For more information about Modern Futurism see The Future File (1978)
by Paul Dickson and an excellent older book by Alvin Toffler called
The Futurists (1972).
of futurism is not an old discourse. In the form of what we call
modern futurism today, this discourse has been formulated after
World War II by the German-born futurist Ossip
K. Flechtheim in the U.S. and the French futurist Bertrand
de Jouvenel. Prior to this date, IMO, futurism did not exist
as a separate discourse and it was part of the discourse of progress
in the Western philosophy.
of progress has been around at least since Aristotle in the Western
Philosophy, and as I have noted it before in other articles, the
terms humanity and progress have been formed at the same time around
the second century AD. In here, my main focus is on the futurism
in particular and not progressive thought in general.
formation of the Industrial Society gave rise to releasing great
potentials to build the human society. Thus prediction of the future
structure of society became a very important criteria of progressiveness;
and many sociologists started studying the structures of the future
of Machiavelli and Sir Thomas More of Renaissance period laid out
two main models of the future industrial society, the society that
was built during the four centuries after the Renaissance. Two centuries
after these two thinkers, the first one who noted the importance
of futurism as a scientific discipline was the French philosopher
and satirist Voltaire. Perhaps he, more than anyone else, had recognized
the value of what we call *analytic* futurism today.
changes of the last half century and the formation of post-Industrial
society (see Daniel Bell's The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society),
have caused a social upheaval similar to the start of the Industrial
Society. Thus viewing of the future, this time within a society
with more potentials, has found a new importance.
But not only
the world that is under study by the futurists is a different one
from the world of Industrial Society; the futurism itself has also
become more precise and its many aspects have become different fields
of knowledge and inquiry. At the present, the futurist outlooks
relative to the newly forming post-industrial Society are where
the outlooks of industrial society were relative to the industrial
society in the eighteenth century.
However, I need
to point out that the speed of the progress of the post-industrial
world is so much faster than the speed of the progress of the industrial
world that the process of maturing of the new outlooks may take
two decades rather than two centuries which took for the new outlooks
of the industrial society to mature.
Modern Futurism-Main Types
future can be for answering one of the three following questions:
1. What will very possibly happen in the future? (analytic)
2. What can happen in the future? (visionary)
3. What should happen in the future? (participatory)
The answer to the first question is *analytic* futurism, to the
second question is *visionary* futurism, to the third question is
Among the famous futurists, John Naisbitt's book "Megatrends"
is a good example of *analytic* futurism. R. Buckminster Fuller's
works are good examples of *visionary* futurism. Alvin Toffler's
works are good examples of *participatory* futurism.
to the *first question*, "what will very possibly happen in
the future", i.e. *analytic* futurism, is studied by the evaluation
of different existing social and economic trends and tendencies
thru scientific investigations.
using the *Delphi* method, a group of experts within a specific
field of knowledge, use collective brainstorming, to come up with
different alternative futures for the topic at hand.
This kind of
question about the future, i.e. asking "what will very possibly
happen in the future", has not been that much of interest to
the thinkers of the past, whereas nowadays, it is becoming more
and more a positive science, called social forecasting, and most
of the university programs of Future Studies follow this type of
or analytic futurism in the last four decades has grown tremendously
in relationship to the government and corporate planning needs.
For example, research works conducted by the Stanford Research Institute
(SRI) are good examples of such research undertakings.
involved in this type of futurism are more and more developing and
testing newer models and methods, such as models of systems theory
and cybernetics, and are now able to some extent to predict some
future qualitative changes too.
the Futures Group of Mr. John Naisbitt uses a methodology called
*context analysis* to study the general social and economic trends
in the world. This method uses the space allocated to different
topics in various newspapers in different periods and different
places as its data; and this way discovers underlying or formative
trends that are otherwise hidden to sociologists. He has uncovered
many glacial changes in the modern world this way. His bestseller
*Megatrends* was based on this methodology.
The latest achievement
of *analytic* futurism is the study of different possible futures
which is called study of *alternative futures*. That is studying
the different scenarios of future and the resulting consequences
of their happening. Thus reviewing what side-effects each alternative
can cause in different realms of life and to study to plan to compensate
the ill-effects of progress in one realm of life, on the other realms.
Sometimes the possible *side-effects* may become the reason to avoid
a certain progress (for example studying the environmental effects
can mean avoiding a certain type of manufacturing development).
In some countries
such as Sweden, there is a government ministry dedicated to Future
Studies which coordinates the future studies of various government
and corporate agencies. Centers of Future Studies in all the developed
countries have been popping up during the last three decades.
One can hardly
find any prudent government or corporation that would disregard
the value of this type of futurism in their respective areas of
interest. Although this branch of futurism may not seem that important
in relation to sketching one's ideals of a future society, but this
type of futurism is definitely valuable even for forming one's ideals
of the future, if used together with the other two types of futurism.
The Future Survey magazine of World
Future Society specifically focuses on *analytic* futurism.
type of futurism, that is *visionary futurism*, has been formed
in answering to the question of "what can happen in the future?"
This type of
futurism has fascinated the intellectuals long before Voltaire.
