Utopianism in the UK

Leaving Home: England, Europe, and Utopia

  • Susan Bruce (University of Keele)


In the lead-up to the Brexit referendum politicians and journalists invoked the concept of utopia to disparage positions diametrically opposed. On the one hand, the adjective ‘utopian’ was deployed to describe appeals to the possibility of a rediscovered national self-determination and ‘control’. On the other, it was utilized to characterise the conception of a European federation that might subsume or trump the autonomy of separate nation states. I argue here that the deployment of the adjective on both sides of the debate is not a mere accident of language. Rather, it betrays a deeper correspondence between the idea of Europe and the conception of utopia – not just any utopia, but, specifically, that of Thomas More. In More’s text we can read a prolepsis of the profound tensions that underlie the U.K.’s relation to Europe today: Utopia anticipates both a retreat into an illusory, isolationist conviction of the possibility of national integrity, and, at the same time, the dream of a Europe not (yet) achieved, whose most ambitious and thus far unrealised objectives – peace, collaboration, respect for human dignity and succour for the dispossessed – flicker into being in the utopian imaginary of a text written over half a millennia before our own fragile and highly contested historical moment.

Keywords: Thomas More, Utopia, Brexit, England, European Union, Europe, Protectionism, Insularity, Cosmopolitanism

How to Cite:

Bruce, S., (2019) “Leaving Home: England, Europe, and Utopia”, Studies in Arts and Humanities 5(1), 129-144. doi: https://doi.org/10.18193/sah.v5i1.156

Download PDF
View PDF

Published on
30 Apr 2019
Peer Reviewed