Utopia is a word which denotes a community or a society possessing highly desirable or perfect qualities, first used by Sir Thomas More in his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. It has since been used to describe both intentional communities that attempt to create an ideal society, and fictional societies portrayed in literature, and has spawned other concepts, most prominently that of dystopias. The word comes from the Greek: οὐ ("not") and τόπος ("place") and means "no place". The English homophone eutopia, derived from the Greek εὖ ("good" or "well") and τόπος ("place"), means "good place", and the identical pronunciation of "utopia" and "eutopia", gives rise to a double meaning.
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- The ground-root folly of this piteous philantropy
is thinking to distribute indivisibles,
and make equality in things incommensurable:
forged under such delusions, all Utopias
are castles in the air or counsels of despair.
- Robert Bridges, The Testament of Beauty (1929), Book II, line 225.
- Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment. . . . Humanity is in "final exam" as to whether or not it qualifies for continuance in Universe.
- Every daring attempt to make a great change in existing conditions, every lofty vision of new possibilities for the human race, has been labelled Utopian.
- I shall speak of … how melancholy and utopia preclude one another. How they fertilize one another … Of the revulsion that follows one insight and precedes the next … Of superabundance and surfeit. Of stasis and progress. And of myself, for whom melancholy and utopia are heads and tails of the same coin.
- Günter Grass, in "On Stasis and Progress"' in Diary of a Snail (1972).
- The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.
- We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia, a programme which seems neither a mere defence of things as they are nor a diluted kind of socialism, but a truly liberal radicalism which does not spare the susceptibilities of the mighty (including the trade unions), which is not too severely practical and which does not confine itself to what appears today as politically possible…Those who have concerned themselves exclusively with what seemed practicable in the existing state of opinion have constantly found that even this has rapidly become politically impossible as the result of changes in a public opinion which they have done nothing to guide. Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. But if we can regain that belief in power of ideas which was the mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost.
- Friedrich Hayek, in Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1967)
- I myself think it our bounden duty to believe in such international rationality as possible. But, as things stand, I see how desperately hard it is to bring the peace-party and the war-party together, and I believe that the difficulty is due to certain deficiencies in the program of pacifism which set the military imagination strongly, and to a certain extent justifiably, against it. In the whole discussion both sides are on imaginative and sentimental ground. It is but one utopia against another, and everything one says must be abstract and hypothetical.
- I will now confess my own utopia. I devoutly believe in the reign of peace and in the gradual advent of some sort of socialistic equilibrium. The fatalistic view of the war function is to me nonsense, for I know that war-making is due to definite motives and subject to prudential checks and reasonable criticisms, just like any other form of enterprise. And when whole nations are the armies, and the science of destruction vies in intellectual refinement with the science of production, I see that war becomes absurd and impossible from its own monstrosity. Extravagant ambitions will have to be replaced by reasonable claims, and nations must make common cause against them. … I look forward to a future when acts of war shall be formally outlawed as between civilized peoples.
- William James, in "The Moral Equivalent of War" (1906).
- If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. And if we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until "justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
- Martin Luther King, Jr., in Address to the first Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) Mass Meeting, at Holt Street Baptist Church (5 December 1955). "Justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream" is a quotation of Amos 5:24 in the Bible.
- When I die, I want to die in a Utopia that I have helped to build.
- Henry Kuttner in The Creature from Beyond Infinity (1940).
- In its flexibility and in its wide-open opportunities, this is the total Utopia. Anything that you can conceive of, you can do in this non-world. Nothing can stop you except a total bankruptcy of creativity. The seedbed is waiting. All the circumstances stand ready. The fructifying minerals are literally jumping out of the ground. And nothing grows. And nothing grows. And nothing grows. Well, why doesn't it?
- R. A. Lafferty, in The Day After the World Ended Notes for a speech at DeepSouthCon'79, New Orleans (21 July 1979), published in It's Down the Slippery Cellar Stairs (1995).
- We announce the birth of a conceptual country, NUTOPIA.
Citizenship of the country can be obtained by declaration of your awareness of NUTOPIA.
NUTOPIA has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people.
NUTOPIA has no laws other than cosmic.
All people of NUTOPIA are ambassadors of the country.
As two ambassadors of NUTOPIA, we ask for diplomatic immunity and recognition in the United Nations of our country and our people.
- To sequester out of the world into Atlantic and Utopian polities, which never can be drawn into use, will not mend our condition; but to ordain wisely as in this world of evil, in the midst whereof God hath placed us unavoidably. Nor is it Plato’s licensing of books will do this, which necessarily pulls along with it so many other kinds of licensing, as will make us all both ridiculous and weary, and yet frustrate; but those unwritten, or at least unconstraining laws of virtuous education, religious and civil nurture, which Plato there mentions, as the bonds and ligaments of the Commonwealth, the pillars and the sustainers of every written statute; these they be which will bear chief sway in such matters as these, when all licensing will be easily eluded. Impunity and remissness, for certain are the bane of a Commonwealth, but here the great art lies to discern in what the law is to bid restraint and punishment, and in what things persuasion only is to work.
