See Utopia (disambiguation) for other meanings of this word
Utopia, in its most common and general meaning, refers to a hypothetical perfect society. It has also been used to describe actual communities founded in attempts to create such a society. The adjective utopian is often used to refer to good but (physically, socially, economically, or politically) impossible proposals, or at least ones that are very difficult to implement.
An utopia can be either idealistic or practical, but the term has acquired a strong connotation of optimistic, idealistic, impossible perfection. The utopia may be usefully contrasted with the undesirable dystopia (anti-utopia) and the satirical utopia.
Origin of the term
The term Utopia was coined by Thomas More as the title of his Latin book De Optimo Reipublicae Statu deque Nova Insula Utopia (circa 1516), known more commonly as Utopia. He created the word "utopia" to suggest two Greek neologisms simultaneously: outopia (no place) and eutopia (good place). In this original context, the word carried none of the modern connotations associated with it.
More depicts a rationally organised society, through the narration of an explorer who discovers it - Raphael Hythlodaeus. Utopia is a republic where all property is held in common. In addition, it has few laws and no lawyers, and rarely sends its citizens to war, but hires mercenaries from among its war-prone neighbours.
It is likely that More, a religious layman who once considered joining the Church as a priest, was inspired by monachal life when he described the workings of his society. More lived during the age when the Renaissance was beginning to assert itself in England, and the old medieval ideals, including the monastic ideal, were declining. Some of More's ideas reflect a nostalgia for that medieval past. It was an inspiration for the Reducciones established by the Jesuits to Christianize and "civilize" the Guaranis.
- Eutopia is a positive utopia, roughly equivalent to the regular use of the word "utopia".
- Dystopia is a negative utopia.
Other subcategories include Arcadias and Cockaygnes. Ruth Levitas is one who has developed such a categorisation.
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 an 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 time passed and the socialist movement matured, utopianism was discarded. Socialists grounded their ideas firmly in the realities of the age; among the different emerging socialist currents, Marxism became by far the harshest critic of utopian socialism. (for more information see the History of Socialism article)
Utopias have also been imagined by the opposite side of the political spectrum. For example, Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is an individualistic and libertarian utopia. Capitalist utopias of this sort are generally based on perfect market economies, in which there is no market failure—or the issue is never addressed. Some cynics, usually socialists, see most economics textbooks as being nothing but stories of capitalist utopias.
Political and historical utopias
A global utopia of world peace is often seen as one of the possible inevitable endings of history.
Sparta was a militaristic utopia founded by Lycurgus (though some, especially Athenians, may have thought it was rather a dystopia). It was a Greek power until its defeat by the Thebans at the battle of Leuctra.
The Christian and Islamic ideas of heaven tend to be utopian, especially in their folk-religious forms: inviting speculation about existence free of sin and poverty or any sorrow, beyond the power of death (although "heaven" in Christian eschatology at least, is more nearly equivalent to life within God Himself, visualized as an earth-like paradise in the sky). In a similar sense, the Buddhist concept of Nirvana may be thought of as a kind of utopia. Religious utopias, perhaps expansively described as a garden of delights, existence free of worry amid streets paved with gold, in a bliss of enlightenment enjoying nearly godlike powers, are often a reason for perceiving benefit in remaining faithful to a religion, and an incentive for converting new members.
In the United States during the Second Great Awakening of the nineteenth century, many radical religious groups formed utopian societies. They sought to form communities where all aspects of people's lives could be governed by their faith. Among the best-known of these utopian societies was the Shaker movement. The largest such movement was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' settlement in Utah after 1846 (See Mormon Pioneer).
See also: End of the world, Eschatology, Millennialism, Utopianism
Scientific and technological utopias
These 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. A technological utopia is sometimes called "extropia", especially by transhumanists.
One notable example of a technological and libertarian utopia is Scottish author Iain M. Bank's Culture.
