From a reader:
I think your need to construe the word ‘utopian’ narrowly is making you seem like you are playing dumb, or being an awful pedant. The sense intended is obvious, that the “free market utopians” are those that believe that the free market somehow magically resolves all conflict in the best and by definition correct way, in the same way early socialists thought that there would be no more crime or discrimination once the means of production were owned by the workers.
The obvious problem is that the free market is only one of many effective strategies for resolving competing claims, and one that always makes the individual desire trump the groups so that the whole can never rise above its parts. That may be often good, but when one decrees that this is the only possible good way, one is being some sort of an ideological, hide bound, invoker of The One Perfect Way type of something….utopian fits that pretty good for most people. Its not quite being ‘unrealistic’. One could say one thinks that a new toll road will solve all the traffic needs and be merely ‘unrealistic’, but when one says we must have a toll road because it is a Free Market solution, end of argument, because its implied that this must therefore be inherently the best…then one is what exactly?
If one subs the word utopian for your preferred word, does the argument hold up still? If so, aren’t you picking an awfully small nit?
Me: I’m usually pretty open to this line of criticism — blogging lends itself to nit-picking. But I think I’m right to object. Jeff Hart is a very serious guy. His piece is intended to be and presented as an authoritative statement on American conservatism. He uses conservative fighting words like “Jacobinism” and “utopianism” not in a conversational way but in a very serious way. Therefore it seems fair and appropriate to engage his assertions seriously. If this was an op-ed about a specific public policy and the author threw in the word “utopianism” as a stand-in for “pie-eyed idealism” or some such, I wouldn’t object, but this seems like something very different to me. And, hey, it’s a slow news week.