Northrop Frye - Varieties of Literary Utopias.

From: Daedalus Vol. 94, No. 2, utopia (Spring, 1965), pp. 323-347.

THERE ARE two social conceptions which can be expressed only in terms of myth. One is the social contract, which presents an account of the origins of society. The other is the utopia, which presents an imaginative vision of the telos or end at which social life aims. These two myths both begin in an analysis of the present, the society that confronts the mythmaker, and they project this analysis in time or space. The contract projects it into the past, the utopia into the future or some distant place. To Hobbes, a contemporary of the Puritan Revolution, the most important social principle was the maintenance of de facto power; hence he constructs a myth of contract turning on the conception of society's surrender of that power. To Locke, a contemporary of the Whig Revolution, the most important social principle was the relation of de facto power to legitimate or de jure authority; hence He constructs a myth turning on society's delegation of power. The value of such a myth as theory depends on the depth and penetration of the social analysis which inspires it. The social contract, though a genuine myth which, in John Stuart Mill's phrase, passes a fiction off as a fact, is usually regarded as an integral part of social theory. The utopia, on the other hand, although its origin is much the same, belongs primarily to fiction. The reason is that the emphasis in the contract myth falls on the present facts of society which it is supposed to explain. And even to the extent that the contract myth is projected into the past, the past is the area where historical evidence lies; and so the myth preserves at least the gesture of making assertions that can be definitely verified or refuted.

       The utopia is a speculative myth; it is designed to contain or provide a vision for one's social ideas, not to be a theory connecting social facts together. There have been one or two attempts to take utopian constructions literally by trying to set them up as actual communities, but the histories of these communities make melancholy reading. Life imitates literature up to a point, but hardly up to that point. The utopian writer looks at his own society first and tries to see what, for his purposes, its significant elements are. The utopia ilself shows what society would be like if those elements were fully developed. Plato looked at his society and saw its structure as a hierarchy of priests, warriors, artisans, and servants—much the same structure that inspired the caste system of India, The Republic shows what a society would he like in which such a hierarchy functioned on the principle of justice, that is, each man doing his own work. More, thinking within a Christian framework of ideas, assumed that the significant elements of society were the natural virtues, justice, temperance, fortitude, prudence. The Utopia itself, in its second or constructive book, shows what a society would be like in which the natural virtues were allowed to assume their natural forms. Bacon, on the other hand, anticipates Marx by assuming that the most significant of social factors is technological productivity, and his New Atlantis constructs accordingly.

       The procedure of constructing a utopia produces two literary qualities which are typical, almost invariable, in the genre. In the first place, the behavior of society is described ritually. A ritual is a significant social act, and the utopia-writer is concerned only with the typical actions which are significant of those social elements he is stressing. In utopian stories a frequent device is for someone, generally a first-person narrator, to enter the utopia and be shown around it by a sort of Intourist guide. The story is made up largely of a Socratic dialogue between guide and narrator, in which the narrator asks questions or thinks up objections and the guide answers them. One gets a little weary, in reading a series of such stories, of what seems a pervading smugness of tone. As a rule the guide is completely identified with his society and seldom admits to any discrepancy between the reality and the appearance of what he is describing. But we recognize that this is inevitable given the conventions employed. In the second place, rituals are apparently irrational acts which become rational when their significance is explained. In such utopias the guide explains the structure of the society and thereby the significance of the behavior being observed. Hence, the behavior of society is presented as rationally motivated. It is a common objection to utopias that they present human nature as governed more by reason than it is or can be. But this rational emphasis, again, is the result of using certain literary conventions. The utopian romance does not present society as governed by reason; it presents it as governed by ritual habit, or prescribed social behavior, which is explained rationally.

       Every society, of course, imposes a good deal of prescribed social behavior on its citizens, much of it being followed unconsciously, anything completely accepted by convention and custom having in it a large automatic element. But even automatic ritual habits are explicable, and so every society can be seen or described to some extent as a product of conscious design. The symbol of conscious design in society is the city, with its abstract pattern of streets and buildings, and with the complex economic cycle of production, distribution, and consumption that it sets up. The utopia is primarily a vision of the orderly city and of a cityniominated society. Plato's Republic is a city-state, Athenian in culture and Spartan in discipline. It was inevitable that the utopia, as a literary genre, should be revived at the time of the Renaissance, the period in which the medieval social order was breaking down again into city-state units or nations governed from a capital city. Again, the utopia, in its typical form, contrasts, implicitly or explicitly, the writer's own society with the more desirable one he describes. The desirable society, or the utopia proper, is essentially the writer's own society with its unconscious ritual habits transposed into their conscious equivalents. The contrast in value between the two societies implies a satire on the writer's own society, and the basis for the satire is the unconsciousness or inconsistency in the social behavior he observes around him. More's Utopia begins with a satire on the chaos of sixteenth-century life in England and presents the utopia itself as a contrast to it. Thus the typical utopia contains, if only by implication, a satire on the anarchy inherent in the writer's own society, and the utopia form flourishes best when anarchy seems most a social threat. Since More, utopias have appeared regularly but sporadically in literature, with a great increase around the close of the nineteenth century. This later vogue clearly had much to do with the distrust and dismay aroused by extreme laissez-faire versions of capitalism, which were thought of as manifestations of anarchy.

