kumar
“Gandhi’s fascination as a thinker lies in his inward battle between two opposing attitudes—the Tolstoyan socialist belief that the Kingdom of Heaven is attainable on earth and the Dostoevskian mystical conviction that it can never be materialized. The modern Hindu standpoint has generally been anti-utopian: Rama Rajya lies in the bygone Satya Yuga, and Kali Yuga is the age of unavoidable coercion. Gandhi began by challenging this view under the influence of Tolstoy, but he ended his life with more of a Dostoevskian pessimism. This does not mean that he abandoned either his imaginative, utopian, political vision or what he called his practical idealism embodied in concrete programs of immediate action. He did not feel that he was wrong to urge men to set themselves, as he did in his own life, seemingly impossible standards, but he came closer to seeing that it is wrong to expect them to do so. [….] ‘Euclidean’ models—of the satyagrahi, of a society based on satya and ahimsa, of Rama Rajya—are not without their value in political theory, but they must not be mistaken for definitely realizable concretions. [….] Gandhi’s concepts of satya, ahimsa and satyagraha, of tapas, and, above all, of the satyagrahi, are such ideal constructions—‘Euclidean’ models as he himself called them. They do involve a ‘momentous truth,’ but they are also deceptive representations, in a sense. In constructing these, Gandhi was in the oldest political tradition that goes back to classical Chinese and Indian thinkers, and to Plato in the West. They could serve in the serious task of civic education (paideia) provided they are not taken to represent precisely the political realities of the future.”—Raghavan Iyer
“Utopia has, for four centuries, accompanied that hope of progress and that striving for betterment. It has been itself a principle of expression of that belief and a potent agent of that impulse. It now struggles against a confused but widespread sense that this has been an illusion, or an impossible dream. A strong utopian current has persisted…. It may be that, once invented, the utopian idea can never entirely disappear—not, that is, so long as Western society itself continues. But utopia as a form of the social imagination has clearly weakened—whether fatally we cannot say. It has not in recent times found the power to instill its vision in the public consciousness. If it cannot do so again some time in the future, we should be aware of the seriousness of the failure. Karl Mannheim, who was as thoughtful a student of utopias as anyone, considered that the elimination of the ‘reality-transcending’ power of utopia would mean ‘the decay of the human will:’ The complete disappearance of the utopian element from human thought would mean that human nature and human development would take on a totally new character. The disappearance of utopia brings about a static state of affairs in which man himself becomes nor more than a thing. We would then be faced with the greatest paradox imaginable, namely, that man, who has achieved the highest degree of mastery of existence, left without any ideals, becomes a mere creature of impulses. Thus, after a long tortuous, but heroic development, just at the highest stage of awareness, when history is ceasing to be blind fate, and is becoming more and more man’s own creation, with the relinquishment of utopias, man would lose his will to shape history and therewith his ability to understand it.”—Mannheim qtd. in Krishan Kumar
References and Further Reading:
- Baczko, Bronislaw. Utopian Lights: The Evolution of the Idea of Social Progress. New York: Paragon House, 1989.
- Bahro, Rudolf (David Fernbach, trans.). The Alternative in Eastern Europe. London: NLB (New Left Books), 1978.
- Bahro, Rudolf. Building the Green Movement. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publ., 1986.
- Bartkowski, Frances. Feminist Utopias. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.
- Berryman, Phillip. Liberation Theology. New York: Pantheon Books, 1987.
- Bloch, Ernst (Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight, trans.). The Principle of Hope, 3 Vols. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1986.
- Bloch, Ernst (Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg, trans.). The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988.
- Breines, Wini. Community and Organization in the New Left, 1962-1968: The Great Refusal. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989 ed.
- Buber, Martin. Paths in Utopia. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1958.
- Dolgoff, Sam, ed. The Anarchist Collectives: Workers’ Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution, 1936–1939. New York: Free Life Editions, 1974.
- Elster, Jon and Karl Ove Moene, eds. Alternatives to Capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
- Erasmus, Charles J. In Search of the Common Good: Utopian Experiments Past and Future. New York: Free Press, 1985.
- Galston, William A. Justice and the Human Good. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1980.
- Geoghegan, Vincent. Utopianism and Marxism. London: Methuen, 1987.
- Godwin, William. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice. Middlesex, England: Penguin Classics, 1985 (1793).
- Harrington, Michael. Socialism: Past and Future. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1989.
- Hine, Robert V. California’s Utopian Colonies. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983 (1953).
- Iyer, Raghavan. Parapolitics: Toward the City of Man. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.
- Iyer, Raghavan. The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi. Santa Barbara, CA: Concord Grove Press, 2nd ed., 1983 (1st ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 1973).
- Jacoby, Russell. The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy. New York: Basic Books, 2005.
- Jacoby, Russell. Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti-Utopian Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007 ed.
- Joll, James. The Anarchists. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2nd ed., 1979.
- Katsiaficas, George. The Imagination of the New Left: A Global Analysis of 1968. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1987.
- Kohn, Livia. Cosmos and Community: The Ethical Dimension of Daoism. Cambridge, MA: Three Pines Press, 2004.
- Kumar, Krishan. Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1987.
- Kumar, Krishan and Stephen Bann, eds. Utopias and the Millennium. London: Reaktion Books, 1993.
- Levitas, Ruth. The Concept of Utopia. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990.
- Luntley, Michael. The Meaning of Socialism. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1990.
- Mannheim, Karl. Ideology and Utopia. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1960 (1936).
- Manuel, Frank E. and Fritzie P. Manuel. Utopian Thought in the Western World. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1979.
- Marsden, John Joseph. Marxian and Christian Utopianism: Toward a Socialist Political Theology. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1991.
- Martineau, Alain. Herbert Marcuse’s Utopia. Montreal: Harvest House, 1986.
- Melville, Keith. Communes in the Counter Culture: Origins, Theories, Styles of Life. New York: Morrow Quill, 1972.
- Morrison, Roy. We Build the Road as We Travel. Philadelphis, PA: New Society Publishers, 1991.
- Nordhoff, Charles. The Communistic Societies of the United States. New York: Schocken Books, 1965 .
- Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, 1974.]
- Pitzer, Donald E., ed. America’s Communal Utopias. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
- Rexroth, Kenneth. Communalism: From Its Origins to the Twentieth Century. New York: Seabury Press, 1974.
- Schaer, Roland, Gregory Claeys and Lyman Tower Sargent, eds. Utopia: The Search for the Ideal Society in the Western World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
- Smith, Christian. The Emergence of Liberation Theology: Radical Religion and Social Movement Theory. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991.
- Sonn, Richard D. Anarchism. New York: Twayne Publ., 1992.
- Stites, Richard. Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
- Taylor, Michael. Anarchy and Cooperation. London: Wiley, 1976.
- Taylor, Michael. Community, Anarchy and Liberty. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
- Weisbrud, Carol. The Boundaries of Utopia. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.