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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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Introduction 1

Extract

Introduction Ah love, could thou and I with Fate conspire To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire, Would we not shatter it to bits – and then Remould it, nearer to the Heart’s Desire!1 Utopia is about how we would live and what kind of a world we would live in if we could do just that. The construction of imaginary worlds, free from the difficulties that beset us in reality, takes place in one form or another in many cultures. Such images are embedded in origin and destination myths, where the good life is not available to us in this world but is confined to a lost golden age or a world beyond death. They may also be religious or secular, literary or political. Although various in form, content and loca- tion, they are sufficiently common for some commentators to speculate about the existence of a fundamental utopian propensity in human beings. Sometimes utopia embodies more than an image of what the good life would be and becomes a claim about what it could and should be: the wish that things might be otherwise becomes a conviction that it does not have to be like this. Utopia is then not just a dream to be enjoyed, but a vision to be pursued. Yet the very term utopia suggests to most people that this dream of the good life is an impossible dream – an escapist fantasy, at best a pleasant but pointless entertainment. Those utopians who seek to make...

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