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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 6 An American Dream: Herbert Marcuse and the Transformation of the Psyche 151


chapter 6 An American Dream: Herbert Marcuse and the Transformation of the Psyche The most widely known attempt to reconcile Marxism and utopia occurs in the work of Herbert Marcuse. As with Bloch and Thompson, the issue of the education of desire is central, but it appears here as a question of the transformation of needs – the replacement of false needs by true needs, whose satisfaction demands the transcendence of alienated labour. For Marcuse this involves an embracing and celebration of the possibilities of technology, rather than its rejection in favour of craft production. Technol- ogy makes possible the abolition of scarcity and consequently renders utopia no longer an impossible dream but a possible future; it is the key to concrete utopia. The distinction between true and false needs is as problematic as that between concrete and abstract utopia and again requires recourse to a model of human nature – a model which Marcuse draws from Freud and spells out explicitly. Marcuse’s use of the term utopia is more elusive and less consistent than Bloch’s; but the general goal remains the same, the pursuit of a society in which unalienated experience will be possible. Origins Marcuse was born in 1898 into a middle-class German Jewish family. His early intellectual development was strongly influenced by Heidegger, although his political sympathies were radically different. Whereas Heidegger joined the Nazi party in 1933, and there is current controversy about the extent of his involvement in implementing the policy of the exclusion of Jews from...

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