Pragmatism, utopia and anti-utopia

Critical Horizons 9 (1):42-59 (2008)
Abstract
This paper explores the tension between pragmatism and utopia, especially in the concept of "realistic utopianism". It argues that historically, the pragmatic and gradualist rejection of utopia has been anti-utopian in effect, notably in the case of Popper. More recent attempts to argue in favour of "realistic utopianism" or its equivalent, by writers such as Wallerstein and Rorty are also profoundly anti-utopian, despite Rorty's commitment to "social hope". They co-opt the terminology of utopia to positions that are antagonistic to radical alterity. But this is not a necessary response to the utopia/pragmatism tension: Unger, who is explicitly opposed to utopia, in fact proffers a more sympathetic resolution based on the merits of vision, social improvization and collective learning. These may lie closer to the core of the utopian project as a vehicle for the education of desire than Unger himself recognizes.
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