Monday, 28 February 2011

from ‘the penetratingly visionary to the psychically unhinged’

Hobsbawm on utopian socialists in How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism 1840-2011

and comments on Morris and more.

Read more!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Justice, fairness and the big society: merit v aptitude

BBC4 are broadcasting a special season of programmes and debates on this theme. They include a series of Harvard lectures by Michael Sandel. This week he looked at the work of the influential modern political philosopher John Rawls (1921-2002) to ask:

What's a fair start?

Much of it dealt with the question at the heart of the passage we read from Bellamy's Looking Backward: how should society reward labour and encourage it? Should we be rewarded for the quality of our work, for the effort/time we put into it or simply for trying our best? Utopian communities had clearly struggled with this. Bellamy's answer was to design a system which was NOT a meritocracy. Instead it was a society in which people could develop according to their diverse aptitudes but would be rewarded equally since all would try their best out of honour and love of nation (the ultimate brotherhood).

'Aptitudes' (and lifelong education) were also at the heart of the intended reforms of the state education system in Britain after WWII in the Butler Act of 1944. However only part of the intended system was ever put into practise. (see picture here:

Next Tuesday Sandel's lecture is on Aristotle and the Good Citizen Read more!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Marx, Bellamy and Utopia, by Samuel Haber

On the distinction (or otherwise) between socialisms and utopianisms

Samuel Haber, The Nightmare and the Dream: Edward Bellamy and the Travails of Socialist Thought

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He concludes: "Socialism may even come to America but - to paraphrase an American politician and wit - if it comes to America it will most likely be called anti-socialism." (p. 440) Read more!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Sunday, 20 February 2011

