Journey through Utopia: A Critical Examination of Imagined Worlds in Western Literature

Journey through Utopia: A Critical Examination of Imagined Worlds in Western Literature


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Friday, October 18


Journey through Utopia is a richly detailed and critically compelling examination of utopian literature, beginning with Plato’s Republic and continuing through to Huxley’s Brave New World. Utopias have been penned with diverse intentions: some as pictures of an ideal society, some as blueprints for action, some, especially in times of severe censorship, as covert criticisms of existing conditions. Marie Louise Berneri exposes the dark shadow that lingers above most utopian works by emphasizing the intolerant and authoritarian nature of these visions, warning of the doom that awaits those foolish enough to put their trust in an ordered and regimented world. Journey through Utopia is a necessary companion, and in many cases an antidote, to imagined fictions from antiquity to the present.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629636467
Publisher: PM Press
Publication date: 08/15/2019
Series: Freedom Series
Edition description: None
Pages: 464
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Marie Louise Berneri (1918–1949) was an anarchist activist and author. She was involved with the short-lived publication Revision, with Luis Mercier Vega, and was a member of the group that edited Revolt, War Commentary, and the Freedom newspaper. She was a regular contributor to Spain and the World.

George Woodcock (1912–1995) was a Canadian writer of political biography and history, anarchist thinker, essayist, and literary critic. Some of his most enduring works include: Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements; Gandhi; Dawn at the Darkest Hour: A Study of Aldous Huxley; Canada and Canadians; and The Crystal Spirit: A Biography of George Orwell.

Matthew S. Adams is lecturer in Politics, History, and Communication at Loughborough University. He is the author of Kropotkin, Read, and the Intellectual History of British Anarchism and co-editor of Anarchism, 1914–1918 and The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism.

Rhiannon Firth is senior research officer in Sociology at the University of Essex. Her research interests include utopian political theory, anarchist social movements, prefigurative spatial practices, alternative epistemologies, and critical pedagogy. She is the author of Utopian Politics: Citizenship and Practice, which involved ethnographic research with several intentional communities, housing cooperatives, and autonomous social centres around the U.K.

Kim Stanley Robinson (born 1952) is a Californian through and through. He grew up in Orange County, surfed his way through UC San Diego (writing his doctoral thesis on Philip K. Dick), and now lives in Davis with two kids and a beautiful scientist wife. He spends several weeks a year above 11,500 feet in the high Sierras. Not surprisingly, he’s a good friend of Gary Snyder.

Read an Excerpt


Utopias of Antiquity

Greek philosophical and political thought possesses such a richness and variety as to make it the greatest source of inspiration for utopian writers throughout the ages. The legends of the Golden Age, the descriptions of ideal states belonging to a mythical past or to a distant future, the theoretical writings on the art of government, have all had a profound influence on the builders of ideal commonwealths, from Thomas More to H. G. Wells.

It is not always easy to determine which works can be considered as utopias, for the difference between imaginary and historical accounts is sometimes a very tenuous one. Plato himself, to whom later writers have most often turned, has left works which contain various forms of utopian thought. The Timaeus and the Critias are both descriptions of mythical societies and of ideal commonwealths, the Republic lays down the basis for an ideal city of the future, and the Laws that of a second-best state. In Aristotle we find the frame of an ideal constitution and also an account of the institutions governing many Greek states; in Diodorus Siculus, historical accounts of early communities and legends of the golden age; in Zeno a study of governments and a sketch of an ideal republic, and in Strabo and Plutarch a fairly accurate description of society as it had existed in Crete and Sparta.

Among these works, those which come nearer to the definition of an ideal commonwealth and to which, at the same time, subsequent utopias have been most indebted, are Plato's Republic and Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus. Both represent the authoritarian and communistic trends of Greek thought, but their influence on later thinkers has often been tempered by the reformist "petty-bourgeois" ideas of Aristotle or the libertarian and cosmopolitan ideals of Zeno. If our aim were to trace the influence of Greece on utopian thought rather than to present schemes of ideal commonwealths, their works should have been considered here. It may also seem an arbitrary choice to include the Republic and leave out the Timaeus, the Critias and the Laws, but, as Alexander Gray has remarked, "there is an immensity of Plato as there is an immensity of Shakespeare," and the limitations of a short survey are necessarily somewhat arbitrary.


