Making the perfect the enemy of the good has ignited fires in the minds of men since before togas were the hot new fashion. The word we generally ascribe to this practice, “utopianism,” is actually of fairly recent coinage. Thomas More created the word “utopia” by combining the Greek words for “no” and “place” in his satirical tale of that name in 1516. The title was part of the joke, in that the perfect society does not — cannot — exist, at least not in this life.
Alas, lots of people never got it. From Plato’s republic to Homer Simpson’s “Land of Chocolate” — where everything from the fire hydrants to the dogs is made of chocolate, and the chocolate stores sell chocolate at half price — the delusion of perfectibility has endured, mostly as harmless fantasy. But in politics, utopianism has been far from benign, with its worst incarnations — chiefly various species of Marxism — responsible for killing millions. Since the red tide of Marxism and the brown tide of 1960s radicalism have receded, it has become fashionable to say that utopianism is dead, or at least in retreat. But that isn’t entirely true. The Left has not given up on utopia so much as it has lost its ability to talk about it honestly and intelligently — or even to see it for what it is.