Thomas More’s Utopia was published exactly five hundred years ago, in 1516, in Leuven. More had many epigones throughout Europe, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In this utopian fictional genre, the pattern of the story is always the same: a ship sailing from Europe is shipwrecked in the Pacific and the castaways discover a totally new society on a hitherto unknown island. As these utopian writers were inveterate plagiarists, the basic characteristics of these island societies tended to be the same:
- Self-sufficient economy, short working days, slaves doing the unpleasant work
- Egalitarian society, based on democracy
- Belief in nature, the sun, or various gods simultaneously
But the utopianists wrote on other subjects, too, and some of these are highly relevant to the present. Transcending five centuries, Thomas More could easily join in the present-day debate on euthanasia in the Netherlands.
The refugee issue has always played a part in the works of our utopian writers, only in this case the boat people were Europeans.
Notions of animal rights or sustainability have an ancient pedigree too. In 1718 there was even an example in Dutch utopian fiction of a mosquito – the much-dreaded knepko – transmitting a contagious disease.
Take a journey to ten utopian islands and encounter remarkable issues of current relevance:
Utopia (GB, 1516): euthanasia, speed dating, cherishing the intellectually disabled
Ajao (F, c. 1682): foreigners welcome, old age pension at 75, bigamy
Antangil (F, 1616): social conscription for the unemployed
Caléjava (F, 1700): animal rights, polygamy
Christianopolis (D, 1619): no celibacy for priests, sustainable solutions
Città del Sole (I, 1623): probationary period for asylum seekers, eugenics
Galligenia (F, 1765): incest, age-based residential groups
Krinke Kesmes (NL, 1708): foreigners in detention, mosquito transmitting disease
Sevarambes (F, 1675): sex and procreation
Terra Australis Cognita (F, 1676): gender issues, hermaphrodites
Text and compilation: Margreet Schrevel