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March 18, 2017 / Congau

Utopian Realism

Utopia is the place that is nowhere. It is not real and therefore it is unrealistic. But that charge could be brought against any conception of society other than what exists at present. Only what is, is possible, for whenever we try to make something else, it will turn out different from what we imagined. Any idea of social change is therefore in a sense Utopian.

Some people react to this more or less unconscious observation by idealizing the present. What we have has proven its superiority by defeating all alternatives, they think. That, however, could have been said about all societies at any previous stage of history. When living under absolute monarchy, people of conservative mentality would think that they had the best possible system of government. At that time imagining something like 21st century Western democracy would certainly have been a Utopian undertaking.

Although most people realize that status quo is not perfect, they don’t allow their imagination to go beyond a slight reform of the current system. Revolutions are not fashionable anymore. It is true that most attempts at radical social change since the French revolution have proven disastrous, but that does not mean that there was something inherently wrong with the original ideas. They may have been realistic enough given another context. If the circumstances had been right, maybe communism or Plato’s republic could have been possible.

The problem is that the circumstances are never right. Nothing is realistically possible except what happens to be or what the uncontrollable forces of history are leading towards. One logical consequence of that could be to give up all ideals; let politics be a pragmatic business for businessmen.

But another possible response is to allow the ideals to be independent of the current realities. It should be acceptable to muse about Utopia and look at all social shortcomings in its shining light. That would make us more aware of all deficiencies and it would also prevent us from falling into the common trap of thinking that something is good just because it is. The idea of Utopia can actually make us more realistic.


Leave a Comment
  1. ontologicalrealist / Mar 19 2017 10:18 pm

    How do you choose your ideals? Why do different people choose different ideals?

  2. Congau / Mar 20 2017 10:04 am

    Ideals ought to be chosen through a rational interpretation of reality. If you have an understanding of how things are, you can conclude how things should be.
    People reason differently, so their ideals become different.
    (Of course in reality everybody is not all that rational. They may choose their ideals through all sorts of emotional and irrational influences.)

  3. ontologicalrealist / Mar 21 2017 12:11 am

    What you think is reality another person may think to be delusion and vice versa.

  4. Congau / Mar 22 2017 11:35 pm

    That’s right. Since people reason differently, their perception of reality is different (and accordingly their ideals). Anyone would think that a perception of reality that is in conflict with their own, is a delusion.

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