From Utopia


As I move my office from my home in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire to the belle-etage of the University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, I find myself bereft of files, books and research – all presently packed away and en route to Austria: expected arrival in Vienna sometime in January. It’s been too long since last writing on the blog, but without my library and resources, there’s little I can shake out of my sleeve. But the article that follows will offer music and thoughts from the year that celebrated 500 years since the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia.


The last year has been momentous politically and has left me wondering if the democratic West is losing the argument. Just take India – the world’s largest democracy – and view it through the lens of “Communist” China, a one-party state. In China, living standards have been improving for nearly everyone over the decades, whereas in democratic India, the under-class of illiterate peasantry and urban destitution appears stubbornly impossible to shift. One of the unchallenged arguments made during the Brexit debate was, “freed from the dictatorship of Brussels, Britain could become more like Singapore”.  Yet the countries of the EU are democracies and Singapore is a dictatorship. Incredibly, this paradox was rarely thrown back at Brexiteers. Theresa May’s desire to free the UK from European Courts, and Charters of Human Rights, indeed crowing triumphantly about how important this is to the purpose of Brexit, ties uncomfortably with concepts such as “illiberal democracy” which have been bandied about by Visegrad heads of state, along with Erdogan in Turkey. They speak shamelessly of “the people” demanding strong leadership in preference to more democracy.


Democracy is nevertheless like telecommunications or the rail network: It’s admirable to have it “long before anyone else”, but if it’s never up-dated, it’s soon overtaken by more efficient and fairer systems. As I watch the hijacking of the great parties of state in America and Great Britain by fringe fanatics, I’m reminded that both the United States and Great Britain were on the winning side of two world wars and the Cold War which ostensibly ended in 1989. With the fall of totalitarianism on the continent post 1945, systems of parliamentary democracy were implemented in Germany, Italy and Austria that avoided a concentration of power and widened enfranchisement and representation in national parliaments. Anglo-American civil servants and constitutional lawyers were responsible for these modernised systems of democracies while sceptics dismissed as “unworkable” the inevitable coalitions of consensus-governments that would result. If such cumbersome systems moved forward slowly, they at least moved forward.


The three day week in the early 1970s in Great Britain due to power shortages and strikes

Britain, on the other hand, found itself moving forward, then back, then forward then back again. Within a few decades, it was the sick man of Europe with living standards hardly better than Europe’s Eastern Bloc, and with an embarrassingly sub-standard state educational system. Currency controls were put into place that meant only business travellers and the wealthiest could leave the country. West Germany, Austria and even Italy with their cumbersome coalition governments would overtake the UK by the late 1970s.


Britian’s elected dictatorship with its present lack of effective opposition and over-mighty government

The British parliamentary majority is effectively an elected dictatorship and the swing of the political pendulum between Socialists and Conservatives was particularly detrimental to meaningful progress and economic wellbeing. “One nation” remains even today the political catchphrase for both main parties, while ignoring the fact that the mere existence of such a concept belies the existence of a “single nation”. The UK remains hobbled by a class structure that bankrupts the middle-classes as they try and educate their children to a standard that allows them to become part of the country’s phantasmagorical elite. Such obstacles are rarely encountered by their continental neighbours where the entire concept of aristocracy has largely been ditched, accompanied by the view that the “elites” of the future should come from state education and not simply be sluiced out of Oxford and Cambridge via Eton and Harrow.


Here comes the middle class

As Thomas Mann wrote, “the greatest guarantee of stable democracy is a large middle-class”. For Mann, the belief that the middle-class should be “large” is something class-riddled Britain finds difficult to comprehend. Why aspire to be better when everyone is the same? Feeling superior is the last privilege the British feel they can still claim as their own. But the middle class as stabilising factor was proved when even the dictatorships that fell in the 1970s, such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, were catapulted by a new, well-educated and rapidly expanding middle-class upon entering the European Union and it is the wrecking of this newly created middle class that threatens their stability today.


It only shows that by losing wars, losers often win the peace with new systems and new orders in place. The converse is also true and is possibly now playing out before our eyes with both the US and UK opting for demagoguery in order to restore a presumed lost greatness. Empires on the brink of falling apart are always at their most dangerous.


