Utopia and Critique

Dissertation, Harvard University (1985)

Daniel Brudney
University of Chicago
Recently political philosophers have shown an interest in describing our society's understanding of its social ideals. In this context it is appropriate to examine Marx's attack on utopia, for that attack brings out the issues facing any attempt to found a political philosophy--particularly one with a socially critical intent--on the description of an ideal. ;The dissertation is concerned with the status of such a description. How can it be shown that the description does not proceed from a standpoint which undermines its claim to objectivity? In Marx's terms, how can it be shown that the description is not a form of false consciousness? ;I provide a reading of the work of the Young Hegelians Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer to show that they are representative targets for Marx's attack on utopia, and I then examine his criticism of the Young Hegelians as presented in the German Ideology. ;The Marxian alternative to utopian description is a combination of empirical science and an "immanent critique" of capitalism. The latter attempts to decode phenomena within capitalist society to find within them a hidden social protest. Critique claims that, despite the strength of false consciousness, we do continue to have a conception of true human needs and capacities, a conception which points beyond capitalism. The idea is to extract this conception from existing phenomena, doing so in a manner which shows that the conception is already our own--the critic is merely articulating our deepest beliefs. I examine the practice of critique in the section on commodity fetishism in Volume One of Capital, and in the work of Theodor Adorno. ;I argue that in Capital an immanent standard for critically judging capitalism is not successfully extracted. And I argue that Adorno is so concerned with the ubiquity of false consciousness, with the claim that nothing can escape it, that he deliberately precludes the possibility of generating adequate content for a conception of true human needs and capacities. ;In this situation, a turn to utopian description would be productive; and from a Marxist standpoint, given the claim that false consciousness is essentially everywhere, utopian description would be no more theoretically problematic than any other attempt to derive a critical standard from within capitalism
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