Utopia is a word which denotes a community or a society possessing highly desirable or perfect qualities, first used by Sir Thomas More in his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. It has since been used to describe both intentional communities that attempt to create an ideal society, and fictional societies portrayed in literature, and has spawned other concepts, most prominently that of dystopias. The word comes from the Greek: οὐ ("not") and τόπος ("place") and means "no place". The English homophone eutopia, derived from the Greek εὖ ("good" or "well") and τόπος ("place"), means "good place", and the identical pronunciation of "utopia" and "eutopia", gives rise to a double meaning.
- Utopianism is manifest in countless historical examples of those that have dared to challenge the status quo and assert that things can — and indeed, must — change. Take Martin Luther King’s dream of a world free of racial segregation for example, or the strivings of the suffragettes for gender equality... Now, our relationship with the natural world is humanity’s defining challenge — and utopian ideas have shifted to meet it. “Ecotopian” aspirations are already in full view in community networks attempting to create more conscious ways of living such as the Transition Network, social movements such as Extinction Rebellion, and bold policy proposals such as the USA’s “Green New Deal.” What’s more, many of the ideas put forth by these projects were long since imagined in prominent ecotopian literary works.
- In shattering the perceived rigidity of the present, utopianism paves the way for change. Perfect worlds may not be realizable or even desirable, but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from imagining and striving for a better future. Societies without extreme inequality and environmental degradation are surely within the bounds of possibility. Whether in the form of a creative novel, a social movement, or a political proposal, dreaming can help us get there.
- There were a lot of utopias in the nineteenth century, wonderful societies that we might possibly construct. Those went pretty much out of fashion after World War I. And almost immediately one of the utopias that people were trying to construct, namely the Soviet Union, threw out a writer called Zamyatin who wrote a seminal book called We, which contains the seeds of Orwell and Huxley. Writers started doing dystopias after we saw the effects of trying to build utopias that required, unfortunately, the elimination of a lot of people before you could get to the perfect point, which never arrived.
- The ground-root folly of this piteous philantropy
is thinking to distribute indivisibles,
and make equality in things incommensurable:
forged under such delusions, all Utopias
are castles in the air or counsels of despair.
- Robert Bridges, The Testament of Beauty (1929), Book II, line 225
- Utopia lies at the horizon. When I draw nearer by two steps, she retreats two steps. If I proceed ten steps forward, she swiftly slips ten steps ahead. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. For what might utopia be useful? It is useful for this: to keep walking.
- Utopias and other models of government, based on the public good, may be inconceivable because of the disordered human passions which, under the wrong governments, seek to highlight the poorly conceived or selfish interest of the community. But even though we find it impossible, they are ridiculous to sinful people whose sense of self-destruction prevents them from believing.
- Etienn Cabet in The Voyage To Ikaria (1840)
(Li-Yun-Da-Tong (Li-Yun-Dah-Tong) Section, the Record of Rites, Book IX,) (full text)
- When the Great Dao (Tao, perfect order) prevails, the world is like a Commonwealth State shared by all, not a dictatorship.
- Virtuous, worthy, wise and capable people are chosen as leaders.
- Honesty and trust are promoted, and good neighborliness cultivated.
- All people respect and love their own parents and children, as well as the parents and children of others.
- The aged are cared for until death; adults are employed in jobs that make full use of their abilities; and children are nourished, educated, and fostered;...orphans... the disabled and the diseased are all well taken care of....
- They hate not to make use of their abilities... they do not necessarily work for their own self-interest.
- Thus intrigues and conspiracies do not arise, and thievery and robbery do not occur; therefore doors need never be locked.
- This is the ideal world – a perfect world of equality, fraternity, harmony, welfare, and justice.
- [W]e have crossed a great divide, between what we used to do in all of previous human history and what we do now. Utopia, it is true, this is not. I imagine Bellamy would be at once impressed and disappointed.
The economic historian Richard Easterlin helps explain why. ...With our increasing wealth, what used to be necessities become matters of little concern ...conveniences turn into necessities. Luxuries turn into conveniences. And we humans envision and then create new luxuries. ...He saw humanity on a hedonic treadmill: "...the triumph of economic growth is not a triumph of humanity over material wants; rather, it is a triumph of material wants over humanity." ...[T]his hedonic treadmill is one powerful reason why, even when all went very well, we only slouched rather than galloped toward utopia.
- J. Bradford DeLong, Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century (2022) Introduction, "My Grand Narrative."