       Most utopia-writers follow either More (and Plato) in stressing the legal structure of their societies, or Bacon in stressing its technological power. The former type of utopia is closer to actual social and political theory; the latter overlaps with what is now called science fiction. Naturally, since the Industrial Revolution a serious utopia can hardly avoid introducing technological themes. And because technology is progressive, getting to the utopia has tended increasingly to be a journey in time rather than space, a vision of the future and not of a society located in some isolated spot on the globe (or outside it: journeys to the moon are a very old form of fiction, and some of them are utopian). The growth of science and technology brings with it a prodigious increase in the legal complications of existence. As soon as medical science identifies the source of a contagious disease in a germ, laws of quarantine go into effect; as soon as technology produces the automobile, an immense amount of legal apparatus is imported into life, and thousands of non-criminal citizens become involved in fines and police-court actions. This means a corresponding increase in the amount of ritual habit necessary to life, and a new ritual habit must be conscious, and so constraining, before it becomes automatic or unconscious. Science and technology, especially the latter, introduce into society the conception of directed social change, change with logical consequences attached to it. These consequences turn on the increase of ritual habit. And as long as ritual habit can still be seen as an imminent possibility, as something we may or may not acquire, there can be an emotional attitude toward it either of acceptance or repugnance. The direction of social change may be thought of as exhilarating, as in most theories of progress, or as horrible, as in pessimistic or apprehensive social theories. Or it may be thought that whether the direction of change is good or bad will depend on the attitude society takes toward it. If the attitude is active and resolute, it may be good; if helpless and ignorant, bad.

       A certain amount of claustrophobia enters this argument when it is realized, as it is from about 1850 on, that technology tends to unify the whole world. The conception of an isolated utopia like that of More or Plato or Bacon gradually evaporates in the face of this fact. Out of this situation come two kinds of utopian romance; the straight utopia, which visualizes a world-state assumed to be ideal or at least ideal in comparison with what we have, and the utopian satire or parody, which presents the same kind of social goal in terms of slavery, tyranny, or anarchy. Examples of the former in the literature of the last century include Bellamy's Looking Backward, Morris' News from Nowhere, and H. G. Wells' A Modem utopia. Wells is one of the few writers who have constructed both serious and satirical utopias. Examples of the utopian satire include Zamiatin's We, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and George Orwell's 1984. There are other types of utopian satire which we shall mention in a moment, but this particular kind is a product of modern technological society, its growing sense that the whole world is destined to the same social fate with no place to hide, and its increasing realization that technology moves toward the control not merely of nature but of the operations of the mind. We may note that what is a serious utopia to its author, and to many of its readers, could be read as a satire by a reader whose emotional attitudes were different. Looking Backward had, in its day, a stimulating and emancipating influence on the social thinking of the time in a way that very few books in the history of literature have ever had. Yet most of us today would tend to read it as a sinister blueprint of tyranny, with its industrial "army," its stentorian propaganda delivered over the "telephone" to the homes of its citizens, and the like.

       The nineteenth-century utopia had a close connection with the growth of socialist political thought and shared its tendency to think in global terms. When Engels attacked "utopian" socialism and contrasted it with his own "scientific" kind, his scientific socialism was utopian in the sense in which we are using that term, but what he rejected under the category of "utopian" was the tendency to think in terms of a delimited socialist society, a place of refuge like the phalansteries of Fourier. For Engels, as for Marxist thinkers generally, there was a world-wide historical process going in a certain direction; and humanity had the choice either of seizing and directing this process in a revolutionary act or of drifting into greater anarchy or slavery. The goal, a. classless society in which the state had withered away, was utopian; the means adopted to reach this goal were "scientific" and anti-utopian, dismissing the possibility of setting up a utopia within a pre-socialist world.

       We are concerned here with utopian literature, not with social attitudes; but literature is rooted in the social attitudes of its time. In the literature of the democracies today we notice that utopian satire is very prominent (for example, William Golding's Lord of the Flies), but that there is something of a paralysis of utopian thought and imagination. We can hardly understand this unless we realize the extent to which it is the result of a repudiation of Communism. In the United States particularly the attitude toward a definite social ideal as a planned goal is anti-utopian: such an ideal, it is widely felt, can produce in practice only some form of totalitarian state. And whereas the Communist program calls for a revolutionary seizure of the machinery of production, there is a strong popular feeling in the democracies that the utopian goal can be reached only by allowing the machinery of production to function by itself, as an automatic and continuous process. Further, it is often felt that such an automatic process tends to decentralize authority and break down monopolies of political power. This combination of an anti-utopian attitude toward centralized planning and a utopian attitude toward the economic process naturally creates some inconsistencies. When I was recently in Houston, I was told that Houston had no zoning laws: that indicates a strongly anti-utopian sentiment in Houston, yet Houston was building sewers, highways, clover-leaf intersections, and shopping centers in the most uninhibited utopian way.

       There is however something of a donkey's carrot in attaching utopian feelings to a machinery of production largely concerned with consumer goods. We can see this if we look at some of the utopian romances of the last century. The technological utopia has one literary disadvantage: its predictions are likely to fall short of what comes true, so that what the writer saw in the glow of vision we see only as a crude version of ordinary life. Thus Edgar Allan Poe has people crossing the Atlantic in balloons at a hundred miles an hour one thousand years after his own time. I could describe the way I get to work in the morning, because it is a form of ritual habit, in the idiom of a utopia, riding on a subway, guiding myself by street signs, and the like, showing how the element of social design conditions my behavior at every point. It might sound utopian if I had written it as a prophecy a century ago, or now to a native of a New Guinea jungle, but it would hardly do so to my present readers. Similarly with the prediction of the radio (called, as noted above, the telephone, which had been invented) in Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888). A slightly earlier romance, said to be the original of Bellamy's book is The Diothas, by John MacNie (1883)*. It predicts a general use of a horseless carriage, with a speed of twenty miles an hour (faster downhill). One passage shows very clearly how something commonplace to us could be part of a utopian romance in 1883:

"You see the white line running along the centre of the road," resumed Utis. The rule of the road requires that line to be kept on the left, except when passing a vehicle in front. Then the line may be crossed, provided the way on that side is clear."

But while technology has advanced far beyond the wildest utopian dreams even of the last century, the essential quality of human life has hardly improved to the point that it could be called utopian. The real strength and importance of the utopian imagination, both for literature and for life, if it has any at all, must lie elsewhere.

[* I owe my knowledge of The Diothas, and much else tn this paper, to the admirable collection The Quest for Utopia, An Anthology of Imaginary Societies by Glenn Negley and J, Max Patrick (New York; Schuman, 1952).]

