Thursday 2 March 2017

Karl Mannheim on the Death of Utopia

Thought that this was quite an arresting passage in Ideology and Utopia. Sounds very now:
... where the decline of ideology represents a crisis only for certain strata, and the objectivity which comes from unmasking ideologies always takes the form of self-calrification for society as a whole, the complete disappearance of the utopian element from human thought and action would mean human nature and human development would take on a totally new character. The disappearance of utopia brings about a static state of affairs in which man himself becomes no more than a thing. We could be faced with the greatest paradox imaginable, namely, that man, who has achieved the highest degree of rational mastery of existence, left without any ideals, becomes a mere creature of impulses. Thus after a long tortuous, but heroic development, just at the highest stage of awareness, when history is ceasing to be blind faith, and is becoming more and more man's own creation, with the relinquishment of utopias, man would lose his will to shape history and therewith his ability to understand it.
- Karl Mannheim 1936, pp 262-3.


Unknown said...

Oh dear, one sentence with seven separate points and the use of "man" to mean humanity.

Anonymous said...

The disappearance of utopia brings about a static state of affairs in which man himself becomes no more than a thing.

The thing is, the writer is speaking from a time when the prospect of a distant utopian future was what everyone was striving for. The movie of "The Shape of Things to Come" was released three years earlier, which provides some perspective.

The trouble with utopia, at least as far as science fiction is concerned, is that it is a modern form of millennarianism. One day, we'll be transformed and glorified and everything will be perfect beyond our dreams. (The Communist Manifesto is also a millennarian document in many ways).

Perhaps it is inevitable that the decline of Christianity in the west goes hand-in-hand with the decline in millennarian utopianism.

The problem with the author who you're citing is that he thinks the disappearance of this strain of thought produces some kind of nihilistic void. That's quite simply not going to happen. People will reach for other forms of aspirations and dreams instead. And that's where the danger arises. Perhaps it is already arising.

Anonymous said...


you have deeply misunderstood Mannheim's definition of 'utopia.'

I suggest reading up on the primary source material before making comments like this one.

Anonymous said...

Do you suppose that the rise of the Nazi Party had anything to do with it? Sadly, I feel the growth of irrational ideas in our own society is threatening the social cohesion and unity of purpose that is necessary to develop a 'utopian' vision. Looks like the New Jerusalem has been put back a good few years yet. Not that the Old Jerusalem is doing too well either!