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.
“ HECUBA: I had a knife in my skirt, Achilles. When Talthybius bent over me, I could have killed him. I wanted to. I had the knife just for that reason. Yet, at the last minute I thought, he's some mother's son just as Hector was, and aren't we women all sisters? If I killed him, I thought, wouldn't It be like killing family?Wouldn't it be making some other mother grieve? So I didn't kill him, but if I had, I might have saved Hector's child. Dead or damned, that's the choice we make. Either you me ...more ”
The only ancient authors other than Plato who have been mentioned as possibly influencing or suggesting comparison with More are Lycurgus, Cicero, and St. Augustine. Lycurgus is reputed to have dictated a body of laws for ancient Sparta, the best account of which is found in Plutarch. It declared equal possession among the "citizens" — that is, the upper-class members of the community. The "helots," who were in the vast majority, were virtually on the level of slaves. Instead of gold and silver for coins, iron was used. All luxuries were banned, and both men and women were disciplined to endure hardships and were motivated to sacrifice everything for the welfare of the state.
Looking Backward (1888) by Edward Bellamy, the most successful and influential American author writing in the utopian vein, presents a vision of a glorious future society. Julian West, a young, aristocratic Bostonian, falls asleep under a hypnotic trance in 1887, but through a remarkable set of circumstances, is awakened in the year 2000. His host family in this new age introduces him to their amazing society, explaining their institutions and the rationale for their system.
The features of Erewhonian society that surprise the author are those that differ from the England that he knew. According to the early impressions of the travelers, the people all appear to be exceptionally healthy, exceedingly handsome, and altogether contented. Their life style is characterized by simplicity and gracious manners, best described as Arcadian. Gradually, however, oddities, or what appear to be oddities to the visitor, begin to surface. Duplicity pervades every aspect of thought and action. The natives habitually profess agreement to a proposition although they do not believe in it, and their friends are perfectly aware that they do not mean what they say. There are two separate banking systems in operation and two sets of religions. The people give lip service to what they call the Musical Banks, but they transact all serious business with the currency of the other chain of banks. Similarly they recognize a group of deities representing the personification of human qualities — justice, hope, love, fear — and erect statues to them; but their pragmatic morality is evidently dictated by a goddess — Ydgrun (Grundy). More and more they reveal themselves to the traveler as victims of self-deception and inverted logic. Their universities are called Colleges of Unreason, and the principal course of study is Hypothetics.
The work begins with written correspondence between Thomas More and several people he had met on the continent: Peter Gilles, town clerk of Antwerp, and Hieronymus van Busleyden, counselor to Charles V. More chose these letters, which are communications between actual people, to further the plausibility of his fictional land. In the same spirit, these letters also include a specimen of the Utopian alphabet and its poetry. The letters also explain the lack of widespread travel to Utopia; during the first mention of the land, someone had coughed during announcement of the exact longitude and latitude. The first book tells of the traveller Raphael Hythlodaeus, to whom More is introduced in Antwerp, and it also explores the subject of how best to counsel a prince, a popular topic at the time.
Bacon left this work unfinished, and it is impossible to say how he planned to treat other aspects of life in New Atlantis. He did not discuss the social and governmental systems of the islanders; hence, we do not know what his attitude toward communism was. Marriage was held sacred. His Atlantians exhibited a love of finery in costumes and jewelry that sets them apart from the typical utopians.
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There is, of course, nothing new in all of this program, nothing fantastic such as Huxley's "Hatchery and Conditioning Centre." The reader, while he cringes at the horror, keeps repeating to himself, "It can't happen here." Nevertheless, Orwell compels us to recognize not only Nazi devices but also certain telltale symptoms in our own social and political practices that cannot help but undermine our complacency.
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.