Even before Plato's Utopia, various schemes of the future in the
philosophic and religious texts have been examples of *visionary*
This type of
futurism is more an art than science and perhaps Plato's Republic,
which influenced human mind for many centuries is the best example
of this type of futurism (see Karl Popper's Open Society for a good
critique of Plato's Republic). Also Machiavelli' s Prince is another
example of it. I believe, Even Frederick Engels's book, "Socialism
from Utopia to Scientific", should be considered as a work
of art than science.
The topics of
interest to *visionary* futurism and depicting ideals and visions
of the future cannot really be the subject of science and are generally
beyond science, although it can use science. For example the analytic
futurism a science) can be used to *test* the ideas offered in the
*visionary* futurism, but *visionary* futurism itself is more of
an art than science.
In the area
of *visionary* futurism, there have existed *two* tendencies in
*first* tendency within *visionary* futurism is the model of the
Jewish religion, which offers the mythical picture of a golden era
at the beginning of creation and the goal of humanity is to return
to that lost paradise from which it was once driven out.
This model has
been used to certain degree in Marxism too. In Marxian model, the
original classless society is negated by class society and then
after negation of the class society in the future, a classless society
of a higher kind, i.e. communism, which is an evolved version of
the original primitive communism. Thus instead of the circular movement
model of Jewish religion, a Hegelian Spiral is offered.
characteristic of this model is that this model believes in a previous
plan and design in the world, thus the plan of the future has been
devised in the past. Therefore either through the prophecy of the
prophets, other people are informed of *parts* of this pre-existing
Plan and Design, or according to some other beliefs laymen may never
qualify to know any parts of the pre-existing Plan and Design at
kind of teleological causation (philosophically called *final cause*
ellat-e ghAii), which accepts the priority of effect to cause, not
only gives rises to many problems about the freedom of action in
many such religious and philosophic schools, but the other problem
this viewpoint carries is that according to this view depiction
of the future is not by evaluating the achievements of the past
or in evaluating the world using knowledge and rationalism, but
it is to be done thru believing in the principles announced by the
prophets or the benevolent leaders of a doctrine.
In other words,
in this view, the future outlook is not understood as a wish or
as an ideal so that others can agree or disagree with it, instead,
the future outlook is presented as a pre-ordained fate, announced
for all time and all place. Thus the defenders of this model, such
as some apocalyptic cults, at times are very fanatic.
I should note
that not all religious interpretation are fatalistic. And not all
atheistic views are free of it. Many atheistic views suffer from
this kind of fatalism, and at times have been worse than their religious
*second* tendency of *visionary* futurism is found in literary works
as early as the books of Aristotle and after him in the works of
Lucretius, the Roman thinker of 99-55 BC.
this view of visionary futurism, future is the evolution of the
objective realities and does not have a pre-determined goal and
design outside of these objective realities. Thus only by postulating
indeterminacy, at least in the narrow sense of the word, talking
about future has been meaningful for this second tendency of visionary
the Book V of his Metaphysica, emphasizes *final causes* and thus
is more teleological in that work and also in most of his biological
works, and the concept of entelechy in those works, distances him
from the position of efficient causation. But, IMO, essentially
Aristotle's writings and general outlook espouses a non-teleological
evolutionary concept of the future.
I need to point
out that following the *second* tendency of visionary futurism,
when responding to the question of "what can happen in the
future?", does *not* mean that one is acting within the boundaries
of scientific evaluation of trends and existing conditions. That
would have been just *analytic* futurism.
the second tendency of visionary futurism, one actually uses rationalism
and wisdom and learns in a general sense from the achievements of
the past. Thus the various possibilities of future are conjectured
which may not necessarily be results of any existing or immediate
trends. Nonetheless, in contrast to the first tendency of *visionary*
futurism, this second tendency of *visionary* futurism does not
talk about anything which does not have an objective basis in the
is still different from *analytic* futurism, because the latter
in addition to objectiveness, essentially focuses on the existing
trends and their *existing* priorities, whereas this second type
of *visionary* futurism may offer an option of the future as its
ideal, and that option may in reality not be a powerful trend in
the foreseeable future at all.
IMO the second
tendency of *visionary* futurism, although seemingly more scientific,
but at the same time this very fact is also its weakness. The element
of imagination in arts and religion has a powerful creative quality,
and that element has many times in history been a reason to start
very new trends and institutions in the society, which have in many
cases formed superior social forms than the continuation of existing
trends and institutions.
Of course, unlike
the anarchists, one should not consider all the evolution of existing
institutions and trends as "traditional" and thus as "bad"
and to admire any *new* institution as "good", because
of being new (please see my article entitled "Anarchism").
