Utopia has a quality of universality, as revealed by the fact that it has fascinated readers of five centuries, has influenced countless writers, and has invited imitation by scores of "Utopianists." Still, however, an examination of the period of which it was the product is necessary in order to view the work in depth. Remembering that Utopia was published in 1516, we need to recall what some of the major events associated with that era were, who More's great contemporaries were, and what were the principal ideas and drives that framed the cultural patterns of that brilliant era, the Renaissance.
The publication of Utopia followed Columbus's first voyage to America by only 24 years. Utopia preceded by just one year Luther's publication of the Ninety-five Theses that fomented the Protestant Reformation. Michelangelo had completed his four years' labor on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in 1512. Henry VIII had recently come to the throne of England (1509), was still married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and was being guided in his government by Cardinal Wolsey as his Lord Chancellor. Some of the principal literary figures of More's generation were Erasmus, Ariosto, Machiavelli, and Castiglione, along with More himself. One of the great periods in Western art was in full swing with Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian heading a long list. The chief explorers in the first decades after Columbus were Vasco da Gama, John Cabot, Amerigo Vespucci, and Balboa.
The Renaissance age has been styled "this brave new world" by many historians, viewing it as a radically new and brilliant development in Western civilization. That view, however, is not universal, some scholars quarreling with the claim that it was new, representing a great change from the late Middle Ages, and other scholars doubting its brilliance. Debate seems perpetual over the nature and the importance of the Renaissance; nevertheless, it can scarcely be denied that the outlook and the life style of Western people were greatly affected by certain achievements of the period; namely, the invention of printing, the development of gunpowder, and the improvement of navigational instruments and ship designs. Somewhat later than those developments, but still important contributions of the Renaissance, were the Copernican revolution in astronomy and the development of the telescope by Galileo. All of these factors not only produced substantial changes in people's lives, but they also generated a charged atmosphere of excitement and curiosity throughout Europe.
The "classical revival" was at the center of the intellectual and artistic agitation of the age. It involved a realization — or rediscovery — that a very great civilization had flourished in ancient Greece and Rome and a conviction that conscientious study and imitation of that civilization offered the key to new greatness. The Renaissance artists studied ancient works of architecture and sculpture, not only for their form and technique but also for their spirit. Renaissance scholars came to appreciate the literature of the ancients as a storehouse of wisdom and eloquence, and through their study they acquired attitudes and developed tastes of enormous value: to challenge dogma, to recognize the authority of nature, and to regard living a full life in "this world" as an opportunity and an obligation. They came to believe in their right to accept and enjoy physical beauty and the whole sensory world. Finally they acquired a sense of the worth of the individual and of the dignity of man. Growing gradually out of these concepts came the philosophy of "humanism" and the magnificent achievements in the fine arts.
The religious history of the period is a dramatic one. Christianity, which for more than a thousand years had been represented throughout all of Western Europe by one church, the Roman Catholic Church, experienced a tremendous upheaval during the 16th century. The first overt action of revolt came in 1517 when Luther defied the authority of Rome. That marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the consequences of which were that Europe was divided into numerous divergent sects and into warring camps. Actually, all of that turmoil occurred after More wrote his Utopia, but the causes of the Reformation were of long standing and had been a source of concern to conscientious Christians for at least two centuries. Among the principal evils alleged in the attacks against the church were arbitrary exercise of papal authority, greed of the clergy as revealed in the selling of pardons and of church offices, and the traffic in holy relics. Intelligent people were indignant over the propagation of superstitions to anesthetize the common people, and social critics were bitter over the enormous opulence of the church amid the poverty and squalor of the majority of Christians.
In the decades immediately preceding Luther's break from the church of Rome, many devout Catholics were vocal in their criticism of practices authorized by the church as well as by the shameful conduct among the clergy. Eventually the critics broke into two groups. Luther and the other leaders of the Reformation, despairing of remodeling the established church with its ingrained fallacies, severed their connections with Rome and declared a new authority. Another party of critics strove for reform within the established church toward which they maintained an absolute loyalty despite its manifest faults. Among them, one of the most articulate and effective writers was Erasmus, More's close friend; and in the same camp, though not expressing his views so vociferously, was More also, whose aspirations toward a more truly Christian way of life are revealed through his plan of Utopia.
Italy was unquestionably the fountainhead of Renaissance civilization. As early as the 14th century, men of enlightenment, notably Petrarch and Boccaccio, were introducing Renaissance concepts and proclaiming a new allegiance to classical antiquity, and through the 15th century a feverish development toward new attitudes and styles marked the work of brilliant artists, scholars, philosophers, and men of letters. Through most of the 15th century, the achievements were predominantly Italian, but by the beginning of the 16th century the movement was spreading to other countries of western Europe; at the same time that Italy was losing her political independence through conquests by French, Spanish, and Austrian armies, she gradually yielded her preeminence in the arts and letters to France, Spain, and England.
England, in the year 1500, was emerging from a century of grim civil wars during which the cultural life of the country had deteriorated to a deplorable state. It was not until 1485 that the civil wars were ended by the victory of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, at Bosworth Field, establishing the Tudor dynasty with the crowning of Henry Tudor as Henry VII. During the next 118 years under the reign of the Tudors, especially through the long reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, England attained the status of a first-rate European power and produced a flourishing culture scarcely equaled in all the history of Western civilization.
