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General Studies GS101: Freedom and Authority in a Perfect World: Utopian Thought from Ancient to Modern Times

Block 1 - Daniel Leon

Block 2 - Owen Cramer

Utopiae insulae figura

This two-block course meets the Critical Perspectives: The West in Time requirement.

Attempts to envision a perfect society by adjusting or replacing the existing order of things have been perennially popular, whether it’s powerful people seeking to reinforce their authority or to maximize their personal freedom, or the less powerful to escape traditional authority or maximize equality. Sometimes these plans have transcended the realm of imagination into worldly practice, as in Dion’s brief Platonic remaking of Syracuse in Sicily or the grandiose revolutionary regimes of modern times. Close examination of some of these projects, from the “island utopias” sketched in Homer and fully imagined in works of Plato, Thomas More and Francis Bacon, to the revolutions carried out by English, American, French, Russian, Chinese and Cuban visionaries—and the dystopic aftermath in more recent times, will allow students to chart a course into the mid-21st century. Readings will be drawn from ancient Greek and Roman authors (including Homer, Aristophanes, Plato and Cicero), early modern utopias (More and Bacon), the modern revolutionaries (Madison, Marx, Lenin) and the dystopians (Huxley, Hayek and Orwell).  Critical, evidence-based writing will be important, as will the research required to compile and organize evidence. Students will develop their understanding of the changing modes of thought and action from Mediterranean antiquity to Western post-modernity.

A two-block course with one instructor in each block; one grade will be given for the course as a whole.


  • Block 1 of this course fulfills 1 unit of Classics toward a 7-14 unit requirement.
  • No prerequisites beyond an inquiring mind.