       The popular view of the utopia, and the one which in practice is accepted by many if not most utopia-writers, is that a utopia is an ideal or flawless state, not only logically consistent in its structure but permitting as much freedom and happiness for its inhabitants as is possible to human life. Considered as a final or definitive social ideal, the utopia is a static society; and most utopias have built-in safeguards against radical alteration of the structure. This feature gives it a somewhat forbidding quality to a reader not yet committed to it. An imaginary dialogue between a utopia-writer and such a reader might begin somewhat as follows: Reader: "I can see that this society might work, but I wouldn't want to live in it." Writer: "What you mean is that you don't want your present ritual habits disturbed. My utopia would feel different from the inside, where the ritual habits would be customary and so carry with them, a sense of freedom rather than constraint." Reader: "Maybe so, but my sense of freedom right now is derived from not being involved in your society. If I were, I'd either feel constraint or I'd be too unconscious to be living a fully human life at all." If this argument went on, some compromise might be reached: the writer might realize that freedom really depends on a sense of constraint, and the reader might realize that a utopia should not be read simply as a description of a most perfect state, even if the author believes it to be one. Utopian thought is imaginative, with its roots in literature, and the literary imagination is less concerned with achieving ends than with visualizing possibilities.

       There are many reasons why an encouragement of utopian thinking would be of considerable benefit to us. An example would be an attempt to see what the social results of automation might be, or might be made to be; and surely some speculation along this line is almost essential to self-preservation. Again, the intellectual separation of the "two cultures" is said to be a problem of our time, but this separation is inevitable, it is going steadily to increase, not decrease, and it cannot possibly be cured by having humanists read more popular science or scientists read more poetry. The real problem is not the humanist's ignorance of science or vice versa, but the ignorance of both humanist and scientist about the society of which they are both citizens. The quality of an intellectual's social imagination is the quality of his maturity as a thinker, whatever his brilliance in his own line. In the year that George Orwell published 1984, two other books appeared in the utopian tradition, one by a humanist, Robert Graves' Watch the North Wind Rise, the other by a social scientist, B. F. Skinner's Walden Two. Neither book was intended very seriously: they reflect the current view that utopian thinking is not serious. It is all the more significant that both books show the infantilism of specialists who see society merely as an extension of their own speciality. The Graves book is about the revival of mother goddess cults in Crete, and its preoccupation with the more lugubrious superstitions of the past makes it almost a caricature of the pedantry of humanism. Skinner's book shows how to develop children's will power by hanging lollipops around their necks and giving them rewards for not eating them: its Philistine vulgarity makes it a caricature of the pedantry of social science. The utopia, the effort at social imagination, is an area in which specialized disciplines can meet and interpenetrate with a mutual respect for each other, concerned with clarifying their common social context.

       The word "imaginative" refers to hypothetical constructions, like those of literature or mathematics. The word "imaginary" refers to something that does not exist. Doubtless many writers of utopias think of their state as something that does not exist but which they wish did exist; hence their intention as writers is descriptive rather than constructive. But we cannot possibly discuss the utopia as a literary genre on this negatively existential basis. We have to see it as a species of the constructive literary imagination, and we should expect to find that the more penetrating the utopian writer's mind is, the more clearly he understands that he is communicating a vision to his readers, not sharing a power or fantasy dream with them.


Plato's Republic begins with an argument between Socrates and Thrasymachus over the nature of justice. Thrasymachus attempts, not very successfully, to show that justice is a verbal and rhetorical conception used for certain social purposes, and that existentially there is no such thing as justice. He has to use words to say this, and the words he uses are derived from, and unconsciously accept the assumptions of, a discussion started by Socrates. So Socrates has little difficulty in demonstrating that in the verbal pattern Thrasymachus is employing justice has its normal place, associated with all other good and real things. Others in the group are not satisfied that an existential situation can be so easily refuted by an essentialist argument, and they attempt to restate Thrasymachus' position. Socrates' argument remains essential to the end, but it takes the form of another kind of verbal pattern, a descriptive model of a state in which justice is the existential principle. The question then arises: what relation has this model to existing society?

       If what seems the obvious answer is the right one, Plato's imaginary Republic is the ideal society that we do not live in but ought to be living in. Not many readers would so accept it, for Plato's state has in full measure the forbidding quality that we have noted as a characteristic of utopias. Surely most people today would see in its rigorous autocracy, its unscrupulous use of lies for propaganda, its ruthlessly censored art, and its subordination of all the creative and productive life of the state to a fanatical military caste, all the evils that we call totalitarian. Granted all the Greek fascination with the myth of Lycurgus, the fact that Sparta defeated Athens is hardly enough to make us want to adopt so many of the features of that hideous community. Plato admits that dictatorial tyranny is very like his state-pattern entrusted to the wrong men. But to assume much of a difference between tyranny and Plato's state we should have to believe in the perfectibility of intellectuals, which neither history nor experience gives us much encouragement to do.

       We notice, however, that as early as the Fifth Book Socrates has begun to deprecate the question of the practicability of establishing his Republic, on the ground that thought is one thing and action another. And, as the argument goes on there is an increasing emphasis on the analogy of the just state to the wise man's mind. The hierarchy of philosopher, guard, and artisan in the just state corresponds to the hierarchy of reason, will, and appetite in the disciplined individual. And the disciplined individual is the only free individual. The free man is free because his chaotic and lustful desires are hunted down and exterminated, or else compelled to express themselves in ways prescribed by the dictatorship of his reason. He is free hecause a powerful will is ready to spring into action to help reason do whatever it sees fit, acting as a kind of thought police suppressing every impulse not directly related to its immediate interests. It is true that what frees the individual seems to enslave society, and that something goes all wrong with human freedom when we take an analogy between individual and social order literally. But Plato is really arguing from his social model to the individual, not from the individual to society. The censorship of Homer and the other poets, for example, illustrates how the wise man uses literature, what he accepts and rejects of it in forming his own beliefs, rather than what society ought to do to literature. At the end of the Ninth Book we reach what is the end of the Republic for our purposes, as the Tenth Book raises issues beyond our present scope. There it is made clear that the Republic exists in the present, not in the future. It is not a dream to be realized in practice; it is an informing power in the mind:

       I understand; you speak of that city of which we are the founders, and which exists in idea only; for I do not think that there is such an one anywhere on earth.
       In heaven, I replied, there is laid up a pattern of such a city, and he who desires may behold this, and beholding, govern himself accordingly. But whether there really is or ever will be such an one is of no importance to him; for he will act according to the laws of that city and of no other.
                     (Jowett tr.)

