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It would seem at first sight that the study of utopianism is not the study of a really delimited subject: the range of the words “utopia” and “Utopian” is very great. They are applied colloquially to any idea or proposal that may be desirable but is impractical or unrealizable, that is thought to be delusive or fatuously out of accord with reasonable expectation, or that implies a radical departure from existing conditions. More formally, these words are applied to any speculation in ethical philosophy about the Good Life; or to any speculation in political theory about fundamental political principles or forms of government; or to any imaginary society found in a treatise, novel, story, or poem; or to any vision or conception of a perfect society. In the face of such variety of usage, can it be said that utopianism is the name of a single doctrine or of a coherent body of doctrines?

Although “utopia” and “Utopian” mean many different things, when we speak of “utopianism” we can speak of a persistent tradition of thought about the perfect society, in which perfection is defined as harmony. The harmony is of each man with himself and of each man with all others. (Hereafter in this article, “utopia” and “Utopian” are used only in the sense pertaining to utopianism.)

The word “harmony” itself is no doubt vague. It is apparent, however, that this word is merely a shorthand way of referring to a number of social conditions, each one of which is a manifestation of harmony. Among these conditions are perpetual peace; full satisfaction of human wants; either a happy labor or a rich leisure, or a combination of both; extreme equality, or inequality on a wholly rational basis; the absence of discretionary authority, or the participation of all in turn in discretionary authority, or the placing of discretionary authority in the hands of those with a clear claim to it; and a nearly effortless virtue on the part of all men. These are the conditions of Utopian life in its hypothetical descriptions; these are the conditions that a society must have if it is to be in accord with utopianism.

The sources of utopianism. The primal sources of utopianism are in some of the oldest stories of the race, stories of man before the Fall, of man in the Golden Age, of man in an Arcadian state of nature. In these stories we generally find a hopeless nostalgia for a time, long in the past, when the gross evils of the real world were absent and an easy contentment marked human life. The harmony there was a natural harmony: simple men with few needs or desires led simple lives in which their needs and desires were easily satisfied. There were neither the complexities nor the anguishes of civilized existence. One could say that it is a low-level harmony that characterizes these renderings of early man. To be sure, the civilized mentality has stood ready to disparage any attempt to make of natural harmony a standard by which to judge and finally to condemn the real world. Witness the epithet which Glaucon, a young Athenian, applied to Socrates’ description in Plato’s Republic of the felicities of precivilized society. Glaucon called such a society a “city of pigs.” Witness the pleasure of Hegel in contemplating the fall of man, the expulsion of Adam from the Garden of Eden. Hegel considered the Fall a fortunate fall: True freedom, true morality, true adulthood can be built only on the basis of man’s awareness and experience of sin. Witness the scorn heaped on Rousseau’s head after he had written warmly of some remote state of nature where none of the institutions of civilization sullied life. His critics gloried in the variety and glitter and richness that only civilization could produce. Nevertheless, we can legitimately say that these old stories, together with more recent retellings of them (like Rousseau’s), are the prefigurement of utopianism because they are the repository of the immemorial longings of the multitude of ordinary men.

The theorists of utopianism, however, have usually sought to give nonnatural, civilized, fully societal equivalents of the conditions pictured in the old stories. Utopianism is actually an effort to imagine what the harmonious life would be once removed from a natural or pastoral setting. And the assumption is that the society in which the harmonious life is lived is the perfect society, in which all men would live if they could. It is not the perfect society according to the eccentric imaginings of any isolated thinker but according to the prepossessions of common humanity.

Where utopianism is found. The literature on utopianism is indeed vast, but certain categories of writing stand out in importance. We may consult those political theories that go beyond a discussion of the fundamental principles of politics to a more inclusive discussion of the Good Society. Strictly speaking, Hobbes’s Leviathan and Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government are not part of the literature of utopianism because their main concern is confined to political structures; their major aim is to make society tolerable, not perfect. But Plato’s Republic, parts of Aristotle’s Politics, and Rousseau’s Social Contract are works of political theory in the tradition of utopianism. We may also consult some of the books that give detailed descriptions of hypothetically perfect societies. Politics has, of course, a place in these books, but not the centrality given it in political theories. Examples of this sort would be Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, Campanella’s The City of the Sun, Morelly’s Code de la nature, William Morris’ News from Nowhere, and H. G. Wells’s A Modern Utopia. We may also consult those philosophies of history that are, at the same time, philosophies of inevitable progress. In this connection, the writings of Turgot, Condorcet, Hegel, Spencer, and Marx would be relevant. Finally, we may consult works that, although they may not deal with the institutions of the Good Society, engage in speculation about either the essential quality of the Good Life or desirable changes in the character or psychic structure of human beings as we know them, for example, Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man, Mill’s On Liberty, and Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization.

