Source: This essay first appeared in the journal Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought , vol. IV, no. 4, Winter 1981 published by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio. It is republished with thanks to the original copyright holders.
Kingsley Widmer taught at San Diego State University and wrote on D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Nathaniel West, Paul Goodman, Herman Melville, as well as on the issues of censorship, freedom, and culture.
Kingsley Widmer, "Utopia and Liberty"
Table of Contents
- Some Utopian Dialectics: The Necessity of Understanding Utopia from Multiple Perspectives
- Critics and Skeptics of Utopia: the Anti-Utopians
- Positive and Negative Dialectics of Utopian City Planning
- The Dangers of Unacknowledged Utopianism: Bentham, Comte, and Marx as Pseudo-anti-utopians
- How To Look at Utopias with a Double-View: A Critical, Dialectical Approach with Some Examples
- Mythic Contexts for Viewing Utopias
- Utopian Personal and Sensual Freedom
- Technological Utopianism: Escapes from the Human
- Futurology, Predictions, and Dystopia
- New Age Counterings to Technocracy and Rational Functionalism
- Dialectical Counterings to Utopian and Technological Optimism
- Science Fiction and the Utopia-Dystopia Dialectics
- Nozick's Right-Libertarian Utopia: Pseudo-pluralism
- Bibliographical Endnotes
Some Utopian Dialectics: The Necessity of Understanding Utopia from Multiple Perspectives
"Somewhere there's gotta be a better world" (Refrain from a classic American Blues)
"Utopia" and "liberty" may well be seen as perplexed terms open to no single and simple definitions; they really are loose binders for bundles of diverse notions and desires. Their problematic inclusiveness perhaps makes them useful for social and political moral thinking. Still, some unbundling of these ambiguous terms may be in order and, in a dialectical way, some tentative rebundling. In a ranging survey of much contemporary utopianism, I want to emphasize the counter-argument roles of the "ideal societies." Countering some common libertarian prejudices, I also want to argue that the utopias should not be taken literally; they require some multiple perspectives; and they must partly be understood in terms of their historical continuities. Since the utopianisms often display many of the crucial ideological issues of our time, they merit not only libertarian awareness but require some libertarian discriminations. After all, much of human liberty, in its variousness as well as its aspirations, is utopian.
Let us assume here the considerable value of the fullest possibilities of individual freedom, even though such notions also require considerable qualifications, as not a few utopian efforts will remind us.1 Whether utopia is taken as a narrative fiction of an ideal society, as a plan for a radically different from current reality institution or community, or as a futuristic social and political vision, it may well appear to the skeptical individualist as considerably bothersome.2 If the utopian is viewed (somewhat incorrectly, as I will point out) as a totalism of rationalistic planning, the individualist may well find it threatening. But many utopias are the ordered responses of such threatened individualists seeking to posit individual-protecting counter-possibilities.
Ambiguities in Contemporary Rejections of Utopia
On the basis of surveying some hundreds of views of classical liberals, left-liberals with a strong commitment to freedom, and avowed libertarians, I conclude that their most common responses to the utopian range from great suspicion to high condemnation. For examples: the traditional left-libertarian M. L. Berneri in Journey Through Utopia (1950) concluded that most of the ideal no-places in history deserved, because of overt or implicit authoritarianism, to be nowhere.3 Yet she held to a degree of anarchist individual freedom that is generally considered quite utopian. She therefore felt impelled to distinguish a libertarian side to the utopian. Rightlibertarian Murray N. Rothbard, in For a New Liberty (1973), took an even more wholesale negative view of the utopian as a dangerous collectivist tendency: "The true utopian is one who advocates a system that is contrary to the natural law of human beings," as well as a foolish demand for something "that could not work,"4 Yet a scholarly survey of recent American utopianism reasonably insists that Rothbard (on the basis of that very book) is a typical "perfectibility" case of modern utopianism.5 Hardly less negative, though with a considerably different politics, is the liberal-humanist William Barrett who in The Illusion of Technique (1979) dismissed most modern utopianism as "technological fantasy" and "an empty and insipid ideal."6 Yet most contemporary technologues would undoubtedly consider Barrett's views anti-technological utopianism with a fantastic insistence on Heideggerean "being" which demands a radical transformation of sensibility in the modern world (though one Barrett hardly faces up to). The ambiguities of utopian-anti-utopianism in these thinkers is central to much of characteristic contemporary utopianism.
The Necessity and Benefits of Utopian Thinking
These ostensible rejections of the utopian go with important charges—authoritarianism, rationalistic collectivism, scientific religiosity—which deserve further consideration. But first I might suggest several contexts. In spite of the common connotations of "utopian" as impractical or exaggerated—or, as Karl Mannheim more shrewdly suggested, "utopia" both identifies the ideology one rejects and stands for something larger than mere contemporaneous ideology7—many informed views hold utopianism to simply be essential, for some millennia, to any ranging social and political thought. Thus, for example, the conclusion to the Manuels' recent massive intellectual history, Utopian Thought in the Modern World (1979): "Western civilization may not be able to long survive without utopian fantasies any more than individuals can exist without dreaming."8 The very health of the polity requires some such envisioning, reordering, and revisioning, as part of its dynamic dualism. Otherwise put, our very senses of social-political freedom depend on entertaining the possibilities and alternatives projected by the utopian, even when not directly employed. Perhaps also I know more clearly what I am against when I see someone else's utopia.
The positing of "ideal societies" seems especially strong in Western traditions, though there may be partial parallels in the especially strong Eastern traditions—as in Taoism—of positing ideal escapes from societies.9 Much modern Western utopianism obviously displays an activist concern for a more just and beautiful community, beyond mere contemplation.10 More crucially, perhaps, many utopias came from the heretical and other dissidents who often, and no doubt necessarily, projected alternative social orderings.11 Rather paradoxically, even the classic fixed and static utopias may be seen as radical and dynamic in their functions of providing patterns for judgment, for criticizing the traditional and often absolutistic societies from which they arose. And not surprisingly, any radical enlargement of freedom has also often been viewed, on the face of it, as utopian, whether in praise or condemnation. A large liberty of the person, so obviously limited by social bonds and established order as well as by ever-present mortality, may seem to many in any period to be ultimate utopian dreaming. Yet the utopian projection of unexpected possibilities may also be, as "conservative anarchist" Paul Goodman argued in Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals (1962), psychologically liberating, and therefore downright "practical" in bringing into consciousness alternative senses of an issue.12 The true opposite of the utopian dream, I suggest, is less something "pragmatic" or "realistic" than cynicism or apocalypse, the ultimate human nightmare.
The Liberal, Heuristic Service of Authoritarian Utopias
Yet, of course, much utopianism can also result in bad dreams.13 While a history of liberty may often be brigaded with utopian imaginings or plans—after all, most history is within the short statist period of human society and its coercive conditions, thus often literally requiring an "ideal" or "elsewhere" conception of liberty—much utopianism is, as it had long been, authoritarian. Even for Plato's fortunate few guardians in The Republic there was less liberty—be it in class confines and duties, or censored poetry and music, or the totally static order—than at least some number of Socratic Athenians might well have enjoyed.14 But, if my sense of the historical record is approximately correct, the dominant effect of the Platonic authoritarian utopia has been heuristic service for more liberal views, at least from Sir Thomas More to Sir Karl Popper. It is as if many have said, how can we properly counter Plato? Here, surely, is a large utopian service.
More's partly counter-Platonic Utopia (1516), the first of that explicit name (a punning play on good-place and no-place), provided a thoughtful, and sometimes wryly mocking criticism of More's actual society, representation of a more tolerant and charitable ordering—the degree of its Christianity still in dispute.15 But more ancient forms of the "guardians" are also still with us, at least as much as More's mild patriarchal ones, currently in the camouflage of science fiction heroes and in other envisionings of futurological technocrats for what may be the worst of all possible worlds.
