Mainstreaming utopia (updated)

by John Quiggin on March 26, 2013

The final post in our seminar on Erik Olin Wright’s Envisioning Real Utopias is by Marc Fleurbaey, with the collaboration of his seminar students Inka Busack, Joaquin Garcia, Jacob Girard, Kathryn Long, Anthony Sibley, Jiemin Wei.

There are many details of the book which could be commented upon and praised or criticized, but this short text will focus on three questions which appear central in the Real Utopias project.

  • Why focus on capitalism versus socialism?
  • What role for market transactions?
  • What is the status of utopian research?

A final version of the response is now available here



Anarcissie 03.27.13 at 2:58 pm

I would think the primary way to research real utopias would be to find some communities which were attempting to live really utopian lives (or who once were, in a historically recoverable way, for example, the Dukhobors) to see what they were doing and how they were getting along, and whether anything they were doing could be spread wider or scaled up.

If people really need to get in airplanes and fly to nice, far-distant places (Porto Alegre) to talk things over with celebrities and wise men there is already the World Social Forum, which has thus far occurred once a year.


John Quiggin 03.28.13 at 7:45 am

A central issue raised here is the extent to which autonomy is a zero-sum asset. Much of the appeal of propertarianism rests, I think, on an implicit claim that it maximizes autonomy, ignoring the fact that property rights are rights of control over others (namely the control required to stop them using the property in question). This error goes right back to Locke (who introduces, and promptly forgets the ‘enough and as good’ proviso) and is just as glaring in Nozick.

Once we recognise that we are social beings, and that we need to co-operate to survive, the question becomes a lot harder. Thinking in utopian terms can at least help us to sharpen our ideas – what kind of society, if any, would give everyone both personal autonomy and a decent standard of living?


Thomas Wilkie 03.28.13 at 5:12 pm

I am proposing, although I’m certain not for the first time, that we separate the ideal Economic System (Capitalism, Fascism, Communism, etc.), from the Governmental System (Monarchy, Republican, Parliamentary, Totalitarian) we want to live in.

We should be willing to agree that Capitalism is the most efficient and successful Economic System, but it is a horrible way to manage a country.

We should allow the benefits of Capitalism but temper that with Regulation sufficient to maintain clean air, water, and a World Temperature satisfactory to human habitation, and a rate of taxation sufficient to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare (food, clothing, and Healthcare), and secure the blessing of……


Stephen 03.28.13 at 8:20 pm

Um. Bit of an unperceived, or maybe semi-perceived, contradiction here, maybe?
“compared to the beginning of the previous century. The communist ideal which was lively, then, has now become a nightmarish chimera”

and on the other hand

“another lurking project in the book is to revive socialism and to win the war against capitalism, after so many lost battles”.

I admit all the faults of current capitalism. But we have to consider also the faults of socialism – not only of “actually existing socialism” in the Soviet world, which were indeed nightmarish, but of attempts towards socialism in other parts. And to ask why they are worth reviving, and whether a “battle against capitalism” is a useful concept.

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