U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tuesday Quote

Dear readers: no post from me today. I’ve been swamped finishing my book manuscript. The good news: it’s done, and sent to the press! In the meantime, here’s a quote that kept me and my students busy talking for an hour yesterday.

“Guilty Calvinism and innocent utopianism mixed strangely together in virtually every American radical movement from the seventeenth century. Perhaps they still do.” Paul Buhle, Marxism in the United States: A History of the American Left

5 Thoughts on this Post

  1. The guilty Calvinism I completely understand; the innocent utopianism I feel like I grasp as a matter of stockpiled stereotypes but not so much as historically grounded knowledge. Does someone want to flesh that latter part out for me with examples?

    (Just to be clear on my tone, I’m not being sarcastic; I’m actually asking.)

    • I had the same reaction, it seems like utopianism itself is merely equated with innocence. What would then be a non-innocent utopianism? Unless, from an orthodox Marxist perspective, the innocence stands here for a disconnect, both material and ideological, from the necessary historical conditions that would pave the way for revolution, sort of like Marx’s critique of utopian socialism. So essentially any utopian movement that doesn’t incorporate a Marxist understanding of political and capital would end up within this category. Marxism as all-knowing utopianism….

  2. I think this may be a case where an inversion and scare quotes help: “Innocent” Calvinism and “guilty” utopianism–that sounds about like the history of the American Left to me.

    • True! Guilt accompanies any leftist proposal of radical social change beyond reformism and against the dominant structures of power: a super ego constructed through those very same structures, which continue to produce the myth that such radicalism remains outside of U.S. identity.

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