Samuel Butler, Erewhon. This hugely inventive 1872 satire by the author of the anti-Victorian novel The Way of All Flesh is perhaps more accurately described as ‘anti-utopian’, though it follows the utopian narrative structure. The fictional land of Erewhon – almost ‘nowhere’ backwards – is the setting for this novel. Among the things satirised by Butler in this book is the rise of the machines, which Butler argues will evolve at an ever-faster rate – along the lines of Darwinian evolution – until the machines eventually overtake humans.
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.
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.
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.
What happens to those slaves (bondsmen) who helped feed the citizens of Utopia by butchering animals for food and thus suffering the apparent moral consequence of diminished compassion is not stated. Perhaps Utopia uses only slaves gotten from outside the citizenry of Utopia for their necessary killing. Utopia has slaves captured in wars they fought and other "foreigners who have been condemned to death" which the Utopians "acquire [...] sometimes cheaply, more often gratis and take them away." Foreign slaves are kept "constantly at work" and in chains. (95) Utopia also has slaves who entered into slavery by choice. These are "poor, overworked drudges from other nations [...] who chose to be slaves among the Utopians." Such slaves can relinquish their slavery whenever they choose, but in doing so they leave Utopia, although they are not "sent away empty-handed." (96)
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.