The Craft Utopia of William Morris
William Morris (1834-1896) was one of the leading poets and prose writers of his day, and a pioneering designer and craftsperson. He was also a democratic socialist who, well in advance of the rise of modern ecologism, articulated a powerful and original utopian vision of a decentralist, stateless, directly democratic, and non-productivist form of socialism. Central to this vision is what I term a ‘grounded utopian’ conception of a world in which obstacles to pleasurable labour distinctive to capitalist society have been removed, and work re-united with art and nature. Against those who would dismiss this vision as ‘utopian’ in the pejorative sense of the word, I argue that Morris’ ideas retain the potential to stimulate a democratic dialogue about the relationship between work, art, nature and society that is of urgent relevance today in the context of on-going struggles to find viable ‘exit routes’ from growth-based societies. Drawing on the work of contemporary deep green thinkers and radical labour theorists, I argue more specifically that Morris developed a compelling ‘artistic’ morality of production based on the use of ecologically sensitive technologies sufficient to meet genuine human needs. His utopianism also suggests that the extreme and absolute separation between ‘work’ and ‘art’ in contemporary civilisation is unsustainable, and has paved the way for a new slave society bereft of any meaningful form of democracy. This dystopian future may be averted only if labour partakes of the essential quality of art, and all people have the opportunity to make their innate senses of beauty and value an integral part of their lives.
This media entry was a contribution to the special session „The Craft Utopia of William Morris“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.