Summary of Utopia for Realists

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Historian Rutger Bregman’s take on utopia is lively and fascinating. He sketches the world’s current situation, and explains what’s right and what’s so sadly wrong. He proposes striking changes to make the world a better place, drawing on research from many countries and periods, and turning over common beliefs. He makes utopia appealing and even possible. His accounts of the potential success of a universal basic income are intriguing, though his description of how people deny its successes for ideological reasons is disheartening. Bregman intentionally raises more questions than he answers. getAbstract recommends his provocative argument to anyone interested in economics or social change.

About the Author

Rutger Bregman has published four books on philosophy, history and economics, and his History of Progress won the Belgian Liberales prize.



Things Are Better Than Ever

Throughout history, most people have been poor. As recently as 1820, 84% of people “lived in extreme poverty.” In 1981, that number was down to 44%. Now it is under 10%. In the past, when people dreamed of ideal circumstances, they dreamed of having enough to eat. Old visions of utopia don’t seem exciting anymore. This is a time of financial abundance and empty hearts. People have given up on utopia, but they haven’t replaced it with anything else. People should strive for a meaningful future. They need a new utopia.

Two traditions of utopian thought run through history. One is the “utopia of the blue print,” where societies follow strict rules. Tommaso Campanella’s 1602 The City of the Sun required everyone to love one another, outlawed fighting and dictated who slept with whom. A tightly regulated utopia evokes fascism. The contemporary world needs something else.

A second type of utopia offers inspiring if vague ideals to open people’s eyes. This kind of utopia asks provocative questions. In most places, people are now free to believe in anything, as long as no one takes a stand. Government has given up...

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