Celebration, a utopian settlement in Florida, USA

Utopias - an A to Z primer

The definition of 'utopia' has been vexed since its very first use.'Here is our guide to the many attempts to create a perfection in an imperfect world.


A Disneyland attraction where'visitors of all ages drive'specially designed cars around an enclosed track. It was first set up before President Eisenhower signed development plans for the US interstate highway system back in 1955, and represented the future of American'motorways. Over the years, Autopia has been updated to match the latest versions of America's neverending''automobile utopia'. Originally'a taster for freedom to drive, these'days it includes a wider driving 'experience', where visitors watch animations of a futuristic three-dimensional city inhabited by talking cars discussing life's challenges.

Bellamy, Edward (1850-1898)

American author, best known'for'his writing about socialism. Despite never using this term in his works, the prevailing tone of his novels was one of resentment about industrial society. The most successful of his books was'a political, yet romantic, utopian novel called 'Looking Backward' - the story of a man who falls asleep under hypnosis, only to wake up in the year 2000. The book describes a utopian community with endless possibilities where people'cooperate'rather than compete. This work proved groundbreaking and launched a new political movement, with a number of''Bellamy Clubs' set up around the country'to spread his ideas. It was also read by British doctor and Labour MP Alfred Salter, who went on to attempt, albeit unsuccessfully, to recreate Bellamy's utopia in Bermondsey, London.


A utopian settlement in Florida, USA. Conceived and designed by Walt Disney and made real in 1996. Disney's idea was to create a town where people would live, work and walk or cycle everywhere without having to resort to transport. The jury is still decidedly out on whether the reality matches up to the ideal; some commentators regard it as a carefully camouflaged flop, although in 2007 Celebration was voted 'America's Dream Town of the Year'.

Defoe, Daniel (1659-1731)

Daniel Defoe's novel 'Robinson Crusoe', published in 1719, is a true literary milestone. One of the first novels written in English, it follows Robinson Crusoe as he constructs his own utopia after arriving alone on a deserted island. Crusoe's attitude pre-empts the Western capitalist economy. He is hard-working, independent and committed to business. Unlike previous works where utopian visions of modernity were static, the plot of 'Robinson Crusoe' was dynamic and change was ongoing. The book went on to inspire an entire genre of novels, known as 'Robinsonade'.

Etzler, John Adolfus (1791-1846)

American technological utopianist, who in 1836 published a book on 'solar paradise', with the somewhat protracted title 'The Paradise Within The Reach Of All Men, Without Labour, By Powers Of Nature And Machinery'. It contained plans for a technological utopian community where solar, wind, tidal and wave energy would be harnessed. His prophetic vision included prefab flat-roofed apartment blocks with boxes that "move up and down" as well as piped hot and cold water, as well as gas. Among Etzler's other utopian (none of them worked in reality) inventions were an automated wave-powered boat, a plough-bulldozer and a machine for crystallising sugar without heat that he believed would put an end to slavery.


A 5,000-square-mile tract of land'in the Brazilian Amazon'jungle, where American'motoring tycoon Henry'Ford wanted to build'a rubber plantation for the needs of his'car-building factories in 1927. He created'a teetotal puritanical settlement, with rows of neat houses and straight roads. Ford's early success soon collapsed. Overcome by disease, greed and corruption, by 1945 Fordlandia was abandoned and left in ruins. >

Godwin, Francis (1562-1633)

English historian and science-fiction writer. His book 'The Man in the Moone' is described as his "voyage of utopian discovery". Published posthumously in 1638, this Earth-Moon analogy follows the narrator's visits to numerous societies. At one point, in a bid to escape an attack off the shore of Tenerife, he uses his flying machine to get to the Moon. He encounters the Lunars, who inhabit what appears to be a utopian paradise. Godwin was heavily influenced by the work of Galileo, and took the astronomer's work a step further to conclude that there is life on the Moon.