“Ensemble Émigré with Soh-Yon Kim: violin; Lucy Colquhoun: piano; Norbert Meyn: Director and Tenor; Tim Nelson: Baritone and Michael Haas: Narrator at our rehearsal in Senate House

This preamble leads to an interesting event that was mounted at London University’s Senate House as the Finissage – or final event of their exhibition on “Utopia” in December by Norbert Meyn’s “Ensemble Émigré”. It was a presentation of music with linking texts, put together by Norbert Meyn and fellow musicians from London’s Royal College of Music with myself as narrator and author of the accompanying texts.


Thomas Morus or Thomas More:1478-1535

More’s Utopia nearly outsold the Bible when it was published 500 years ago. Yet “Utopia”, as described by Thomas Morus (or his English name of Thomas More) was never meant to be more than a mythical place unachievable by humans. Attempts have inevitably ended in its horror mirror image:dystopia, as Thomas Assheuer reminds us in his German article for Die Zeit.


The Island of Utopia

In More’s Utopia, Raphael Hythlodeus is a sailor who tells his tale to Morus/More. Utopia is divided into two books with Book One focusing on the hell of England. In some ways its political theme would appear to pre-date Gulliver’s Travels, though minus the satire. More has Raphael speak sharply about the injustices growing out of England’s wool-trade and the resultant land-grab, forcing peasants into cities and denuding the British countryside. More recognised earlier than most that capital and power existed as a duopoly controlled by the few that exploited the majority who had access to neither. In the Second Book, Raphael tells Morus/More about the island of Utopia where in contrast to the hell of England, everyone is equal and all property is jointly owned with a democratically elected government. All citizens have the right to an abode and exchange their houses amongst themselves every ten years. There is no money and people work only three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. This, however, is balanced by a law that enforces everyone to work. City dwellers are made to work the countryside every two years. There is only one form of clothing worn by everyone and meals are taken jointly twice a day in huge refectories. Schools and hospitals are excellent and religion is never imposed beyond the view of Christ as the original Utopian communist. Criminals are punished by having to carry out works for the benefit of the community and the death sentence is only applied to repeated adultery.  Utopian armies are fierce but just, yet claim neighbouring lands for themselves should they be deemed neglected. While Raphael becomes more and more animated in his description of Utopia, Morus/More starts to recognise a place where existence is the only purpose to life, and being useful to the collective is more important than the dignity of the individual. It goes almost without saying that euthanasia is the accepted means of dealing with the chronically ill and elderly. As Thomas Assheuer surmises in his article for Die Zeit, what More describes is an open-air prison where discussions or indeed, dreams about the future can’t occur as the future is already the present.


Otto Neurath’s presentation of workers in the USSR

What follows is an edited transcript of the event at Senate House, with the caveat that Norbert Meyn’s musical choices were not always possible to find as recordings, meaning I’ve had to make various substitutions. Where possible, I’ve included the texts with English translations – none of the translations are my own.


Senate House: London University’s expression of a powerful new world in architecture and completed in 1937

(Die Gedanken sind frei, Manfred Erwe & Kröetsch with an additional verse to the offered text below. From the album “Die Mundorgel”)

Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten,
sie fliegen vorbei wie nächtliche Schatten.
Kein Mensch kann sie wissen, kein Jäger erschießen
 es bleibet dabei:
Die Gedanken sind frei!

Ich denke was ich will und was mich beglücket,
doch alles in der Still’, und wie es sich schicket.
 Mein Wunsch und Begehren kann niemand verwehren,
es bleibet dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Und sperrt man mich ein im finsteren Kerker, 
das alles sind rein vergebliche Werke.
 Denn meine Gedanken zerreißen die Schranken
und Mauern entzwei: Die Gedanken sind frei!    

Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They fly by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them, at the end of the day:
Thoughts are free!

I think what I want, and what delights me,
still always reticent, and as it is suitable.
My wish and desire, no one can deny me
and so it will always be:
Thoughts are free!

And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon, all these are futile works,
because my thoughts
tear all gates and walls apart:
Thoughts are free!


Thoughts are free, and any attempts to imprison them are futile, even “if you throw me in the darkest dungeon!” Thus this simple German folk song was sung by “utopian” Communists who resisted Nazi Ideology in the 1930s, and paradoxically, fifty years later, by the peaceful opposition to the dystopian Communist regime in East Germany that resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall. Such is the power of music. It is of course the unfading hope for a better existence that lies at the heart of all Utopias, as Friedrich Schiller expresses in the Schubert setting of Die Hoffnung (Hope)

(Die Hoffnung D.637; Hermann Prey, baritone and Gerold Moore accompanying)

Es reden und träumen die Menschen viel
von bessern künftigen Tagen;
nach einem glücklichen, goldenen Ziel
sieht man sie rennen und jagen.
Die Welt wird alt und wird wieder jung,
doch der Mensch hofft immer Verbesserung.