       In Christianity the two myths that polarize social thought, the contract and the utopia, the myth of origin and the myth of telos, are given in their purely mythical or undisplaced forms. The myth of contract becomes the myth of creation, and of placing man in the garden of Eden, the ensuing fall being the result of a breach of the contract. Instead of the utopia we have the City of God, a utopian metaphor most elaborately developed in St. Augustine. To this city men, or some men, are admitted at the end of time, but of course human nature is entirely incapable of reaching it in its present state, much less of establishing it. Still, the attainment of the City of God in literature must be classified as a form of utopian fiction, its most famous literary treatment being the Purgatorio and Paradiso of Dante. The conception of the millennium, the Messianic kingdom to be established on earth, comes closer to the conventional idea of the utopia, but that again does not depend primarily on human effort.

       The church, in this scheme of things, is not a utopian society, but it is a more highly ritualized community than ordinary society; and its relation to the latter has some analogies to the relation of Plato's Republic to the individual mind. That is, it acts as an informing power on society, drawing it closer to the pattern of the City of God. Most utopias are conceived as élite societies in which a small group is entrusted with essential responsibilities, and this élite is usually some analogy of a priesthood. For in utopia, as in India, the priestly caste has reached the highest place. H. G. Wells divides society into the Poietic, or creative, the Kinetic, or executive, the Dull, and the Base. This reads like an uncharitable version of the four Indian castes—particularly uncharitable considering that the only essential doctrine in Wells' utopian religion is the rejection of original sin. Wells' writing in general illustrates the common principle that the belief that man is by nature good does not lead to a very good-natured view of man. In any case his "samurai" belong to the first group, in spite of their warrior name. The utopias of science fiction are generally controlled by scientists, who of course are another form of priestly élite.

       Another highly ritualized society, the monastic community, though not intended as a utopia, has some utopian characteristics. Its members spend their whole time within it; individual life takes its pattern from the community; certain activities of the civilized good life, farming, gardening, reclaiming land, copying manuscripts, teaching, form part of its structure. The influence of the monastic community on utopian thought has been enormous. It is strong in More's Utopia, and much stronger in Campanella's City of the Sun, which is more explicitly conceived on the analogy of the church and monastery. The conception of the ideal society as a secularized reversal of the monastery, the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience transposed into economic security, monogamous marriage, and personal independence, appears in Rabelais' scheme for the Abbey of Thélème. Something like this re-appears in many nineteenth-century utopias, not only the literary ones but in the more explicitly political schemes of St. Simon, Fourier, and Comte, of whose writings it seems safe to say that they lack Rabelais' lightness of touch. The government of the monastery, with its mixture of the elective and the dictatorial principles, is still going strong as a social model in Carlyle's Past and Present. Utopian satire sometimes introduces celibate groups of fanatics by way of parody, as in 1984 and in Huxley's Ape and Essence.

       It is obvious from what we have said that a Christian utopia, in the sense of an ideal state to be attained in human life, is impossible: if it were possible it would be the kingdom of heaven, and trying to realize it on earth would be the chief end of man. Hence More does not present his Utopia as a Christian state; it is a state, as we remarked earlier, in which the natural virtues are allowed to assume their natural forms. In that case, what is the point of the Utopia, which is certainly a Christian book? Some critics feel that More could have meant it only as a jeu d'esprit for an in-group of humanist intellectuals. But that conception makes it something more trivial than anything that More would write or Rabelais and Erasmus much appreciate. The second book of Utopia must have been intended quite as seriously as the trenchant social criticism of the first.

       We note that the Utopia, again, takes the form of a dialogue between a first-person narrator and a guide. The guide is Hythloday, who has been to Utopia, and whose description of it takes up the second book. The narrator is More himself. In the first book the social attitudes of the two men are skillfully contrasted. More is a gradualist, a reformer; he feels that Hythloday should use his experience and knowledge in advising the princes of Europe on the principles of social justice. Hythloday has come back from Utopia a convinced communist and a revolutionary. All Europe's misery, blundering, and hypocrisy spring from its attachment to private property: unless this is renounced nothing good can be done, and as this renunciation is unlikely he sees no hope for Europe. At the end More remarks that although he himself has not been converted to Hythloday's all-out utopianism, there are many things in Utopia that he would hope for rather than expect to see in his own society. The implication seems clear that the ideal state to More, as to Plato, is not a future ideal but a hypothetical one, an informing power and not a goal of action. For More, as for Plato, Utopia is the kind of model of justice and common sense which, once established in the mind, clarifies its standards and values. It does not lead to a desire to abolish sixteenth-century Europe and replace it with Utopia, but it enables one to see Europe, and to work within it, more clearly. As H. G. Wells says of his Utopia, it is good discipline to enter it occasionally.

       There is however an element of paradox in More's construct that is absent from Plato's. More's state is not eutopia, the good place, but utopia, nowhere. It is achieved by the natural virtues without revelation, and its eclectic state religion, its toleration (in certain circumstances) of suicide and divorce, its married priesthood, and its epicurean philosophy all mean that it is not, like the Republic, the invisible city whose laws More himself, or his readers, would continually and constantly obey. It has often been pointed out that More died a martyr to some very un-Utopian causes. The point of the paradox is something like this: Europe has revelation, but the natural basis of its society is an extremely rickety structure; and if Europe pretends to greater wisdom than Utopia it ought to have at least something of the Utopian solidity and consistency in the wisdom it shares with Utopia. This paradoxical argument in More re-appears in Montaigne's essay on the cannibals, where it is demonstrated that cannibals have many virtues we have not, and if we disdain to be cannibals we should have at least something of those virtues. Similarly Gulliver returns from the society of rational horses to that of human beings feeling a passionate hatred not of the human race, as careless readers of Swift are apt to say, but of its pride, including its pride in not being horses.

