Locating Utopia on the Map Featured

by on Friday, 05 September 2014 Comments


In August 2014, while traveling through Scotland, I was taken to New Lanark, a village located some 40 km southeast of Glasgow. Under the leadership of Robert Owen (1771-1858), a social reformer, New Lanark became an oasis of utopian socialism as well as a successful business venture, with waterpower for the mill afforded by the falls of the River Clyde. Cooperative shops, education ventures and new labor legislation all trace part of their origins to the New Lanark experiment. Nowadays, having become a UNESCO World Heritage Sites, New Lanark is also an Anchor Point of The European Route of Industrial Heritage.

Where are located the Utopias on our maps today? Have we lost the ability to start experiments in social and humane engineering? Have the currents of globalization definitely discouraged our capacity to start local ventures that would design new models for social justice and peaceful cooperation? If it were the case, we certainly would have lost a skill vital for social and political development. Even if Utopias often meet with all kinds of disappointments, on the long-term they are rich with discoveries and implications that foster overall human progress.

No village, no community is an island... But we are empowered with the capacity to start communal ventures on a voluntary basis, deciding on specific, innovative models of “social contract’ as to the way of living together, sharing our resources and relating to adjacent communities. Religious faith, reinterpretation of ancient traditions as well as political idealism can inspire and direct such experiments. Let us hope that, in Taiwan, China or elsewhere, there are still people able to create “communes” gathering like-minded fellow-beings so as to experiment new ways of living and interacting among ourselves and within our environment.

Picture by Bendu

Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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