The Limits Of Utopianism

Lydia DePillis reports from McPherson Square on what I think is the least attractive aspect of the Occupy This And That movement:

The explicitly political content of the occupation shows up on signs and during daily forays into surrounding areas for protests. But the occupiers don’t actually spend much time talking about what they want from government. Having specific demands would just legitimize the system, some say—not to mention alienate participants who might not agree with them, and set the standards by which they might succeed or fail.

What they do spend time talking about is how to keep everyone housed, fed, safe, healthy, and entertained. With this protest, logistics are political too: By creating a self-contained, self-governing, radically transparent and egalitarian community, they’ll model how the rest of society ought to work.

There’s long been a strain of utopianism running through American life, and various radical movements have decided to go off to different places and form communes rather than trying to change the political system. These utopians are, in important ways, sources of inspiration to broader movements. But they never really work. Electoral politics matters a lot. Conservative activists are very good at channeling discontent with Republicans Party incumbents into further engagement with Republican Party politics. They get Pat Toomey instead of Arlen Specter. They don’t go Galt.