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Open Access Utopianism and its discontents

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Abstract

Utopianism is often rejected out of hand for one of two reasons: either it is thought to be politically dangerous, or it is thought to be a mere fantasy. It is nevertheless an important theme in contemporary political philosophy. This article reviews part of the political-philosophical career of ‘utopia’ as a concept by considering the different traditions that have been influential in shaping the way utopia and utopianism are perceived today. A brief reading of Thomas More’s Utopia is followed by a consideration of the utopian socialist tradition and Karl Marx’s criticism of it. Their understanding of utopia continued into the twentieth century. Utopianism’s bad reputation is partly due to its association with the attempt to realize communism in the Soviet Union, but other factors include the Eastonian empirical turn in political theory and the onset of postmodern incredulity. It made a perhaps surprising comeback in the work of John Rawls, whose work was recently criticized by Amartya Sen for being overly ‘utopian’ ‐ a criticism that is highly analogous to Marx’s onslaught against the utopian socialists. With the help of counterarguments devised by Pablo Gilabert, the article considers three ways in which utopianism can be useful to contemporary political thought.
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Keywords: Thomas More; distributive justice and utopia; utopian socialism; utopianism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Julien Kloeg is lecturer and PhD-candidate at Erasmus University College. He has taught and published on various topics in ethics and political philosophy, and is currently working on an analysis of normativity in European politics.

Publication date: August 22, 2016

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  • Het Algemeen Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Wijsbegeerte (ANTW), opgericht in 1908, is een filosofisch wetenschappelijk tijdschrift dat oorspronkelijke artikelen publiceert van auteurs uit het Nederlands-Vlaamse taalgebied. Het ANTW richt zich op een breed scala van deelgebieden, stromingen, discussies en perioden van de filosofie. Het ANTW brengt vier nummers per jaar uit: twee focusnummers waarin steeds één omvangrijk artikel centraal staat van een prominente Nederlandse of Vlaamse filosoof, gevolgd door commentaren en een afsluitende repliek van de focusauteur; een regulier nummer met onderzoeksartikelen, overzichtsartikelen en congresverslagen; en een themanummer met artikelen rond een tevoren vastgesteld thema.

    The Dutch language journal Algemeen Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Wijsbegeerte (ANTW), founded in 1908, is a philosophical, academic journal that publishes original articles from authors in the Netherlands and Belgium. ANTW focuses on a broad variety of subjects, trends, discussions and periods in philosophy. ANTW publishes four issues each year: Two Focus Issues that contain one large article from a prominent Dutch or Flemish philosopher (Focus Article), followed by six shorter comments and a closing reply by the focus Author. One regular issue covering research articles, overview articles and congress reports. And one themed issue in which circa six articles focus on certain subjects relevant in philosophy.
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