THE END OF UTOPIA by Russell Jacoby


Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy
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An ill-spirited but perceptive blast at contemporary political action, ideology, and theory. Jacoby (History/UCLA; Dogmatic Wisdom: How the Culture Wars Divert Education and Distract America, 1994, etc.) argues that we have lost the conception of an absolute goal, a vision of the good, that is necessary for change to take place in society. Absent a belief that the world could be different, it remains the same, and politics degenerates into an uninspiring choice between the status quo and the even worse options of the past. Moreover, the disappearance of utopian faith corrupts personal as well as political life. The infatuation with careerism among today’s students, for example, reflects not an economic collapse, but rather “the collapse of a belief in a future that might be different.” Whether change genuinely requires a reference point outside current reality or can proceed incrementally in reaction to it is debatable, but historically, political dynamism has rested on claims of universal truths used as battering rams against perceived injustices. Jacoby doesn—t make his point and then go forward, however; rather than espousing revolution, he expends his energy attacking the insipid intellectuals of the left who refuse to be revolutionaries. He condemns the “anemic concepts and timid politics of liberal multiculturalism,” the “atrophy of current political thinking,” and the contemporary philosophers who “exchange truth for art appreciation.” Even those who agree with his criticisms will wonder if this hyperbole is really the route to utopia. If Jacoby takes his own argument seriously, is he better served by beating what are—in his mind—dead horses or by making an effort to supply what he believes we lack? Ultimately, this is an irritating book because the valuable central point will surely be lost in the furor over a critique that does not further the author’s stated agenda. This effort does not distance Jacoby from those he attacks.

Pub Date: May 14th, 1999
ISBN: 0-465-02000-3
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999


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