Utopian Literature of the Renaissance Overviews - Essay


(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Marie Louise Berneri (essay date 1950)

SOURCE: "Utopias of the Renaissance," in Journey Through Utopia, 1950. Reprint by The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 52-58.

[In the following excerpt from her critical study of Utopian literature, Berneri argues that "though the Utopias of Thomas More, Campanella and Andreae embody to a great extent the spirit of the Renaissance, they are also a reaction against it. "]

From the Greek ideal commonwealths we now pass to those of the Renaissance. This does not mean that during this gap of fifteen centuries the mind of man had ceased to be interested in building imaginary societies, and a complete survey of Utopian thought should describe its manifestations during the Roman Empire and even more during the following period which is generally, and unjustly, called the Dark Ages. In many legends of that time one finds that the Utopian dream assumes a primitive form as in the early Greek myths.

With the theological thought of the Middle Ages the ideal commonwealths are projected in the next world either, in the mystic and philosophic manner of St Augustine's De Civitate Dei, or in the poetical and naive fashion of the narrative of the great Irish traveller St Brendan. This intrepid monk tells how, during one of his travels, his ship was driven towards the north, and how after fifteen days he and his companions reached a country where they saw cathedrals of crystal and where day followed day without night and they landed on an island which was the abode of the blessed. Though in this 6th century legend, Utopia is identified with Paradise, the combination of actual travels with the vision of an ideal island is a feature which will be found in many later Utopias.

If the Utopian writers of the Renaissance owe a great deal to Greek philosophy they are also indebted to the Christian Fathers and to later theologians. St Thomas Aquinas's De Regimine Principum, written during the 13th century, contains some passages which are worth quoting because they express ideas common to almost all the Utopias of the Renaissance. Firstly that human happiness is dependent on ethical principles as well as material comfort:

For an individual to lead a good life two things are required. The first and most important is to act in a virtuous manner, for virtue is that by which one lives well; the second, which is secondary and as it were instrumental, is a sufficiency of those bodily goods whose use is necessary to an act of virtue.

The self-sufficiency of the city and surrounding country is the ideal to be achieved:

Now there are two ways in which an abundance of food-stuffs can be supplied to a city. The first is where the soil is so fertile that it nobly provides for all the necessities of human life. The second is by trade, through which the necessities of life are brought to the town from different places. But it is quite clear that the first means is better. For the higher a thing is the more self-sufficient it is; since whatever needs another's help is by that very fact proven inferior. But that city is more fully self-sufficient which the surrounding country supplies with all its vital needs, than is another which must obtain these supplies by trade. A city which has an abundance of food from its own territory is more dignified than one which is provisioned by merchants. It is safer, too, for the importing of supplies can be prevented whether owing to the uncertain outcome of wars or to the many dangers of the road, and thus the city may be overcome through lack of food.

St Thomas Aquinas perceived the disruptive effect of commerce upon the community:

Again, if the citizens themselves devote their lives to matters of trade the way will be opened to many vices. For since the object of trading leads especially to the making of money, greed is awakened in the hearts of citizens through the pursuit of trade. The result is that everything in the city will be offered for sale; confidence will be destroyed and the way opened to all kinds of trickery; each one will work only for his own profit, despising the public good: the cultivation of virtue will fail, since honour, virtue's reward, will be bestowed upon everyone. Thus in such a city civic life will be corrupted.

It would have been impossible for the Renaissance writers to model their ideal commonwealth entirely upon those of the Greek thinkers, for the structure of the society they had before their eyes was fundamentally different from that of ancient Greece. The Athenian or Spartan city, with its watertight division between citizen and slaves, its primitive economy based almost exclusively on agriculture, could not be transplanted into the society of the sixteenth century without undergoing some radical changes.

The most important change was in regard to manual labour. For Plato manual work was merely a necessity of life and should be left to the slaves and artisans, while a special caste busied itself with the affairs of State. The experience of the mediaeval city had shown, on the contrary, that the whole community was capable of governing itself through its guilds and city councils, and this community was entirely composed of producers. Thus work had acquired an important and respected position which it did not altogether lose with the breaking up of communal institutions.

All the utopists of the Renaissance insist that work is a duty for all citizens and some of them, like Campanella and Andreae, maintain that all work, even the most menial, is honourable. Nor was this a mere statement of principle; it was reflected in the institutions which gave equal rights to the labourer as to the craftsman, to the peasant as to the school-master. These Utopian institution deprived work of its mercenary character by abolishing wages and trade, and they further endeavoured to make work pleasant by reducing the number of working hours. These institutions, which strike us as modern, had in fact existed in the mediaeval city where hired labour was practically non-existent and where manual labour was no token of inferiority, while the idea that work must be pleasant was a current one and was well expressed in this mediaeval Kuttenberg Ordinance which says: "Every one must be pleased with his work, and no one shall, while doing nothing, appropriate for himself what others have produced by applicationand work, because laws must be a shield for application and work." The Utopian idea of a short working day which to us, accustomed to think of the past in terms of the nineteenth century, seems a very radical one, does not appear such an innovation, if it is compared with an ordinance of Ferdinand the First relative to the Imperial coal mines, which settled the miner's day at eight hours. And according to Thorold Rogers, in fifteenth century England men worked forty-eight hours a week.