One of the first signs of renewed enlightenment in England, after the rude and bloody 15th century, was the appearance of a group of "humanist" scholars that flourished at Oxford and in London in the early decades of the 16th century, notably John Colet, William Latimer, Thomas Linacre, Reginald Pole, and Thomas More — a group that Erasmus pronounced both congenial and distinguished.
The name of "humanist," in the Renaissance, meant one who was trained in the study of Latin and Greek languages to the point of easy familiarity, who had read widely in those literatures, who had adopted the ancients' attitude toward man on earth, and who believed that the prescription for enlightenment in modern society was to be found chiefly through the study and imitation of those ancient classics.
A serious dilemma presented itself as a result of this newfound devotion to the ancient sages because of the apparent conflict between pagan classicism and Christian doctrine. It became a matter of deepest concern for all Renaissance thinkers to find an accommodation of the two doctrines — the philosophy of Plato and the teachings of Christ. As a result of their dual allegiance, we get the term which describes the movement, "Christian humanism." The successful adaptation of double devotion is seldom better illustrated than in the works of Thomas More, especially in Utopia.
The Utopian Theme
It is a fundamental disposition of humankind to concoct imaginary Utopias, although their names for such places may differ. The word utopia, which has become the familiar designation for such states, was More's creation. It is inevitable that people, recognizing the manifold stupidities, corruptions, and inequities current in their society, should attempt to devise a better system for people living together. Omar Khayyam voiced the attitude admirably in The Rubaiyat.
Ah, Love, could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would we not shatter it to bits — and then
Remold it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
The idea behind the references to the "Golden Age" in the literature of the ancients represents a nostalgic yearning for a kind of life which they imagined was free from the stresses of their more competitive, more commercial civilization. Similarly, the poetic creations of imaginary gardens, the earthly paradises described by Medieval writers, often reflect yearnings growing out of dissatisfaction with things as they are. Another familiar manifestation that took literary form was the pastoral, an idealized representation of simple, happy shepherds. Examples can be found ranging from the eclogues of Theocritus and Virgil to Tasso and Spencer in the Renaissance. In several of Shakespeare's comedies the escape from the city and the court into "the green world" is described in appealing terms. The Duke Senior in As You Like It contrasts his life of exile in the Forest of Arden with the ways of the court in these terms:
Now my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons' difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter's wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say,
'This is no flattery; these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.'
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.
(As You Like It, II, i)
In more explicit utopian language, Gonzalo, in one of the opening scenes of The Tempest, outlines his scheme for a new and better society.
Had I plantation of this isle, my lord,
And were the king on't, what would I do?
I' the commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
All things in common nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavour; treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people.
I would with such perfection govern, sir,
To excel the golden age.
(The Tempest, II, i)
The history of utopian literature is extensive, even if we take the term in the strict sense of a detailed description of a nation or commonwealth ordered according to a system which the author proposes as a better way of life than any known to exist, a system that could be instituted if the present one could be cancelled and people could start over. Before More's 1516 Utopia, the number of elaborately designed utopian commonwealths is small. Most of the writings along these lines are brief and many are misty, nostalgic, backward glances at an imagined primitive life in the "Golden Age." There is, of course, no lack of earlier literature criticizing the status quo. The great outpouring of utopian literature, however, came after More; and it cannot be doubted that his work gave great impetus to the movement.
Utopian Literature Before More
The one major work preceding More's in the field was Plato's Republic. Its influence on Utopia is extensive and unmistakable. To begin with, the central theme of both works is the search for justice. In the Republic, the rulers are to be a group of intelligent, unselfish men called the guardians or philosopher-kings, who conduct public affairs for the good of the whole nation. The principle of community of property is in effect: "No man calls anything his own." Gold and silver coinage is outlawed, and there is a rigid proscription against luxury and ostentation. Throughout the society, life is directed by a highly moral code of conduct. An educational system for the intelligentsia is elaborately and idealistically designed. Equality of men and women is proposed in both works, though with certain qualifications. There is allowance made in Plato's scheme for the practice of slavery, as there is in More's. There are, on the other hand, departures from Plato in Utopia, some quite radical. The Republic establishes sharply defined class distinctions — the ruling intelligentsia; the warrior class; commoners, consisting of merchants, artisans, and laborers; and finally, at the lowest level, the slaves. Utopians recognize no such gradations among their citizens. The religious beliefs and practices in the two books are, of course, quite different. There is also a sharp difference in the treatment of families. In the Republic, women and children are held in common — "there is no marrying nor giving in marriage" — and mating is regulated to serve eugenic ends; whereas in Utopia, the family unit is the core of the entire social structure.
These comparisons merely suggest a few of the similarities and differences between the Republic and Utopia. Other details will be noted in the commentaries on specific passages in the text of Utopia.
The only ancient authors other than Plato who have been mentioned as possibly influencing or suggesting comparison with More are Lycurgus, Cicero, and St. Augustine. Lycurgus is reputed to have dictated a body of laws for ancient Sparta, the best account of which is found in Plutarch. It declared equal possession among the "citizens" — that is, the upper-class members of the community. The "helots," who were in the vast majority, were virtually on the level of slaves. Instead of gold and silver for coins, iron was used. All luxuries were banned, and both men and women were disciplined to endure hardships and were motivated to sacrifice everything for the welfare of the state.