- If the "liberal" mentality is prone to take flights into Utopia, the "reactionary" is guilty of sensing plots in every human enterprise involving hope, enthusiasm, and will to change. The correct attitude of this conflict must stem... from a rediscovery of philosophy which has enough courage to free itself of the historical-ideological-utopian perspective. ...this philosophy must re-emphasize man versus the collective body (with its envisaged collectivized mind), freedom versus the mechanization of inner and social life, common sense versus faith in science.
- Thomas Molnar, The Decline of the Intellectual (1961) Ch. 11 "Intellectual and Philosopher"
- Utopian thinking is not merely futile, it is also profoundly immoral since it contradicts the structure of man's thought and action in its applicability to the world. Since it misleads man, it is an ultimately irresponsible doctrine. The philosopher... denies that good may be so increased as to obscure evil, that man may be substantially changed, and that society may take upon itself the qualities denied to individual man and thus secure happiness for the latter. ..."If we cannot produce virtuous individuals," the utopian says, "let us produce a virtuous society; instead of individual virtues, we shall have social virtues." ...The orientation is to build a social body, a mankind that thinks and acts as one, that is both persuaded and organized in view of becoming "perfect." ...Hence the striking intellectual failure of the idealogue, fruit of his profound immorality. ...his is the sin of pride, the sin that requires the greatest stupidity. It is ironical that he who is committed to a rational-scientific view, should be the real simple-minded one, the poor in the soul. Will it be forgiven him?
- Thomas Molnar, The Decline of the Intellectual (1961) Ch. 11 "Intellectual and Philosopher"
- There will not be one kind of community existing and one kind of life led in utopia. Utopia will consist of utopias, of many different and divergent communities in which people lead different kinds of lives under different institutions. Some kinds of communities will be more attractive to most than others; communities will wax and wane. People will leave some for others or spend their whole lives in one. Utopia is a framework for utopias, a place where people are at liberty to join together voluntarily to pursue and attempt to realize their own vision of the good life in the ideal community but where no one can impose his own utopian vision upon others.
- Utopia is a meta-utopia: the environment in which Utopian experiments may be tried out; the environment in which people are free to do their own thing; the environment which must, to a great extent, be realized first if more particular Utopian visions are to be realized stably.
- Robert Nozick, in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), Ch. 10 : A Framework for Utopia; The Framework, p. 312.
- One persistent strand in utopian thinking, as we have often mentioned, is the feeling that there is some set of principles obvious enough to be accepted by all men of good will, precise enough to give unambiguous guidance in particular situations, clear enough so that all will realize its dictates. and complete enough to cover all problems which actually arise. Since I do not assume that there are such principles, I do not presume that the political realm will whither away. The messiness of the details of a political apparatus and the details of how it is to be controlled and limited do not fit easily into one's hopes for a sleek, simple utopian scheme.
- Robert Nozick, in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), Ch. 10 : A Framework for Utopia; Utopian Means and Ends, p. 330.
- Is not the minimal state, the framework for utopia, an inspiring vision?
The minimal state treats us as inviolate individuals, who may not be used in certain ways by others as means or tools or instruments or resources; it treats us as persons having individual right with the dignity this constitutes. Treating us with respect by respecting our rights, it allows us, individually or with whom we please, to choose our life and to realize our ends and our conception of ourselves, insofar as we can, aided by the voluntary cooperation of other individuals possessing the same dignity. How dare any state or group of individuals do more? Or less?
- Robert Nozick, in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), Ch. 10 : A Framework for Utopia; Utopia and the Minimal State, p. 333.
- Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache. They wanted to produce a perfect society by an endless continuation of something that had only been valuable because it was temporary. The wider course would be to say that there are certain lines along which humanity must move, the grand strategy is mapped out, but detailed prophecy is not our business. Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness.
- Certainly we ought to be discontented, we ought not simply to find out ways of making the best of a bad job, and yet if we kill all pleasure in the actual process of life, what sort of future are we preparing for ourselves? If a man cannot enjoy the return of spring, why should he be happy in a labour-saving Utopia? What will he do with the leisure that the machine will give him?
- The world has become too dangerous for anything less than utopias.
- John R. Piatt (1969) in: New York Times, September 2, 1969.
- We are at heart so profoundly anarchistic that the only form of state we can imagine living in is Utopian; and so cynical that the only Utopia we can believe in is authoritarian.
- Lionel Trilling, notebook entry (1948), published in Partisan Review 50th Anniversary edition (1985), p. 510.
- I couldn't survive my own pessimism if I didn't have some kind of sunny little dream. … Human beings will be happier — not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie — but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That’s my utopia. That's what I want for me.
- The Utopian - a magazine about contemporary politics, art and culture that takes from utopian thought a spirit of free inquiry and open-mindedness
- Society for Utopian Studies - an international, interdisciplinary association devoted to the study of utopianism, with a particular emphasis on literary and experimental utopias
- Utopias - a learning resource at British Library
- Utopia and Utopianism - an academic journal
- Towards Another Utopia of The City by the Institute of Urban Design, Bremen, Germany
- History of 15 Finnish utopian settlements in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe
- "Utopia of the GOOD" — An essay on Utopias and their nature