The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy

The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy

The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy

The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy

Synopsis

In The End of Utopia, noted social critic and historian Russell Jacoby takes a sobering look at the future of politics and does not like what he sees. Jacoby points to the abandonment of utopian ideals that once sustained dissent and movements of social change; and he calls for writers and critics to reclaim a vision and backbone they are losing.

Excerpt

During the years I worked on this book the major American political events consisted of charges of rape in the army, adultery in the air force and improper sexual activity in the White House. These accusations followed a spellbinding trial in which a sports celebrity was charged with murdering his wife. Of course, these happenings did not exhaust the news of the day. Yet other events, such as changes in welfare regulations or the settlement of cases against tobacco companies, were not especially compelling. The world situation--to audaciously generalize--has been equally uninteresting or depressing; it has been characterized by progress toward a European Union, on the one hand, and sectarian bloodletting and disintegrating states, on the other.

To be sure, anyone can draw up a list stressing the positive--a peace agreement in Northern Ireland--or the negative--the spread of AIDS in Africa. Yet politics has become dull, which does not mean benign. At worst, it is defined by economic collapse, despotism and fratricidal violence. At best, liberal regimes resist challenges by regressive religious and nationalist movements. We are increasingly asked to choose between the status quo or something worse. Other alternatives do not seem to exist. We have entered the era of acquiescence, in which we build our lives, families and careers with little expectation the future will diverge from the present.

To put this another way: A utopian spirit--a sense that the future could transcend the present--has vanished. This last statement risks immediate misunderstanding, since utopia today connotes irrelevancies or bloodletting. Someone who believes in utopias is widely considered out to lunch or out to kill. I am using utopian in its widest, and least threatening, meaning: a belief that the future could funda-

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