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.
Thomas More's Utopia has spurred debate, reflection, and critical thinking since its original publication in the 16th Century. More's fictional island of Utopia provides an exploration of issues that shook him and his contemporaries and continue to be problematic in the modern day; the details of More's utopian society, such as the permissibility of euthanasia and comments on chastity in the priesthood, combine with proposals of coexisting varied religions to put forth a work that incorporates the totality of More's religious, sociological, and philosophical talents.
The new Boston of 2000, Julian West discovers, is a city of beauty and grace, with many splendid public buildings, reflecting an undreamed of prosperity; but, more important, it is populated by people who are remarkably healthy and happy. The basic reason for these conditions is that equality has been attained throughout the population. There are no more rich, no more poor.
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.
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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.
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.