Die Hoffnung führt ihn ins Leben ein,
sie umflattert den fröhlichen Knaben,
den Jüngling locket ihr Zauberschein,
sie wird mit dem Greis nicht begraben;
denn beschließt er im Grabe den müden Lauf,
noch am Grabe pflanzt er – die Hoffnung auf.

Es ist kein leerer, schmeichelnder Wahn,
erzeugt im Gehirne des Toren,
im Herzen kündet es laut sich an:
zu was Besserm sind wir geboren.
Und was die innere Stimme spricht,
das täuscht die hoffende Seele nicht.

Men speak and dream a lot of better days to come;
toward a successful, golden goal one can see them running and chasing.
The world grows old and then grows young again,

yet Man hopes always for improvement.

Hope introduces Man to life,  
and it flutters about the cheerful boy.  
The young man is enraptured by its magic shine;
it is not buried with the gray-haired old man, 
for although he ends his weary run in the grave,  

he still plants by his grave – Hope.   
It is no empty, flattering delusion  
generated in the mind of a fool.  
It proclaims itself loudly in the heart:
 “We were born for something better!”
 And what the inner voice speaks  
will not mislead the soul that hopes.
Translation copyright © by Emily Ezust

Whenever a new idea emerges as to how best to organise the perfect society, music steps in as the propaganda weapon of choice. Complex ideas are simplified once distilled into soundbites, embedded into melodies. As Hanns Eisler wrote when discussing his political compositions, “I want to write melodies that are so simple that they resound in people’s memoires after a single hearing”.


Harald Hauswald’s photo Berlin Alexanderplatz 1987

(The National Anthem of the German Democratic Republic: Auferstanden aus Ruinen, by Hanns Eisler and Johannes R. Becher, as performed by the Erich-Weinert-Ensemble)

Auferstanden aus Ruinen

Und der Zukunft zugewandt,

Lass uns dir zum Guten dienen,

Deutschland, einig Vaterland.

Alte Not gilt es zu zwingen,

Und wir zwingen sie vereint,

Denn es muss uns doch gelingen,

Daß die Sonne schön wie nie

Über Deutschland scheint.

Glück und Friede sei beschieden

Deutschland, unser’m Vaterland.

Alle Welt sehnt sich nach Frieden,

Reicht den Völkern eure Hand.

Wenn wir brüderlich uns einen,

Schlagen wir des Volkes Feind.

Lasst das Licht des Friedens scheinen,

Dass nie eine Mutter mehr

Ihren Sohn beweint.

Lasst uns pflügen, lasst uns bauen,

Lernt und schafft wie nie zuvor,

Und der eignen Kraft vertrauend,

Steigt ein frei Geschlecht empor.

Deutsche Jugend, bestes Streben

Uns’res Volks in dir vereint,
Wirst du Deutschlands neues Leben,

Und die Sonne schön wie nie

Über Deutschland scheint.

From the ruins risen newly,
To the future turned, we stand.
Let us serve your good weal truly,
Germany, our fatherland.
Triumph over bygone sorrow,
Can in unity be won.
For we shall attain a morrow,
When over our Germany,
There is shining sun.

May both peace and joy inspire,
Germany, our fatherland.
Peace is all the world’s desire,
To the peoples lend your hand.
In fraternity united,
We shall crush the people’s foe.
Let all paths by peace be lighted,
That no mother shall again
Mourn her son in woe.

Let us plough and build our nation,
Learn and work as never yet,
That a free new generation,
Faith in its own strength beget!
German youth, for whom the striving
Of our people is at one,
You are Germany’s reviving,
And over our Germany,
There is shining sun.

English translation carried out at Eisler’s request by Yvonne Kapp and held as part of the Senate House Library Collection


The Utilitarian Movement of the 19th century brought us the overriding observation, that the utopian ideal of a society was one that offered the “greatest happiness to the greatest number of people”. It was the idea of secular progress that took hold and was embraced by politicians of both left and right. But if the 20th Century was notable for its secular religions of Marxism, Fascism and Corporatism, it was no different from earlier ages when religious visionaries promised Heaven on Earth. Images of weapons turned to ploughshares and lambs sleeping with lions proclaimed a world that has seduced an intriguing combination of philosophers, religious fanatics and authoritarians. All such visionaries were yearning for a better, fairer world where bad things couldn’t happen, while ultimately creating worlds where bad things only happened to anyone who disagreed with them.

