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Add to that the profoundly anti-utopian nature of the right-wing movements that have sprung up in the United States and Europe and the prospects for any kind of meaningful utopianism may seem bleak indeed.In matters social and political, we seem doomed if not to cynicism, then at least to a certain coolheadedness. By conjoining the Greek adverb “ou” (“not”) and the noun “topos” (“place”) the English humanist and politician Thomas More conceived of a place that is not — literally a “nowhere” or “noplace.” More’s learned readers would also have recognized another pun.
They say one thing, but when we attempt to realize them they seem to imply something entirely different.
Their demand for perfection in all things human is often pitched at such a high level that they come across as aggressive and ultimately destructive.
And yet imagining it, as philosophers, artists and politicians have done ever since, is far from pointless. “Utopia,” his fictional travelogue about an island of plenty and equality, is told by a character whose name, Hythloday, yet another playful conjoining of Greek words, signifies something like “nonsense peddler.” Although More comes across as being quite fond of his noplace, he occasionally interrupts the narrative by warning against the islanders’ rejection of private property.
Living under the reign of the autocratic Henry VIII, and being a prominent social figure, More might not have wanted to rock the boat too much.
The utopias of desire make little sense in a world overrun by cheap entertainment, unbridled consumerism and narcissistic behavior.
The utopias of technology are less impressive than ever now that — after Hiroshima and Chernobyl — we are fully aware of the destructive potential of technology.
stuck with me after reading it long ago, and it’s come to mind with some regularity over the past few months: on More’s imaginary island, anyone who aspired to high office was judged to be, for that very unreason, unfit to hold it. More sent the manuscript to his friend Erasmus in September 1516, and it was in print by the end of the year.
That the anniversary coincides with an exceptionally nasty and spirit-blighting American presidential election seems providential, as if to confirm that the Utopians were definitely on to something.
Their rejection of the past, and of established practice, is subject to its own logic of brutality.
And not only has the utopian imagination been stung by its own failures, it has also had to face up to the two fundamental dystopias of our time: those of ecological collapse and thermonuclear warfare. Yet these are not challenges but chillingly realistic scenarios of utter destruction and the eventual elimination of the human species.