Utopian Legacies – A History of Conquest and Oppression in the Western WorldJohn C. Mohawk
A gripping narrative by Mohawk examines Western history in light of patterns of utopian thinking rationalizing war, subjugation, genocide, slavery and conquest. Mohawk is Seneca from Cattaraugus, New York and an Associate Professor of History at the State University of New York.
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I don’t often read history texts cover-to-cover, but was compelled to completely ford this one. Within the relatively short format of this book (287 pages) J.C. Mohawk lends you his lens for seeing the liminal facets of Western history that have been obscured and ‘forgotten’ by the dominant culture. The bulk of the text is concerned with dissecting the obsession in Western thought with the ‘pursuit of the ideal,’ wherein people believe that “all reasonable human beings who have access to an adequate base of information will pursue an identical concept of what is ‘ideal’ or ‘good'” (Mohawk, p.1).
Starting with tribal, then Helenistic cultures,working through the eras to the present, Mohawk points out the distinct movements that significantly altered the beliefs of civilizations on a historical scale. He categorizes these movements into two broad categories used throughout the text: utopian ideologies and revitalization movements. Much of the book is a reexamination of familiar historical events seen through these two filters, sifting out the agrandizement and preconceived notions that justified great and terrible things throughout the development of the culture we now occupy.
While the biggest limitation to this book is its short length and inability to delve too deeply into any one movement, it succeeds in piqueing the reader’s interest in examining these formative events (and one’s own place in the dominant culture) with a much more critical eye.
[P.s. if you teach an introductory history class, this would be a great text to incorporate into your curriculum 🙂 ]
First, thank you Alexander Chadsey for an accurate, professional review of this book. Utopian Legacies is about as good a concise history as I have ever read. I found this book troubling- in the best way- and would love to read a follow up by the same author- or anyone exploring this same theme. One of the main questions I had was: What is “non utopian” thinking like? What are specific examples of “utopian” and “non utopian” thought processes? A book which “resonates” (for me) with this one is Clyde W. Ford’s The HERO with an AFRICAN FACE. It seems that every culture has it’s myths- and what could be called “ideals” within the myths but (according to the premise of Utopian Legacies) “Western Civilization” is peculiar in that “utopia” and “the ideal” are central myths -and are deeply embodied in philosophy and belief in our culture. I find this believable, but still want more evidence that this is what particularly distinguishes “Western Civilization” . Again, I would like examples of ways of thinking that are NOT this way-and if possible, ways to adopt this type of thought process/belief system. Also, this book is not in great shape physically, it should be replaced if a newer (and perhaps more complete) edition is available.