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Exploring the Utopian Impulse

Essays on Utopian Thought and Practice


Edited By Michael J. Griffin and Tom Moylan

Exploring the Utopian Impulse presents a series of essays by an international and trans-disciplinary group of contributors that explores the nature and extent of the utopian impulse. Working across a range of historical periods and cultures, the essays investigate key aspects of utopian theory, texts, and socio-political practices. Even as some critique Utopia, others extend its reach beyond the limits of the modern western tradition within which utopianism has usually been understood. The explorations offered herein will take readers over familiar ground in new ways as well as carry them into new territories of hope and engagement.
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“Towards Justice to Come”: Derrida and Utopian Justice


← 32 | 33 → EUGENE O’BRIEN

The name “utopia” is often applied retroactively to various ideal states described before Thomas More’s work, most notably to that of Plato’s Republic and Augustine’s City of God (which in the fifth century enunciated the theocratic ideal that dominated visionary thinking in the middle ages). With the Renaissance, the idea of Utopia became worldlier, but the religious element in utopian thinking lingered, as in the politico-religious ideals of seventeenth-century English social philosophers and political experimenters. Among the famous pre-nineteenth-century utopian writings are François Rabelais’s description of the Abbey of Thélème in Gargantua (1532), Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun (1623), Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis (1627), and James Harrington’s Oceana (1656).

In the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others gave impetus to the belief that an ideal society – a Golden Age – had existed in the primitive days of European society before the development of civilization corrupted it. This faith in natural order and the innate goodness of humanity had a strong influence on the growth of visionary or utopian socialism. The end in view of these thinkers was usually an idealistic communism based on economic self-sufficiency or on the interaction of ideal communities. Henri de Saint-Simon, Étienne Cabet, Charles Fourier, and Pierre Joseph Proudhon in France and Robert Owen in England are typical examples. Actual experiments in utopian social living were tried in Europe and the United States, but for the most part the efforts were neither long-lived...

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