Variety within utopianism. If we compare these numerous expressions of utopianism, we must be struck by their enormous variety. When, therefore, we speak of a tradition of utopianism, all we can mean is that a number of thinkers, through the centuries, have shared a dedication to the idea of harmony. We cannot mean that these thinkers have been of one mind on the social practices and institutions most appropriate to harmony or on the smaller details and arrangements of Utopian life. Part of the explanation for these divergences is to be found in the fact that the conditions of the real world, which influence the Utopian imagination in its devisings of perfection, are obviously not constant; hence, the devisings themselves cannot be constant. Of special importance are the level of technology and the state of scientific knowledge. As these change, thought about perfection must change. New possibilities disclose themselves. Whether, for example, material abundance can be taken for granted will determine the Utopian attitude toward the satisfaction of human wants. Will the effort be made, in the perfect society, to limit the number of human wants and achieve the satisfaction of austerity, or will human wants be allowed to multiply because it is supposed that the means are on hand to indulge them? The aim of both procedures—and they are both found in the tradition of utopianism—is to eliminate the gap between wanting and having. But the way to eliminate that gap, in a hypothetically perfect society, will depend on the economic and technological assumptions that a Utopian thinker makes.

Not only the conditions of the real world work on the Utopian imagination and account for the great differences in descriptions of perfection. The beliefs held on such an issue as the capacity of improved conditions of life and improved techniques of education to reform human nature will also play a prominent part in determining the peculiarities of a given version of the harmonious society. If a Utopian writer thinks that all social arrangements are powerless to cancel innate inequalities of human endowment, he will purchase harmony at the cost of rigid social stratification, with discretionary authority confined to a few. If, on the other hand, he thinks that innate inequalities shrink in importance before the potency of new social and educational practices, then the whole problem of authority and social regulation will take on a different aspect; full democracy, perhaps even anarchism, may emerge as plausible systems. Furthermore, a Utopian writer’s beliefs in the ability of improved social conditions to produce a society whose virtue is certain and whose practice of it is nearly effortless will be decisive in the formulation of his Utopian ideas. Human nature seems to be less tractable to some Utopian writers than to others.

Then too, the moral sensibilities of writers in the tradition of utopianism have differed from each other. Consequently, the Utopias have differed from each other. Shall the harmonious society be one in which public affairs or private pursuits occupy the dominant energies of the people? Does the life of craft or the life of play comport best with human happiness? Shall there be a single definition of the Good Life in the Good Society, or should the premise be that once radical evil is removed from society, each man should be left free to take advantage of the resources of Utopian society in his own way and define the Good Life for himself? Obviously, there is ample room for disagreement in answering these questions. Yet all those who disagree can still adhere to utopianism.

In sum, the history of utopianism is made up of the efforts to present images of societies in which harmony is the controlling value. In these societies, harmony is achieved through varying institutions and arrangements; but harmony remains the common aim.

The uses of utopianism. Of what value is this tradition of utopianism? Is it anything other than a record of escape from reality, a sorry sequence of daydream and fantasy? Is it of any more relevance to the business of the real world than the stories (of nature and the Golden Age) from which the tradition derives? Several answers may be given.

First, utopianism has, from time to time, criticized with great power the serious deficiencies of the real world. This is not to say that whenever important changes or reforms have been made, a Utopian writing has played a prominent role. It is only to say that Utopian literature is a contribution to the conscience of society: it can create a diffuse dissatisfaction; it can stimulate the spirit that probes without mercy into existing weaknesses. The Utopian works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe performed these tasks especially well. Perhaps Marxism is the only Utopian, or quasi-utopian, body of thought that large numbers of men have actually tried to translate into practice. But Marxism is not the only version of utopianism that has worked to generate the feeling that the real world is profoundly imperfect and that some sort of change, even small, and not even in a Utopian direction, is a pressing necessity.

Second, the literature of utopianism, taken as a whole, enriches the sense of human possibility. There are many kinds of writing that also do the same thing: history, anthropological descriptions, and works of poetry and fiction from different cultures and times. All these make vivid the fact that any given society does not—cannot—exploit the full riches of human nature; each society, obviously, elicits and develops some qualities, while ignoring or suppressing others. Each society does not—cannot—contain all possible character types, all possible social roles, and all possible varieties of human experience. Utopianism does its share of reminding society that society is limited and that, although society may be, to some degree, pleased with itself, other forms and ways of life are imaginable. In short, utopianism helps to give perspective by giving contrast.

Third, many Utopian books are, in effect, comprehensive sociologies and improve our understanding of social relations in much the same way as large-scale studies of real societies. To see a mind in the act of creating a complex hypothetical society, made up of many institutions and the institutions, in turn, bound together and conditioning each other, is to be led back to the basic problems of social analysis. The rewards are great of having a whole society laid out before one, even though that society be imaginary. Our eyes are trained for looking at totalities. Naturally a good deal of exclusion and oversimplification characterize the Utopian sociologies. That is the price paid for abstraction, but a price not paid by Utopian writers alone and a price sometimes worth paying.