The Republic

The period in which Plato wrote The Republic was one of decline in Greek history. The Peloponnesian war (431-404 B.C.) had ended with the crushing defeat of Athens, and the independent cities which had taken part in it were weakened by the long struggle and by internal factions. Their lack of unity rendered them vulnerable to foreign aggression and had allowed the military and authoritarian state of Sparta to triumph over them. Plato was twenty-three years old when the war came to an end, leaving Athens in a state of political and economic exhaustion. It is understandable, therefore, that his writings should show such an interest in political and social questions, and that he should have attempted to draw some lessons from the defeat of Athens and the victory of Sparta.

The mind of the defeated is often fascinated by the power of the conquerors, and when Plato came to build his ideal city he turned to Sparta for a model. He did not, of course, imitate that model slavishly, but his Republic is more similar to the authoritarian organisation of Sparta than to the liberal institutions which the other Greek cities had enjoyed during the preceding centuries. To the spirit of independence and extreme individualism which characterised Greek life, Plato opposed the conception of a strong and homogeneous state based on authoritarian principles.

The Sophists, against whom Plato directed his most persistent and bitter attacks, had sought a solution to the disintegration of Greek life along opposite lines. Their cure was not less, but more freedom. They turned to the traditional belief in a Golden Age when men lived in a state of complete freedom and equality, and they put forward the theory that it was with the birth of political institutions that men had lost that freedom and happiness which belonged to them as a "natural right." In his Nationalism and Culture, Rudolf Rocker described this social conception thus:

It was especially the members of the Sophist school who in their criticism of social evils used to refer to a past natural state where man as yet knew not the consequences of social oppression. Thus Hippias of Elis declares that "the law has become man's tyrant, continually urging him to unnatural deeds." On the basis of this doctrine Alkidamas, Lykophron and others advocated the abolition of social prerogatives, condemning especially the institution of slavery, as not founded upon the nature of man, but as arising from the enactments of men who made a virtue of injustice. It was one of the greatest services of the much maligned Sophist school that its members surmounted all national frontiers and consciously allied themselves with the great racial community of mankind. They felt the insufficiency and the spiritual limitations of the patriotic ideal and recognised with Aristippus that "every place is equally far from Hades."

These ideas were taken up later by the Cynics, who considered the institutions of the State as being opposed to the natural order of things and denied class and national distinctions, and by the school of Stoics, founded by Zeno of Kittion, who refused to submit to external compulsion but followed the "inner law" which revealed itself in nature. In Zeno's ideal commonwealth there were to be no states or political institutions, but complete freedom and equality for all human beings, while marriage, temples, law-courts, schools and money were to be abolished. Zeno did not, however, confuse freedom with license or irresponsibility. He believed that human social instinct has its roots in communal life and finds its highest expression in the sense of justice, and that man combines a need for personal freedom with a sense of responsibility for his own actions.

Plato represented a reaction against the major trends of philosophical thought in his time, for he believed in moral and external compulsion, in inequality and authority, in strict laws and immovable institutions, and in the superiority of the Greeks over the "barbarians." Though his influence on modern thought has been far greater than that of the other philosophers, there were times when thinkers proclaimed, like the Stoics, the "natural right" of men to complete freedom and equality.

Like the Sophists and the Stoics, however, Plato was convinced that his institutions were in accord with the law of nature, but, for him, nature had created some men to rule and others to be ruled.

In The Republic he says:

The truth established by nature is that he who is ill, whether he be rich or poor, ought to wait at the doctor's door, and every man who needs to be ruled, at the door of him who can rule.

