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date: 05 December 2023

The Politics and Aesthetics of Utopian Literature: From the “Golden Age” Myth to the Renaissancefree

The Politics and Aesthetics of Utopian Literature: From the “Golden Age” Myth to the Renaissancefree

  • Antonis BalasopoulosAntonis BalasopoulosUniversity of Cyprus


From its earliest beginnings in the Western world to the end of the Renaissance, utopian literature has developed in four primary ways: as myth about the blissful but vanished past of humanity; as prophecy about a future state of bliss, particularly in millennial visions of the post-apocalyptic kingdom of God; as explicitly posited philosophical and rationalist speculation on how an ideal or at least plausibly better city and society could be attained; and as full-blown fiction, which deploys a range of fictional speech acts. Though in certain ways its ideational origins lie in a rich interplay of topoi derived from mythic antiquity and from the Hellenistic, Roman, and early Christian cultural world, utopian literature in its most formally complex form—that of the utopian fiction—only arises in the Renaissance. In this form, which will ultimately yield the utopian novel of the 19th century, the literary utopia occupies an idiosyncratic position between realism and fantasy fiction, lacking grounding in verisimilar space or time, but also eschewing the ahistoricism and escapism of fantasy. Utopian literature has been mostly understood in terms of moral and sociological functions, ranging from its utility as an instrument of anticipation, or at least fertile speculation about the possible and desirable, to its ability to posit norms and regulatory ideals or, more negatively, its penchant for dogmatism and the abstractions of blueprint and method. A different picture emerges, however, if one considers utopias from the standpoint of how they produce social meaning—an approach that foregrounds the role of textual and semiotic factors without making ethical assumptions about the better or worse character of utopian textual worlds. At stake, rather, is the grasp of utopian literature in terms of an organizational imaginary, according to which society is something that can be beneficially re-formed and rearranged after first being critically analyzed as to its constitutive elements and institutions.

At their earliest, utopias were the repository of myths about a world free from the pains of labor and the horrors of war, from greed and often from private property as well. By the time of Plato’s philosophical writings in the 4th century bce, utopian vision had become at once more modest and more realistic and technical, most prominently in its connection to social engineering. The earliest elements of playful fictionality emerge in the Hellenistic world, which incorporates the theme of travel and the element of the marvelous, often in a satirical vein. The early Christian world tends toward a divide between allegorical abstraction, particularly in elite versions of Christian Neoplatonism, and the more heterodox possibilities of divinely mediated subversion of established social forms and structures in the millenarianism of the lower classes. The Renaissance utopia, finally, emerges after Sir Thomas More’s homonymous text of 1516 as a complex synthesis and mediation between elite and subaltern pursuits, antiquity and modernity, Christian morality and scientific materialism, constituting utopists themselves as mediators and guarantors of social harmony in an otherwise rapidly changing and turbulent world.


  • Middle Ages and Renaissance (500-1600)
  • Literary Theory
  • Ancient Literatures (before 500)

On the Nature of Utopian Fictions

Utopian literature encompasses texts whose fictional nature is of a specific type. In literary realism, events and characters are fictional constructs deriving from speech acts of make-believe.1 At the same time, their spatiotemporal matrix is intended to evoke a space and time that resembles that of the real world; in other words, it mirrors, in some way, our knowledge-based mental constructs of the 19th century, the 1980s, Paris, or London.2 Utopias, however, are fictions where space and/or time are themselves either explicitly posited as merely hypothetical (and thus they remain fictions even while not being formally fictional, for instance when they are embedded as thought experiments in philosophical or pedagogical discourse) or implicitly invested with the playful unreality that pertains to the speech acts of fiction (as in the emblematic joke contained in Thomas More’s 1517 letter to Peter Giles):

If I had done nothing else than impose names on ruler, river, city, and island such as might suggest to the more learned that the island was nowhere, the city a phantom, the river without water, and the ruler without a people, it would not have been hard to do and would have been much wittier than what I actually did. Unless the faithfulness of an historian had been binding on me, I am not so stupid as to have preferred to use those barbarous and meaningless names, Utopia, Anydrus, Amaurotum, and Ademus.3

The hexastichon of Utopia’s poet laureate Anemolius, along with William Budé’s letter to Thomas Lupset, both added to the paratexts of the 1518 (Basel) edition, complete the basic network of semantic possibilities the genre’s name contains: Utopia deserves to be called a “Eutopia” (good place) as well, the poem suggests. But it could just as well be called “Udepotia” (Neverland), as Budé testifies that he has heard: “Udepotia apellari audio.”4 From More’s island on, utopias will be defined by this nexus of goodness (or virtue) plus nowhereness and/or neverness. When they are not presented as mere legends or as thought experiments, they turn out to be impossible to locate on any map. After the publication of Louis Sébastien Mercier’s L’An 2440 in 1771, they will also begin to involve a proximate or more remote future—a time that has not yet come into existence.

Utopias are not the only literary fictions that lack referents in the space and time experienced or historically known by their readers: fantasy fiction, say of the type of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), J. R. R. Tolkien’s immensely popular Lord of the Rings (1954–1955), or The Hobbit (1937), also lacks grounding in a space and time that can be correlated to those of contemporary or historical reality. But in utopias, unlike in fantasy fiction, reality persists in the form of explicit references to the social, economic, and ideological world as it historically was and as it currently (and recognizably) is. Whereas utopias, therefore, can be said to be more drastically fictional than realist fictions (since in them fictional characters engage in fictional lives in a space and time without contemporary or historical existence), they are also far less escapist than fantasy fiction. In them, existing social and economic conditions are vitally important: they provide the negative counterpoints to utopian projections and thus, effectively, the implicit motivation for the imagining of the utopian world. It follows that neither magic nor the supernatural (present not only in fantasy fiction but also in so-called magical realism) dictates the nature of events in utopian fictional worlds: new-fangled inventions and even new species of beings may well play a role in the subcategory of texts we know as science fiction utopias, but they are posited as results of scientific research (or accidents deriving from it) rather than as arbitrary emanations of a suspension of the known laws of nature. Neither do they themselves determine the operation of utopian institutions and social functions, which are rather the result of ordinary laws of intention, planning, and causality.

But an understanding of how literary utopias compare with other forms of fiction does not yet pose the thorny question of what they are. Definitions of the genre, often convergent, sometimes radically divergent and heterogeneous, abound. Much can be usefully elucidated, however, by distinguishing between the moral and ideological functions of utopias and the mechanisms of meaning production on which such functions rely. In the former case, utopian literature is appraised and interpreted in terms of the social circumstances of its conception by an author and those of its reception as a text—that is, in relation to subjects (author, reader) who are not themselves utopian but are situated outside the utopian fictional world. Such approaches will inevitably tend to integrate utopian fictions within some discussion of utopianism as a tendency of the human mind for imagining alternative and somehow “better” and more desirable worlds and modes of social existence. Lyman Tower Sargent’s definition is illustrative of this approach. For him, utopia is “a non-existent society described in considerable detail and normally located in time and space . . . that the author intended a contemporaneous reader to view as considerably better than the society in which that reader lived” (emphases added).5

Of course, not all morally and ideologically based definitions focus exclusively on the import of the content of the depiction of utopian society. Darko Suvin’s definition, for instance, registers the importance of its interplay with form, particularly as regards what he calls “cognitive estrangement” within utopian fictions. Thus, utopia

is the verbal construction of a particular quasi-human community where sociopolitical institutions, norms, and individual relationships are organized according to a more perfect principle than in the author’s community, this construction being based on estrangement arising out of an alternative historical hypothesis [emphases added].6

Despite Suvin’s greater emphasis on formal properties within utopias, however, utopia remains a sociologically resonant—and not simply a literary—pursuit. Inevitably, then, it will also be correlated with positively or negatively appraised functions of the work of the human imagination. In the broader scholarship, these functions include utopia’s anticipatory potency and its indispensability as a heuristic.7 More liberal versions underline utopia’s utility in sustaining regulatory ideals and encouraging pursuits of perfectibility.8 Finally, in more negative appraisals, criticism has emphasized utopia’s penchant for dogmatism and its seduction by the abstractions of blueprint and method at the expense of acknowledging the imperfect character of human affairs and the preferability of “piecemeal” and cautious reform.9 When viewed thus, utopias are likely to be either praised as necessary and vital or warned against as simplistic and dangerous exercises of the imagination without much attention to the formal preconditions involved in the production and negotiation of social meanings.

Matters are arguably different when utopias are considered in terms not of what but of how they mean: they will then more likely appear as textual worlds that are not inherently better and more desirable or worse and less desirable than ours, but are inherently meant to be different—they work differently or express different collective goals, a different conception of human virtue or happiness, and different principles of collective human organization.10 In a sense, this is the anthropological or ethnographic aspect of utopias as opposed to their ethical aspect, since in anthropological and ethnographic accounts cultural and social differences are not appraised in terms of comparative value or desirability but rather examined with the purpose of understanding their own, immanent logic, consequences, and implications. Whereas the former standpoint privileges sociological or ethical approaches, the latter privileges semiotic and structuralist approaches, of the sort that shaped the practice of modern anthropological and ethnographic inquiry (most eminently, in Claude Lévi-Strauss).11 Thus, to take Louis Marin’s Utopics as a paradigmatic instance of such approaches,

Utopic discourse . . . is a discourse that stages—sets in full view—an imaginary (or fictional) solution to [a] contradiction. . . . Utopia is fiction . . . its function is very close to that of the staging of mythic narrative . . . the fable furnishes a kind of space of representation in which contradiction can be figured and played out as a simulacrum so that it can be contemplated as an object of knowledge.12

Marin’s emphasis on contradiction as the raw material of utopian fiction, considered in terms of its internal construction as a world of words, is important and will be considered in more detail later. For now, it is necessary to underline that Utopias tend to appear as instances of what Timothy Brennan has called an “organizational imaginary.”13 Their potential to generate social meaning is correlated to their nature as fictions of organization, whether this be the organization of daily activity, of labor, of city space, of modes of scientific inquiry, or of the body, sexuality, death, childbirth, and warfare. Roland Barthes’s Sade/Fourier/Loyola, which heretically correlated the writings of a utopian social theorist (Fourier) with those of a religious reformer (Loyola) and of an infamous advocate of sexual transgression (de Sade), is remarkably adept at grasping this frequently overlooked dimension of literary utopias. Barthes remarks that three operations mark the shared territory of the textual practice of his authors:


Self-isolation, which in utopian fiction appears in terms of remoteness in space or time and which subsequently subtends ideas of radical difference from the social worlds we “know”;


Articulation, by which Barthes refers to the deduction, combination, and arrangement of the “rules of assemblage” that generate the (social, spatial, cultural, economic, etc.) whole; and


Ordering, which refers to the operations involved in such reconstitution—in the transition, in other words, from a disarticulated order to a newly articulated one.14

Though what is at stake in Barthes’s view of these operations is certainly akin to textual play and the pleasure of the text, it would be reductive to treat their import as mere jeu d’esprit, a “delight in construction,” whereby “the mind takes its satisfaction in the sheer operations of putting together new models of this or that perfect society.”15 As James Holstun’s extensive preoccupation with the “organizational imaginary” of early modern and Puritan utopias already suggests, the shadow of Foucauldian discipline is always looming in the utopian passion for rational reordering and reassembly.16 Clearly, therefore, the semiotic and structuralist lens does not entirely remove utopian fictions from the sphere of earlier (and, more specifically, Cold War–era) indictments of utopian fiction for their allegedly repressive and even totalitarian nature.