Critics and Skeptics of Utopia: the Anti-Utopians
However, positing either better or worse societies hardly provides an adequate description, or use, of the utopian impetus. And we should promptly note that what bothers many skeptics of the utopian is less the better or worse particulars of a social ordering than the very premise of such social shaping or reshaping.16 For instance, in rather prematurely predicting the demise of the utopian a generation ago, political scientist Judith N. Shklar, in After Utopia (1957), catalogd dozens of important anti-utopian views.17 Her conclusion was that they marked the end of the Enlightenment faith in "rational political optimism" as the shaper of society. While that has some applicable truth, especially to usual left-liberal ideology, there remains much other utopianism, which was downplayed in Shklar's account.
Hayek's Critique of Constructivist Rationalism
One of the anti-utopians only briefly noted by Shklar was F. A. Hayek who in The Road to Serfdom (1944) excoriated "utopia" as the collectivist delusion of "democratic socialism" leading to a totalitarian society; indeed, he argued, perhaps excessively, that anti-democratic socialist ideologies such as fascism and Nazism also derived from it.18 Hayek has variously continued the argument, through a recent (1978) attack on "constructivism," the utopianism which he links to the rationalist tradition from Descartes and Rousseau.19 Such presumptuous rationalism, argues Hayek, displays the hubris, the arrogance, of a social-political thought that would claim to consciously construct institutions instead of allowing them evolutionary development. In contrast, liberal critical reason would more modestly create a framework of rules under which the growth of institutions beyond direct rational comprehension (the market, common law legal traditions, etc.) would be possible. Apparently for Hayek, the liberal application of reason to society falls between constructivism and the conservative distrust of reason which emphasizes organic accretion of changes (as in Burke), if any at all, in institutions. Obviously, this liberal view of the social function of reason remains historically shifting and therefore rather uncertain.
Hayek's Own Utopianism
Several kinds of skeptic properly suspect those who would plan or otherwise dictate all too much of life under the guise of reason. This, most libertarians would agree, provides a profoundly appropriate criticism of a presumptuous, and quite possibly ruthless, utopian rationalism. Yet what might be called a hyper-rationalism characterizes much indeed of social-political thinking, not just the utopian. For obvious example: the development of Talmudic and Christian canon law, and tortuous casuistries, and then their secularization in legalism and administrative regulation, certainly displays moral rationalism functioning in insistently encompassing and controlling ways which a devotee of liberty might well find threatening. Yet, such are the paradoxes of reason operating in history, the very defense of the individual against these restrictive rationalisms became ornate counter-rationalisms, such as those we connect with the Enlightenment. One tradition of the countering liberal rationalism was constitution-making, be it Locke's for Carolina, Rousseau's for Corsica, the established U. S. and French revolutionary constitutions, the pathetic plethora of nineteenth-century liberal European charters, and the fakery of rationalization of the 1935 Soviet constitution and those of a good many "emerging" nations in the present. The proposing and applying of constitutions may rightly be seen as a schematic utopianism, and one properly suspect for its abstraction of tangible realities and its rationalistic formalism and controls. Yet the vehement critic of rationalistic constructivism, Hayek, recently proposed a constitutional construction (a new form of legislature) for a defense of classical liberal values, and himself characterized it as a "Utopia."20
In defense of his utopianism, Hayek related it to an earlier moderate utopian argument, David Hume's "Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth" (1742), and his claim that "it must be advantageous to know what is most perfect in the kind" as a model for ameliorative "innovations."21 While in such matters Hayek (perhaps even more than Hume) depends on a temperamental conservativism, such utopianism seems essentially a moderated constructivism. Even in the earlier period when Hayek was polemicizing against collectivist utopianism, he was also arguing for a liberal utopianism as a counter to it.22 When we further consider that the Hayek view rests on large constructions of universal "free markets" (and the institutions that necessarily go with them), which in fact have only fragmentarily existed, classical liberalism may be viewed as itself deeply engaged in a grandiose utopianism.
Surely we can recognize important differences of emphasis in a rule-structured utopianism and direct statist planning—differences of utopias. Based on other conditions, both may restrict various human freedoms. So our preferences may require fuller utopian definition, rather than a rejection of the utopian in general. Put another way, the combination of the utopian and the anti-utopian in such views as the Hayekian remains ambiguous.
The Critique of Utopia as Revolutionary and Violent
Certainly there are views which are less ambiguously anti-utopian, from the commonplace anti-speculative cast of mind—fearful of acknowledging change—to the traditional conservative committed to a fixed order of ostensibly divine sanction. Another anti-utopian tradition, and influential one of partly liberal principles, focuses on the means of change. Karl Popper, a generation ago, and Melvin Lasky, more recently, have polemically insisted on a pervasive brigading of utopianism and revolutionary violence.23 While their arguments undoubtedly apply to some millennial and terrorist movements as well as Jacobin and Marxian revolutionism (though, as will be noted below, Marxism claims to be anti-utopian), revolutionary violence has small relevance to a large part of utopianism, past and present. The anti-revolutionary ideologues also employ a most peculiar calculus of coercion, suffering and violence: some established orders have produced more tyranny, misery, and death than revolutionary regimes; and usually only the greatest ordered states can produce massive control, deprivation and death. But were not some of them utopian? Some tyrants may be partially analyzed in terms of some utopian rhetoric—Cromwell, Robespierre, Mao, et al. —though most dictators better qualify as anti-utopian. While seeking no narrow definition of the utopian, I suggest rather generally excluding the mad tyrants (redundant phrase), and the apologists of great states and empires, as well as those primarily committed to revolutionism, as views inherently contradicting coherent claims to relatively ideal societies, on the face of things.24
The Critique of Utopia as Economically Collectivist
Less emphatically, we might also set aside much of another often presumed charge against the utopian impetus—that it generally tends to the collectivist, the coercive statist centralized economy. It is true that property in Plato's Republic and More's Utopia, both small city-states, was communally held, and that a considerable number of nineteenth-century utopian fictions and plans may be characterized as state-socialistic, more or less.25 But on close examination it was often less. For instance, Charles Fourier's early nineteenth-century utopian Phalanstery had world-wide influence—his direct effects run from Hawthorne's Brook Farm in Massachusetts to Dostoyevsky's St. Petersburg in Russia, and more indirectly, into modern surrealism and communalism—and Fourier drew some admiration of socialists, from Engels through Marcuse.26 But Fourier's schemes were essentially decentralist, entrepreneurial, anti-statist, and generally antithetical to much of Marxist and similar views in his great insistence on human variousness. Distinctions need to be made not only between communal and collectivist economics but, perhaps more crucially, between the degrees of individual variousness and other freedoms.
Anomalies in the Economics of Utopia
Or, to glance at a later example: in a bundle of utopian notions which provided both a popular European novel, Freeland (1890), and several utopian colonies, Hertzka's economics had communally owned land, but this was part of a systematic emphasis on pluralistic arrangements for competitive enterprise.27 The economic ideologies of much utopianism are more than a little mixed. Indeed, some seem outrageously contradictory or historically muddled. Statist socialism, for example, has been considerably influenced by Saint-Simon who, indeed, may be credited (as by Hayek) with inventing part of it.28 But to pursue Henri de Saint-Simon in his life and works is to recognize a speculative capitalist of early nineteenth-century France who, not surprisingly, produced an elaborately hierarchical managerial-capitalist utopianism. His multiple historical legacy included an elitist religious cult of some direct influence for a few years, considerable effect on "progressive" speculative financiers in the Second Empire, and probably significant contributions to the continuing technocratic-elitist statism which plays an important part in the French economy, whether called (state) capitalist or (state) socialist. Like its capitalist originator, this legacy is certainly anti-libertarian.
