“God,” said Tolstoy, “is the name of my desire.” This remarkable sentence could haunt one a lifetime, it reverberates in so many directions. Tolstoy may have intended partial assent to the idea that, life being insupportable without some straining toward “transcendence,” a belief in God is a psychological necessity. But he must also have wanted to turn this rationalist criticism into a definition of his faith. He must have meant that precisely because his holiest desires met in the vision of God he was enabled to cope with the quite unholy realities of human existence. That God should be seen as the symbolic objectification of his desire thus became both a glorification of God and a strengthening of man, a stake in the future and a radical criticism of the present.
Without sanctioning the facile identification that is frequently made between religion and socialist politics, we should like to twist Tolstoy’s remark to our own ends: socialism is the name of our desire. And not merely in the sense that it is a vision which, for many people throughout the world, provides moral sustenance, but also in the sense that it is a vision which objectifies and give urgency to their criticism of the human condition in our time. It is the name of our desire because the desire arises from a conflict with, and an extension from, the world that is; nor could the desire survive in any meaningful way were it not for this complex relationship to the world that is.
At so late and unhappy a moment, however, can one still specify what the vision of socialism means or should mean? Is the idea of utopia itself still a tolerable one?. . .
Today, in an age of curdled realism, it is necessary to assert the utopian image. But this can be done meaningfully only if it is an image of social striving, tension, conflict; an image of a problem-creating and problem-solving society.
In his “Essay on Man” Ernst Cassirer has written almost all that remains to be said:
A Utopia is not a portrait of the real world, or of the actual political or social order. it exists at no moment of time and at no point in space; it is a “nowhere.” But just such a conception of a nowhere has stood the test and proved its strength in the development of the modern world. It follows from the nature and character of ethical thought that it can never condescend to accept the “given.” The ethical world is never given; it is forever in the making.
Some time ago one could understandably make of Socialism is a consoling day-dream. now, when we live in the shadow of defeat, to retain, to will the image of socialism is a constant struggle for def...
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $35 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.