society (eutopia) that is nowhere (utopia = no place) (Geoghegan, 1987: 1). Karl
Mannheim (an inter-war German sociologist) in Ideology and Utopia(1936) defined
Utopia as an idea that was ‘situation transcending’ or ‘incongruent with reality’: it
‘breaks the bonds of the existing order’ (1960: 173).
While some socialists have seen Utopia as a good thing, liberals and conservatives
regard the notion of Utopia as negative – an irresponsible idealism that rides
roughshod over the hard facts of reality that can at worst lead to nightmarish regimes
of a highly oppressive and totalitarian kind. Heywood argues that all socialists are
utopians since they develop ‘better visions of a better society in which human beings
can achieve genuine emancipation and fulfilment as members of a community’
(1992: 96). He even extends this to Marxism where he describes communism as ‘a
utopian vision of a future society envisaged and described by Marx and Engels’.
On the other hand, he acknowledges that the issue is controversial, since he also
notes that Marx and Engels supported ‘scientific socialism’ and rejected what they
called the ‘utopian socialism’ (Heywood, 1992: 115, 127).
Geoghegan declares himself ‘in praise of utopianism’ despite the fact that
utopianism is characterised as a defence of an activity that is ‘unrealistic’, ‘irrational’,
‘naive’, ‘self-indulgent’, ‘unscientific’, ‘escapist’ and ‘elitist’. He premises his praise
on support for an ‘ought’ that is in opposition to an ‘is’ (1987: 1–2). But does this
mean that socialism can never be realised? It is not clear from Geoghegan’s argument
whether socialist utopianism is an ‘ought’ permanently at war with an ‘is’, or
whether the problem lies with the critics of utopianism who are guilty of a ‘sad
dualism’: unreality, error and subjectivity on the one side; realism, truth and
objectivity on the other (Geoghegan, 1987: 22). Can socialism overcome this dualism
- so that it is both realist and utopian at the same time?
Bauman argues that we should view utopias positively – as a necessary condition
of historical change (1976: 13) – but is it possible for a Utopia to avoid the charge
that it is inherently unrealistic? Bauman insists that a Utopia ‘sets the stage for a
genuinely realistic politics’. It extends the meaning of realism to encompass the full
range of possible options (1976: 13). Utopias make conscious the major divisions
of interest within society: the future is portrayed as a set of competing projects
(1976: 15). Bauman draws a distinction between perfection as a stable and
immutable state, and perfectibility that paves the way for Utopia (1976: 19).
It is still unclear as to whether we can ever have a society that is socialist. Bauman
appears to argue that socialism is the counterculture of capitalist society (1976: 36),
and it cannot be empirical reality, a society in its own right.
216 Part 2 Classical ideologies
A map of the world which does not include Utopia is not worth glancing at, for it leaves out the
one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out
and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.
(Wilde, 1996: 1184)
Oscar Wilde commented: