Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Utopian Community and the Critique of Liberalism

The social failures of utopian communities, whether based on religious stricture, as in the case of Warren Jeffs' polygamist sect, or on the liberal universalism and enlightenment, as in the case of Auroville, seem to end in similar sorts of failures. In both Auroville and the Texas polygamists' ranch, there were accusations of child abuse and neglect, abuse of power, and general dysfunction.

The "mother" who runs Auroville concieved it as "a universal town where people from around the world could live together in harmony and unity, without having to worry about food and shelter." Setting aside for a moment the implicit scientific utopianism of the second part of the claim, the social utopianism of the first perfectly encapsulates the overtly stated goals that underpin much of modern Western society. And, as both David Theo Goldberg and Carl Schmitt would predict (from vastly different perspectives), this universalism leads quite directly to an oppression that must be actively disavowed - according to the BBC article, local Tamils have great difficulty becoming members of the exclusive (universalist) club at Auroville, a contradiction that would seem difficult to maintain. Is this an instance of the need for supposedly universalist humanism to covertly exclude some as "non-human" in order to sustain its enterprise?

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