Cicero's De republica (54–52 B.C.) is largely indebted to Plato, not only to the Republic but also to several other Platonic dialogues. Cicero discusses the attributes of various types of government — monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, and dictatorship — but without committing himself to a preference. One point, however, is clear. His concept of an ideal state is one based on reason and justice, where those who possess natural superiority rule over the inferiors.
The most famous passage of this work is the chapter called the Somnium Scipionis (Dream of Scipio), which echoes Plato's concept of the rewards for virtuous souls in the starry heavens. That passage was widely read and greatly admired through the Middle Ages.
St. Augustine's famous De Civitate Dei (City of God, 413–26) is frequently cited as a source for Utopia. It was, of course, well known to More. He had delivered a series of lectures on the work, as has been mentioned. The basic plan of Augustine's book is different from the Republic, although Augustine was a devoted admirer of Plato. By the same token, More's work differs in basic concept from Augustine's, though inevitably echoes of Augustine are to be found in More.
Augustine's work set out to defend Christianity against the criticism of proponents of traditional pagan worship. It launches an attack on the pattern of immorality in Roman life under the worship of the pagan gods and offers, in contrast, the way of life taught by Christianity. His arguments are based on his interpretation of history, both Old Testament history and Roman. There is not a specific practical plan for the government of his imaginary ideal state but rather a distinction drawn on philosophical lines between two guiding principles. In the "City of Earth," the love of self holds precedence over love of God; in the "City of God," the love of God holds precedence over the love of self.
The Medieval document most frequently cited in historical surveys of the utopian theme is Dante's Latin treatise on government, De Monarchia (1308?). Here again the differences between that work and More's are greater than the resemblances, and it is not suggested that More was acquainted with Monarchia. Dante, living in the period when the rivalry between popes and emperors for secular supremacy was splitting nations, cities, and even families, wrote his book to maintain the right of the emperor to independent authority over Europe in temporal matters, refuting the claims of the papacy that the emperor owed his title to the pope as God's vicar and was the pope's subject in matters temporal as well as spiritual. Dante does present his practical concept of an ideal commonwealth, the Holy Roman Empire. What this meant to him was a United Europe under the rule of a man of authority, an emperor elected — not by the populace but by the designated electors.
Utopian Literature After More
During the century following Utopia, the utopian vogue flourished, set off by the interest which More's book generated and given added impetus through the discoveries of new lands and the fascinating primitive and exotic races encountered in those regions.
An early evidence of the impact of Utopia in Europe appeared in Rabelais's first book of Pantagruel (1532) in which a section is entitled "The Expedition to Utopia." Actually the narrative in no way resembles Utopia, but there are incidental parallels. Details of the voyage from France to Utopia are in a general way reminiscent of More's account of the travels of Hythloday. And it is noteworthy that Rabelais called the inhabitants of Utopia the Amaurotes, a word derived from More's name for the capital city of Utopia.
There is another passage in Rabelais's Gargantua that is cited among the celebrated Renaissance descriptions of an idealized society; namely, the section called the "Abbeye of Thélème." The society portrayed is confined to a monastery that is regulated in an original and thoroughly unconventional manner. All of the members are happy because, being exempt from any kind of restrictions or regimentation, they are at liberty to pursue their inclinations and encouraged to develop their special talents to their full potential. Among the unconventional monastic features are: the absence of bells to regulate a schedule of activities, the wearing of attractive clothes of varied colors and styles, and — most unconventional — the integration of male and female initiates. Finally, the members of the community are free to leave it at will and also to marry. The whole idea, which at first strikes the reader as one of Rabelais's absurd jests, is discovered to express a fundamental feature of Rabelais's serious philosophy. What he is saying is that people are, by nature, good and, if given free scope and encouraged to live full lives, will develop into healthy and bright creatures, full of grace.
In an essay "Of Cannibals," Montaigne gives an account of a primitive tribe of South American Indians; while treating their life style in toto, he pays special attention to their choice of leaders, their mode of warfare, and their treatment of captives. This work is a notable contribution to the vogue of fictionalized travel literature, which includes, in addition to More's Utopia, such works as Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels and a host of major and minor later documents. Montaigne's philosophical approach to his subject is revealed in his repeated pointing of contrasts between those simple Indians and "civilized" Europeans with their mechanical progress, their gunpowder, and their Christianity. In almost every instance, civilization comes off second best in matters of rational behavior and especially where man's humanity to man is concerned.
The early seventeenth century marks the appearance of several ambitious accounts of utopian societies, the most successful being: The City of the Sun (Civitas Solis, 1623) by Tommaso Campanella, Christianopolis (1619), by Johann V. Andreae, and The New Atlantis (1624) by Sir Francis Bacon.
Campanella's City of the Sun was the earliest of the three works in point of composition if not of publication. He wrote the earliest version of the work in Italian in 1602. A revised and somewhat abbreviated version in Latin was published in 1623. Then the Italian work was published posthumously in 1637, but the Latin version is the better known.
The influence of More and of Plato, as well, are evident at many points. The tale is told by a sea captain who has visited an island called Taprobane (possibly Sumatra). In that land there is community property and no use of money. There is an equitable sharing of labor, with the result that all work is finished in a four-hour day. There is also a community of women, with a scientific control of breeding, a feature which reverts to Plato's arrangement rather than More's adherence to the plan of the Christian family. Like More, Campanella dwells at length on the subjects of justice, war, and religion.