During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the cities gradually lost their independence, their prosperity began to decline and soon the most abject poverty prevailed generally among working people. But the experience of the free cities was not lost and was consciously or unconsciously assimilated in the constitution of ideal states.

The Utopias of the Renaissance introduced, however, some important innovations. The mediaeval city had not succeeded in allying itself with the peasantry and this had been one of the chief causes of its decay. The peasant had remained in a condition of slavery and, though in England serfdom had been abolished, in most European countries the peasants were enduring conditions not dissimilar from those of the Helots in Sparta. The Utopian writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth century realised, as St Thomas Aquinas had done, that a stable society must integrate the town and the countryside, craftsmen and peasants, and that agricultural work should be given an honoured position equal to that of the other crafts.

The importance given in Utopian writings to the scientific cultivation of the land was probably inspired by the work done by the monasteries in this field. Other features of monastic life, such as the rigid time-tables, the meals taken in common, the uniformity and austerity of clothes, the considerable amount of time devoted to study and prayer were also included in the constitutions of ideal cities.

Of more importance than the experiences of the past, however, is the direct influence that the movements of the Renaissance and the Reformation have had on Utopian thought. This influence is a complex one for, though the Utopias of Thomas More, Campanella and Andreae embody to a great extent the spirit of the Renaissance, they are also a reaction against it.

The splendid artistic and scientific movement of the Renaissance was accompanied by a disintegration of society. The assertion ofman's individuality, the development of his critical faculties, and the widening of knowledge, had consolidated the destruction of the collective spirit of the Middle Ages and undermined the unity of the Christian world. The Renaissance furthermore had led to the formation of a class of "intellectuals" by creating a division between the worker and the technician, the craftsman and the artist, the mason and the architect. A new aristocracy was born; not, at first, based on wealth and power, but on intelligence and knowledge. Burckhardt, the brilliant apologist of the Renaissance, admits that this movement "was anti-popular, that through it Europe became for the first time sharply divided into the cultivated and the uncultivated classes."

This division quickened the disintegration of society. The rising power of the nobles and the kings was no longer held in check by the Communes, and led to continuous and exhausting warfare. The old associations had been broken up and nothing had come to take their place. The condition of the people grew increasingly worse until it reached that abject poverty so powerfully described in More's Utopia.

The Utopias of the Renaissance represented a reaction against its extreme individualism and were an effort to create a new unity among nations. For this purpose they sacrificed the most cherished conquests of the Renaissance; Thomas More the scholar and humanist, the patron of painters and friend of Erasmus, produced an Utopia where the lack of individuality is evident—from the uniformity of the houses and clothes to the adherence to a strict routine of work; where artistic manifestations are completely absent; where the "unique" man of the Renaissance is replaced by a "standard" man. Except for Rabelais, who is in a category of his own, all the other Utopian writers are as parsimonious as More, in their allowance of personal freedom.

If these Utopias represented a reaction against the movement of the Renaissance they also anticipate its logical outcome. The development of the individuality had taken place in a minority at the expense of the majority. A cathedral built according to the plan conceived by one artist, more clearly expresses his individuality than one built by the common efforts of an association, but the workmen who execute the plan have less chance to develop their personalities.

In the political sphere the initiative also passed from the people to a few individuals. The condottieri, the princes, kings and bishops, dispensed justice, waged wars, contracted alliances, regulated commerce and production: all tasks which had been previously undertaken by the communes, guilds or city councils. The Renaissance which had allowed the development of the individual also created the state which became the negation of the individual.

The Utopias of the Renaissance try to offer a solution to the problems facing a society in the process of evolving a new form of organisation.

As has often been pointed out, the discovery of the New World gave a new impetus to Utopian thought, but it played only a secondary role, and one can safely assume that had More never read Vespucci's travels he would have imagined an ideal commonwealth in a different setting, like Campanella or Andreae who did not bother to consult travel books before they described their ideal cities. The main impetus came from the need to replace the associations, and the philosophical and religious systems of the Middle Ages, with new ones.

Next to the Utopias we find, as we did in Greece under similar circumstances, the elaboration of ideal constitutions which sought a solution in political reforms rather than in the establishment of a completely new system of society. Among the creators of ideal constitutions of that period, Jean Bodin probably exerted the greatest influence. This French philosopher strongly resisted the temptation of wishing to build "a Republic in the imagination and without effect such as those which Plato and Thomas More, the chancellor of England, have imagined." He believed, like Aristotle, that private property and family institutions should remain untouched, but that a strong state should be created which would be able to maintain the unity of the nation. At the time when Bodin wrote his Republic (1557), France was torn by religious wars, and there began to grow up a movement in favour of a monarchical state which would be strong enough to prevent religious struggles but which would at the same time allow political and religious freedom. Bodin's theories on the state answered these preoccupations and his works were read with interest all over Europe. He himself translated La République into Latin in 1586, when it had already been translated into Italian, Spanish and German. His ideas seem to have met with similar interest in England, for when Bodin came to this country in 1579 private lectures were held both in London and Cambridge to explain his work.

