Dreams of Order
|19 September, 2022
|Filled under Uncategorized
Thursday 26 January 2023
6.30 – 8.15 pm.
Tickets £7.50/ £10
Watch Dreams of Order on You Tube
While the impulse to imagine new lands of plenty or yearn for a vanished golden age is as old as human civilisation, speculation on the ideal state goes back at least to Plato’s account of a perfectly ordered Republic, ruled by philosopher-kings.
Visions of lost arcadia and the well-ordered commonwealths of Plato and More remain powerful ideas. However, many modern utopias have drawn inspiration from the futurist utopia of Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, where perfection lay in an endless expansion of knowledge and power over nature to enlarge ‘the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible’.
While mainly silent on the question of political organisation, Bacon’s vision of a world, perpetually growing in wisdom and knowledge chimes with the dreams of modern liberal and neo-liberal utopians. In particular, the dream that technological advancement within infintely expanding markets might form the basis of future social harmony.
While achieving a harmony of interests between different classes, peoples and nations seems like a quinessentially liberal ideal, Victorian liberals often took a rather more sceptical view, proclaiming, as W.E. Gladstone did, that they would not be diverted from the task of ‘effecting great good for the people of England’ by speculating on ‘what might possibly be attained in Utopia’.
However, the period from the last quarter of the nineteenth century to 1914, saw major technological advances that would call forth new forms of production, management, discipline and regulation alongside a greater awareness of the threat of labour unrest. More far-sighted politicians and individual industrialists were beginning to see the need to secure the welfare and general happiness of the industrial workforce. Given their unparalled expansion of production and prosperity, nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain and America provided particularly fertile ground for modern utopian dreams of order.
One such enlightened industrialist, George Pullman, inaugurated an ideal company town and factory in Chicago, designed to engineer a harmony of interests between the company and its workers and showcase the potential beauty and order of life under industrialism capitalism. Pullman’s experiment in benevolent capitalism came to a dystopian end in the ruthless exploitation and violent suppression of striking workers that followed the1893 depression.
Far from dampening dreams of utopia, the end of America’s gilded age and the later horrors of the First World War set the scene for new visions of liberal order, in which governments and even a future world state would be established and led by enlightened committees of wise and tolerant rulers, rather like the ‘voluntary nobility’ imagined by H.G. Wells in his novel, A Modern Utopia.
Writing in 1939, E.H. Carr laid the blame for the ‘abrupt descent from the visionary hopes of the first post-war decade to the grim despair of the second’ on the utopian illusions of an international order, whose thinking was clouded by nostalgia for recovering a lost golden age or blind faith in future prosperity that would usher in an era of international cooperation and world peace.
In the post-Cold War period has history repeated itself? With a blind belief in an infinitely expanding market as the foundation of a world order based on ideals of economic progress and social justice, have new generations of liberal utopians – at home and in international politics – once more been sleepwalking into a dystopian future?
Join Philip Cunliffe, Mike Wilkinson and Cheryl Hudson to explore some of the histories of modern utopias and dreams of order and their relevance to our present and future.
Cheryl Hudson is a lecturer in US Political History at the University of Liverpool, and is former director of the academic programme at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford. Her research focuses on the histories of citizenship and political culture in the US and on the philosophy of history.
She has published in academic and popular journals, is co-editor of Ronald Reagan and the 1980s (Palgrave MacMillan, 2008) and Why Academic Freedom Matters (Civitas, 2016). Her forthcoming book is titled Citizenship in Chicago: Race, Culture and the Remaking of America Identity.
Philip Cunliffe is Associate Professor in International Relations at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction and author, The New Twenty Years’ Crisis 1999-2019: A critique of international relations (2020). @thephilippics.
Author of Cosmopolitan Dystopia: international intervention and the failure of the West (2019) and Lenin Lives! Reimagining the Russian Revolution (2017), Philip co-hosts the popular global politics podcast Aufhebunga Bunga, is co-author of The End of the End of History: Politics in the 21st Century and tweets @thephilippics.
Mike Wilkinson is Professor of Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He teaches and researches in the areas of European Integration, Constitutional Theory and Legal Philosophy. He is the author of Authoritarian Liberalism and the Transformation of Modern Europe (OUP 2021).
Pauline Hadaway is co-founder of The Liverpool Salon and works as a researcher and writer, most recently, ‘Escaping the Panopticon’, a chapter in Photography Reframed: visions in photographic culture, published by I.B. Tauris (2018) and ‘Callaghan in Northern Ireland’ in James Callaghan: an underrated Prime Minister (eds. Kevin Hickson and Jaspar Miles), co-authored with Kevin Bean (2020).
Want to continue the conversation over a post-event dinner? The Athenaeum’s Dining Room is taking pre-bookings. To find out more and make a booking, please contact [email protected] or phone 0151 709 7770
The Liverpool Salon has been hosting public discussions around philosophical, political and cultural topics on Merseyside for over seven years. Join us at Liverpool’s historic Athenaeum club for Dreams of Order, the second in a new series of public conversations that take utopia and dystopia as themes for exploring the possibilities of building other, and better, societies, while reflecting on the shortcomings of our own.