(K. Brent Tomer),
Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism. By Chris Jennings. Random House; 488 pages; $28.
UTOPIANISM in politics gets a bad press. The case against the grand-scale, state-directed kind is well known and overwhelming. Utopia, the perfect society, is unattainable, for there is no such thing. Remaking society in pursuit of an illusion not only fails, it leads swiftly to mass murder and moral ruin. So recent history grimly attests.
Although true, that is just half the story. Not all modern Utopians aim to seize the state in order to cudgel the rest of the world back to paradise. Plenty of gentler ones want no more than to withdraw from the mainstream and create their own micro-paradise with a few like-minded idealists. Small experiments in collective living swept America, for example, early in the 19th century and again late in the 20th.
Most failed or fell short. None lasted. All were laughed at. Yet in this intelligent, sympathetic history, Chris Jennings makes a good case for remembering them well. Politics stultifies, he thinks, when people stop dreaming up…Continue reading