Barbara Goodwin (ed), 'The Philosophy of Utopia'

IssueMarch - June 2002
Review by John Courtneidge

This useful book contains thirteen essays and an introduction by the editor, from contributors to the international conference Millennium of Utopias, held at The University of East Anglia, Britain, in 1999.

As such, it ranges from academic but accessible overviews, from people evidently long-engaged with the field, plus snap-shots of two existent utopian-living experiments (at Findhorn, Scotland, and Twin Oaks, Virginia, USA).

The persistence of the word utopia indicates the duration of human dissatisfactions with existing (and hitherto hierarchical) social, political and economic systems.

Moreover, the word utopian is one that has been (along with a few other uncomfortable-for-the establishment terms) the subject of extensive and continuous attack (unsurprisingly, by the beneficiaries of hierarchy).

Accordingly, it is pertinent that the first essay (by Peter G Stillman) is sub-titled Utopias as Practical Political Philosophy: a point that, contrary to the mainstream propaganda, reinforces the deeper, true notion that utopianists are both diggers as well as dreamers.

Thus, the book shows us that utopias are repeatedly born in dissatisfaction, but nurtured in enthusiasm: the survey, for example, of New Zealand utopian activity (see Lyman Tower Sargents survey Utopianism and National Identity) is illustrative of the waxing and waning of local utopian activity.

What, then, in this book for peace activists?

The word peace does not appear in the titles of any of these essays, nor in the, generally good, index. However, this reviewer was pleased to ride one of his hobby horses the term inequality through the index, to find (in Lawrence Davis essay Isaiah Berlin, William Morris, and the Politics of Utopia), the sentence: According to Morris, the root cause of all social unrest is inequality.

Thus, the (?utopian? even) linkage of the familiar peace and justice pairing as the contemporary and on-going, proactive efforts to bring peace through equality.

Frequently, collections that record the contributions made at academic conferences are of less value than extended library searches through contemporary primary literature. In this case, however, this collection has production and editorial values that do seem to hold the material together and, as such, it merits further reading. reviews

Topics: Utopias
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