… [The Utopias of the Renaissance] are, in many respects, widely dissimilar. Thomas More abolishes property but retains family institutions and slavery; Campanella, though a staunch Catholic, wants to abolish marriage and the family; Andreae borrows many of his ideas from More and Campanella but puts his faith in a new religious reformation which would go deeper than that inspired by Luther; Bacon wants to preserve private property and a monarchal government but believes that the happiness of mankind can be achieved through scientific progress.

Glenn Negley and J. Max Patrick (essay date 1952)

SOURCE: "Utopias from 1500 to 1850," in The Quest for Utopia: An Anthology of Imaginary Societies, Henry Schuman, Inc., 1952, pp. 286-95.

[In the following essay, the critics discuss the revival of utopianism during the Renaissance, focusing on themes of communism, religion, and natural science in Utopian thought.]

With the rise of humanism and naturalism, and with the general revolution in human thought at the time of the Renaissance, utopianism revived. The medieval ideal of a static, divinely sanctioned order persisted in the writings of Robert Crowley in the sixteenth century, and lingered as the ideal of one aspect of seventeenth-century utopianism, though in national rather than international application. The semiutopian ideal of the Holy Roman universal society persisted through the middle ages and revived in modified form in Tommaso Campanella's Spanish Monarchy and in the hopes for a united Christendom which centered about Philip II of Spain. In 1516, Thomas More started a tradition of humanist Utopias, the chief of which were probably intended less as models for society than as norms by which to judge it. The revived study of the classics, a movement with which More himself was closely connected, also led to a group of Italian Utopias.

These Italian Utopias of the sixteenth century are of two types: the "ideal" and the "practical." The first type is universal in basis and application, and presents the idea or ideal of a state. The other is more specific: it is civic or national in both its nature and its application. The "practical" Utopia is thus a model, applicable constitution or plan for society, of the type represented by Harrington's Oceana in the following century. An "ideal" Utopia like Plato's Republic puts forward the philosophical or theoretical end of a state and society, in general, moretheoretic terms. During the Renaissance in all countries, the "practical" type predominated, probably because of the prevalence of naturalism. Natural philosophy taught the infallible goodness of natural law as the guide and purifying force of every society. If science was directed to study the laws of nature, and if the laws of nature were utilized to the ends of civil society, conclusions could be drawn which would contribute to the ordering of an ideal society which would be constructed in accordance with the dictates of the new experience. Natural philosophy thus led men to envisage the possibility of a model state governed by few and wise laws deduced from nature and yet dominant over her. Since it was believed that error was absent from nature, it would likewise be absent from this state; nor would anything there contradict the principles of philosophy.

The kind of model state which matured in the humanist, renaissance mind was fixed by the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, and by three Italian Utopias, "The Imaginary Republic" by Ludovico Agostini, "The Learned World" by Antonio Francesco Doni, and The Happy City by Francesco Patrizi. All four, especially the Italian ones, are in the nature of academic exercises devoted to philosophical speculation or the instructive admiration of a Utopian people. An account of one of them will illustrate this. The goal of the citizens in Patrizi's Happy City (Venice, 1553) is to get into tune with the Divine Idea and to drink supercelestial waters. The society is divided into six castes or orders. Physical necessities are provided by the three lowest orders, the peasants, artisans, and merchants. Since they are unable to give their souls to civic and contemplative virtues, they cannot attain happiness, and are, accordingly, denied citizenship and its privileges. The superior classes—warriors, governors, and priests—perform civic duties, but their chief aims are the speculative virtues and communion with the highest. However, there is no need to give further details here: the work is essentially a recasting of Plato's Republic.

In contrast with such "ideal" works, an example of a "practical" sixteenth-century utopia is to be found in "The Door Opened to the Republic of Evandria," which Ludovico Zuccolo included in his Dialogues (Venice, 1625). It is significant because of the light it throws on one origin of Utopias. The practice of idealizing an existing city or state is common to all ages, but it was particularly strong in sixteenth-century Italy. Glorifications of Lucca, Florence, and Venice are not far to seek in that period. The transition to an imagined perfect society was an easy one. Zuccolo first described San Marino with admiration for the simple butcomfortable life of its citizens. They were poor, but enjoyed a sufficiency of this world's goods; and the result of their poverty was cooperativeness, plain living, freedom from covetousness; a lack of corrupting luxuries and vices; absence of strangers, visitors, and bankers; and consequent freedom from the harms which they might bring. Zuccolo then proceeded to describe a fantastic voyage to the exemplary Republic of Evandria. Its site is remote, and it is further protected by natural barriers. In it wickedness is banished, and a perfect society exists under an annually elected magistracy. Thus Zuccolo's Utopia began in glorified reality and was carried to imaginative perfection. In contrast, More started from a consideration of the evils of England and then moved into a speculative dream of an ideal state which he held to be impossible of attainment.