Or note the rather anomalous roles of Saint-Simon's contemporary, Robert Owen, the rich early nineteenth-century English mill entrepreneur and reformer, who lost much of his capital (though not his philanthropic obsessions) in establishing the paternalistic utopia of New Harmony, Indiana, which soon collapsed.29 Depaternalized versions of his utopianism may have had considerable influence on later British socialism, as his managerial methods in his New Lanark mills may have had on later labor unions.30 Yet Owen also strongly influenced in the 1840s a quite exceptional American free-market individualist anarchist, Josiah Warren, who resided for a time at New Harmony. Warren not only tried modified Owenism in several individualist community experiments (Utopia, Ohio and Modern Times, Long Island) but developed a curious laborbarter system (an exchange of self-created money based on worktime units) which was commercially successful as well as a more equitable way of merchandizing in his several stores.31 With millowner-manager Owen and inventor-businessman Warren, among many others, the entrepreneurial and utopian impetus seem to have been significantly the same. More contemporaneous utopianism, as I shall have occasion to note several times below, is frequently emphatic in its entrepreneurial motives and forms, as with insisting on state-autonomous small businesses as central to freedom.
Still, no single, or even several, economies can be said to generally characterize historical utopianism. But, it may be countered, since much (though certainly not all) utopianism takes the form of projecting ideal communities, surely it is communal rather than individualist economics? In that loose a usage, all economics is communal, though not necessarily collectivist.
Stirner and the Issue of Community vs. Collectivism
Even in the most extreme of nineteenth-century individualist philosophies, some sense of community remains a positive value. Thus Max Stirner, often viewed as carrying individualism to a nihilistic solipsism in The Ego and Its Own (1844), none the less suggested what he called the "Union of Egoists." For Stirner gave a central place to human desires, gratifications, and thus relatedness; the social issue, he insisted, is "not how one is to produce the true self . . . but how one is to . . . live himself out."32 Granted, it may not be altogether clear in Stirner how much the Union of Egoists should take the form of a voluntary intentional community as against what he called an "instinctual" association of the like-minded with the courage to violate legal restrictions and reject moral "ghosts." For example, "freedom of trade" to Stirner was less likely the result of establishing any certain market system (which to him was always partly anti-individual) than of violating whatever system was established by "smuggling."33 Personal freedom was less to be achieved by establishing protective rules, which always became controlling rules and tend to defeat the authentic individual, than by practicing moral "refractoriness" and even, prudently, legal "disobedience."34 But, as with the bandit gang, that may make voluntary community all the more important.
Ayn Rand's Ambiguous Utopia of 'Individualism'
Such extremists as Stirner—and a number of other utopians—are valuable, I believe, in sharpening our critical perspective. For example, more recent utopias with unions of egoists seem more defeating of gratification than Stirner's. So, I suggest, with Ayn Rand's capitalist-individualist "nowhere" in Atlas Shrugged (1957).35 This "Utopia of Greed," also called (with perhaps more negative irony than intended) "Galt's Gulch," is a Colorado valley protected by magical rays where a secret conspiratorial cult of embittered entrepreneurial "egoists" has established a community dedicated to selfishness under the charismatic semi-autocracy of a soap opera hero, John Galt. As Rand explained elsewhere, part of her fictional credo was to present an image of "the kind of social system that makes it possible for ideal men to function . . . laissez-faire capitalism."36 But, from a Stirnerian individualist perspective, this is mostly an elaborate substitution of a "social system," and its moral "ghosts" and narrowly fixed conceptions of role, in place of protean individual living out of full life. Rand's utopianism displays an individualism patently narrow in its puritanical and rationalistic constructivism, stronger on abstract polemics than on the rich qualities of individuality.37
While Atlas Shrugged may be doubtful as an expression of individualism (and the melodrama crassly weak in social delineation), it may raise several other points of utopian interest. Note that it had considerable popularity at the very time when much of the intellectual establishment (see Shklar, above) quite decried utopianism, denying that it could really exist in a twentieth-century world made dourly pessimistic by over-population, endless irrational war, uncontrollable technology, and the rest of the age of anxiety. Cultural history is not nearly so unilateral as often pretended. Nor are utopian motives nearly so bland and optimistic as often assumed. The Randian ethos curiously provides a reverse adumbration of what Nietzsche analyzed as ressentiment. An analysis of the redundant rhetoric justifying her utopia (as with Galt's four or five hour radio address) would show it dominated by contempt and hatred.38 Utopian motives, we are well reminded, may be in considerable part unidealistic, mean-spirited.
The Critique of Utopia as Static and Monolithic
In a not unique twentieth-century way, Rand's utopia is only a stage, part of a process, dissolved as the leading characters move toward renewed establishmentarian power (that, not individuality, dominates their motives). Note here another dubious charge often made against the utopian: the mode is said to be static, fixed, monolithic, rigid.39 Yet the probably most influential twentieth-century utopian theorist and novelist, H. G. Wells, insisted about the incomplete pattern of his A Modern Utopia (1905) that our appropriate utopias must be construed as "stages" in a "kinetic" process, changing and time-limited and evolving.40 That, of course, was more generally true of Wells' utopianism, which took some variety of forms and values. So did Aldous Huxley's (see below). Herbert Read in The Green Child (1935) presented as simultaneous in time in the same work two contrasting utopias (one progressive materialist, one mystical neoPlatonic).41 The influential American Communitas (1947) by Paul Goodman provided three but not necessarily exclusive "Community Paradigms" (they might be characterized as super-centralized capitalist, decentralized communal, and a dual ordering of Blanquist work-welfarism and aggrandizing consumerism).42 Wisely, none of them were held to be the best for all nor the only possibilities.
Many other examples of various and pluralistic and evolving utopianisms in modern times could be cited (some will be noted later). That many utopians show an insufficient theory of change may well be true, but that is also sadly true of almost all modern social-political thinkers. The inadequately informed too often take the Platonic paradigm as defining not only the literary genre but the general utopian cast of mind. Debatably, there is evidence for doubting that the fixed Platonic was ever all that defining, as one recalls the endlessly open Rabelais, the ironist More, the dualistic Voltaire, the conflictful Fourier, and many other utopians. Of course there are, as there always have been, dogmatic fundamentalists, literalists, in utopianism, as in most ideologies. The logic of Popper's "open society" or of Hayek's "evolving institutions" or of truly various libertarian social-political views cannot reasonably reject the utopian as simply static, rigid, monistic, exclusionary. Unless, that is, they are committed to the very fallacy they denounce.
Positive and Negative Dialectics of Utopian City Planning
Let me briefly adumbrate another aspect of utopia-as-planning by taking a mode more extreme than constitution-making: utopian city planning. When it comes to individual living, the envisioning of a city may show us some of the consequences of an ideology, not just the abstract rules, in a tangible way.
Utopian Cities and Human Liberty
From ancient ideal cities, for man but more often for man-god rulers, through the part-ideal planning of Athens, Rome, Venice, and many other actual places—structuring a better city has been a rich utopian concern.43 Given the twentieth century's megalopolitan ugliness, destructiveness, and other social pathologies, it is hardly surprising that diverse exceptional talents devoted themselves to embracing urban utopianism. English Ebenezer Howard's influential plans for the moral Garden City, Swiss-French Le Corbusier's giganticist visualizations of the super-industrial Radiant City, and American Frank Lloyd Wright's piquant plans for re-countrifying the urban in Broadacre City, carry on a long tradition of imaginative social criticism and conceptualization.44 Aside from their existence as fascinating and suggestive objects for contemplation—no mean thing in itself—what do these utopian cities suggest about human liberty?
Fortunately or not, none of these cities have been fully built. Are they, then, just more utopian fantasizing, further variations on the Tower of Babel? Something rather more, for the plans of Howard, Corbusier, and Wright have also had demonstrable influence on actual places.45 And these ambitious cityscapes may also encourage a certain discipline in our thinking about ideologies as well as cities. For once understood, these great plans expose not only the conceptual limitations of lesser "planners" but also point to the hidden agendas, the covert utopias, which lie behind any plans. By "planners" I don't only mean the professional technicians who practice that dubious trade but the rulers and administrators, the businessmen and "developers," who, consciously or not, carry out what is usually a debased utopianism.46 In significant part, all cities are planned, however confused or hypocritical their ideals may be. Cities are not objects of nature but constructions which will be variously chosen, willed.
