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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Utopia Public Lecture - End of Utopia Revisited

16th November 2010, 20:30, Kenworthy Hall, St Mary's College, Professor Russell Jacoby (UCLA)

This is the first Utopia Public Lecture in this series.

The 16th century gave us the term "utopia," the 20th the term "dystopia." This linguistic fact may illuminate large cultural and political shifts. We have become both tired and wary of utopias. Why?

The short answer is that with the help of prominent refugees from continental Europe such as Isaiah Berlin and Hannah Arendt we have attributed the crimes of fascism and Stalinism to utopianism. Yet this thesis over-simplifies history. Few utopians from Thomas More to Charles Fourier and Edward Bellamy either condoned or promoted violence. The dwindling force of utopian thought, however, is not simply due to a misinterpretation of recent history. We have lost confidence in a future that could be different. Perhaps the very sources of imagination-in childhood-that feed utopian quests have lost something in recent decades. Children nowadays grow up with endless television, computers, and video games. Spontaneous and unregulated play has become the exception rather than the rule. Do we pay a price for this: that our younger generations are no longer able to envision a qualitatively different future?

Professor Russell Jacoby is an eminent scholar on Twentieth Century European and American intellectual history and has published widely in the areas of history of intellectuals, social thought, psychology and utopianism. He is currently an IAS Fellow, hosted by St Mary's College and engaged with the Institute's annual theme on ‘Futures'. For further information please visit:

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