Modern utopianism. Apart from these three continuing uses of utopianism, there is a peculiarly modern one. For the past century or so, diverse thinkers—including H. G. Wells, Arnold Toynbee, Lewis Mumford, and B. F. Skinner—have concluded that utopianism is meant to be realized in the world. (At the same time, even though Marxism has traditionally derided Utopian fancy and purports to be scientific analysis only, the Marxists have done much to arouse Utopian expectation throughout the world.) Many men have said or implied that utopianism hardly begins its work when it contributes in a general way to the conscience of society, enriches the sense of human possibility, and improves the understanding of social relations. Although these things matter greatly, there is something that matters more; that is to convince the world that for the first time in human history a society embodying the principles of utopianism is genuinely conceivable. Advances in technology, in the techniques of abundance, in the techniques of social efficiency, and in the sciences of psychology and genetics make it reasonable to think that a harmonious life for all men on the globe can be had in the foreseeable future. The key to Utopia is the rational use of resources, skills, and knowledge, free from the constrictions of the system of nation-states. Failing that, the alternative is either chaos or the nightmare-state. More and more, with time, it will be seen that the choices will narrow to two: heaven or hell. Thus, some would wish to show that the only doctrine suited to modern reality is, paradoxically enough, utopianism. In a world in which nation-states compete for the usual stakes, but especially for security, the result must eventually be one kind of disaster or another. What is more, the alternative, in theory at least, is not a lesser evil, but a great good, the greatest of secular goods, the Good Society. To get the world to see itself in this way, then, is thought by some to be the highest mission of Utopian thinkers.

The antiutopian reaction. One of the most interesting tendencies in recent thought has been the growth of antiutopianism, which, like modern utopianism, is based on the conviction that men will soon have at their disposal the means to build Utopia. Antiutopian writers deplore the idea of a harmonious society characterized by perpetual peace, the satisfaction of human wants, and a nearly effortless virtue.

It would not be correct to say that antiutopianism is a doctrine; rather it is an aggregate of ideas, sentiments, feelings, and prejudices directed at various aspects of the idea of a Utopian society. The roots of antiutopianism are to be found in the writings of Dostoevski and Nietzsche. Dostoevski’s Notes from the Underground and passages in his novels The Possessed and The Idiot display a number of antiutopian sentiments: the life of risk, of uncertainty, of suffering, of inexplicable will, and of spirituality is championed at the expense of the Utopian life, which is seen as stultifying. Scattered throughout Nietzsche’s writings are ideas that mock Utopia (explicitly or implicitly) by praising heroism, excess, and grandeur of soul. More recent writers, like Evgenii Zamiatin in his novel We and Aldous Huxley in his novel Brave New World, have continued what Nietzsche and Dostoevski began. But where the target of Nietzsche and Dostoevski was utopianism, the target of Zamiatin, Huxley, and others might be called “pseudoutopianism,” that is, a debased utopianism in which its traditional aims are carried to an unacceptable extreme. Not that Zamiatin and Huxley would wish to say that Utopian values are inherently bad, but Utopian values like peace, material satisfaction, and ease in virtue lend themselves, as all values may, to perversion. Peace can become a rigid fixity; material satisfaction can lead to a bestial contentment; and ease in virtue can be achieved at the expense of the adult moral faculties. The effect of this critique of utopianism is cautionary; it is to help the apologists of utopianism remember that there is a difference between a low-level harmony and a high-level harmony, and that if the latter is unattainable—for whatever mixture of reasons—the real world, in all its confusion and sorrow, is better than the former.

George Kateb

[See also Literature, article on Political Fiction; Social Science fiction; and the biographies of Platoand Rousseau.]


Buber, Martin (1947) 1950 Paths in Utopia. New York: Macmillan. → First published in Hebrew.

Bury, John B. (1920) 1960 The Idea of Progress. Gloucester, Mass.: Smith.

Cohn, Norman (1957) 1961 The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and Reformation Europe and Its Bearing on Modern Totalitarian Movements. 2d ed. New York: Harper.

Gray, Alexander 1946 The Socialist Tradition: Moses to Lenin. London: Longmans.

Horsburgh, H. J. N. 1957 The Relevance of the Utopian. Ethics 67:127-138.

Kautsky, Karl (1895) 1947 Die Vorldufer des neueren Sozialismus. 2d ed., enl. Stuttgart (Germany): Dietz.

Lovejoy, Arthur O. et al. 1935 Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity. Johns Hopkins University Documentary History of Primitivism and Related Ideas, Vol. 1. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press; Oxford Univ. Press.

