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Utopias: A Brief History from Ancient Writings to Virtual Communities



Utopias: A Brief History from Ancient Writings to Virtual Communities

Howard P. Segal

ISBN: 978-1-405-18329-1 May 2012 Wiley-Blackwell 304 Pages


This brief history connects the past and present of utopian thought, from the first utopias in ancient Greece, right up to present day visions of cyberspace communities and paradise.
  • Explores the purpose of utopias, what they reveal about the societies who conceive them, and how utopias have changed over the centuries
  • Unique in including both non-Western and Western visions of utopia
  • Explores the many forms utopias have taken – prophecies and oratory, writings, political movements, world's fairs, physical communities – and also discusses high-tech and cyberspace visions for the first time
  • The first book to analyze the implicitly utopian dimensions of reform crusades like Technocracy of the 1930s and Modernization Theory of the 1950s, and the laptop classroom initiatives of recent years
Preface xi

Introduction 1

1 The Nature of Utopias 5

Utopias Defined 5

Utopias Differ from both Millenarian Movements and Science Fiction 8

Utopias' Spiritual Qualities are Akin to those of Formal Religions 9

Utopias'Real Goal: Not Prediction of the Future but Improvement of the Present 12

How and When Utopias are Expected to be Established 13

2 The Variety of Utopias 16

The Global Nature of Utopias: Utopias are Predominantly but not Exclusively Western 16

The Several Genres of Utopianism: Prophecies and Oratory, Political Movements, Communities, Writings, World's Fairs, Cyberspace 24

3 The European Utopias and Utopians and Their Critics 47

The Pioneering European Visionaries and Their Basic Beliefs: Plato's Republic and More's Utopia 47

Forging the Connections Between Science, Technology, and Utopia 50

The Pansophists 53

The Prophets of Progress: Condorcet, Saint-Simon, and Comte 55

Dissenters from the Ideology of Unadulterated Scientific and Technological Progress: Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, and William Morris 58

The Expansive Visions of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier 60

The "Scientific"Socialism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels 66

4 The American Utopias and Utopians and Their Critics 74

America as Utopia: Potential and Fulfillment 74

The Pioneering American Visionaries and their Basic Beliefs in America as Land of Opportunity: John Adolphus Etzler, Thomas Ewbank, and Mary Griffith 78

America as "Second Creation": Enthusiasm and Disillusionment 81

5 Growing Expectations of Realizing Utopia in the United States and Europe 89

Later American Technological Utopians: John Macnie Through Harold Loeb 89

Utopia Within Sight: The American Technocracy Crusade 96

Utopia Within Reach: "The Best and the Brightest"—Post-World War II Science and Technology Policy in the United States and Western Europe and the Triumph of the Social Sciences 99

On Misreading Frankenstein: How Scientific and Technological Advances have Changed Traditional Criticisms of Utopianism in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries 123

6 Utopia Reconsidered 139

The Growing Retreat from Space Exploration and Other Megaprojects 139

Nuclear Power: Its Rise, Fall, and Possible Revival—Maine Yankee as a Case Study 142

The Declining Belief in Inventors, Engineers, and Scientists as Heroes; in Experts as Unbiased; and in Science and Technology as Social Panaceas 157

Contemporary Prophets for Profit: The Rise and Partial Fall of Professional Forecasters 160

Post-colonial Critiques of Western Science and Technology as Measures of "Progress"169

7 The Resurgence of Utopianism 186

The Major Contemporary Utopians and Their Basic Beliefs 186

Social Media: Utopia at One's Fingertips 193

Recent and Contemporary Utopian Communities 194

The Star Trek Empire: Science Fiction Becomes Less Escapist 199

Edutopia: George Lucas and Others 203

The Fate of Books and Newspapers: Utopian and Dystopian Aspirations 217

8 The Future of Utopias and Utopianism 234

The "Scientific and Technological Plateau"and the Redefinition of Progress 234

Conclusion: Why Utopia Still Matters Today and Tomorrow 241

Further Reading 261

Index 269

"Segal does not shy away from bold definitions and delineations to separate utopias from millenarianism and science fiction, from abstract utopias and daydreams. ...Utopias is an accessible and thought-provoking introduction to utopias and utopianism and will appeal to scholars, students, and the general reader alike."  (Utopian Studies, 1 October 2015)

"In the capable hands of Howard P. Segal, professor of history at the University of Maine, technology rightfully has an important role in the imagination of alternative societies. His concise, well-written book covers utopias ancient and modern, Western and non-Western, and it is not limited to fiction conventionally labeled utopian but includes world’s fairs, social science, digital media, prophecies, millennial movements, and science fiction."  (Technology and Culture, 1 October 2015)

“To conclude: Segal’s book on utopias is a well-made treatise on an important aspect of European and American history. He convincingly shows that utopias had a political, as well as an economic, relevance. The view on the interaction between different cultural systems, such as art, politics, religion, technology, and economics, is a great strength of the book. It shows how complex processes around utopian visions have been, and how relevant they are for the implementation and change of different cultural spheres.”  (Religion, 30 May 2015)

“This text provides a unique approach for teaching history and the history of science.  Highly recommended.  General readers; lower-division undergraduates and above.  (Choice, 1 February 2013)

“Segal brings considerable scholarship and experience to bear, particularly on the historical intersections between technology and utopia ... [He] covers several continents and many centuries, addressing key texts and thinkers ... [and] supplies impressive coverage and thoughtful interpretations.” (Times Higher Education, 12 July 2012)