Utopianism

Have you ever watched a scene from a film or TV show or even witness it in person when someone is asked to make a wish? Oftentimes, besides the obvious wishes of infinite wealth, people will often wish for world peace or to end hunger. This is because these things are viewed as the main problems in the world and are what is currently preventing the world from being perfect. Therefore, the removal of war or hunger may lead to a harmonious society. 

Utopianism Utopianism

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    This kind of thinking is what Utopianism is all about. Let's take a closer look into what exactly Utopianism is and how it relates to your political studies!

    Meaning of Utopianism

    We can see the meaning of Utopianism in the name; the term utopia originates from a combination of the Greek terms 'eutopia' and 'outopia'. Outopia means nowhere and eutopia means a place that's good. Utopia, therefore, refers to a society that can be characterised as perfect or at least qualitatively better. Usually, this includes ideas like perpetual harmony, peace, liberty, and self-fulfilment.

    Utopianism is used to describe ideologies that aim to create utopian societies. Anarchism is an example of this as within anarchism there is the belief that once individuals have rejected all forms of coercive authority they will be able to experience true freedom and harmony.

    However, utopianism is not specific to anarchism, any ideology that seeks to create a perfect and harmonious society can be described as utopian. Socialism and more specifically Marxism are also utopian as within these ideologies we see an attempt to construct a model of what a perfect society is.

    At their core, utopian ideologies have a vision of how the world should look like, this utopian vision serves to influence the foundations of the ideology, and also to critique the current state of the world, as compared to this utopian vision.

    Utopian visions differ depending on who you ask, for some people a utopia may be a place in which there is no war or poverty, while others may believe a utopia to be a place where there is no government or forced labour. Not only is Utptoina relevant to political ideologies, but also other things like religion.

    For example, the idea of heaven can be viewed as a utopia and in Christianity, there is the Garden of Eden, a place of eternal harmony which is devoid of evil the possibility of reaching this utopia motivates many Christians to follow a particular set of rules in the hope they will enter into the Garden of Eden.

    Utopianism Painting of the Garden of Eden StudySmarterFig. 1, Painting of the Garden of Eden

    Utopian Theory

    Utopianism influences a number of political ideologies but we can see the greater influence of utopian theory in Anarchism.

    Anarchism and utopia

    All branches of anarchism are utopian, regardless of whether they are individualist or collectivist forms of anarchism. This is because anarchism has an optimistic view of human nature, all anarchist utopias are centred on a stateless society. Without the overarching and exploitative presence of the state, anarchists believe that there is a possibility of utopia. However, the need for a stateless society is where the agreement on how to achieve a utopia begins and ends between anarchists.

    For more information check out our articles on Individualist Anarchism and Collectivist Anarchism.

    On the one hand, collectivist anarchists theorise a utopia whereby, under a stateless society, humans would band together on the basis that it is in human nature to be cooperative and sociable. An example of this utopian view can be seen in Anarcho-communism and Mutualism (Politics).

    Anarcho-communists envision a utopia whereby society is structured into a series of small autonomous communes. These communities would use Direct Democracy to inform their decisions. In these small communities, there would be common ownership of any of the wealth that is produced as well as the means of production and any land.

    On the other hand, individualist anarchists envision a utopia in which individuals have the freedom to decide how to govern themselves under a stateless society and rely heavily on the belief in human rationalism. The main types of individualist utopianism are Anarcho-capitalism, Egoism, and Libertarianism.

    Rationalism is the idea that which is the belief that all forms of knowledge can be attained through logic and reason and that humans are inherently rational.

    Anarcho-capitalists argue that there should be no state intervention in the free-market at all, even providing public goods like maintaining order, protecting a country from external attack, or even the justice system.

    They think that without this intervention, individuals would be able to create profit-seeking companies or entities that can provide these public goods more efficiently and at a higher quality than the government can, making society much better than the society where the government is providing these public goods.

    Utopianism Visual depiction of a utopia StudySmarterFig. 3, Painting of a utopia

    Anti-Utopianism

    Utopianism is often critiqued, as the establishment of a perfect society is viewed as being too idealistic. Liberals and Conservatives, who usually believe in anti-utopianism, argue that human beings are naturally self-interested and imperfect. It is not possible for humans to live together in constant harmony, and history demonstrates this to us. We have never witnessed the establishment of a utopian society, as it is not possible due to the very nature of humans.

    Anti-utopianism argues that the optimistic view of human nature is misguided, as ideologies such as anarchism are largely based on the perception of humans as morally good, altruistic and cooperative; the ideology is completely flawed due to this false perception of human nature. As a result of this, utopianism is often used in a negative sense as it is something that is unachievable and unrealistic.

    You may have heard someone say something like "They're living in some utopian dream" to say that someone is delusional or naive.

    The tensions between ideologies in regards to what a utopia should look like further encourage criticism of utopianism as there is no consistent opinion of what a utopia looks like and how to achieve it. These tensions cast doubts on the legitimacy of utopianism.

    Finally, utopianism often relies on unscientific assumptions of human nature. There isn't any proof that human nature is good. So anti-utopianists say that basing whole ideologies on the belief that a utopian society is achievable with absolutely no evidence is flawed.

