‘Utopia at 500: A Final Reckoning?’, keynote lecture
Seng Tee Lee Seminar Room, Senate House Library
18:00 – 19:30
Gregory Claeys, Professor of the History of Political Thought at Royal Holloway will join us to deliver our keynote lecture for the Utopia Dystopia season.
Published in 1516, Thomas More's Utopia has come to signify attempts to reform society in a dramatic, radical and substantial manner. Thanks to the influence of Karl Marx in the 20th century, it has become identified as the classic precursor of the modern argument for communism as the solution to mankind's most essential woes. This talk will sketch the main themes and context of Utopia, suggesting that to modern readers More presents a highly ambiguous, even "dystopian" portrait of an "ideal society".
It then traces the contours of the development of the utopian idea across the centuries to the present, focussing on the relationship between utopianism and millenarianism in particular, and the development of euchronia and the modern idea of progress in the 18th century. It will then ask what relevance, if any, More's central themes have to the modern reader, and suggest that in its warnings about the effects of machinery upon humanity and in its varied visions of global environmental catastrophe the dystopian tradition offers later modern readers a stark warning about our possible future.
The event will be followed by a drinks reception.