(Hubert Parry in Elgar’s arrangement of Jerusalem, text by William Blake; performed by David Hill: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Wayneflete Singers, Winchester Cathedral Choir)

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land


Perhaps the closest to Utopia that was ever achieved was the Enlightenment’s recognition of mankind’s potentials and frailties, and sensing that joined together both could work to organise a society that if not fair, was at least built on consensus. People were created equal, religion was free to follow or to ignore; the pursuit of happiness was individual and so on. Yet such thinking carried its own death-wish: how much intolerance could be tolerated and how could everyone be “equal” if only women could bear children, or some people were wise and others dim? The thinking of the Enlightenment had as its most fatal flaw its monotheistic provenance that declared such arrangements given and blessed by the Almighty itself. And the success and prosperity that grew from the equality of people would have shown that there were indeed material blessings being bestowed: societies grew wealthier, better educated and consensus grew.

(Mozart’s Masonic Cantata – text by Franz Heinrich Ziegenhagen (1753-1806) Mark Padmore tenor; Kristian Bezuidenhout piano)

(Recitative)  Die ihr des unermeßlichen Weltalls Schöpfer ehrt,  Jehova nennt ihn, oder Gott, nennt Fu ihn, oder Brahma,  ‘Hört! hört Worte aus der Posaune des Allherrschers!  Laut tönt durch Erden, Monde, Sonnen ihr ewger Schall,  Hört Menschen, hört, Menschen, sie auch ihr!  

(Andante)   Liebt mich in meinen Werken,  Liebt Ordnung, Ebenmaß und Einklang!  Liebt euch selbst und eure Brüder!  Körperkraft und Schönheit sei eure Zier, Verstandeshelle euer Adel!  Reicht euch der ewgen Freundschaft Bruderhand,Die nur ein Wahn, nie Wahrheit euch so lang entzog!  

(Allegro)   Zerbrechet dieses Wahnes Bande,  Zerreißet dieses Vorurteiles Schleier,  Enthüllt euch vom Gewand, Das Menschheit in Sektiererei verkleidet!  Zu Kolter schmiedet um das Eisen, Das Menschen-, das Bruderblut bisher vergoß!  Zersprenget Felsen mit dem schwarzen Staube,  Der mordend Blei ins Bruderherz oft schnellte!  

(Andante)   Wähnt nicht, daß wahres Unglück sei auf meiner Erde!  Belehrung ist es nur, die wohltut,  Wenn sie euch zu bessern Taten spornt,  Die Menschen, ihr in Unglück wandelt,  Wenn töricht blind ihr rückwärts in den Stachel schlagt,  Der vorwärts, vorwärts euch antreiben sollte.  Seid weise nur, seid kraftvoll und seid Brüder!  Dann ruht auf euch mein ganzes Wohlgefallen,  Dann netzen Freudenzähren nur die Wangen,  Dann werden eure Klagen Jubeltöne,  Dann schaffet ihr zu Edens Tälern Wüsten,  Dann lachet alles euch in der Natur,  

(Allegro)   Dann ist’s erreicht, des Lebens wahres Glück!

(Recitative) You that worship the Creator of the immeasurable universe,  That call him Jehovah, God, Fu or Brahma,  Hear the words of the Sovereign of all things.  Loudly hear them resound in all eternity  Throughout the Earth, the Moon and Sun!  Hear them, People! Hear them, you, as well!
(Andante)   Love me in my works,  
Love order, proportion, harmony!  Love yourselves and your brothers!  Strength and beauty shall be your ornament,  and clarity of mind your nobility.  Hold out to each other the brotherly hand of everlasting friendship;  It was delusion, not truth, that withheld it for so long.  

(Allegro)   Break the bonds of this delusion, Tear this veil of prejudice, Strip off the garment that clothes mankind in factions!  Forge ploughs from the iron that hitherto  shed the blood of men, of brothers!  Blow up rocks with the black dust that often would speed  murderous lead into the hearts of brothers!  

(Andante)   Do not imagine that there is true misfortune upon my Earth –  It is enlightenment alone, that heals when it spurs you on to better deeds –  People, you that roam the world in misery,  when, in blind folly, you back onto the thorn that should have urged you forward. Be wise, be strong and be brothers!  Then will my contentment rest on you, Then only tears of joy  will wet my cheeks,  Then your cries will be shouts of joy,  Then you will make vales of Eden out of deserts,  Then the whole of nature will be laughing in your eyes,  

(Allegro)   Then it has been achieved; the true felicity of life.