Put another way, some of our suburban towns can be related (though often not decently enough) to the cooperative community ideal enshrined in Howard's Garden City—and to its rather blandly narrow lower-middle class sense of culture and human behavior. Our grandiloquent urban highrise centers can be related (though usually without the rigorous coherence) to the hyper-functional industrial ideals of Corbusier's Radiant City—and to its hierarchical centralism and other anti-democracy and anti-individualism. And our contradictory American responses to the urban and communal can be related (though generally without the imaginative verve) to Wright's Jeffersonian individualist anti-city Broadacre—and to its rather forced familial economics and social atomization. These utopian city plans, then, make tangible not only certain styles of living and sensibility but major social-political dispositions.
My terse noting of the great modernist city plans does not intend to suggest that their specifications allow us to choose for once and all between and among the genteel co-operative, the authoritarian centralist, and the atomized individualist possibilities. The issues, of course, become more perplexed than that, including that all three of these utopian planners saw themselves (at least in major periods) as advancing entrepreneurial economics and individual autonomy under the peculiar conditions of the twentieth century.47 We may thus be driven to an awareness—simplistically ignored by all too many libertarians—of which kind of free market, and which kind of individualism, and which kind of liberties, are to be encouraged and chosen.
Libertarian Perplexities in Choosing among Utopian Alternatives
Thus when we turn to a current planner of a utopian city, and one actually building an example, Paolo Soleri's Arcosanti, in the Arizona desert, we may be brought up short. Though using some of the individualist rhetoric and ideas of Wright, Soleri makes clear in his theory of Arcology (1969), as well as in his rather unlivable beehive city, that the role of the non-elitist individual is rather slight.48 Like a fictional Ayn Rand architect (though more tastefully so) Soleri seems quite prepared to impose his shapes and his mystagogueries on others. When heroic liberty is only for the few one reasonably doubts the liberty. Granted, the conditions of an overpopulated technocracy encourage this. Thus, to my eye, the noted futuristic super-planner of a world-wide city, "Ecumenopolis," C. A. Doxiadis, shows in Building Entopia (1975) a considerable dehumanization in the styles as well as proportions of his plans.49 The cake of over-mechanization becomes a controlling diet, however frosted with scientistic optimism.
Understandably, then, the libertarian temptation may be to reject all utopian city plans, even as thought experiments, as has been done from a more or less conservative social-political perspective by Jane Jacobs and from a left-liberal perspective by Richard Sennett.50 But the opposite of a utopian plan may be less "no plan" than a bad plan, further corrupted by being unadmitted and unexamined, whether as the megalomanias of rulers or, as currently in America, of combined developers and administrators, baronially corporate as well as royally statist.51 The conditions for the growth of a city under the invisible hand of a free market or the indefinable spirit of organic community—both, I would argue, insufficient conceptions—only fragmentarily exist in the modern megalopolis.
The Dangers of Unacknowledged Utopianism: Bentham, Comte, and Marx as Pseudo-anti-utopians
Thus one modest claim for the utopian might be as a way of projecting issues, making alternatives tangible, and being more concretely aware of consequences. But, as my dialectical insistence would have it, that positive side of the utopian impetus should not be used to deny the negative sides. Candidly, as a reader of hundreds of utopian fictions and schemes, I suspect a high proportion of compulsive-obsessive views and that even some of the more heroically suggestive (Bruno, Rousseau, Fourier, etc.) display paranoid megalomanias. Still, a disinterested skepticism also suggests that rather more dangerously authoritarian institutions grew out of more unadmitted utopianism. Thus, supposedly hardheaded Benthamite utilitarianism projected some of the most nastily controlling institutional patterns, such as the Panopticon ot total corrective surveillance.52 Auguste Comte's (1798–1857) anti-idealistic scientism reinstituted elitist guardians in the narrow guise of social scientists. And Marx and Marxism mostly substituted a vague and manipulative revolutionism for a more specific, and possibly more accountable, utopianism.53
When Marx and Engels vehemently disavowed the "utopian" (after some early flirtation with it) for "scientific socialism" —their version of the fantastic Hegelian rationality of history—they righteously chose obfuscating means, in such guises as "dialectical materialism" and "proletarian revolution," over more clear and specific humane purposes.54 Mortals without revelations of absolutistic historical "science" might utopianly prefer an ideologue's revealing how some of the proposed social reality is supposed to look and feel. Psychologically, however, the appeal of Marxism for social transformation may carry strong utopian elements, regardless of what the doctrine claims. And such may be found, for example, in the Marxist mythology of A. L. Morton, The English Utopia (1952), who crudely and erroneously holds that well-done utopias are compatible with vulgar Marxism.55 In a more sophisticated version, as in the neo-Marxist reifications of Ernst Bloch, A Philosophy of the Future (1963), utopia becomes "anticipatory design" implicit in certain meta-social meta-aesthetic forms as "the eschaton . . . of progress" in the dialectical unfolding of history.56 Sentimental or sophisticated, such views stand in sharp variance with much of Marx (including the splitting, as Bloch admits, of the cultural "superstructure" from the material "base") and are contrary to the bankrupt historical realities of Marxian-colored ideologies.
Unacknowledged Utopian Claims: Knowledge-as-Control
Granted, the supposedly anti-utopian methodologies of Bentham, Comte, and Marx, may partly be viewed as weird episodes in nineteenth-century scientism, though they also remain with us as ideological dispositions. Such imposing programmatic claims of "new knowledge" repeat in our time the dangerous pretensions of knowledge-as-control which can be seen as continuous with some Enlightenment philosophes, the Baconians, the Renaissance Pansophists, and earlier forms of the Faustian and Promethean magus.57 These intellectual fantasies of power have not been confined to the utopian—indeed, the magicians of power often claim to be anything but utopian—yet some utopianism certainly carries such claims. But avowed utopias, at least, also carry the warning of being acknowledged counter-reality dreams. Unadmitted fantasies (including the utilitarian, Comtean, Marxian) may be more dangerous impositions.
How To Look at Utopias with a Double-View: A Critical, Dialectical Approach with Some Examples
Properly warned by the muddle of those who have attempted to distinguish between the "utopian" and the "realistic" (or, for example, Hayek's untenable distinction between "critical rationality" and "constructivist rationality"), I cannot suggest any simple safeguards. Some utopianism is self-serving apologetics, dangerously resentful fantasy, symptomatic pathology. But some is compassionate moral idealism, reasonable projection, imaginative prophecy. Inconveniently, they often come all mixed together. The utopian must remain problematic. All that I can propose as a methodology is that we attempt to double-view any utopia—be it fiction, project or vision—as both broad ideology and personal peculiarity, as both moral doctrine and symptom of a time and place.
A Double-View of More, Bellamy, and Skinner
Three brief examples. More's Utopia (1516) five centuries ago included acute though heavily moralistic social criticism, given an ironic perspective, and a still pertinently utopian situational ethics (euthanasia, divorce, family limitation, etc.), a paternalistic familial and political ordering in spite of communal property, rather limited notions of pleasure and freedom, and even a six-hour work day in spite of its premise of a static-scarcity economy. That can be viewed as showing both the strengths and limitations of high Christian humanism. Arguably, it can also be seen as contradicting much in the man who became a political power and a martyred saint.58
The most popular and influential of all American utopian novels is Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888). Although held to envision a kindly and reasonable equality, Bellamy's utopia included harshly enforced work and other conformity, which it rewarded with a culture that was Boston-genteel, gadgety, and trivial, in a technological society controlled by a supposedly meritocratic bureaucracy.59 In essentials, it is the continuing vision of a blandly optimistic engineering socialism. We might also view the Bellamy utopianism as symptomatic of the rising American "technocracy" (the combination of sophisticated technology and elaborate bureaucracy) which continues to supercede, and fuse, both socialist and capitalist ideologies. Technocracy tends to its own socio-economic system, and such worshipful attitudes as Bellamy's may have furthered it.