American Fourierism

American Fourierism

Before discussing the transmission of Fourierism to America and the relative success it had there, it is necessary to examine the reasons behind the system’s failure in Britain. Primarily, I would argue that the popularity of Owenism as the chief socialist theory at this time meant that any ideology that was set up in opposition to it, as Fourierism was, would attract very little attention. Furthermore, the secular element of Fourierism would have been rejected in a society where the need for moral and social reform was discussed “in the same breath as the need for religious reform”;[i];. Additionally, Jenkins is particularly useful in exploring this question. He provides us with the example of the Irish reformer, Hugh Doherty, as the main exponent of British Fourierism. Doherty sought to use “emigration along Fourierist principles… to alter working conditions and social organisation”;[ii];. This was rooted in the idea that colonial territories presented the perfect opportunity to alleviate the problems of overcrowding and other social ills. The existence of other, less drastic, means of social reform meant that Doherty’s version of Fourierism failed. Related to this is the fact that Britain and Europe were too deep-rooted in principles that were contradictory to Fourierist thinking for its proposals to be practical. America on the other hand was relatively young and had not yet pledged itself to industrial capitalism, making it a better candidate for sweeping social change. As the Associationists would later proclaim, “[we must] take advantage of our favourable position, and effect peacefully a social reform before we sink in to the poverty and ignorance in which Europe is plunged”[iii];
The initial Americanisation of Fourier’s ideas can be attributed to Albert Brisbane, who in 1840 presented the philosopher’s ideology to the general American public. What he and other social reformers were principally concerned with was Fourier’s plans for social reorganization, exemplified by his blueprints for Phalanxes, as well as to make as much of the theory congruent with contemporary American ideology as possible. Some parts of Fourier’s writing already did this, the capitalist element of the system rang true with America’s laissez-faire economic policy and his desire for an agricultural setting appealed to those who believed that the Industrial Revolution would lead America down a dark path of oppression that Europe had already stumbled down. However, the “universal, secular and socialist” nature of Fourier’s philosophy presented “serious difficulties” for the widespread propagation of the theory;[iv];. Moreover, the pseudo-prophetic pronouncements to be found in Fourier’s writings, especially on the future of sexual relations, the role of government and the marginalisation of economy and commerce scared much of the American public, let alone its leaders.
The theory obviously required a certain degree of editing before it was introduced, otherwise the experiment would fail to gather momentum as it did in Britain. In doing this Brisbane had much assistance from his French predecessors, whose imprint on Brisbane’s final re-formulation of the doctrine, “Association”, can be evidenced by the prevalence of French quotations;[v];. In this publication the sexual radicalism of Fourier’s original text was heavily toned down to accommodate the sexual conservatism of the American public and as a response to criticism from “press and pulpit”;[vi];. Similarly, ‘Association’ manipulated Fourier’s text to compliment the main principles of contemporary Protestantism; these being what Gabriel identifies as the divinity of human nature, personal responsibility for sin, millennialism and a belief in a divine moral order corroborated by science;[vii]. By creating the blueprint for a utopia based on the traits of human character, the Associationists believed Fourier to be implicitly embracing the first of these Protestant principles. Equally, they used his suggestion that the divine social code for human organisation was imprinted on nature, and only needed to be interpreted, as a means of aligning the theory with millennial beliefs, “Christ’s second coming would be in the form of a completely redeemed society”;[viii];. So far, it appears that Fourierism was translated to America quite successfully, albeit only after selective editing and manipulation of the theory. Compounding this is the fact that even after the unadulterated version of the original text was released to the general public there was no significant breakaway from the movement. This could suggest that the work of Brisbane and his colleagues in editing Fourier’s writings need not to have been so extensive- that it would have translated to an American setting unaided. This is obviously only speculation.
However, there were some elements of Fourierism that were irreconcilable with American values. For instance, his advocacy of Determinist thinking, which posited that it is our environment and upbringing that determine our actions, removed any notion of moral culpability for our actions. This was clearly incongruent with Christian ideas about sin. Equally, Fourier’s distaste for nationalism (an opinion bequeathed him by his experiences in the French Revolution) did not correlate with American isolationism and “uniqueness”. Indeed, Fourier stressed universalism and international co-operation; this would have put American pride in a difficult position and make the theory unpopular with some. However, despite these irreconcilable aspects, the sheer volume of Fourierist communities that emerged in America during the 1840s, the most notable being Brook Farms, suggests that this Utopian scheme was largely successfully translated to an American audience- despite the ultimate failure of the practical experiments. Furthermore, Oneida, a religious community that was heavily influenced by their “noble ancestor” Fourier;[ix];, enjoyed a lifespan of nearly forty years. This shows that Fourierism had a significant effect on popular discussions of social reform, indicating that the scheme was effectively translated to America as a starting point for widening the discourse on such a matter.
The example of American Fourierism and Utopian schemes in general can be used to suggest that they can never be practically applicable. On the fundamental level this is evidenced by the fact that in both Britain and America it was necessary to reformulate the scheme to make it appealing to the public, something that wouldn’t be necessary if it was realistically possible. Also, each Utopian scheme that was implemented in America whether it was Fourierism, Owenism or Oneida failed for similar reasons. The most important of these was the emergence of ideological differences between the members themselves and their figureheads, something that inevitably created divisions and subsequently caused individual communities to be crushed under their own weight. Furthermore, considering that each community which was established had something that made it distinct from the others suggests it was not such variations that lead to failure but something more fundamentally flawed in either the Utopian ideal as a whole or human nature. Finally, because a significant number of these communities failed due to insolvency it seems reasonable to suggest that Fourier’s system of joint-stock partnerships was hopelessly idealistic and could not ever hope to entertain long-term sustainability.
However, this does not necessarily condemn them to complete failure as through tracing the interconnectedness of these systems over the forty years that they were popular it is possible to “examine conceptions of social progress and spatial organisation”;[x]; and even chart the influence they had on later social reform. Thus, the legacy of Fourierism is the discourses it inspired in social progress and reform that have ultimately helped to lead us to our current ideological position. It also provides us with a list of social reform techniques that work and those that don’t.

[i]; Jenkins, Lloyd, “Fourierism, Colonization and Discourses of Associative Emigration”, Area, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp 84-91, p 86
[ii];Ibid, p 90
[iii]; Brisbane, Association, quoted in Guarneri, Carl, J, “Importing Fourierism to America”, Journal of the History of ideas, Vol. 43, No. 4, 1982, pp 581-594, p 591
[iv]; Guarneri, Carl, J, “Importing Fourierism to America”, p 581
[v]; Ibid, p 582
[vi]; Guarneri, Carl, J, “Reconstructing the Antebellum Communitarian Movement: Oneida and Fourierism”, Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 16, no. 3 (1996), pp 463-4788, p 475
[vii]; Gabriel, Ralph, H, cited in Guarneri, Carl, J, “Importing Fourierism to America”, p 585
[viii]&Guarneri, Carl, J, “Importing Fourierism to America”, p 586
ix Guarneri, Carl, J, “Reconstructing the Antebellum Communitarian Movement: Oneida and Fourierism”, p 484
x; Jenkins, Lloyd, “Fourierism, Colonization and Discourses of Associative Emigration”, p 84
Read more!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Marx and Engels: The Communist Manifesto

I got so wrapped up in Owen and Fourier - that I forgot we were supposed to be at least glancing at The Communist Manifesto as a Utopia today.

Care to discuss that here? Read more!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

For Lucas: Utopias Module Booklet

For readers of the blog who are not taking the module. Here is a copy of my reading lists:

Utopias Module Booklet: Reading lists and assignments.

