Saturday, March 15, 2014

Seven utopias that changed the world

"Though 'Utopia' means 'nowhere,' many real-life societies have been strongly influenced by various concepts of a perfect realm where humans live in harmony with each other," writes Annalee Newitz at io9. "[S]ome of the most influential Utopian visions — and how they changed our distinctly non-Utopian world," include:
Utopia, by Thomas More

Thomas More was a British writer who invented the word "utopia" — from a Greek pun that means both "no place" and "good place" — for this book about his idea of the perfect society. Published in 1516, the book is about a man who has returned from the Isle of Utopia, where many of England's social ills don't exist. Though fictional, the book makes references to many real people and places, and thus has been read as sharp social commentary on the British justice system, politics, and wars. In fact, the book begins with a group of friends discussing how unfair sixteenth century England's inheritance and prison systems are.

On the Isle of Utopia, which scholar Stephen Duncombe calls "Europe turned upside-down," all property is owned communally. When one region has surplus food, they share it with impoverished areas. Other features of the society, according to Duncombe, include "an elected government and priesthood, freedom of speech and religion, public health and education, an economy planned for the good of all, compassionate justice and little crime, and perhaps most Utopian of all, no lawyers."

Many of More's ideas were so influential that several of them have become commonplace in contemporary industrialized societies. Others have simply remained democratic ideals in the West. You can read the full text of Utopia, with modern explanatory notes and helpful background materials, free online at Duncombe's Open Utopia project.
Read about another entry on the list.

Also see: Six top novels on utopia and dystopia.

--Marshal Zeringue