Democracy as an Open-ended Utopia

Reviving a Sense of Uncoerced Political Possibility

in Theoria
Author: Steven Friedman
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Utopian thought has been discredited because attempts to re-engineer society using Utopian formulae have invariably produced violence and despotism. But the apparent eclipse of Utopia has left a yawning gap, for economic and social conditions across the globe suggest a need for alternatives to the reigning social order - and thus for Utopian thinking which avoids the pitfalls of 'classical' Utopias. This needs to begin by recognising that the chief flaw in earlier Utopias is that they aspired to a world in which contention and conflict were banished. If Utopia is imagined as a state in which contest persists but in which all can contest equally without violence, it becomes a state in which democratic difference is not abolished - as in earlier Utopias - but in which it reaches its fulfillment. By conceptualising democracy as an 'openended' Utopia we can reconstruct the vision of an alternative which will legitimise neither violence nor the suppression of difference. Utopia is, in the mainstream of social and political thought, no longer seen as a subject for serious discussion. It is necessary that it become one again.


A Journal of Social and Political Theory


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