They are highly selective and not intended to be comprehensive. I would welcome further suggestions, corrections etc.

Please cite me (Sarah Rees Jones, University of York) if you use them. At the same time I would like to acknowledge the help I have received from Edward James (on science fiction and American utopias) and from Tom Glaisyer (on digital utopias).

My own interest is in later medieval civic culture as a context out of which utopia grows. I published an article called ‘Thomas More’s utopia and medieval London’ in Pragmatic Utopias (Cambridge University Press, 2001) edited by myself and Rosemary Horrox. This has just been reprinted in paperback and is also available, I think, as an e-book. Other papers for this project are in draft form only.

I have just applied for sabbatical leave to turn this article/idea into a book, provisionally entitled ‘Utopia, a gift from the Middle Ages to the future’. *If* I get the sabbatical leave I will be delighted with a capital D! :D

Finally I want to acknowledge the students. York's students are great! This year's lot are hiding from the blog a little. But they are still a great source of inspiration. Read more!

"Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains."

As we move across the 'enlightenment' to the origins of socialism and its relationship to utopianism, it is a good idea to think again about how ideas of 'nature' and humanity's relationship to it were changing.

BBC Radio 4's 'In Our Time' has a discussion of

Rousseau, The Social Contract

Various authors (Claeys, Manuels, Kumar) discuss Rousseau's relationship to the utopian tradition. So even though this is not one of our set texts if would make useful listening for anybody interested in free will/law or the individual and society. You can listen again on the BBC website or download as a podcast.

The academics on the programme are drawn from History, Philosophy and Literature departments - so the discussion in itself addresses some of our dilemmas about 'what is History'.

Or you can look him up on the Stanford Philosophy site.

An exhibition on other contemporary treatment of the theme of the 'noble savage' can be found on Cook, Omai and Arcadia here. Close to York you can also visit the house where Cook was apprenticed in Whitby which has an excellent exhibition on his voyages in the Pacific and reactions to the native peoples he found there.
Picture: Portrait of Omai by Joshua Reynolds, 1776 (Tate Britain).

Even in the 16th century Montaigne was beginning to reassess the relationship between the Old and New world and consider some of the new lessons that 'old' peoples could learn from 'new' (see readings for week 5 on 'dreaming').

This post is an updated version of an original post in 2008.
Read more!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Utopias: what are they?

The blue circles represent the key (and always present?) elements of utopian imagination – each one differently emphasized by different authors.

At the centre: Humanity and Nature (Human Nature?)

and then (in a reflexive relationship with the centre and with each other):
  • Sex/ Reproduction
  • Work, Wealth, Property
  • Education, Conversation/Communication, Law
  • Philosophy, Science

The red circles represent areas of criticism drawn from historical experience (also differently emphasised by different authors.

• knowledge

• government

• economy

• religion

And is the object the self? Or the self in society? Or society?

This is just my version - what is yours? Read more!

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Strange Death of a Utopian

I forgot to tell the story of Francis Bacon's strange death - as a result of experimenting with the refrigeration of a chicken (according to Aubrey's Brief Lives - if this is to be believed).

For this, at least, let Wikipedia be our guide Read more!

Friday, 11 February 2011

NEW schedule from now to the end of term.

6/1 Renaissance neo-Platonism and the invention of a genre: Campanella, Bacon, Swift

6/2 Utopia in the Old World: socialists and utopians.

7/1 Utopia and America.

7/2 Utopia and the making of modernity: Bellamy and Butler. Thursday 24 Feb 14.15

8/1 – reading week – essays due in this week.

Part Three: Utopias and their critics in Contemporary History
8/2 Modernism and the construction of Utopia (?New Earswick)

9/1 Anti-utopianism and the ‘end of history’.

9/2 Revision Class

10/1 Digital Utopias and Utopia Reborn? Read more!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

a light hearted satire on today's soiety

This article attempts to poke fun at our society and the perils that lay in front of it if we continue along our current path.

It's very short and made me laugh, it also has the word utopia in the title which is why i felt it relevant. Read more!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Lucy Sargisson, 21st-century Utopianism

Lucy Sargisson just introduced herself as a reader of this blog. She is currently writing a book about contemporary utopianism and has encouraged us to read her publications (which can be made available electronically). Her website is here:

Lucy Sargisson, University of Nottingham

Lucy's expertise at the opposite end of the historical spectrum from mine - which is great - very useful for us!

For example, see here:

Utopian Bodies and the Politics of Transgression Read more!

Plato again

So I thought James' presentation on similarities and differences between Plato and More and Morris was excellent, really excellent - and I will leave him to decide whether to post it here or not.