It is important, therefore, to take into account Fredric Jameson’s drastic reworking of the problem at hand, summed up in terms of a series of interlocking propositions:


In utopian fictions, what Barthes calls “self-isolation” is the necessary precondition for both totalization—in other words, the effort to think through the problem of social totality—and reflection on radical or absolute difference, with the latter drastically challenging the reducibility of the former to the temptations of totalitarianism.17


Utopian fictions necessarily and inevitably fail to imagine such radical difference positively or substantively, being rather merely attempts to explore the limits of the socially imaginable.18


There is therefore a fundamental gap between ethical and semiotic–structuralist appraisal because, to the extent that the utopian organizational imaginary can be understood as the production of systems of “differences without positive terms” (as per Saussure), it lacks the grounds for ideological reducibility to “a dogmatism of the signifier,” including reducibility to a “totalitarian” drive.19 As Jameson puts it, “the ‘unknowability thesis’ whereby so radically different a society cannot even be imagined is a rather different proposition than the anti-Utopian one according to which attempts to realize Utopia inevitably end up in violence and totalitarianism.”20


For all its impossibility (as evinced by its antinomies), the organizational imaginary of utopian fictions constitutes a fundamental pathway into the dialectic of difference and totality, “to the point where one cannot imagine any fundamental change in our social existence which has not thrown off Utopian visions like so many sparks from a comet.” Otherwise put, rather than being reducible to ideology, “the Utopian form itself is the answer to the universal ideological conviction that no alternative is possible, that there is no alternative to the system.”21

Jameson’s analysis provides a hermeneutic path beyond the widely spread critical aversion toward anything that smacks of the blueprint.22 The problem with this tendency, virtually canonized within many postmodern critical views of the stakes involved in utopian fiction, is that it tends to forget that our own prevailing mode of production—namely, capitalism—is also a system; indeed, the most totalizing, world-engulfing one that ever was. The rejection of alternative organizational imaginaries is, by default, submission to the organizational imaginary that already prevails. Nor should it be overlooked that there is a long-term correlation between utopian longing and an actual experience of social dissolution and entropy.23 By the time of its early modern maturation as literary fiction, utopia registers the impact of a prolonged and uncertain transition to the capitalist mode of production that was attended precisely by a traumatic experience of disorganization: the dissolution of communal relations, customs, and relations to land; the scattering of populations; the destruction of village life in the countryside.24

Classical Templates

There is broad scholarly consensus as to the earliest glimmerings of the “utopian impulse,” as Ernst Bloch would call it, in Western literature. At its simplest, this impulse expresses itself in terms of depicting a mythic world of “sensual gratification,” which is bestowed by the gods rather than being the result of human effort.25 Hesiod’s Works and Days (around 700 bce), probably the earliest such depiction in the Western world, envisions the first human beings as a “golden race” living almost like gods under the reign of Cronus: they are “free from care” as well as “toil and distress,” are not oppressed by old age, have plenty to eat, and share everything freely. In his fascinating study on isonomia (or no-rule, as he calls it), Kōjin Karatani suggests that the Hesiodic myth preserves the memory of the rise and fall of the primitive communism of a society drastically different from both Athenian democracy and Greek varieties of aristocratic rule: that of Ionian cities, which valorized freedom, resisted the authoritarian implications of clan society’s institutions, and opposed human exploitation and subjection.26 Ultimately, Karatani notes, Ionian isonomia declined, partly because of military weakness toward aggressive clan societies, partly because of the failure of Ionian cities to federate, and partly because of a slow internal erosion of the foundations of social equality.27 Perhaps it was this sad decline, then, that, at the level of myth, suggested that the enviable life of the golden age was independent of human volition and planning, precarious and vulnerable to divine whim: “Afterwards those who have their mansions on Olympus made a second race, much worse, of silver.” The adulterating process posited by myth goes on until Zeus finally creates the fourth race of heroes, some of whom dwell happily on the “islands of the Blessed,” and the fifth, extant, human generation out of iron. The character of its life comes in stark contrast with that of the first humans, of which it is the sad and degenerate echo: “They will not cease from toil and distress by day, nor from being worn out by suffering at night, and the gods will give them grievous cares.”28

The myth of the golden race, transformed by Roman times to the aurea ætas or golden age associated with the reign of the god Saturn, surfaces in several texts of the classical period.29 In Pindar’s account of theodicy in the second Olympian Ode (around 475 bce), “good men receive a life of less toil” and “spend a tearless existence.” The most courageous of them “travel the road of Zeus to the tower of Kronos, where ocean breezes blow round the Isle of the Blessed.”30 More consequentially, the myth of a period of superior and felicitous existence that has disappeared surfaces in the works of Plato, whose Republic (around 375 bce) and Laws (around 350 bce) arguably constitute the most important precursors to Thomas More’s Renaissance coinage of a name and a genre of fiction. In Plato’s Statesman (around 360 bce), the Stranger refers to the age of Cronus, when “there was neither anything savage nor any act of feeding on one another, and there was no war at all and no sedition either.” In this mythical age, humans “had abundant fruits from trees and woodlands of many different sorts, which did not grow by farming, but the earth sent them spontaneously.”31 The Republic provides a more famous instance: the “noble lie” Socrates advises must be told to the prospective guardians of his ideal city is the “Phoenician tale” according to which the god ordained the predestined rulers of the city by mixing gold into their substance, while he used silver for their auxiliaries and “iron and brass” in the third class of “the farmers and other craftsmen.”32

But what are the main features of the myth of the golden age?33 First, it is nostalgic or backward-looking.34 Though there are versions of the myth wherein a future return to the blissful reign of Cronus is intimated (as in Virgil), almost all of them agree that originally the ideal human condition occurred in the past.35 Second, in its main thrust, the myth concerns a downward (in Greek, literally a catastrophic) turn, from perfection to imperfection, from order to entropy, and from joy and bliss to pain and sorrow; third, the golden age myth does not concern improved civic, legal, or political arrangements but rather a “natural state” of abundance, peace, and human communal fraternity, which is adulterated with time; fourth, neither the originally blissful state of affairs nor its subsequent degeneration is primarily the result of human effort. Whatever abundance is available to humans is a result of the bountiful gifts of nature and the gods rather than human labor.36 As Jocelyn Groisard and others have shown, the myth of the golden age thus reflects the tendency of the classical Greek mind to think of history in fundamentally (though not always exclusively) cyclical terms—ones that presupposed the temporal infinity of a spatially bounded cosmos and thus structurally privileged forms of cyclical or quasi-cyclical repetition from generation to decay and back.37 In all these respects, the myth and its subsequent (pagan and Christian, spiritual and territorial) reincarnations, which appear in a number of writings well into the medieval world (Atlantis, Arcadia, Saint Brendan’s Isle, the land of Prester John, the land of Cockaygne, the Promised Land, Paradise/Eden), differ fundamentally from the human-made, rational, planned, economically, epistemologically, or technologically developed and stable societies envisioned by early modern utopias—and, arguably, by certain key dimensions of Plato’s own texts.38

The Platonic Moment

The Republic makes immediately clear that it is a thought experiment, undertaken by human intelligence and driven by human design, to imagine the logical prerequisites of a just city. For Socrates, who is the protagonist and principal mental designer of such a city, this also means a unified city, one that would be able to avoid the fate of actual and historical Greek city-states: strife and stasis, social turmoil and internal warfare.39 Being the first (albeit expository rather than narrative) fiction of organization in Western history, The Republic solves the problem of attaining unity while acknowledging the empirical realities of class division by positing the planned division of the population of the Kallipolis, the good city, along three classes, between which there exists absolute division of labor and only limited social mobility.40 The Guardians are at the administrative top, the so-called Auxiliaries are in the middle, and the numerically superior but spiritually inferior class of craftsmen and merchants is placed at the bottom. Indeed, the need to secure fixed dividing lines between the Guardians, recruited from those who possess true knowledge (epistēmē) of the world and of city affairs, the Auxiliaries, recruited from those who possess “spiritedness” (thūmos) and can effectively defend the city, and the common lot of desire-driven producers, is what drives Plato back to the raw material of the myth of the golden age. This myth is here thoroughly reworked and transformed into an instrument of ideological regulation, if not manipulation. “I wonder,” Socrates remarks to his interlocutor Glaucon, “if we could contrive one of those convenient stories . . . some magnificent myth that would in itself carry conviction to our whole community, including, if possible, the Guardians themselves?” (414b–414c).41

Transformed from its original function as vehicle of a pessimistic cosmogony to a principle of ideologically legitimating the synchronic division of the city population in what Socrates believes is the optimal fashion, the golden age myth now serves two partly contradictory functions: on the one hand, it serves to naturalize social hierarchy—a task further carried out when, in later sections of The Republic, Socrates correlates the three metals of the three classes to the similarly hierarchical function of three faculties within the human soul.42 On the other hand, it dislocates hierarchy from its normal (one might say, anti- or non-utopian) correlation with wealth and with the power of money.43 Being told that they are made by the god with gold and silver, Socrates will cunningly remark, the Guardians and Auxiliaries will be dissuaded from having any access to gold, including by learning to treat it as miasma—as an unclean, because it is earthly, counterpart to the divine gold and silver of their creation:

They must be told that they have no need of mortal and material gold and silver, because they have in their hearts the heavenly gold and silver given them by the gods as a permanent possession, and it would be wicked to pollute the heavenly gold in their possession by mixing it with earthly, for theirs is without impurity, while that in currency among men is a common source of wickedness. They alone, therefore, of all the citizens are forbidden to touch or handle silver or gold; they must not come under the same roof as them, nor wear them as ornaments, nor drink from vessels made of them.44

The well-known communism of The Republic, its stipulations for abolishing private property and wealth, therefore applies only to the top echelons of the well-governed city, wherein the principle that each must mind their own business according to their nature and abilities and not interfere with that of others is supplemented with the equally important principle of dislocating political power from wealth and its influence.45

To the extent that The Republic is both a philosophical fiction on the benefits of intentional, philosophically driven social reorganization and one that preserves the utopian core of the golden age myth of communal existence and the absence of private property, it could be said to anticipate key elements of More’s Utopia several centuries before the Renaissance.46 But there are important differences as well, extending beyond the formal difference between philosophical fictions, wherein the hypothetical, thought-experiment aspect of dwelling on social alternatives is explicit, and the speech acts of make-believe and play associated with fiction proper. Most prominently, The Republic’s organizational imaginary is curiously immaterial and despatialized: there is no concern with the physical topography of the better society or with its architecture or its urban planning. There is likewise minimal interest in its institutional and legal arrangements, the specifics of governance, or the character of everyday life.47 Plato is far more concerned with questions such as the physical, military, and philosophical education of Guardians and Auxiliaries and, ultimately, with the prerequisites for true philosophical knowledge. If, therefore, The Republic constitutes a work of “high utopianism,” as Doyne Dawson would have it, it is also the case that in it, the city “is divorced from topos in a double sense”; lacking a place in the real, the good city “will also lack any concrete reference to the spatial and material organization of the polis in its ideal form.”48

Nor is it possible for Plato’s text to escape from the limits imposed by the predominantly degenerative conceptions of human history in the classical period by imagining a society that attains stability and permanence when it achieves optimal organization.49 Plato’s metaphysical dualism, whereby all things earthly and sensible are subject to change and therefore decay and corruption and whereby only the realm of the intelligible Idea attains to the immobile ataraxia of perfection, holds here as well.50 Therefore, the Kallipolis is skeptically admitted to not only being impossible on earth but also, even if it were to be realized, impermanent:51 “It will be difficult to bring about any change for the worse in a state so constituted,” Socrates notes, “but since all created things must decay, even a social order of this kind cannot last for all time, but will decline.”52

The Laws, Plato’s last and longest dialogue (and the only one which does not involve Socrates as an interlocutor), offers something like a reversal of the priorities set by The Republic: to begin with, it abandons the goal of imagining a fully ideal city, settling for the “second best,” since in Magnesia, whose speculative foundation is the dialogue’s subject matter, private property in land is preserved for all classes (though it is also strictly regulated in terms of its minimal and maximal extent and though gold and silver remain prohibited).53 This decision, in turn, dictates an extensive discussion of legislation, which in The Republic received far less attention.54 The dialogue minimizes preoccupation with the education of those entrusted with the highest offices of maintaining order in the city—an issue that only appears to preoccupy the Athenian exponent of Magnesia at the end of the last book of The Laws and to remain inconclusive. Most important, perhaps, Magnesia is a city concretely rendered. Whereas the Kallipolis had been effectively “devoid of any physical dimension,” the “second best” city is fleshed out in as much topographic, geographical, and urbanistic detail as possible.55 Indeed, as Pierre Vidal-Naquet remarked, what prevails in The Laws is a “passion for regulation” that extends to virtually all aspects of life and that seems to feed on the numerous mathematical and geometrical regularities this passion is able to generate.56

Having posited that internal strife is the gravest problem the ancient city-state faces and that the purpose of an adjudicator is therefore to “reconcile” a “family at variance with itself” by “his regulations,” the Athenian launches his apparently paradoxical method of securing the supreme good of unity: multiple division.57 He thus proposes that the speculative city of Magnesia should have a fixed number of 5,040 households, enthusiastically noting that this number is “divisible by every integer from one to twelve, with the exception of eleven,” and is thus eminently suitable both for purposes of war and “to suit the engagements and combinations of peace.”58 From this stringently fixed number he then derives his desirable class system (four classes of property holders, the poorest holding the value of a single allotment, the wealthiest of four, with 1,260 household owners in each class); his city sections (twelve roughly equivalent departments, each therefore housing 420 households); the correlation of each city section (and therefore tribe) to a patron god or goddess; the distribution of magistrates (one-twelfth of their total number responsible for each of the twelve calendar months); the composition of the city council (360 members, equally divided among the four property classes to yield ninety council members for each class); the selection of rural commissioners (sixty in total, five for each city section), and so on.59

For the Athenian, who argues that the “facts of number” must be “thoroughly mastered” by legislators, there is no branch of knowledge with the same “potent efficacy as the theory of numbers,” whose “subdivisions and complications” possess a “universal usefulness.”60 Number allows for “standardization,” and standardization is the means of intentionally mastering the play of differences pragmatically necessitated by the multiple kinds of division of labor the functional city necessitates.61 Deployed within the framework of a precocious political arithmetic, number becomes the foundation of what Nicole Loraux might call a “bond of division”: it splits the polis into a multiplicity of administrative, juridical, religious, and military units wherein citizens’ bodies can be recombined almost endlessly, thus cultivating a spirit at once of camaraderie and surveillance within a face-to-face and knowable community.62 In all these respects, as well as in its pronounced preference for isolation and insularity, Plato’s imagined city approximates the organizational imaginary of early modern utopia more than anything else in the classical, Roman, and medieval world.63 On the flip side, however, the harsh realism on which the Athenian insists tips the balance away from the specifically utopian. So obsessive and overwhelming is his passion for regulation and regularity that the very possibility of freedom or happiness virtually collapses under the weight of myriads of procedural specifications, strictures, and penalties (including an alarming number of reasons for resorting to capital punishment). Organization seems to have become an end in itself rather than a means to social and individual emancipation.

