Why do utopian ideas sometimes lead to horrific outcomes? In the context of emerging European colonialism in the 1500s, I look at utopianism as a set of ideas enabling inequality and oppression. I argue that utopias are not only part of history, but they can make history.
When Columbus set to sail, he wished to find an Earthly Paradise talked about in the bible. Not finding it, utopianism transformed into an idea that the paradise can be made. Stories circulated of un-habited, untouched lands, which pioneers can use to build an abundant society. In law this was supported by the concept of terra nullius, nobody’s land. This narrative ignored generations of indigenous peoples and cultures living there.
I argue that utopian ideas can repress reality and the consequences of one’s actions. I name this phenomenon utopian repression. By repression I mean both the psychological repression of uncomfortable thoughts and political repression of political adversaries.