chapter  3
8 Pages

Utopian discourse in the eighteenth century: a preliminary view

William Temple echoes a similar sentiment in attacking the utopian principles - as he regards them - of one Mr Bell, who advocated universal employment and an equal division of land and property: ‘This would be a pretty scheme truly, but is as impracticable as Plato's republick.’ He reinforces his point by denigrating the ancient utopian paradigm, the Sparta of Lycurgus:

Truly when this fine scheme and these political Lycurgic institutions are reduced to practice, you will have little or nothing to do, but to follow the example of the disciples of the Spartan legislator, that is, to sing, dance, fiddle, wrestle, run, eat black broth, live in huts, and wear sheep-skins, and in the issue, be extinguished or made slaves of by your invading neighbours.^

He finally demolishes Bell with a metaphor suggestive of utopian voyaging: ‘our author’s volatile imagination has carried so much sail, that it has overset his judgment, wreck’d his memory, and sunk him to the bottom of a gulph of stupidity in a shatter’d crazy theory.’5 Temple’s hammering is intellectually lightweight, designed (in the case of the Sparta passage) to test the instant reflex of a classically educated reader and provoke anti-primitivist, anti-utopian prejudice. Yet even the heavyweights of eighteenth-century political theory can and do appeal to the same prejudices.