Derivations and Innovations in the Roman and Hellenistic Periods

After Plato, the utopian imagination of the classical world abandoned highly organized legal, political, and institutional arrangements and returned to earlier, essentially mythological notions of god-given or natural abundance and bliss. Yet there are innovations that will play a prominent role in the utopias of the Renaissance: Iambulus’s narrative of the “Island of the Sun,” preserved in Diodorus Sicilus’s Bibliotheca Historica (1st century bce), for instance, adopts the conceit of the voyage to exotic and unknown lands that will dominate the utopian genre in the early modern period. It is likewise significant, in light of later developments, that Iambulus abandons the Platonic format of avowed philosophical speculation for that of narrative fiction, providing the reader with a relation of marvelous discoveries:64on the island that the protagonist and his fellow captive discover, the inhabitants have flexible bones, are hairless, and have bisected tongues that render them able to hold two separate conversations at once.65 Such elements of the exotic and incredible coexist, in a hybrid of sorts, with the established proto-utopian theme of natural plenty and with the Platonic theme of communal social life, of which the narrative notes:66“Thanks to this institution [the communal possession of women and children] no rivalry arises among them and they live their lives free of internal discord, setting the greatest value on social harmony.”67

Lucian’s True History (2nd century ce) is likewise a hybrid of satire and utopia, as well as a compendium of different travel encounters: the journey to the moon (after crossing the Pillars of Hercules) is related in an overwhelmingly satirical manner, which dwells pleasurably on the grotesque and incredible features of the world of the Selenites (a world that is other far more than it is in any way better).68 The description of the Island of the Blest still follows the more traditional and idealizing path of Hesiodic myth, imagining the island as a place of splendor, eternally good weather, supernatural fertility, and beauty.69 Yet, here too, elements of satire are preserved, including jabs directed against Plato and Socrates, with the latter being charged with insufferable garrulousness and the former proclaimed absent from the island, as he “was living in the city he had invented” in The Republic and in The Laws.70 The conjunction of utopian and satirical modes is important for the subsequent evolution of the genre, given the fact that works as otherwise diverse as More’s Utopia, Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532–1534), Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872), and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) can be viewed as deriving from different calibrations of the utopian and the satirical mode.71 Likewise significant is Lucian’s overt and playful admission of fictionality, which will be taken up by a number of Renaissance texts.72

Questions of Utopianism in the Medieval World

In her book on medieval utopias, Karma Lochrie criticizes the tendency of literary historians to replicate the act whereby King Utopus separates the island of Utopia from the continent, thereby reading More’s text as one severed from a historical past and constituting a “conceptual and generic enclave” synonymous with the rise of modernity. To the degree that pre-Morean utopianism is read as merely anticipatory, there is indeed a tendency to oversimplify and flatten literary genealogies. At the same time, it is very difficult, as Lochrie herself admits, to find works that appear linked to utopia in the Middle Ages if one uses More’s own generic template as the standard.73 Leaving out the usual suspects of the story of Prester John in John Mandeville’s Travels and the 14th-century poem on the Land of Cockaygne, secular utopian narratives in the Western world (the Islamic one between the 9th and the 13th centuries is a different affair) do appear to be few and far between.74

For Lochrie, this is a result of exceedingly restrictive and indeed anachronistic criteria. But this does not answer the question of why a pre-Christian writer like Plato shares more with early modern utopianism than most of his Christian epigones. It seems important, therefore, to also take at least two further factors into account: first, the sinking of much of classical and Roman/Hellenistic literature into disrepute or oblivion during the Middle Ages, for reasons ranging from their physical destruction to their theologically unacceptable nature. Second (and even more important), visions of the Millennium, the New Jerusalem, and Paradise effectively displace pagan visions of a better world after Lucian. This is no mere change of topoi, however; nor is it irrelevant to the conception of utopia proper in terms of an organizational imaginary.

In a vital essay, J. C. Davies contrasted early modern utopianism with Christian notions of the millennium, noting that their fundamental difference consists in the millennial opposition to “formalization” compared to its privileging in utopias. From the standpoint of fervent religious faith, formality

deceived the godly because it was the sin of the seeming saint; . . . it was godliness perverted into a preoccupation, negative or positive, with externals; . . . Since God was not a god of stasis but a dynamic, perpetually intervening providential presence . . . forms were at best ephemeral things, and a preoccupation with them revealed a kind of idolatrous diversion.

Nothing could be further from such thinking than the utopias of early modernity, which, like their Platonic, classical counterparts, respond “to a world of deficient formality with improved and perfected form,” with a reorganization of the theretofore informal.75 While faith in the millennium therefore “meant embracing the dissolution of all human social contrivances, the destruction of all formalities,” utopia, on the contrary, presupposed the possibility, at least, of reconciling “authority and liberty” within a framework of law “duly or formally observed” (see graph 1).76

Graph 1. The “Golden Age” (Golden Race) Myth.

There is perhaps no clearer illustration of the importance of Davis’s observations than the decidedly formalist pursuits of a religious text like Saint Augustine’s City of God (De Civitate Dei), first published in 426 ce. Of course, there are differences from Platonic precedent: though, like Plato, Augustine composed his work in an era haunted by war and internal disarray, the tensions between the political realm and the sphere of kinship, family, and economic life that inform classical and Platonic thought have been replaced by their conflation—as both Karl Marx and Hannah Arendt were to observe—in feudal society. Augustine’s imagined polity can thus no longer be a concretely planned site in which the desire for a healthy and stabilizing restructuring of civic life may seek its experimental realization.77 Rather, as classical oppositions between unity and multiplicity, harmony and fragmentation, or the public and the private gave way to the Christian antithesis between the sacred and the profane, the desirable, good polity was correspondingly subjected to allegorical abstraction and spiritualization.

Accordingly, the City of God dwells on the origins and destiny of two cities, which constitute the allegorical types into which the great multiplicity of “the many and very great nations throughout the world” can be retrospectively reduced.78 Their names vary: they are the earthly and the heavenly city; the city of flesh and the city of spirit; the city of the world or of Man and the city of God; the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem; Babylon and Sion [Zion]; the ungodly city and the pilgrim city.79 Yet the fact that all these oppositions involve negative and positive poles does not mean that they are all versions of the same archetypal binary. Upon referring to Adam’s dual posterity in Cain and Abel, Augustine notes that only the former, founder of the sinful “city of man,” built a city at all. Abel, “as though he were merely a pilgrim on earth, built none.” The opposition between the “worldly city” and the “city of God” is thus supplemented by a second, Neoplatonist opposition between the true “eternal City,” which can exist only in heaven, and its “shadow,” which is “cast on earth” as its typological anticipation. Though marked by imperfection, this “shadow” is by no means identical to the temporal city; yet it is also not “free” like “that Jerusalem which is above,” since it exists “in bondage to symbolic purpose.”80 In essence, the terms of the City of God are three rather than two: to the ungodly and pagan city of the world (to which classical philosophers themselves are consigned, incidentally) one must add both the worldly “copy” of the heavenly city and its heavenly prototype.81

The lapse in formal symmetry is neither accidental nor inconsequential. Augustine’s godly city remains, despite its sensually abstract quality (one may usefully compare it to the vividness with which the New Jerusalem is described in St. John’s Revelation), a work with a pragmatic political purpose.82 Arguing against those who saw Christian zealotry as responsible for the fall of Rome, it seeks to defend the feasibility, in this world, of a civic virtue that is both compatible with Christian principles and politically sustainable.83 Augustine therefore observed that prophetic writings do not merely refer to either an “earthly” or a “heavenly” Jerusalem; they also contain references “to both simultaneously.”84 The negative logical implications of this remark are more fully taken up later, when the author remarks that Rome, though it was of course earthly, was also in a fundamental sense an “unreal city”: the lack of a “mutual recognition of rights” among its citizens deprived it of justice, which is the only genuine foundation of the “commonwealth.”85 However, Augustine argues, to the extent that the heavenly city acquires an earthly manifestation, peace (defined as the “ordered harmony of authority and obedience between citizens”) is compatible with the terrestrial provisions of civil law.86 Indeed, “as long as the two cities are mingled together,” Augustine notes, “the peace we share with Babylon” remains valid, even if it is “more like a solace for unhappiness than the joy of beatitude.”87 In other words, the existence of the congregation of God’s elect (it is this multinational and incipiently global community that really constitutes the civitas Dei and not a limited territorial entity) is no impediment to the exercise of territorial and temporal state authority, so long as the latter respects religious duty.88 Rather, the faithful may well possess a double citizenship, showing allegiance to both the temporal and the spiritual kingdom and thus reconciling Christianity to political stability, against the insurrectionary (in Davis’s terms, destructive and de-formalizing) potential of a millennialism taken too literally.89

That Augustine is aware of this potential becomes evident in his extensive attack against literal interpretations of St. John’s Revelation, particularly those literal interpretations that threaten to paganize it, to merge it with the earlier vision of the golden age:

Those who . . . got the notion that the first resurrection [of the Righteous] was to be a bodily one, were influenced in this direction mainly by the matter of the thousand years. The notion was that the saints were destined to enjoy so protracted a sabbath of repose, a holy leisure . . . when these interpreters say that the rising saints are to spend their time in limitless gormandizing with such heaps of food and drink as not only go beyond all sense of decent restraint but go utterly beyond belief, then such an interpretation becomes wholly unacceptable save to the carnal-minded. . . . To imagine that this prophecy is now being fulfilled in the thousand years of her [the city of God’s] reign . . . seems to me sheer effrontery.90

Such literalism, Augustine was aware, effectively fused Judeo-Christian prophecy with the utopian longings expressed in the Greco-Roman traditions of the golden age and the Isle of the Blest. It was not only pagan in its origins but also potentially subversive in its social implications. Papias of Hierapolis, alleged to have been a disciple of St. John himself, is quoted in Irenaus (in the 2nd century ce) as the author of a text that clearly reanimates the prophetic, millenarian strain in Virgil’s Eclogues (37 bce) by imagining the millennium as a period when the renewed creation of God “will bring forth from the dew of heaven and the fertility of the soil an abundance of food of all kinds.” Grapes, Papias is quoted as writing, would then yield incredible amounts of fruit, while “all the animals who eat this food . . . will come to be at peace and harmony with one another,” just as in the legendary story of the golden age.91 Indeed, Lactantius, advisor on Christian religious policy to Emperor Constantine I, acknowledged, in his Institutiones Divinae (around 310 ce), something more than the fact that there were clear similarities between the pagan golden age and the prophecy of a Christ-ruled millennium on earth:

This will be a time for all those things to happen that the poets claimed for the golden age when Saturn was king. The mistake about them arises from the fact that prophets telling the future keep plenty forward like that, delivering it as if it has taken place. . . . Those outside God’s mystery . . . thought it was all stuff over and done with long before.92

Lactantius’s reading is highly revealing: the myths of the golden age and the Isle of the Blest are mistaken not because they are untrue, but because they mistook prophecy for memory. The displacement of the classical Greek conception of the world as possessing neither beginning nor end by one that posited both meant that in the end times, the Messiah would restore not only creation to its blissful natural state, but also its oldest dreams to their true status as anticipations of the future rather than mythic echoes of the remote past.93 Ironically, the Middle Ages will both remain indebted to Greek origins and yield very little that evokes the spirit of Plato’s Republic after Augustine’s City of God; their utopianism re-signifies the golden age traditions that Plato had repurposed in the direction of secular social engineering. Strongly reinforced by Joachim of Fiore’s 12th-century prophesies of a “third Age,” said to hold as promise the “sabbath or resting-time of mankind,” allegory and prophesy displace the Platonic organizational imaginary’s emphasis on predictive specificity and rationalist calculation.94 In its place we now find a vision of salvation that was “collective,” “terrestrial,” “imminent,” “total,” and “miraculous.”95 As Norman Cohn painstakingly documents, in the milieu of itinerant preachers, peasants, and artisans, utopianism shed all its links with Platonism except for the demand for a now generalized abolition of private property and wealth, frequently lending inspiration and rhetorical fuel to violent insurrections—including, most famously, the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, the Peasant Wars in Germany (1476–1527), and the Münster Rebellion (1534–1535; see graph 2).96

Graph 2. Utopian Mythemes, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

The Renaissance Utopia

Writing at the beginning of the 15th century, polymath and pioneering feminist Christine de Pizan described the foundation of her projected city by having Lady Reason invite the author’s persona to proceed as follows: “Let us go to the Field of Letters. There the City of Ladies will be founded on a flat and fertile plain, where all fruits and freshwater rivers are found and where the earth abounds in all good things.”97 Like her two companions, Lady Rectitude and Lady Justice, the speaker is the personification of a virtue. The city of which she speaks has no territory other than the archival history of the past, wherefrom the ladies in question—its intended citizens—are to originate.98 When it is Lady Rectitude’s turn to take up the author’s instruction, she asks her to “mix the mortar in your ink bottle so that you can fortify the City with your tempered pen.”99 By de Pizan’s time near the end of the Middle Ages, what did not succumb to the literalist temptations of subaltern millenarianism succumbed to the moral abstractions of spiritual allegory. The City of Ladies is utopian in the sense that it is intended as the historically gleaned polity of a virtuous femininity that triumphs against the slander and invective of centuries of male misogyny; but it is also utopian in the sense that it is utterly immaterial—its only possible inhabitants are explicitly women rescued through the written records of chronicles and histories rather than the real women of de Pizan’s time.100

