Why do people dream of utopias?
Terry Eagelton thinks it’s more rhetorical than utilitarian—and either way you can’t win if you’re on the Left:
Radicals thus find themselves under fire from opposite directions. If they refuse to debate what kind of cultural policies might flourish under socialism, for example, they are being shifty; if they hand you a thick bunch of documents on the question, they are guilty of blue-printing. Perhaps it is impossible to draw a line between being too agnostic about the future and being too assured about it.
As I begin to write that I’m not particularly fond of utopian theorizing (techno-topianism being my least favorite variety), I glance over to the shelf and realize that I have almost all the books mentioned in Eagelton’s article, including Utopia, News from Nowhere, almost all of Marx’s writing, and even an anthology of utopias in literature. Woops.
One could also argue that Nietzschean individualism, too, is a kind of utopia of the person, but Nietzsche is so anti-purity-cult that it’s hard to put him in the category of starry-eyed optimists (discounting Zarathustra, which surrenders coherent points to wild, fantastical visions and impossible—if not undesirable—dreams of ruling the world from a lonely mountaintop). In fact, if you take seriously the claim that everything that can happen has already happened infinite times in every possible variation, and thus will happen again infinitely more, then it’s difficult to join with any kind of genuine intention any large-scale project, be it a cultural institution or a nation-state. And it’s hard to build a utopia without an army.