The Politics of Utopia and the Liberal Theory of
A utopia, from one point of view, implies a distinction between things as they are and things as they should be. In this sense, a utopia implies an ideal society created by deliberate human endeavour. Such a defi nition typically includes a vision of an ideal existence for a collectivity. The utopias of the renaissance, for instance, described ideal imaginary societies characterized as if they operated in the present. They were fi ctional characterizations expressed so as to represent an ideal blueprint of how human groups could or should co-exist. As blueprints they combined both substantive and methodological concerns. That is, they spelt out the substance of how human society should be structured, and they constituted a method to enable comparison with actually existing societies. As often as not, because they were structured systemically, representing the individual in relation to complex institutional and social processes, they would address and resolve complex issues relating to structure and agency, freedom and determinism, morality and law, and social justice as well. The renaissance utopias represented one possible future, recapturing the authority and stability of the ancients. Most stressed stability at the expense of change, and repressed expressions of difference and diversity. Thomas More,1 writing in the early sixteenth century, for instance, imposed restrictions on travel, public gatherings, and the expression of political ideas, especially as infl uenced by the rise of the recently invented printing machines. More’s conception of utopia, like those of von Günzburg,2 Doni,3 Campanella,4 Andreae,5 Burton,6 and Bacon,7 emphasized social justice, the moral life, the relations of the individual to the polis and the absence of exploitation. Miriam Eliav-Feldon (1982: 85) characterizes renaissance utopias as resting on four motives: social justice, a religiously moral life, the eradication of individualism, and simplicity.