We dwell in perplexing times: student protesters in Thailand were detained after displaying Katniss’s salute from The Hunger Games; sales of George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984, skyrocketed in this age of “alternative facts”; and recent revelations from Edward Snowden about global surveillance capabilities seem taken from Dave Eggers’s dystopian novel, The Circle. How can we understand these leaps from literary fiction to political reality and vice versa?

Aiming to comprehend our current circumstances and the policies that lead us here this course examines how utopian thinking permeates policymaking. Dealing with societal problems, 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 thinking). Yet, in the pursuit of utopia, humanity might arrive at dead ends such as the Nazi concentration camp Theresiendstadt.

In this course, we will discuss the reasons why human rights are (and should be) the guiding discourse of policymaking suitable for a liberal, democratic society.

Students 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 democratic 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.