This article starts off by giving Habermas the opportunity to defend the ‘remnants of utopianism’ in his thinking that might seem to fly in the face of grim sociological realities. He wants to cut the ground from under a fashionable scepticism about our capacity to use a description of the unrealized potentials of the present as the basis for orienting ourselves to a desired future. This is to be done by persuading us that we have been looking in the wrong place for an account of the utopian significance of modernizing achievements. The defeat of utopian energies thesis rests on a one-sided description of modernization processes that neglects their complex and ambiguous achievements and, in particular, ignores the legacy of democratic Enlightenment. Yet Habermas’s own estimation of the ambiguous legacies of cultural modernization also appears to be one-sided. The last part of the article finds that his argument with the end of utopian energies thesis rests on a narrow appreciation of the range of ways in which the potentials of cultural modernization have been described. There is, after all, a residual totalizing description of the role of the theorist in Habermas’s inability to concede the irreducible integrity of Romantic hopes for emancipated futures.