The difference between Utopias classified as "ideal" and those grouped as "practical" is one of degree and tendency, but such a difference is quite noticeable if the states of More and Patrizi are compared with those written in the seventeenth century. In general, the latter, influenced no doubt by the Reformation and by developments in natural science, were intended to be practical. Joseph Hall's Discovery of a New World is an exception, for it is an academic exercise in burlesque and satire. But the extraordinary Utopian efflorescence in the two decades which followed produced in four different countries five accounts of imaginary societies. In varying degrees, all of them may be classified as "practical." Tommaso Campanella not only asserted the practicability of his City of the Sun, but participated in a Calabrian revolt to realize his end. I.D.M.'s Antangil, though strongly influenced by Plato and More, is obviously intended to be applicable to France in 1616. Bacon's New Atlantis, which appeared a decade later, heavily stresses the practical advantages of science and invention; and even Robert Burton's "poetical commonwealth of mine own" proves, on examination, to have realistic reference to the condition of England. Johann Valentin Andreae's Latin utopia, Christianopolis, like Campanella's City of the Sun, combines metaphysical speculation and immediate applicability.

Sufficient background in the history of utopianism has been given above to make possible a more rapid survey and classification of Utopias written before 1850.

One of the main currents was that of communism and socialism. It is traceable back to early accounts of the Golden Age. Developed in the Utopias of Plato, Iambulus, and Euhemerus, it recurred in the Middle Ages in such teachings as those of John Ball, which provided an ideological basis for peasant revolts. Thomas More based his Utopia on communism but moderated its power by his humanistic stress on education, natural virtues, and the institution of the family. Campanella went to an extreme and provided for community of property and women. After him, for a few decades, communist theory lingered in oral tradition, in poetry about the Golden Age, and in satire. However, in 1652, Gerrard Winstanley published a communist Utopia, The Law of Freedom in a Platform. Since it is not included in the present anthology, some account of it is necessary. Winstanley was a leader of a tiny group known as the Diggers at the extreme political Left of the Puritan Revolution. As the result of mystical visions and voices he and his fellows attempted to cultivate some rather barren land in Surrey in defiance of those who had property rights over it. Morally their case had some strength, for, having helped to overthrow the despotism of Charles I, they sought to have a small share of England on which they could earn their living. However, when the religious miracle which was expected to fertilize the ground they had chosen failed to materialize, and when landowners and the state interfered with force, they abandoned their attempt. Winstanley's Utopia was printed two years later in an effort to persuade Cromwell to set up a somewhat primitivistic communistic system in England.

Winstanley's theme is simple: the earth and its products should belong to all; therefore the land should be returned to its original owners, the people. He decides that the main work of reformation is to reform the clergy, the lawyers, and the law. After reviewing the injustices of economic tyranny, he stresses the favorite seventeenth-century theme of legal and constitutional right, and proves, to his own satisfaction, the laborer's right to the land. He attempts to answer the stock objections to communism, distinguishes between individualism and individuality, and between private and personal property, and halts short of advocating compulsory participation in communism. In his society each man produces for central storehouses from which he draws as his needs demand. The control of this system is under the aegis of clearly expressed laws, strictly enforced. After disposing of freedom to trade, religious freedom, and freedom of inheritance, as bogus types, Winstanley lays down the thesis that true freedom lies where a man receives his nourishment, and that it consists in the free enjoyment of the earth. His description of the governmental function arises out of this conception: "Government," he writes, "is a wise and free ordering of the earth and the manners of mankind by observation of particular laws or rules, so that all theinhabitants may live peaceably in plenty and freedom in the land where they are born and bred." His interpretation of history is a materialistic, economic one. He approaches the doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat by confining the vote to men of stern moral character and excluding "kingly" men from the franchise. He describes a pyramided structure of government with an all-powerful "preserver of the peace"—Parliament—at its head. It lacks an executive, but the lack is compensated by the provision of overlapping officials whose only function is to see that the laws are kept. Education is to be severe, comprehensive, and practical. Everyone will follow a trade or profession. Invention and the use of talent will be encouraged. Punishments will take the form of work under a taskmaster. A short civil ceremony will suffice for marriage or divorce. And the institution of the family will be maintained.

Though outwardly "progressive," Winstanley's Utopia was retrograde in tendency. It would have resulted in a primitivistic agrarian society inconsistent with the economic development of England and the growth of that country as a great trading nation. But his communism had at least the merit that it was tempered by Christian ethics.

