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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 4 Utopian Hope: Ernst Bloch and Reclaiming the Future 97

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chapter 4 Utopian Hope: Ernst Bloch and Reclaiming the Future A very different attempt to define utopia in terms of its function can be found in the work of Ernst Bloch. Bloch’s work is much less well known in the English-speaking world than Mannheim’s, since translations have only very recently become available. Assimilation is also inhibited by problems of style and substance: his complexity is universally acknowledged, while his claim to reintegrate Marxism and utopia leads to suspicion on the part of both non-Marxists and Marxists. The 1400 pages of his The Principle of Hope, constituting as they do the most sustained and wide-ranging attempt to rehabilitate the concept of utopia within Marxism, cannot properly be ignored in any discussion of utopia: there are implications here both for how we define the utopian object and the boundaries of the field of study, and for how we approach material within that field. Bloch’s relationship to Marxism is more problematic. Like William Morris, discussed in the next chapter, Bloch stands at the juncture of Marx- ism and Romanticism. His project can therefore be seen as an attempt to import into Marxism a concept of utopia deriving from a mixture of mysti- cism and the Romantic tradition and thus as a contamination or dilution of Marxism itself, or it can be seen in Bloch’s own terms as an attempt to reinstate Marx’s own intentions within Marxism through the fundamental but neglected Marxist concept of utopia. Both Bloch’s success in forging such a synthesis...

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