Thursday, 18 March 2010

Thatcher, Socialist?? Arguing the indefensible...

So finally we touched on the question of property – what is it? – the very different schemes imagined in different historical contexts and different utopias for more collective/equalised/communist forms of ownership.

We also talked about arguing the indefensible (Morris on More)

Here are two articles which argue the unarguable on Thatcher: in different ways that Thatcherite reforms redistributing property to the people (right-to-buy) increased state control and state costs - continuing centralist policies of earlier post-war governments. (Contra her own public statements - see below).

Simon Jenkins, Accountable to None: The Tory Nationalisation of Britain (1995)

Ross Clark, ‘We’re all picking up the bill for right-to-buy’, Times, January 2010

The argument, however, belongs to you....

Picture from Zazzle T shirts - MT's much quoted aphorism on socialism - here applied to Obama. Read more!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Education after the Butler Act (1944)

John E. Croney (1921-2011) c. 1949
Read more!

Utopian Cake.

Friday is our last seminar. If you bring drinks, I will bring cake (see poll). Read more!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Digital Utopias: new links

From Tom G., who helped set up the first reading lists:

Final Declaration

Eben Moglen and on youtube

New America Read more!

Digital Utopias and the Individual

One of themes of Monday’s seminar might be the atomisation of society post the digital revolution. The power of the individual consumer has been enhanced following the growth of the internet. As a consequence the ‘public sphere’ has become fragmented. Does this diminish the potential for a future utopian society? Alternatively, could social media and the internet endow individuals with the ability to create their own utopias?

In this regard I've found two pieces, not on the reading list, which might be worth reading/listening to. Both are free and available online:

Read more!


So History (according to M&E) evolves through a series of revolutions (note industrial metaphor), where every thesis leads to its own antithesis (dialectic from Plato via Hegel). And it helps to have a visionary who can see beyond the surface of things.

The Matrix

Thank you, Dave! Read more!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Neuroscience and utopianism

In advance of Friday’s seminar on science-fiction and utopianism, I thought it would be a good idea to research some of the recent developments in neuroscience. In essence, our understanding of human behaviour has, and will continue to be, altered as we appreciate just how our brain works. This could have some implications for utopianism - could we create a utopian society if we found a means to alter brain and thus human behaviour?

For a good introduction see the supplement in the latest edition of Prospect magazine entitled ‘The Future of the Brain’. There’s also a good article in the October 2009 edition of Prospect, by Mathew Taylor, Chief Executive of the R.S.A, on neuroscience and politics.

For a slightly dated example, you could also read Francis Fukuyama's Our Post Human Future, in which he argues that his 'End of History' thesis is undermined by developments in bio-technologies.

Read more!

In the Middle: From José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia

In the Middle: From José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia Read more!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

‘Visions of the good society’ – R.S.A. lecture

At 13:00, on Thursday 4 March, W. G. Runciman, fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, is giving a lecture to the R.S.A.on ‘the good society’.

Considering Plato's Republic, Hobbes' Leviathan, and Marx's Communist Manifesto, Runciman will be examining these writers’ visions of the good society.

Runciman will argue that all three were irredeemably naive in their assumptions about how human societies function and evolve, and how human behaviour could be changed.

Yet despite this, Runciman insists that Republic, Leviathan, and The Communist Manifesto remain great books. Born of righteous anger and frustration, they are masterfully eloquent pleas for better worlds.

You can listen to this event live at 13:00, at the following web address:


Read more!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Plato and Anti-Utopianism


Berlin, Arendt and Popper are criticizing Plato because:

• There is no private, only common feeling

• Community of wives, guardians of the state should be taken care of-given food from the citizens

• Eugenics-guardians breed future guardians, only the best, the leaders are physically perfect

• Only philosophers can rule

• There is a greater truth governing the world which we cannot see, people are not truly enlightened until we discover this-cave analogy

• Totalitarian-possibly?

• Anti-utopia – a utopia that the author intended a contemporaneous reader to view as a criticism of utopianism or of some particular utopia.

Isaiah Berlin:
• Isaiah Berlin (1909–97) was a British philosopher, historian of ideas, political theorist, educator and essayist.

Free will and determinism:
Berlin was a strong opponent of ‘determinism’, (the view that human beings do not possess free will, that their actions and indeed thoughts are pre-determined by forces beyond their control) and ‘historical inevitability’ (the view that all that occurs in the course of history does so because it must, that history pursues a particular course which cannot be altered, and which can be discovered, understood and described through laws of historical development). In particular he attacked the belief that history is controlled by impersonal forces beyond human control.

Berlin did not assert that determinism was untrue, but rather that to accept it required a radical transformation of the language and concepts we use to think about human life—especially a rejection of the idea of individual moral responsibility.

Berlin suggested that acceptance of determinism—that is, the complete abandonment of the concept of human free will—would lead to the collapse of all meaningful rational activity as we know it.

Ethical thought and ‘Value Pluralism’:
Berlin's development and definition of pluralism both began negatively, with the identification of the opposing position, which he referred to usually as monism, and sometimes as ‘the Ionian fallacy’ or ‘the Platonic ideal’.

Political thought and Ethics:
Berlin emphasised the place of questions about the proper ends of political action in the subject-matter of political theory, he also recognised the importance of discussions of the proper means to employ, and the relationship between these and the ends at which they aim.

Berlin's primary mouthpiece for this message was Alexander Herzen, the nineteenth-century Russian radical publicist. The words of Herzen that Berlin repeated most insistently were those condemning the sacrifice of human beings on the altar of abstractions, the subordination of the realities of individual happiness or unhappiness in the present to glorious dreams of the future.

Karl Popper
Regards Plato’s approach to politics as dangerous

Criticises Platonic ‘Utopian Engineering,’ where any rational action must have a particular aim, so always act with the ultimate end in mind

It is too difficult to judge whether a blueprint for social engineering could work on a grand scale, the Platonic approach is too complex

The Utopian attempt to realise an ideal state is likely to lead to totalitarianism as it requires strong centralised rule of few

Their views have to be unchanging, which is impractical when experimenting with a society

Likens utopianism to totalitarianism-the utopian engineer will have to listen to their views over others

The changes are too sweeping, but we only have limited experience to apply such changes

Prefers his own concept, what he calls ‘Piecemeal Engineering,’ where you search and fight against the most urgent ills of society, rather than looking for the elusive ultimate good

This form of engineering can be applied at any time, easier to work out than looking for the ‘ideal’

We only have limited knowledge at the moment, so this ‘piecemeal’ approach is better

Likens Plato to Marx, “Both Plato and Marx are dreaming of the apocalyptic revolution which will radically transfigure the whole social world,” thus likening Plato to extreme radicalism

Critics Plato’s aestheticism, his desire of a world full of beauty, says that this is impractical and does not help men in need, the view that society should be like a work or art can lead to violent measures

Calls this Platonic fixation irrational, it may seek to achieve the eventual heavenly city, but it would always appeal to emotion rather than reason

Hannah Arendt
Wrote about totalitarianism.
Wide ranging views spanning various philosophical trends,
Negative view of modernity-age of mass society, private pursuit of economic interest
Labor, work and action-necessary to complete human life.
Freedom-new beginnings.
The birth of any individual in a new beginning.
She reintegrates thought and action, which had been separated by Plato.
Criticizes Plato using theory over practice, so damaging political meanings.
Plurality and freedom in political action.
Plato’s action elevated philosophy over politics, the philosopher kings were given huge importance.

Read more!