Communism in Utopian writing next appeared in The Australian Land Discovered by Gabriel de Foigny and The History of the Sevarites by Denis Veiras, though it is to be doubted that either of them proposed the abolition of private property with any seriousness. Common ownership of productive goods was more earnestly advocated in the eighteenth century by Morelly in his Code of Nature. Francis Babeuf took over his theoretical teachings and attempted to promote them during the French Revolution. Neither of those men wrote a proper Utopia, but their teachings probably influenced the author of Equality or A History of Lithconia, the first major Utopia to be published in America. It was exceptional, for other socialists and communists, Fourier, Saint-Simon, Louis Blanc, Robert Owen, and Proudhon, failed to write proper Utopias, but much of their thought is reflected in Etienne Cabet's A Voyage to Icaria, one of the most comprehensive communist Utopias ever written.

Religious Utopias are probably as numerous as communist ones in the period between 1600 and 1850. I.D.M.'s Antangil, the first French Utopia, is dominated by a type of Puritanism, as are Andreae's Christianopolis and Samuel Gott's Nova Solyma (London, 1648).

Johann Valentin Andreae's Christianopolis, the Description of a Christian Commonwealth and Administration was written in Latin and published at Strassburg in 1619. It has not been included in the present volume because the Utopias of I.D.M., Burton, Campanella, and Bacon sufficiently represent the ideal commonwealths of the early seventeenth century. Nevertheless the account merits some consideration.

Andreae (1586-1654) was born at Herrenberg, studied at Tübingen, and traveled widely in Europe. Religious discords in Geneva impressed him unfavorably, but he greatly admired the harmonious unity of customs and morals there. Having entered the Lutheran ministry, he made his congregation at Calw the starting point in an attempt to set up the ideal social system of which he had dreamed ever since his visit to Switzerland. This was the "practical" type of utopianism. His efforts began with the children but soon extended to the working classes at Calw. He organized cloth and dye workers in a mutual protective system supported by free contributions from his friends and parishioners. This association was so successful that it continued into the twentieth century. But Andreae's Utopia is "ideal" in type.

Religion, education, morality, and science are the foundation stones of Caphar Salama, "the place of peace" which is the island site of Andreae's utopia. The allegorical content of the work is more considerable than that in Campanella's City of the Sun, with which Andreae was familiar. Setting sail in the good ship Fantasy, he was shipwrecked on the island which is a miniature of the whole world. Since he was a seeker of truth, he was accepted into the Christian city and well received by its four hundred inhabitants. In it production is carefully planned in advance. Supplies are placed in public storehouses from which the workers receive what they need without the use of money. Life is simple and untainted by luxuries. Although production and distribution are communistic, houses are inhabited by couples and meals are private. Great attention is paid to education, particularly to the advancement of science and its application to agriculture and industry. Working hours are short, because the laborers are industrious and efficient. Leisure time is devoted primarily to the service of God, the avoidance of temptations, and growth in virtue. Government is by eight men and eight subordinates all full of the spirit of Christianity. "Never have I seen so great an amount of Christian perfection collected into one place." "Their first and highest exertion is to worship God with a pure and faithful soul; the second, to strive towards the highest and chastest morals; and the third, to develop the mental powers." They prize these qualities inmen: equality, the desire for peace, and contempt for riches, and, above all, culture of the soul. "The chief point with them is that Christians ought to be different from the world around, in morals as well as religion…. They declare that the Gospels require a government different from that of the world."

Thus Christianopolis is the City of God, the communion of practicing Christians throughout the world, symbolized in Andreae's theocratic community.

Samuel Gott's Nova Solyma, the New Jerusalem is a livelier work, descriptive of a far less ascetic religious commonwealth. It is couched in the form of a romance of intrigues and adventures. They integrate poorly with his holy community dedicated to God and the bourgeois virtues. Other Puritan works such as Richard Baxter's A Holy Commonwealth (1656) and John Eliot's The Christian Commonwealth (1659) describe theocracies, but are on the outskirts of Utopia. After 1660, few Utopias are classifiable as dedicated primarily to Christianity. Joseph Glanvill's continuation of Bacon's New Atlantis, published at the end of his volume of Essays in 1676, centers upon religion but is better regarded as an exposition of the doctrines of the Cambridge Latitudinarians than as a proper Utopia. However it is interesting to note that Glanvill apparently regarded the Utopian genre as the most effective form in which to propound his ideas.

The Christian element in Utopias written after 1660 undoubtedly declined, but not the interest in religion. More's Utopians had practiced a naturalistic religion. Following his precedent a series of deistic and libertine Utopias appeared in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Utopias of Foigny and Veiras, Tyssot de Patot's Voyage of Jâmes Massey (1710), Mercier's Memoirs of the year 2500 (1770), and G. A. Ellis's New Britain (1820), all devote chapters to natural religion and deistic speculations. These are also echoed by Cabet.

