Ever since Thomas More wrote Utopia 500 years ago – visionaries from William Morris to Ursula K Le Guin have dreamed of ideal worlds.
But beneath the fig-leaf of fiction the results are often bland – or bloody.
But utopianism is an academic parlour game precisely because it can be divisive entertaining and challenging.
And with the quincentenary of Thomas More’s Utopia falling this year the parlour game is again being dusted off.
On 25 January London’s Somerset House begins 12 months of exhibitions installations and commissions to investigate the renewed allure of utopianism.
One of the most eye-catching events is the opportunity to see the view from Anarres – the anarchic planet in one of the last century’s greatest novels – Ursula K Le Guin’s The Dispossessed.
In that interplanetary book the arch-anarchist Shevek travels to a new planet and struggles to understand the ‘propertarian’ anxieties: ‘Was it because no matter how much money they had they always had to worry about making more lest they died poor?’
It feels as if the year’s events are planned to make people ponder seriously what it means in our confused age to be countercultural.
What would utopian dreaming in 2016 look like?
Would our concerns be the same as those of More or very different?
Presumably the impossible dream of many is now the redemption of a scarred and suffocating planet – or maybe global peace or the eradication of religion.
That interface between politics and utopianism is where the game gets interesting.
Utopianism is like the manifesto we would write if no one were watching – if all the rules could be rewritten by just one benevolent dicatator.