The history of utopian literature is extensive, even if we take the term in the strict sense of a detailed description of a nation or commonwealth ordered according to a system which the author proposes as a better way of life than any known to exist, a system that could be instituted if the present one could be cancelled and people could start over. Before More's 1516 Utopia, the number of elaborately designed utopian commonwealths is small. Most of the writings along these lines are brief and many are misty, nostalgic, backward glances at an imagined primitive life in the "Golden Age." There is, of course, no lack of earlier literature criticizing the status quo. The great outpouring of utopian literature, however, came after More; and it cannot be doubted that his work gave great impetus to the movement.
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.
Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World. Cavendish’s work is frequently interested in the idea of utopia, such as the all-female university she imagines in The Female Academy and The Convent of Pleasure, in which a group of women remove themselves from society in order to devote themselves to a life of pleasure. But The Blazing World, published in 1666 when London was quite literally ablaze with the Great Fire, is her most representative utopian work, a fictional account of a young woman’s fantastic voyage to an alternative world, which she accesses via the North Pole. Cavendish’s looking-glass utopia anticipates the world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books in a number of startling ways.
Money has been outlawed, but a substitute means of transacting personal business has been devised. Every individual is given a monthly allowance in the form of a credit card, a kind of punch card, to record his expenditures. This method permits individuals to exercise judgment and taste in the way they like to live. Some will set a better table than others, some acquire a larger house, some will travel extensively, but everyone's allowance is the same.
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.
Equality for all mankind is not a realistic goal in Wells's view. That, he believes, would mean a loss of individuality, and individuality is an inherent requirement of human nature. Similarly, competition is necessary to a thriving society. Taking what he considers a practical position, he sees the new society as divided into four classes of persons which he calls poietic, kinetic, dull, and base. There is a leader caste, called Samurai, which is drawn primarily from the poietic group, though some from the kinetic class may qualify. Persons who volunteer for Samurai membership must meet stringent requirements, both physical and mental; and they must pledge to conform to the rules of the caste, which forbid eating meat, smoking, drinking, gambling, and participation in public sports or entertainments. The Samurai furnish the World State with its administrators, legislators, lawyers, doctors, and other leaders. Furthermore, they are the only voters in the commonwealth. The male members of the Samurai are encouraged to marry women of comparable qualifications, and they are encouraged to produce children with the aim of improving the quality of the population. The lower classes of citizens, the dull witted, the criminals, and the deformed are exiled from society and prevented from childbearing.