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The Concept of Utopia

Student edition

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Ruth Levitas

In this highly influential book, Ruth Levitas provides an excellent introduction to the meaning and importance of the concept of utopia, and explores a wealth of material drawn from literature and social theory to illustrate its rich history and analytical versatility. Situating utopia within the dynamics of the modern imagination, she examines the ways in which it has been used by some of the leading thinkers of modernity: Marx, Engels, Karl Mannheim, Robert Owen, Georges Sorel, Ernst Bloch, William Morris, and Herbert Marcuse. Utopia remains the most potent secular concept for imagining and producing a ‘better world’, and this classic text will be invaluable to students across a wide range of disciplines.

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Preface to the Second Edition ix

Extract

Preface to the Second Edition The manuscript of The Concept of Utopia was completed in the summer of 1989, and the book first published in 1990. The timing was inauspicious. The intervening months had seen the fall of the Berlin Wall and of Communist governments including those in East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and the Soviet Union. Political discourse in the West was triumphalist. Francis Fukuyama declared ‘the end of history’, claiming that ‘What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government’.1 Television and press commentary on the collapse of com- munist regimes referred repeatedly to the collapse of utopia, with utopia itself equated with Marxism, communism and totalitarianism. Politically, both Marxism and utopia were regarded as ‘over’, and wider political and intellectual discourses followed the same trend. It was not a good moment to bring out a book which is explicitly about the idea of utopia, a large proportion of which is concerned with Marxism and utopia. The eclipse of Marxism has continued. In Spaces of Hope, David Harvey reflects on ‘the difference a generation makes’: in the 1970s, he observes, arguments for the continuing relevance of Marx were filtered through the work of Louis Althusser or Antonio Gramsci, even as academics and...

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