Utopias are generally said to be societies in which the political, social and economic troubles hampering its inhabitants has been done away with. Instead the state is there to serve the people and ensure the peacefulness and happiness of everyone. The word utopia, which means “no place” in Greek, was first used to mean a perfect society in 1516 in the publication of Saint Thomas More’s story “Utopia”. The story depicted life as it was with its people and social institutions on an imaginary island. More’s Utopia gained critical acclaim and a wide audience. The term was subsequently used by all prominent social thinkers and visionaries to define other concepts of this kind.
During the 19th century many attempts were made to actually establish communities which followed the beliefs of a utopian society. Most were experiments in utopian socialism. Although they differed considerably in their specific views, most of them agreed that ideal societies could be created without much difficulty. They felt all that was needed was to have the formation of a few small, cooperative communities made up of their followers. The comte de Saint-Simon regarded technological progress and large scale economic organization as being the most important keys to the establishment of these communities. It was felt that industrial growth was the key to happiness for people in the future.
Another visionary, Fourier, was quite the opposite of Saint-Simon. He Spoke strongly against the use of industry. His opinion was that agricultural communities would be better suited for this situation. He favored these communities as he saw them as small, self-sufficient and more importantly, free from the restraints that were being imposed by civilization.
Experimental societies based on the theories of the utopians were also set up in Europe and the Unites States. They included Robert Owen’s cooperative communities in New Harmony, lnd., and New Lanark, Scotland. Most of these did not survive long. One of the longer lasting of these communities was the Oneida Community. It lasted from 1848 to 1881. By the middle of the 19th century the utopian socialists were beginning to be eclipsed by more militant radical movements. These included anarchism and Marxism.
In more modern times, utopianism has more frequently been used to suggest a naive and impractical approach to reality. Most comes by way of literature with stories such as a way to expose modern society’s social ills. Some prominent examples of this type of writing include George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World”.
The places mentioned in those stories were all imaginary. Such a place does not exist in the world as we know it today. Therefore the word imaginary comes into play. I have heard of places that have experimented with the concept of a utopian environment but none have truly succeeded. One example is the community in Chicago which George Pullman attempted to control. He attempted to create a community in which every person was taken care for, all had adequate housing, medical attention and so forth. In return everyone would work for Pullman’s company. The better he provided for his workers, the better he expected their attitude towards working for him would be. Not everything turned out as planned though. A panic in 1893 lead to Pullman lowering the employees’ wages, he did not however lower the employees rent and other charges in the company town. This lead to what was called the Pullman strike. The anticipated utopia had turned into a dystopia. (A dystopia would be the exact opposite of a utopia.) Federal troops arrived on July 4th to try to control the unrest. Rioting broke out and several strikers were killed. It wasn’t until July 10th that the troops were able to control the situation. The word utopia however does not necessarily have to be used to define a society. A utopia can also be used to define a certain situation as it is perceived by an individual. A person who feels that their life at the specific point in time is perfect or a person who is involved with a certain group or organization can very well feel that they are living in a utopic way. Regardless of what others may feel, these people feel content that their choices are the right ones.
These choices are not always the right ones however. Let’s take the example of the Koresh commune in Waco, Texas. The people who migrated to this place did so by their own choice. It was their belief that the ideas on how to live shared by David Koresh were the right ones. They felt that this was the way that they wanted to live their lives. The inhabitants disagreed with the ways of society and chose to live in a way completely shut off from the rest of the world. Meanwhile, to the outside world was well aware that what was going on in the commune was not right. There were reports of child abuse, and sexual misconduct. This lead to a standoff between the followers of Koresh and the military. Unfortunately that situation got out of hand and there were resulting casualties. This goes to show how hard one would fight and how much one would gibe to be able to achieve that perfect life which is dreamt about by so many. They went as far as to give their lives.
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