Gregory Claeys on Utopianism and Democracy

The abstract to the lecture reads as follows: “To both its votaries and detractors, utopianism has often implied rule by philosophers of experts, with the voice of the majority democratically expressed being of little concern. After the late 18th century revolutions, this changed to an impressive degree. Yet the challenges of environmental collapse, and the disregard of millions for the looming threat of humanity’s annihilation, may yet return us to a more elitist understanding of the near-future ideal society. This lecture reviews the development of the anxious relationship between utopianism and democracy, touching on the fundamentally anti-political aspects of the utopian tradition, and the charge that the eternal search for near unanimity of opinion is fundamentally anti-democratic. It examines the (mis)interpretation of utopia as “perfection”, and the optimal role played by consent in utopian relationships. Finally, it asks whether we can achieve an environmental consensus in time to avert the catastrophic destruction of the planet, and what we can do in the absence of such a consensus.”

Gregory Claeys is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of London. He is the Chair of the Utopian Studies Society (Europe), an elected member of the Academia Europaea/The European Academy, and editor of Palgrave Studies in Utopianism. He published Utopianism For a Dying Planet: Life After Consumerism in 2022.

“Utopianism and Democracy” was delivered at the CEU as part of the conference Utopia and Democracy held on April 27-28, 2023.


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