My comment was really to try and show how Plato's ideas were connected to each other and sustained a single narrative - they were not just comments on random topics - and to ask if M&M made similar connections and sustained narratives - or not - or different ones.

Plato starts with men and women but is using that 'natural' binary not only to explore the nature of nature but also to introduce the importance of dialectic (building a philosophical binary on an allegedly natural one). Though perhaps, he suggests, the only natural difference is in the act of reproduction. Interesting, isn't it, how many philsophies and religions we encounter start with the binary of sex? (Giles Constable, a medievalist, wrote the prevalence about binaries and trilogies in his survey of medieval ideas about social order.)

Having started off with male/female binaries as a way of exploring dialectic - Plato/Socrates then builds systematically on this by addressing education, reproduction, law and so on - all the social elements which will sustain this naturally based dialectical philosophy into a proper foundations for the ultimately best form of philosophy (his discussion of knowledge and opinion) ending up with his famous metaphor of the cave and enlightenment.

Now I am no Plato expert - this is just my reading of the patterns the text creates - but are there similar or different patterns in M&M?  We also talked about a lot of other things (historical coincidence for example in the situation of different authors - see Baumann).

This week - in the difficult reading by Jameson and Marin - we will find other ideas about how imagination (dreaming) works in utopias and can be productive - in more complicated and also less structured relationships between things than just binaries (or dialectic). Read more!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

UTOPIAS, 2010 examination paper

Here are some more possible questions for practice essays. This year's paper has to have 10 questions, but you still attempt two over two days.  Enjoy!

1. Is Thomas More’s Utopia a work of utopian fiction?

2. “More's island is a cooperative subsistence economy; Bacon's a specialised industrial economy.” (Raymond Williams, 1978) To what extent do all utopias swing between these two extremes?

3. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and the sea was no more ... I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold the dwelling of God is with men ... He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall mourning nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away... And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." (New Testament, Revelation 21: 1-5). Assess the contribution to the utopian tradition of Judeo/Christian beliefs in the power of revelation.

4. Do you agree that all proper utopias are architopias

5. Compare and contrast More and Morris’s treatment of education and the family in Utopia and News from Nowhere.

6. Have critics exaggerated the influence of Plato on later utopian writing?

7. Compare and contrast More and Morris’s engagement with contemporary forms of government in Utopia and News from Nowhere.

8. To what extent is it true either that More was seeking to escape from, or that Morris was seeking to escape to, the Middle Ages?

9. To what extent are utopias a product of European expectation, discovery and exploitation of the non-European world?

10. Is human nature perfected by society, or corrupted by it? Discuss in relation to at least two utopias.

11. Are all utopias also science fictions?

12. Can utopia be realised? Read more!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Swift and his influence on Wells, Orwell and Huxley

On BBC4 this week's episode of The Birth of the British Novel has a short section on Swift and Gulliver's Travels.

Read more!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Perfect Creature

There was a film on BBC last night (link below), called Perfect Creature.
I havent watched it, but the description is as follows:

"Horror set in a world which genetic experiments have created an advanced species of human. All is well, until one is born who threatens the peace."

Im not sure if it links to anything, as I havent seen it yet, but from the description it sounds like it could link to/draw comparisons with sci-fi dystopian writing, (for example, Daniel Keyes - 'Flowers of Algernon', Olaf Stapledon - First and Last Men. ectect).

It Could also link to issues in the film 'The Island and in 'Never Let Me Go' by Isiguro? (i'm trying not to give away the stories in these here if you havn't seen/read them!!).

Just a thought for later in your term? Read more!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Alternative Field Trip?

After our brief discussion of 'Burning Man' today I decided to look into it a bit further and try to determine whether it is a genuine attempt to create a utopian community or just an excuse to... well, you know. Contrary to the common trend of festival-goers, I got the impression that these people were sincerely trying to achieve some sort of social progress or spirituality- as opposed to the excessive intoxication that is now dogma at all other festivals. Their mission statement reads like a Utopian check-list:

"Our intention is to generate a society that connects each individual to his or her creative powers, to participation in community, to the larger realm of civic life, and to the even greater world of nature that exists beyond society"

The parallels with More and Morris are undeniable; the importance of feeling an affinity with ones work coupled with an understanding of the importance that role has to play in a larger community. Moreover, their belief in an almost symbiotic relationship between humanity and nature is comparable to Morris' attitude towards the natural world. This is further expressed through some of the art that is created at the festival. Another interesting point is that there is no commercial system at Burning Man, everything is done in a system of patronage or even gifting- an expression of More and Morris' dissolution of private property. So, if you feel you can handle a month in the Nevada desert then I imagine this would be an extremely informative, enjoyable and exciting experience!

Here are some interesting links if anyone wants to explore for themselves:

Read more!