Having denied that each man is to be his own ruler and established the necessity of a ruling class, Plato logically wished to establish a strong government, strong not only by the power it would have over the mass of the people but by its moral and intellectual superiority and its internal unity. The rulers or guardians of his ideal Republic are not to be chosen for their birth or their wealth but for the qualities which predispose them to their task; they must be men of good stock, good physique, good mind and good education. This is how Socrates explains to Glaucon the essential qualities of the guardians:

"Then," I said, "because the work of our guardians is the most important of all, it will demand the most exclusive attention and the greatest skill and practice."

"I certainly think so," he said.

"And will it not need also a nature fitted for this profession?"


"Then it will be our business to do our best to select the proper persons and to determine the proper character required for the guardians of the city?"

"Yes, we shall have to do that."

"Well, certainly it is no trivial task we have undertaken, but we must be brave and do all in our power."

"Yes, we must," he said.

"Do you not think, then," I said, "that so far as their fitness for guarding is concerned, a noble youth and a well-bred dog are very much alike?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, for example, that both must be sharp-sighted, quick of foot to pursue the moment they perceive, and strong enough to make captures and overcome opposition when necessary."

"Yes," he said; "all these qualities are required."

"And since they are good fighters, they must certainly be brave."


"But will either horse or dog or any animal be brave if it is not spirited? Have you not observed that spirit is unconquerable and irresistible? Every soul possessed by it will meet any danger fearless and unshrinking."

"I have noticed that."

"Then we are quite clear as to what must be the bodily characteristics of our guardians?"


"And as to their mental qualities, we know they must be spirited."


"Then, Glaucon," I said, "with such natures as these, how are they to be prevented from behaving savagely towards one another and the other citizens?"

"By Zeus," he said, "that will not be easy."

"Still we must have them gentle to their fellows and fierce to their enemies. If we can't effect that, they will prevent the enemy from destroying the city by doing it first themselves."

"True," he said.

"What then are we to do?" I said. "Where shall we find a character at once gentle and high-spirited? For a gentle nature is surely the antithesis of a spirited one?"

"So it appears."

"Nevertheless, if either is lacking, we shall certainly not have a good guardian. But this combination is apparently unattainable, and so you see it follows that a good guardian is an impossibility."

"It looks like it," he said.

I was perplexed, but reflecting on what had gone before I said, "We certainly deserve to be in difficulties, for we have forsaken the simile we set before ourselves."

"What do you mean?"

"Have you noticed that natures are to be found possessed of those opposite qualities, for all that we thought them nonexistent?"


"In many animals, but perhaps best in that with which we compared our guardian. Well-bred dogs, you surely know, are naturally of that disposition — as gentle as possible to their friends and those whom they know, but the very opposite to strangers."

"Yes, I know that."

"Then," I said, "we may assume that the character we seek in our guardian is possible, and not contrary to nature?"

"I think we may."

"Do you think, then, that there is another quality indispensable to the guardian? The spirited element is not enough; he must be of a philosophical nature as well."

"What are you saying?" he said. "I don't understand."

"You will notice this other quality in dogs," I said. "It certainly is surprising in the creatures."

"What quality?"

"Why, when dogs see a stranger, without any provocation they get angry; but if they see someone they know, they welcome him, even though they have received no kindness at his hands. Have you never wondered at that?"

"I have hardly thought of it before. But that certainly is how they behave."

"Well, but this instinct in the dog is a very fine thing, and genuinely philosophical."

"In what way?"

"Why, he distinguishes between a friendly and an unfriendly face, simply by the fact that he knows the one and is ignorant of the other. Now, how could the creature be anything but fond of learning when knowledge and ignorance are its criterion to distinguish between the friendly and the strange?"

"How indeed?"

"Well, but is it not the same thing to be fond of learning and to be philosophical?" I asked.

"It is," he said.

"Then shall we confidently apply this to man? If he is to be gentle to his friends and acquaintances, he must be by nature philosophical and fond of learning."

"Let us do so," he said.

"Then he who is to be a good and noble guardian of our city will be by nature philosophical and spirited, and quick and strong."

