Imagining the Future   /   Spring 2008   /    Articles

Democratic Hope

Richard J. Bernstein

My theme is democratic hope, but I want to begin with some reflections about utopia—or more precisely what I will call the utopian or emancipatory impulse. “Utopia,” which literally means “no place” in Greek, is the word that Sir Thomas More invented to name an imaginary island in which there is presumably a perfect social, legal, and political system, but it is a term that has taken on a much more general significance. It isn’t fashionable today, except as a subject of academic dissertations, to talk about utopia, but because of the popularity of Tom Stoppard’s trilogy, The Coast of Utopia, the topic of utopia has achieved some currency. If you have seen or read the plays, you may well have complex reactions. You may have experienced a sense of charming remoteness—how distant we are from a time when an eccentric group of intellectuals drunk on philosophical ideas acted as if their heady talk and proclamations could bring about a radical social and political transformation of backward Russia. But for all the high talk of Hegel, Fichte, and Schelling, you might also think how naive they were about the brute realities and repressive power of the world in which they lived.



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