Utopia (in English /juˈtoʊpiə/) is a name for an ideal community or society, which is taken from Of the Best State of a Republic, and of the New Island Utopia, a book written in 1516 by Sir Thomas More describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean, possessing a seemingly perfect socio-politico-legal system. The term has been used to describe both intentional communities that attempted to create an ideal society, and fictional societies portrayed in literature. It has spawned other concepts, most prominently dystopia.
The word comes from the Greek: οὐ, "not", and τόπος, "place", indicating that More was utilizing the concept as allegory and did not consider such an ideal place to be realistically possible. The English homophone Eutopia (/juˈtoʊpiə/), derived from the Greek εὖ, "good" or "well", and τόπος, "place", signifies a double meaning.
Utopia is largely based on Plato's Republic. It is a perfect version of Republic wherein the beauties of society reign (eg: equality and a general pacifist attitude), although its citizens are all ready to fight if need be. The evils of society, eg: poverty and misery, are all removed. 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). The society encourages tolerance of all religions. Some readers have chosen to accept this imaginary society as the realistic blueprint for a working nation, while others have postulated More intended nothing of the sort. Some maintain the position that More's Utopia functions only on the level of a satire, a work intended to reveal more about the England of his time than about an idealistic society. This interpretation is bolstered by the title of the book and nation, and its apparent confusion between the Greek for "no place" and "good place": "Utopia" is a compound of the syllable ou-, meaning "no", and topos, meaning place. But the homophonic prefix eu-, meaning "good," also resonates in the word, with the implication that the perfectly "good place" is really "no place."
Ecological utopias describe new ways in which society should relate to nature. They react to a perceived widening gap between the modern Western way of living that destroys nature and the traditional way of living that is thought to be more in harmony with nature. According to the Dutch philosopher Marius de Geus, ecological utopias could be sources of inspiration for green political movements.
Ecological utopias or utopias that have important ecological components in them:
In the novelette Rumfuddle (1973), Jack Vance presents a novel twist on the ecological utopia. His hero invents paratime travel and becomes effectively the ruler of earth by giving everyone their own alternate-earth wilderness worlds as vacation retreats/suburbs without neighbors. However, he requires them to work during the week cleaning up the original Earth and restoring its pristineness. A typical job is driving a bulldozer that shoves the detritus of industrial civilization through a portal into the oceans of a paratime garbage world.
Economic utopias are based on economics. Most intentional communities attempting to create an economic utopia were formed in response to the harsh economic conditions of the 19th century.
Particularly in the early nineteenth century, several utopian ideas arose, often in response to the social disruption created by the development of commercialism and capitalism. These are often grouped in a greater "utopian socialist" movement, due to their shared characteristics: an egalitarian distribution of goods, frequently with the total abolition of money, and citizens only doing work which they enjoy and which is for the common good, leaving them with ample time for the cultivation of the arts and sciences. One classic example of such a utopia was Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. Another socialist utopia is William Morris' News from Nowhere, written partially in response to the top-down (bureaucratic) nature of Bellamy's utopia, which Morris criticized. However, as the socialist movement developed it moved away from utopianism; Marx in particular became a harsh critic of earlier socialism he described as utopian. (For more information see the History of Socialism article.) Also consider Eric Frank Russell's book The Great Explosion (1963) whose last section details an economic and social utopia. This forms the first mention of the idea of Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS).
Utopias have also been imagined by the opposite side of the political spectrum. For example, Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress portrays an individualistic and libertarian utopia. Capitalist utopias of this sort are generally based on free market economies, in which the presupposition is that private enterprise and personal initiative without an institution of coercion, government, provides the greatest opportunity for achievement and progress of both the individual and society as a whole.
Another view that capitalist utopias do not address is the issue of market failure, any more than socialist utopias address the issue of planning failure. Thus a blend of socialism and capitalism is seen by some as the type of economy in a utopia. For example, one such idea is to have small, community-owned enterprises working under a market-based model of economy. Such a model of market-based Communism itself was in theory supposed to create a "classless utopia", but no communist state has ever reached that point.
During the late-nineteenth century, many economic utopias sprang up around the United States in response to various political conservative movements. They were largely dubbed communes.
A global utopia of world peace is often seen as one of the possible endings of history. Within the localized political structures or spheres it presents, "polyculturalism" is the model-based adaptation of possible interactions between different cultures and identities in accordance with the principles of participatory society.
The Soviet writer Ivan Efremov produced during the "Thaw" period the science-fiction utopia Andromeda (1957) in which a united humanity communicates with a galaxy-wide Great Circle and develops its technology and culture within a social framework characterized by vigorous competition between alternative philosophies.
Religious utopias are based on religious ideals, and are to date those most commonly found in human society. Their members are usually required to follow and believe in the particular religious tradition that established the utopia. Some permit non-believers or non-adherents to take up residence within them; others (such as the Community at Qumran) do not.
