Utopia overseas: Robinson Crusoe; A General History of the Pyrates; Gaudentio di Lucca; Peter Wilkins
Defoe’s qualifications as a utopian writer start with a background that places him in an ideal position to negotiate between the early eighteenth-century world and worlds elsewhere. His roots are in the seventeenth century (he was born c.1660), in the same soil of religious dissent that traditionally produced thinkers who combine the visionary and the pragmatic. For these earlier Utopians, the light of spiritual illumination transfigured English earth and the prospect of the millennium had transiently revolutionised English politics. For Defoe - post-1688 and post-Locke - it was a peaceful property-owning revolution that had triumphed, and that could be exported. Yet he is still a Dissenter, neither a complete insider nor an outsider in his own culture. This background may partly account for the revolutionary zeal he directs into secular reform or ‘Projects’.