In the treatment of education, Campanella reveals himself as a seventeenth-century thinker, placing great emphasis on the study of the sciences, all of the sciences. He has a plan for spreading information on all branches of knowledge through pictures displayed throughout the city on walls and in corridors of public buildings — visual aids to education for persons of all ages. Their leaders believe that the advancement of scientific knowledge is the principal key to the betterment of the race. The report claims that those people have developed not only the telescope but also such modern inventions as power-propelled ships and flying machines.
The rulers in the City of the Sun are men of superior intelligence and probity. The head of the government is called Hoh. His chief ministers are Pon, Sin, and Mor, which are translated Power, Wisdom, and Love. The requisites for the chief are a familiarity with the history of all kingdoms and their governments, a thorough knowledge of all sciences, and a mastery of metaphysics and theology. This concept of a head of state is clearly reminiscent of Plato's philosopher-king. The word Hoh means metaphysics.
The religion of the City of the Sun conforms to Christianity with respect to piety and morality, but there is an absence of excessive mysticism and purity of conduct among the clergy. The sun figures prominently in the decoration of their temple, as well as in the other symbols of their worship, for it is taken as the sign of God.
Christianopolis by the German Johann Valentin Andreae likewise resembles Utopia in many respects. It is presented as told by one who was shipwrecked on a distant island whose capital city was Christianopolis. The citizens there use no money or own no property; thus all are on an equal basis economically and socially. Houses, furniture, food, and clothing are provided by the state without any discrimination. Men are married at 24, women at 18. Children are under their parents' care until they are of school age. After that they are reared by the community. Housekeeping arrangements are adequate but somewhat spartan. Husbands share in cooking, washing dishes, and making clothes.
Equity is exercised in the field of labor. Everyone shares in work of a community nature — harvesting, building houses and roads — but on a short-term schedule. The chief occupation of each individual is in a trade for which he displays an aptitude. There is a strong emphasis throughout the book on the development of industries and more talk about trades and group organizations than any other single element except religion, which receives constantly recurring attention throughout.
Considerable emphasis is given to scientific experimentation, aimed at improving industry, health, and general living conditions. To that end a great laboratory for the natural sciences is operated, and an exhibition hall of science, industry, and the arts offers educational opportunities through scale models of machinery and mural paintings similar to those in the City of the Sun.
The pattern of the community is succinctly described as a "republic of workers, living in equality, desiring peace, and renouncing riches."
Francis Bacon's New Atlantis was probably written in 1624, but was not published until 1627, a year after the author's death. Like the work of his contemporaries, Campanella and Andreae, Bacon's book shows the influence of More in certain broad aspects. It purports to relate the discovery by an exploring expedition in the Pacific Ocean of an island where the natives have developed a society offering much to admire. The goal of the common good is sought through learning and justice. The principal attention of the account is focused on an elaborate academy of science. Bacon has incorporated in this society the basic ideas that he developed more elaborately in his longer philosophical and scholarly treatises; namely, that the advancement of human welfare can best be achieved through the systematic exploration of nature. His famous "scientific method" is founded on painstaking observation of natural phenomena and constructing, through inductive reasoning, a body of knowledge based on those observations. He urges experimentation to improve general knowledge and to develop inventions for human comfort and pleasure. The central institute in the capital of New Atlantis, called Solomon's House, is a huge academy which foreshadows the later creation of scientific laboratories and academies, such as the English Royal Society.
This emphasis on the sciences marks a major departure from More and the humanist utopians and aligns Bacon with the direction of thought prevailing in the seventeenth century. Similar attitudes, it will be recalled, were observed in The City of the Sun and Christianopolis.
Bacon left this work unfinished, and it is impossible to say how he planned to treat other aspects of life in New Atlantis. He did not discuss the social and governmental systems of the islanders; hence, we do not know what his attitude toward communism was. Marriage was held sacred. His Atlantians exhibited a love of finery in costumes and jewelry that sets them apart from the typical utopians.
The importance of More's Utopia in the history of utopian literature begins to be clear as we examine the documents published in the century following its publication. Patterns of uniformity and occasional divergences have been displayed. The utopian societies described — without exception — develop systems aiming toward equality and justice. Equality is attained in nearly every instance through community of property and the elimination of money, also through equitable sharing of labor, community rearing of children, and often community dining. Plain, uniform clothing is usually prescribed, and any kind of luxury or ostentation is discouraged, Bacon's New Atlantis excepted. The governments are made up of carefully selected elders of demonstrated character and competence. Variations appear in connection with the question of community of women, proposed by Plato but rejected by More. Campanella and some later writers follow Plato but most follow More. The acceptance of slavery in the community, approved by both Plato and More, is not adopted by their followers.
The history of utopian literature from the mid-seventeenth century to the present cannot be treated in detail here, since there are more than 50 works that ought to be included in such a study. A brief survey will have to suffice for present purposes. A few of the better known and more influential works will be analyzed briefly and classified according to the main directions of development of the theme.
Denis Diderot's Supplement to Bougainville's "Voyage" (1772) is a prime example of the eighteenth-century vogue of primitivism which was spurred by Rousseau's thesis of the "noble savage" and which generated such novels as St. Pierre's Paul and Virginia and Chateaubriand's Atala. Diderot's book makes a case for the simple, natural ways of a South Sea Island culture as reported by Bougainville, a French explorer. The central portion of the story presents an imaginary dialogue between a French chaplain and a native of Tahiti (Orou) in which a comparison is made between the customs and institutions of Europe and those of Tahiti. The way of life of the islanders is eloquently defended, and that of the Europeans discredited. According to the Tahitian, man's natural instincts, which are equated with the laws of nature, are interpreted as justifying complete freedom in sexual relations. Their observance of community property is defended as minimizing personal conflicts and legal entanglements and promoting a general concern for the welfare of the community as a whole.