The Islamic, Jewish, and Christian ideas of the Garden of Eden and Heaven may be interpreted as forms of utopianism, especially in their folk-religious forms. Such religious utopias are often described as "gardens of delight", implying an existence free from worry in a state of bliss or enlightenment. They postulate freedom from sin, pain, poverty, and death, and often assume communion with beings such as angels or the houri. In a similar sense the Hindu concept of Moksha and the Buddhist concept of Nirvana may be thought of as a kind of utopia. In Hinduism or Buddhism, however, utopia is not a place but a state of mind. A belief that if we are able to practice meditation without continuous stream of thoughts, we are able to reach enlightenment. This enlightenment promises exit from the cycle of life and death, relating back to the concept of utopia.
However, the usual idea of Utopia, which is normally created by human effort, is more clearly evident in the use of these ideas as the bases for religious utopias, as members attempt to establish/reestablish on Earth a society which reflects the virtues and values they believe have been lost or which await them in the Afterlife.
In the United States and Europe during the Second Great Awakening of the nineteenth century and thereafter, many radical religious groups formed utopian societies in which all aspects of people's lives could be governed by their faith. Among the best-known of these utopian societies were the Shakers, which originated in England in the 18th century but moved to America shortly afterward. A number of religious utopian societies from Europe came to the United States from the 18th century throughout the 19th century, including the Society of the Woman in the Wilderness (led by Johannes Kelpius), the Ephrata Cloister, and the Harmony Society, among others. The Harmony Society was a Christian theosophy and pietist group founded in Iptingen, Germany, in 1785. Due to religious persecution by the Lutheran Church and the government in Württemberg, the society moved to the United States on October 7, 1803, settled in Pennsylvania, and on February 15, 1805, they, together with about 400 followers, formally organized the Harmony Society, placing all their goods in common. The group lasted until 1905, making it one of the longest-running financially successful communes in American history. The Oneida Community, founded by John Humphrey Noyes in Oneida, New York, was a utopian religious commune that lasted from 1848 to 1881. Although this utopian experiment is better known today for its manufacture of Oneida silverware, it was one of the longest-running communes in American history. The Amana Colonies were communal settlements in Iowa, started by radical German pietists, which lasted from 1855 to 1932. The Amana Corporation, manufacturer of refrigerators and household appliances, was originally started by the group. Other examples are Fountain Grove, Riker's Holy City and other Californian utopian colonies between 1855 and 1955 (Hine), as well as Sointula in British Columbia, Canada.
Lastly, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is well known for establishing long lasting and tightly knit communities. In 1989, Peter Drucker, a world renowned authority on business, non-profit, and government organization and management declared that "the Mormons are the only utopia that has ever worked." Mormon-built communities were key contributors to the settlement of the Western United States in the 1800's (occasionally referred to as the "Mormon Corridor"). Early Mormon pioneers frequently were able to turn physically inhospitable land into thriving communities which rivalled the chief economic centers of their day. Examples include Kirtland, Ohio; Nauvoo, Illinois; and Salt Lake City, Utah. In modern times, the Church maintains a unique volunteerism ethic and structure which continues to flourish.
Scientific and technological utopias are set in the future, when it is believed that advanced science and technology will allow utopian living standards; for example, the absence of death and suffering; changes in human nature and the human condition. Technology has affected the way humans have lived to such an extent that normal functions, like sleep, eating or even reproduction, have been replaced by artificial means. Other examples include a society where humans have struck a balance with technology and it is merely used to enhance the human living condition (e.g. Star Trek). In place of the static perfection of a utopia, libertarian transhumanists envision an "extropia", an open, evolving society allowing individuals and voluntary groupings to form the institutions and social forms they prefer.
Buckminster Fuller presented a theoretical basis for technological utopianism and set out to develop a variety of technologies ranging from maps to designs for cars and houses which might lead to the development of such a utopia.
Opposing this optimism is the prediction that advanced science and technology will, through deliberate misuse or accident, cause environmental damage or even humanity's extinction. Critics, such as Jacques Ellul and Timothy Mitchell advocate precautions against the premature embrace of new technologies, raising questions on responsibility and freedom brought by division of labour. Authors such as John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen consider that modern technology is progressively depriving humans of their autonomy, and advocate the collapse of the industrial civilization, in favor of small-scale organization, as a necessary path to avoid the threat of technology on human freedom and sustainability.
Utopias have been used to explore the ramification of gender being either a societal construct, or a hard-wired imperative. In Mary Gentle's Golden Witchbreed, gender is not chosen until maturity, and gender has no bearing on social roles. In contrast, Doris Lessing's The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five (1980) suggests that men's and women's values are inherent to the sexes and cannot be changed, making a compromise between them essential. In My Own Utopia (1961) by Elizabeth Mann Borghese, gender exists but is dependant upon age rather than sex — genderless children mature into women, some of whom eventually become men.