See also: hedonistic imperative, transhumanism, technological singularity, abolitionist society
Opposing this optimism is the prediction that advanced science and technology will, through deliberate misuse or accident, cause humanity's extinction. These pessimists advocate precautions over embracement of new technology.
- Plato's Republic (400 BC) was a description of a political utopia ruled by a philosopher king, conceived by Plato. A central idea is Plato's allegory of the cave.
- Utopia (1516) by Thomas More
- The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) by Robert Burton, a utopian society is described in the preface.
- The City of the Sun (1623) by Tommaso Campanella
- The New Atlantis (1627) by Francis Bacon
- Oceana (1656) by James Harrington
- The section in Gulliver's Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift depicting the calm, rational society of the Houyhnhms, is certainly utopian, but it is meant to contrast with that of the yahoos, who represent the worst that the human race can do.
- Voyage en Icarie (1840) by Etienne Cabet
- Erewhon (1872) by Samuel Butler
- Looking Backward (1888), by Edward Bellamy
- Freiland (1890) by Theodor Hertzka
- News from Nowhere (1891), by William Morris; see also the Arts and Crafts Movement founded to put his ideas into practice
- Utopia, Limited (1893) is a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta in which a small island nation reforms itself along British lines, with amusingly utter success.
- A large number of books by H.G. Wells, including A Modern Utopia (1905)
- Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) can be considered an example of pseudo-utopian satire (see also dystopia). One of his other books, Island (1962), demonstrates a positive utopia.
- Islandia (1942), by Austin Tappan Wright
- B. F. Skinner's Walden Two (1948)
- The Cloud of Magellan (1955) by Stanislaw Lem
- Andromeda Nebula (1957) is a classic communist utopia by Ivan Efremov
- Star Trek (1966) science fiction television series by Gene Roddenberry
- The Dispossessed (1974), a science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, is sometimes said to represent one of the few modern revivals of the utopian genre, though it is notable that one of the major themes of the work is the ambiguity of different notions of utopia. Le Guin presents a utopian world in which ditches do need digging, and sewers need unblocking—this drudgery is divided among all adults, and is contrasted, in the language of the utopia, with their everyday, more satisfying work.
- Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) by Marge Piercy is a feminist science fiction novel in which the protagonist must act to win the utopian future over an alternative, dystopian, one.
- Ecotopia (novel) (1975) by Ernest Callenbach
- The Three Californias Trilogy (especially The Pacific Edge (1990)) and the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
- The Giver (1993), a novel by Lois Lowry, depicts a "perfect" society of the far future whose elimination of war, disease, fear, &c. comes at the inherent price of the repression of human emotions, individuality, and free will.
- most of the stories in Future Primitive - The New Ecotopias (1994), edited by Kim Stanley Robinson
- The Hedonistic Imperative (1996), an online manifesto by David Pearce, outlines how genetic engineering and nanotechnology will abolish suffering in all sentient life.
- The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You (1997) by Dorothy Bryant
- The Matrix (1999), a film by the Wachowski brothers, describes a virtual reality controlled by artificial intelligence such as Agent Smith. Smith says that the first Matrix was a utopia, but humans disbelieved and rejected it because they "define their reality through misery and suffering." Therefore, the Matrix was redesigned to simulate human civilization with all its suffering.
- Full text of Thomas More's Utopia (http://www.gutenberg.net/etext/2130) from Project Gutenberg
- Utopia - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001 (http://www.bartleby.com/65/ut/Utopia.html)
- Utopia - Definition and History of the Term - The New Encyclopaedia Britannica (http://www.uni-potsdam.de/u/anglistik/stud_pro/utopieseite/genre/utopia.html)
- Society for Utopian Studies (http://www.utoronto.ca/utopia/) is the Main Page for the Society for Utopian Studies, an international, interdisciplinary association devoted to the study of utopianism in all its forms, with a particular emphasis on literary and experimental utopias.
- The Abolitionist Society (http://www.abolitionist-society.com/) is dedicated to the elimination of suffering through science