Miguel Gonzalez-Marcos, School of Public Policy



Utopian thinking permeates policymaking. Wrapped in the distinction between condition and problem lies an idea of a better place – particularly when developing long-term policy analysis marked “by deep uncertainty” about events, intuitions, values and goals (See James Deward, Long-term Policy Analysis, https://goo.gl/1yrwhR). Usually, a condition should be left untouched; while a problem may call for action. Having decided that we are dealing with a problem, our search for solutions may range from modifying men and women themselves (e.g. genetic engineering); varying social institutions (e.g. marriage); altering the environment (e.g. geo-engineering); or adjusting our perceptions (e.g. system’s thinking). Yet, in the pursuit of this better place, many times referred to as a city since Plato’s Republic, humanity has arrived at dead ends: either called the City of Ember, the Capitol of Panem or Theresiendstadt.

This course will show how human rights – linked to a pragmatic method and a modest ‘piecemeal social engineering’ – is necessary to avoid dystopian outcomes while pursuing societal improvements. Briefly, it will demonstrate why human rights are (and should be) the guiding discourse of policymaking suitable for a liberal, democratic society.

Participants will learn about

  • the role of utopian thinking in public policymaking;
  • the virtues of pragmatic approaches to public policymaking; and
  • the vital guiding role of human rights discourse for a liberal utopia

An understanding of how utopian thinking, pragmatic methods and human rights discourse inform public policymaking in a liberal democracy will help participants to reflect, design and put forward proposals anchored in both sound politics and resilient policy. If politics has been called the art of the possible, at its best, genuine policymaking is exercised at the border of the possible and the impossible.