In fact, if there is anything to be "admired" blindly,
maybe the thousand-year old traditions deserve more to be admired,
as they have been tested for thousands of years for their side-effects.
everyone knew the dangers of the institution of the Church, but
nobody knew the dangers of a new institution like the Nazi party
when it was climbing up to power in Germany, and the unfortunate
experience of genocide and World War II was needed for people to
recognize the menace of this new non-Christian evil in Europe.
the issue of the two tendencies of *visionary* futurism, I need
to point out that if the element of imagination is understood correctly
and used cautiously, the second tendency of *visionary* futurism
can be augmented to bear better fruits. Thus, IMO, the existence
of a Utopia in visionary futurism does not mean a school of thought
is completely partial to the first tendency of visionary futurism.
ideal does not mean an eternal destiny, it may be just the social
ideal of the existing society and it is therefore not what is thought
of as Utopia in the first tendency of visionary futurism, with its
pre-ordained Design. Maybe the visionary futurism in some writings
of the past such as Frederick Engels's book on utopia was also a
combination of both of the above tendencies. A good example of such
a utopian model in our times, which is a combination of the two
tendencies, is a book called *computobia* by a Japanese futurist
author, Yoneji Masuda.
kind of futurism, i.e. *participatory* futurism is defined as a
response to the question of "what should happen in the future?"
This group of
futurists, in their plans and actions, specifically have a certain
future in mind, in an area of life, such as education. They focus
in their actions to achieve the results intended in their plan,
and thus are consciously participating in the formation of that
future. If for other people, their ideals and expectations of the
future play an unconscious role in their participation in making
the future, for the ones who believe in participatory futurism,
this participation in creating the future is done consciously.
Thus for this
group of the futurists, the topic of origination and formation of
*alternative futures* finds a *practical* importance and is not
just limited to analytic or visionary futurism. Although participatory
futurism does necessarily include other types of futurism, but these
futurists make their decisions depending on their ideals of the
future as to what *should* happen, and practically support those
social programs which reach their ideals faster and better.
A good example
of the activity of participatory futurism was the work on Proposition
13 in California. Please see Alvin Toffler's book Third Wave for
details (also available in Persian called moj-e sevom, published
by Nashr-e-no, Tehran) .
From a distant
past, the third type of futurism, i.e. *participatory* futurism
was of interest among the philosophers of politics, more than any
other thinkers. The issues of ethics and law find significance in
this realm of futurism, because the values and social priorities
in every step, find practical importance in this type of futurism.
of politics from Plato to John Locke paid a high attention to ethical
and legal issues. In fact, the differentiation of the question of
"what can be done?" from "what should be done?",
without which this separate area of futurism would be meaningless,
is emphasized in Kant's philosophy of ethics.
social-activists, despite opposing Kant, were not able to explain
the theoretical basis of their endeavors, without accepting the
differentiation of the above two questions as legitimate in their
ideology. Of course, they still claimed that in the so-called "final
analysis", there is no such differentiation!
One of the best
examples of a plan for a participatory futurism in the modern times
was the Manifesto of Condocret and its evolved version, the Communist
Manifesto of Marx and Engels, and finally the minimum and maximum
programs of the communist parties.
futurists, instead of using the terms minimum and maximum programs,
use short, medium and long-term plans and they also separate their
programs geographically into local, countrywide, regional, and worldwide
In the area
of participatory futurism, futurism is not just defined by the existing
general trends or the future ideals of its participants. In this
realm, it reciprocally interacts with the cultural, ethical, social,
legal, and political values of its local and universal environment.
In a word, in this type of futurism, *future* finds value as it
turns into the *present*.
With the above
short description, it is evident how futurism is inseparable from
the idea of progress. Needless to say that the formation of a post-industrial
civilization has increased the need for paying attention to all
three types of futurism.
The growth of
the first type, i.e. *analytic* futurism, has been the main focus
of the futurists in the last four decades and it is still their
The second type
of futurism in our times, i.e. *visionary* futurism, has been essentially
done by science fiction authors such as Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke,
or Gene Rodenbury. Also some authors such as Gerard O'Neil in his
book 2081, emphasizing the development of space colonies, have offered
valuable insights for the future options of human race.
It is interesting
to note that in the works of the science fiction authors of our
time, the conditions and type of production are fantasized as changing
rather than the social relations. Even the *Next Generation* series
of Star Trek, in its view of social relations, is not really that
far from what we observe in our world today, but fantasized technological
changes are abundant in the series.
in the works of the Utopian authors of the past, such as Fourier,
the production was mostly assumed as constant, and post-factory
production was not even dreamed of, and the alternative social relations
was central to the past Utopias.
At any rate,
the second type of futurism, i.e. *visionary* futurism, has been
of interest in the works of R. Buckminster Fuller and Gerard O'Neil.
I should add that the depicted new horizons are hardly anything
beyond Plato or John Locke in their respective outlooks of future
third type of futurism, i.e. *participatory* futurism, fortunately,
in contrast to the era of Industrial Revolution, is not essentially
within the confines of the realm of politics, and different realms
of life such as education, health, and mass media have found the
utmost attention among the participatory futurists of our times.
A look at most
of the programs on Public Broadcasting (PBS) channels in the US
is a good illustration of this fact. At the end, no need to repeat
that futurism and rational thinking, although carrying new meanings
today, in contrast to the seventeenth century, but they are still
both inseparable from the ideas of progress and development.
Hoping for a
Futurist, Federal, Democratic, and Secular Republic in Iran,
Iran Futurist Republic
Written: Sept 1, 2004
Republished: January 29, 2007