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The Concept of Utopia

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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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Chapter 2 Castles in the Air: Marx, Engels and Utopian Socialism 41

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chapter 2 Castles in the Air: Marx, Engels and Utopian Socialism The Marxist tradition has for the most part been strongly antipathetic to utopianism, which it has understood as the construction of blueprints of a future society that are incapable of realisation; the charge of utopianism has also been levelled at Marxism by its opponents, using a similar definition. Throughout the twentieth century there have been notable exceptions to the dominant unpopularity of utopianism (including the views of Ernst Bloch, Herbert Marcuse and Edward Thompson, discussed in subsequent chapters) but the idea that utopia can be valuable for Marxists has always been a minority view. The roots of Marxist objections to utopia can be found in the writings of Marx and Engels; however, their criticisms of utopian socialism have been used illegitimately as justification of a general rejec- tion of descriptions of the future socialist society. The concept of utopia deployed in this rejection, besides being a political weapon in a process of ‘annihilation by labels’,1 conflates two issues: speculation about the future, and the possibility and means of transition to socialism. The real dispute between Marx and Engels and the utopian socialists is not about the merit of goals or of images of the future but about the process of transforma- tion, and particularly about the belief that propaganda alone would result in the realisation of socialism. The general orientation to utopia that has developed not only misrepresents the views of both Marx and Engels, but has had...

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