“ [A] permanent possibility of selfishness arises from the mere fact of having a self, and not from any accidents of education or ill-treatment. And the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones. They first assume that no man will want more than his share, and then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be delivered by motor-car or balloon. ”
The reader, following the narrator's shifting attitude from admiration to surprise and finally to contempt, is led to believe that the author is bent on demonstrating the vast inferiority of the Erewhonians to his fellow Englishmen; but it gradually becomes clear that he attributes to Englishmen much of the irrationality and the ingenious equivocations that make the Erewhonians look foolish. The difference is only one of degree. The technique is close to that of Swiftian satire. In some places it is confused and inconsistent, but in other passages it is both clever and devastating, worthy of the master.
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.
Sir Francis Bacon, New Atlantis. Although he never completed it, this utopian novel by one of the great philosophers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras is well worth reading. It was published posthumously in 1627 and outlines a perfect society, Bensalem (its name suggesting Jerusalem) founded on peace, enlightenment, and public spirit. Available in Three Early Modern Utopias Thomas More: Utopia / Francis Bacon: New Atlantis / Henry Neville: The Isle of Pines (Oxford World’s Classics) along with More’s Utopia and another early utopian novel, Henry Neville’s The Isle of Pines.
Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward: 2000-1887. Published in 1888, Bellamy’s novel imagining a perfect future society spawned a nationwide movement in America. (It also predicted electronic broadcasting and credit cards.) Bellamy’s plan for a ‘cloud palace for an ideal humanity’ also helped to inspire the garden city movement in the US and the UK. The best edition is Looking Backward 2000-1887 (Oxford World’s Classics).
Francis Bacon's New Atlantis was probably written in 1624, but was not published until 1627, a year after the author's death. Like the work of his contemporaries, Campanella and Andreae, Bacon's book shows the influence of More in certain broad aspects. It purports to relate the discovery by an exploring expedition in the Pacific Ocean of an island where the natives have developed a society offering much to admire. The goal of the common good is sought through learning and justice. The principal attention of the account is focused on an elaborate academy of science. Bacon has incorporated in this society the basic ideas that he developed more elaborately in his longer philosophical and scholarly treatises; namely, that the advancement of human welfare can best be achieved through the systematic exploration of nature. His famous "scientific method" is founded on painstaking observation of natural phenomena and constructing, through inductive reasoning, a body of knowledge based on those observations. He urges experimentation to improve general knowledge and to develop inventions for human comfort and pleasure. The central institute in the capital of New Atlantis, called Solomon's House, is a huge academy which foreshadows the later creation of scientific laboratories and academies, such as the English Royal Society.
In the treatment of education, Campanella reveals himself as a seventeenth-century thinker, placing great emphasis on the study of the sciences, all of the sciences. He has a plan for spreading information on all branches of knowledge through pictures displayed throughout the city on walls and in corridors of public buildings — visual aids to education for persons of all ages. Their leaders believe that the advancement of scientific knowledge is the principal key to the betterment of the race. The report claims that those people have developed not only the telescope but also such modern inventions as power-propelled ships and flying machines.
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.
An early evidence of the impact of Utopia in Europe appeared in Rabelais's first book of Pantagruel (1532) in which a section is entitled "The Expedition to Utopia." Actually the narrative in no way resembles Utopia, but there are incidental parallels. Details of the voyage from France to Utopia are in a general way reminiscent of More's account of the travels of Hythloday. And it is noteworthy that Rabelais called the inhabitants of Utopia the Amaurotes, a word derived from More's name for the capital city of Utopia.
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.
Radical changes have transformed England both in appearance and in its social patterns. The new society is structured according to the pattern of ideal communism: no money, no private property, perfect equality for every citizen. Labor is shared by every member of the community. These are all familiar attributes of utopian societies. One of the distinctive features of Morris's plan is that labor is regarded as a pleasure rather than a necessary chore, the reason being that everyone works at a task that he can do best and consequently takes pride in the product of his labor. This essentially Medieval attitude toward the achievement of the workman turns production into something of an art, whether the product is a dish, a meal, a doorknob, or a bridge. The revival of that ancient pattern of individual workmanship has been made possible by the elimination of all but the simplest machinery. Factories have all been destroyed, and the former pattern of urban industrial crowding and squalor has disappeared. Where London used to be there is a collection of scattered villages. The age is described as post-industrial.
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.