Huxley, Aldous (1894-1963)

English novelist, essayist and critic, author of 'Brave New World' (1931) - a famous dystopia - in which he satirises the idea of progress put forward by scientists, and describes a scientifically engineered technocratic hell some 600 years hence, awash with recreational drugs, test-tube babies, 'feelie' cinemas and "Neo-Pavlovian conditioning" of humans. At this remove, 600 years seems an underestimate; 60 years closer. Towards the end of his life, Huxley wrote a utopian - and much less powerful - novel, 'Island', in which the horrors of 'Brave New World' melt into the vision of a utopian state governed by reason and love.

Iver Diggers Colony

A group of English Protestant agricultural communalists in Iver, UK, who attempted to farm common land. Originally a movement started in 1649 by Gerrard Winstanley in Surrey, they called themselves 'True levellers'. Diggers believed in economic equality and worked to reform social order through their rural lifestyle. Winstanley aimed to build utopia on St George's Hill and later moved around the country after unsuccessful attempts to do so. Time after time defiant diggers had their homes torn down and were even taken to court by locals for trespassing.

Jordans Garden Village

A Utopian rural settlement in the Chilterns area of the UK, taking its name from a farmstead where Quaker farmers lived in the 17th century. Founded by Jordans Village Ltd Friendly Society in 1916 and designed by Fred Rowntree, the village initially relied on its own industries to produce the building materials - from bricks to door hinges. Started as a utopian rural community, where artisans could pursue their trades and skills to the full and under the best possible conditions, it is now a residential settlement, centred around a grassed village square, with some retirement cottages at the edge. It is also a conservation area retaining the original character of the garden village.

Kurzweil, Raymond (1948-)

Renowned American author, inventor and futurist, and a true'advocate for technology. He often speaks of its incomprehensible potential and that progress in this field would mean advances would soon surpass capabilities of the human brain. His favourite concept is 'singularity' - a theoretical point in time when artificial intelligence overtakes human intelligence, as reflected in a number of his books, most notably 'The Singularity is Near'. Here, he forecasts 2045 as the year in which singularity will be achieved. Despite public advocacy for technology, Kurzweil makes it clear that these infinite possibilities are distinct from utopia. In an interview he said: "I'm not a utopian and it's not a utopian vision. In fact, I've talked a lot about the intertwined promise and peril of technologies. It empowers our creative side; it also empowers our destructive side."

Letchworth Garden City

Town in Hertfordshire, UK, population 32,000, and the world's first garden city. Started in 1903, it was based on the ideas expressed in Ebenezer Howard's book 'Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform', with the main aim of resettling workers from the slums of late-Victorian London by offering them cheap cottages and ideal living conditions. Designed by architects Parker and Unwin, Letchworth became the flagship of the international garden city movement and an inspiration for hundreds of garden cities, towns and villages all over the world. Read more in the 'After All' column on p106.

Morris, William (1834-1896)

Renowned British artist and poet who developed a political strand to his work during the mid-1870s, as England was on the verge of war with Russia. Disillusioned by capitalism and inspired by Marxism, he developed a socialist vision and wrote numerous articles. 'News from Nowhere' was a response to Bellamy's 'Looking Backward', which epitomised the State-Socialism that Morris rejected. The narrator, William Guest, wakes up in a future utopian society, based on common ownership and democratic control, where life is pastoral, organic and full of joy.

New Earswick

Model village for workers at the Rowntree chocolate factory in Yorkshire, where architects Parker and Unwin developed their garden city design ideas in 1902. The village was built entirely from the local materials. In the opinion of Gillian Daley, author of 'Villages of Vision', these materials, combined with imaginative planning and attention for detail, made New Earswick the most successful of all model and industrial villages.

Owen, Robert (1771-1858)

"The most important experiment for the happiness of the human race that has yet been instituted in any part of the world." This is how Robert Owen described the work that would transform the obscure Scottish town of New Lanark into a modern-day Utopian community. Owen converted an ordinary cotton-mill factory into an internationally acclaimed model town during the industrial revolution. In the community, a caring and humane attitude and use of new technologies underpinned progress and prosperity. Owen's first move was to prohibit children from working in the factories, and to initiate reduced working hours. At the heart of Owen's vision for universal harmony was education. New Lanark was the first to open an Infant School and a cr'che for working mothers, as well as community education centres for its workers. Owen's legacy remains apparent in the town, now awarded World Heritage Status.


