Utopia is a word derived from the Greek prefix “οὐ (ou-), not,” and “τόπος (topos) – place,” with the suffix “-iā (-ία)” that is a typical ending of the place names (toponym). Utopia literally means “nowhere.” Also, Utopia can be interpreted with the Greek prefix “eu-, good”; a good place.
Utopia is not an actual Greek word. Thomas More introduced the word in his book “Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia” in 1516. As the name suggests, Utopia (No Place) can be a place that might not be actualized in the real world. But our interest in a dream world has never been subdued despite its impracticality. Political thinkers and philosophers have pursued to show how the world of perfection looks like or can be achieved. It is no wonder that Utopia or Dystopia is a recurring theme of SF novels as well.
Erewhon, the novel by Samuel Butler, depicts another fictional country. The title is the word “nowhere” backward – h and w switched- and the choice of the title is not accidental. Erewhon looks like a Utopia, but it reveals that reality is far from a paradise.
A Utopia has always been what we have dreamed of. At the same time, we have admitted that it might not be established in a practical sense. Some religions offer after-life heaven, but thinkers and activists tried to experiment and pursue our dreams in our society.
The Republic by Plato
The Republic (Greek: Πολιτεία, translit. Politeia; Latin: De Republica) is a Socratic dialogue, authored by Plato around 375 BC, concerning Justice (δικαιοσύνη), the order and character of the just city-state, and the just man.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_(Plato)
“The Republic” by Plato can be the first detailed description of a fictional perfect world. The central theme of “The Republic” is Justice, and for Plato, Utopia is a just society. The first part of the book “Republic” is the dialog about what Justice is. And in the next part of the book, Socrates presents how a just society looks and how this can be maintained.
Plato’s ideal world requires harmony. Everyone lives based on their strength and intelligence. Factions and group interests can be an obstacle to maintain the stability of a just society. The biggest and tightest faction is a family. That’s why the basic condition of the Republic is the breakdown of a traditional blood-based family. Also, it is why we need philosophers as our leaders. Sexual totalitarianism is also an interesting point to look at. To maintain the best pool of citizens, Plato supports eugenics and the selective education system to grade people from a young age.
Utopia by Thomas More
Utopia is a work of fiction and socio-political satire by Thomas More (1478–1535), written in Latin and published in 1516. The book is a frame narrative primarily depicting a fictional island society and its religious, social, and political customs.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopia_(book)
Utopia is another thought experiment of a perfect world in a modern era. Unlike Plato’s emphasis on ideas and perfection, More’s world is based on the secular world.
New Atlantis is an incomplete utopian novel by Sir Francis Bacon, published posthumously in 1626. In New Atlantis, Bacon portrayed a vision of the future of human discovery and knowledge, expressing his aspirations and ideals for humankind. The novel depicts the creation of a utopian land where “generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendour, piety and public spirit” are the commonly held qualities of the inhabitants of the mythical Bensalem. The plan and organisation of his ideal college, Salomon’s House (or Solomon’s House), envisioned the modern research university in both applied and pure sciences.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Atlantis
Atlantis is a fictional (or real) island Atlantis mentioned in dialogs by Plato. Bacon envisions his utopian world through the harmony of science and religion. He wanted to show how enlightenment can make human society a better place that does not conflict with religious piety. For Plato, a soul and morality are what we rely on. For Bacon, science can show the way we will tread like a light post.
Rousseau’s social contract
The Social Contract is a 1762 book in which Rousseau theorized about the best way to establish a political community in the face of the problems of commercial society.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Social_Contract
In his first well-known essay, “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences,” Rousseau confronts the traditional progressive idea of arts and sciences. Human society has been drifted away from freedom to enslavement through the human’s so-called highest gift reason. Enlightenment actually accelerates the process of self-isolation of individuals from society.
Lock’s social contract as a solution might be OK as a practical starting point, but Rousseau wanted to go further. Lock’s liberal idea of a simple contract among members of a society might prevent the extremes, but it just hides the root problem. Individuals are more isolated from the public, and we are forced into a society of less freedom.
Rousseau’s social contract is more radical. He proposes we have to submit to the sovereignty of General Will to synchronize individual desires and social benefits. By doing so, we can maximize individuals ‘ freedom in this non-natural society.
If you are a fan of Tolkien’s books, you know how the village of hobbits in the Shire, which reminds you of a small British town – like St. Mary Mead of Miss Marple, can be a model of a semi-Utopia. The interesting points are how hobbits can enjoy somewhat moderately pleasurable lives. Hobbits are like us, human beings, but seem to have much moderate desire and can be easily satisfied – especially by eating, drinking, and smoking. They do not have a spirit of adventure and like to settle down in one place. Moreover, hobbits have lived with no contact with the outer world, and it is small isolated heaven. When the Shire was invaded from outside in the last part of the “Lord of the Rings,” it is unclear where the problem lies; the enemy who interrupts the peaceful life of hobbits or hobbits who haven’t prepare any change of their environment.
The community of Smurfs can be an ideal depiction of a socialist society. Everyone has his (at first, there are only male populations) specialties (even laziness) and does his task to make the community moving. The success of the Smurf community is largely based on the members’ diverse interests without conflict. Each Smurf has only one interest and is free to pursue it. In general, there is no conflict of interest among members. Their little deviance is controlled by a town chief, Papa Smurf. To me, it is a society of robots that are made to do a specific task. But I agree that Smurfs is an excellent thought experience of how a small community might function.
Also, each smurf acknowledges others’ uniqueness without any prejudices. Smurfs maintain their individual freedom while living as a group. It is the most important feature that we can regard the community of Smurfs as a Utopia.