       In most utopias the state predominates over the individual: property is usually held in common and the characteristic features of individual life, leisure, privacy, and freedom of movement, are as a rule minimized. Most of this is, once more, simply the result of writing a utopia and accepting its conventions: the utopia is designed to describe a unified society, not individual varieties of existence. Still, the sense of the individual as submerged in a social mass is very strong. But as soon as we adopt the principle of paradeigma which Plato sets forth in his Ninth Book, the relation of society to individual is reversed. The ideal state now becomes an element in the liberal education of the individual free man, permitting him a greater liberty of mental perspective than he had before.

       The Republic built up by Socrates and entered into by his hearers is derived from their ability to see society on two levels, a lower natural level and an upper ideal level. What gives them the ability to perceive this upper level is education. The vision of the Republic is inextricably bound up with a theory of education. The bodily senses perceive the "actual" or objective state of things; the soul, through education, perceives the intelligible world. And though not all utopia-writers are Platonists, nearly all of them make their utopias depend on education for their permanent establishment. It seems clear that the literary convention of an ideal state is really a by-product of a systematic view of education. That is, education considered as a unified view of reality, grasps society by its intelligible rather than its actual form, and the utopia is a projection of the ability to see society, not as an aggregate of buildings and bodies, but as a structure of arts and sciences. The thought suggests itself that the paralysis in utopian imagination we have mentioned in our society may be connected with a confusion about both the objectives and the inner structure of our educational system.

       It is a theory of education, in any case, that connects a utopian myth with a myth of contract. This is abundantly clear in Plato and later in Rousseau, whose Emile is the utopian and educational counterpart of his Contrat social. In the sixteenth century, Machiavelli's Prince, Castiglione's Courtier, and More's Utopia form a well-unified Renaissance trilogy, the first two providing a contract myth and an educational structure respectively, based on the two central facts of Renaissance society, the prince and the courtier. Other Renaissance works, such as Spenser's Faerie Queene, set forth a social ideal and so belong peripherally to the utopian tradition, but are based on an educational myth rather than a utopian one. For Spenser, as he says in his letter to Raleigh, the Classical model was not Plato's Republic but Xenophon's Cyropaedia, the ideal education of the ideal prince.

       Both the contract myth and the utopia myth, we said, derive from an analysis of the mythmaker's own society, or at least if they do not they have little social point. The overtones of the contract myth, unless the writer is much more complacent than anyone I have read, are tragic. All contract theories, whatever their origin or direction, have to account for the necessity of a social condition far below what one could imagine as a desirable, or even possible, ideal. The contract myth thus incorporates an element of what in the corresponding religious myth appears as the fall of man. Tragedy is a form which proceeds toward an epiphany of law, or at least of something inevitable and ineluctable; and a contract myth is by definition a legal one. The telos myth is comic in direction: it moves toward the actualizing of something better.

       Any serious utopia has to assume some kind of contract theory as the complement of itself, if only to explain what is wrong with the state of things the utopia is going to improve. But the vision of something better has to appeal to some contract behind the contract, something which existing society has lost, forfeited, rejected, or violated, and which the utopia itself is to restore. The ideal or desirable quality in the utopia has to be recognized, that is, seen as manifesting something that the reader can understand as a latent or potential element in his own society and his own thinking. Thus Plato's Republic takes off from a rather gloomy and cynical contract theory, adapted apparently from the sophists by Glaucon and Adeimantus for the pleasure of hearing Socrates refute it. But the vision of justice which Socrates substitutes for it restores a state of things earlier than anything this contract theory refers to. This antecedent state is associated with the Golden Age in the Laws and with the story of Atlantis in the two sequels to the Republic, the Timaeus and the Critias. In the Christian myth, of course, the pre-contract ideal state is that of paradise. We have now to try to isolate the paradisal or Golden Age element in the utopian myth, the seed which it brings to fruition.


       The utopian writer looks at the ritual habits of his own society and tries to see what society would be like if these ritual habits were made more consistent and more inclusive. But it is possible to think of a good many ritual habits as not so much inconsistent as unnecessary or superstitious. Some social habits express the needs of society; others express its anxieties. And although we tend to attach more emotional importance to our anxieties than to our needs or genuine beliefs, many anxieties are largely or entirely unreal. Plato's conception of the role of women in his community, whatever one thinks of it, was an extraordinary imaginative break from the anxieties of Athens with its almost Oriental seclusion of married women. Every utopian writer has to struggle with the anxieties suggested to him by his own society, trying to distinguish the moral from the conventional, what would be really disastrous from what merely inspires a vague feeling of panic, uneasiness, or ridicule.

       So far we have been considering the typical utopia, the rational city or world-state, and the utopian satire which is a product of a specifically modern fear, the Frankenstein myth of the enslavement of man by his own technology and by his perverse desire to build himself an ingenious trap merely for the pleasure of getting caught in it. But another kind of utopian satire is obviously possible, one in which social rituals are seen from the outside, not to make them more consistent but simply to demonstrate their inconsistency, their hypocrisy, or their unreality. Satire of this kind holds up a mirror to society which distorts it, but distorts it consistently. An early example is Bishop Hall's Mundus Alter et Idem (1605), much ridiculed by Milton, but perhaps more of an influence on him than he was willing to admit. A more famous one is Gulliver's Travels, especially the first part, the voyage to Lilliput. The Lilliputian society is essentially the society of Swift's England, with its rituals looked at satirically. In the voyage to Brobdingnag the ridicule of the gigantic society is softened down, in the portrayal of the king even minimized, the satirical emphasis being thrown on Gulliver's account of his own society. The shift of emphasis indicates the close connection between this kind of satire and utopian fiction, the connection being much closer in the last part, where the rational society of the Houyhnhnms is contrasted with the Yahoos.