Mannheim, Karl (1929-1931) 1954 Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Harcourt; London: Routledge. → First published in German. A paperback edition was published in 1955 by Harcourt.

Mumford, Lewis 1956 The Transformations of Man. New York: Harper.

Negley, Glenn; and Patrick, J. Max (editors) 1952 The Quest for Utopia. New York: Schuman.

Polak, Frederik L. (1955) 1961 The Image of the Future: Enlightening the Past, Orientating the Present, Forecasting the Future. 2 vols. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana. → First published as De toekomst is verleden tijd. Volume 1: The Promised Land: Source of Living Culture. Volume 2: Iconoclasm of the Images of the Future: Demolition of Culture.

Popper, Karl R. (1945) 1963 The Open Society and Its Enemies. 2 vols., 4th ed., rev. Princeton Univ. Press. → Volume 1: The Spell of Plato. Volume 2: The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx and the Aftermath.


A community may be thought of as a small state, even a miniature world, in which some of the problems of implementing a way of life are reduced to manageable size. Many kinds of communities have served this purpose. Although seemingly successful unplanned cultures have often been taken as models (Arcadia by the Greeks, the South Sea islands by the eighteenth-century social philosophers), this article is concerned with communities which have been or might be explicitly designed.

Some of the rules of the Qumran Community were set forth in the Manual of Discipline found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which the community helped to preserve. The rules of Benedict and Augustine governed life in similar monastic communities. Semireligious and secular communities flourished in the nineteenth century in America (the Oneida Community is a particularly interesting example). Explicitly designed, or intentional, communities of the twentieth century range from the intensely religious Bruderhof to the essentially secular kibbutzim in Israel. The Soviet collectives and mikroraions and the Chinese communes, though parts of larger governmental structures, are other examples. Fictional communities—for example, those described in Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) and Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627)—have also captured men’s imaginations.

In its relation to government in the broadest sense, a community, speculative or attempted, serves something of the function of a pilot experiment in science or a pilot model or plant in technology. It is constructed on a small scale. Certain problems arising from sheer size—such as communication and transportation—can then be neglected, but the main advantage is that closer attention can be given to the lives of individual members. Such a community is also almost always geographically isolated. Utopias have often occupied islands, but walls isolate almost as well as water. (The members of a sect, no matter how well organized, are not usually regarded as a community if they are widely dispersed geographically.) There is also a certain isolation from tradition. The eighteenth-century European could expect to abandon much of his culture when he reached Tahiti; life in a monastery may begin with a ritual of rebirth. All this makes it easier to think about such a community as a viable or perishable entity—as an organism with a life of its own. Its success or failure, unlike the rise and fall of eras or nations, is likely to be quick and conspicuous. New ways of doing things are tested for their bearing on its success. Such a community, in short, is an experiment.

Men found, join, or dream of such communities for many reasons. Some are moved by intellectual interests: they want to prove a theory (for example, that men are naturally noble or that they are incomplete without “community” or “love”) or to hasten a prophesied stage in history. Others have more immediate personal reasons: they seek simple pleasures, the satisfaction of basic needs, political order, economic stability, help in self-discipline, and so on. Such goals are often formalized as “values.” The goal of the community is to maximize happiness, security, sanctity, or personal fulfillment. The more general the goal, however, the more debatable it seems to be. In conceiving of a community as a pilot experiment, the designer may turn directly to two practical questions: What behavior on the part of the members of a community is most likely to contribute to its success? How may that behavior be generated and maintained?

Some answers to the first question are quite obvious. It is important to a community that its members defend it against its enemies, produce the food, shelter, clothing, and other things it needs, and maintain internal order. It is also obviously important that its members teach each other, and, particularly, new members, how to behave in necessary ways. Other kinds of behavior—for example, in the uses of leisure-—often figure prominently among expressed goals, but their relevance to the success of a community is not always clear. These behaviors are things members “want to do,” and various reasons may be given for doing them, but the designer may proceed most effectively by confining himself to behaviors that are demonstrably related to success or survival.

The second question has usually been answered by appeal to historical analogy. Men have lived peacefully, productively, stably, and happily under many observed systems or structures of government, economics, society, family life, and so on. There is a strong presumption that a given system generates the behavior observed under it, as political science, economics, sociology, and other social disciplines usually contend. We might conclude, therefore, that the designer has only to choose among systems or structures. Should the government of a community be authoritarian or democratic? Should the society be open or closed? Should the social structure be classless or stratified? Should the economy be planned or laissez-faire? Should the family be strong or weak? Questions at this level of analysis offer little practical help in designing a community. Terms like “authoritarian” and “laissez-faire” seldom refer to properties which a designer can build into a social environment, and terms like “peaceful” and “stable” do not sharply characterize behavior which can be shown to contribute to the success of such an environment.