Liberté and egalité – were two incompatible elements of the Enlightenment – a circle that was impossible to square, and resulting in a society where wealth and talent were passed from generation to generation in mostly unfair directions: those who had inherited wealth, were often talentless while those who had inherited nothing were often gifted. The Enlightenment had made no allowances for the fact that apples can indeed fall very far from the tree. If talent was random, and popped up in the most unworthy families, it could only be tapped by placing equality above freedom. As de Tocqueville wrote: “People want equality in Freedom – yet if they cannot have it, they still want it in slavery”.


The potential of everyone, given equality, would result in a hundred flowers in bloom. It was a new society where money was a means not an end and perhaps with time, could be done away with altogether. Such revolutionary societies needed the sets and props of natural order, and in Communist East Germany, we encounter the paradox of a state composer, Hanns Eisler, being commissioned to compose “Folksongs”, one of the most beautiful of which was dubbed the “Children’s National Anthem”.

(performed by the Leipzig Radio orchestra and choir, conducted by Hans Sandig)

Anmut sparet nicht noch Mühe,

Leidenschaft nicht noch Verstand,

Dass ein gutes Deutschland blühe

Wie ein andres gutes Land.

Dass die Völker nicht erbleichen
Wie vor einer Räuberin,

Sondern ihre Hände reichen

Uns wie andern Völkern hin.

Und nicht über und nicht unter

Andern Völkern woll’n wir sein

Von der See bis zu den Alpen,

Von der Oder bis zum Rhein.

Und weil wir dies Land verbessern, 
Lieben und beschirmen wir’s.

Und das Liebste mag’s uns scheinen

So wie andern Völkern ihr’s.

Grace spare not and spare no labour,
Passion nor intelligence
That a decent German nation
Flourish as do other lands.

That the people give up flinching
At the crimes which we evoke,
And hold out their hands in friendship
As they do to other folk.

Neither over nor yet under
Other peoples will we be
From the Alps to the North Sea,
From the Oder to the Rhein.

And because we’ll make it better,
Let us guard and love our home,
Love it as our dearest country
As the others love their own.


But for Utopia to come about, people needed to understand its principals – its reasoning – its benefits.  Music could educate, could preach and could enlighten:


(Lob des Kommunismus – In Praise of Communism: Music by Hanns Eisler, text by Bertolt Brecht: Ernst Busch, Choir and orchestra of the Berlin Ensemble)

Er ist vernünftig, jeder versteht ihn.
Er ist leicht.
Du bist doch kein Ausbeuter, du kannst ihn begreifen. Er ist gut für dich,
erkundige dich nach ihm.
Die Dummköpfe nennen ihn dumm,
und die Schmutzigen nennen ihn schmutzig.
Er ist gegen den Schmutz und gegen die Dummheit.
Die Ausbeuter nennen ihn ein Verbrechen.
Aber wir wissen:
Er ist das Ende der Verbrechen.
Er ist keine Tollheit,
Sondern das Ende der Tollheit.
Er ist nicht das Chaos
Sondern die Ordnung.
Er ist das Einfache
Das schwer zu machen ist.

It’s sensible, anyone can understand it.
It’s easy.
You’re not an exploiter, so you can grasp it.
It’s a good thing for you,
find out more about it.
The stupid call it stupid
and the squalid call it squalid.
It’s against squalor and against
The exploiters call it a crime
but we know:
It is the end of crime
It is not madness,
but the end of madness.
It is not chaos
but it is order
It is the simplest thing
That is hard to achieve.


(Eisler and Brecht’s Lied von der belebenden Wirkung des Geldes, The Reviving Effects of Money Sung by Gisela May)