Originally conceived by French philosopher Charles Fourier, 19th'century phalanst're buildings were designed to house self-contained utopian communities. Fourier'presented a building structure which aimed to integrate the classes, and groups were segregated by floor; the higher the floor, the richer the resident. The idea was that they could cooperate in order to progress. Non-resident outsiders were made to pay a fee to visit phalanst're inhabitants and this income would sustain the independent economy of each community. Fourier never set up any phalansteres himself. In the 20th century, this concept inspired architect Le Corbusier, who went on to design and create a number of self-contained communes around Europe known as 'Unit' d'Habitation'. The most famous of them - Cit' Radieuse - was in Marseille.


Members of the Society of Friends, a Christian sect founded by George Fox about 1650. According to Chris Coates, author of 'Utopia Britannica', the Quakers made the biggest impact on technological advance in the early industrial period in Britain. They provided finance for the development of Stephenson's Rocket and the Stockton-on-Tees Railway, pioneered new mining techniques and supported advances in iron smelting. If not always the actual inventors, Quakers were often a quiet driving force behind major technological and social breakthroughs. Most significantly, they pushed forward the mechanisation of the weaving industry by financing Robert Owen's utopian settlement in New Lanark, with decent housing and social welfare for the workforce. Quakers had a profound influence on Ebenezer Howard, founder of the world's first Garden City, and were behind such utopian initiatives as the so-called 'steam co-operatives' (cottages located around a 'central steam engine' and surrounded by allotment gardens) and 'Q-Camps', where residents and guests were involved in gardening, farm work and various handicraft. Famous Quakers include the Cadbury family, who set up one of the world's largest confectionary companies. Brothers Richard and George Cadbury were also renowned for their unique approach to treating their workforce. They established Bournville, a utopian village that housed workers from the Cadbury's factory in Birmingham. Their employees enjoyed beautiful houses with gardens; leisure and education facilities; and pensions. Modelez International, a Kraft company, bought Cadbury in 2010, and sparked negative headlines when it discontinued the Quaker-instigated utopian Christmas tradition of sending a box of chocolates and biscuits to Cadbury's pensioners.

Rand, Ayn (1905-1982)

Novelist, philosopher and playwright who defected from Soviet Russia to the USA in 1926. Her two most famous works are novels 'The Fountainhead' and 'Atlas Shrugged'. Written in an age of creeping global socialism, 'Atlas Shrugged' is Ayn Rand's vision of what may happen to a developed technology-ridden society if the wealthiest citizens stop working, refuse to pay taxes and simply disappear. The iconic novel shows in detail the resulting collapse of efficient production and the rise of corruption as businessmen and politicians begin to live off the labour of others. It poses the question of whether this is dystopia or utopia... For Ayn Rand, the mind is the most important tool for humanity, and reason is its greatest virtue.

The Shakers

American millenarian sect, founded in 1747 as an offshoot of the Quakers. Innovators and inventors par excellence, the Shakers had a utopian view of technology, regarding it as the main provider of social and moral benefits which it did by "relieving human toil or facilitation of labour" and thus creating opportunities for "moral mechanical, scientific and intellectual improvement". The Shakers are credited with a long list of inventions: a screw propeller, Babbitt metal, a rotary barrow, the circular saw, a silk-reeling machine, a cheese press, a revolving oven, the first metal pens and many more, none of which they patented, believing that patents "smacked of monopoly".

Tatlin, Vladimir (1885 -1953)

Russian constructivist, the best-known member of the constructivist art community. Tatlin believed'art should be pleasing to the eye as well as a functional, with artworks made from organic materials that could serve people in society. One of Tatlin's models, the Monument to the Third International, was made of the usual constructivist materials of wood and wire, and was the perfect example of Russian Constructivism. It was designed to serve the important purpose of housing Russian government and administration offices, but was never viable from an engineering and financial points of view.