Around a century later, however, in 1516, Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, subtitled De Optimo Republicae Statu, described the “nova insula” thus:

The island contains fifty-four states, all spacious and magnificent, identical in language, traditions, customs, and laws. They are similar also in layout and everywhere, as far as the nature of the ground permits, similar even in appearance. . . . The person who knows one of their cities will know them all, since they are exactly alike insofar as the terrain permits.101

More’s passion for the organization of bodies, buildings, activities, and movements—a passion for organizational form—echoes Plato’s Laws, even if the element of allegorical abstraction will be preserved in a number of the Utopia’s early modern epigones, including Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun (1602), Johann Valentin Andreae’s Christianopolis (1619), Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1626), and Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World (1666).102 But in a sense, (spatial) form in early modern utopias is already (social) content. As Phillip Wegner has argued, furthermore, the essential identity of the two constitutes an elemental aspect of the distinctive modernity of the early modern narrative utopia.103

Utopia accordingly attains a “perfection of culture and humanity” only after King Utopus severs it from land by ordering the digging of a trench that converts it into an island.104 In Christianopolis, geometry is both the principle of city planning and an object of theoretical and applied study, while political science, in turn, is grasped as applied social architecture.105 And in Bacon’s Bensalem, the narrator marvels at the military orderliness of the inhabitants, which mirrors the city’s rationalized layout:

The street was wonderfully well kept: so that there was never any army had their men stand in better battle-array, than the people stood. The windows likewise were not crowded, but every one stood in them as if they had been placed.106

Figure 1. Plan of Christianopolis.

Source: From Johann Valentine Andreae, Christianopolis. Strasburg: Lazarus Zetzner, 1619. Public domain.

Figure 2. Plan of Christianopolis.

Source: From Johann Valentine Andreae, Christianopolis. Strasburg: Lazarus Zetzner, 1619. Public domain.

In his Utopia and the Ideal Society, J. C. Davis accounts for the difference between literary utopias and the fourfold of generic directions he detects in their prehistory—Cockaygne, Arcadia, the Perfect Moral Commonwealth, and Millennium—in terms of the former’s distinct response to the fundamental tension between supply (of food, leisure, pleasure) and demand (see graph 3). In utopias, this tension is solved not on an individual but on a collective level. The concern of the utopian author is thus to “control the social problems that the collective problem can lead to.” Crime, war, violence, greed, coveting, idleness, and so on are not presumed to simply disappear. Rather, they are controlled, and utopia is accordingly a “set of strategies to maintain social order” in the face of the deficiencies of nature and the recalcitrance of human beings. Instead of wishing disharmony away, the genre is marked by the desire to “organize society and its institutions in such a way as to contain the problem’s effects.” The goal of early modern utopists, Davis concludes, is thus not really “happiness” but “order.”107

Graph 3. Genre Typology of Forms of Desirable Places and their Ideological Orientation.

To the extent that the spatial form characterizing early modern utopian fictions informs their social content, however, it needs to be rigorously historicized. Certainly, Plato’s grasp of the role of spatial arrangement for social engineering, particularly in The Laws, appears precocious, particularly given the formless, vague, or abstract qualities of imagined countries and cities in the Hellenistic, Roman, and medieval literary world. But Plato’s formalization and even mathematization of questions of social reorganization still operates under the aegis of an idealist metaphysics. By the time of the Renaissance, such idealism had received strong materialist reinforcements, particularly related to a set of preoccupations specific to the accumulation of wealth and the expansion of trade in the early capitalist world. The invention of pictorial perspective in the Italian quattrocento, gloriously translated in the utopian vision of city architecture in the triptych of strangely unpopulated urban landscapes traditionally attributed to Piero della Francesca (late 15th century), was part and parcel of a process of rationalization and abstraction that converted land into a measurable and alienable commodity, uprooting thousands from the commons and from customary tenurial relations in monastic estates.108 Paradoxically, as Richard Halpern pointed out, utopias are fictions of people living “nowhere” that both react against and replicate processes of spatial parcelization and enclosure that led extensive populations into having nowhere to live.109

Figure 3. The Ideal City, Urbino, 1480s.

Source: Unknown artist (previously attributed to Piero della Francesca). Public domain.

The fact that early modern utopias respond to the capitalist transformation of land relations by making abstract, “isotropic,” homogenous, and divisible space the literal ground of political, social, and economic reform contradicts their frequent skepticism, if not outright hostility, toward the monetization of late feudal agrarian relations.110 More’s text banishes both private property and money from his island, though not without thereby encountering further complications and contradictions.111 Campanella follows both More and Plato in positing a “philosophic community” where “all things are held in common,” though distribution is handled through a central administration. Neither gold nor silver “is much regarded” within Solarian society, though Solarians are aware of its value to others, while trade with foreigners is limited to simple forms of barter.112 Andreae’s Christianopolis is not a republic like More’s Utopia, and it does preserve private property, but it strictly limits its provenance by forbidding the private ownership of homes, by encouraging universal work in crafts, by preserving equality in the distribution of food and necessary tools, and by using law to prioritize life over property. “Money,” the narrator tells us, though it “crushes the whole world, lies unregarded here and has no value beyond its utility,” since it cannot be privately used.113 In New Atlantis, Bacon has his Bensalemites proclaim that they are interested in trade “not for gold, silver, or jewels; nor for silks; nor for spices; nor any other commodity of matter,” but rather for “Light”—scientific knowledge.114 Even an explicitly pro-monarchist and pro-aristocratic text indulging in fantasies of miraculously procured wealth like Cavendish’s The Blazing World soberly concludes with the empress remarking that “much gold, and great store of riches” makes people “mad, insomuch as they endeavour to destroy each other for gold, or riches’ sake.”115 Born in the transition between late feudalism and early capitalism, then, early modern utopias are fundamentally distinguished by their ambivalent relationship to social transformation (the commodification of land, the expansion of trade, the creation of large populations of dispossessed peasants). They explicitly protest or resist even as they pictorially replicate such transformation.116 They take care to moderate, limit, or eliminate the role of private property and money in societies that are, simultaneously, strikingly “bourgeois” in cultural character: rationalized, substantially secularized, labor-intensive.117 After More, they will also be driven by the experimental scientific curiosity exhibited by the early bourgeoisie in its long ascendancy to economic power.118

The Significance of Contradiction

But contradiction furnishes the raw material of utopian fiction as well as foregrounding its irreducibility to a positivistic blueprint.119 The presence of such contradiction, in fact, points to the centrality of fiction and the fictional for the form of early modern utopias and, hence, their divergence not only from the “formlessness” characterizing the fourfold of medieval precedents Davis identifies but also from the expository thought experiments of Plato’s philosophical texts. This is first because in utopian fictions proper, the split between a critical or satirical portrayal of the existing world and an affirmative and celebratory portrayal of an alternative world (most extensively developed in More’s Utopia itself, with each of the two books taking up one of these functions) tends to redouble as a split between narrative and description that is effectively absent in Plato.120 Renaissance utopias are virtually always framed by a narrative of how the narrator arrived at a utopian space from a nonutopian one and occasionally contain historical or pseudo-historical accounts of existing or imaginary countries; but they also contain extensive, quasi-anthropological descriptions of the laws, customs, political constitutions, art, religion, philosophy, and so on of utopian societies. These two modes are in tension: narrative tends to privilege change and conflict since it inherently embodies time, while description privileges timelessness instead, freezing time into space and therefore into systems of synchronic relations.121 The duality in modes complements the early modern utopia’s dual valence as both satirical critique and idealist projection and serves an accordingly dual and ambiguous function: it both connects the utopian polity to the world of historical actuality and severs it from that world (what Barthes described as “self-isolation” is virtually ubiquitous in early modern utopias).122

The management of such tensions is an important motivating factor for early modern utopias’ adoption of fully fictional form, since such form allows them to both say and not say, acknowledge and disavow, reveal and hide.123 Unlike the great majority of their precedents, early modern utopias frequently indulge in ironic self-awareness and self-disavowal, litotes, punning and verbal jokes, and so on.124 More’s, Campanella’s, Andreae’s, and Bacon’s texts take care to provide mock-precise itineraries to nowhere, for instance, imitating while also manipulating the language of captains’ logs and navigation charts.125 More uses his proficiency in Greek and Latin to create a vocabulary that either belies the existence of places, officials, or institutions in Utopian society or points to satirical directions; while Cavendish, who, like More, playfully embeds her own persona in the narrative, explicitly refers to her Blazing World as at once idly and innocently insubstantial:

My ambition is not only to be Empress, but Authoress of a whole world . . . which creation was more easily and suddenly effected than the conquests of the two famous monarchs of the world, Alexander and Caesar: neither have I made such disturbances, and caused so many dissolutions of particulars, otherwise named deaths, as they did.126

The other side of grasping the import of contradiction for the early modern utopia, however, is less ludic than aporetic in nature. It involves the articulation of “the limits of the socially imaginable.” At first look, this is a counterintuitive claim: after all, in the Renaissance, texts are highly, and often obsessively, specific about such matters as city layout, population size, legislation, and so forth, relishing the symmetries and the distributive possibilities of number. More’s Utopia specifies not only fifty-four counties and cities, but also fewer than forty members per rural household, a phylarch (or syphogrant) for every thirty families (a total of two hundred), and six thousand households per city.127 In Campanella, the city is divided into seven sections named after the seven planets and crossed by four avenues and four gates facing the four points of the compass, while there are six circuits of walls surrounding the central temple, which is perfectly circular.128 In Andreae, the city is square in shape, with each side being seven hundred feet long, and is defended by four bastions, eight large towers, and sixteen smaller towers, while the four hundred craftsmen who live there are divided by their work in four primary materials; and so forth.129

As the frequent inclusion of maps and city plans from More onward shows, there is something more than a desire for verisimilitude involved in such detail: the Renaissance polity is understood as a model, not only in the sense of a superior specimen but also in that of an exportable and reproducible template.130 But the other side of this apparent plenitude of concrete detail is the tendency of Renaissance utopian texts to generate blind spots or gaps: Marin famously showed, for instance, that More’s city plan cannot possibly include a space for the market.131 The political organization of the island stops at the level of the city governor (princeps) and involves no central authority, despite the island’s origin in the sovereign decision of a king.132 Freedoms are granted but either so strictly monitored as to be annulled or else emptied of content.133 Money, finally, is both abolished and present in vast quantities of stored gold and silver.134 For Marin, such blind spots point to the genre’s inability to attain a resolution or “synthesis” of contradictions. In Jameson’s gloss, “the vocation of Utopia lies in failure.” It effectively points its readers toward what they cannot imagine. It does so “not by imagining it concretely but rather by way of the holes in the text” that mark the limits of the imagination, its inability to escape the ideological closure imposed by history itself.135

One last historicizing and periodizing observation is necessary here: neither The Republic nor The Laws ever manages to articulate rational planning with questions pertaining to labor production and commodity consumption, distribution, and circulation. In other words, they show little interest in the political economies of the cities they imagine.136 The medieval epigones of the golden age myth tend to ignore the economy as well, relying on principles of natural abundance and inherent human virtue, or a combination thereof. Most early modern utopias, however, are heavily preoccupied with issues of economic planning, productivity, and efficiency. More, Campanella, and Andreae are passionately invested in the thorough elimination of idleness, as well as in the proscription of forms of social parasitism like vagrancy, theft, and beggary.137 Campanella, Andreae, Bacon, and Cavendish are all fascinated with the prospects of natural science, its usefulness for improving material life, and its potential to master and harness nature to socially determined objectives.138 Still, none of them portrays their fictions as invested in the kind of cataclysmic social and environmental change that marked the transition to capitalism. On the contrary, they posit societies that, unlike Plato’s Kallipolis, can last in static form practically forever.139

Notwithstanding, they inevitably grasp the conflictual nature of class relations in a far more dynamic fashion than the classical period could.140 For them, the polarities of indigence and accumulation are ever-active threats to social stability, ones that need complex social mechanisms to be managed and neutralized. Nor do their concerns stop at poverty and wealth. They also worry about contradictions between town and country and between intellectual and manual labor, frequently attempting to resolve or temper them in one fashion or another.141 For ultimately, the humanist utopias of the Renaissance produce the utopist herself as rational subject, a social arbiter, and a guardian of the cohesion of the social bond. In a way, Margaret Cavendish’s postulate that utopia, so long as it remains “an immaterial world,” can be built entirely in “the head or scull” is here literalized: before the rise of Puritan schemes, at least, the early modern utopia is a splendid construct of the humanist mind, tending, for the most part, to stay safely insulated within its bounds.142