Probably the most influential contemporary American scientistic utopia is B. F. Skinner's Walden Two (1948).60 Its behaviorist guardians use lab-rat "positive re-enforcement" and other reductive and programmed "positive" conditioning in a Grand Inquisitor denial of ordinary individual freedom (except as a sometimes exploitable illusion). We may grant that its motives and aims, as Skinner has had to repeatedly insist in defending himself, are highly benevolent. Some of the worst dominations and other mass-crimes in history have been so. In the history of utopias, I see Skinner's ideal as a secularized adaption of religious dogmatism and indoctrination. It may also tell us something not only about the dominant American academic psychology (of which the author remains a noted representative) but perhaps more generally about the nasty pretensions of a good bit of social scientism.61
A Skeptically Dialectical View vs. Anti-utopianism
While these three well-known examples—More, Bellamy, Skinner—are narrative fiction utopias, we might also apply a similar critical awareness to large conceptual structures for a better society as well as to moral templates for an institution, a commune, or a community. At this late stage in utopianism, simple-mindedness in approach would not be just intellectually intolerable but perhaps socially dangerous. However, to take a skeptically dialectical view of utopianism should not be confused with common anti-utopianism. Our skeptical, critical view of utopianism does not embrace anti-utopianism, at least when that can be defined as the denial of envisioning a better institution, community, or society, or as the refusal of any enlargement of freedom beyond the mere margins of invisible orderings and what all too badly exists.
Mythic Contexts for Viewing Utopias
But the issues of utopianism should be put in several other contexts. Historical perspective suggests that it is conceptually quite inadequate to confuse utopianism with merely rationalistic planning, and the writings with the several literary genres which from at least Hellenistic times use lost-and-found societies for edifying fable, satiric argument, or titillating fantasy. Otherwise put, those who wish to attack utopianism (including the half-dozen cited earlier) need to overhaul their arguments and expand their focus if they wish to be pertinent to what utopianism really represents. Ideal societies, for instance, must be understood as not just rationalistic constructions but as partly mythic—as, indeed, with much of impassioned human thought. An essential part of the appeal of utopianism goes beyond political and social logic to realms of dream, fantasy, and prophecy—in sum, to transformations of human sensibility.62 The issues can in no adequate way be confronted, qualified, or countered by mere economic and ethical paradigms—or the other professional bigotries of economists and philosophers.
Mythic Thinking, Utopianism, and Social Ideals
In several thousand years of utopias, some obviously (and others indirectly) display the secularization of other-worldly paradises. But that may also be understood the other way around, with paradises as the etherealization of secular utopias. For, as the great utopian social-psychologist William Blake noted, many "abstract the mental deities" in order to create an enslaving "system"; "Thus men forgot that all deities reside in the human breast." Precedence may not always be clear, whether it be with the happy Isle of Para in a Greek Cynic tale or with the revolutionary Third Kingdom (under the aegis of the Holy Ghost) in the long millennarian prophetic tradition linked to Joachim of Fiore.63 Separation of transcendental and earthly felicities is not at all as clear as the apologists of orthodoxies of control have tried to claim.
The Myth of the Golden Age
A major recurrent theme of utopianism adapts the Greek legends of the Golden Age declining into the Iron Age, as in Hesiod's Works and Days (8th Century B.C.), which was twisted in Plato's Republic (4th Century B.C.) into classes of men and duties for ordering the just state—metaphors confirming the absolute and static nature of his ordering. Until the geographic-demographic discoveries and closures of the present, which has made many fantasies as well as alternatives seem more improbable, there was always some place where the Blessed or Happy Isles just might be found, or re-found. And even now there are those, ranging from noted physicists to hallucinating addicts, who fancy close encounters with messengers from superior islands displaced into outer galaxies.
Primitivism and the Arcadian Mythos
Historically, the Golden Age imagery often linked with the sophisticated "primitivism" of what is frequently called the "arcadian mythos," the idealized pastoral world which takes its early characteristics from Theocritus, Vergil, and other poets of rural ritualism in the Mediterranean world.64 This continued, as I understand it, as a covert paganism as well as a cultivated literary tradition through the high Christian period, partly culminating in the Renaissance refulgence of pastoralism as well as other utopianism.65 This concerns rather more than poetic genres. The pastoral exalts a civilized nature combined with amorous social relations, de-classed, in an odd fusion of the "natural" and the ritualistic for a small-scale vision of a harmonious social order.66 The conventional charges against pastoral social ideologies are that they turn nostalgically backward and remain highly simplified. But that is hardly persuasive in itself since most social ideologies are considerable simplifications and the determination of what is backward-looking is often hard to tell; psychological regression seems fundamental to human images of happiness, and the most future-oriented social images (as often in revolutionary rhetoric) turn out to be revived models from the very distant past. Perhaps necessarily, the Golden Age remains with us as a layer of cultural evolution, if not of human consciousness.
English Variations on Arcadia: Morris and Lawrence
Such arcadian emphasis appears to have been a significant source of the English idealization of the good life and place as anti-urban, countrified. This loving rusticity even dominates some of the later utopias of the industrial society.67 For a major example, we can see some of the pastoral imagery and ethos in William Morris' charming anti-industrial utopia of medievalized socialism and craft arts, News from Nowhere (1890).68 Morris was intentionally countering Bellamy's Looking Backward—crafts vs. industrialism, dispersed communities vs. urban bureaucratization, aesthetic values vs. engineering values, etc. Morris, it might be said, and his arcadian vision, represent an important minority utopian tradition increasingly marginal to mainstream socialism with its technocratic-power orderings. This arcadianism variously reappears, as in the Sherwood Forest pastoral eroticism and utopian hopes of D. H. Lawrence in Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928).69 This counter to conventional middle-class love stories, and its exacerbated modernist-individual social criticism, polemicizes against ugly industrialism and crippling social class and debased sexuality, and also jettisons most of socialism. Whatever its limitations as a large social ideal, arcadianism has often presented an acute social critique in terms of richer aesthetics and fuller sensibility.
American Variations on Arcadia: Thoreau and 'Soft Primitivism'
A variant arcadian tradition of the good place and life, less nostalgically countrified and cultivated than the English, and usually taken to be quintessentially American, gets identified either with the frontier or with Henry David Thoreau's (1817–1862) influential Walden (1855).70 Original Thoreauvianism, of course, was less the creation of an ideal community than a considerable withdrawal from most of society for an exaltation of solitary individualism, transcendental experience in a semi-cultivated nature, a simplified barter-and-craft economy, and a refined anarchistic ethic. Fusing often with the Waldenism are somewhat genteel versions of pioneer styles of life, the widespread tradition forming, and partly repeating, what Lovejoy analyzed in classical thought as "soft primitivism."
American Arcadianism and Utopian Homesteading
The American arcadianism usually carries a self-conscious reversal of the industrial-urban mode and, in and out of literature, contributes to a recurrent and significant back-to-the-land utopian movement. It often oddly fuses a politics of disillusionment about mainstream society with a frontiersman's or homesteader's insistence on individual social autonomy and puritan self-reliance. As one can find in Helen and Scott Nearing's Living the Good Life (1954) and Continuing the Good Life (1979), their half-century of homesteading had exemplary heroic proportions.71 There is no other way to describe the ex-Marxist professor of economics, at ninety-five, and his musician-author wife teaching what has become thousands of young people how to build stone farmhouses and organically grow almost everything for a vegetarian diet and how to develop a spirit of utter independence—an heroic American puritan individualism.
There is a long tradition of self-conscious theorizing behind this utopian homesteading, perhaps most notably (in the 1920s and 1930s) that of Ralph Borsodi, and his followers.72 It takes variant contemporary form with poet Wendell Berry's combination of individualistic family farming and hardnosed environmentalism, which The Unsettling of America (1977) also makes into a programmatic politics.73 Where Nearing recreated Vermont and Maine farms (and even a partial rural community), and Berry restored a Kentucky farmstead, California's somewhat different arcadianism may be represented by Gary Snyder as poet spokesman, in such works as Earth Household (1969) and The Real Work (1980), for a larger rural communalism.74 Snyder propounds a combination of western localism with limited technology guided by a "Bioregional Ethic" and ecological-organic "Right Livelihood" with Orientalized mysticism, American Indian ritualism, and radical independence for what he announces as the early stages of a hundred-year evolving back-to-the-land utopian movement to transform America. No doubt it will take a hundred years, and a hundred million and more reduction in population, for the earth household to become the dominant American pattern of living again. But that is hardly a sufficient argument against it.
