Tag Archives: Distopia

“A Dialectic of Utopia/Dystopia in the Public Imagination of the 21st Century” April 20, 2017

From global-e UC Santa Barbara:

An avenue for characterizing one aspect of the public imagination of today’s world—apparently configured by a rising populism across both the left and particularly the right—is with reference to a recent upsurge of interest in utopian/dystopian thinking. Since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984 have resumed prominence in the concerned public imagination and are again top of the bestseller lists. Both works discuss how repressive autocratic/totalitarian elements place subject populations under regimes of total surveillance and propagate “Orwellian” versions of the truth,1 while citizens are palliated by the happy drugs of a somatic culture.2 These dystopian perspectives are contrasted in the conclusion to this piece with my political hypothesis of the “post-modern Prince” with its “feasible utopias” reflected in the imaginaries and collective action of diverse progressive forces.

Utopias have tended to emerge in response to wars, crises, and significant periods of dislocation: in the context of the Peloponnesian Wars, Plato’s The Republic (ca. 380 BC) was premised on creating a good society led by wise elite Guardians. Utopian thought has typically been concerned with concepts of justice, order, the good society, and radical change, often based on common ownership of land/property. Indeed, utopias—and their dialectical other, dystopias—are “ways to interpret the present with an eye to an (imaginary yet positive) future.” A dystopia may be taken as a utopia “that malfunctions” or “only functions for a particular segment of society.” Dystopias “resemble actual societies historically encountered—planned but not planned well enough to be just.”3

These insights seem to capture very well aspects of current imaginaries in US, European, and in some respects world politics.

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