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The Concept of Utopia

Student edition


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 5 The Education of Desire: The Rediscovery of William Morris 123


chapter 5 The Education of Desire: The Rediscovery of William Morris The relationship between Marxism and utopia also comes under scrutiny in discussions of the work of William Morris, and particularly of the signifi- cance of his utopian novel News from Nowhere. The absence of reference to Bloch in recent re-evaluations of Morris is surprising; themes and issues in Bloch’s work can be compared both to Morris’s work itself and to the later debates arising from it. Both Bloch and Morris attempted an integration of Romanticism and Marxism, transforming both in the process: in Bloch’s case, this took place within the field of academic philosophy; for Morris it was the outcome of an aesthetic, moral and economic critique of capital- ism, linked in his later life to a practical commitment to communism. The transcendence of alienation and the centrality of art were issues common to both. Subsequent debates share with Bloch a focus on the relationship between reason and passion, or the cold and warm streams, which reap- pears as the relationship between knowledge and desire; the definition of utopia is once again in terms of a function which is simultaneously edu- cative and transformative. The question of the significance of dreaming occurs in all three contexts. News from Nowhere Morris was, of course, writing much earlier than Bloch. He was born in 1834 and died in 1896, thus being more nearly contemporary with Marx himself. His rejection of capitalism began as an aesthetic rejection of the 124 chapter 5...

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