Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
UTOPIA (from the Greek, , that which exists in no place, nowhere). The word is the invention of Thomas More; the title given by him to one of his works which soon became celebrated; but the thing is much older than the name. By utopia is meant a certain organization of society and of the state, to which imagination and the spirit of system contributes not most but everything, without examining whether it is realizable in a given place or time, and without investigating whether or not it is compatible, even in a general way, with the moral and physical conditions of human nature. It follows from this, that the utopia necessarily changes character according to the system which produces it. And, in fact, there are religious utopias and philosophical utopias; idealistic and sensualistic, sensual and even materialistic utopias. Lastly, there are utopias which have their origin in pantheism; and this is true of the greater number of utopias. The pretension of Gregory VII, to make christendom a republic entirely subject, in things temporal as well as spiritual, to the sovereign authority of the holy see; a pretension afterward developed in a systematic form by the great theologians of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, is a religious utopia. The republic of Plato is a philosophical, and, moreover, an idealistic utopia. On the other hand, we observe the inspiration of sensualism in the doctrine of Fourier, the inspiration of materialism in the "Leviathan" of Hobbes, and in the "Positivist Catechism" of Auguste Comte, and that of pantheism in the reveries of Campanella and Saint-Simon. The utopia is, therefore, different from the ideal, although the ideal may sometimes be found in the utopia. The ideal which applies to society, as well as to the individual, raises us above what we are, to show us what we should be, and, therefore, can be. The utopia deceives us in regard to both, by placing before our eyes a chimerical goal, which may at the same time be a type of debasement and servitude; for it is impossible to create a new form of society, without concerning ourselves with the government adapted to it, and the best suited to preserve it. We, therefore, can not admit the distinction made by some publicists between the social utopia and the political utopia. Every utopia is necessarily both political and social.
—The age of utopias does not begin, as is generally supposed, with Plato; it is much more remote. It would not be difficult, for instance, to demonstrate that the republic of the Hebrews, such as we may represent it to ourselves in accordance with the institutions and the laws of the Pentateuch (see
—It is evident that in this organization the human person and individual liberty count for nothing. They are not quite so entirely annihilated, but they are still oppressed under the régime of equality presented to us in the "Laws." For instance, the division of the territory having to remain in variable, it is necessary that the number of citizens fixed by Plato at 5,040 should be invariable likewise. So much the worse for the children born in excess of that fatal figure. They will be forced to emigrate. Sterile families will be obliged to complete their number by adoption. The law will see to it that personal wealth shall not disturb the equilibrium of fortunes. It will trammel industry, commerce and the increase of capital in such a way that industry, commerce and the increase of capital will become almost impossible. A fortiori, the burden of the law is felt in what concerns marriage, the education of children, and wills. It prescribes, as it did in Sparta, meals in common, prohibits travel, except in certain cases of necessity or of the public interest, subjects to the inspection of the authorities the most intimate relations of life, and lays down the most inflexible rules for all the occupations it is so good as to allow the citizens to engage in.
—Pagan antiquity affords no other examples of the utopian spirit; for we can attach no value to a few lost fragments like those of Hecatæus of Abdera, of Evemerus and Theopompus, which are evidently only reminiscences of the ideas of Plato; and, as to the "republic" of Cicero, it is less a work of the imagination and spirit of system than of patriotism and the political passion; it contains only a partial apology for the old institutions of the Roman republic.
—The middle ages bring us to the religious utopias, of which the boldest and most brilliant is assuredly the utopia of Gregory VII. Universal theocracy never existed except in the ambition of that great pontiff. The condition of the world at the period in which it was produced, and the general state of society, have always made it an unrealizable dream. But after it had met with the resistance of facts, the idea of Gregory VII. entered the domain of speculation. It took possession of philosophy and theology through the works of Thomas Aquinas, of Giles of Rome, and notably through the De regimine principum and the treatise De ecclesiastica potestate. Another utopia, hatched at the same epoch, between the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century, but which savors perhaps as much of philosophy as of religion, is that which bears the name of the abbé Joachim, and which is described in the "Eternal Gospel" (L'Evangil éternel). Joining the pantheistic principles of Amaury de Bène and of David de Dinant to some misconstrued texts of the Gospels, the adherents of this doctrine expected the reign of the Holy Ghost or of love to succeed the Son, as the Son had succeeded the Father. During this last period of our history, for which the two preceding periods had only paved the way, all differences and inequalities were to disappear from the earth, even the difference between vice and virtue; for all the passions were to be sanctified; the flesh and the spirit reconciled with one another, or rather, confounded together, were to cease their struggle for pre-eminence; and the suppression of war and a community of goods and of women were to make all men one family.
