The Concepts of Utopia and Dystopia


The concepts of utopia and dystopia characterize political and economic system of a state and its ideology. Utopia means “an ideal state where all is ordered for the best for humanity as a whole and where the evils of society, such as poverty and misery, have been eliminated” (The Columbia Encyclopedia 48978). In contrast to utopia, dystopia means a society where imperfect traits such as evil, tyranny or poverty become perfect or ideal.

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A dystopian state or society situates itself in direct opposition to utopian thought, warning against the potential negative consequences of arrant utopianism (Hodgson 195). At the same time, dystopia society generally also constitutes a critique of existing social conditions or political systems.

They criticize the utopian premises upon which those conditions and systems are based or through the imaginative extension of those conditions and systems into different contexts that more clearly reveal their contradictions (Hodgson 195). “Political creed may be simultaneously the object of utopian hopes and dystopian fears. That one person’s utopia can act as another’s dystopia is a fundamental paradox of utopian thought, and it is evident in those writings of Morris and Orwell where socialism plays two mutually exclusive roles” (Vaninskaya 83).

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The concept and functions of utopian states were vividly portrayed by Thomas More (the work Utopia) and Plato (Republic), E. Bellamy Looking Backward and W. Moriss News from Nowhere. Also, socialist communities are sometimes considered as utopia aimed to increase common good and freedom of choice (Vaninskaya 83). Utopian socialism is typical for the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. For Marx capitalism, far from empowering humanity through the technological progress that lay at its heart, sacrificed the development of real human potential at the expense of an economic system that devoured everything in its path in the interest of its own ruthless expansion (Shuklian 781).

For Marx even capitalism was a step forward, just as all of history involved a series of forward steps toward the coming communist utopia. Marx is thus in some ways a typical nineteenth-century thinker, and his faith in the ultimate triumph of the proletariat bears many of the marks of the faith in progress (especially technological progress) that was so central to the nineteenth-century mind-set. At the same time, Marx consistently insists on the necessary of direct action by the working classes to bring about the historical progression to communism (Shuklian 781).

And he is quite clear in his belief that this historical change will require violent revolution followed by a temporary dictatorship of the proletariat, a tough-mind Meanwhile, Marx’s insightful focus on the evils of capitalism has much in common with dystopian thought, and much of his work involves an attempt to reveal the illusory nature of the rather utopian claims of capitalism itself. Marxist analyses of the creation and interpellation of subjects by bourgeois ideology demonstrate the illusory of the sense of personal mastery experienced by the bourgeois subject, a sense of mastery central to Enlightenment utopianism (Shuklian 781).


I suppose that dystopia makes the most sense because it contains an element of social or political criticism. Dramatization of negative traits provides fresh perspectives on problematic social and political practices that might otherwise be taken for granted or considered natural and inevitable. Such analyses also indicate that this sense of mastery already contained the seeds of its own destruction.

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Works Cited Page

Hodgson, G. M. The Political Economy of Utopia. Review of Social Economy 53 (1995), 195.

Shuklian, S. Marx, Dewey and the Instrumentalist Approach to Political Economy. Journal of Economic Issues 29 (1995), 781.

Utopia. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2004, p. 48978.

Vaninskaya, A. Janus-Faced Fictions: Socialism as Utopia and Dystopia in William Morris and George Orwell. Utopian Studies 14 (2003), 83.

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