There is a more useful level of analysis. Every developed language contains terms which describe in great detail the social environment and the behavior it generates. Rules of thumb useful in modifying behavior are expressed in such terms. Thus, everyone knows how to attract a man’s attention, to arouse him emotionally, to reward and punish him, and so on. Communities are usually designed with an eye to this level of human behavior. The designer is concerned not with a hypothetical type of economic system but with actual working conditions, not with a hypothetical type of government but with ethical practices and instructions in self-discipline, not with a formal conception of social or family structure but with specific interactions among the members of a group.

The relations between behavior and environment at this level have only recently been formulated in a systematic way. It is significant that statements expressing an understanding of human nature or a skill in handling people—for example, in the essays of such men as Bacon or Montaigne or in sporadic comments by political scientists, economists, and others—have remained aphoristic. They have never been brought together in a coherent, consistent account. Psychology is the scientific discipline relevant here, but it has only recently been able to supply an effective alternative to folklore and personal experience. A special branch of psychology has now reached the point at which promising technological applications are becoming feasible. The principles derived from an experimental analysis of behavior offer the designer considerable help in setting up an environment under which behavior which will contribute to the success of the community may be generated.

At any level of analysis, certain conditions either lie beyond the control of the designer or, if used by him to advantage, limit the significance of his design as a general solution. He cannot actually institute a new culture all at once: the earlier social environments of the members of a community will play a role, if only in providing a contrast to a new way of life. Members may show personal idiosyncrasies or background differences. They may have

been explicitly selected—and will almost certainly be self-selected—with respect to some such trait as cooperativeness or intelligence. The site of the community—its climate, soil, and existing flora and fauna—will be favorable or unfavorable. The community will begin with a certain amount of starting capital, it will have natural resources, and it may continue to receive outside support in the form of charity or philanthropy. All these conditions limit the significance of a successful result, but there is still scope for extensive design. A few examples must suffice here.

Negative reinforcement. An important element in any culture is the use of force. The state is often defined primarily in terms of the power to punish. We say that punishment requires force because its imposition is resisted. In political theory the right and power to punish are discussed under some such concept as “sovereignty.” The behavioral processes are obvious and easily related to the role of punishment. The term applies, strictly speaking, only to the suppression of unwanted behavior, but the punishing events used for that purpose can be used to generate behavior—to induce people to behave in given ways by “punishing them for not behaving.” The technique is particularly useful in offsetting other aversive consequences, as in forcing men to fight or to fill production quotas. Effectively used, punishment in this broad sense can make men law-abiding, obedient, and dutiful.

[See Mental Disorders, Treatment of, article on Behavior Therapy.]

But there are inevitable side effects. One who is behaving well in order to escape punishment may simply escape in other ways, as exemplified by military desertion and religious apostasy. Extensive use of punishment will cost a community some of its members. It may also lead to counterattack— as in revolution or religious reformation—or to stubborn resistance to all forms of control. These are familiar, predictable reactions upon which an experimental analysis of behavior throws considerable light. A slow, erratic trend toward minimizing aversive control in the design of a community is actually an example of such a by-product. This trend is exemplified when powerful military or police action is replaced by ethical control imposed by those with whom the citizen is in immediate contact or when educational programs are designed to reduce the frequency with which aversive behavior occurs or to prepare the individual to adjust more effectively to any remaining forcible control. An example of a more extreme alternative is the cloister, an environment in which unwanted behavior is unlikely or impossible and in which wanted behavior is particularly likely to occur [seemonasticism].

Positive reinforcement. A very different example of the relevance of an analysis of behavior to the design of a community is the use of so-called rewards. A community may need as much power to reward as to punish, but it is not said to be using force because its operations are not resisted. Reward refers very loosely to the “positive rein-forcers” which have been extensively analyzed in laboratory research. It is a basic principle that behavior which is followed by certain kinds of consequences is more likely to occur again, but reinforcements may be contingent on behavior in many subtle and complex ways, and extensive technological knowledge is needed to use the principle effectively in all its ramifications. Although it is generally true that the greater the reinforcement the more it is productive of behavior, the amount of behavior generated is not related in any simple way to the amount of reinforcement. The net gain or utility of an action has little relation to the probability that the action will occur. Indeed, under certain contingencies of reinforcement—for example, in gambling—behavior may be maintained at a high level for long periods of time even though the net monetary gain is negative.

