Utopias are communities or places possessing highly desirable or perfect qualities. The word was coined in Greek by Sir Thomas More for his book Utopia, describing a fictional island society in the Atlantic Ocean. The term has been used to describe both intentional communities that attempt to create an ideal society, and fictional paradises. It has spawned other concepts, most prominently dystopia. There are different types of utopias: ecological, political, economic, etc… and combinations of those.
The first recorded utopian proposal is Plato’s Republic. Part conversation, part fictional depiction, and part policy proposal, it proposes a categorization of citizens into a rigid class structure of “golden,” “silver,” “bronze” and “iron” socioeconomic classes. The golden citizens are trained in a rigorous 50-year long educational program to be benign oligarchs, the “philosopher-kings.” The wisdom of these rulers will supposedly eliminate poverty and deprivation through fairly distributed resources, though the details on how to do this are unclear. The educational program for the rulers is the central notion of the proposal. There is a general pacifism or pacifist attitude. However, the people of the Republic are all ready to defend themselves or to compete militarily for resources (such as land) if necessary. It has few laws, no lawyers and rarely sends its citizens to war, but hires mercenaries from among its war-prone neighbors (these mercenaries were deliberately sent into dangerous situations in the hope that the more warlike populations of all surrounding countries will be weeded out, leaving peaceful peoples).
– from Wikipedia
by Sir Thomas More written between 1515-1516
the definition of the word implies that the perfectly “good place” is really “no place.”
the island is located off the coast of Brazil, founded by King Utopos
Raphael Hythloday spends five years observing the customs of the natives.
More = the author (beheaded 1535)
Giles = Humanist thinker Peter Giles
Morton = former Chancellor of England Cardinal John Morton
Jerome de Busleydan = Counselor of Charles V
Raphael Hythloday = a sailor and voyager
More travels to Antwerp as an ambassador for England and King Henry VIII.
Hythloday has been on many voyages with the noted explorer Amerigo Vespucci, traveling to the New World, south of the Equator, through Asia, and eventually landing on the island of Utopia.
Hythloday describes a dinner he once shared in England with Cardinal Morton and a number of others. During this dinner, Hythloday proposed alternatives to the many evil civil practices of England, such as the policy of capital punishment for the crime of theft. His proposals meet with derision, until they are given legitimate thought by the Cardinal, at which point they meet with great general approval. Hythloday uses this story to show how pointless it is to counsel a king when the king can always expect his other counselors to agree with his own beliefs or policies. Hythloday then goes on to make his point through a number of other examples, finally noting that no matter how good a proposed policy is, it will always look insane to a person used to a different way of seeing the world. Hythloday points out that the policies of the Utopians are clearly superior to those of Europeans, yet adds that Europeans would see as ludicrous the all-important Utopian policy of common property.
General Utopus, conquered the isthmus on which Utopia now stands and through a great public works effort cut away the land to make an island. Next, Hythloday moves to a discussion of Utopian society, portraying a nation based on rational thought, with communal property, great productivity, no rapacious love of gold, no real class distinctions, no poverty, little crime or immoral behavior, religious tolerance, and little inclination to war.
The island of Utopia is 200 hundred miles across in the middle part, where it is widest, and nowhere much narrower than this except towards the two ends, where it gradually tapers. These ends, curved round as if completing a circle five hundred miles in circumference, make the island crescent-shaped, like a new moon.
The island was originally a peninsula but a 15-mile wide channel was dug by the community’s founder King Utopos to separate it from the mainland.
The island contains 54 cities.
Each city is divided into four equal parts.
Each city has 6000 households, consisting of between 10 to 16 adults.
The capital city, Amaurot, is located directly in the middle of the crescent island.
Thirty households are grouped together and elect an archon.
200 archons of a city elect a Prince in a secret ballot.
The Prince stays for life unless he is deposed or removed for suspicion of tyranny.
People are re-distributed around the households and towns to keep numbers even. If the island suffers from overpopulation, colonies are set up on the mainland. Alternatively, the natives of the mainland are invited to be part of these Utopian colonies, but if they dislike it and no longer wish to stay they may return. In the case of underpopulation the colonists are re-called.
Utopia is a common-wealth collective, where almost everything is open to the public. There is no private ownership on Utopia. Public Goods in storage are accessed by people as needed. No locks on house doors. All are taught agriculture. In addition to farming, all must pick a second vocation: weaving, masonry, carpentry, or metal-smithing. All that are able work 6 hours daily on average. Those who love to learn become scholars, and scholars can be ruling officials and priests. No sexism, men and women are equal, although there are gender stereotypes. Clothing is simple. Utopia is also a welfare state. Free hospitals allow euthanasia.
There is a class system. Archons and old get best food. Middle Class rotates turns of households feeding the community in dining halls. Slave class made of immigrants and criminals. Slave chains and chamber-pots are made of gold, which attaches shameful psychological associations to gold; producing a dislike of gold. Gold and Jewels have no economic value within Utopia.
Several Religions: Moon, Sun, Planet, Ancestor, and Monotheists. All are tolerant of eachother, only Atheists are distrusted because they may lack morality.
Priests marry and divorce. Premarital sex is punished by celibacy. Adultery punished by enslavement.
Travel on the island is restricted by internal passport, with penalty of enslavement.
No lawyers because the laws are simple.
Utopians do not like to engage in war because war is uncivilized. If they feel countries friendly to them have been wronged, they will send military aid. However they try to capture, rather than kill, enemies. They are upset if they achieve victory through bloodshed.
Privacy is not regarded as freedom in Utopia. Even private gatherings and pubs are not allowed to keep all people together in full view, when not sleeping at home, for good behavior. Much like later visions of socialist communism.
Other Utopian Concepts in Literature:
The City of the Sun by Tommaso Campanella, Description of the Republic of Christianopolis by Johannes Valentinus Andreae, New Atlantis by Francis Bacon and Candide by Voltaire.
Common Sense was a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine. It was first published anonymously on January 10, 1776, at the beginning of the American Revolution. Common Sense was signed “Written by an Englishman”, and it became an immediate success. It contrasted a dystopian vision of England, with a future Utopian vision of America, as propaganda for the purpose of rebellion.
Middle Earth Utopias – Lothlorien, West, Shire, Rivendell
Dystopias – Mordor, Misty Mountain Goblin Caves
Environmentalism – wilderness rangers, pastoral hobbits, natural ents, eco elves
rangers conduct themselves by lightly living on the land, sustainably using renewable resources, adaptively reusing ruins, and enforcing stewardship and respect for the individuality of others.
One Ranger even led armies against the Industrial Empire of Sauron.
Shows that sometimes individuals can make a huge difference.