Saturday, June 23, 2007

Utopian is just another word for...

Jonah Goldberg, writing at National Review Online, has an interesting (and instructive, I think) piece that begins:

We get the word “Utopia” from Thomas More. It was the name of a fictional island where everything ran flawlessly, everyone was happy and perfect justice reigned for all. He chose the word “Utopia” as a Greek pun, because it translates to “no place.” Today we mostly use the word “utopian” to describe people who think impossible things, like the Pentagon could hold a bake sale to fund itself or that Communism could work if only someone would give it a fair shot.

Oddly, utopianism — the idea that we can create a perfect society — still has a vaguely positive connotation, despite the fact that utopian ideologies were responsible for nearly all of the great mass murders of the 20th century. But Mao, Stalin, and Hitler don’t come to mind when we hear the word “utopian.” We’re more likely to imagine hippies who want to buy the world a coke and sing in perfect harmony.

That’s O.K., because utopianism is usually just a fancy word for idealism. We may never get to the perfect society, but if we don’t have a conception of one, we may lose sight of the path toward the good society (“Eutopia,” or the good place, for those interested).

But what drives me a little bonkers is when people dress up utopianism as common sense...


I'd like to second that last bit.

And, yes, I've been as guilty as the next person of dressing up utopianism, now and then, on this and that, especially when I was younger. I was trained to do that. It was a curse of coming of age in the 1970s. What can I say? (Other than I work very hard these days to not let my mind fall back into 70s-think?)

Mr. Goldberg's article was prompted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent decision to change his party affiliation from Republican to unaffiliated. The latter part of the article looks at not only Bloomberg and his supposedly nonpartisan outlook on life, but... oh... begging Mr. Goldberg's pardon for lifting such extensive quotes, but this, I think, is something more people should consider. It's food for thought, at any rate.

Moreover, political parties aren’t the source of our disagreements, but the vehicles by which we express them. For much of American history, political parties weren’t so ideologically distinct. Some of the most passionate liberals — a.k.a. Progressives — were Republicans, and some of the most ardent conservatives were Democrats. But we still had political disagreements.

Indeed, the Founders didn’t really anticipate parties at all. But they did expect what Alexander Hamilton called “factions,” recognizing that our democratic republic couldn’t work without them. Oh, and every third-grader is supposed to understand that Congress and the White House were designed to compete with each other. Just Google “separation of powers” if you don’t believe me.

Democracy isn’t about agreement, but disagreement. People have different interests and ideals. Getting rid of parties — or “transcending” them — won’t get rid of disagreements. To believe otherwise is the height of utopianism.

Full article here

1 comment:

Tony said...

thanks for that the word i was looking for was idealistic

rebecca