The Anti-technocratic Meaning of Utopian Ruralism
Though not necessarily anti-technological—more often than not this utopian ruralism employs a Whole Earth Catalog sophistication about practical tools—such arcadianism is certainly anti-statist, anti-corporatist, anti-technocratic.75 While it would be false simplification to reduce what is perhaps the most popular continuing American utopianism to a single overt ideology, it may plausibly be linked with the Buddhistically decentralist and limited technology economics of British E. F. Schumacher—Small Is Beautiful (1969), A Guide for the Perplexed (1975), and Good Work (1979)—which represents a significant theorizing for some of it.76 Contrary to common denunciations of the utopian, this has a modesty, partly based in compassionate religious morality, which is hardly "constructivist," collectivist, scientistic, or violently revolutionary. Indeed, much of it must be characterized by its commensense practicality even though its somewhat sacral economics conjoins with the tradition of utopian saintliness of such as Tolstoy and Ghandi as well as Thoreau. We somewhat skeptical may, of course, detect a rather "saving remnant" messianic psychology to this utopianist radical conservativism around an antiquely holistic rural and domestic life.
Critical Awareness of the Roots of American Utopian Communalism: Communes as Entrepreneurial Social Experiments
Historian Arthur Bestor suggested that earlier forms of American utopian communalism were a social correlative of the Yankee inventor-entrepreneur, producing "patent-office models" of social experiment.77 That would be a fairly central part of the historic American ethos, which has been marked by an intriguing plethora of such contraptions. The homesteaders and arcadian prophets previously cited may be the more enduring part of the often naive and messy communalism of the late-1960s-early-1970s which curiously turned political radicalism into privateering small-group utopianism, frequently with a mystical or hallucinatory or other cultist overlay.78 Some of it, as with the earlier in origin but continuing Catholic Worker communalism for society's victims—see the autobiography of the saintly founder, Dorothy Day, A Long Loneliness (1951)—reaches back several generations, and indirectly into millennia of holy refuges.79 But this admirable side of communalism should not mislead us into a positive view of all communalism. Some of it—the murderous "Manson Family" is only the most notorious example—can be characterized as nothing less than evil. Between Day and Manson, there is a considerable variety. I am appalled at both general condemnations and affirmations (see Nozick, below) of utopian communalism; critical discrimination, especially from a libertarian perspective, is essential here, too. Characteristic, I think, of a considerable part of the recent wave of communalism, a good bit of which still continues, was not social autonomy and institutional experiment and economic self-sufficiency and positive individualism, but the protective marginality of the weak, the sick, the outcast, and others of the immense number of "losers" in our often ruthless and anomic orderings. Representative of some of this may be the over-praised writings of the mawkish juvenile prophet of such utopian pathos, Raymond Mungo, such as his Total Loss Farm (1970).80 As the more thoughtful Judson Jerome pointed out in his Families of Eden (1974), though himself an advocate of such protective "Edenism," many of the communes were simply temporary sanctuaries for weakness.81
Utopian Communes and Cultural Radicalism: Communalism as a Refuge for Individualist Freedom
The utopian communes which endure, as argued by Roberts in The New Communes (1971), either have a cohesive religious emphasis (though not necessarily as rigid as those of the Hutterite, Amish, Bruderhof, etc.) or a considerable entrepreneurial discipline (though not necessarily as conventional-legal as that of Oneida, Amana, etc.).82 Even more than in the past, much of contemporary "intentional community" is intentionally a phase, transitional, and with little larger claim to perfectionist and other ideal and lasting conditions—temporary withdrawal or moratoria, argues Melville in Communes in the Counter Culture (1972).83 Indeed, one of the more learned accounts, a comparison of some nineteenth-century and late twentieth-century intentional communities, Kanter's Commitment and Community (1972), emphasizes the temporary "retreat" ideology dominant in much contemporary communalism.84 Perhaps more importantly, I think, following historian Laurence Vesey, The Communal Experience: Anarchist and Mystical Counter-Cultures in America (1973), the continuities of the communal are less to be found in political and economic programs than in the expression of a long continuing underground of cultural radicalism.85 Many of the communes, I suggest, might best be understood as something like Hegel understood a work of art in relation to the geist—as a "concrete universal" of a larger culture of discontent and dissidence.
From my perspective here (which ignores many of the other issues, and cases, of communalism) there is a pertinent insight in one of the conclusions of a recent (1976) British study: "secular communes . . . are above all attempts to create pockets of freedom. . . sufficiently insulated from society for the ideal of possessive individualism to be realized . . ."86 Communalism, then, paradoxically asserts and protects individualism. But any broad account needs to emphasize other values as well. Contemporary intentional communities provide not only cultural dissidence, individualist experiments, and therapeutic refuges, but education in the literal sense. Thus A. S. Neill's Summerhill, as a schooling community, and Black Mountain College, as an art-academic community, can easily be demonstrated to have had pervasive effects exponentially beyond their small scales and muddled realities.87 As Paul Avrich makes clear in his history of some earlier examples, The Modern School Movement (1980), these school-community-movements were the products of and producers of exceptional individuals.88 Inescapable ironies include that these utopians, defying bourgeois society in their communal experiments, carried out some of its deepest imperatives of autonomy, enterprise, variety, self-assertion, and change—the very spirit of individualism.
The Significance of Marginal "Little Utopias"
Indeed, I find some communalism rather ugly in its emphasis on individual redemption, though also recognizing that if it does not suggest a larger social redemption it at least suggests significant changes in American society. And after all, our conservative and liberal ideologies and institutions patently do not provide adequate sources and expressions of much of our style and sensibility, of our oppositions and freedoms and possibilities. Without both utopian courage and confusion, we would have a duller culture and a deader society and perhaps a more hopeless future. Little utopias may at least be a test of the more general utopian possibility of American society; without an effulgence of them, it stands self-condemned on its own principles of liberty. However, it does not follow that little utopias, essentially marginal to a different large system, add up to an adequate utopia.
Small Business Urban Counter-utopianism: The Revolt against Bureaucracy
Part of the marginality is that when utopias were conceived as rural (the predominant past form of American communalism) they can have only very limited relevance to a society now dominantly urbanized. A perhaps important new development of American self-reliant homesteader utopianism is its contemporary application to the city. A few of its points might be represented by a recent little utopian exercise, Community Technology (1979) by Karl Hess, a charmingly notorious ideologue who seems to have been a liberal, a conservative, a right-libertarian, and now a decentralist utopian.89 On what I take to be the undeniable principle that "local liberty" is crucial to all other liberties, he sketches a rather practical "argument for community participation with all of the diversity and resultant flexibility that implies" in the development of production and distribution. This aims at the local creation of food, energy, and services on a participatory neighborhood level, including participatory capitalism. "Small business is suddenly a counter-cultural phenomena." In contrast to "liberal consumerism" (perhaps represented by Naderism), we have a restatement of the utopian principle that goes back through the rural homesteaders, Morris, and the arcadian tradition: "the work people do is far more significant than the things they buy." This leads to small business, communal technology, apprenticeships over schooling, localist politics, and neighborhood rescaled values as well as organizations. While all this surely reflects the current dispersal of sophisticated technology and skills, the deeper imperative is a desperate counter-utopianism to inhumane scale in a corporate-statist bureaucratic society and culture.