Unlike most of the earlier utopian documents, Diderot's presents an account of a place on the map and its existing society. The report is secondhand and is colored by the imagination of a philosophical primitivist.
The exploration of a South Sea utopian commonwealth is of limited scope because of the author's overriding preoccupation with the sexual relations of the natives, leaving almost entirely unexplained such concerns as governmental organization, legal system, distribution of labor, and methods of warfare. Regarding the economy, we are simply told that there is no private property.
Looking Backward (1888) by Edward Bellamy, the most successful and influential American author writing in the utopian vein, presents a vision of a glorious future society. Julian West, a young, aristocratic Bostonian, falls asleep under a hypnotic trance in 1887, but through a remarkable set of circumstances, is awakened in the year 2000. His host family in this new age introduces him to their amazing society, explaining their institutions and the rationale for their system.
The new Boston of 2000, Julian West discovers, is a city of beauty and grace, with many splendid public buildings, reflecting an undreamed of prosperity; but, more important, it is populated by people who are remarkably healthy and happy. The basic reason for these conditions is that equality has been attained throughout the population. There are no more rich, no more poor.
The first lesson West learns is that all industry and all institutions are under the control of the national government, a system which, he is informed, has proved to be far more effective than the earlier one of free, private enterprise because of the elimination of wasteful competition. These enormous nationwide political and industrial institutions are structured on the plan of a military organization.
Money has been outlawed, but a substitute means of transacting personal business has been devised. Every individual is given a monthly allowance in the form of a credit card, a kind of punch card, to record his expenditures. This method permits individuals to exercise judgment and taste in the way they like to live. Some will set a better table than others, some acquire a larger house, some will travel extensively, but everyone's allowance is the same.
The extraordinary efficiency of the entire business structure is explained in part by superior management, as has been said, but also partly because they have eliminated several costly and time-consuming activities, freeing the citizens for more productive work. There is no army, no navy, no police force; there are no lawyers, bankers, or salesmen.
Education is regarded as important and is continued to age 21 for all citizens. During their years of schooling, the pupils are introduced to many trades, professions, and arts in order to discover where their talents and interests lie, to enable them to choose the vocation that will bring them the greatest satisfaction in their adult years. At age 21, everyone enters the work force, "the industrial army," where he or she will serve up to the age of 45. Women and men are treated equally with respect to education, career in the work force, compensation. There is some distinction made regarding the occupations of men and women, and there are provisions for pregnancy.
Bellamy's optimism for the future of mankind is further revealed in his confidence that human ingenuity will continue to contribute inventions for comfort and convenience of mankind. Specifically, he predicts that there will be canopied sidewalks for the protection of pedestrians, and he describes piped-in home entertainment obtained by merely pressing buttons and turning knobs for sermons, lectures, or a wide selection of musical programs. He does not develop this aspect of modern living at length, his preoccupation being in the fields of economics and sociology; but he is clearly not in the camp of those later writers who fear the further advances of technology.
The study of human society as foreseen by Bellamy is contrasted at every turn with the institutions, customs, and mores of the late nineteenth century. Actually, more than half of the space in the book is devoted to the analysis of Bellamy's own time, which is a scathing denunciation of that society, often in eloquent language. In William Morris's News from Nowhere (first published in serial form in 1890, then in book form in 1891), the author, well known for his involvement in the Pre-Raphaelite movement and for the establishment of the Kelmscott Press, offers his vision of a bright future for England. The narrator of the novel goes to bed in his home in a London suburb one night in 1890, but when he wakes he finds himself in strange surroundings. The people he meets talk about events that occurred in the year 2001 as though they were past history.
Radical changes have transformed England both in appearance and in its social patterns. The new society is structured according to the pattern of ideal communism: no money, no private property, perfect equality for every citizen. Labor is shared by every member of the community. These are all familiar attributes of utopian societies. One of the distinctive features of Morris's plan is that labor is regarded as a pleasure rather than a necessary chore, the reason being that everyone works at a task that he can do best and consequently takes pride in the product of his labor. This essentially Medieval attitude toward the achievement of the workman turns production into something of an art, whether the product is a dish, a meal, a doorknob, or a bridge. The revival of that ancient pattern of individual workmanship has been made possible by the elimination of all but the simplest machinery. Factories have all been destroyed, and the former pattern of urban industrial crowding and squalor has disappeared. Where London used to be there is a collection of scattered villages. The age is described as post-industrial.
The story of the transformation from the nineteenth-century capitalist-industrial society is explained to the narrator by an old man who has made a study of the revolution that brought about the change. Before the outbreak of armed revolt, conditions for the common workers grew gradually more intolerable, and unions banded together in an organization similar to the AFL-CIO. The establishment ordered the machine-gunning of unarmed protesters, and the people finally learned how to fight back. Certain features of this history are reminiscent of the French Revolution, but others actually foreshadow developments and actions which occurred in the twentieth century, like the firing into the crowd of protesters in Petrograd by the Czarist guards.
