One possible way to think of it:
There have been perhaps seven different Utopian movements
in northwest Europe and its settler colonies in the past three
(1) Adam Smith's--get the government out of the business of
detailed mercantilist regulation and let the market carry us
(2) Alexander Hamilton's--in the past human governments oscillated
between mob rule, open tyranny, and cruel oligarchy; but advances
in the science of government (frequent elections, representation,
independent judiciaries, checks and balances, limited powers,
and so forth) now allow us to combine the best of Aristotle's
conception of aristocracy with the best of democracy, and for
the first time in human history to avoid Aristotle's political
cycle of decay and degeneration as different unsatisfactory modes
of government alternate.
(3) Alexis de Tocqueville's--eliminate class distinctions,
multiply the freedom of individuals in private life, and rely
on self-interest properly understood to guide people to a degree
of civic virtue and fellowship: a recognition that the free development
of each requires the free development of all.
(4) Jean-Jacques Rousseau's--seek to emulate ancient Sparta,
with citizens raised to virtue and simplicity, because any focus
on private life or on luxury leads to decadence.
(5) Karl Marx's--when some have a lot of property and most
have no property, the market is an instrument of oppression.
Since we cannot (do not?) want to return to a petty-bourgeois
equal distribution of property, we must move forward and make
everything social property through nationalization.
(6) Max Weber's--Northwest European civilization has brought
instrumental rationality to a pitch never before accomplished,
but its victories have all been empty: we need new charismatic
leaders--new gods and demons--to call us to the pursuit and attainment
of new sorts of values and goals.
(7) Mary Wollstonecraft's--the barriers and restrictions on
what non-white non-males are allowed to do and think in this
civilization are at least as important barriers to human freedom
as any other set of barriers to what particular white males are
allowed to do and think.
Now of these utopian projects the first is (and continues
to be) a smashing success. So does the second: the social-democratic
regimes of the North Atlantic and Southwest Pacific appear to
be "softer", more benevolent, and more democratic forms
of rule than any substantial subgroup of humanity has ever before
The seventh we are still grappling with, with some (limited)
The sixth now causes us to run, screaming, into the night:
after Hitler, Stalin,and Mao, we want no more charismatic leaders
seeking to lead us into new forms of life and to transvalue our
values. The result seems to be very, very ugly...
The fourth, as well, seems to us today to hold too many echoes
of Cambodia in the year zero...
The fifth, also, causes many of us to run, screaming, into
the night: Marx's main point--that in a society in which a few
have property but many do not, the market is a very efficient
social mechanism for exploitation--remains true, but all attempts
to date to figure out a way around it have generated cures considerably
worse than the disease. Most of us today believe (for reasons
outlined by von Mises and Hayek in the 1920s and 1930s) that
the state's core competence does not lie in organizing the distribution
of bread or in running steel mills. Most of us would prefer to
deal with Marx's dilemma by moving backward to a petty-bourgeois
roughly equal distribution of "property" rather than
by moving forward to state ownership of the means of production.
The problem is then that a roughly even distribution of property
This leaves our generation with, roughly, the following set
of historical tasks:
(a) Continue to nurture the development of Adam Smith's utopia,
all the while recognizing that its end--the multiplication of
human productive powers--is not our end: that we care about what
wealth and productive capacity are used for, not just about their
(b) Continue to nurture the development of Alexander Hamilton's
utopia, realizing (it is especially easy to realize this in California)
that unmediated direct policy decisions made by those who show
up at the polls are not necessarily the most democratic or just
decisions: that there is wisdom in separation of powers, independent
judiciaries, and so forth.
(c) Attempt to advance more rapidly toward a non-racist, non-sexist
(d) Attempt to avoid losing ground with respect to the bandaid
that social democracy has placed on Marx's dilemma: recognize
that the instrumentalities of social democracy--from rights to
education and rights to strike to unemployment insurance, public
health insurance, and pensions--have been powerful factors counteracting
the tendencies in a market economy toward an unequal distribution
of wealth. The victories of social democracy are worth defending
(and are under strong attack).
(e) Seek to advance Alexis de Tocqueville's version of utopia--recognize
that true civic virtue and fraternity are not the result of a
common Freudian identification with a powerful leader, but are
the result of an on-the-ground recognition of our mutual dependence.
Tocqueville talked about juries, barn-raisings, local self-government,
and common worship; Finlayson talks about "churches, charities,
voluntary agencies, mutuals etc. and also democratisation of
the work place... employee share ownership... releasing state
run services (health, education, even the police force) into
forms of private or private/public joint ownership you demand
that they be more reflexive and responsive and above all responsible
attempting to make them into 'stake-holding' organisations."
But I think it is the same impulse.
So put me down as one who thinks that the trends spotted by
Alan Finlayson are not only there, but are the only reasonable
thing that can be done at the moment.
I don't know how to work closer to Marx's vision of utopia
without running an unacceptable risk of complete social disaster.
I don't even think that Weber's or Rousseau's vision of utopia
is desirable at all.
I do think that we are working closer to Mary Wollstonecraft's
vision of utopia--and the screams of anguish from the Abigail
Thernstroms' of the world (who think that we would have no problems
if only African-Americans would shut up, sit down, and move to
the back of the bus where their grandparents' lack of wealth
has placed them) give me considerable delight. But this shouldn't
absorb *all* our energies.
I do think that it is not clear how to work closer to Alexander
Hamilton's vision of utopia. Further constitutional adjustments
to our present political order that would improve it are hard
to think of, and harder to implement).
I do know (as someone recently fingered by Jagdish Bhagwati
as a leader of the sinister movement for the continued globalization
of world capital markets) how to progress toward Adam Smith's
utopia, even though the goal of a jet-ski in every garage might
strike many of you as counterproductive. (On the other hand,
get rid of the multifiber agreement that puts quotas on the export
of textiles from Bangladesh to the United States and double the
real incomes of ten million Bengalis for very little adverse
economic impact on anyone in the United States: there is considerable
honor in putting ten million Bangalis on the escalator to modernity,
so that they might someday be able to afford electricity...)
And I suspect that a lot can be done in the way of creating
a stakeholder society, in which public services are run not by
the government at large but by those who benefit from the programs,
and in which active efforts at self-government achieve results
and nurture civic virtue.
So sign me up for what I think of as the Tony Blair--Gene
Sperling--Bob Reich vision of how to move closer to utopia...
You had despaired finding a "general 'solution' to the
problems of coercion in the name of social cohesion vs. leaving
people the fruits of their labors. After a lot of thought I have
come to the conclusion that there must be mechanisms for requiring
people not only to refrain from crime, but in fact to contribute
something to the general good; but every such mechanism scares
me because it is so easily subject to abuse...
But you do know the solution, probably better than I do: people-power--but
power to the people that is then exercised in a manner that makes
the people free, rather than a manner that makes them Equals
or that makes them Patrons and Clients.
As was said long ago:
"...Our system of government favors the many instead
of the few. That is why it is called "people-power."
Our laws afford equal justice to all. Advancement in public life
follows from a reputation for capacity rather than social standing.
Social class is not allowed to interfere with merit. Nor does
poverty bar the way: a man able to serve the state is not hobbled
"The freedom we enjoy in our government extends also
to ordinary life. Far from exercising jealous surveillance over
each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbors
for doing what they like--or even to indulge in offensive and
injurious looks which inflict no positive penalty. But this tolerance
in our private life does not make us lawless citizens. Fear is
our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and
the laws--particularly those that protect the injured--whether
they are on the statute book or belong to that code of unwritten
laws that cannot be broken without disgrace...
"We trust less in system and policy than in the native
spirit of our citizens. In education--where our rivals from their
very cradles seek "manliness" by painful discipline--here
at Athens we live as we please, and yet are just as ready as
our antagonists to encounter every danger.... [w]ith habits not
of labor but of ease, and with courage not artificial but natural...
We have the double advantage of escaping hardships in anticipation
of danger, and yet of facing hardships in the hour of need as
fearlessly as those always suffer them.
"Nor are these the only points to admire in our city.
We cultivate refinement without extravagance. We cultivate knowledge
without effeminacy. We employ wealth for use, not for show. We
place the real disgrace not in the fact of poverty but in the
declining of the struggle against it.
"Our public men have their private affairs to attend
to in addition to politics. Our ordinary citizens--occupied with
the pursuits of industry--are still good judges of public matters.
Unlike any other nation, we regard those who take no part in
these public duties not as lacking ambition but as useless....
Instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the
way of action, we think debate an indispensable preliminary to
any wise action at all.
"Thus in our enterprises we present the singular spectacle
of daring and deliberation, each carried to its highest point,
and both united in the same persons. The prize of courage goes
most justly to those who know best both hardship and pleasure,
and yet are never tempted to shrink from danger..."
The problem, however, is figuring out the best way to implement