Utopic single-gender worlds or single-sex societies have long been one of the primary ways to explore implications of gender and gender-differences. In speculative fiction, female-only worlds have been imagined to come about by the action of disease that wipes out men, along with the development of technological or mystical method that allow female parthenogenic reproduction. The resulting society is often shown to be utopian by feminist writers. Many influential feminist utopias of this sort were written in the 1970s; the most often studied examples include Joanna Russ's The Female Man and Suzy McKee Charnas's Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines. Utopias imagined by male authors have generally included equality between sexes, rather than separation. Such worlds have been portrayed most often by lesbian or feminist authors; their use of female-only worlds allows the exploration of female independence and freedom from patriarchy. The societies may not necessarily be lesbian, or sexual at all — a famous early sexless example being Herland (1915) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Charlene Ball writes in Women's studies encyclopedia that use of speculative fiction to explore gender roles in future societies has been more common in the United States compared to Europe and elsewhere.
Utopianism refers to various social and political movements.
In many cultures, societies, religions, and cosmogonies, there is some myth or memory of a distant past when humankind lived in a primitive and simple state, but at the same time one of perfect happiness and fulfillment. In those days, the various myths tell us, there was an instinctive harmony between man and nature. Men's needs were few and their desires limited. Both were easily satisfied by the abundance provided by nature. Accordingly, there were no motives whatsoever for war or oppression. Nor was there any need for hard and painful work. Humans were simple and pious, and felt themselves close to the gods. According to one anthropological theory, hunter-gathers were the original affluent society.
These mythical or religious archetypes are inscribed in all the cultures and resurge with special vitality when people are in difficult and critical times. However, the projection of the myth does not take place towards the remote past, but either towards the future or towards distant and fictional places, imagining that at some time of the future, at some point of the space or beyond the death must exist the possibility of living happily.
These myths of the earliest stage of humankind have been referred to by various religions:
Golden Age The Greek poet Hesiod, around the 8th century BC, in his compilation of the mythological tradition (the poem Works and Days), explained that, prior to the present era, there were other four progressively more perfect ones, the oldest of which was the Golden age.
Plutarch, the Greek historian and biographer of the 1st century, dealt with the blissful and mythic past of the humanity.
Arcadia, e.g. in Sir Philip Sidney's prose romance The Old Arcadia (1580). Originally a region in the Peloponnesus, Arcadia became a synonym for any rural area that serves as a pastoral setting, as a locus amoenus ("delightful place"):
"And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. [...]
And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. [...]
And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; [...] And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man."
The Land of Cokaygne The Land of Cokaygne [also spelled Cockaygne or Cockaigne] (in the German tradition referred to as "Schlaraffenland"de:Schlaraffenland) has been aptly called the "poor man's heaven", being a popular fantasy of pure hedonism and thus a foil for the innocent and instinctively virtuous life that is depicted in all the other accounts mentioned above. Cockaygne is a land of extravagance and excess rather than simplicity and piety. There is freedom from work, and every material thing is free and available. Cooked larks fly straight into one's mouth; the rivers run with wine; sexual promiscuity is the norm; and there is a fountain of youth which keeps everyone young and active.
There is a medieval poem (c. 1315) written in rhyming couplets which is entitled "The Land of Cokaygne":
"Far in the sea, to the west of Spain,
Is a country called Cokaygne.
There's no land not anywhere,
In goods or riches to compare.
Though Paradise be merry and bright
Cokaygne is of far fairer sight...."
These myths also express some hope that the idyllic state of affairs they describe is not irretrievably and irrevocably lost to mankind, that it can be regained in some way or other.
One way would be to look for the "earthly paradise"—a place like Shangri-La, hidden in the Tibetan mountains and described by James Hilton in his Utopian novel Lost Horizon (1933). Such paradise on earth must be somewhere if only man were able to find it. Christopher Columbus followed directly in this tradition in his belief that he had found the Garden of Eden when, towards the end of the 15th century, he first encountered the New World and its indigenous inhabitants.
Another way of regaining the lost paradise (or Paradise Lost, as 17th century English poet John Milton calls it) would be to wait for the future, for the return of the Golden Age. According to Christian theology, the Fall from Paradise, caused by Man alone when he disobeyed God ("but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it"), has resulted in the wickedness of character that all human beings have been born with since (original sin).
In a scientific approach to finding utopia, the Global Scenario Group, an international group of scientists founded by Paul Raskin, used scenario analysis and backcasting to map out a path to an environmentally sustainable and socially equitable future. Its findings suggest that a global citizens' movement is necessary to steer political, economic, and corporate entities toward this new sustainability paradigm.
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"Utopia" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.