Morris's utopia is the natural outgrowth of his lifelong devotion to two causes: first, his Pre-Raphaelite conviction that the workman of Medieval times was a happy man and a fulfilled artist, and second, his political involvement in the Socialist movement.
Morris, like Bellamy, predicts a brighter future for mankind, with men and women equal, healthy, and happy; but he differs radically in his discarding of "modernity" with its advancing technology and complex organization. In fact, Morris was provoked into writing News from Nowhere as a refutation of Looking Backward.
H. G. Wells devotes much of his attention to previews of possible future developments of civilization that are predominantly optimistic. Among the better known of his publications in that field are: The Time Machine (1895), The War of the Worlds (1898), When the Sleeper Awakes (1899), A Modern Utopia (1905), Men Like Gods (1923), and The Shape of Things to Come (1933).
Among the works that Wells wrote before World War I, the closest to a classical utopian piece is A Modern Utopia. It is utopian specifically in that Wells held a firm belief in the progress of mankind toward perfection; hence, he confidently pictured a bright future. The term "modern" in the title was meant to convey the idea that he intended to keep his picture within the realm of reasonable possibility, avoiding excessively visionary treatment of the theme. For that reason he was unwilling to adopt certain features that were traditional among the majority of earlier utopists.
The great society of the future, he believes, will have a worldwide structure, a World State. Nationalities will no longer have significance. The entire human race will become one commonwealth with uniform customs and mores and with a common language. Money will still be used for exchange, and individuals will still hold the right to ownership of personal property, though all of the earth's land and all sources of power will belong to the State — that is, to everyone. He does not subscribe to the idea that all work can be made pleasurable; consequently, he declares that every member of society shall be required to perform work up to a minimum which earns him enough to discharge his obligations. Beyond that, he may choose to work more to earn more or he is free to enjoy his leisure.
Equality for all mankind is not a realistic goal in Wells's view. That, he believes, would mean a loss of individuality, and individuality is an inherent requirement of human nature. Similarly, competition is necessary to a thriving society. Taking what he considers a practical position, he sees the new society as divided into four classes of persons which he calls poietic, kinetic, dull, and base. There is a leader caste, called Samurai, which is drawn primarily from the poietic group, though some from the kinetic class may qualify. Persons who volunteer for Samurai membership must meet stringent requirements, both physical and mental; and they must pledge to conform to the rules of the caste, which forbid eating meat, smoking, drinking, gambling, and participation in public sports or entertainments. The Samurai furnish the World State with its administrators, legislators, lawyers, doctors, and other leaders. Furthermore, they are the only voters in the commonwealth. The male members of the Samurai are encouraged to marry women of comparable qualifications, and they are encouraged to produce children with the aim of improving the quality of the population. The lower classes of citizens, the dull witted, the criminals, and the deformed are exiled from society and prevented from childbearing.
The religion of Utopia is based on moral and humanitarian principles but is free from superstitions and formal ceremonies. Its primary tenet is the denial of the doctrine of original sin. The affirmation of man's inherent goodness is inherent in the pervading optimism of the work.
The optimistic views which the author held regarding the inevitable progress of human society were somewhat undermined by the events of World War I, as is demonstrated in his later writings. He came to question whether or not scientific progress would always achieve social improvement. His warning of the possibility of developing mind control through blatant advertising and through drugs is prophetic.
A body of writings commonly associated with the utopian tradition even though the works seem to be in direct contradiction are variously referred to as anti-utopian or distopian. This group includes some distinguished books, the most famous being Samuel Butler's Erewhon, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and George Orwell's 1984. If it is remembered that the primary motivation for all utopian writing is a desire to attack the ills of existing society and to point directions for the amelioration of human society, we will recognize that these anti-utopian documents are not entirely remote from the traditional utopias. Indeed, the anti-utopian works purport to offer utopian solutions to social, economic, and political problems at the outset, but sooner or later — usually sooner — the reader discovers that the author's real purpose is satirical.
The title of Samuel Butler's Erewhon (1872) is intended as an anagram for "Nowhere"; and that, it is recalled, is the translation of "Utopia."
Erewhon is a remote kingdom not on any map, which the narrator claims to have discovered in his travels. Much of the landscape resembles a region of New Zealand where Butler had lived for a few years. The residents of Erewhon are without contact with any other nation and live according to their own eccentric pattern of civilization. In many respects their life resembles that of contemporary Western civilization rather than Plato's or More's plan of society. They are governed by a monarchy, and have lawyers, judges, and prisons. They have money, banks, rich citizens, and poor.
The features of Erewhonian society that surprise the author are those that differ from the England that he knew. According to the early impressions of the travelers, the people all appear to be exceptionally healthy, exceedingly handsome, and altogether contented. Their life style is characterized by simplicity and gracious manners, best described as Arcadian. Gradually, however, oddities, or what appear to be oddities to the visitor, begin to surface. Duplicity pervades every aspect of thought and action. The natives habitually profess agreement to a proposition although they do not believe in it, and their friends are perfectly aware that they do not mean what they say. There are two separate banking systems in operation and two sets of religions. The people give lip service to what they call the Musical Banks, but they transact all serious business with the currency of the other chain of banks. Similarly they recognize a group of deities representing the personification of human qualities — justice, hope, love, fear — and erect statues to them; but their pragmatic morality is evidently dictated by a goddess — Ydgrun (Grundy). More and more they reveal themselves to the traveler as victims of self-deception and inverted logic. Their universities are called Colleges of Unreason, and the principal course of study is Hypothetics.