Any real or imaginary society, place, state, settlement or technology considered to be perfect or ideal, yet not necessarily achievable. The term was coined by Sir Thomas More in 1516 as the title of his book that described an imaginary island in the New World representing the perfect society. Talking in her book 'Journey Through Utopia' (1950) about the difficulty of one all-embracing definition of 'utopia', Marie-Louise Berneri remarks that whereas in the 'Encyclopedia Britannica' the word is defined as "an ideal commonwealth whose inhabitants exist under perfect conditions", 'Dictionnaire General de la Langue Francaise' describes it as "an imaginary conception of an ideal government". A somewhat self-contradictory meaning of 'utopia' was jokingly highlighted by Oscar Wilde who wrote: "A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at'"

The Vrilya

Advanced human species, who live beneath the surface of the earth, as described in 'The Coming Race' - a utopian and highly prophetic novel by Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-73) published in 1871. The hero, a young American, falls down the shaft of a mine and finds himself in an underground world, inhabited by the Vrilya - the creatures powered by a utopian energy called 'Vril', the word from which the trademark 'Bovril' - a concentrated beef extract - later originated. 'Vril' combines the properties of electricity, death rays, antibiotics, ballistic missiles and much more. It powers the automata that do all mechanical tasks, fuels the Vrilya's large 'air-boats' and their inflatable wings, attached to a metal harness, which allow them to fly.'

Wells, Herbert George (1866-1946)

HG Wells was an English writer, best known for his science fiction novels, and collection of utopian books. The first of these works, 'Modern Utopia', set the precedent for many modern scientific ideas. The story is set on an Earth-like planet, whose inhabitants have created the perfect society. The narrators visit this parallel land and discuss its virtues and flaws. Utopia is a world where people live healthy, happy lives, with all their needs met. Many of Wells's books have gone on to inspire new genres within science fiction, including invisibility, time travel and extra-terrestrial invasions. These novels, known as 'scientific romances', include 'The Time Machine', 'The Invisible Man', and 'War of the Worlds'.

Xenophon (431 - ?355 BC)

Greek historian, general, disciple of Socrates and one of the first 'armchair utopists'. He led the army of 10,000 soldiers to the Black Sea, a campaign described in his 'Anabasis'. His other works include 'Hellenica', a history of Greece, 'Memorabilia' and 'Symposium', both of which contain his memoirs of Socrates. In a treatise 'On the Revenue of Athens', written shortly before his death, Xenophon put forward a series of Utopian ideas, the main of which was nationalisation - of the silver mines, of inns and lodging houses. However, he stopped short of suggesting a complete nationalisation, for which read state control, of everything in the land.

The Year 2440

Utopian novel by Louis-Sebastien Mercier (1740-1814), a best-seller of pre-Revolutionary France which went through 25 editions. The hero, a contemporary of the author, wakes in 2440 and finds Paris and the world entirely transformed. No more greed, vanity and hypocrisy. The French capital has beautiful straight streets and its residents wear simple loose clothes, with no wigs or swords. Traffic keeps to the right of the streets and is strictly regulated, but most people, including the king and his courtiers prefer walking. There is no censorship, the press is free, and chidren at schools learn algebra, physics and astronomy.

Zamyatin Evgeny Ivanovich (1884-1937)

Soviet/Russian writer, a naval engineer and mathematician by education and author of 'We', considered one of the greatest dystopias ever written and an inspiration for both Huxley's 'Brave New World' and Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'. A poignant and prophetic satire on Stalinist rule, it was published in 1924 - well before Stalin's rise to absolute power. The book also prophecies the realisation of a technological Utopia in which the dictate of the state and the machine threatens the very essence of human spirit. It is set in The One State, where the citizens have numbers, instead of names, buildings and furniture are all made of glass (so that nothing could be concealed from the all-seeing eyes of the ubiquitous 'guardians'. Hidden 'membranes' record all conversations in the streets of the city, surrounded with glass walls. All natural life has been destroyed, and the only food is a chemical derivative of naphtha. The Benefactor, the supreme leader, personally carries out all executions with the help of The Machine - an electricity-powered contraption which transforms human tissue into chemically pure water. The One State's scientists even have a way of eradicating imagination - a scientific breakthrough, called the Grand Operation.

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