The interest in utopianism grew rapidly throughout the twentieth century and accelerated after the establishment of the Utopian Studies Society in 1989. Recognition of the importance of utopianism to the insurgent spirit of independence movements in the European colonies has only recently begun to develop. Throughout the British Empire the form of utopian thinking that emerged in colonial and postcolonial writing in Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean was driven by the prospect of independence. This utopian spirit continued after such national liberation was achieved. But of the various forms of invasion that characterised British imperialism the one that proceeded in the Antipodes was a distinct example of the belief that a eutopia could be established on the far side of the world. The myth of Australia as a land of promise and the subsequent flood of settlers to the colony gave Antipodal colonialism a distinctive character.
This was a paradoxical consequence of the utopian spirit that drove imperialism itself. In his magisterial The Principle of Hope, Ernst Bloch observes that all ideology has a utopian element. In imperial thinking, as in all ideology, the belief in a ‘better’ world, however fanciful, can only be maintained by being at some level authentic. Clearly all empires display their utopian element when they manage to convince themselves that their overthrow of nations, their control of international policy and their securing of markets are conducted for the benefit of humanity. Imperialism is a classic demonstration of the realisation of a utopian dream, the legislation of which ensures its degeneration into dystopian reality. The paradox of utopia then is not limited to the contradictions of the clash between regulation and freedom that first emerges in Thomas More's Utopia; it also stands as a feature of what is in Bloch's mind a fundamental contradiction of the relationship between ideology and utopia. Thus the impetus to expand throughout the world, an impetus that had a formative impact on Australia, is characterised by the apparently contradictory impulses of exploitation and a civilising mission.
Within a century after the publication of More's Utopia the utopian genre had taken permanent root. Utopia emerged at a transitional period in European history, a period in which Utopia was coexistent with Machiavelli's The Prince, written in 1513, and Luther's ‘Ninety-Five Theses’, proclaimed in 1517.