A community may resort to positive reinforcement to generate any behavior important to its success. For example, it may arrange for reinforcement through group approval of accepted behavior as an alternative to coercive legal or ethical control. It will also be interested, of course, in the classical problem of maintaining productive labor. (If there is any established discipline which is most closely concerned with positive reinforcement, it is economics.) The designer of effective working conditions in a small community is in a favorable position to use a technology of reinforcement. The immediate temporal contingencies are crucial. Many communities have given special attention to rewarding productive labor. Some have returned to conditions which prevail in the life of the craftsman—that is, they have used the natural reinforcing consequences of labor. It is not a very enlightened solution. Furthermore, the use of money as a reinforcement is admittedly not as simple as it may at first appear. The value of money must, of course, be taught—but so must the value of early stages of craftwork. The main difficulty is that wages are artificially contingent upon the behavior which produces them, and it has been difficult to construct contingencies which maintain productive labor without undesirable side effects. It was once thought that the deficiency must be offset by making wages more powerful as reinforcers—for example, by maintaining a hungry labor force. Another solution has been to increase the actual amount of reinforcement (by raising wages). The contingencies of reinforcement have remained poorly analyzed, however. Current systems of rewards are largely aversive, the threatened loss of a standard of living being more important than the receipt of wages. Effective reinforcement of productive labor is one of the more interesting areas in which the designer of an experimental community may apply recent scientific discoveries.[See Wages.]

When goods and services which may be used as reinforcers are allowed to become available for other reasons—when, for example, they are supplied by a bountiful nature or a bountiful government concerned with welfare or happiness—much of their reinforcing effect is lost. We make explicit use of this principle when, as an alternative to punishment, we deliberately destroy contingencies by supplying reinforcers gratis—for example, when we give men the things they would otherwise behave illegally to get. If the community does not need productive work, reinforcing contingencies can safely be neglected, but a long-standing conflict between welfare and incentive suggests that the issue has not been wholly resolved.

Leisure. Positive reinforcement occupies an especially important place in solving the problem of leisure. With modern technology it is conceivable that a man need not spend much time in making his contribution to peace and prosperity. What is he to do with the rest of his time? Perhaps it does not matter. If the community has solved the essential problems of daily life, it may leave each member free to do as he pleases. But he is free only to come under other forms of control. If there are no effective reinforcers, he may spend all his waking hours doing nothing. Or he may come under the sustained control of biological reinforcers, such as food, sex, aggressive damage to others, or drug-induced euphoric states. Weaker reinforcers will take control when they occur on powerful schedules: leisure is often spent in repetitive and compulsive activities, such as solitaire or other simple games. [See Leisure.]

These are all forms of behavior which flourish when behaviors having a more specific relevance to the success of a community are not needed. A community may be able to afford a certain number of them, but it stands to profit more from other uses of free time. Sports, games, and other forms of complex play; arts and crafts, music, and the dance; literature and the theater; and the contemplation, observation, and exploration of nature which constitute “science” in the broadest sense are important activities to the designer because they bear on the success of the community. Some of them make the community more attractive in the sense that they reinforce supporting behavior and discourage defection. For example, they reinforce the simple behavior of remaining in the community. Other activities develop extraordinary skills which make it possible for members to meet emergencies with maximum effectiveness. Those which advance science yield the physical and cultural technologies needed for the maintenance and improvement of the community as a way of life.

These relations to the success of a community are overlooked in saying that leisure is to be devoted to the pursuit of happiness, for this emphasizes the reinforcers rather than the behaviors reinforced. The concept of “happiness” (or, less frivolously, “fulfillment” or “enrichment") is often felt to be a necessary, if admittedly troublesome, value in explaining man’s search for a way of life. From the point of view of an experimental analysis of behavior, it appears to be merely an awkward way of representing the roles of positive and negative reinforcers. Its main fault is its neglect of the contingencies of reinforcement. Asked to describe a world in which he would like to live, a man will often refer directly to reinforcing conditions—freedom from aversive stimulation and an abundance of positive reinforcers—but he then finds himself unprepared for many paradoxes, such as the often encountered unhappiness of those “who have everything” or, in that other field of Utopian speculation, man’s failure to conceive of an interesting heaven.

In summary, then, a community is much more complex than a laboratory experiment in human behavior but much simpler than the large-scale enterprises analyzed in political science, economics, and other social disciplines. For this reason it is especially helpful in studying the effects of a social environment on human behavior and, in return, the relevance of that behavior to the maintenance and development of the environment. It is a favorable ground for social invention. A surprising number of practices first described in Utopian thinking have eventually been adopted on a broader scale. In writing the New Atlantis (1627), Francis Bacon could imagine that scientists might be organized to solve the problems of the community. Only after he had made such an organization plausible was the Royal Society founded—and quite clearly on Bacon’s model. More general principles are also encouraged. The success or failure of a community, for example, is easily seen to mean the success or failure of all its members, whether or not its social structure is egalitarian; but it is hard to reach a similar sense of community in thinking about a nation or the world as a whole.

It has been suggested that the well-governed Greek city-state, by permitting men to conceive of an orderly world of nature, led to the development of Greek science. Little in the world today could have that effect, for the order is now clearly on the side of science. But if the principles which are emerging from the laboratory study of human behavior can be shown to be relevant, then science may repay its debt by bringing order back into human affairs.

B. F. Skinner

[Directly related are the entries Learning, articles on INSTRUMENTAL LEARNING and REINFORCEMENT. Other relevant material may be found in Community; Groups; Leisure;Social Contract; Social Control;Social Movements; Social Science Fiction; Stimulation Drives; and in the biographies of Bacon; Rousseau.]


Bacon, Francis (1627) 1952 New Atlantis. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica. → A fragmentary description of a state profiting from a scientific society “instituted for the interpreting of nature and the production of great and marvelous works for the benefit of man.”

Bellamy, Edward (1888) 1951 Looking Backward, 2000-1887. New York: Modern Library. → An economic Utopia depicting Boston in the year 2000.

Cabet, Etienne (1842) 1848 Voyage en Icarie. 5th ed. Paris: Au Bureau du Populaire. → A post-Rousseauan Utopia that the author tried to realize by coming to America with a group of followers to set up a community in the Midwest.

Darin-Drabkin, Haim 1963 The Other Society. New York: Harcourt. → An analysis of the kibbutzim in Israel.

Goodman, Percival; and Goodman, Paul (1947) 1960 Communitas: Means of Livelihood and Ways of Life. Rev. ed. New York: Vintage. → Emphasizes architecture and town planning.

Huxley, Aldous (1932) 1958 Brave New World. New York: Harper. → A satirical portrait of the scientifically planned society and a sympathetic account of the fate of the individual. The first of the behavioral Utopias, it exploits the conditioned reflex.

Kateb, George 1963 Utopia and Its Enemies. New York: Free Press. → An analysis of antiutopian writing, mostly modern.

Krutch, Joseph Wood 1954 The Measure of Man: On Freedom, Human Values, Survival, and the Modern Temper. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill. → A critical discussion of freedom and human values in a planned society.

Manuel, Frank E. (editor) 1966 Utopias and Utopian Thought. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. → A symposium on current Utopian speculation.

More, Thomas (1516) 1966 The Complete Works of St. Thomas More. Volume 4: Utopia. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. → The archetypal pattern for all Utopias.

Negley, Glenn; and Patrick, J. Max (editors) 1952 The Quest for Utopia. New York: Schuman. → A critical analysis of fictional communities.

Nordhoff, Charles (1875) 1965 The Communistic Societies of the United States. New York: Schocken. → A firsthand account of communities such as the Harmonists, the Shakers, and the Oneida Perfectionists.

Noyes, Pierpont 1937 My Father’s House: An Oneida Boyhood. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.→ A nostalgic account of the author’s boyhood in the Oneida Community.

Orwell, George 1949 1984. New York: Harcourt. → A mordant picture of the Western world as a police

state controlled by propaganda, spying, and punishment. A paperback edition was published in 1963.

Skinner, B. F. 1948 Walden Two. New York: Macmil-lan. → A nonsatirical behavioral Utopia. A paperback edition was published in 1965.

Rousseau, Jean Jacques (1762)1961 The Social Contract. London: Dent. → First published in French. Utopian speculation concerning the sources of authority.

Spiro, Melford E. 1956 Kibbutz: Venture in Utopia. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. -> Report of a study of an Israeli kibbutz in 1951.

Wilson, William E. 1964 The Angel and the Serpent: The Story of New Harmony. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press. -> A history of the communities established in New Harmony, Indiana, first by George Rapp and then by Robert Owen.

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Utopianism refers simultaneously to social issues and to questions of the imagination. In fact, utopianism can be seen in action anytime the imagination is put to the use of remaking social life. The term describes a tendency to think of the world as a place to be made more perfect. The utopian impulse in history can be understood as posing the question of how else humans might organize themselves. It is generally agreed that the first utopian society in Western thought is to be found in Platos Republic (c. 400 BCE), a realm where philosopher-kings govern. The term utopia was coined by Sir Thomas More (14781535) in Utopia, first published in 1516. The writing of Mores Utopia corresponds to the period of discovery by Europeans of what was called the New World, with all that it ushered in to Europes political economies and social imagination.

Ambiguous from the outset, the term utopia could be read as a joining of the Greek prefix ou with the word topos (place), which would translate as no place. The first syllable could equally be understood as the Greek prefix eu, rendering utopia the good place. Later writers, notably William Morris (18341896) in England, who titled his utopian fiction News from Nowhere (1891), recognized that the improved society they envisioned is, in principle, impossible to find or perhaps even to construct. However, this problem has never stopped utopian thinkers from casting their visions in print and in fact. Utopian societies or communities, though usually shortlived, have been founded in countries across the globe, especially in times of revolutionary change. And utopian manifestos and programs have been written and promulgated in such times as well.

Whether cast as prelapsarian or millenarian, the tense of the utopian narrative is inevitably the future and the mood is subjunctive, as utopians speculate about what may come to be. Even Edward Bellamys (18501898) Looking Backward (1888), the most popular late nineteenth-century utopian novel, describes the imaginary future through a fictionalized past. Throughout the nineteenth century, utopian movements arose that looked forward to how lives might be improved by the Industrial Revolution. Other such movements looked backward with nostalgia for ways of life that had been lost due to the same irrevocable changes. Labor was no longer primarily agricultural but industrial, and cities were rapidly growing, making the lost pastoral a focus of cultural longing. By the mid-twentieth century, such impulses toward the good place had been brought up short by world events, leading to a period of dystopian thinking. Two key texts representing this perspective are Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley (18941963) and 1984 (1949) by George Orwell (19031950).

A strategic moment in the history of utopianism is the shift from early nineteenth-century thinkers such as Charles Fourier (17721837) in France and Robert Owen (17711858) in England, who proposed a form of utopian socialism, to the writings of Karl Marx (18181883) and Friedrich Engels (18201895), who differentiated their ideas as scientific socialism. This conceptual divide leads some to see utopianism as a way of thinking that is impossibly idealistic. Of course, utopianism was, in some sense, never intended to be of this world; hence the weakness of many utopian communities, whether those of the Levelers or Diggers of mid-seventeenth-century England or the Branch Davidians of the late twentieth-century United States. Just as visions of possible futures arose out of political thought, numerous vibrant utopian experiments often emerged from religious splinter groups, whose promise of a better life both in the here and now and in the hereafter drew multiple generations of adherents. Examples of such groups are as different as the eighteenth-century Shakers (with their doctrine of celibacy) and the Church of Latter-Day Saints or Mormons (whose beliefs included plural marriage). Millenarian beliefs are common in utopian thinking, linking utopianism both to revolutionary and reactionary forms.

Between the hopeful utopianism of the nineteenth century and its opposite, the dreadful dystopianism of the mid-twentieth century, it is crucial to note a new form of utopian thinking and writing that arose during the first wave of feminist political struggle for suffrage at the turn of the nineteenth century. Herland (1915), a utopian fiction by the American reformer Charlotte Perkins Gilman (18601935), is a key text of this period of numerous writings by women that imagine a better place. However, it was the reissue of Gilmans novel in 1979 that connected the first wave of feminist activism and imagination to the second wave of the later twentieth century. A noteworthy publication phenomenon of the 1970s and into the 1980s was the outpouring from mainstream and alternative presses of feminist utopian fictions. One of the best known is Marge Piercys Woman on the Edge of Time (1976).

The most important utopian thinker of the twentieth century is the German philosopher Ernst Bloch (18851977), whose magnum opus, The Principle of Hope (19541959), is a three-volume study of how hope heralds the new and the not-yet as it emerges in political and imaginary realms. Given the speculative nature of utopianism, it is not surprising that such thinking continues to evolve in the realm of political criticism and in genre writing, especially science fiction. An effort to keep up with utopianism and utopian criticism is maintained by the Society for Utopian Studies, which has been in existence since 1975. The society publishes a journal and a newsletter, sponsors an annual conference, and recognizes that utopianism emanates from disciplines as diverse as engineering, architecture, literature, and economics.

SEE ALSO Marxism


Bloch, Ernst. 1986. The Principle of Hope. 3 vols. Trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. [1915] 1979. Herland. New York: Pantheon.

Manuel, Frank E., and Fritzi P. Manuel. 1979. Utopian Thought in the Western World. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

More, Thomas. 1516. Utopia.

The Society for Utopian Studies.

Frances Bartkowski

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Utopianism (Gk. ‘no place’) Projection of ideal states or alternative worlds, ordered for the benefit of all and where there exist no social ills. Sir Thomas More's Utopia (1516) outlines his notion of an ideal commonwealth based entirely on reason. It critically describes contemporary social existence, while prescribing a transcendent, imaginative vision of the best of all possible worlds. Enlightenment philosophers, such as Jean Jacques Rousseau, portrayed a vision of a pre-feudal European ‘golden age’. Other writers, such as Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen, outlined ideal communities based on cooperation and economic self-sufficiency. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels valued the satirical social insights of utopianism but rejected its unscientific analysis of political and economic realities. By the late 19th century, the utopian novel was an established literary genre. Works such as Erewhon (1872) by Samuel Butler were popular and influential. The spread of totalitarianism in Europe during the 1930s encouraged dystopian novels, such as Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley and 1984 (1949) by George Orwell.

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