Karl Marx believed that science and democracy were the right and left hands of what he called the move from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. He argued that advances in science helped delegitimize the rule of kings and the power of the Christian Church.
19th century socialists, feminists and republicans were generally advocates of reason and science. Techno-utopianism, atheism, and rationalism have been associated with the democratic, revolutionary and utopian Left for most of the last two hundred years. Radicals like Joseph Priestley pursued scientific investigation while advocating democracy and freedom from religious tyranny. Robert Owen, Charles Fourier and Henri de Saint-Simon in the early 19th century inspired communalists with their visions of a future scientific and technological evolution of humanity using reason as its secular religion. Radicals seized on Darwinian evolution to validate the idea of social progress. Edward Bellamy’s socialist utopia in Looking Backward, which inspired hundreds of socialist clubs in the late 19th century United States and a national political party, was as highly technological as Bellamy’s imagination. For Bellamy and the Fabian Socialists, socialism was to be brought about as a painless corollary of industrial development.
Marx and Engels saw more pain and conflict involved, but agreed about the inevitable end. Marxists argued that the advance of technology laid the groundwork not only for the creation of a new society, with different property relations, but also for the emergence of new human beings reconnected to nature and themselves. At the top of the agenda for empowered proletarians was “to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.” The 19th and early 20th century Left, from social democrats to communists, were focused on industrialization, economic development and the promotion of reason, science and the idea of progress.
One such promotion of science and social progress was the promotion of eugenics. Holding that in studies of families, such as the Jukes and Kallikaks, science had proven that many traits such as criminality and alcoholism were hereditary, many advocated the sterilization of those displaying negative traits. Forcible sterilization programs were implemented in several states in the United States.
After Auschwitz, the optimism of positivist views led to more pessimistic conceptions of science. The Holocaust, as Theodor Adorno underlined, seemed to shatter the ideal of Condorcet and others thinkers of the Enlightenment, which commonly equated scientific progress with social progress.
A movement of techno-utopianism began to flourish again in the dot-com culture of the 1990s, particularly in the West Coast of the United States. It was reflected in, reported on, and even actively promoted in the pages of Wired magazine, which was founded in San Francisco in 1993 and served for a number years as the "bible" of its adherents.
This form of techno-utopianism reflected a belief that technological change is revolutionizing human affairs, and that digital technology in particular - of which the Internet was but a modest harbinger - would increase personal freedom by freeing the individual from the rigid embrace of bureaucratic big government. "Self-empowered knowledge workers" would render traditional hierarchies redundant; digital communications would allow them to escape the modern city, an "obsolete remnant of the industrial age".
Its adherents claim it transcended conventional "right/left" distinctions in politics by rendering politics obsolete. However, techno-utopianism primarily attracted adherents from the libertarian right end of the political spectrum. Therefore, techno-utopians often have a distaste of government regulation and a belief in the superiority of the free market system. Prominent "oracles" of techno-utopianism included George Gilder and Kevin Kelly, an editor of Wired who also published several books.
During the 1990s dot-com boom, when the speculative bubble gave rise to claims that an era of "permanent prosperity" had arrived, techno-utopianism flourished, typically among the small percentage of the population who were employees of Internet startups and/or owned large quantities of high-tech stocks. With the subsequent crash, many of these dot com techno-utopians had to rein in some of their beliefs in the face of the clear return of traditional economic reality.
In the late 1990s and during the 2000s decade, technorealism and techno-progressivism are stances that have risen among advocates of technological change as critical alternatives to techno-utopianism.
Critics claim that techno-utopianism's identification of social progress with scientific progress is a form of positivism and scientism. Critics of modern libertarian techno-utopianism point out that it tends to focus on "government interference" while dismissing the positive effects of the regulation of business. They also point out that it has little to say about the environmental impact of technology and that its ideas have little relevance for much of the rest of the world that are still relatively quite poor (see global digital divide).