       In Butler's Erewhon, again, we have an early example of the contemporary or technological utopian satire: the Erewhonians are afraid of machines, and their philosophers have worked out elaborate arguments to prove that machines will eventually take over if not suppressed in time. We could in fact trace this theme back to Gulliver's Travels itself, where the flying island of Laputa demonstrates some of the perils in combining human mechanical ingenuity with human folly and greed. But most of Erewhon adheres to the earlier tradition of the mirror-satire. The Erewhonians, for example, treat disease as a crime and crime as a disease, but they do so with exactly the same rationalizations that the Victorians use in enforcing the opposite procedure.

       Following out this line of thought, perhaps what ails ordinary society is not the inconsistency but the multiplicity of its ritual habits. If so, then the real social ideal would he a greatly simplified society, and the quickest way to utopia would be through providing the absolute minimum of social structure and organization. This conception of the ideal society as simplified, even primitive, is of far more literary importance than the utopia itself, which in literature is a relatively minor genre never quite detached from political theory. For the simplified society is the basis of the pastoral convention, one of the central conventions of literature at every stage of its development.

       In Christianity the city is the form of the myth of telos, the New Jerusalem that is the end of the human pilgrimage. But there is no city in the Christian, or Judaeo-Christian, myth of origin: that has only a garden, and the two progenitors of what was clearly intended to be a simple and patriarchal society. In the story which follows, the story of Cain and Abel, Abel is a shepherd and Cain a farmer whose descendants build cities and develop the arts. The murder of Abel appears to symbolize the blotting out of an idealized pastoral society by a more complex civilization. In Classical mythology the original society appears as the Golden Age, to which we have referred more than once, again a peaceful and primitive society without the complications of later ones. In both our main literary traditions, therefore, the tendency to see the ideal society in terms of a lost simple paradise has a ready origin.

       In the Renaissance, when society was so strongly urban and centripetal, focused on the capital city and on the court in the center of it, the pastoral established an alternative ideal which was not strictly utopian, and which we might distinguish by the term Arcadian. The characteristics of this ideal were simplicity and equality: it was a society of shepherds without distinction of class, engaged in a life that permitted the maximum of peace and of leisure. The arts appeared in this society spontaneously, as these shepherds were assumed to have natural musical and poetic gifts. In most utopias the relation of the sexes is hedged around with the strictest regulations, even taboos; in the pastoral, though the Courtly Love theme of frustrated devotion is prominent, it is assumed that making love is a major occupation, requiring much more time and attention than the sheep, and thus more important than the economic productivity of society.

       The Arcadia has two ideal characteristics that the utopia hardly if ever has. In the first place, it puts an emphasis on the integration of man with his physical environment. The utopia is a city, and it expresses rather the human ascendancy over nature, the domination of the environment by abstract and conceptual mental patterns. In the pastoral, man is at peace with nature, which implies that he is also at peace with his own nature, the reasonable and the natural being associated. A pastoral society might become stupid or ignorant, but it could hardly go mad. In the second place, the pastoral, by simplifying human desires, throws more stress on the satisfaction of such desires as remain, especially, of course, sexual desire. Thus it can accommodate, as the typical utopia cannot, something of that outlawed and furtive social ideal known as the Land of Cockayne, the fairyland where all desires can be instantly gratified.

       This last is an ideal halfway between the paradisal and the pastoral and is seldom taken seriously. The reason is that it does not derive from an analysis of the writer's present society, but is primarily a dream or wish-fulfillment fantasy. In the fourteenth-century poem called The Land of Cockayne, roast geese walk around advertising their edibility: the line of descent to the shmoos of "Li'l Abner" is clear enough. The same theme exists in a more reflective and sentimental form, where it tends to be an illusory or vanishing vision, often a childhood memory. This theme is common as a social cliché and in the popular literature which expresses social clichés: the cottage away from it all, happy days on the farm, the great open spaces of the west, and the like. A typical and well-known literary example is James Hilton's Lost Horizon, a neo-Kantian kingdom of both ends, so to speak, with its mixture of Oriental wisdom and American plumbing. But though the Land of Cockayne belongs to social mythology more than to the imaginative mythology of literature, it is a genuine ideal, and we shall meet other forms of it.

       Spenser's Faerie Queene, already alluded to, is an example of the sort of courtier-literature common in the Renaissance, which had for its theme the idealizing of the court or the reigning monarch. This literature was not directly utopian, but its imaginative premises were allied to the utopia. That is, it assumed that for mankind the state of nature is the state of society and of civilization and that, whether man is in his nature good or bad, life can be improved by improving his institutions. The pastoral, though of no importance politically, nevertheless kept open the suggestion that the state of nature and the state of society were different, perhaps opposing states. The pastoral was allied to the spirit of satire which, as in Erasmus' Praise of Folly and Cornelius Agrippa's Vanity of the Arts and Sciences, called the whole value of civilization into question.

       In the eighteenth century these two attitudes both assumed political importance, and met in a head-on collision. The eighteenth-century descendant of the pastoral myth was the conception of the "natural society" in Bolingbroke, and later in Rousseau. Here the natural state of man is thought of as distinct from and, so to speak, underlying the state of society. The state of nature is reasonable, the state of society full of anomalies and pointless inequalities. The conservative or traditional view opposed to this is, in Great Britain, most articulate in Burke, who, following Montesquieu, and in opposition to the principles of the French Revolution, asserted that the state of nature and the state of society were the same thing, The difference between the two views is ptimarily one of contract theory. For Burke the existing social order in any nation is that nation's real contract: for Rousseau it is essentially a corruption of its contract. The telos myths differ accordingly. For Burke improvement is possible only if we preserve the existing structure. This is not a utopian view, but it is not necessarily anti-uiopian: it still keeps the utopian premise of the improvability of institutions. For Rousseau the telos myth becomes revolutionary: only an overthrow of the existing social order can manifest the natural and reasonable social order that it has disguised.

