Problem is not Utopianism, it is Lack of Open Society
Many of those who have come out of the experience of political and ideological dictatorship of Communism, or Islamism, think that the main reason for the despotism of the system they were part of, has been its utopianism, and arrive at negating utopianism. The reality is that even liberalism has been as utopian as the communist utopianism, whether in economic arena, or political arena, but what separates the experience of Western democracies is their dedication to *open society*.
In fact, the first critics of Leninism like Lucas and Mannheim in 1929 were wrong to think that Communist dictatorship was because of its utopian thinking. They eliminated utopianism and became neo-Marxists, with emphasis on sociology of knowledge. In reality, the democratic thought of modern society, from John Locke to John Stuart Mill, is very utopian, but not all utopians have promoted *closed society*.
This is the topic which is the important achievement of Karl Popper who showed that dictatorship from Sparta in Ancient Greece to Communism and Fascism of industrial world, has been in lack of acceptance of *open society*, and showed that from Plato's Republic, with its rule of Philosopher-Kings, to Hegel's theory of state, and finally Karl Marx, with its rule of the proletariat, the issue of allegiance to a *closed society* is the reason for creating despotism. In fact, even Ayatollah Khomeini in his book Velayate Faghih has used Plato's thought, and he even mentions Plato by name.
I showed in Iran & Law: Virtue or Rights , that in Athenian democracy of Ancient Greece, democracy was not understood as *rights*, and was understood as *virtue*, and this is why in Socrates' defense (Plato's Apology), there is no mention of rights, and even his endeavor is to show that he is more virtuous than those who are prosecuting him, and the ultimate judge are the gods which both sides to try to claim to speak for.
Thus in the theory of justice of Socrates and Plato, there is no discussion of human rights, and the main discussion is about virtues. As much rights as there was in real life for the Athenian aristocracy was not due to a constitution with rights, not even for the aristocracy. And in Sparta even the aristocracy did not have such rights, and the women and slaves in both societies did not have these rights either. My point is that the concept of democracy based on rights, and not based on virtues, was introduced in the modern world.
An open society is a society in which human rights, are accepted as universal, and in practice and law are acknowledged. In fact, modern socialism in its critic of liberalism, also distanced itself from the open society, This can be seen in the Critique of Gotha Progarm of Marx and Engels, where this way the open society is negated and dictatorship of the proletariat is justified. And this is continued in the theory of state of Lenin and Stalin in the later decades. And it was their major error in the area of sociology, alongside their theory of state economy, which ended up in despotism of Leninism and Stalinism.
In fact, the Communist utopianism, long before Lucas, was critiqued by Bertrand Russell. The issues raised by them are true, as I have noted the interesting critic of Bertrand Russell of Thomas More's Utopia in Marxist Thought & Monism. Nonetheless, building the democratic society after the Renaissance was as much utopian. Popper in the 1940's in his book Open Society and its Enemies showed that the problem is not utopianism and the issue of modern socialism is its opposition to open society.
Popper does not view modern socialism as
equivalent to the pre-industrial socialist currents, although their ideals are
similar, and Bertrand Russell's critic of these ideals as plans for a boring
future society are appropriate, but the issue of despotism and dictatorship of
modern socialism is a different discussion, and Popper answers that. These
two issues, namely utopianism and lack of open society, before Popper, whether
among the liberal authors like Bertrand Russell, or among the neo-Marxists like
Lucas and Mannheim were viewed as equal.
Retrogressive utopian currents, like the present Islamic Republic of Iran and mojahedin, have existed in the past too, for example the Mazdakian, and Dehkhoda wrote the best critic on them as a retrogressive cult. In contrast, communist authors because of seeing commonality of some of the ideals of them with the Mazdakian, considered them as progressive. Unfortunately authors like Ehsan Tabari who wrote about Mazdakian and similar movements, contrary to Engels who wrote of Münzer, were not familiar with the real history of these movements, and only judged them by their ideals, and defended retrogressive movements, and the opponents of the left, most of the time did the reverse, and condemned these movements because of their ideals, and not because of the historical role in progress or retrogression they played. At any rate, this is a vast topic and I know some of the historians, who view history from new perspectives, are doing research and publishing about Mazdakian.
What should be remembered about Leninism and Islamism, is again not their utopianism, which of course is problematic, but it is their opposition to the open society, in law and practice.
The following is one of the most interesting writings about utopianism in our present era and I hope it gets translated to Persian:
In the recent years, in critic of IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran), many have written critiques of various realms of social life in Iran, and have written of their expectations from a civil society. For example, they have written critic of women scarf among the mojahdein khalgh organization. These writings are the kind of critic that was done in the West by people like Voltaire and Thomas Paine, which extremely helped the progress of *open society*. Development of open society is not only in politics, and the importance of works like Ibn Warraq or Ali Dashti, and even many of the modern novels in Iran, that deal with everyday issues, is exactly other social realms beside politics.
The new authors like Hedayat's Haji Agha examine the everyday life but they do not just write a critique, they promote open society.
In fact, the case of someone like Aghajari, who is against his own death verdict for blasphemy, but defends Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie, is not because of his utopianism, but is because of the opposition of him and other so-called reformist Islamists with an open society, where they see democracy as an issue of virtue and think of themselves as more virtuous, and see the hardliners as villain, not that they believe in human rights in an open society. The same way the mojahedin and the lack of human rights in their organization and the problems of their defense for an Islamic interim state, head scarves in their organization, and their attacks on the opponents with lies and threats, all show their opposition to open society.
Having or not having ideals and utopianism does not mean pluralism or its lack of. The same way that I wrote in Democracy is Not People's Rule, the main issue of democracy is not in ideals or in individuals, it is in *how* it is ruled, and exactly this is why Islamic Democracy is *not* Pluralism.
To summarize, the ideals of John Locke and John Stuart Mills, were as much utopian, as the ideals of Marx. Although I think property-owning democracy is more appropriate for the post-industrial development than socialism and state economy, and have written my opinion in details in Is Socialism More just?, but what distinguishes Western democracies and has helped their thinkers to succeed in developing democracy, has not been lack of utopianism, but has been because of their endeavors in theory and practice to form an open society.
Hoping for a Futurist, Federal, Democratic, and Secular Republic in Iran,
Sam Ghandchi, Editor/Publisher
June 3, 2004
Also the following article which is in Persian