- How can there ever be a utopia? There is no right way to live, which we’ve simply failed to stumble upon. There is no set of rules, there is no system, there is no formula. Why should there be? Short of the existence of a creator—and a perverse one, at that—why should there be some blueprint for perfection, just waiting to be discovered?
- The youth of humanity all around our planet are intuitively revolting from all sovereignties and political ideologies. The youth of Earth are moving intuitively toward an utterly classless, raceless, omnicooperative, omniworld humanity. Children freed of the ignorantly founded educational traditions and exposed only to their spontaneously summoned, computer-stored and -distributed outflow of reliable-opinion-purged, experimentally verified data, shall indeed lead society to its happy egress from all misinformedly conceived, fearfully and legally imposed, and physically enforced customs of yesterday. They can lead all humanity into omnisuccessful survival as well as entrance into an utterly new era of human experience in an as-yet and ever-will-be fundamentally mysterious Universe.
- Buckminster Fuller, "The Wellspring of Reality," Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking (1975)
- Every daring attempt to make a great change in existing conditions, every lofty vision of new possibilities for the human race, has been labelled Utopian.
- I shall speak of … how melancholy and utopia preclude one another. How they fertilize one another … Of the revulsion that follows one insight and precedes the next … Of superabundance and surfeit. Of stasis and progress. And of myself, for whom melancholy and utopia are heads and tails of the same coin.
- Günter Grass, in "On Stasis and Progress"' in Diary of a Snail (1972)
- The first attempt to run trawler fishing off Iceland was made in 1899 by an Englishman who had settled in Hafnarfjörður. The name of the ship was Utopia, which was prophetic because the enterprise came to nothing and was abandoned that same autumn.
- The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.
- We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia, a programme which seems neither a mere defence of things as they are nor a diluted kind of socialism, but a truly liberal radicalism which does not spare the susceptibilities of the mighty (including the trade unions), which is not too severely practical and which does not confine itself to what appears today as politically possible…Those who have concerned themselves exclusively with what seemed practicable in the existing state of opinion have constantly found that even this has rapidly become politically impossible as the result of changes in a public opinion which they have done nothing to guide. Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. But if we can regain that belief in power of ideas which was the mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost.
- Friedrich Hayek, in Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1967)
- If we could sniff or swallow something that would, for five or six hours each day, abolish our solitude as individuals, atone us with our fellows in a glowing exaltation of affection and make life in all its aspects seem not only worth living, but divinely beautiful and significant, and if this heavenly, world-transfiguring drug were of such a kind that we could wake up next morning with a clear head and an undamaged constitution—then, it seems to me, all our problems (and not merely the one small problem of discovering a novel pleasure) would be wholly solved and earth would become paradise.
- Aldous Huxley, "Wanted, A New Pleasure" (1931), in Moksha: Writings on Psychedelics and the Visionary Experience (1977), p. 9
- I myself think it our bounden duty to believe in such international rationality as possible. But, as things stand, I see how desperately hard it is to bring the peace-party and the war-party together, and I believe that the difficulty is due to certain deficiencies in the program of pacifism which set the military imagination strongly, and to a certain extent justifiably, against it. In the whole discussion both sides are on imaginative and sentimental ground. It is but one utopia against another, and everything one says must be abstract and hypothetical.
- I will now confess my own utopia. I devoutly believe in the reign of peace and in the gradual advent of some sort of socialistic equilibrium. The fatalistic view of the war function is to me nonsense, for I know that war-making is due to definite motives and subject to prudential checks and reasonable criticisms, just like any other form of enterprise. And when whole nations are the armies, and the science of destruction vies in intellectual refinement with the science of production, I see that war becomes absurd and impossible from its own monstrosity. Extravagant ambitions will have to be replaced by reasonable claims, and nations must make common cause against them. … I look forward to a future when acts of war shall be formally outlawed as between civilized peoples.
- William James, in "The Moral Equivalent of War" (1906)
- Critics of utopianism have argued that utopian ends inevitably are used to legitimize violent means, whether against the scapegoated opponents of a utopian project or against innocent bystanders who must pay a price for the greater good of society.
- William H. Katerberg, Future West: Utopia and Apocalypse in Frontier Science Fiction (2008), University Press of Kansas, ISBN 978-070061609-1, p. 83
- Critics contend that utopianism privileges uniformity over diversity, consensus over dissent, and end-of-history stasis over ongoing change. Is it possible in a utopian society to permit expressions of diversity that might lead to conflict? Can anything essentially new happen after utopia has been achieved. Or do genuinely new ideals inherently threaten utopias? Once built, must they become conservative in some sense?