One of the most eccentric features of Erewhonian life is the interpretation of crime and punishment. Illness is treated as a crime. Sentences of varying degrees of severity are pronounced according to the nature and seriousness of the disease. There are no physicians in the country. Those actions which Europeans consider criminal — theft, fraud, embezzlement — are regarded as weaknesses of character deserving sympathy and help, help which is provided through the ministrations of "straighteners."
Another surprising feature is the attitude toward machinery. Several centuries earlier, the Erewhonians had attained a remarkable stage of sophistication in the development of machinery, but through the teachings of a prophet they had been persuaded that machines might some day become masters over men, with the result that they destroyed all of the machinery having any degree of complexity and outlawed any further experimentation in the field. They retained only the simplest kinds of implements — spades and scythes — and horses and wagons.
The section of the book dealing with the outlawing of machinery has attracted special attention from students of utopian literature because of its possible bearing on the attitude of certain philosophers who viewed the industrial revolution with alarm and warned of the menace of the machine age. It can hardly be concluded that Butler meant to advocate the elimination of machinery, as some later utopists did, for he treats this attitude as one more example of the susceptibility of the natives to outlandish arguments. Nevertheless, he sets forth the arguments in such a fashion that the reader is obliged to reflect seriously on the issue and recognize in advancing technology some serious threats to human values.
The reader, following the narrator's shifting attitude from admiration to surprise and finally to contempt, is led to believe that the author is bent on demonstrating the vast inferiority of the Erewhonians to his fellow Englishmen; but it gradually becomes clear that he attributes to Englishmen much of the irrationality and the ingenious equivocations that make the Erewhonians look foolish. The difference is only one of degree. The technique is close to that of Swiftian satire. In some places it is confused and inconsistent, but in other passages it is both clever and devastating, worthy of the master.
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) offers a projection of what life on earth might become in another 500 years if technology plays an increasingly dominant role and if government control of all aspects of human activity becomes absolute. Skyscrapers will become taller, factories will become more efficient, travel will be mainly by air, diseases will be virtually eliminated, and universal happiness will be provided through elaborate sports and entertainment programs and through a happiness pill called soma.
The new plan of society does not conform to many of the familiar features of classical utopias. Money is used in much the way it was used in the 20th century — for wages, for the purchase of goods and property, and for amusements and travel. Most radical of the anti-utopian features is the denial of equality. Mankind is classified in a caste system that is achieved through controlled genetics and that insures the society a supply of dull-witted, underdeveloped individuals to perform the less agreeable jobs and those demanding lesser skills.
The application of scientific methods begins in the "Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre." There humans are bred in test tubes, transferred as they grow to larger jars, and nourished under controlled conditions until they reach the stage for hatching or "decanting." Even in the test tube stage they are marked for treatment that will produce the type of human desired. The types are labeled alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and epsilon, with certain plus or minus grades within each type. In infancy the individuals are scientifically "conditioned" to cultivate certain desires, to abhor certain things, to believe certain truisms, according to the kind of service for which they are designated. The conditioning takes the form of nutritional treatment, electric shock, screeching sirens, or hypnopaedia — that is, sleep-teaching.
Every individual is employed according to his classification — in an office, a factory, a hatchery, on a farm, or flying a helicopter taxi. A great variety of entertainment is provided for after-working hours — sports like electromagnetic golf, Riemann-surface tennis, and centrifugal bumble-puppy. There are lively nightclubs and "feelies," movies that provide accompanying scents and that also stimulate appropriate tactile sensations. Every evening seems to end with going to bed with someone of the opposite sex. Sexual relations are completely promiscuous. "Everyone belongs to everyone" is one of the clichés drummed into the consciousness through conditioning. There is no such thing as a marriage. Contraceptives are provided by the government to make sure that people will not interfere with the test tube method of producing children. Sex is purely for sport.
The planning of their extensive program of amusements has two main purposes. First, it is intended to stimulate the economy. The games and feelies all require expensive equipment; that means more factories and also more opportunities for people to distribute their pay checks. Second, the government is concerned to keep everybody busy during waking hours to leave them no odd moments for thinking.
This so-called Brave New World, based primarily on advanced technology combined with regimented control, as Huxley presents it, is a horror because it means death to individuality, to liberty, to art and literature — to the spirit of man. The book is one of the most virulent of the anti-utopias.
In George Orwell's 1984 (1949), the society of the year 1984 which Orwell projects for us is based on the assumption that a "limited" nuclear war of the 1950s had left civilization severely crippled and that government controls were seized by well-organized opportunists employing the familiar methods of a police state to maintain power. London, the scene of the novel's action, is the capital of Oceania, one of three superpowers. The other superpowers are called Eastasia and Eurasia. The city of London contains a few enormous government buildings and a small number of fine apartment buildings, but the vast majority of the buildings are eighteenth- or nineteenth-century houses in dilapidated condition which provide shelter for the common people. There are also a good many neglected bombed-out areas. Certainly this is not a picture of somebody's dream city.
Oceania is completely dominated by the members of "the Party," a handpicked group of loyal supporters of the government. The mass of the population, the proletariat or "proles," are purposely kept poor and ignorant and are without any voice in public affairs. Actually, the real power is held by the "Inner Party," the elite of the Party membership.