Natural science is also important in Utopian thought. Bacon's concentration upon it was anticipated slightly by More, largely by Campanella, probably by Andreae, and mildly by Robert Burton (in the Utopia which the latter included in the first and second edition of his Anatomy of Melancholy). Later editions of the last-mentioned work showed the influence of Baconian science. Likewise under the influence of Bacon, Gott paid some attention to scientific experimentation in his Nova Solyma, and Winstanley wrote what is probably his finest prose passage in praise of science. In 1660, New Atlantis Continued by R. H. was devoted to adulation of monarchy and glorification of the possibilities of science. Thenceforth nearly all Utopias paid some attention to the importance of science in a perfected society. This element is particularly noticeable in the Utopias of Mercier and Cabet.

Militarism is also a leading theme in Utopias written before 1850. Plato set the precedent of devoting a whole class to the protection of society. Thomas More also paid great attention to the military aspects of his Utopia, not that he favored militarism as such, but that realism demanded its inclusion. It is startling to find that his highly moral Utopians, who would have despised bribery at home or any hiring of one free man by another, used both hired soldiers and bribery in wars. The author of Antangil may well have been a soldier, for militarism is one of his main preoccupations. The problems of war and peace, defense, military organization, and the like also receive special attention from James Harrington in the various Utopias which he wrote in the middle of the seventeenth century; militarism is also stressed by Veiras, and by Foigny (who makes the wars of the Australians against natural and human enemies an integral part of his plot), and, indeed, by almost all the Utopias up to 1850. Ellis, for example, in New Britain, is especially concerned with military problems and organization, though he does not allow them to be dominant in his society, as I.D.M. had done in Antangil.

The main theme of Utopias from 1500 to 1850 was advocacy, explicit or implicit, of the fullest possible, efficient utilization of the available resources of men and materials in a given society. Conservatives found this a means of supporting established ideas, institutions, and ways of life. Radicals, intent upon such total utilization, advocated a revolution in ideas and institutions as necessary to their goal. In general, the conservatives, Bacon, for example, looked to science tempered by morals and religion as the chief means to this full exploitation of resources. Radicals like Cabet, looked less to science than to education and institutional reforms.

However, not all utopists regarded the material basis of society as primary in their Utopias. Fénelon and Ellis, for example, saw the value of the simple life, uncomplicated by luxuries and their accompanying vices. This ascetic, somewhat primitivistic current in Utopian thought derived largely from More and was greatly influenced by Rousseau.

Utopias from 1600 to 1850 may be roughly classified in their historical development, as follows. The imaginary states of I.D.M., Campanella, Andreae, Burton, and Bacon constituted what might be called the Utopian Efflorescence of the earlier seventeenth century. Although they vary greatly from each other, all these writers were influenced by Plato and More; all stress the application of modern science in society; all are optimistic in outlook and show the influence of the idea of progress, which previously had not been widespread. These Utopias were written between 1600 and 1630. Then a current of Utopian fantasy revived—a continuation of the tradition of fantastic voyages which dates back to Iambulus and Euhemerus, and which was frequently echoed in the Middle Ages in such works as The Anticlaudian of Alain de Lille and in the voyage of Astolfo to the moon in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. The imaginary societies described by Rabelais and by Joseph Hall in his Discovery of a New World were in the same tradition. In 1638 it revived with The Man in the Moon, by Francis Godwin, which was rapidly followed by John Wilkins' Discourse concerning a New World and Another Planet (1640). Further fantastic celestial voyages and satirical accounts of imaginary commonwealths are contained in D'Ablancourt's translation of Lucian's True History, a work of the later period of ancient Greek civilization. Indeed, Lucian may be regarded as the father of this type of superterrestrial "science fiction." D'Ablancourt added a supplement of his own to the True History and published both about 1648. The tradition continued in Cyrano de Bergerac's Comical History (1656 and 1662), with its satirical accounts of societies on the moon and sun.

Meanwhile Puritan utopianism came to the fore. The tradition established by I.D.M. and Andreae branched into romance literature with Samuel Gott's Nova Solyma (1648). The Levellers of the Puritan Revolution had many Utopian ideas but failed to write a work in this genre. However, Digger communism produced such a work in Winstanley's Law of Freedom. Meanwhile the Fifth Monarchist Puritans propounded semiutopian conceptions of a Kingdom of Christ shortly to be established on earth; and Baxter and Eliot approached the Utopian type in A Holy Commonwealth and The Christian Commonwealth, both of which appeared in 1659. But as secularism began to prevail over Puritanism, less theocratic imaginary states were described: such were Samuel Hartlib's Macaria (1641), which was strongly influenced by Bacon; The Poor Man's Advocate, by Peter Chamberlen (1649); Robert Norwood's Pathway unto England's Perfect Settlement (1653); Peter Plockhoy's Way to the Peace and Settlement of these Nations, and similar works. Few of these completely satisfy the definition of a proper Utopia, but all of them propound economic programs intended to realize something approaching a perfect society. Parallel to them were a host of political Utopias and related works. These put forth model constitutions. Such were Marchamont Nedham's Excellency of a Free State (1656), the anonymous Chaos (1659), William Sprigge's Modest Plea for an Equal Commonwealth (1659), the various Utopias penned by James Harrington, especially his Oceana (1656), and a royalist work written in Latin by a Frenchman in England—Syndro-media by Antoine Le Grand (1669).