Niedrig gilt das Geld auf dieser Erden
Und doch ist sie, wenn es mangelt, kalt
Und sie kann sehr gastlich werden
Plötzlich durch des Gelds Gewalt.
Eben war noch alles voll Beschwerden
Jetzt ist alles golden überhaucht
Was gefroren hat, das sonnt sich
Jeder hat das, was er braucht!
Rosig färbt der Horizont sich
Blicket hinan: der Schornstein raucht!
Ja, da schaut sich alles gleich ganz anders an. Voller schlägt das Herz. Der Blick wird weiter. Reichlich ist das Mahl. Flott sind die Kleider. Und der Mann ist jetzt ein andrer Mann.
Ach, sie gehen alle in die Irre
Die da glauben, daß am Geld nichts liegt
Aus der Fruchtbarkeit wird Dürre
Wenn der gute Strom versiegt.
Jeder schreit nach was und nimmt es, wo er’s kriegt.
Wer nicht gerade Hunger hat, verträgt sich
Jetzt ist alles herz- und liebeleer.
Vater, Mutter, Brüder: alles schlägt sich!
Sehet: der Schornstein, er raucht nicht mehr!
Überall dicke Luft, die uns gar nicht gefällt.
Alles voller Haß und voller Neider.
Keiner will mehr Pferd sein, jeder Reiter.
Und die Welt ist eine kalte Welt.

So ist’s auch mit allem Guten und Großen
Es verkümmert rasch in dieser Welt.
Denn mit leerem Magen und mit bloßen
Füßen ist man nicht auf Größe eingestellt.
Man will nicht das Gute, sondern Geld
Und man ist von Kleinmut angehaucht.
Aber wenn der Gute etwas Geld hat
Hat er, was er doch zum Gutsein braucht.
Wer sich schon auf Untat eingestellt hat
Blicke hinan: der Schornstein raucht!
Ja, da glaubt man wieder an das menschliche Geschlecht.
Edel sei der Mensch, gut und so weiter.
Die Gesinnung wächst. Sie war geschwächt.
Fester wird das Herz. Der Blick wird breiter.
Man erkennt, was Pferd ist und was Reiter.
Und so wird das Recht erst wieder Recht.

The value of money is low on this earth.
And yet it is cold, if there is a lack of it.
And it can become very hospitable
Suddenly, through the power of money.
A minute ago everything was full of complaints, Now everything is tinged with gold. What has frozen, is now bathing in the sun. Everyone has what he needs.
The horizon is rose colored.
Gaze upwards: the chimney smokes!
Yes, now everything looks completely different. The heart beats stronger. The gaze goes onward. Generous meals. Stylish clothes. And the man is now another man!

Ah, they are all mistaken when they believe that money is not important.
Fertility becomes drought when the stream of money dries up.
Everyone is crying out for something and takes it wherever he finds it.
The person who is not hungry gets on with others, but now everything is heartless and loveless, Father, Mother, Brothers fight!
Look! The chimney no longer smokes!
The atmosphere turns bad everywhere and we don’t like it. Everything is full of hate and envy. Nobody wants to be a horse anymore, everyone a rider, and the world is a cold one.
So it is also with all good and great things,
They dry up quickly in this world, for who wants to think of greatness with an empty stomach and bare feet…
One wants money not goodness
And one is afflicted with a faint heart.
But when the good man has some money,
Then he has what he needs to be good.
If you have already decided on a crime,
Gaze upwards: The chimney smokes!
Yes, then one can believe in mankind again,
Man shall be noble, good and so on. The morale is growing. It had been weak. The heart grows stronger. The gaze goes wider.
One can recognize the horse and the rider. And the law becomes law again.


The City without Jews

The twentieth century lost many lives fighting for and fleeing from contrasting utopian ideals. If the Enlightenment was weakened by its provenance in monotheistic societies, 19th and 20th century ideas were equally undermined by ambitious misinterpretations of science being applied to nationalist ideals. “Zoology” (to quote Viktor Klemperer) made you a Slav, a German or a Jew. How telling that the fictional city based on Vienna in Hugo Betthauer’s Stadt ohne Juden – City without Jews (turned into a film in 1924) was called “Utopia”. People were no different from cattle, and everyone had a collective purpose that was more important than the dignity of individual life. Nationalities, languages and cultures were reduced to “race” with some deemed unequal. The lame, the diseased the mentally ill were burdens and could be euthanized with the equanimity of drowning kittens. People needed to have the goats separated from the sheep or risk weakened hybrids taking over. If the goats wouldn’t or couldn’t leave the sheep of their own accord, they would simply be slaughtered. Such inhumanity as envisioned by the 20th Century led not just to industrial scale murder, but to exile and persecution. Rather than creating societies where talent could bloom regardless of its social provenance, talent was driven out as foreign, strange and incompatible.

Budapest, Festnahme von Juden

The Deportation of Jews from Budapest

(War by Karl Rankl, performed by Christian Immler, Baritone and Erik Levi, piano)

As those deemed incompatible to the majority within their own homelands fled to safety, they found themselves placed in internment camps, where a new utopian ideal emerged. As “enemy aliens”, aliens who were enemies, such as refugee Jews or Nazis living in France or Great Britain upon the outbreak of war, found themselves forced to coexist, and live in an environment where finding what was common to all, overrode the differences of conflicting utopian visions.

