Utopia – What it is, concept, origin, examples and dystopia

We explain what a utopia is, the origin of the term and various utopias imagined in history. Also, what is a dystopia.

A utopia is proposed as the best possible scenario for the future.

What is a utopia?

By the word utopia we generally refer to an ideal, perfect and desirable human society, which constitutes the best possible scenario for the future; and by extension, we also refer to the plans, projects or doctrines that aspire to achieve or build it. In that sense, the term expresses that this society is unattainable, impossible to do anywhere else than in the imagination.

The word utopia first appeared in 1516, in the work of Thomas More (1478-1535) Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo reipublicae statu, deque nova insula Vtopia (“Truly golden booklet, no less beneficial than entertaining, on the best state of a republic and the new island of Utopia”), in which he described a “perfect” society that contrasted with the England of the time.

The choice of this word responds to the Greek voices hey (“No and moles (“Place”), in the sense of “no place” or “non-existent place”; although other assumptions prefer to think that it comes from eu (“good and moles (“Place”), that is, “good place”. In any case, the term became popular since then and was used to designate the imaginary societies in which solutions were given to the problems of the time.

These imaginary societies were imagined before their name, and have been the subject of fictions and reflections since ancient times herself. In addition to Moro’s, important examples of ideal societies are, to name a few, the Republic of Plato (c. 427-347 BC), The city of god of Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) or The city of the sun by Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639) and The New Atlantis by Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

The Renaissance and its later times witnessed a veritable proliferation of this type of fictitious societies, which at the same time served to think about the future of real societies.

From the 19th century, however, the term utopian acquired strong political connotations, when associated with the thought of socialist movements prior to Marxism.

The desire to change the world and aspire to a more just society led thinkers such as Henri de Saint Simon (1760-1825), Charles Fourier (1772-1837) or Robert Owen (1771-1858) to design applicable procedures to change the world , which were understood as “utopian communism” in the Communist Manifesto of Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) and Karl Marx (1818-1883), who opposed their “scientific communism”.

Today, the term utopia is used very often to deal with the economic, political, social and ecological ambitions that are more difficult to reconcile with the industrialized capitalist model. The concept of “techno-utopia” has even developed, that is, the belief that technological advances may, one day, lead us to an ideal society.

Utopia and dystopia

dystopia utopia
A dystopia is a fictional scenario in which a dire future is narrated.

If a utopia is an ideal society, a dystopia is the opposite: the worst possible human society, that is, a panorama in which everything went wrong. The term dystopia (or, less frequently, anti-utopia) is used for those fictional scenarios in which an atrocious future is narrated, where the problems of humanity have only worsened or have led to even worse ones.

Although the term “anti-utopia” already appeared in the work of Thomas More from the 16th century, John Stuart Mill is credited with creating “dystopia” (1806-1873) in his speech before Parliament in 1868. Literary works are examples of dystopias A happy world (1932) by Aldus Huxley (1894-1963), 1984 (1947) by George Orwell (1903-1950) or Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury (1920-2012).