The Urbanization of Arcadian Utopianism: Callenbach and Others
Some of the programmatic extensions, including parturbanization, of arcadian utopianism might reasonably be represented by Ernest Callenbach's popular Ecotopia (1975).90 This radical environmentalist romance has northern California (and the Pacific Northwest) secede from the rest of a degenerating America in the 1980s in order to create a society which attempts to "decentralize and personalize wherever possible." The revolutionism involved in this appears relatively low-keyed, consistent with the uncoercive cast of most ecological and decentralist utopianism. But perhaps the point should not be over-generalized. An exactly contemporaneous work, Edward Abbey's The Monkey-Wrench Gang (1975) expresses a lively Luddite environmentalist-individualist radicalism; it makes macho guerrilla application of what the title suggests to as much as possible of the technological infrastructure of the Western states, though still with considerable scrupulousness about destroying property (machines, roads, dams) rather than people.91 Such works may also remind us that coercion is no simple issue: Is it better to be controlled by machines or to break machines? Is it better to be a satisfyingly aggressive individual or pervasively hostile in subordination to a hierarchy? Is it more coercive to be indoctrinatingly conformist or angrily disruptive?
To return to Ecotopia. It argues for an urban "steady-state" total-recycling economy. However, it is fundamentally different from the classic utopias' hierarchical static economies since it depends on continuing ecological innovation and competitive small enterprise in a somewhat conflictful participatory democracy. Callenbach also mixes in pagan tree worship (part of the very ancient pastoral mythos), debureaucratized science, American Indian cultism (as also with Snyder and other West Coast coteries), current pluralistic sexual communalism rather than traditional families, and exalted artisan crafts (shades of Morris), and, for dispersing aggression, rather fancifully non-lethal war games. A powerful commitment to personal liberties is central. But those viewing it from alien perspectives may be shocked by the degree to which aesthetics determines economics, politics, and morality. That which is beautiful is what finally works the best.
There are more complicated variations on this. For example, Robert Nichols has presented in four volumes Daily Lives in Nghsi-Altai (1977-79) which combines in rather synthetic poetic forms shamanistic primitivism, hyper-sophisticated technology, and alternating economic cycles of competitive market order and decentralist co-operative order, under the intellectual guidance in this mythical asia of reincarnated Western visionaries (Blake, Whitman, Morris, etc.).92 Primitivism/technologism, capitalism/cooperativism, communalism/individualism, thus become part of a self-correcting social dynamics. We are far, indeed, from the static economies and absolutistic moralities thought of as characterising classical utopias.
Radical Arcadian Utopias for Personal Freedom: Humanizing, Debureaucratizing, and Depowering Society
Arcadian utopias usually focus on states of feeling, relationships, and the aesthetic, thus relating to the Golden Age images of primordial human harmonies. In the sophisticated versions, industry, commerce, and science are not eliminated but debureaucratized and drastically subject to aesthetic and other humane considerations. While recent American arcadianism attempts to meet city realities, it remains a devolutionary urbanism (à la Wright, really), pastoral in its ideals. Given the undeniable long history of the social rigidity and "the imbecility of rural life" (in Marx's contemptuous phrase), the pastoral radicalism stands mostly alien to traditional socialism and social-democracy. However, there is a minority socialist tradition—decentralist, anti-coercive, personalistic, utopian—as represented, say, by Martin Buber's Paths in Utopia (1951), which would be less antithetical.93 Decentralist utopianism carries such a revulsion to centralized authority and domination as to make it hostile to the larger part of both traditional leftism and rightism in politics.
Some recent political philosophy, such as James Ogilvy's Many Dimensional Man (1977) attempts some conceptual structures for such views (though not admitting the utopianism, and not very adequately), as, more richly, does such institutional social theory as Kirkpatrick Sale's Human Scale (1980).94 But as usual in social politics, demarcation of views is hardly very pure and some of the arcadian-utopian values appear in supposedly reformist consumer-environmentalist views, as may be seen in the syncretistic compendium of Hazel Henderson, Creating Alternative Futures (1978).95 Common to all of these is a degree of depowering (probably including a lowering of population, of affluence, of technological expansion, of nation-state roles, etc.), which must make such views, however increasingly widespread, antithetical to mainstream right-left politics. Not surprisingly, more than any other contemporary ideology this utopianism emphasizes the concrete values of personal freedom.
Utopian Personal and Sensual Freedom
Much of that freedom is "personal" indeed, with a strong emphasis on the sexual and other sensuality. This stands in sharp contrast to the often ascetic, if not puritanical, cast of much classic utopianism, and almost all revolutionism. But, again, the issue does not properly break down to a classic-ascetic and modern-sensual dichotomizing. An intellectually minor but nonetheless significant and persisting tradition of an ideal society has been that which emphasized what repressed moral philosophers used to call "license."
Some of it appears in popular ancient practices temporarily reversing the established order and its prohibitions: as in the Saturnalia (Rome), the ribald mockeries and freedoms of the Feast of Fools and periods of "misrule" (high Medieval Europe), and the elements of these still retained (especially at folkish levels) in more modern carnivals and fairs, and in similar permissive periods which anthropologists describe in a variety of cultures. Perhaps certain contemporary American customs could be historically viewed as Suburban Saturnalias, if not weekend utopianism.
The saturnalian enters literature and myth in lavish food-wine-sex-leisure fantasies which appear in various tales and poems of a legendary Land of Cockaigne (England), Venusberg and Lubberland (on the Continent), and The Big Rock Candy Mountain (as in the American hobo ballad of that name, bowdlerized of its booze and homosexuality into a children's folk song).96 These gluttonous places of immediate gratification exalt the pleasures of the bottle and the body. Recall the sprawling bodies and hanging pies in Brueghel's famous painting of Schlaraffenland. Concern with such immediate ecstasies often gets denigratingly tied to students and poets, as with the late Medieval Goliards who clearly made the wine bottle their summum bonum, or to other "irresponsible" marginal groups in the populace.97 Where some classic utopias encouraged indulgence in the philosopher's vices of symmetrical forms and contemplations, or the politician's obsessions with hierarchical orderings, later utopias absorb more vulgar dreams and even make rituals around marijuana (Ecotopia) or hallucinogenics (Aldous Huxley's Island). Exclusionary lines around allowable pleasures here would smack not only of the anti-libertarian but of utopianist snobbery. Tangible pleasures, rather than the more dangerously abstract presumption of general happiness, after all, is much of what the direct sensing of a better time and place must be about. The legitimation of the denied, be it political or social or personal, may always be a major impetus to the utopian.
Sexual Utopianism and Family Relations
Thus also with the peculiar liberties of what some contemporary wit has labeled "pornotopia"—the fusion of the pornographic and the utopian.98 But sexual utopianism may take other forms. A large number of utopian stories and schemes work hard at reconceiving family relations, be it in Plato's male-statist autocracy of communally sharing the women and children, or More's ameliorist liberalization of the patriarchal family, or Judson Jerome's contemporary arguments for (in Families of Eden), and apparently practice of, a more liberated "extended family" with extended sexuality. Until recently, arcadian utopianism, whether in literary pastoral or back-to-the-land movements, tended to the romantic, that is, monogamous, relationships, while utopias of a more liberal or socialistic cast have been historically identified with the equality of women, and therefore less intense and looser familial patterns. That later is true of the important Enlightenment sexual utopia, Diderot's Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage (1772).99 This dialogue around a utopianized Tahiti presents radical Enlightenment erotic views, including urbane but emphatic justifications of open and various sexuality, with incest and free exchange of partners and children, in a harsh critique of pseudo-civilized European mores.
A more elaborate libertarian sexual ethos came out of the weird genius of the endlessly utopian Fourier. His ideal Phalanstery had 1620 psychological types, and therefore defended drastic sexual variety, including lesbianism, multiple relationships, what were conventionally considered "perversions" (as long as consensual and unhypocritical), very contemporary sounding sexual therapies, and rather post-contemporary elaborate means for providing sensual gratification for the old and the peculiar.100 Even more significantly, Fourier fused his sexual theories with ideas for more gratifying ways of work, of complex community, and of elaborate rituals and games, in a concern that goes beyond the usual utopian focus on virtue and justice and harmony to a joyous society.