Frankreich, Internierungslager Pithiviers

Internment camp in France 1941

German and Austrian internees, Jewish refugees and any other Germans living in Great Britain following the fall of France, were imprisoned as one on the Isle of Man in 1940, thus realising a kind of temporary utopia based on music and entertainment. With humour, they were able to make their existence bearable.

Photograph of internees behind the wire fence at Hutchinson Square in Hutchinson Internment Camp [c.1940-1] by Major H. O. Daniels

Internment Camp in England (Isle of Man)

(Hans Gál’s Lied des Stacheldrahts – the Song of the Barbed Wire as sung by “Ensemble Émigré as originally performed in German then English)

Die Möwen sehen den Stacheldraht,
den man in Douglas errichtet hat
und weil kein Draht hier früher war
ist ihnen der Sinn des Drahtes nicht klar.

Sie debattieren mit viel Geschrei,
was wohl der Sinn des Drahtes sei
und kommen zu keinem Resultat.
Warum lebt der Mensch hinter Stacheldraht?

The seagulls are in a curious mood
Maybe they are getting too much food.
One thing they all very much deplore
Is the ugly barbed wire that grows up the shore.

So in the seagulls parliament
There was a great debate on that end
And many of them did then enquire:
Why are human beings behind a wire?

Nevertheless, other utopian ideals persisted where freedom was deemed more important than equality. It was all too clear that people weren’t equal – people were different, so they needed the freedom in order to do whatever they wanted or were good at. Boundaries were difficult to draw: when did my freedom intrude onto your freedom? What was freedom anyway, but a dream of acquisition: wealth, power and above all, the material delights such as the planet could offer. As Freud wrote in The Future as an Illusion “Culture is something that is imposed on a reluctant majority by a minority that managed to gain possession of the instruments of power and coercion.”

mahagonny_z_12(The Alabama Song – original cast of Lotte Lenya and Carola Neher)

Oh, show us the way to the next whiskey bar!
Oh don’t ask why,
Oh don’t ask why!
For we must find the next whiskey bar
For if we don’t find the next whiskey bar,
I tell you we must die!

Oh moon of Alabama
We now must say goodbye
We’ve lost our good old mamma
And must have whiskey
Oh, you know why.

Oh show us the way to the next pretty boy!
Oh don’t ask why
Oh, don’t ask why!
For we must find the next pretty boy
For if we don’t find the next pretty boy
I tell you we must die!

Oh moon of Alabama
We now must say goodbye
We’ve lost our good old mama
And must have boys
Oh, you know why.

“Homo economicus” New Utopian ideals were emerging that had little to do with religion and nothing to do with science. It was the belief that greed was good for everyone and the weak would by nature become the playthings of the strong. There was “no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest” There was nothing money couldn’t buy – and everyone was a prostitute in some form or another. Free-marketers are offering their own utopian visions in which free- and open-markets themselves make democracy obsolete. Who needs democracy if the fundamental human relationship is based on the principal of trade and barter? 



At Senate House, Norbert Meyn sang Gary Buchlund’s an Ironic Poem about Prostitution, set to words by George Orwell, whose 1984 provided the template for Utopia turned to dystopia. His text is fun yet disturbing at the same time:

When I was young and had no sense
In far-off Mandalay
I lost my heart to a Burmese girl
As lovely as the day.

Her skin was gold, her hair was jet,
Her teeth were ivory;
I said, “for twenty silver pieces,
Maiden, sleep with me”.

She looked at me, so pure, so sad,
The loveliest thing alive,
And in her lisping, virgin voice,
Stood out for twenty-five.


I couldn’t find a recording of Gary Bachlund’s setting, so replace it here with a similar song from the 1920s and swapped the sexes in order to demonstrate that trade and barter remain “gender neutral”.

(Handsome Gigolo by Austin Egen 1897-1941)

But must all Utopian visions end in dystopia? If Religion and Science were the context of previous utopian dreams, won’t technology offer a truly utopian future where people no longer have to work, where existence is itself its own raison d’être? We don’t know. Human nature suggests otherwise. As the Austrian writer, Robert Musil wrote in Man without Qualities: “It’s not that we have too much intellect and too little soul, but that we have too little intellect in matters of the soul.” We understand technology about as well at this stage, as the early 20th century understood eugenics – leading inevitably to the madness of the III Reich. But keeping the ideals in the present and the vision in the future is perhaps the most sensible approach of all.


