Utopian Studies

There are several sites on the internet that deal with the study of utopia. One site is for scholars who have a jounal called Utopian Studies. At the following websites, there are many links to other sites about utopia.





"Keeping Up With Ourselves" by Irving Kristol

Irving Kristol said in his review of Daniel Bell's End of Ideology (http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/kristol-endofi.html), "There is no question that terribly important things have happened to America in recent decades; but "the end of ideology" is not one of them, and Mr. Bell's title is in that respect a little misleading. The feverish urge for material improvement and technological innovation is as prevalent as it ever was; the need for easy explanations of the tangled, incomprehensible reality is as pressing. What has happened is that one particular form of ideology has collapsed. By the "end of ideology," Mr. Bell appears to mean, above all, the collapse of the socialist ideal. And he is quite correct in the emphasis he puts upon this event.

"It is not too much to say that the collapse of the socialist ideal is the most striking event in the history of political thought in this century. The process of its deflation has been so intermittent--an irregular series of gasps rather than one instantaneous exhalation--that it is not easy for us to grasp its full significance. Since the death of socialism has not affected our belief in progress, we are tempted to interpret its passing as merely one episode in the interminable education of the human race. Socialism was useful in its time in calling attention to certain unpleasant aspects of modern life; we have absorbed its insights while transcending its dogmatism and naivete--that sort of thing represents the common enlightenment attitude. (The unenlightened are convinced that we have socialism.) But it is not so easy as that. . . .

"What this view ignores is that, while we are all as strongly committed as ever to "creating a better world," it was socialism--and socialism alone--which in the past century attempted to offer a full definition of this ideal. It was socialism that proposed a system of controlling modern technology for human purposes, that sustained a vision of the good society and the good life. The socialist critique of capitalist society, cogent enough in many ways, was its least significant aspect. This critique was not a socialist prerogative, and certainly not a socialist monopoly; most of the reforms it advocated were in the end enacted by non-socialists, for non-socialist (if sometimes humane) reasons. There are many former socialists who take satisfaction in the belief that socialism expired because the capitalist parties "stole" essential parts of its program. But this is to fall into the same fallacy as do the inveterate laisser-fairistes--it is to identify the emergence of the "welfare state" (or, as it can be just as properly called, the "managerial state") with the creeping success of socialism. This is itself nothing but a flight into ideology, whether consolatory or alarmist.

"Socialism did not succeed; it failed. The socialist impulse was, like all human impulses, a mixed thing. But it was--particularly in its original, pre-Marxian form, which was never quite extinguished--as much a philosophical ideal as an ideology. It set out to master man's fate, not rationalize it. It aimed at a community of virtuous men, whose dominant motive would be compassion and fellow-feeling. Whether or not this ideal is intrinsically utopian--i.e., unsuited to man's fallen nature--is endlessly arguable. But what is absolutely clear is that socialism turned out to be utterly unsuited to the nature of modern man. For, in this nature, concupiscence is stronger than compassion--a concupiscence that is constantly stimulated (even as it is fleetingly satisfied) by the unfolding promise of modern technology to create ever greater wealth. Socialists thought that the "abolition of poverty" would purify and ennoble human nature, and were therefore persuaded that technology worked ineluctably in its favor. They turned out to be wrong. In large areas of the world today, there is wealth enough for people to live full and contented lives in socialist equality and fraternity--if only people wanted to. They do not. What they want is--more. Though what they want more for, they do not know.

"Our commitment to a "better world" is intense and unconditional, but it floats uneasily in a void. The President has appointed a committee to compose a memorandum that will define our "national goals" and "national purpose." The radical nature of this action has, surprisingly, gone unremarked: only a couple of decades back it would have been taken for granted that a "national purpose" was the blind sum of individual purposes. The pathetic nature of the President's action has, on the other hand, evoked some tart comment. The goals of life are not something constructed in committee, we know. But we do not know much more than this.

"Still, if the modern world is not yet ripe for a political philosophy that will enable it to control the energies it has set loose, it is a good thing for it to be continually chastened by the exposure of its ideological daydreams and nightmares. A true knowledge of facts does not in itself, of course, lead to knowledge of ends. But false knowledge excludes the very possibility of it. The demolition of ideologies, as executed in Bell's work, cannot tell us where we ought to go, as Americans and twentieth-century men. But it does at least help us to keep up with ourselves."

Daniel Bell's End of Ideology

Daniel Bell concludes his book, End of Ideology (http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/bell-endofi.html), saying that the true meaning of the word utopia will become meaningless "if those who now call loudest for new utopias begin to justify degrading means in the name of some Utopian or revolutionary end, and forget the simple lessons that if the old debates are meaningless, some old verities are not--the verities of free speech, free press, the right of opposition and of free inquiry."

Towards the end of his book Bell says, "...The end of ideology is not---should not be--the end of utopia as well. If anything, one can begin anew the discussion of utopia only by being aware of the trap of ideology. The point is that ideologists are "terrible simplifiers." Ideology makes it unnecessary for people to confront individual issues on their individual merits. One simply turns to the ideological vending machine, and out comes the prepared formulae. And when these beliefs are suffused by apocalyptic fervor, ideas become weapons, and with dreadful results."

"There is now, more than ever, some need for utopia, in the sense that men need--as they have always needed--some vision of their potential, some manner of fusing passion with intelligence. Yet the ladder to the City of Heaven can no longer be a "faith ladder," but an empirical one: a utopia has to specify where one wants to go, how to get there, the costs of the enterprise, and some realization of, and justification for the determination of who is to pay."    



Previous Home Next