This body of guardians will be chosen by a small number of men who are true philosophers and know who is a fit person to compose the ruling class. Plato does not explain very clearly how this government of philosophers is to come into being but merely says that in his Republic, either the philosophers must become kings or the kings philosophers. Having assumed then that the reins of government have been put into the hands of the philosophers, their first task must be to select those who are to become guardians and this is how it will be done:

"Then we must discover who are the best guardians of the doctrine that is in them, that they must do whatever they think at any time best for the city. We must watch them from their earliest childhood, and set them tasks in which there are the strongest temptations to forget or be cheated out of their devotion to the city. We must select those that are tenacious of memory and hard to deceive, the others we must reject. Do you agree?"


"We must impose upon them, too, labours, and vexations, and contests, and watch for the same things there."

"You are right," he said.

"Then," I said, "we must prepare for them a contest of the third kind, a trial in resistance to witchcraft, and watch them then. As men try whether colts are easily frightened by taking them near noises and alarming sounds, so we must bring our men, while still young, into the midst of terrors, and then again plunge them into pleasures, testing them more hardly than gold is tested in the fire; and if one appears in all things gracious and a resister of enchantment, if he is a good guardian of himself and the music he has learnt, if he bears himself in all his trials with rhythm and harmony, such a man would be of the greatest service to himself and to the city. Therefore we must elect as ruler and guardian of the city him who as boy and youth and man has been tested and has come out without stain, and render him honours in life and after death, giving him the highest rewards of public burial and other memorials. The others we must reject. Some such method as that, Glaucon," I said, "seems to me the best for the election and appointment of rulers and guardians. I give the outline only without accurate details."

"My opinion is much the same," he said.

"Then is it really most correct to give these the name of perfect guardians, inasmuch as they watch over both enemies without and friends at home, taking care that the first shall be unable, and the second unwilling, to do harm; and to call the young men, whom we formerly counted as guardians, auxiliaries, and upholders of the doctrines of the rulers?"

Once the guardians have been chosen they must be invested with authority and that authority will be all the more respected if it is believed to be of a predestined character. By means of a myth or, as Plato calls it, a "necessary lie" or a "noble falsehood," the rulers must be persuaded that they belong to a superior class, that they are born to be leaders, and what is more important, the rest of the citizens must be coached into believing that they are born to be ruled and that these class distinctions are all part of a divine scheme. Rather shyly, because he is afraid that his "noble falsehood" may not be easily accepted, Socrates expounds to Glaucon his ingenious myth:

"You in this city are all brothers," so we shall tell our tale to them, "but God as he was fashioning you, put gold in those of you who are capable of ruling; hence they are deserving of most reverence. He put silver in the auxiliaries, and iron and copper in the farmers and the other craftsmen. For the most part your children are of the same nature as yourselves, but because you are all akin, sometimes from gold will come a silver offspring, or from silver a gold, and so on all round. Therefore the first and weightiest command of God to the rulers is this — that more than aught else they be good guardians of and watch zealously over the offspring, seeing which of those metals is mixed in their souls; if their own offspring has an admixture of copper or iron, they must show no pity, but giving it the honour proper to its nature, set it among the artisans or the farmers; and if on the other hand in these classes children are born with an admixture of gold and silver, they shall do them honour and appoint the first to be guardians, the second to be auxiliaries. For there is an oracle that the city shall perish when it is guarded by iron or copper. Can you suggest any contrivance by which they may be made to believe this story?"

"No," he said, "I see no hope of succeeding with your original citizens, but possibly their sons and their descendants, and subsequent generations, might believe it."


Excerpted from "Journey through Utopia"
by .
Copyright © 2019 PM Press.
Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction To The 2019 Edition Matthew S. Adams vii

Foreword George Woodcock xliii

Introduction 1

1 Utopias of Antiquity 9

2 Utopias of the Renaissance 52

3 Utopias of the English Revolution 143

4 Utopias of the Enlightenment 174

5 Utopias of the Nineteenth Century 207

6 Modern Utopias 293

Bibliography 320

Afterword Rhiannon Firth 331

Postscript Kim Stanley Robinson 393

Index 399

About the authors 410

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews