Sentiment, Sense and Sensibility in the Genesis of Utopian Traditions

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Abstract

This essay focuses on Koskenniemi’s contribution to Realizing Utopia, the first substantive chapter of the book. In it, Koskenniemi locates the source of international legal and institutional projects purporting to bring about world government in an ‘oceanic feeling’ – a primordial sentiment of transcendental unity with the world. Following Freud’s analysis of the infantile nature of this sentiment in Civilization and its Discontents, Koskenniemi suggests that it invariably generates hegemonic utopias. My proposition complements this focus on the failing of uncritical utopianism with a focus on the weaknesses of uncritical realism, a realism that has given up on utopian thinking altogether. It may well be that ‘fundamentalist’ realism, no less than uncritical utopianism, accounts for the proliferation of mechanistic blueprints for the management of global problems, a phenomenon which Koskenniemi rightly laments. The observation that a certain kind of utopian thinking is objectionable need not generate an objection to all utopian thinking. The dialectic between hegemonic utopias and pluralistic utopias, a dialectic that I trace back to the book of Genesis, informs this proposition. In this manner, I further seek to complement while complicating the linear Enlightenment narrative of progress from religious to critical thinking. The paradox is the thinker’s passion and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without feeling: a paltry mediocrity.<cross-ref type="fn" refid="fn0001">1</cross-ref>

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