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    The State of Utopia


    I just found an excellent (5 year old) article to follow up an older post about Utopian thinking. This collection of excerpts would make a great companion to the State of the Union :)

    Utopias tended to be written at times when the imagination overstretched the available means. They were about people feeling their way ahead, before there were yet any route markers.

    Thomas More came at the dawning of modernity, when the Middle Ages was receding and a new society stretching its limbs. Charles Fourier and the utopian socialists came at the dawn of the working-class movement, when some realised that bourgeois promises of freedom were inadequate but hadn't yet worked out what to propose in their place....

    ...Set-ups that people take as natural - 'the way things are' - are shown to be foolish, temporary arrangements that will soon be overturned. This educates the imagination, the sense of what could be....

    ....It's telling that the authors of utopias often lived unromantic and frustrated lives. Their heads were reaching into the future, but their feet remained stuck in times that they were powerless to change....

    ...Sometimes the dreams of one generation became the practical reality for the next....

    ...Over time, utopias tended to become less hazy daydreams and more something that people would fight to be realised. For a start, there was a shift from utopias being set on a remote island to being set in the future. Then the visions became grander....

    ...And while More and Bacon imagined their utopian societies created by God or a benevolent legislator, later utopias imagined that they were created by people themselves. The vision of the future was a practical problem to solve....

    ...Today the old political landmarks are gone, and people have little idea about how to go forward. Past utopians' brave leaps into the future could act as inspiration. However, there are limitations with today's approach towards utopias. There are broadly speaking two different types of modern utopian project: escapist utopias, and mystical utopias. Both seek a dreamy happy ending, while sidestepping the problems of political life today....

    ...The question isn't whether the utopian impulse exists, for it will so long as human beings are alive: the question is whether this impulse takes us forward or just tightens our chains...

    ...Jacoby's conclusion: 'To connect a utopian passion with practical politics is an art and a necessity.'...


    The whole article is worth a read.

    Mon, Feb 22, 2010  Permanent link

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