Discussion of the Literature

Historically speaking, the study of literary utopias seems to begin several years after the genre had reached peak popularity in the 1880s and 1890s.143 In the English-speaking part of the world, Lewis Mumford’s The Story of Utopias and Joyce Hertzler’s The History of Utopian Thought, two of the first critical surveys of utopian literature from antiquity to the 19th century, appeared in 1922 and 1923, respectively. By then, modernism and World War I had already irrevocably changed the cultural and ideological landscape, drastically undermining both faith in progress and technology and conventional narrative form. Utopian fictional narratives, already in decline, would never again attain the visibility and popularity they had reached at the end of the 19th century. Cognizant, at least retrospectively, of the belatedness of his project, Mumford noted in his 1962 preface that he was still at that time “living in the hopeful spirit of an earlier age,” though he was simultaneously aware that the “impetus of the great nineteenth century had come to an end” after World War I.144

Mumford’s study is not short of critical insight, from the distinction between “utopias of escape” (essentially, romances) and “utopias of reconstruction” to the criticism of the instrumentalist, mechanical, and “externalist” nature of much 19th-century utopianism and—in the 1962 preface—the emphasis on the positive counterbalance of most utopias’ attempts to treat “society as a whole,” dwelling on the “interaction of work, people, and place”—a tendency he elevates to the status of a “utopian method.”145 Methodologically, the approach is eclectic: although the bulk of Mumford’s book deals with literary utopias (More, Andreae, Bacon, Campanella, Hertzka, Cabet, Bellamy, Morris, and Wells, most prominently), the last three chapters pursue broader sociological and cultural questions. The case is similar with Hertzler’s study, which also blurs the boundaries between literary and nonliterary utopias, literary criticism, and sociological analysis.146

Notable in Hertzler’s book is its display of fair-minded equanimity toward both the contributions and the limitations of utopian thought. This effectively disappeared from liberal approaches after World War II, particularly after the onset of the Cold War. Indeed, Mumford’s own 1962 preface testifies to his apprehension about being viewed as insufficiently critical of the “dictatorial tendencies of most classical utopias.”147 Though it did not deal with literary utopias at all, Karl Popper’s two-volume The Open Society and Its Enemies, written during World War II and published in 1945, signals a shift toward ideological polarization in anglophone scholarship. The scholarship that followed in its wake in the 1950s is either markedly anti-utopian (as in Talmon and others) or highly critical of what it perceived as “authoritarian” tendencies within the tradition, as in the case of Marie Louise Berneri’s Journey through Utopia (1950), or militantly Marxist and dismissive of anti-utopian texts like those of Huxley and Orwell, like A. L. Morton’s The English Utopia (1952).148 Kateb’s Utopia and Its Enemies (1963) acknowledged the prevalence of such ideological struggles, arbitrating largely in favor of utopia.149

Despite their grave ideological and political differences, virtually all anglophone studies published between the early 1920s and the 1950s share a number of basic features: first, they are surveys that span centuries or even millennia of writing; second, they are not keen on theoretical distinctions between expository and narrative, nonfictional and fictional utopias, or between literary utopia and broader sociopolitical concerns with utopianism; third, they are overwhelmingly concerned with the ideational and ideological content of utopian texts; fourth, they are therefore as much literary studies as they are studies in the history of ideas and in sociology. In fact, the first signs of scholarly concern with formal and generic questions particular to or amenable to literary study did not appear in anglophone scholarship until well into the 1960s, in the work of Northrop Frye, Lyman Tower Sargent, and Robert C. Elliott. Frank and Fritzie Manuel’s monumental Utopian Thought in the Western World, originally published in 1979, is perhaps the towering achievement of this tradition.150

Elsewhere in the Western world, different methodological directions emerge. In Germany, Ernst Bloch published his Geist der Utopie (The Spirit of Utopia) in 1918, before both Mumford and Hertzler. Written in a highly philosophical, speculative, and often esoteric language, Bloch’s early study in what he called “revolutionary romanticism” eschewed both the mode of the survey and the study of specific literary texts (it rather opted for music instead). It remains important, however, because it is here that Bloch first develops the notions of the Not Yet and of utopian anticipation that would be taken up again—alongside concepts like the utopian impulse or the front, novum, ultimum, and horizon and conceptual distinctions like these between “daydream” and “night-dream” or “abstract” and “concrete” utopia—in his magnum opus, the three-volume Das Prinzip Hoffnung (The Principle of Hope, 1954–1959).151 The German-language tributary also includes the contributions of Walter Benjamin on the intersections between theology and radical politics, particularly his preoccupation with messianic redemption in texts like “Critique of Violence” (1921) and “On the Concept of History” (1940)152; Karl Mannheim’s sociological discussion of the relationship between the concepts of utopia and ideology (1929)153; T. W. Adorno’s investigations of utopia as conceived through the prism of “negative dialectics”154; Herbert Marcuse’s rehabilitation of utopian desire against the consumer society’s “affirmative culture” and “repressive desublimation” in works from Eros and Civilization (1955) to Negations (1968)155; and Jack Zipes’s work in a direction already explicit in Bloch, that of the utopian valences of the fairy tale.156 The confluence of the streams of US-based genre theory and criticism exemplified by Frye, Sargent, and Elliott, on the one hand, and the German philosophical and speculative strains in Bloch (as well as the vigorously materialist ones in Brecht) on the other can then be said to have produced Darko Suvin’s innovative work on the novum, cognitive estrangement, and utopian science fiction that energized the field when he began to publish in English in the early 1970s (he continues to do so in the early 21st century).157

Around the same time, in 1971, Roland Barthes’s Sade/Fourier/Loyola inaugurated what we might see as a third and final tributary for the formation of the scholarly study of utopian literature, namely that of French structuralism and semiotics, while challenging the efficacy of generic taxonomies through its bold comparative and cross-generic approach. It was quickly followed by Louis Marin’s Utopiques: Jeux d’espaces (1973), whose long first section on Thomas More’s Utopia delves deeply into the formal and structural play involved in More’s text while exploring the work of what he calls utopic “neutralization,” as well as the implications of his view of utopia as an “ideological critique of ideology.”158 During the same year, Miguel Abensour defended his doctoral thesis on socialist utopias (most prominently, William Morris), which would generate the equally seminal—at least for left-wing utopianism—notion of utopia as an “education of desire.”159

By the mid-1970s, all three tributaries or traditions had begun to merge, particularly within the North American scholarly community. Their mixing was powerful and generative: Tom Moylan, who offers one of the most in-depth expositions of the topic, remarks that the institutional growth of utopian studies coincided with the emergence of a new wave of utopian fictions (which he terms “critical utopias”). They entered North American culture “along separate avenues in the late 1960s and early 1970s” and almost immediately converged “in the new cultural, intellectual, and political counter-space” of the era.160 Moylan likewise discerns a third factor within this mix of tributaries within the scholarly paradigm and of scholarly and creative endeavors: Fredric Jameson, in whose voluminous and far-reaching work utopia emerges as a theoretical preoccupation at least as early as 1971 (in Marxism and Form) and has since remained a permanent device of critical orientation.

Jameson’s contributions are exemplary, not least for their ability to organically combine and bring to bear on the study of utopian literature all three methodological paradigms (as well as the methodological foci of form, content, and function identified by Ruth Levitas): anglophone genre criticism and theory (Frye, Moylan, Fitting, Wegner), German critical theory and philosophy (Bloch, Adorno, Marcuse), and French structuralism and semiotics (Barthes, Genette, Marin).161 His revisiting of the questions of ideology and utopia as well as that of “narrative containment”; his contributions to the study of the utopian science fiction of the 1970s and to the question of the paradoxes of the utopian imagination; his high-impact incorporation of Marin’s contribution in conjunction with Greimasian semiotics; his explorations of utopia, ontology, and alternative modernisms; and the grand theoretical synthesis embodied in his Archaeologies of the Future have all played a central role in the shaping of the literary study of utopia as a scholarly endeavor for at least five decades.162 His intellectual legacy has also informed the contributions of Phillip E. Wegner, who has worked prodigiously to expand the uses of the analytical arsenal of Greimasian semiotics and the possibilities inherent in the concept of periodization (particularly as regards intergeneric relations), as well as to bring utopian studies into dialogue with contemporary cultural studies, particularly the study of mass culture texts.163

Finally, and regarding the chronological span of the primary texts covered in the present article: though classical, Roman, Hellenistic, and medieval utopianism remains comparatively understudied and often confined to brief surveys to this day (works by Dawson, Schofield, Bobonich, Evans, Lochrie, and Verini cited in the text and in the Further Reading section are important exceptions), early modern utopianism has attracted formally sophisticated and historically nuanced analyses by a host of literary critics. Among them, the contributions of Stephen Greenblatt, J. C. Davis, James Holstun, Richard Halpern, Christopher Kendrick, Jeffrey Knapp, Denise Albanese, Crystal Bartolovich, Phillip E. Wegner, and Sarah Hogan have been particularly influential and prominent.164

Further Reading

  • Aichele, George, and Tina Pippin, eds. Violence, Utopia, and the Kingdom of God: Fantasy and Ideology in the Bible. London: Routledge, 2002.
  • Appelbaum, Robert. Literature and Utopian Politics in Seventeenth-Century England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Bobonich, Christopher. Plato’s Utopia Recast: His Later Ethics and Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Chordas, Nina. Forms in Early Modern Utopia: The Ethnography of Perfection. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010.
  • Donato, Antonio. Italian Renaissance Utopias: Doni, Patrizi, and Zuccolo. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2019.
  • Evans, Rhiannon. Utopia Antiqua: Readings of the Golden Age and Decline at Rome. London: Routledge, 2007.
  • Haws, Greta, ed. Myths on the Map: The Storied Landscapes of Ancient Greece. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.
  • Houston, Chloe. The Renaissance Utopia: Dialogue, Travel, and the Ideal Society. Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2014.
  • Knapp, Jeffrey. An Empire Nowhere: England, America, and Literature from Utopia to the Tempest. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
  • Loraux, Nicole. Born of the Earth: Myth and Politics in Athens. Translated by Selina Stewart. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000.
  • Marks, Peter, Jennifer A. Wagner-Lawlor, and Fátima Vieira, eds. The Palgrave Handbook of Utopian and Dystopian Literatures. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022.
  • Olson, Theodore. Millennialism, Utopianism, and Progress. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.
  • Pearl, Jason H. Utopian Geographies and the Early English Novel. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014.
  • Sarasohn, Lisa. The Natural Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish: Reason and Fancy during the Scientific Revolution. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.
  • Sargent, Lyman Tower. Rethinking Utopia and Utopianism: The Three Faces of Utopianism Revisited and Other Essays. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2022.
  • Schofield, Malcolm. Saving the City: Philosopher-Kings and Other Classical Paradigms. London: Routledge, 1999.
  • Verini, Alexandra. English Women’s Spiritual Utopias, 1400–1700: New Kingdoms of Womanhood. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2022.
  • Weil, David Baker. Divulging Utopia: Radical Humanism in Sixteenth-Century England. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999.
  • Yoran, Hanan. Between Utopia and Dystopia: Erasmus, Thomas More, and the Humanist Republic of Letters. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010.


  • 1. See Gregory Currie, The Nature of Fiction (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 1–51; and David Davies, “Fiction,” in The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, ed. Berys Gaut and Dominic McIver Lopes (London: Routledge, 2005), 348–350.

  • 2. See M. M. Bakhtin, “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 84–258.

  • 3. St. Thomas More, Utopia: The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, vol. 4, ed. Edward Surtz SJ, and J. H. Hexter (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1965), 251; see James Romm, “More’s Strategy of Naming in the Utopia,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 22, no. 2 (1991): 173–183; and Israel A. C. Noletto and Sebastião Alves Teixeira Lopes, “Glossopoesis in Thomas More’s Utopia: Beyond a Representation of Foreignness,” Semiotica 230 (2019): 357–368.

  • 4. St. Thomas More, Utopia: The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, vol. 4.

  • 5. Lyman Tower Sargent, Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 6. This definition is a composite of the definitions Sargent provides of utopia and eutopia earlier, in his “The Three Faces of Utopianism Revisited,” Utopian Studies 5, no. 1 (1994): 9.

  • 6. Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979), 49.

  • 7. Ernst Bloch locates, within the multiple emanations of a “utopian impulse,” the work of an “anticipatory consciousness,” of the “Not-Yet-Conscious,” which in turn tests out and elaborates forms of a social novum, of transformative social novelty. See The Principle of Hope, vol. 1, trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 45–47, 65–77, 195–249. Drawing on Bloch, as well as William Morris, Miguel Abensour, and E. P. Thompson, Ruth Levitas defines utopia in terms of an “education of desire,” which is deemed “necessary to social transformation.” See Ruth Levitas, The Concept of Utopia (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2010), 141, 147.

  • 8. See Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, trans. Louis Wirth and Edward Shils (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1985), 192–211, 252–253, 262–263; and Russell Jacoby, Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti-Utopian Age (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), xiv–xvi, 2–3, 145–149.

  • 9. See Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, vol. 1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971), 157–168; Karl Popper, “Utopia and Violence,” in Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (London: Routledge, 2010), 481–488; Leszek Kołakowski, “The Death of Utopia Reconsidered,” in The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, vol. 3, ed. S. M. McMurrin (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985), 327–241; J. L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (London: Secker & Warburg, 1952), 132–148, 252–255; J. L. Talmon, “Utopianism and Politics,” in Utopia: The Potential and Prospect of the Human Condition, ed. George Kateb (London: Routledge, 2017), 91–102; F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (London: Routledge, 2001), 24–32; Ihor Kamenetsky, “Totalitarianism and Utopia,” Chicago Review 16, no. 4 (1966): 114–159. Only Kołakowski is willing to concede a measure of value in the Kantian function of utopianism as a regulative ideal (see Kołakowski, “Death of Utopia Reconsidered,” 246–247). Particularly useful on the history of the animosity against utopian “system,” “rationality,” and “method” is David Simpson’s genealogy of the key concerns of British anti-Jacobinism in Romanticism, Nationalism, and the Revolt against Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), esp. 40–83.

  • 10. As Phillip E. Wegner aptly puts it, focusing on the utopian novum (on the concrete manner in which utopian invention of the unprecedented and new become possible) “strips the notion of Utopianism of any residual axiological or evaluative connotations.” Phillip E. Wegner, Shockwaves of Possibility: Essays on Science Fiction, Globalization, and Utopia (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2014), 49.

  • 11. See Claude Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, trans. Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf (New York: Basic Books, 1963).

  • 12. Louis Marin, Utopics: Spatial Play, trans. Robert Vollrath (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1984), xiii, 69.

  • 13. See Timothy Brennan, Wars of Position: The Cultural Politics of Left and Right (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006). Brennan defines such an imaginary via Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” as one that concerns the process of “finding a rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice” (150).

  • 14. See Roland Barthes, Sade/Fourier/Loyola, trans. Richard Miller (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 4–5.

  • 15. On Utopia itself as jeu d’esprit, see C. S. Lewis, “Thomas More,” in Essential Articles for the Study of Thomas More (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1977), 390–339. On reading utopias in terms of a “delight in construction,” see Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2005), 11, 34–35.

  • 16. See Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 17–19, 46; James Holstun, A Rational Millennium: Puritan Utopias of Seventeenth-Century England and America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 11, 13, 35, 37, 39, 69, 89, 94–95, 98; Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, 17, 32, 151–152; and Amy Boesky, Founding Fictions: Utopias in Early Modern England (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1997), 27–41.

  • 17. Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, 5, 204–205.

  • 18. Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, xv, 85–86, 101, 123–124, 128, 168, 170–171, 191.

  • 19. Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, 180, 221.

  • 20. Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, 142.

  • 21. Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, xii, 232; and see Mark Fischer, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (London: Zero Books, 2009), esp. 1–15, 21–30.

  • 22. Thus, Tom Moylan’s Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination sees in so-called critical utopias a rejection of blueprints in favor of “process” (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2014), xiv, 3, 10, 23, 39, 53, 79, 185, 189. Moylan subsequently (and laudably) rethought the efficacy of the “anti-blueprint” thesis in his “Realizing Better Futures: Strong Thought for Hard Times,” in Utopia Method Vision, ed. Rafaella Baccolini and Tom Moylan (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2007), 191–221. See also Darren Webb’s useful and penetrating remarks in “Where’s the Vision? The Concept of Utopia in Contemporary Educational Theory,” Oxford Review of Education 35, no. 9 (2009): 744–745, 748–749, 756.

  • 23. It should be noted that Plato’s Republic, too, “was conceived in an atmosphere of disintegration of the ancient Greek city system.” See Kamenetsky, “Totalitarianism and Utopia,” 115. Likewise with Saint Augustine’s medieval City of God, written at “a time when the Roman Empire, become Christian, was being undermined by internal division and menaced by invasion from the outside.” See Danielle Lecoq and Roland Schaer, “Ancient, Biblical, and Medieval Traditions,” in Utopia: The Search for the Ideal Society in the Western World, ed. Roland Schaer, Gregory Claeys, and Lyman Tower Sargent (New York: New York Public Library, 2000), 67–68. On the importance of experiences of social disintegration for utopian aspiration and longing, see Antonis Balasopoulos, “Dark Light: Utopia and the Question of Relative Surplus Population,” Utopian Studies 27, no. 3 (2016): 617–618.

  • 24. See A. L. Beier, Masterless Men: The Vagrancy Problem in England 1560–1640 (London: Methuen, 1985); Christopher Kendrick, “More’s Utopia and Uneven Development,” boundary 2 13, nos. 2–3 (1985): 250–251; Richard Halpern, The Poetics of Primitive Accumulation: English Renaissance Culture and the Genealogy of Capital (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 136–175; Richard Lachmann, Capitalists in Spite of Themselves: Elite Conflict and Economic Transitions in Early Modern Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 1–28; Linda Woodbridge, Vagrancy, Homelessness and English Renaissance Literature (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001); Antonis Balasopoulos, “Suffer a Sea Change: Spatial Crisis, Maritime Modernity, and the Politics of Utopia,” Cultural Critique 63, no. 1 (2006): 143–148; Balasopoulos, “Dark Light,” 615–629; Sarah Hogan, Other Englands: Utopia, Capital, and Empire in an Age of Transition (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018), 1–71; and John Milios, The Origins of Capitalism as a Social System: The Prevalence of an Aleatory Encounter (London: Routledge, 2018).

  • 25. Gregory Claeys and Lyman Tower Sargent, The Utopia Reader (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 2.

  • 26. See Kōjin Karatani, Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy, trans. Joseph A. Murphy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 14–15, 21, 25, 41–42, 52–54, 82, 133.

  • 27. See Karatani, Isonomia, 20, 29–30, 56–57, 69.

  • 28. Hesiod, “Works and Days,” in Hesiod: Theogony, Works and Days, Testimonia, ed. and trans. Glenn W. Most, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), lines 109–155 (97–99), 174–201 (101–105); and see Sargent, Utopianism, 13; Gregory Claeys, Searching for Utopia: The History of an Idea (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2011), 17–18; and Lecoq and Schaer, “Ancient, Biblical, Medieval Traditions,” 35.

  • 29. See Lecoq and Schaer, “Ancient, Biblical, Medieval Traditions,” 35.

  • 30. Pindar, “Second Olympian Ode l. 61–75,” in Pindar: Olympian Odes-Pythian Odes, ed. and trans. William H. Race, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 69, 71.

  • 31. Plato, “The Statesman, lines 271e–272a,” in The Being of the Beautiful: Plato’s Thaetetus, Sophist, and Statesman, trans. Seth Bernadete (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

  • 32. Plato, The Republic, vol. 1, trans. Paul Shorey, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1937), lines 413c–415b (298–305).

  • 33. See Ovid, Metamorphoses, Books I–VIII, trans. Frank Justus Miller, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), lines 89–150 (9–13).

  • 34. See Claeys, Searching for Utopia, 17; and Claeys and Sargent, Utopia Reader, 2.

  • 35. See Virgil’s fourth Eclogue in Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid I–VI, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough (London: Heinemann, 1916), lines 4–25, 37–52 (29–33).

  • 36. It is characteristic that in Ovid both boundary-setting around land and naval trade only emerge in the degraded “iron age,” along with their complements, greed, murder, and war (Metamorphoses 125–150 [11–13]); in Virgil, too, the return of the golden age entails the abolition of human (and even animal) labor: “The earth shall not feel the harrow, nor the vine the pruning-hook; the sturdy ploughman, too, shall now loose his oxen from the yoke” (Eclogues, IV, lines 40–41 [31]); in fact, it is only some “few traces of olden sin [fraudis]” that will still, for some time at least, “call men to essay the sea in ships, to gird towns with walls, and to cleave the earth with furrows” (Eclogues, IV, lines 31–33 [31]).

  • 37. See Jocelyn Grosard, “Catastrophe and Cyclical Time in Ancient Thought,” The Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities no.514 (2018): 183–198; and Richard Faure, Emmanuel Golfin, and Elsa Grasso, “Time and Its Categories in Classical Greek: Language and Thought,” Journal of Interdisciplinary Methodologies and Issues in Science no. 7 (2019): 3–7, 12–14.

  • 38. See Daniel A. Dombrowski, “Atlantis and Plato’s Philosophy,” Apeiron 15 (1981): 117–128; Pierre Vidal-Naquet, The Black Hunter: Forms of Thought and Forms of Society in the Greek World, trans. Andrew Szegedy Maszak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 263–284; Pierre Vidal-Naquet, The Atlantis Story: A Short History of Plato’s Myth, trans. Janet Lloyd (Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 2007), 35–54; Karl F. Helleiner, “Prester John’s Letter: A Medieval Utopia,” Phoenix 13, no. 2 (1959): 47–57; Tom Moylan, “Irish Voyages and Visions: Pre-Figuring, Re-Configuring Utopia,” Utopian Studies 18, no. 3 (2007): 299–323; A. L. Morton, The English Utopia (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1978), 15–45; Karma Lochrie, Nowhere in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 49–88; J. C. Davis, Utopia and the Ideal Society: A Study of English Utopian Writing 1516–1700 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 22–26; Lecoq and Schaer, “Ancient, Biblical, Medieval Traditions,” 38, 42–43, 46, 48–49, 52–54, 57, 61; Claeys, Searching for Utopia, 18, 20–23, 29, 43, 73; Sargent, Utopianism, 12, 16; and Diskin Clay and Andrea Purvis, Four Island Utopias (Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 1999), 156–162.

  • 39. See Plato, The Republic, trans. Desmond Lee (London: Penguin, 2003), lines 422e–423b (123–124). All subsequent references in the text are from this translation and edition. See also Jean-Pierre Vernant, Myth and Thought among the Greeks (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983), 70; Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Politics Ancient and Modern, trans. Janet Lloyd (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1995), 28, 70; Nicole Loraux, The Divided City: On Memory and Forgetting in Ancient Athens, trans. Corinne Pache and Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books, 2006), 59–61, 97, 104–106; Antonis Balasopoulos, “The Fractured Image: Plato, the Greeks and the Figure of the Ideal City,” in Exploring the Utopian Impulse: Essays on Utopian Thought and Practice, ed. Michael J. Griffin and Tom Moylan (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2007), 118–122; Antonis Balasopoulos, “Celestial Cities and Rationalist Utopias,” in The Cambridge Companion to the City in Literature, ed. Kevin McNamara (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 18–20; and Giorgio Agamben, Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm, trans. Nicholas Heron (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015), 4–24.

  • 40. See Plato, Republic, lines 394e–395a (88–89), 433b–433c (137), 415b (116–117); and Jacques Rancière, The Philosopher and His Poor, trans. John Drury, Corinne Oster, and Andrew Parker (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 3–53.

  • 41. Plato, Republic, lines 414b–414c (115–116). Socrates later explicitly refers to the origins of his ideological device in Hesiod’s myth in lines 546e–547a (280).

  • 42. That is, to the rational (corresponding to the Guardians), the “spirited” or “thūmotic” (corresponding to the Auxiliaries) and the “appetitive” (corresponding to the farmers and merchants) faculties. See Plato, Republic, lines 441a–444b (149–153).

  • 43. On the ambivalences of Plato’s relation to Ionian isonomia, see Karatani, Isonomia, 132–133; and Phillip E. Wegner, Invoking Hope: Theory and Utopia in Dark Times (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020), 63–65.

  • 44. Plato, Republic, lines 416e–417a (119).

  • 45. Including property in women and children; see Plato, Republic, 423e (125).

  • 46. See Ovid’s description of the shift from the golden age to the Iron Age: “And the ground, which had hitherto been a common possession like the sunlight and the air, the careful surveyor now marked out with long-drawn boundary line. . . . And the wealth which the creator had hidden away . . . was brought to light, wealth that pricks men to crime” (Metamorphoses, lines 135–140 [10–13]).

  • 47. See Jean François Pradeau, Plato and the City: A New Introduction to Plato’s Political Thought, trans. Janet Lloyd (Exeter, UK: Exeter University Press, 2002), 69.

  • 48. See Doyne Dawson, Cities of the Gods: Communist Utopias in Greek Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 77–81; and Balasopoulos, “Fractured Image,” 127.

  • 49. Hence the long section, in The Republic, on the constitutional mutations from monarchy or aristocracy to timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny—which, it should be noted, traces not a fully cyclical but rather a fully degenerative historical narrative of political change. See lines 544a–576b (276–314).

  • 50. See Republic, line 485b: “One trait in the philosopher’s character we can assume is his love for any branch of learning that reveals eternal reality, the realm unaffected by the vicissitudes of change and decay” (205); see also lines 381b–318c, 382e, 424c, 473b, 479a, 479e, 484b, 526e, 527b, 530a–530b.

  • 51. See Plato, Republic, l.lines 592a–592b (334).

  • 52. Plato, Republic, line 546a (279).

  • 53. See Plato, The Laws, trans. A. E. Taylor, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), lines 739e–740a (1324–1325), 742a (1326), 744d–e (1328).

  • 54. Property laws, including laws against the violation of property, preoccupy an extensive part of the legislation under discussion. Among them are laws on appropriate conduct toward slaves, inheritance laws, and laws on trespassing and theft.

  • 55. Pradeau, Plato and the City, 69.

  • 56. Vidal-Naquet, Politics Ancient and Modern, 9.

  • 57. Plato, Laws, lines 628a–b (1229).

  • 58. Plato, Laws, lines 737e–738a (1323), 771c (1348). In fact, the Athenian notes that the number can be divided by fifty-nine different integers, including the first ten.

  • 59. See Plato, Laws, lines 740b (1325): “The number of hearth fires established by our present division must remain forever unchanged, without increase or deviation whatsoever”; and see Plato, Laws, lines 744c, 744e (1328), 745b–c (1329), 745d (1329), 756c (1336), 760b (1339).

  • 60. Plato, Laws, lines 737e, 738b (1323); 747a (1330–1331).

  • 61. Plato, Laws, lines 747a (1330–1331).

  • 62. See Balasopoulos, “Celestial Cities,” 21; Nicole Loraux, “The Bond of Division,” in The Divided City, 93–122. On “knowable community,” see Raymond Williams, The English Novel: From Dickens to Lawrence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 15–21, 28–30.

  • 63. See Plato, Laws, lines 704c–704d, 705a–705c (1296–1297).

  • 64. Though we should not forget the fact that Plato himself had contributed to the “fabulist,” descriptive, and exoticist trend through his invention of the mythical island-continent of Atlantis in Timaeus and Critias (360 bce); see Balasopoulos, “Fractured Image,” 122–134.

  • 65. Iamboulos, “Island of the Sun,” in Four Island Utopias, ed. Diskin Clay and Andrea Purvis (Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 1999), 108–109.

  • 66. See Iamboulos, “Island of the Sun,” 109, 112. It should be noted that the natives of Heliopolis practice Arcadian restraint toward consumption.

  • 67. Iamboulos, “Island of the Sun,” 110.

  • 68. See Lucian, True History, ed. and trans. Diskin Clay and James Brusuelas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), I, lines 11:21–29:2 (64–83).

  • 69. Lucian, True History, II, lines 5:1–6:13; II, lines 11:15–11:24; II, lines 12:7–14:24 (105–110).

  • 70. Lucian, True History, II, lines 17:31–18:5 (110–113).

  • 71. See Robert C. Elliott, The Shape of Utopia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 3, 22–24.

  • 72. See Lucian, True History, I, lines 3:19–4:26 (57–59).

  • 73. See François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, trans. M. A Screech (London: Penguin, 2006); Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, ed. Albert J. Rivero (New York: W.W Norton, 2001); Samuel Butler, Erewhon, ed. Peter Mudford (London: Penguin, 1985); Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (New York: Harper Perennial, 2006); and see Lochrie, Nowhere in the Middle Ages, 1–6.

  • 74. Mandeville’s travel memoir first came into circulation in the late 14th century. On the land of Prester John, see The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (London: Macmillan, 1915), 178–209.

  • 75. J. C. Davis, “Formal Utopia/Informal Millennium: The Struggle between Form and Substance as a Context for Seventeenth-Century Utopianism,” in Utopias and the Millennium, ed. Krishan Kumar and Stephen Bann (London: Reaktion Books, 1993), 19, 21, 22.

  • 76. Davis, “Formal Utopia/Informal Millennium,” 21 (emphases added), 28.

  • 77. See Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question,” in Karl Marx: Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregory Benton (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1992), 232; and Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 23–35.

  • 78. Saint Augustine, City of God, Books VIII–XVI, trans. Gerard G. Walsh, SJ, and Grace Monahan, OSU (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1952), 347.

  • 79. Augustine, City of God, Books VIII–XVI, 187–188, 347, 420–422; and Saint Augustine, City of God, Books XVII–XXII, trans. Gerard G. Walsh, SJ, and Daniel J. Honan (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1954), 20–22, 65–66, 172.

  • 80. Augustine, City of God, Books VIII–XVI, 415–417.

  • 81. See Augustine, City of God, Books VIII–XVI, 420.

  • 82. See the architecturally detailed depiction of the New Jerusalem, which descends on the earth after the end of the thousand-year reign of the righteous and Satan’s final defeat in St. John, Revelation 21:1–27, The Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1957), 868–869.

  • 83. See Etienne Gilson, “Foreword,” in Saint Augustine, City of God, Books I–VII, trans. Demetrius B. Zema, SJ, and Gerard G. Walsh (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1950), xxxviii–xli.

  • 84. Augustine, City of God, Books XVII–XXII, 21.

  • 85. “If we accept the definitions of Scipio, cited by Cicero in his book On the Republic, there never existed any such thing as a Roman Republic. Scipio gives a short definition of a commonwealth as the weal of the people. Now, if this is a true definition, there never was any Roman Republic, because there never was in Rome any true ‘weal of the people.’ Scipio defines the people as ‘a multitude bound together by a mutual recognition of rights and a mutual co-operation for the common good.’ . . . a republic cannot be managed without justice, for, where there is not true justice, there is no recognition of rights.” Augustine, City of God, Books XVII–XXII, 232.

  • 86. Augustine, City of God, Books XVII–XXII, 217.

  • 87. Augustine, City of God, Books XVII–XXII, 246.

  • 88. See Augustine, City of God, Books XVII–XXII, 205–206, 228.

  • 89. See Fredric Jameson’s fascinating analysis of Augustine’s “centrism” with regard to rival and dangerously utopian strains in Christianity in “The Sexual Reproduction of Western Subjectivity,” in The Ideologies of Theory (London and New York: Verso, 2008), 546–552.

  • 90. Augustine, City of God, Books XVII–XXII, 265, 293; and see Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (London: Pimlico, 2004), 29. Augustine’s position regarding the sexually desirous dimensions of the prelapsarian body is similarly guided by a desire to find a point of balance between the demand for sexual continence and discipline, on the one hand, and the institutional sanctification of marriage against sectarian asceticism on the other. See Michel Foucault, Histoire de la sexualité 4: Les aveux de la chair, ed. Frédéric Gros (Paris: Gallimard, 2018), 299–300, 302–305, 306, 325–326, 405–406; and Jameson, “Sexual Reproduction of Western Subjectivity,” 550–551, 553.

  • 91. Papias of Hierapolis, “Fragments of Papias and Quadratus,” in The Apostolic Fathers, vol. II, ed. and trans. Bart D. Ehrman, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 93–95.

  • 92. Lactantius, Divine Institutes, trans. Anthony Bowen and Peter Garnsey (Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2003), Book VII, 24.9–24.10 (435–436).

  • 93. Lactantius chastises Aristotle for being “quite blind” in not seeing that “such a huge thing as the world could perish” and singles out only Epicurus as a classical philosopher who understood that the world has been once created and will be destroyed (Divine Institutes, Book VII, 1.7, 1.10 [390]). Heraclitus had posited that the world was one “no god or man made, but it always was, is, and will be.” Fragment 30 in Heraclitus, Fragments, trans. T. M. Robinson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), 25.

  • 94. On Joachim of Fiore, see Cohn, Pursuit of the Millennium, 108–110; Marjorie Reeves, “The Originality and Influence of Joachim of Fiore,” Traditio 36, no. 3 (1980): 269–316; and Roland Boer, Criticism of Heaven: On Marxism and Theology (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007), 192–194.

  • 95. Cohn, Pursuit of the Millennium, 13; and see Ernest Lee Tuveson, Millennium and Utopia: A Study in the Background of the Idea of Progress (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 1–21.

  • 96. See Cohn, Pursuit of the Millennium, 198–280; Friedrich Engels, “The Peasant War in Germany,” in Collected Works, vol. 10, ed. Marx and Engels (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2020), 397–482; and James Crossley, Spectres of John Ball: The Peasants’ Revolt in English Political History, 1381–2020 (Sheffield, UK: Equinox, 2022). Indeed, Phillip Wegner, writing of Elliott’s The Shape of Utopia, remarks that the latter suggests that it is the desire to neutralize “the ‘myth’ of the Golden Age” that provides the fundamental impetus for the formation of anti-utopianism. See Wegner, “Introduction” to Robert C. Elliott, The Shape of Utopia: Studies in a Literary Genre (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2013), xxi.

  • 97. Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, trans. Earl Jeffrey Richards (New York: Persea Books, 1982), 16.

  • 98. See de Pizan, City of Ladies, 116.

  • 99. de Pizan, City of Ladies, 99.

  • 100. Concerning the latter, de Pizan has no option but to advise: “My ladies, be humble and patient, and God’s grace will grow in you, and praise will be given to you as well as the Kingdom of Heaven” (City of Ladies, 255). It is the bitter irony of the ending of this remarkably courageous and powerful counterhistory that its ideal city is so avowedly immaterial that it can only accommodate women who have passed into the afterlife of words.

  • 101. More, “Utopia,” 113, 117.

  • 102. Thus, in Tomasso Campanella’s The City of the Sun, the three “collateral princes” of the ruler are named Power, Wisdom, and Love, and the triumvirate is related to the trinitarian nature of God (Tomasso Campanella, The City of the Sun: A Poetical Dialogue, trans. Daniel J. Donno [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981], 33, 115); in Johann Valentin Andreae’s Christianopolis, the voyaging ship is led by Christ, its name is “Fantasy,” and it sails on “the Academic Ocean” (Johann Valentin Andreae, Christianopolis, trans. Edward H. Thompson [Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic, 1999], 153, 155); Francis Bacon names the comprehensive college of science of his New Atlantis “Salomon’s House” or College of the Six Days Works, invoking King Solomon as well as the Book of Genesis (Bacon, “The New Atlantis,” in Three Early Modern Utopias, ed. Susan Bruce (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999], 167); and Margaret Cavendish explicitly foregrounds the fictional artifactuality of her world and embeds in her narrative an allegorical dialogue involving Fortune, Rashness, Honesty, and Prudence (Cavendish, The Blazing World and Other Writings, ed. Kate Lilley [London: Penguin, 2004], 123–124, 195–200, 224–225).

  • 103. See Phillip E. Wegner, Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation and the Spatial Histories of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), xv–xvi, 11, 25. For Wegner, the dialectic of spatial form and social content hinges on the utopian text’s anticipation of the organizational form of the nation-state (Wegner, Imaginary Communities, xxii, 49–59). Still, as Wegner himself notes elsewhere, the spatial scale of More’s narrative differs from the rather more traditionally premodern one of the city that we find in Campanella (or in Andreae, not to mention later instances as in Fourier and others). See Phillip E. Wegner, “Space,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Utopian and Dystopian Literatures, ed. Peter Marks, Jennifer A. Wagner-Lawlor, and Fátima Vieira (Cham, Switzerland: Springer/Palgrave Macmillan, 2022), 465.

  • 104. More, “Utopia,” 113.

  • 105. See Andreae, Christianopolis, 229–231, 245.

  • 106. Bacon, “New Atlantis,” 176.

  • 107. Davis, Utopia and the Ideal Society, 36–38.

  • 108. See William Lazonick, “Karl Marx and Enclosures in England,” Review of Radical Political Economics 6, no. 2 (1974): 1–59; Beier, Masterless Men; Peter Linebaugh and Markus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (London: Verso, 2000), 154–167; and Woodbridge, Vagrancy, Homelessness.

  • 109. Halpern, Poetics of Primitive Accumulation, 155.

  • 110. See Holstun, Rational Millennium, 71–72, 89–93; Leonard Goldstein, The Social and Cultural Roots of Linear Perspective (Minneapolis: MEP Publications, 1988), 63–87, 135–136; Nina Joblon, “Power, Illusion and the Technology of Perspective in the Renaissance,” Techné: Journal of Technology Studies 5 (1995): n.p.; Françoise Choay, “Utopia and the Philosophical Status of Constructed Space,” in Utopia: The Search for the Ideal Society in the Western World, 346–353; Erwin Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 29–31, 57–59, 63–66, 70; Ruth Eaton, Ideal Cities: Utopianism and the (Un)Built Environment (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2002), 40–71; Wegner, Imaginary Communities, 42–44; and Christopher Kendrick, Utopia, Carnival, and Commonwealth (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 40–53.

  • 111. See More, “Utopia,” 103–107, 137–139, 149–157, 169, 203–209, 239, 243–245; and Antonis Balasopoulos, “‘The Latter Part of the Commonwealth Forgets the Beginning’: Empire and Utopian Economics in Early Modern New World Discourse,” Gramma: Journal of Theory and Criticism 9 (2001), esp. 37–43.

  • 112. Campanella, City of the Sun, 39, 61, 81–83.

  • 113. See Andreae, Christianopolis, 178, 182, 184–185, 187, 191–192, 208.

  • 114. Bacon, “New Atlantis,” 168.

  • 115. Cavendish, Blazing World, 217. Cavendish is the only one in this group who preserves the prerogative of the nobility and royalty to adorn themselves with gold and precious stones (see Cavendish, Blazing World, 133).

  • 116. See Marina Leslie, Renaissance Utopias and the Problem of History (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 5–6, 37, 49.

  • 117. Andreae’s Christianopolis, imagined, like Campanella’s and More’s cities, largely on principles of monastic discipline and regularity, is quite revealing of the secular thrust even in explicitly religious Renaissance utopias: the universe has been created by a God who is a “Supreme Architect,” and it is itself an “immense machine” that is “everywhere self-governing,” though it is also “obedient to Him” (Andreae, Christianopolis, 231, 237). Echoing Marin, Wegner likewise emphasizes the proto-bourgeois aspects of More’s Polylerites and of his Utopians as well. See Wegner, Imaginary Communities, 44, 60.