(Henri Duparc’s L’invitation Au Voyage, sung by Paul Groves with Roger Vignoles)

Mon enfant, ma sœur,
Songe à la douceur
D’aller là-bas vivre ensemble,
Aimer à loisir,
Aimer et mourir
Au pays qui te ressemble.
Les soleils mouillés
De ces ciels brouillés
Pour mon esprit ont les charmes
Si mystérieux
De tes traîtres yeux,
Brillant à travers leurs larmes.    

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,   
Luxe, calme et volupté.  

Des meubles luisants,
Polis par les ans,
Décoreraient notre chambre,
Les plus rares fleurs
Mêlant leurs odeurs
Aux vagues senteurs de l’ambre
Les riches plafonds,
Les miroirs profonds,
La splendeur orientale
Tout y parlerait À l’âme en secret
Sa douce langue natale.   

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,   
Luxe, calme et volupté.  
Vois sur ces canaux  
Dormir ces vaisseaux
Dont l’humeur est vagabonde;
C’est pour assouvir
Ton moindre désir
Qu’ils viennent du bout du monde.
Les soleils couchants
Revêtent les champs,
Les canaux, la ville entière,
D’hyacinthe et d’or;
Le monde s’endort
Dans une chaude lumière!   

Over beyond the sea!
To love and to die
In the land that’s akin to thee!
Where the suns which rise
In the watery skies
Weave soft spells over my sight,
As thy false eyes do
When they flicker through
Their tears with a dim, strange light.

There all is beauty and symmetry,
Pleasure and calm and luxury.

Years that have gone
Have polished and shone
The things that would fill our room;
The flowers most rare
Which scent the air
In the richly-ceiling’d gloom,
And the mirrors profound,
And the walls around
With Orient splendour hung,
To the soul would speak
Of things she doth seek.
In her gentle native tongue.
There all is beauty and symmetry,
Pleasure and calm and luxury.
The canals are deep
Where the strange ships sleep
Far from the land of their birth;
To quench the fire
Of thy least desire
They have come from the ends of the earth.
The sunsets drown
Peaceful town
And meadow, and stagnant stream
In bistre and gold,
And the world enfold
In a warm and luminous dream.
There all is beauty and symmetry,
Pleasure and calm and luxury.
Jack Collings Squire, Poems and Baudelaire Flowers (London: The New Age Press, Ltd, 1909)


Syrian Refugees

The ultimate utopian message was Schiller’s vision of all people being brothers and joining together in love. As an image, it defies reality – but then all utopian ideas defy reality. It demands the equality of all, along with mutual love and respect. But these can never be mandated – man is not a programmable machine whose hate-software can be changed to love. Envy, desire, need and love are all present in every individual in often incompatible relationships to others and inevitably result in conflict. How we deal with these conflicts will be the measure of our humanity and will decide our future. But at least, as we say, it’s perhaps “the thought that counts”: And thoughts, as pointed out at the start of this presentation, are always free.

(Schubert’s setting of Schiller’s An die Freude, performed by pianist Andreas Staier, the Arnold Schönberg Chor, conductor Erwin Ortner and tenor, Christoph Prégardien)

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elisium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken
Himmlische, dein Heiligthum.
Deine Zauber binden wieder,
was die Mode streng getheilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Seid umschlungen Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder – überm Sternenzelt
muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.

Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
eines Freundes Freund zu seyn;
wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja – wer auch nur  e i n e  Seele
 s e i n  nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
weinend sich aus diesem Bund!

Was den großen Ring bewohnet
huldige der Simpathie!
Zu den Sternen leitet sie,
Wo der  U n b e k a n n t e  tronet.

Joy, beautiful sparkle of god,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, fire-drunk,
Heavenly one, your shrine.
Your magics bind again
What custom has strictly parted.
All men become brothers
Where your tender wing lingers.

Be embraced, millions!
This kiss to the entire world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
Must a loving Father reside.

Who has succeeded in the great attempt, To be a friend’s friend;
Whoever has won a lovely woman
Add in his jubilation!
Yes, who calls even one soul
His own on the earth’s sphere!
And whoever never could achieve this, Let him steal away crying from this gathering!

Those who occupy the great circle,
Pay homage to sympathy!
It leads to the stars
Where the unknown one reigns.