It was Oscar Wilde who famously wrote that “a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of utopias.”
At a time when we would seem to be going backwards, and when the law of the wolf pack would seem to be in the ascendant, we need to think about utopia more than ever.
Wilde’s quote comes from his brilliant essay “The Soul of Man under Socialism”, a political polemic published in 1891 and influenced by the great Russian anarchist, Prince Kropotkin. Orwell was a fan of this essay which, he wrote in 1948, has “worn remarkably well”. Wilde’s socialist vision, said Orwell, is “Utopian and anarchistic”. It was very much not authoritarian. Wilde wrote: “I hardly think that any Socialist, nowadays, would seriously propose that an inspector should call every morning at each house to see that each citizen rose up and did manual labour for eight hours.” Upon which Orwell wryly comments: “Unfortunately [this] is just the kind of thing that countless modern Socialists would propose.” How true: I remember a Daily Mail headline during Gordon Brown’s Prime Ministership which read: “Puritan Brown wages war on the workshy.” Wilde’s Utopia was a fun place; it was not a Leninist work camp.
I mention all this because this week we filmed March’s online course, “How to Build Your Own Utopia with David Bramwell”. Many of you will have seen David, author of The No.9 Bus to Utopia, speak on this subject at festivals and Idler events, or read his work in the mag. Most recently he had a hit with The Odditorium, a book on eccentrics which he co-edited with Jo Keeling of Ernest journal.
David is a genial, engaging and very funny presenter, and the course he has filmed is not only fantastically entertaining, it is also personally useful: David gives homework and invites readers to imagine the key features of their own utopia. My hope is that the course itself will become a sort of collaborative project of Idler readers, where we all help each to make changes big and small to improve our own lives, and the lives of others.
David’s course is available now.