In Karl Mannheim (1936), Ideology and Utopia, London, Routledge, 1991, pp. 173-236

According to Mannheim, some ideas transcending reality are rather “ideologies” than “utopias”, and both, given that they are “situationally transcendent”, are “unreal”. According to Mannheim, ideas that are situationally congruous and adequate are rare (p. 175). He gives the example of Christian brotherly love, an ideology in a society based on serfdom since, under those social conditions, could not be realized.

The definition Mannhein offers for utopia is as follows: “A state of mind is utopian when it is incongruous with the state of reality within which it occurs” (p. 173). A utopian mentality has both to “transcend” reality, or social “existence”, and “tend to shatter, either partially or wholly, the order of things prevailing at the time” (p. 174). Some utopias may be seen as absolute, or impossible to realize under any circumstances, whereas most utopias are relative, that is impossible in the circumstances of the society where they are conceived, but the hope is they could be realized in a different social configuration: “Because the concrete determination of what is utopian proceeds always from a certain stage of existence, it is possible that the utopias of to-day might become the realities of to-morrow: ‘Utopias are often only premature truths’ (Lamartine)” (p. 183).

Utopias reflect human inclinations towards wishful thinking, created by lack of satisfaction with existing reality.

Utopias can be imagined by individual as well as social groups, and it is the latter that are most effective.

Mannheim identifies historical changes in the configuration of the utopian mentality.

In modern times he sees the starting point in Chiliasm, or Millennialism which, combined with the aspirations of the oppressed classes, gave origin to a process that, even though far remote from proletarian class-consciousness, would eventually lead to it. The second form of the utopian mentality is the “liberal-humanitarian idea” (p. 197). The third form is the “conservative idea” (p. 206). The fourth form is the “socialist-communist utopia” (p. 215).

If utopia died out, a “static state of affairs” would take over, whereby humankind “would lose its will to shape history and therefore its ability to understand it” (p. 236).

[Roberto Bertoni]