  • 118. See Campanella, City of the Sun, 33–37, 43–47, 93–96, 109, 119, 121, 125–127; Andreae, Christianopolis, 210–213, 215–216, 229–237; Bacon, “New Atlantis,” 175–177, 183–186; Cavendish, Blazing World, 136–146, 149–150, 154–160, 176, 187–188, 222. On the scientific revolution in the early modern period and its relationship to the economic interests of the early mercantile and manufacturing bourgeoisie, see The Social and Economic Roots of the Scientific Revolution: Texts by Boris Hessen and Henryk Grossmann, ed. Gideon Freudenthal and Peter McLaughlin (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2009).

  • 119. See Leslie, Renaissance Utopias, 1.

  • 120. This does not rid Plato’s own texts of tensions, aporias, and contradictions. See Balasopoulos, “Fractured Image,” 122–134; Balasopoulos, “Celestial Cities,” 20–22; and Antonis Balasopoulos, “Pigs in Heaven? Utopia, Animality and Plato’s Hūopolis,” in The Epistemology of Utopia: Rhetoric, Theory and Imagination, ed. Jorge Bastos da Silva (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), 10–21.

  • 121. See Marin, Utopics, 33–60.

  • 122. Jameson refers to this dimension of self-isolation as the “utopian enclave.” See Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, 10–21; on self-isolation in the early modern utopias in question, see More, “Utopia,” 113, 185; Campanella, City of the Sun, 27; Andreae, Christianopolis, 156, 158–160; Bacon, “New Atlantis,” 152–153, 157–158, 161–162, 166–167; and Cavendish, Blazing World, 125–126, 204–205, 216–217.

  • 123. See Richard Halpern’s argument in Poetics of Primitive Accumulation, 138.

  • 124. Elizabeth McCutcheon, “Denying the Contrary: More’s Use of the Litotes in the Utopia,” Moreana nos. 31–32 (1971): 107–121; Thomas I. White, “Festivitas, Utilitas, et Opes: The Concluding Irony and Philosophical Purpose of Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’,” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 10 (1978): 135–115; and Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 11–73.

  • 125. See More, “Utopia,” 23, 43, 51–55; Campanella, City of the Sun, 27; Andreae, Christianopolis, 156; Bacon, “New Atlantis,” 152; and Cavendish, Blazing World, 125–130.

  • 126. Cavendish, Blazing World, 224.

  • 127. More, Utopia, 115, 123, 135.

  • 128. Campanella, City of the Sun, 27, 33–37.

  • 129. Andreae, Christianopolis, 161–162, 164–165, 171. Indeed, the Christianopolitans celebrate the theoretical and practical value of geometry (229–231).

  • 130. See Holstun, Rational Millennium, 20, 35, 39, 55, 57, 69, 85; Françoise Choay, The Rule and the Model: On the Theory and Architecture of Urbanism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), 137–172; and Balasopoulos, “Celestial Cities,” 26.

  • 131. See Marin, Utopics, 127–128.

  • 132. See Holstun, A Rational Millennium, 95–99; David Baker, “First among Equals: The Utopian Princeps,” Moreana 30, nos. 115–116 (1993): 33–45; and Balasopoulos, “Dark Light,” 628–629.

  • 133. See Halpern, Poetics of Primitive Accumulation, 156–157; and Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, 40–41.

  • 134. See More, “Utopia,” 149, 239, 243.

  • 135. Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 75.

  • 136. See Halpern, Poetics of Primitive Accumulation, 161; and E. H. Thompson, “The Political Economy of a 17th-Century Utopia,” Dundee Discussion Papers in Economics, no. 54 (1993): 1–14.

  • 137. See More, “Utopia,” 127–131, 133, 147, 239; Campanella, City of the Sun, 43, 47, 67, 77; and Andreae, Christianopolis, 158–159, 175, 185, 276.

  • 138. See Campanella, City of the Sun, 31–37, 43–47, 88–89, 93, 119, 121, 125; Andreae, Christianopolis, 209–213, 215–216, 228–231; Bacon, “New Atlantis,” 177–186; and Cavendish, Blazing World, 134, 138–160, 171, 176, 222.

  • 139. See More, “Utopia,” 135–137, 245; Campanella, City of the Sun, 59, 79–81; Andreae, Christianopolis, 219; Bacon, “New Atlantis,” 165; Cavendish, Blazing World, 134, 190, 201, 224. Early modern utopias are thus far more optimistic than their classical counterparts regarding the stability of an “optimal state” through time. This is a result of the abandonment, by the 16th century, of classical conceptions of a cyclical or degenerative temporality.

  • 140. See Wegner, Imaginary Communities, 60. For Wegner, the gestation of a proto-concept of social class in More occurs in tandem with that of the spatial form of the nation-state.

  • 141. See, for instance, More, “Utopia,” 115, 125, 127–129, 131–133, 179–181; Campanella, City of the Sun, 81, 85; and Andreae, Christianopolis, 168, 171–172, 174, 176, 185.

  • 142. Cavendish, Blazing World, 185; and Antonis Balasopoulos, “Utopiae Insulae Figura: Utopian Insularity and the Politics of Form,” Transtext(e)s/Transcultures: Journal of Global Cultural Studies (2008): 23–29.

  • 143. Lewis Mumford notes that “about two-thirds of our utopias” were written in the 19th century. Jean Pfaelzer and Kenneth Roemer provide data relating to the popular appeal of the genre, particularly at the end of the century. See Lewis Mumford, The Story of Utopias (New York: Viking Press, 1962), 115; Jean Pfaelzer, The Utopian Novel in America, 1886–1896: The Politics of Form (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984), 3, 41, 48, 175; and Kenneth M. Roemer, The Obsolete Necessity: America in Utopian Writings, 1888–1900 (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1976), 3–4.

  • 144. Mumford, Story of Utopias, 1.

  • 145. See Mumford, Story of Utopias, 15, 146–147, 166, 168, 173, 247, 262, 5–6. The concept of utopia as method is theoretically revisited by Tom Moylan, Raffaella Baccolini, and Ruth Levitas in their contributions to Utopia Method Vision, ed. Tom Moylan and Raffaella Baccolini (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2007), 13–24, 47–68.

  • 146. Hertzler prefaces his book as involving “two related and yet distinct types of sociological endeavor,” even though he dedicates the fourth and sixth chapters to (mostly) narrative utopias. See The History of Utopian Thought (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1923), v; and Peter Fitting, “A Short History of Utopian Studies,” Science Fiction Studies 36, no. 1 (2009): 123.

  • 147. Mumford, Story of Utopias, 4.

  • 148. See Marie Louise Berneri, Journey through Utopia (London: Freedom Press, 1982), 1–8; and Morton, English Utopia, 259–262, 270–276.

  • 149. George Kateb, Utopia and Its Enemies (New York: Free Press, 1963).

  • 150. See Northrop Frye, “Varieties of Literary Utopias,” Daedalus 94, no. 2 (1965): 323–347; Lyman Tower Sargent, “The Three Faces of Utopianism,” The Minnesota Review 7, no. 3 (1967): 222–230; Elliott, Shape of Utopia; and Frank E. Manuel and Fritzie P. Manuel, Utopian Thought in the Western World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997).

  • 151. See Ernst Bloch, The Spirit of Utopia, trans. Anthony A. Nassar (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 279; and Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, 3 vols., trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995).

  • 152. On Benjamin, see Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” in Selected Writings, vol. 1, 1913–1926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 236–252; Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Selected Writings, vol. 4, 1938–1940, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, trans. Harry Zohn (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 389–400; Fredric Jameson, Marxism and Form: Twentieth Century Dialectical Theories of Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971), 77; and Antonis Balasopoulos, “Crisis, Justice, Messianism: Walter Benjamin’s ‘Critique of Violence’,” Cogito 12, no. 4 (December 2020): 69–89.

  • 153. See Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, trans. Louis Wirth and Edward Shils (San Diego: Harcourt, 1985).

  • 154. On Bloch, see Theodor W. Adorno and Ernst Bloch, “Something’s Missing,” in The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, ed. Ernst Bloch, trans. Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988), 1–17; Theodor W. Adorno, Hegel: Three Studies, trans. S. W. Nicholsen (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993); and Max Blechman, “Not Yet: Adorno and the Utopia of Conscience,” Cultural Critique 70 (Fall 2008): 183, 185–186, 188–189.

  • 155. On Marcuse, see Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955); Herbert Marcuse, Negations: Essays in Critical Theory (London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press, 1968), 88–133; and Jameson, Marxism and Form, 106–108, 110–115.

  • 156. On Zipes, see Jack Zipes, Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2002; or. pub. 1979), 146–178; and Jack Zipes, Fairytales and the Art of Subversion (London: Routledge, 2006; or. pub. 1982).

  • 157. See Darko Suvin, “On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre,” College English 34, no. 3 (1972): 372–382; republished as “Estrangement and Cognition,” in Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979), 3–15; and Darko Suvin, “Defining the Literary Genre of Utopia,” Studies in the Literary Imagination 6, no. 2 (Fall 1973): 121–145. On Suvin’s long-term trajectory and contributions, see Phillip E. Wegner, “Foreword: Crossing the Border with Darko Suvin,” in Darko Suvin: A Life in Letters (Vashon Island, WA: Vashon Island: Paradoxa, 2011), 9–19.

  • 158. See Marin, Utopics, 3–30, 195–196.

  • 159. See E. P. Thompson, “Romanticism, Moralism, and Utopianism: The Case of William Morris,” New Left Review I, no. 99 (September–October 1976): 94–99; and Miguel Abensour, “William Morris: The Politics of Romance,” in Revolutionary Romanticism: A Drunken Boat Anthology, trans. and ed. Max Blechman (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1999), 125–161.

  • 160. Tom Moylan, Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000), 102; see also Fitting, “Short History of Utopian Studies,” 121–131.

  • 161. See Levitas, Concept of Utopia, 4–9.

  • 162. See, indicatively, Fredric Jameson, “World Reduction in Le Guin: The Emergence of Utopian Narrative,” Science Fiction Studies 2, no. 3 (1975): 221–230; Fredric Jameson, “Of Islands and Trenches: Neutralization and the Production of Utopian Discourse,” in The Ideologies of Theory (London and New York: Verso, 2008), 386–414; Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981); Fredric Jameson, “Progress versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?” Science Fiction Studies 9, no. 2 (1982): 147–158; Fredric Jameson, “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture,” in Signatures of the Visible (New York: Routledge, 1993), 9–34; Fredric Jameson, “Ontology and Utopia,” L’Esprit Créateur 34, no. 4 (Winter 1994): 44–64; Jameson, Seeds of Time; Fredric Jameson, “The Politics of Utopia,” New Left Review II, no. 25 (2004): 35–54; Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future; Fredric Jameson, “An American Utopia,” in An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army, ed. Slavoj Žižek (London and New York: Verso, 2016) 1–96. Phillip E. Wegner provides a concise and penetrating summary of Jameson’s trajectory in “Horizons, Figures, and Machines: The Dialectic of Utopia in the Work of Fredric Jameson,” Utopian Studies 9, no. 2 (1998): 58–77; while a more up-to-date engagement can be found in his Periodizing Jameson: Dialectics, the University, and the Desire for Narrative (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2014), 183–203.

  • 163. For Phillip E. Wegner’s uses of Greimasian semiotics, particularly in connection with literary utopia and utopianism, see “Greimas Avec Lacan; or, from the Symbolic to the Real in Dialectical Criticism,” Criticism 51, no. 2 (2009): 211–245; and Wegner, Invoking Hope, 34–43. On periodization and intergeneric relations, see Wegner, Shockwaves of Possibility, 1–63; Wegner, “Introduction,” in Elliott, Shape of Utopia, xix–xxv; and Phillip E. Wegner, Life between Two Deaths 1989–2001: U.S. Culture in the Long Nineties (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), 117–136. On utopia, utopianism, and mass culture, see Wegner, Life between Two Deaths, 60–84, 137–165, 195–217; and Wegner, Invoking Hope, 169–186.

  • 164. See Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, 11–73; Davis, Utopia and the Ideal Society; J. C. Davis, Alternative Worlds Imagined 1500–1700: Essays on Radicalism, Utopianism, and Reality (Cham, Switzerland: Springer/Palgrave Macmillan, 2017); Holstun, Rational Millennium; Halpern, Poetics of Primitive Accumulation, 1363–1375; Kendrick, “More’s Utopia,” 233–266; Kendrick, Utopia, Carnival; Knapp, Empire Nowhere; Denise Albanese, New Science, New World (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996); Crystal Bartolovich, “Utopian Cosmopolitanism,” Shakespeare Studies no. 35 (2007): 47–57; Crystal Bartolovich, “‘Optimism of the Will’: Isabella Whitney and Utopia,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 39, no. 2 (2009): 407–432; Crystal Bartolovich, “Utopia and Its New Enemies: Intellectuals, Elitism and the Commonwealth of Learning,” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 13, no. 3 (2013): 33–65; Wegner, Imaginary Communities; and Hogan, Other Englands.