Cyrano de Bergerac's Comical History may be classified as the first of a series of French libertine Utopias. After England had her Revolution, utopianism declined there, except for semiutopian schemes written largely under the influence of Harrington, of which the anonymous Free State of Noland (1696) is representative. But in France the ideological undermining of the ancien régime had still to take place, and a potent force in that direction were the libertine Utopias by Cyrano, Veiras, Foigny, Claude Gilbert, and Tyssot de Patot. In general, the outlook of these writers was heterodox. Not infrequently blasphemous, they questioned the established orthodoxies of religion, morals, and politics in their period.

German utopianism lagged behind that of the rest of Europe. If Andreae's Latin work is excepted, the first German Utopia was the anonymous State of Ophir (Ophirischer Staat), a comprehensive, pedestrian, earnest, prodigiously long work published in 1699. It has been largely neglected by scholars, and, like the Latin Utopia, Icaria (1637), by Joannes Bisselius, deserves further attention….

In the eighteenth century, the fantastic voyage tradition continued and resulted in the semiutopian land of the Houyhnhnms in Swift's Gulliver's Travels, and in such works as Simon Berington's Gaudentio di Lucca. Ludvig Holberg followed the precedent of Swift in The Voyages of Niels Klim (1741); and the constitutional type of Utopia, combined with a modified communism, recurred in the accounts of Spensonia by Thomas Spence about 1800. But for the most part, though rich in Rousseauistic and Utopian socialist theories, the eighteenth century produced few Utopias. Memoirs of the Year 2500 by Sebastien Mercier, published in French in 1770, is therefore noteworthy. Its intrinsic value is slight, but its historical interest is great, for, in some measure, it forecasts the French Revolution. Moreover, it reflects the sentimentality, the optimism, and, to some extent, the Rousseauism of the eighteenth century; and it anticipates Romanticism….

Frank E. Manuel and Fritzie P. Manuel (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "The Utopian Propensity," in Utopian Thought in the Western World, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1979, pp. 1-29.

[In the following excerpt from their introduction to Utopian Thought in the Western World, the critics discuss several aspects of Utopian literature, including: Utopian literary forms, critical approaches to interpretation of Utopian literature, the influence of New World exploration and scientific discovery on Utopian thought, the cultural traditions that have influenced the western conception of utopia, and the characteristics of the Utopian writer.]

Anthropologists tell us that blessed isles and paradises are part of the dreamworld of savages everywhere. The dogged wanderings of the Guarani tribe in search of a "Land-without-Evil" have been tracked over the length and breadth of Brazil, and the contemporary cargocults of Asia and Africa have been investigated for their marvelous syncretism of Christian and native paradises. Neither pictorial nor discursive philosophico-religious utopias are exclusive to the Western world. Taoism, Theravada Buddhism, and medieval Muslim philosophy are impregnated with utopian elements. There are treatises on ideal states and stories about imaginary havens of delight among the Chinese, the Japanese, the Hindus, and the Arabs, but the profusion of Western Utopias has not been equaled in any other culture. Perhaps the Chinese have been too worldly and practical, the Hindus too transcendental to recognize a tension between the Two Kingdoms and to resolve it in that myth of a heaven on earth which lies at the heart of Utopian fantasy.

In the Beginning Was the Word

For some time before the publication in 1516 of the De Optimo Reipublicae Statu deque Nova Insula Utopia Libellus Vere Aureus, Thomas More and his friend Erasmus had been referring to it simply as the "Nusquama," from a good Latin adverb meaning "nowhere." But then the spirit of neologism possessed the future saint. He combined the Greek ou, used to express a general negative and transliterated into the Latin u, with the Greek topos, place or region, to build Utopia. In the playful printed matter prefixed tothe body of the book the poet laureate of the island, in a brief self-congratulatory poem written in the Utopian tongue, claimed that his country deserved to be called "Eutopia" with an eu, which in Greek connoted a broad spectrum of positive attributes from good through ideal, prosperous, and perfect. Guillaume Budé, the great French humanist and a well-wisher of More's, added to the confusion by remarking in his complimentary Latin letter to the author that he had heard the place called "Udepotia," or "Neverland," from the Greek for "never." Finally, Germain de Brie, otherwise known as Brixius, author of the sarcastic Antimorus, heaped scorn on both the Greek of More's title and the many new words crowded into his Latin text. Through the centuries Utopias have preserved the complexity of the original nomenclature.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, descriptive works that imitated the Utopia were called Utopias, with a minuscule, and they adhered more or less to traditional literary devices that More himself had received from Lucian of Samosata, who in turn had inherited them from Hellenistic novels, many of them no longer extant. The invention of printing made readily available translations of tales of this character from one European language into another, and they came to constitute an ever-expanding corpus, in which stock formulas and concepts can be traced historically and their modifications charted. The principal elements are a shipwreck or chance landing on the shores of what turns out to be an ideal commonwealth, a return to Europe, and a report on what has been remarked. If arranged in chronological order these works, considered "proper Utopias" by bibliographers, form a sequence in which the imitation of predecessors is patent.