—With the renaissance the purely philosophical utopia reappeared; and it was the minister of a despot, the chancellor of Henry VIII., Thomas More, who, in calling it back to life, gave it its real name. Everything in Thomas More's book is not chimerical. It contains an extremely profound and sensible criticism of the politics, the political economy and legislation of his time. And even when he seems to abandon himself to the caprice of his imagination, when with complaisance he gives us an exposition of the laws and institutions of the country of Utopia, there is a distinction to be made between its political conception and its social organization. The former is simply a representative government, with a leaning toward the republic, having a senate, an assembly of the people, a president appointed for life, and election to all the degrees of power, spiritual as well as temporal. The latter is summed up in communism, with some of the elements which subsequently served in the construction of the phalanstery system. This is sufficient to convince us that the communism of Thomas More does not flow from the same philosophical system as that of Plato. The latter remains as much an idealist, even in its most deplorable applications, as the former inclines to sensualism. It is no longer with a view to their moral perfection, but in the interest of their common happiness, that men, according to the English philosopher, should renounce property. It is sufficient that this end be proposed to them for labor, grown both more pleasant and more fruitful, to satisfy all the wants of society. The day in this system was to consist of only six hours: three hours before dinner and three hours before supper. Fatigue was to be avoided by diversity of occupation; every citizen, exercising several professions at the same time, might alter natively pass from one to the other. He would, therefore, have leisure enough to give himself up to all the enjoyments of study and conversation, and to taste the pleasures procured by the fine arts.
—Thomas More, however, does not carry the illusion so far as to believe that all trades, without distinction, could lend themselves to this combination. He recognizes that there are rude and repulsive trades, which are carried on only from necessity. But these trades are to fall to the lot of the public slaves, reduced to that condition in expiation of their crimes, or purchased by the state in foreign countries. Thus we see the utopian spirit resuscitating, in the bosom of Christianity, the institution of the helots. We must remark, however, that the citizens themselves are not treated much better. The law, like the discipline of a barracks, or the rule of a monastery, intervenes in all the details of life. It prescribes what their clothing, their food, their work and relaxation shall be, and leaves not the least place for freedom or intellect.
—If Thomas More thinks little of liberty, he has at least some regard for morals. He respects marriage, and, to a certain extent, preserves the rights of conscience by basing the national religion on deism. No such consideration for them is to be found in the system of Campanella, which is easy to account for, since pantheism is its basis. Pantheism confounds man, nature and God; it does away with the individual, and recognizes only the collective existence of society. This is precisely what Campanella does in his famous "City of the Sun." All the actions, and even the sentiments and thoughts, of its imaginary subjects, are submitted to an absolute authority. The chief of this solar people is something like the Supreme Father in the Saint-Simonian system, that is, he is both a monarch and an infallible pontiff, a man clothed with the attributes of God. Under him are three ministers in the departments of wisdom, of power, and of love; and under these three ministers are divers classes of magistrates set over all the virtues and all the faculties, who assign to each man his rank, his task, and, according to the manner in which he performs it, his share in the enjoyment of the common goods; the community is not here confounded with equality. And so, although women are in common, they can be enjoyed only in accordance with the rules established by the minister of love affairs, and only on the days, at the hours and under the circumstances most favorable to the improvement of the human race. Despotism was always dear to Campanella. In his "Discourse on the Spanish Monarchy," written many years before the "City of the Sun," he reaches this conclusion: the only and the true monarch of the world will be the sovereign pontiff; all peoples will constitute only one flock under the staff of only one shepherd; the king of Spain will play the part of the dog charged to bring back to the fold the sheep which have strayed away, and to devour them if they resist!
