Sunday, May 05, 2013

Norman Geras reflects on the need for permanent ambivalence about utopias and utopian thinking

On Friday Norman Geras posted "some notes towards a talk I couldn't give".  They started with the following observations:
There are two things that are commonly said about utopian thinking. These are: (a) that it is indispensable to progressive change - by which I just mean change for the better; and (b) that it is dangerous. So why don't I begin by reiterating both of these things, because both of them are true.
He's right.  And the ways that he goes on to flesh out those two truths are intelligent and illuminating.

Norm also offers a possible starting-point toward synthesizing those opposing insights:
Going beyond those two contrasting truths from which I've begun, I want now to argue briefly for what I think is the minimum condition of any acceptable utopia today, and insist that it has to include an anti-utopian element. The core of it is this: the recognition that human beings are not only not perfect, they should also not be conceived as being perfectible - neither morally perfectible nor perfectible in other ways.  [....]
That sounds basically right to me, but I need to think through the implications a bit further.  Meanwhile, let me recommend reading and pondering the whole thing.  (In a manner appropriate for preliminary thoughts, they run on long enough to be stimulating and thought-provoking, but not too long.)

—Jeff Weintraub