Utopianism and its discontents | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 108, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 0002-5275
  • E-ISSN: 2352-1244



Utopianism is often rejected out of hand for one of two reasons: either it is thought to be politically dangerous, or it is thought to be a mere fantasy. It is nevertheless an important theme in contemporary political philosophy. This article reviews part of the political-philosophical career of ‘utopia’ as a concept by considering the different traditions that have been influential in shaping the way utopia and utopianism are perceived today. A brief reading of Thomas More’s is followed by a consideration of the utopian socialist tradition and Karl Marx’s criticism of it. Their understanding of utopia continued into the twentieth century. Utopianism’s bad reputation is partly due to its association with the attempt to realize communism in the Soviet Union, but other factors include the Eastonian empirical turn in political theory and the onset of postmodern incredulity. It made a perhaps surprising comeback in the work of John Rawls, whose work was recently criticized by Amartya Sen for being overly ‘utopian’ – a criticism that is highly analogous to Marx’s onslaught against the utopian socialists. With the help of counterarguments devised by Pablo Gilabert, the article considers three ways in which utopianism can be useful to contemporary political thought.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): distributive justice and utopia; Thomas More; utopian socialism; utopianism
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