- William H. Katerberg, Future West: Utopia and Apocalypse in Frontier Science Fiction (2008), University Press of Kansas, ISBN 978-070061609-1, p. 83
- Marxist dreams legitimized Soviet gulags, and religious visions have justify crusades and jihads. This explains why the term “utopia” so often is used pejoratively and visionaries often are dismissed as mad or sick. The pursuit of a perfect society can justify and even demand the use of any means possible, including the violent purging of all who resist that glorious end. In short, redemptive visions can inspire redemptive violence.
- William H. Katerberg, Future West: Utopia and Apocalypse in Frontier Science Fiction (2008), University Press of Kansas, ISBN 978-070061609-1, p. 218
- If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. And if we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until "justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
- Martin Luther King, Jr., in Address to the first Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) Mass Meeting, at Holt Street Baptist Church (5 December 1955). "Justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream" is a quotation of Amos 5:24 in the Bible.
- Utopias in general are surrogates for heaven; they give a meager solace to the individual that his sufferings and endeavors may enable future generations to enter the chiliastic paradise.
- Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, The Menace of the Herd (1943), p. 36
- In its flexibility and in its wide-open opportunities, this is the total Utopia. Anything that you can conceive of, you can do in this non-world. Nothing can stop you except a total bankruptcy of creativity. The seedbed is waiting. All the circumstances stand ready. The fructifying minerals are literally jumping out of the ground. And nothing grows. And nothing grows. And nothing grows. Well, why doesn't it?
- R. A. Lafferty, in The Day After the World Ended Notes for a speech at DeepSouthCon'79, New Orleans (21 July 1979), published in It's Down the Slippery Cellar Stairs (1995)
- We are not utopians, we do not indulge in "dreams" of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination; these anarchist dreams ... serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until human nature has changed. No, we want the socialist revolution with human nature as it is now, with human nature that cannot dispense with subordination, control and "managers." ... The united workers themselves ... will hire their own technicians, managers and bookkeepers, and pay them all, as, indeed, every state official, ordinary workmen's wages.
- We announce the birth of a conceptual country, NUTOPIA.
Citizenship of the country can be obtained by declaration of your awareness of NUTOPIA.
NUTOPIA has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people.
NUTOPIA has no laws other than cosmic.
All people of NUTOPIA are ambassadors of the country.
As two ambassadors of NUTOPIA, we ask for diplomatic immunity and recognition in the United Nations of our country and our people.
- To sequester out of the world into Atlantic and Utopian polities, which never can be drawn into use, will not mend our condition; but to ordain wisely as in this world of evil, in the midst whereof God hath placed us unavoidably. Nor is it Plato’s licensing of books will do this, which necessarily pulls along with it so many other kinds of licensing, as will make us all both ridiculous and weary, and yet frustrate; but those unwritten, or at least unconstraining laws of virtuous education, religious and civil nurture, which Plato there mentions, as the bonds and ligaments of the Commonwealth, the pillars and the sustainers of every written statute; these they be which will bear chief sway in such matters as these, when all licensing will be easily eluded. Impunity and remissness, for certain are the bane of a Commonwealth, but here the great art lies to discern in what the law is to bid restraint and punishment, and in what things persuasion only is to work.
- If the "liberal" mentality is prone to take flights into Utopia, the "reactionary" is guilty of sensing plots in every human enterprise involving hope, enthusiasm, and will to change. The correct attitude of this conflict must stem... from a rediscovery of philosophy which has enough courage to free itself of the historical-ideological-utopian perspective. ...this philosophy must re-emphasize man versus the collective body (with its envisaged collectivized mind), freedom versus the mechanization of inner and social life, common sense versus faith in science.
- Thomas Molnar, The Decline of the Intellectual (1961) Ch. 11 "Intellectual and Philosopher"
- Utopian thinking is not merely futile, it is also profoundly immoral since it contradicts the structure of man's thought and action in its applicability to the world. Since it misleads man, it is an ultimately irresponsible doctrine. The philosopher... denies that good may be so increased as to obscure evil, that man may be substantially changed, and that society may take upon itself the qualities denied to individual man and thus secure happiness for the latter. ..."If we cannot produce virtuous individuals," the utopian says, "let us produce a virtuous society; instead of individual virtues, we shall have social virtues." ...The orientation is to build a social body, a mankind that thinks and acts as one, that is both persuaded and organized in view of becoming "perfect." ...Hence the striking intellectual failure of the idealogue, fruit of his profound immorality. ...his is the sin of pride, the sin that requires the greatest stupidity. It is ironical that he who is committed to a rational-scientific view, should be the real simple-minded one, the poor in the soul. Will it be forgiven him?
