To the town of Ludwigshafen, its mayor, Mr Wolfgang Schulte, and the Ernst Bloch Institute, my warmest thanks for the honour I have been awarded, which associates my own name with that of one of the German philosophers whom I most admire.footnote1 My thanks also to Mr Ulrich Beck for the very generous address he has just given. He leads me to think that we may, in the near future, see the utopia of a European intellectual collective, which I have long advocated, brought into being. My only criticism of this eulogy is that it is really too generous, especially in the way it attributed to my individual personality alone a number of properties or qualities which are also the product of social conditions.

I cannot help feeling that in being so honoured, in being brought into the orbit of a great defender of utopianism—these days so often discredited, dismissed and ridiculed in the name of economic realism—I am being authorized, indeed urged, to try to define what the intellectual’s role can and should be in relation to utopia in general and European utopia in particular.

Let us acknowledge the fact that we are currently in a period of neo-conservative reconstruction. But this conservative revolution is taking an unprecedented form: there is no attempt, as there was in earlier times, to invoke an idealized past through the exaltation of earth and blood, the archaic themes of ancient agrarian mythologies. It is a new type of conservative revolution that claims connection with progress, reason and science—economics actually—to justify its own re-establishment, and by the same token tries to relegate progressive thought and action to archaic status. It erects into defining standards for all practices, and thus into ideal rules, the regularities of the economic world abandoned to its own logic: the law of the market, the law of the strongest. It ratifies and glorifies the rule of what we call the financial markets, a return to a sort of radical capitalism answering to no law except that of maximum profit; an undisguised, unrestrained capitalism, but one that has been rationalized, tuned to the limit of its economic efficiency through the introduction of modern forms of domination (‘management’) and manipulative techniques like market research, marketing and commercial advertising.

The misleading aspect of this conservative revolution is that it retains nothing, apparently, of the murky pastoral Black Forest beloved of the conservative revolutionaries of the 1930s; it is trapped out with all the signs of modernity. After all, it comes from Chicago, doesn’t it? Galileo said that the natural world is written in mathematical language. Now people are trying to make out that the social world is written in economic language. . .It is through the weapon of mathematics—and also that of media power—that neoliberalism has become the supreme form of the conservative counterattack, looming for the last thirty years under the name of ‘the end of ideology’ or, more recently, ‘the end of history’.

What is presented to us as an uncrossable horizon of thought—the end of critical utopias—is really none other than an economistic fatalism which can be criticized in the terms used by Ernst Bloch in Geist der Utopie when addressing such economism and fatalism as there is to be found in Marxism: ‘The same man—Marx—who stripped production of all its fetishized characteristics, who believed he could analyze and exorcize all the irrationalities of history as being simply obscurities due to the class situation or the production process, obscurities which had not been seen or understood and whose influence therefore seemed inevitable; the same man who exiled from history all dreams, all active utopias, every “telos” recalling the religious, behaves towards the “productive forces”, the calculus of the “process of production”, in the same over-constitutive manner, finding the same pantheism, the same mysticism, and claiming for them the same ultimate determining force that Hegel had claimed for the “idea” and Schopenhauer for his alogical “will”.’footnote2

This fetishization of the productive forces resulting in fatalism is to be found today, paradoxically, in the prophets of neoliberalism and the high priests of the Deutschmark and monetary stability. Neoliberalism is a powerful economic theory whose strictly symbolic strength, combined with the effect of theory, redoubles the force of the economic realities it is supposed to express. It ratifies the spontaneous philosophy of the people who run large multinationals and of the agents of high finance—in particular pensionfund managers. Relayed throughout the world by national and international politicians, civil servants, and most of all the universe of senior journalists—all more or less equally ignorant of the underlying mathematical theology—it is becoming a sort of universal belief, a new ecumenical gospel. This gospel, or rather the soft vulgate which is put forward everywhere under the name of liberalism, is concocted out of a collection of ill-defined words—‘globalization’, ‘flexibility’, ‘deregulation’ and so on—which, through their liberal or even libertarian connotations, may help give the appearance of a message of freedom and liberation to a conservative ideology which thinks itself opposed to all ideology.

In fact, this philosophy knows and recognizes no purpose but the ever-increasing creation of wealth and, more secretly, its concentration in the hands of a small privileged minority; and it therefore leads to a combat by every means, including the destruction of the environment and human sacrifice, against any obstacle to the maximization of profit. Supporters of laisser-faire, like Thatcher, Reagan and their successors, are careful in practice notto ‘laisser faire’ but, on the contrary, to leave a free hand to the logic of financial markets by waging total war on trade unions, on the social achievements of the last couple of centuries, in a word against all the forms of civilization associated with the social state.