Monday, August 6, 2018

The problem is human nature

From James Bowman's review of The Last Utopians:
.... The trouble with utopia is precisely that it is not in harmony with nature—especially with human nature.

Typically, utopians get around this awkward fact by denying that there is any such limiting thing as human nature. Well before Marx posited his idea of man as a mere product of historical and economic circumstances, Robert Owen established his “Owenite” communities in the belief that “human nature would be transformed” by them. Focusing on the hopeful future thus becomes a way of forgetting the failures of the past. Any history of utopianism is fraught with paradox, since utopians can hardly be utopians without first abolishing history—or claiming it, as Marx did, as their own property, which comes to the same thing. The past is not only an irrelevance to any projected future utopia but a positive danger, since unless it is constantly rewritten, as in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, it serves as a reminder both of the failure of past utopias and of the fact that the future never turns out the way we expect or plan for it to do. ....

Back in Victorian times, people had some excuse for utopianism, which had not had very much in the way of a real-world tryout at that point. Now it has. Now we have no excuse for an easy faith in other, better worlds, as opposed to slightly improved versions of this one. This must be why other utopian theorists tend not to look to the past but to disguise their utopianism as “progressivism.” But towards what are they progressing if not utopia as they conceive it? ....