- Thomas Molnar, The Decline of the Intellectual (1961) Ch. 11 "Intellectual and Philosopher"
- I believe in some sort of strange fashion that the presence of the atom bomb might almost be forcing a level of human development that wouldn’t have occurred without the presence of the atom bomb. Maybe this degree of terror will force changes in human attitudes that could not have occurred without the presence of these awful, destructive things. Perhaps we are faced with a race between the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in one line and the 7th Calvary in the other. We have not got an awful lot of mid ground between Utopia and Apocalypse, and if somehow our children ever see the day in which it is announced that we do not have these weapons any more, and that we can no longer destroy ourselves and that we’ve got to do something else to do with our time than they will have the right to throw up their arms, let down their streamers and let forth a resounding cheer.
- Alan Moore on the issue of nuclear weapons, in England Their England : Monsters, Maniacs and Moore (1987)
- There will not be one kind of community existing and one kind of life led in utopia. Utopia will consist of utopias, of many different and divergent communities in which people lead different kinds of lives under different institutions. Some kinds of communities will be more attractive to most than others; communities will wax and wane. People will leave some for others or spend their whole lives in one. Utopia is a framework for utopias, a place where people are at liberty to join together voluntarily to pursue and attempt to realize their own vision of the good life in the ideal community but where no one can impose his own utopian vision upon others.
- Utopia is a meta-utopia: the environment in which Utopian experiments may be tried out; the environment in which people are free to do their own thing; the environment which must, to a great extent, be realized first if more particular Utopian visions are to be realized stably.
- Robert Nozick, in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), Ch. 10 : A Framework for Utopia; The Framework, p. 312
- One persistent strand in utopian thinking, as we have often mentioned, is the feeling that there is some set of principles obvious enough to be accepted by all men of good will, precise enough to give unambiguous guidance in particular situations, clear enough so that all will realize its dictates. and complete enough to cover all problems which actually arise. Since I do not assume that there are such principles, I do not presume that the political realm will whither away. The messiness of the details of a political apparatus and the details of how it is to be controlled and limited do not fit easily into one's hopes for a sleek, simple utopian scheme.
- Robert Nozick, in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), Ch. 10 : A Framework for Utopia; Utopian Means and Ends, p. 330
- Is not the minimal state, the framework for utopia, an inspiring vision?
The minimal state treats us as inviolate individuals, who may not be used in certain ways by others as means or tools or instruments or resources; it treats us as persons having individual right with the dignity this constitutes. Treating us with respect by respecting our rights, it allows us, individually or with whom we please, to choose our life and to realize our ends and our conception of ourselves, insofar as we can, aided by the voluntary cooperation of other individuals possessing the same dignity. How dare any state or group of individuals do more? Or less?
- Robert Nozick, in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), Ch. 10 : A Framework for Utopia; Utopia and the Minimal State, p. 333
- Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache. They wanted to produce a perfect society by an endless continuation of something that had only been valuable because it was temporary. The wider course would be to say that there are certain lines along which humanity must move, the grand strategy is mapped out, but detailed prophecy is not our business. Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness.
- Certainly we ought to be discontented, we ought not simply to find out ways of making the best of a bad job, and yet if we kill all pleasure in the actual process of life, what sort of future are we preparing for ourselves? If a man cannot enjoy the return of spring, why should he be happy in a labour-saving Utopia? What will he do with the leisure that the machine will give him?
- Unless the vertebrate central nervous system is genetically recoded, there will be traumas and malaise in utopia - any utopia - too.
- David Pearce, "Brave New World? A Defence Of Paradise-Engineering" (1998/2022), BLTC Research
- ... a permanent distillation of the MDMA magic, if feasible, offers an extraordinary if unorthodox vision of one post-Darwinian paradise to come.
- Most dictionaries associate utopia with ideal commonwealths, which they characterize as an empirical realization of an ideal life in an ideal society. Utopias, especially social utopias, are associated with the idea of social justice.
- Lukáš Perný, in "Utopians, Visionaries of the World of the Future (The History of Utopias and Utopianism) (2020)
- In general, utopia has a positive meaning as a unit that represents an ideal human society, a normative social ideal (regulative idea) of perfect quality. Utopias approach the moral, social ideal of particular societies o global vision of justice. Every society necessarily presents certain notions of social good, which only proves the existence of utopianism as a universal idea for all cultures that have certain written or unwritten rules.
