The Story of Utopias, by Lewis Mumford, , at sacred-texts.com
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How Bacon and Campanella, who have a great reputation as utopians, are little better than echoes of the men who went before them.
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A GENOESE sea-captain is the guest of a Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller. This sea-captain tells him of a great country under the equator, dominated by the City of the Sun. The outward appearance of this country is a little strangethe city with its seven rings named after the seven planets, and its four gates that lead to the four quarters of the earth, and the hill that is topt by a grand temple, and the walls covered with laws and alphabets and paintings of natural phenomena, and the RulersPower, Wisdom, and Lovewith the learned doctors, Astrologus, Cosmographus, Arithmeticus, and their like: it is an apparition such as never yet was seen on land or sea. Small wonder, for this City of the Sun existed only in the exotic brain of a Calabrian monk, Tommaso Campanella, whose Utopia existed in manuscript before Andreæ wrote his Christianopolis.
We shall not stay long in the City of the Sun. After we have become familiar with the outward color and form of the landscape, we discover, alas! that it is not a foreign country we are exploring, but a sort of picture puzzle put together out of fragments from Plato and More. As in the Republic, there is a complete community of property, a community of wives, and an equality of the sexes; as in Utopia, the younger people wait upon the elders; as in Christianopolis, science is
imparted, or at least hinted at, by demonstration. When one subtracts what these other Utopian countries have contributed, very little indeed remains.
But we must not neglect to observe two significant passages. One of them is the recognition of the part that invention might play in the ideal commonwealth. The people of the City of the Sun have wagons that are driven by the wind, and boats "which go over the waters without rowers or the force of the wind, but by a marvelous contrivance." There is a very clear anticipation of the mechanical improvements which began to multiply so rapidly in the eighteenth century. At the tale end of the sea-captain's recital, the Grand Master exclaims: "Oh, if you knew what our astrologers say of the coming age, that has in it more history within a hundred years than all the world had in four thousand years before! Of the wonderful invention of printing and guns, and the use of the magnet. . . . " With the mechanical arts in full development, labor in the City of the Sun has become dignified: it is not the custom to keep slaves. Since everyone takes his part in the common work, there is not more than four hours work to be done per day. "They are rich because they want nothing; poor because they possess nothing; and consequently they are not slaves to circumstances, but circumstances serve them."
The other point upon which Campanella's observation is remarkably keen is his explanation of the relation of private property and the private household to the commonwealth. Thus:
"They say that all private property is acquired and improved for the reason that each one of us by himself has his own home and wife and children. From this
self-love springs. For when we raise a son to riches and dignities, and leave an heir to much wealth, we become either ready to grasp at the property of the state, if in any case fear should be removed from the power which belongs to riches and rank; or avaricious, crafty, and hypocritical, if any is of slender purse, little strength, and mean ancestry. But when we have taken away self-love, there remains only love for the state."
How shall the common Utopia keep from being neglected through each one's concern for his little private utopia?
This is the critical problem that our utopians have all to face; and Campanella loyally follows Plato in his solution. It is perhaps inevitable that each utopian's personal experience of life should enter into his solution, and overwhelmingly give it color; and here the limitations of our utopians are plain. More and Andreæ are married men, and they stand for the individual family. Plato and Campanella were bachelors, and they proposed that men should live like monks or soldiers. Perhaps these two camps are not so far away as they would seem. If we follow the exposition of that excellent anthropologist, Professor Edward Westermarck, we shall be fairly well convinced, I believe, that marriage is a biological institution, and thorough promiscuity is, to say the least, an unusual form of mating. Plato perhaps recognized this when he left us in doubt as to whether a community of wives would be practiced by his artisans and husbandmen. So he perhaps paves the way for a solution by which the normal life for the great majority of men would be marriage, with its individual concerns and loyalties, whilst for the active,
creative elements in the community a less secluded form of mating would be practiced. The painter, Van Gogh, has given us a kernel to chew on when he says that the sexual life of the artist must be either that of the monk or the soldier, for otherwise he is distracted from his creative work.
We may leave this question in the air, as long as we realize that all our utopias rest upon our ability to discover some sort of a solution.
Francis Bacon's New Atlantis is not a utopia in the sense that I have explained our principle of selection in the preface to the bibliography. It is only a fragment, and not very good as fragments go; and it would drop out altogether from our survey were it not for the hugely over-rated reputation that Bacon has as a philosopher of natural scienceindeed, as the philosopher after Aristotle.
The greater part of Bacon's ideas are anticipated and more amply expressed by Andreæ. When we have deleted Bacon's multitudinous prayers and exhortations, when we have disposed of his copious descriptions of jewels and velvets and satins and ceremonial regalia, we find that the core of his commonwealth is Salomon's House, sometimes known as the College of the Six Days' Works; which he describes as the noblest foundation that ever was upon earth, and the lantern of the kingdom.
The purpose of this foundation is the "knowledge of the causes and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of
all things possible." The material resources of this foundation are manifold. It has laboratories dug into the sides of hills, and observatories with towers half a mile high; it has great lakes of salt and fresh water which seem to anticipate the marine laboratories we know today; and it has engines for setting things in motion. Besides this, there are spacious houses where physical demonstrations are made, and sanatoria where various novel cures are attempted; there are experimental agricultural stations, too, where grafts and crosses are tried. Add to this pharmaceutical laboratories, industrial laboratories, and numerous houses devoted to such things as experiments with sounds, lights, perfumes, and tasteswhich Bacon presents in a wild farrago without any regard to the essential sciences to which the work he describes is relatedand one has a tally of the "riches of Salomon's House."
Twelve fellows of the college travel into foreign lands to bring back books and abstracts, and reports on experiments and inventions. Three make a digest of experiments. Three collect the experiments of all the mechanical arts, and also of practices which are not brought into the arts. Three try new experiments. Three devote themselves to classifications; and another three, known as dowry men or benefactors, look into the experiments of their fellows and cast about for means of applying them to human life and knowledge. Three fellows consult with the whole body of scientific workers and plan new channels of investigation; and three, who are called interpreters of nature, attempt to raise the results of particular investigations into general observations and axioms.
In telling all this, as in the rest of his New Atlantis,
[paragraph continues] Bacon is incredibly childish and incoherent: he gives such a description of Salomon's House as a six-year-old schoolboy might give of a visit to the Rockefeller Foundation. Beneath these maladroit interpretations, however, we see that Bacon had a grasp on some of the fundamentals of scientific research, and of the part that science might play in the "relief of man's estate." It is nothing more than a hint, this New Atlantis; but a word to the wise is enough; and as we look about the modern world we see that, in its material affairs at any rate, the great scientific institutes and foundationsthe United States Bureau of Standards, for oneplay a part not a little like that of the College of the Six Days Works.
Campanella with his dream of powerful mechanical inventions, in which he had been anticipated by Leonardo, and Bacon with his sketch of scientific instituteswith these two utopians we stand at the entrance to the utopia of means; that is to say, the place in which all that materially contributes to the good life has been perfected. The earlier utopias were concerned to establish the things which men should aim for in life. The utopias of the later Renascence took these aims for granted and discussed how man's scope of action might be broadened. In this the utopians only reflected the temper of their time; and did not attempt to remold it. As a result of our preoccupation with the means, we in the Western World live in an inventor's paradise. Scientific knowledge and mechanical power we have to burn; more knowledge and more power than Bacon or Campanella could possibly have dreamed of. But today we face again the riddle that Plato, More, and
[paragraph continues] Andreæ sought to answer: what are men to do with their knowledge and power?
As we skip here and there through the Utopias of the next three centuries, this question gets more deeply impregnated in our minds.