1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Utopia

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Utopia, an ideal commonwealth, or an imaginary country whose inhabitants are supposed to exist under the most perfect conditions possible. Hence the terms Utopia and Utopian are also used to denote any visionary scheme of reform or social theory, especially those which fail to recognize defects inherent in human nature. The word first occurs in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, which was originally published in Latin under the title De Optima Reipublicae Statu, deque Nova Insula Utopia (Louvain, 1516). It was compounded by More (q.v.) from the Greek οὐ, not, and τόπος, a place, meaning therefore a place which has no real existence, an imaginary country.

The idea of a Utopia is, even in literature, far older than More’s romance; it appears in the Timaeus of Plato and is fully developed in his Republic. The idealized description of Sparta in Plutarch’s life of Lycurgus belongs to the same class of literary Utopias, though it professes to be historical. A similar idea also occurs in legends of world-wide currency, the best known of these being the Greek, and the medieval Norse, Celtic and Arab legends which describe an earthly Paradise in the Western or Atlantic Ocean (see Atlantis). Few of these survived after the exploration of the Atlantic by Columbus, Vasco da Gama and others in the 15th century; but in literature More’s Utopia set a new fashion. An ideal state of society is described in the writings of Hobbes, Sir Robert Filmer and J. J. Rousseau. In Bacon’s New Atlantis (1624–29) science is the key to universal happiness; Tommaso Campanella’s Civitas Solis (1623) portrays a communistic society, and is largely inspired by the Republic of Plato; James Harrington’s Oceana (1656), which had a profound influence upon political thought in America, is a practical treatise rather than a romance, and is founded on the ideas that property, especially in land, is the basis of political power, and that the executive should only be controlled for a short period by the same man or men. Bernard de Mandevil1e’s Fable of the Bees is unique in that it describes the downfall of an ideal commonwealth. Other Utopias are the “Voyage en Salente” in Fénelon’s Télémaque (1699); Etienne Cabet’s Voyage en Icarie (1840); Bulwer Lytton’s The Coming Race (1871); Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872) and Erewhon Revisited (1901); Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888); William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890); H. G. Wells’s Anticipations (1901), A Modern Utopia (1905) and New Worlds for Old (1908). Many Utopias, such as the Fable of the Bees and Erewhon, are designed to satirize existing social conditions as well as to depict a more perfect civilization. There are separate articles on all the authors mentioned above. A large number of the more recent Utopias have been inspired by socialistic or communistic ideals; among these may be mentioned Freiland, ein soziales Zukunftsbild (1890) and Reise nach Freiland (1893), by the Austrian political economist Theodor Hertzka (b. Budapest, 1845), which portray an imaginary communistic colony in Central Africa.