1st Edition

The Utopian Dilemma in the Western Political Imagination

By John Farrell Copyright 2023

    In this volume, John Farrell shows that political utopias—societies with laws and customs designed to short-circuit the foibles of human nature for the benefit of our collective existence—have a perennial opponent, the honor-based culture of aristocracy that dominated most of the world from ancient times into early modernity and whose status-based competitive psychology persists to the present day. While utopias aim at equality, the heroic imperative defends the need for personal and collective dignity. It asks the utopian, Do we really want to live in a world without struggle, without heroes, and without the stories they create? Because the utopian dilemma pits essential values against each other—equity versus freedom, dignity versus justice—few who confront it can simply take sides. Rather, the dilemma itself has been a generative stimulus for classic authors from Plato and Thomas More to George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. Farrell follows their struggles with the utopian dilemma and with each other, providing a deepened understanding of the moral and emotional dynamics of the western political imagination.

    Introduction, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, and Conclusion of this book are freely available as a downloadable Open Access PDF at http://www.taylorfrancis.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND) 4.0 license.

    Introduction: Imagining a World Without Heroes

    1/ The Hero and the City: Homer to Diogenes

    2/ Thomas More’s Imaginary Kingdom

    3/ Francis Bacon and the Heroism of the Age

    4/ Jonathan Swift and Utopian Madness

    5/ Voltaire’s Garden Retreat

    6/ Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Land of Chimaeras

    7/ Adam Smith and the Utopia of Commercial Society

    8/ Karl Marx and the Heroic Revolution

    9/ Fyodor Dostoevsky and the Ungrateful Biped

    10/ Edward Bellamy’s Invisible Army

    11/ William Morris and the Taming of Art

    12/ H. G. Wells and the Samurai

    13/ Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Mothers’ Utopia

    14/ Yevgeny Zamyatin and the Scythian Horde

    15/ Aldous Huxley and the Rebels Against Happiness

    16/ George Orwell’s Dystopian Socialism

    17/ B. F. Skinner’s World Without Heroes

    18/ Anthony Burgess and the Revenge of the Dandy



    John Farrell is the Waldo W. Neikirk Professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College, where he has been teaching since 1990.