—At the same time that Campanella was taking up the ideas of Gregory VII, and paving the way for those of Saint-Simon, Bacon was writing his "New Atlantis"; but there is no reason why we should concern ourselves here with that work, since it relates more to the reformation and reorganization of learned societies than to the reorganization and reformation of the state. It offers, as it were, an anticipated plan of the institute of France. Hobbes and Harrington had another aim. It is laws and institutions which they pretended to make over from top to bottom, after a preconceived model which they present us with, Hobbes in the "Leviathan," and Harrington in the "Oceana." Although diametrically opposed to each other in their principles, since the former, in the name of materialism, invites us to servitude, whereas the latter, appealing to our moral dignity, urges us on to the conquest of liberty, these two writers have this in common, that their views do not extend beyond the domain of politics. Nevertheless, both are utopists; for the unity of power, as Hobbes conceives it, the absolute monarchy which disposes of men's bodies and souls, of conscience and interests, of religion and of the state alike, is not more easy to realize than the perfect equilibrium between power and property which Harrington seeks to effect, and which he bases on the agrarian law, as if the agrarian law was not itself a source and instrument of oppression.
—The Histoire des Severambes, by Denis Vayrasse, containing only a mixture, without any consistency (being, so to speak, only a weakened echo of them), of the two systems of More and Campanella, it may be said that the history of utopias in the seventeenth century closes with the two creations of Fenelon, the Bétiqus and the République de Salente. The first of these presents us not so much with a hope for the future as with a souvenir of the past. It is a classical reminiscence of the Arcadia of the poets. It transports us among a pastoral people like those who lived under the fabulous sceptre of Saturn. It introduces us to men who have none of the passions, and consequently none of the vices, of humanity; who have put everything in common, since they possess nothing, and have scarcely any wants; and to children, enjoying the peace and innocence of their tender years, while nature, like a kind mother, relieves them of all care and trouble. The Republique de Salente unveils to us much more clearly the real thought of the illustrious archbishop. It is the picture of a people, who, with no industry but agriculture, were able to attain the highest degree of perfection and happiness. Population is to that people the source of all wealth, and war the source of all misery. This is the very reverse of the maxims which guided the government of Louis XIV. But there is something more in Fenelon's republic. It is, despite the simplicity of its life and customs, an aristocratic state, the citizens of which, divided into seven classes, are distinguished from one another by their conditions, their occupations, their rights, their clothing even, and in which the first rank belongs to birth. It is the ideal republic of Plato modified by Christian morals and by the prejudices of race borrowed from feudalism.
—The eighteenth century, independent and fruitful in every other matter, was only slightly inventive in social and even in political utopias. Rousseau and Mably confined themselves to reproducing, with some necessary development, the institutions of Lycurgus. Theirs was a retrospective utopia. Morelly, in his Code de la Nature, is only Rousseau's echo, while Babœuf proposed to become Rousseau's testamentary executor. All, while they never tired talking of liberty, succeeded only in imagining a system of slavery on the foundation of demagogy and communism.
—The first half of the present century it is that witnessed the birth of the boldest, the most radical and the most brilliant utopias: Saint-Simonism, Fourierism, positivist socialism and the atheistic theocracy of Auguste Comte. Even a summary exposition of these different doctrines would carry us beyond the limits allotted to us here. (See
—The conclusions to be drawn from this succession of chimeras are these: that the progress and perfecting of social institutions are not sudden creations, issuing full-fledged from a human brain, and governed by one single idea, but the fruit of experience and time, of the thoughts and the efforts of a long series of generations; that no society is lasting or perfectible except the society which is founded on the liberty which respects the rights of the individual, and leaves him responsible for his acts and for the government and use of his faculties; that liberty is inseparable from property, and that it is impossible to preserve or suppress the one without preserving or suppressing the other; that liberty and property, in turn, suppose the moral dignity and the inviolability of the human person. Utopias have this advantage, that they bring these truths into greater relief, and compel the human mind never again to separate the progress of the social order from the conquests of civil and political liberty.
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