Part II: Utopia — Reimagining A Critical Horizon

For most of its history, the critical tradition has been wedded to a communalist utopian vision closely tied either to the withering of the state (for Marxists and libertarian deconstructionists) or to a solidaristic state (for socialists). In the same way in which a reconstructed critical theory of pure illusions liberates us from unfounded positivist foundations and dogmatic first principles, a renewed critical utopia must also be freed from these foundational constraints.

What a reconstructed critical theory reveals and teaches us is that illusions—the illusion of free markets or its inverse, the myths surrounding state-controlled economies—ground our utopian visions. They too have distributional impacts and effects of reality. But they too are illusions. And once we recognize this, it is no longer possible ex ante to determine which political economic regime most fairly distributes wealth and resources.

All political economic regimes are regulated and distribute wealth and resources, how they do so is the central question, and the answer will depend on the specific organizing rules and principles in operation—not on whether they are based on private property, communal ownership, or nationalized economies. The fact is, state-controlled enterprises that distribute to centralized party members may be less desirable than privately-owned corporations that distribute primarily to their workers.

Accordingly, a critical utopia must not aim at a specific regime type. What must guide a critical vision of the future is how well the really-existing regime achieves or approximates the values it holds dear—the values that serve to judge distributional outcomes. In other words, a pure theory of illusions calls for a focus on values. We cannot agree on a utopian type of political economy, we can only ever strive to promote certain critical values, namely equity, compassion, and respect. In this sense, critical theory needs to reconstruct its critical horizon on the basis of a pure theory of values.

This is particularly significant today because it means that reconstructed critical theory can operate—and should operate—within any political economic regime. Naturally, it must operate under the dominant conditions of neoliberalism. But it must be equally vocal within the context of state-controlled economies, communist countries, and Leftist regimes. It must remain the source of robust critique regardless of the political economic regime in place in any specific locality.