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 City of the Sun (1623) by Calabrian monk Tommaso Campanella, today represents one of the most important utopian philosophical works. In it, Campanella described the fictional theocratic utopian society that was governed by equality of all its citizens, shared work toward common good, and choosing the wisest for the governing roles.This vision of the perfect world even today represents one of the purest examples of the early literary utopian works.
Utopians are ambivalent, in fact illogical if not morally arrogant, about killing for food or defense. They eat animals but "they do not allow their citizens to be accustomed to butchering animals" but rather have "bondsmen" do this because they believe that butchering animals for food "gradually eliminates compassion, the finest feeling of human nature." (68) Bondsmen are apparently immune to such a descent into moral corruption, or else they are bondsmen exactly because they are already morally degraded and so either immune to further corruption or they are beyond moral rectification, and therefore the moral consequences of killing for food cannot matter for their moral selves. So bondsmen who butcher animals either have no compassion, it having been gradually eliminated through butchering, or because their moral precondition, their qualification of moral impurity, includes diminished compassion from which their moral descent continues, or else they have compassion and, being bondsmen, they are somehow immune from the moral consequences of killing for food, either because of their moral deficiency or because bondsmen have a moral strength that the citizens of Utopia lack.
Quentin Skinner's interpretation of Utopia is consistent with the speculation that Stephen Greenblatt made in The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. There, Greenblatt argued that More was under the Epicurean influence of Lucretius's On the Nature of Things and the people that live in Utopia were an example of how pleasure has become their guiding principle of life. Although Greenblatt acknowledged that More's insistence on the existence of an afterlife and punishment for people holding contrary views were inconsistent with the essentially materialist view of Epicureanism, Greenblatt contended that it was the minimum conditions for what the pious More would have considered as necessary to live a happy life.
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 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.
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.
A Traveler from Altruria (1894) by William Dean Howells is a utopian novel that describes the differences between the late 19th century US and fictional island of Altruria. During the novel, visitor from Altruria compares the lifestyle of those two countries, discovering that US is still lagging in the political, economic, cultural, or moral aspects of life. This critique of capitalism and its consequences was greatly influenced by the previous utopian works - The City of the Sun, New Atlantis, Looking Backward and News from Nowhere.
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.
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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.
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.