How to classify the Morean Utopia as a form of rhetoric and a way to knowledge was taken up as early as 1595 in Sir Philip Sidney's Defence of Poesie. There he coupled Utopia with poetry and ranked them both above philosophy and history as more persuasive in leading men to virtue than a weighty philosophical argument: "But even in the most excellent determination of goodnesse, what Philosophers counsaile can so readely direct a Prince, as the feined Cirus in Xenophon, or a vertuous man in all fortunes as Aeneas in Virgill, or a whole Common-wealt, as the Way of Sir Thomas Moores Eutopia?" Courtier of Elizabeth and loyal member of the Church of England, Sidney discreetly avoided what might have been interpreted as unqualified commitment to the political ideal of a Papist executed for treason; but his praise of the genre was unaffected. "I say the Way, because where Sir Thomas Moore erred, it was the fault of the man and not of the Poet: for that Way of patterning a Common-wealth, was most absolute though hee perchaunce hath not so absolutely performed it." Sidney's pithy definition of poetry, "a speaking Picture, with this end to teach and delight," was applied equally to Utopia. The term utopia speedily made its way into other European languages. By the early seventeenth century it was not uncommon for great writers—Cervantes, Shakespeare—to interpolate a Utopian episode or allude to Utopian conceits by name. Francis Bacon made a point of mocking Utopias and labeling the New Atlantis a fable, but contemporary compendia-makers forced him into the Utopian company of More and Campanella.

Before the sixteenth century was out, the adjectival form "utopian" was born, and when it was not a merely derogatory epithet, connoting a wild fancy or a chimerical notion, it could refer to an ideal psychological condition or to an idealizing capacity. The use of the word by John Donne, a descendant of More's, may be its subtlest early extension to imply a general emotional attitude. In a verse letter to Sir Henry Wotton, who had spent many years in the courts of Venice and Florence, the poet wrote:

I thinke if men, which in these places live
Durst looke for themselves, and themselves retrive,
They would like strangers greet themselves, seeing then
Utopian youth, growne old Italian.

By the seventeenth century Utopia was no longer restricted to a speaking picture, a dramatic narrative portrayal of a way of life that is so essentially good and fulfills so many profound longings that it wins immediate, almost instinctive, approbation. It could embrace as well the underlying principles of an optimum society expounded and argued either by the author directly or by several interlocutors. Utopia also came to denote general programs and platforms for ideal societies, codes, and constitutions that dispensed with the fictional apparatus altogether. When the discursive, argumentative utopia assumed a place alongside the speaking picture, the line between a Utopian system and political and social theory often became shadowy. In A Voice in Rhama (1647) Peter Chamberlen, an English royal physician and a Fifth Monarchy man—not so improbable a combination as might be imagined—wrote of his hope that the world would return to its "first simplicity" or to a "Christian Utopia." John Milton, in his Apology for Smectymnuus (1642), and his friend Samuel Hartlib, who had been appointed an official "Projector" by Parliament, both used Utopia in the sense of a model for an ideal commonwealth. In the Pansophic Utopia of Campanella, Andreae, Comenius, and Leibniz, the boundaries of an ideal Christian republic were enlarged to encompass the whole world. While religious commentaries on what heavenly paradise would be like kept up a constant flow of images as they had for two thousand years, the conception of a millennium as a real society on earth covering a fixed period of time gave rise to speculations about what events would occur in that blessed epoch, what government would be instituted, and what social relationships would prevail. Whenever the vaguely oracular mode of prophecy was set aside in the seventeenth century, the millenarian Utopia could respond to concrete, matter-of-fact questions. Fifth Monarchy men of England even committed themselves to a specific tariff policy for their millennium.

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, in a growingly de-Christianized Europe, even while the old isolated island and valley Utopias and a newer type of awakened-dreamer Utopia continued to be regurgitated, there came into greater prominence the branch of Utopian thought that spurned any fictional backdrop, broke with the limitations of specific place, and addressed itself directly to the reformation of the entire species. The Frenchmen Morelly, Dom Deschamps, Restif de la Bretonne, and Condorcet wrote what in effect were constitutions for a new secular, global society, and conceived of themselves as universal lawgivers, as would the utopian socialists of the post-Revolutionary era. By the early nineteenth century innovative utopian thought had all but lost its enclosed space. The novels portraying encapsulated and protected pictorial Utopias, while they have continued to be sold in millions of copies into our own time, were often in content residual and derivative, dependent upon revolutionary Utopian theory that others had propounded. A Utopian genius like Charles...

(The entire section is 21235 words.)