Mainstreaming Utopia : A Global Challenge

Mercredi 15 mai, 16h15, 5e session : Crises et utopies

Marc Fleurbaey, directeur de recherche au CERCES, CNRS, professeur à l’Université Paris Descartes et à Princeton, titulaire de la chaire « Économie du bien-être » du Collège d’études mondiales

The beginning of the 21st century looks quite disenchanted compared to the beginning of the previous century. The communist ideal which was lively, then, has now become a nightmarish chimera, and anxiety about possible catastrophic climate consequences of human hubris has replaced the faith in unbounded technical and economic progress. In this context, shedding all interest in social transformation is a tempting but not fitting attitude –it is, rather, a shameful lack of responsibility and solidarity. Whatever happens to material progress, there remains hope to reduce human suffering through social progress.

Courageous authors, like Erik Wright in Envisioning Real Utopias, propose to revive the interest in social transformation with a serious and competent analysis of both the normative considerations that give us a compass and the feasibility considerations which are essential to make utopia “real”. The main point of this my paper is that, however laudable such individual efforts are, and partly thanks to them, time may be ripe for changing the scale and scope of this sort of enterprise. “Envisioning real utopias” should become a collective, coordinated effort.

Indeed, the scope of such analysis, the variety of disciplines and competences that it requires, seems overwhelming for a single author. There is a great need for the development of a serious work in social prospective analysis. The work that is currently being done about the prospective analysis of climate change may provide interesting ideas. The climate challenge has induced the creation of an international group of experts which writes reports summarizing the state of knowledge about the trends and risks in climate change, as well as the possible precautions and remedies that can be implemented in response. What is impressive about this international group is that it assembles a mass of competences and knowledge that is far beyond what a single university, let alone a single research team, would be able to achieve. What is less attractive about it is that its proceedings are under the control of the governments of the countries involved in the United Nations Convention on Climate Change.

For social transformation, which covers a very wide array of competences in social sciences and beyond (environmental sustainability becoming a key issue for social innovation, therefore requiring the expertise of natural sciences), a serious analysis of the possibilities and the obstacles would similarly require assembling a large network of experts. An International Panel on Social Change, with perhaps a lighter structure than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and certainly more independence from governmental influence, would seem necessary to carry out the assessment of potential improvements to social institutions in a competent way. Such assessment could be made on a regular basis (every decade?). Just as different working groups in the IPCC focus on different topics, one could imagine that the working groups of the “IPSC” would focus on various issues similar to those addressed in the various chapters of Erik Wright’s book, such as: the pending problems and sources of human suffering; the relevant theories of justice and the possible evaluation criteria; the basic economic institutions (markets, organizations, finance, government policy); the political institutions; and so on. The Panel could conceive of its task not as the design of a particular political platform, but as contributing to summarizing the prevailing normative views and the state of the art in the disciplines that are relevant to assessing the possibilities for transformation.

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