       The fourth book of Gulliver's Travels is a pastoral satire representing the conservative opposition to the pastoral conception of a natural society. The Yahoo is the natural man, man as he would be if he were purely an animal, filthy, treacherous, and disgusting. Gulliver has more intelligence than the Yahoos, but what he leams from his sojourn with the Houyhnhnms is that his nature is essentially Yahoo nature. His intelligence, he discovers, is nothing he can take pride in, for human beings back home make "no other use of reason than to improve and multiply those vices whereof their brethren in this country had only the share that nature allotted them." The natural society, if it could he attained at all, could be attained only by some kind of animal like the Houyhnhnm, who possessed a genuine reason not needing the disciplines of state and church. The Houyhnhnms can live in a genuinely pastoral world; human beings have to put up with the curse of civilization.

       The terms of this argument naturally changed after the Industrial Revolution, which introduced the conception of revolutionary process into society. This led to the present division of social attitudes mentioned above, between the Marxist utopia as distant end and the common American belief in the utopianizing tendency of the productive process, often taking the form of a belief that utopian standards of living can be reached in America alone. This belief, though rudely shaken by every disruptive historical event at least since the stock market crash of 1929, still inspires an obstinate and resilient confidence. The popular American view and the Communist one, superficially different as they are, have in common the assumption that to increase man's control over his environment is also to increase his control over his destiny. The refusal to accept this assumption is the principle of modern utopian satire.

       Whatever utopian thought and imagination has survived this state of affairs in democratic literature has been much more affected by pastoral or Arcadian themes than by the utopian conception of the rational city. Both Plato and More lay stress on limiting the city-state to what would now be called an "optimum" size. And almost anyone today, considering the problems of present-day society, would soon find himself saying "too many people." He could hardly visualize a utopia without assuming some disaster that would reduce the population—at least, those who did not survive might reasonably consider it a disaster. Thus Don Marquis, in The Almost Perfect State, speaks of a United States with a total population of five million. The assumption that a more desirable society must be a greatly simplified one marks the influence of the pastoral tradition.

       We do find in fact a type of utopian satire based on the theme of cyclical return: contemporary civilization goes to pieces with an appalling crash, and life starts again under primitive conditions like those of some earlier period of history. The best story of this type I know is Richard Jeffries' After London, but the theme enters the Robert Graves book referred to earlier and is a common one in science fiction (for example, Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz and some of John Wyndham's stories, especially Re-Birth). And even in the nineteenth-century industrial utopias, with their clicking machinery and happy factory crowds and fast-talking interpreters, an occasional one, such as W. H. Hudson's A Crystal Age, takes a different tone, and reminds us that ideals of peace, dignity, and quiet are too important to be squeezed into a few intervals of bustling routine.

       Of the famous utopias, the one which shows pastoral influence most consistently is William Morris' News from Nowhere. This work was, significantly, written as a reaction to Bellamy's Looking Backward, and, even more significantly, it scandalized the Communist associates of Morris' magazine, The Commonweal, in which it appeared. It was an attempt to visualize the ultimate utopian goal of Communism after the classless society had been reached, and the reader is not asked whether he thinks the social conception practicable, but simply whether or not he likes the picture. The picture is considerably more anarchist than Communist: the local community is the sole source of a completely decentralized authority, and the centralizing economic tendencies have disappeared along with the political ones. There is, in other words, a minimum of industrial and factory production. Morris started out, not with the Marxist question "Who are the workers?" but with the more deeply revolutionary question "What is work?" It is perhaps because Socrates never asked this question, but simply took the agenda of the work done in his own society as the basis of his definition of justice, that Plato's Republic is the authoritarian structure it is. Morris was influenced by Carlyle, who, though he tended to imply that all work was good, and unpleasant work particularly beneficial to the moral fiber, still did succeed, in Sartor Resartus, in distinguishing work from drudgery as well as from idleness. Ruskin, though also with a good deal of dithering, followed this up, and established the principle that Morris never departed from: work is creative act, the expression of what is creative in the worker. Any work that falls short of this is drudgery, and drudgery is exploitation, producing only the mechanical, the ugly, and the useless. We notice that in Morris we need an esthetic, and hence imaginative, criterion to make any significant social judgment. According to Morris the pleasure in craftsmanship was what kept the medieval workers from revolution: this leads to the unexpected inference that, in an exploiting society, genuine work is the opiate of the people. In the society of the future, however, work has become a direct expression of the controlled energy of conscious life.

       In Morris' state "manufacture" has become hand work, and the basis of production is in what are still called the minor or lesser arts, those that are directly related to living conditions. In terms of the societies we know, Morris' ideal is closer to the Scandinavian way of life than to the Russian or the American. To make craftsmanship the basis of industry implies an immense simplification of human wants—this is the pastoral element in Morris' vision. The population has stabilized because people have stopped exploiting their sexual instincts as well as each other's work. England has become a green and pleasant land—something even seems to have happened to the climate—with a great deal of fresh air and exercise. The pastoral theme of the unity of man and physical nature is very prominent. Around the corner, perhaps, looms the specter of endless picnics and jolly community gatherings and similar forms of extroverted cheer; but the sense of this is hardly oppressive even to a cynical reader. There is a certain anti-intellectual quality, perhaps, in the rather childlike inhabitants, their carefree ignorance of history and their neglect of the whole contemplative side of education. It is briefly suggested at the end that perhaps this society will need to mature sufficiently to take account of the more contemplative virtues if it is to escape the danger of losing its inheritance, as Adam did, through an uncritical perverseness of curiosity. In the meantime we are indebted to the most unreligious of the great English writers for one of the most convincing pictures of the state of innocence.