- Lukáš Perný, in "Utopia and utopianism - a universal product of human thought, a cultural-artistic text or a plan for social reform?" (2019)
- The world has become too dangerous for anything less than utopias.
- John R. Piatt, in The New York Times (2 September 1969)
- Utopia is work that issues from pain: it is what we do not have that we crave.
- Marge Piercy "WHY SPECULATE ON THE FUTURE?" in My Life, My Body (2015)
- In both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, utopias were advanced, compromised by reality, and then implemented as mass murder: in autumn 1932 by Stalin, and autumn 1941 by Hitler. Stalin’s utopia was to collectivize the Soviet Union in nine to twelve weeks; Hitler’s was to conquer the Soviet Union in the same span of time. Each of these seems, in retrospect, to be horrendously impractical. Yet each of them was implemented, under the cover of a big lie, even after failure was obvious. Dead human beings provided retrospective arguments for the rectitude of policy. Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.
- Timothy D. Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010)
- No one can be perfectly free till all are free; no one can be perfectly moral till all are moral; no one can be perfectly happy till all are happy.
- Herbert Spencer, Social Statics (1851)
- Well, you know, Star Trek and the Starship Enterprise was supposed to be a metaphor for Starship Earth. It was supposed to be an idealized representation of what our society should be. In our society, we have a lot of minorities. Asians, African-Americans, women getting on the upward mobility escalator. They're making progress going up, whether it's in the professional world or the business world, or in other various careers. But the problem seems to be that think called the glass ceiling. They make it up to a certain point and then it stops. I kept lobbying to the powers that be at Paramount saying to them, "if Starfleet is to represent that ideal, you just can't keep giving us advances in rank." By that time I was a Commander. The movie before that I was a Lieutenant Commander, but I was still there at the helm punching those same buttons. I said to them, "it's very important that if we are supposed to be that kind of bright, eminently capable people...professionals....we have to get that advancement. We have to be able to show that this idealized society truly works. It's very important than, that we see one of the characters moving up and becoming a captain. Of course, my character being Sulu, I lobbied most vigorously for him. Finally after 25 long years of lobbying, we were able to reach that idealized representation of Starfleet. The glass ceiling doesn't exist with Starfleet. He was a captain then.
- Popper believed that any idea of Utopia is necessarily closed owing to the fact that it chokes its own refutations. The simple notion of a good society that cannot be left open for falsification is totalitarian. I learned from Popper, in addition to the difference between an open and a closed society, that between an open and a closed mind.
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2001) Seven: The Problem of Induction | Sir Karl's Promoting Agent | Open Society
- The New Earth Is No Utopia... All utopian visions have this in common: the mental projection of a future time when all will be well, we will be saved, there will be peace and harmony and the end of our problems. There have been many such utopian visions. Some ended in disappointment, others in disaster. At the core of all utopian visions lies one of the main structural dysfunctions of the old consciousness: looking to the future for salvation. The only existence the future actually has is as a thought form in your mind, so when you look to the future for salvation, you are unconsciously looking to your own mind for salvation. You are trapped in form, and that is ego. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” writes the biblical prophet. The foundation for a new earth is a new heaven – the awakened consciousness. The earth – external reality – is only its outer reflection. The arising of a new heaven and by implication a new earth are not future events that are going to make us free... only the present moment can make us free. That realization is the awakening. Awakening as a future event has no meaning because awakening is the realization of Presence. So the new heaven, the awakened consciousness, is not a future state to be achieved. A new heaven and a new earth are arising... at this moment...
- ... the asymmetry in ease of realization [of suffering vs. happiness] suggests that it is more cost-effective (for a wide variety of value systems) to work to avoid dystopian outcomes than to create utopian ones.
- Magnus Vinding, Suffering-Focused Ethics: Defense and Implications (2020), p. 254, Ratio Ethica
- I couldn't survive my own pessimism if I didn't have some kind of sunny little dream. … Human beings will be happier — not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie — but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That’s my utopia. That's what I want for me.
See also edit
- The Utopian - a magazine about contemporary politics, art and culture that takes from utopian thought a spirit of free inquiry and open-mindedness
- Society for Utopian Studies - an international, interdisciplinary association devoted to the study of utopianism, with a particular emphasis on literary and experimental utopias
- Utopias - a learning resource at British Library
- Utopia and Utopianism - an academic journal
- Towards Another Utopia of The City by the Institute of Urban Design, Bremen, Germany
- History of 15 Finnish utopian settlements in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe
- "Utopia of the GOOD" — An essay on Utopias and their nature
- Karlsson, Gunnar. Iceland's 1100 Years . Hurst. Kindle Edition.