The Roots of Recent Hedonic Utopianism
That may point to present hedonic utopias. The sources of the eroticized utopianism of the past several generations are no doubt various: skepticism and other liberal reasoning about religious-moral asceticism; the decline of patriarchalism, slavery, caste, other-forms of sexual inequality and therefore exploitation; the brilliant post-romantic libidinal psychologies—Stendahl, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Lawrence, et al., unto Freud and the post-Freudians; hygienic-medical changes which provided increased freedom from the great sexual maladies, including venereal diseases and excessive pregnancies; the history of utopian sexual experiments; and, even though hard to quite tie down, covert mysticalerotic traditions of some enduring power.101 Whatever the complex inducements, our erotic prophets have attempted a large reach, beyond mere pornotopias and amorous freedoms, to visions of a passionally liberated and transformed post-civilization.
Erotic Utopianism: Wilhelm Reich, Norman O. Brown, and Herbert Marcuse
Some of these have been scientistic and left-psychoanalytic, as with Wilhelm Reich's The Sexual Revolution (1934).102 His radical demand for a new sexual ethos, including one for adolescents, combined with a deviant Marxist revolutionism and, finally, with a messianic cosmology in his theory of "orgone energy" which could cure cancer and change character. Reichianism may not have had substantial influence until translated into libertarian educational practice, as with A. S. Neill's extremely influential Summerhill and into socially radical therapy, as with Fritz Perls and Paul Goodman's Gestalt Therapy (1950), and similar psychologies.103 But the original Reichian sexual revolution was utopian in the grandiose sense of claiming a transformation of the whole society.
A more ornately cultivated, inward-turning, and finally mystical erotic utopianism may be represented by Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death (1959) and Love's Body (1965).104 Mentally, at least, his is a "eutopia" located in a land where a "polymorphous perverse" sexuality leads to a transcendence of ordinary dualisms. Partly by historical propinquity, Brown's erotic other-worldliness often gets linked to its rather different predecessor, Eros and Civilization (1955), where Herbert Marcuse's neoMarxist arguments attempted to revise Freud's requirements of instinctual repression for civilized order, including economic productivity. In "Phantasy and Utopia," for example, Marcuse argued that the fundamental enlargement of the "aesthetic-erotic dimension" would remain in limited subservience to the "realm of necessity" of economics, which itself would be reduced by automated affluence.105
But in later writings Marcuse moved further from both Marxism and from a utopianism based, as the classical usually was, on a considerable degree of scarcity. In "The End of Utopia" (1970), by which is meant the realization of the utopian ideal of the fullest aesthetic-erotic possibilities in society, it is suggested that the Hegelian-Marxist distinction between the realms of "freedom" and "necessity" can finally be superceded.106 Economic productivity can be transformed into non-repressive passional play, work into pleasure for all, and thus there can be a near total release of the lifeenhancing fullness of human being. In thus going beyond the ancient curses of work and other repression society would achieve the highest utopian ideal, though it is one hardly presented, or its consequences reckoned with, in such neoHegelian abstract poetry.
The Search for a Free Libidinal Economy
Curiously, this reification carries on the Golden Age vision of a primordial human fullness of life. Erotic utopianism shifts from the mythic past to the arcadian present to the mystically transcendent future; archetypal private amorousness becomes onanistic dream hypostatized into a passionally liberated civilization. It has spawned some more literal utopianism along its historical way: sexual communalism, from the Ranters in seventeenth-century England through John Humphrey Noyes' Oneida community in nineteenth-century America—the latter a patriarchal authoritarian "regulated promiscuity," yet perhaps anti-repressive in its larger effects.107 Apparently, Medieval European Christianity produced literal love sects just as the contemporary erotic philosophizing helped produce communal sexual experiments, such as novelistically represented in Robert Rimmer's The Harrad Experiment (1966), and many others.108 The search for a more open, good, true, and beautiful libidinal economy is at least as central to the utopian impetus as other kinds of economics—and as important to libertarian values.
Technological Utopianism: Escapes from the Human
Technocratic vs. Arcadian Utopianism
If in this direction utopianism is the erotic poetry of politics, in another it is the fantasies of technology. While I tend to see the arcadian and the technocratic as antithetical, there are odd overlaps and mixes sometimes. Yet certainly an adequate response to technological issues must be central to any serious modern Western utopianism. Key economic issues are involved. Classical utopias tended to limited and fixed technologies, and therefore what moderns consider a society of scarcity.109 When there are hardly enough goods to go around, the problems of distributive justice may loom larger than when there is, or fairly readily could be, a surplus of goods. Much of modern arcadian utopianism retains considerable continuity with the past, but even in its "stable-state" economies and anti-industrial and anti-technocratic views often assumes a sophistication of technology which allows for some relative degree of surplus. Perhaps it should be argued that some degree of surplus, though certainly not what constitutes wasteful and luxurious modern affluence, is necessary for wide individual liberty. Does practical freedom presuppose a not too drastic economic price for some mobility, for some mistakes, for some alternatives?
Technocratic Elitism and Scientistic Religion
But the existence of some technological sophistication and the consequent surplus is not the usual area of dispute between the antithetical utopianisms. The central, the defining and dominant (elitist) role of what used to be called the "new knowledge" often is. Since the exaltation of the House of Solomon, an ambitious science institute, in Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (ca. 1614), the roles of both elitist technicians and scientistic faith can be seen as utopian issues.110 For example, scientistic religion (for it can hardly be considered anything less) becomes one of the watershed lines in nineteenth-century utopianism, with Saint-Simon and Comte and Bellamy as pietists, Fourier and Thoreau and Morris as heretics. H. G. Wells, one of the most influential twentieth-century utopian propounders as well as fictionists specifically acknowledges Bacon's emphasis on science-as-power as the earlier line of his dynamic A Modern Utopia.111 This garrulous essay-fiction around a "World State" with a non-egalitarian competitive and bureaucratic hypermechanized welfarist order (public work projects, rehabilitation of the deviant, endless education—97% go to college) has elitist rule by a scientific-minded "voluntary nobility" which is a "caste." Similar orderings are common to technocratic utopias.
H.G. Wells' Technocratic Religion of Man: From Demi-god to Fallen Angel
Wells did a variety of utopian proposals and fictions. The most libertarian appearing was Men Like Gods (1923), which supposedly had no central state, though the domination of science and other uniform indoctrination—"education is our government" and "runs everything"—perhaps makes that hypocritical.112 Furthermore, Wells has here violated the basic utopian premises with his society more than a hundred generations in the future, after elaborate "eugenic" development (we now call it "genetic engineering"); thus, in contrast to the earlier men-pretty-much-as-they-are in A Modern Utopia, we have "a cleansed and perfected humanity," a world of "demi-gods."113
Essay about Utopia
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Sir Thomas More writes, in his book Utopia, about a society that is perfect in practically ever sense. The people all work an equal amount and everything they need for survival is provided. Most importantly is that everyone living in this perfect society is happy and content with their everyday lives. In this society everybody supports everyone. The community is only as strong as its weakest link. For society to progress everyone must work together. Opponents of the Utopian system, however, feel that the strong should not have to look after the weak. Progress would be maximized if all the resources are spent on the people most qualified to help society. A Utopian society, as perfect as the one…show more content…
The more helpful one is to society the more resources that person deserves. Free time is not very common, for people are constantly working to better their life and make themselves more important to society.
In Utopia, people have an ample amount of free time. During “all the void time, that is between the hours of work, sleep, meat that they be suffered to bestow, every man as he liketh best himself” (More 137). People can focus on the activities which bring them pleasure because they are not trying to elevate themselves in society by working extra hard. People do not pick activities so that they can become the best at whatever hobby they choose. People choose a hobby based upon what brings them the most pleasure. Nearly everyone in the community reads and studies because they all take pleasure out of learning and improving their minds. An equal amount of time is spent in physical activities so that the body as well as the mind can experience pleasure. The Utopians strive to better themselves equally in the mind, body, and spirit.
People of today love to compete. The best athletes and smartest intellects love to show everyone that they are superior to everyone else in their field. On the average people only focus on either becoming either a better athlete or a better scholar. Very rarely does one see a well rounded person. People tend to concentrate on improving