The methods employed by the Party to maintain control and to manipulate the population are copied directly from the records of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Any opposition to the system in deed, word or thought is summarily stamped out. Naturally freedom of speech and of the press are suppressed. Spies are everywhere. There are hundreds of posters throughout the city showing the enormous head of a man with steely eyes and heavy black mustache. The caption of the posters reads: BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU. Monitoring screens for official spying are in public places, in hallways, and even in apartments. One's every action or word may be under surveillance. It represents something of a refinement over wiretapping. People live in constant fear of being detected in some fault or of being suspected of some fault, and there is always present the dread of a banging on the door in the middle of the night. Confessions are wrested even from innocent persons by refined methods of torture.
A new form of language called "newspeak" is being developed to facilitate the process of thought control, and there is a movement called "doublethink" whereby the most absurd ambiguities are propounded in all seriousness. The mottoes of the Party are: "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery," and "Ignorance is Strength." The Ministry of Truth deals mainly with propaganda, the Ministry of Peace manages military operations, the Ministry of Love is concerned with matters of law and order, and the Ministry of Plenty regulates the economy.
There is, of course, nothing new in all of this program, nothing fantastic such as Huxley's "Hatchery and Conditioning Centre." The reader, while he cringes at the horror, keeps repeating to himself, "It can't happen here." Nevertheless, Orwell compels us to recognize not only Nazi devices but also certain telltale symptoms in our own social and political practices that cannot help but undermine our complacency.
1984 is brutally anti-utopian in every detail, the complete antithesis of the meliorative societies conceived by More and Bacon, by Bellamy and William Morris.
The reports of the above books must not be regarded as reviews of them as literary works. They are all cast in novel form with a plot line and cast of characters. Our study is concerned only with those aspects that throw light on the concepts of society reshaped. In each case it is fair to say that the author has concentrated more attention on the "brave new world" concept than on the accompanying romantic fiction.
Established Utopian Communities
The utopian spirit as we have been discussing it, is revealed through the written words of men who were critical of the world they lived in and dreamers of a better world. What we cannot forget is that there have been many instances of groups of people who believed strongly enough in the possibility of improving their lot to attempt the founding of new communities planned according to their ideal principles. Invariably such an undertaking has required a move from the "old country" that they found intolerable to a new, open territory. For this reason, America of the nineteenth century furnished admirable opportunities, and there were scores of such group settlements throughout the United States and Canada, large and small, successful and abortive. Some of these communities have endured through a good many generations, particularly those with a pronounced strain of pietism: the Mennonites, Amish, and Dunkards.
Fourierism exerted a wide influence in the United States in the 1830s and 1840s. The author of the doctrines was Charles Fourier, who wrote Traite' de I' Association Domestique Agricole (1822) and Le Nouveau Monde Industriel (1829). The leader of the movement in America was Albert Brisbane. An influential convert was Horace Greeley. Of the numerous communities, or phalanxes, the most famous was Brook Farm, which attracted the attention of Hawthorne, Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and members of the Alcott family. An interesting plan for such a community was discussed quite seriously by Coleridge and Robert Southey to be called "Pantisocracy," but it did not materialize. A more practical group established a settlement at New Harmony, Indiana, under the leadership of a Scottish industrialist named Robert Owen. A second French utopist, Etienne Cabet, after writing a utopian novel entitled Le Voyage en Icarie (1840), established his own community, first in Texas, then later in Nauvoo, Illinois. Other successful communities deserving special mention are the Oneida (N.Y.) Community; the Shakers, with villages in eight states about 1840; the Amana Community, still thriving in Iowa; and the Hutterites, with communities from the Dakotas through western Canada. In modern Israel the communal settlements called Kibbutzes operate on principles and under regulations closely resembling those described in More's Utopia.
No two communities were identical in purpose and operation, but certain aspects of the utopian norm appear frequently. Many of them followed the plan of community of property, equality in sharing labor, community rearing of children, simplicity and uniformity of dress, avoidance of luxury, rigid codes of behavior, pacifism, and a government by selected elders. All of this is obviously reminiscent of More's island commonwealth.
For students wishing to understand fully the extent of interest in the creation of imaginary commonwealths and fascination over accounts by mariners of remote regions, certain other works of fiction not precisely utopian ought to be examined. Examples are: Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Voltaire's Candide (especially the Eldorado episode), Samuel Johnson's Rasselas, Henry David Thoreau's Walden, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance, and Herman Melville's Typee.
Still further afield from sailors' tales of island kingdoms but nevertheless enlightening in the broad study of man's aspirations toward a better world, one may consider some of the more sober expository documents such as: Rousseau's Discourse on the Origins of Inequality and his Social Contract, De Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Carlyle's Past and Present, Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto, and Engel's "On Authority" from Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.
Publication Data for More's Utopia
The original edition of the book was published anonymously in Latin in Louvain in 1516 under the formidable title of:
Libellus vere Aureus nec minus salutaris quam festivus de optimo reip. statu deque noua Insula Vtopia. (A truly Golden Handbook, No Less Beneficial than Entertaining of the Best State of the Commonwealth and New Island of Utopia.)
A later edition added to that title: "by the Distinguished and Eloquent Author Thomas More, Citizen and Sheriff of the Famous City of London."
By common agreement the title has been shortened to Utopia. The work was first translated into English in 1551 by Ralphe Robynson.