What does it mean for a community to be utopian? How could everything be so perfect? What are factors that would influence whether utopian societies could exist or not?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The word utopia was first coined by Sir Thomas More for the long title of his book that has been shortened to just the name Utopia. The word utopia comes from the Greek word ou (οὐ), which translates to "not," the second Greek word topos (τόπος), which translates to "place," and the Greek suffix -iā (-ία) commonly used to identify names of places. Put in modern English, the word ou-topia (οὐτοπία) translates to mean "no-place land." Spelled in Latin ou-topia would be utopia. The word is also a pun off of the Greek word eu-topos, which translates to mean "good place." In other words, the whole idea behind the word utopia is that such a "good place" does not and will not actually exist (British Library, Learning: Dreamers and Dissenters, "Utopia").

In his book Utopia, Sir Thomas More invented an island society free of the corruptions of English society with the purpose of criticizing English society. Aspects More criticized concerned kings wasting money by starting needless wars, unjust punishments, and the role of aristocracy in creating poverty. His fictional island had a democratic election system to ensure citizens were fairly represented. The society was also ruled by a prince capable of being deposed. In addition, all property was communally shared; private property did not exist. Finally, More's society also enslaved criminals rather than executed them and released them based on improvements in their behavior.

Though a utopian society does not actually exist, many have striven to create utopian societies, especially in the United States. Utopian societies vary greatly but share in common one idea from More's Utopia--they believe in shared, communal property. The Shaker movement is one of the earliest examples of a utopian community. Besides having communal property, Shakers treated men and women as equals; wore modest, uniform clothing, much like the Puritans; refrained from using decorations; and had specific religious practices (University of Houston, Digital History, "Utopia Socialism").