       The social ideal is an essential and primary human ideal, but it is not the only one, nor does it necessarily include the others. Human fulfillment has a singular and a dual form as well as a plural one, Marvell's poem "The Garden" speaks of individual and solitary fulfillment in which one is detached from society and reaches a silent incorporation into nature which the poet symbolizes by the word "green." It is further suggested that this solitary apotheosis was the genuine paradisal state, before a blundering God created Eve and turned Eden into a suburban development of the City of God. Yet the creation of Eve, in itself, introduced a sexual fulfillment which, as long as man remained unfallen, had no objective beyond itself. Theoretically, the higher religions recognize and provide for these dreams of lost solitary and sexual paradises; in practice, being socially organized, they tend to be socially obsessed. Christianity is opposed to Communism and other forms of state-worship, but church and family are equally social units. Traditionally, Christianity frowns on the sexual relationship except as a means of producing the family, and on the solitary illumination except as a variety of socially accepted belief. If even religion tends to divide human impulses into the social and the anti-social, we can hardly expect more tolerance from ordinary society, which is a neurotically jealous mistress, suspicious and resentful of any sign of preferring a less gregarious experience.

       Yet less socialized ideals continue to hover around the locked gates of their garden, trying to elude the angels of anxiety and censorship. Through the pastoral they achieve some imaginative expression, and it is largely its connection with the pastoral that makes Thoreau's Walden so central and so subversive a book in American culture. The theme of the sage who makes a voluntary break with society in order to discover his genuine self in a context of solitude and nature is common in the Orient and has been a major influence on the arts there, but it is rare in the West Even Wordsworth, though he has much of the theory, speaks, at the opening of the Prelude and elsewhere, more as someone on sabbatical leave from society than as someone aloof from it. Thoreau achieves a genuine social detachment, and has the sensitive, loving kinship with nature that characterizes the pastoral at its best. What makes him relevant to a paper on utopias is the social criticism implied in his book. He sets out to show how little a man actually needs for the best life, best in the sense of providing for the greatest possible amount of physical and mental well-being. And while one may quarrel over the details of his experiment in economy, there is no doubt that he makes his main point.

       Man obviously needs far less for the best life than he thinks he needs; and civilization as we know it is grounded on the technique of complicating wants. In fact this technique is widely believed, in America, to be the American way of life par excellence. Thoreau says: "the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavour to compel you to sustain the slavery, and war, and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things." The pastoral revolutionary tradition is still at work in this remark, still pointing to the natural and reasonable society buried beneath the false one. For Thoreau the place of human identity is not the city or even the community, but the home. In constructing his cabin he remarks: "It would be worth the while to build still more deliberately than I did, considering, for instance, what foundation a door, a window, a cellar, a garret, have in the nature of man." Whatever the standards and values are that make a social ideal better than the reality, they cannot appear unless the essence of society has been separated from non-essentials. It is its feeling for what is socially essential that makes the pastoral convention central to literature, and no book has expressed this feeling more uncompromisingly than Walden.

       Walden devotes itself to the theme of individual fulfillment: its social criticism is implicit only and the complications in human existence caused by the sexual instinct are not dealt with at all. The attempt to see the sexual relationship as something in itself, and not merely as a kind of social relationship, is something that gives a strongly pastoral quality to the work of D. H. Lawrence. For him the sexual relation is natural in the sense that it has its closest and most immediate affinities with the physical environment, the world of animals and plants and walks in the country and sunshine and rain. The idyllic sense of this world as helping to protect and insulate true love from the noisy city-world of disembodied consciousness runs through all Lawrence's work from the early White Peacock to the late Lady Chatterley's Lover. People complain, Lawrence says, that he wants them to be "savages," but the gentian flowering on its coarse stem is not savage. Lawrence has been a major influence on the social attitude which has grown up in the United States since the Second World War, and which may he described as a development of Freudianism. Like the Marxism of which it is, to some extent, a democratic counterpart, it is a revolutionary attitude, but unlike Marxism it imposes no specific social obligations on the person who holds it. The enemy is still the bourgeois, not the bourgeois as capitalist, but the bourgeois as "square," as the representative of repressive morality. Freud himself had little hope that society would ever cease to be a repressive anxiety-structure, but some of the most uninhibited utopian thinking today comes from such Freudians as Norman O. Brown (Life Against Death) and Herbert Marcuse (Eros and Civilization), who urge us at least to consider the possibility of a non-repressive society.

       In literature, some manifestations of this quasi-Freudian movement, like the beatniks, are rigidly conventionalized social ones, but what is relevant to us at present is rather the literature of protest, the theme of vagabondage and the picaresque in Kerouac and Henry Miller, the cult of violence in Mailer, the exploration of drugs and perversions, the struggle for a direct asocial experience which is apparently what the interest in Zen Buddhism symbolizes. The motto of all this is that of the starling in Sterne: "I can't get out": it expresses the claustrophobia of individual and sexual impulses imprisoned by the alien social consciousness that has created civilization. This sounds as though the contemporary literature of protest was intensely anti-utopian, and so in many respects it is. It is, however, for the most part a militant or "Luddite" pastoralisrn, trying to break the hold of a way of life which has replaced the perspective of the human body with the perspective of its mechanical extensions, the extensions of transportation and social planning and advertising which are now turning on the body and strangling it as the serpents did Laocoon.

       The great classical utopias derived their form from city-states and, though imaginary, were thought of as being, like the city-states, exactly locatable in space. Modern utopias derive their form from a uniform pattern of civilization spread over the whole globe, and so are thought of as world-states, taking up all the available space. It is clear that if there is to be any revival of utopian imagination in the near future, it cannot return to the old-style spatial utopias. New utopias would have to derive their form from the shifting and dissolving movement of society that is gradually replacing the fixed locations of life. They would not be rational cities evolved by a philosopher's dialectic: they would be rooted in the body as well as in the mind, in the unconscious as well as the conscious, in forests and deserts as well as in highways and buildings, in bed as well as in the symposium. Do you not agree, asks Socrates in the Republic, that the worst of men is the man who expresses in waking reality the character of man in his dreams? But modern utopias will have to pay some attention to the lawless and violent lusts of the dreamer, for their foundations will still be in dreamland. A fixed location in space is "there," and "there" is the only answer to the spatial question "where?" Utopia, in fact and in etymology, is not a place; and when the society it seeks to transcend is everywhere, it can only fit into what is left, the invisible non-spatial point in the center of space. The question "Where is utopia?" is the same as the question "Where is nowhere?" and the only answer to that question is "here."