Nearly two decades after the end of the Cold War, academics, policy makers and commentators continue to be puzzled by the shape, form and content of contemporary world politics. The fluidity of the post-Cold War era has seen the elevation of largely functional explanations for why things are to a more transcendent set of ideas about how social relations can be made afresh. This shift from ideology to utopia is no idle problem, for what it tends to generate are images which often lie outside historical experience and time and place specificities. This article is an attempt to provide a corrective to at least parts of this malady by carrying out a Zeitdiagnose which questions some of the taken-for-granted assumptions about the current period, in particular the schema offered by the prominent cosmopolitan thinker, Nancy Fraser. The article looks in detail at the historical basis of Fraser's current work, comparing it both to similar visions prevalent in the inter-war years and to contemporary programmes based on the theory of the democratic peace and the policy of democracy promotion. The article develops a construct - realistic utopias - which aims to build from history to mid-range abstractions rather than from general abstractions to events on the ground. As a result, it is argued, a more developed link can be made between theory and practice, abstraction and history, normative project and institutional reality.