Utopia – Meaning and Origin
Utopia, meaning an imaginary ideal world, comes from the Greek words for “no place.” The term was first used by Thomas More in his satirical Utopia (1516), in which a man named Raphael Hythloday, who had sailed with Amerigo Vespucci, gives a detailed description of the island of Utopia, where there is no private property.
More was not the first to come up with a plan for an ideal society. Plato described his ideal of the state in his Republic, but More was the first to give a detailed narrative about a society that was supposed to exist in the present or future. Such narratives have been called “Utopias” ever since.
According to Krishna Kumar in Utopianism, “Utopia was born with modernity.” During the Renaissance, the period when the New World was discovered, curiosity began to grow about unknown societies. At the same time, people began to believe that humankind could be perfected by use of reason, and that an ideal society might be established.
Many people began to write about such societies.
Bacon’s view of Utopia
In Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis (1627), the most important institution of the island of Bensalem is Salomon’s House, or the College of the Six Days’Works, made up of scientists who seek to “enlarge the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible.”
Campanella’s view of Utopia
In Tommaso Campanella’s, The City of the Sun (1623), the perfect society is devoted to the life of the mind, especially the arts and sciences. Other utopias were political.
Harrington’s view of Utopia
The ideal government in James Harrington’s Oceana (1656) has a series of checks and balances to prevent too much power being invested in any one body. His work may have influenced John Adams, one of the framers of the U.S.Constitution (1787).
In 1770 Louis-Sébastien Mercier wrote the first utopia to be set in the definitive future: The Year 2440, in which government is based on science and reason.
Early 19th-century utopianism was largely devoted not to literary works, but to social theory and experiments in utopian communal living, such as those of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier. Literary utopias revived again in the late 19th and 20th centuries.