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  • Utopian Horizons: Ideology, Politics, Literature ed. by Zsolt Czigányik
  • Artur Blaim
Zsolt Czigányik, ed. Utopian Horizons: Ideology, Politics, Literature.
Budapest: Central European University Press, 2017. 280 pp. Cloth, $60.00, isbn 978-963-386-181-3.

Utopian Horizons comprises chapters discussing diverse aspects of utopia ranging from its definitions and relations to ideology and different possible uses to practical studies of selected political, ideological, and cultural phenomena. The editor's introduction, apart from providing a useful overview of the reception of utopia, considers the problem of the ways in which fiction, an indispensable element of literary utopias, affects their possible ideological impact. This is a highly relevant issue all too often ignored in utopian studies, despite repeated claims to the contrary. [End Page 271]

The first part of the book ("Utopia with a Political Focus") introduces five essays discussing some of the fundamental oppositions functioning in utopian studies. Lyman Tower Sargent in "Ideology and Utopia: Karl Mannheim and Paul Ricoeur" considers the distinction between utopia and ideology as understood by the two thinkers. Contrary to common critical opinion downplaying the role of utopia in their thought, Sargent convincingly argues that its status is at least equal to, if not more important than, that of ideology. Moreover, although both Mannheim and Ricoeur claim that "their analyses have nothing to do with utopian literature" (34), so that their definitions of utopia and ideology should not be automatically applied to literary utopias, the impact of ideology on most utopian literature seems undeniable.

An even more complex and somewhat paradoxical opposition between utopia and dystopia is insightfully considered by Gregory Claeys ("When Does Utopianism Produce Dystopia?"). In attempting to demonstrate the ways in which utopianism may lead to its exact opposite, Claeys points to the role played by secular religion derived from the radical model of millenarianism as adopted by totalitarian states such as the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. He argues that "utopia is not synonymous with perfectionism, but represents a guided improvement of human behavior. Perfectionism is a religious category. Utopia is not" (44). Also, the key element of a totalitarian society is neither communism nor striving for perfection but the use of violence to attain its desired goals. This is a very important essay that questions many of the standard, though largely groundless, associations with the concepts of utopia and dystopia and their uses not only in political discourse but also in scholarly reflection.

Discussing the differences between political and philosophical utopias ("From the Political Utopia to the Philosophical Utopia"), Fátima Vieira convincingly demonstrates that the predominant function of utopian discourse is not to provide ready-made solutions but to offer a locus for introducing and testing new ideas, exploring different possible options for the future, rather than offering a prescription for a perfect society. Utopian thinking resembles the dialectical method in offering us different points of view about the proper constitution of society as a way of establishing the truth. This is a very significant revision of the commonly accepted view of the function of utopias that, hopefully, should bring about a radical change in the way utopia is perceived outside utopian studies. [End Page 272]

In "Third Way Utopianism: Anarcho-democratic and Liberal Socialist Ideas in Central Europe" András Bozóki and Miklós Sükösd offer a new perspective on the persistent attempts by many Central European thinkers to come up with the "third way" solution combining the best elements of incompatible ideologies of anarchism, democracy, and liberal socialism and eliminating their negative ones, an approach that the authors characterize as hybrid utopianism. Despite repeated failures of such attempts in the past, they may possess—precisely because of their hybrid character—major potential in solving the problems facing the contemporary world resulting from its contradictions and resistance to homogenization.

Dmitry Halavach presents a highly instructive contrastive comparison of Orwell's view of the individual in a totalitarian system and the actual perception of the Soviet system by those living within its domain as exemplified by their diaries ("George Orwell, Soviet Studies, and the 'Soviet Subjectivity' Debate"). He compares the role of dystopian novels such as Nineteen-Eighty Four in shaping...


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