I begin with Tomas More’s Utopia, not because it is the first example of what we might call utopian thinking (Plato’s Republic is one earlier example written approximated 360 B.C.), but because it so clearly crystalizes some of the constitutive principles of this particular genre of mental exercise. It establishes ‘the island’ as the ideal utopic unit. This is important. Establishing Utopia in isolation from the surrounding world allows for a controllable discursive environment. The isolated unit allows for the conception of a homogeneous unit and an undisturbed social life. It thereby illustrates the attempt to conceptualize the perfect society through a careful attention to and planning of the most minute details of social life. What to do in the advent of mischief, how to handle crime and idleness, how to prevent foolish political decisions from being taken. As such Utopia is both ‘model of’ and ‘model for’ society. It comments upon the particular problems in real world societies observed by its creator (here Tomas More) and it imagines a solution to these through detailed social engineering. Utopia are closed systems where input and output are closely monitored, allowing for a conceptually perfect ‘system’ ridden of the worst ailments of contemporary real-world society. What those ailments are vary with the concerns of their makers but they might be; particular ideologies, particular gender relations, particular sorts of behavior such as laziness, or it might be physical elements such as dirt or immigrants.
Image: Doodle of my own.