    Supporters of utopianism argue that it is not a legitimate critique to say, just because we have never achieved something yet, that it is not possible. If this were the case, there would be no desire to achieve world peace or any of the other issues that have persisted through human existence.

    In order to create a revolution, everything must be questioned, even things that are believed to be factual such as the selfishness of humans or that harmony amongst all people is impossible. There can be no real change made if we simply accept that humans will never live in harmony with each other, and we will merely accept that capitalism and state control is the only viable system of organisation.

    Utopianism history

    Utopianism Portrait of Sir Thomas More StudySmarterFig. 2, Portrait of Sir Thomas More

    First used in 1516, the word utopia appears in Sir Thomas More's book of the same name. Thomas More was the Lord High Chancellor under the reign of Henry VIII. In his work titled Utopia, More wished to describe in detail a place that did not exist, but should. This place would serve as an ideal to which all other existing places could aspire to be. Imagination is the only place where utopia can be found.

    Whilst Thomas More is credited as being the creator of the word utopia, he did not start the history of Utopianism. Initially, those who envisioned a perfect society were referred to as prophets. This was because prophets were heavily critical of contemporary systems and rules, and often envisioned what the world could be like one day. These visions usually took the form of a peaceful and unified world, devoid of oppression.

    Religion has often been linked to utopianism due to its use of prophets and blueprints to create a perfect society.

    Utopian Books

    Utopian books have played a large part in the development of Utonpmaisn. Some of the most significant are Utopia by Thomas More, New Atlantis by Sir Francis Bacon, and men like Gods by H.G. Wells.

    Thomas More, Utopia, 1516

    In Thomas More's Utopia, More describes a fictional meeting between himself and a character referred to as Raphael Hythloday. Hythloday critiques English society and the rule of kings who impose capital punishment, encourage private property ownership and have little room for religious tolerance.

    Hythloday speaks of a Utopia in which there's no poverty, property is communally owned, there is no desire to wage wars, and society is based on rationalism. Hythloday explains that he wished some of these aspects that exist within the utopian society could be transferred to English society.

    Sir Francis Bacon, New Atlantis, 1626

    New Atlantis was an unfinished book based on scientific utopianism that was published after the death of Sir Francis Bacon. In the text, Bacon explores the idea of a utopian island known as Bensalem. Those who live on Bensalem are generous, well-mannered and 'civilised' and have a keen interest in scientific developments. The island is kept a secret from the rest of the world, and its harmonious nature is attributed to being a result of its technological and scientific prowess.

    H.G. Wells, Men Like Gods 1923

    Men Like Gods is a book written by H.G. Wells that is set in 1921. In this book, inhabitants of Earth are teleported to a utopia 3,000 years in the future. The world as humans formerly knew it is referred to as the days of confusion. In this utopia, there is a rejection of government and the society exists in a state of anarchy. There is no religion or politics and governance of the utopia is founded upon the principles of free speech, privacy, freedom of movement, knowledge, and privacy.

    Utopianism - Key takeaways

    • Utopianism is based on the idea of a utopia; a perfect society.
    • Several large theories are based on Utopianism, especially Anarchism and Marxism.
    • While all branches of anarchism are utopian different types of anarchist thought have different ideas about how to achieve utopia.
    • Anti-utopianists have several critiques of utopianism, including that it is idealistic and unscientific, and has a misguided view of human nature.
    • Thomas More was the first to use the term utopia in 1516, but the idea of utopia has been around much longer than this.
    • Books about utopia have been important in developing the ideas of Utpoinaims. Some famous ones are Utopia by Thomas More, New Atlantis by Sir Francis Bacon, and men like Gods by H.G. Wells

    References

    1. Fig. 1, The Garden of Eden (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jan_Brueghel_de_Oude_%5E_Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Garden_of_Eden_with_the_Fall_of_Man_-_253_-_Mauritshuis.jpg) is in the public domain
    2. Fig. 2, Visual depiction of a utopia (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2010_Utopien_arche04.jpg) by Makis E. Warlamis is licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
    3. Fig. 3, Portrait of Sir Thomas More (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hans_Holbein_d._J._-_Sir_Thomas_More_-_WGA11524.jpg) by Hans Holbein the Younger in the public domain
    Frequently Asked Questions about Utopianism

    What is Utopianism?

    Utopianism is the belief in the creation of a utopia which is a perfect or qualitatively better society. 

    Can Anarchism and Utopianism coexist?

    Anarchism and utopianism can coexist as Anarchism is Uptopian in its thinking.

    What is utopian thinking?

    Utopian thinking refers to any thinking or ideology that looks to create a utopia.

    What are the types of Utopianism?

    Any ideology that seeks to achieve a perfect society is a type of Utopianism. For example, Anarchism and Marxism are forms of Utopianism.

    Who created Utopianism?

    The term utopianism was coined by Sir Thomas More.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following utopian books was written by Sir Francis Bacon?

    Which of these is NOT a critique that utopianism faces from liberals and conservatives?

    Which of these ideologies are utopian?

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