Thomas More's Utopia (1516) sets out, for the first time, the paradox of the modern (new) world: the possibility of abundance (freedom) in a society of scarcity (non-freedom), and the dangers that are inherent in this paradoxical situation for the development of the emergent capitalist society.
More suggests the universality of education as a way of resolving this paradox. For the humanist More, the highest pleasures are those of the mind, and true happiness depends on their realization. On More’s fantasy island, Utopia is a universal school for all its citizens, where all civic life is education. Citizens attend public lectures in the morning, participate in lively discussions during meal-times, and, in the evening, receive formal supervision from scholars.
In 1953, with the publication of The University of Utopia, the educational philosopher Robert Hutchins extended More's allegory to a liberal humanist reappraisal of higher education. Anticipating the vocationalist critique of contemporary higher education, Hutchins wrote, "The object of the educational system, taken as a whole, is not to produce hands for industry or to teach the young how to make a living. It is to produce responsible citizens." Hutchins's views have been repeated and endorsed in the increasing volume of critical literature on the commercialisation of higher education.
However this critical literature has struggled to provide any convincing alternatives to ‘academic capitalism’. This absence of any radical alternative, occurs not because of a lack of imagination, but by virtue of the nature of liberal-humanism itself. For Žižek liberal humanism "precludes any serious questioning of the way this liberal-democratic order is complicit in the phenomena it officially condemns, and, of course, any serious attempt to imagine a different socio-political order." What this amounts to, for Žižek, is "a prohibition on thinking... the moment we seriously question the existing liberal consensus, we are accused of abandoning scientific objectivity for outdated ideological positions."
The aim of this website is to recover the freshness of More's critique, while going beyond Hutchins's liberal fundamentalism, in order to imagine some real, radical futures for Higher Education. With you, we hope to address the problem of inventing a form of radicality that confronts the same paradox that emerged in Tudor England, and continues to undermine the progressive development of the post-capitalist world.