Planting the Seeds of American Utopianism
This section reviews literature which addresses arcadian conceptions of the ideal community. Such a perspective, with its emphasis on garden and pastoral metaphors, is useful in the analysis of American utopianism.
ReferencesBrachlow, S. (1988). The communion of the saints: Radical puritan and separatist ecclesiology, 1570-1625. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Eliade, M. (1966). Paradise and utopia: mythical geography and eschatology. In F.E. Manuel's (Ed.). Utopias and utopian thought (pp. 260-280). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Frye, N. (1966). Varieties of literary utopias. In F.E. Manuel's (Ed.). Utopias and utopian thought (pp. 25-49). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Hardy, D. & Ward, C. (1984). Arcadia for all: The legacy of a makeshift landscape. London: Mansell Publishing Limited.Lingeman, R. (1980). Small town America: A narrative history, 1620-The Present. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.Litwak, L. (1975). A dream of arcadia: Anti-industrialism in Spanish literature, 1895-1905. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Locke, J. (1952). The second treatise of government. New York: Macmillan Publishing.Watkins, O.C. (1972). The puritan experience: Studies in spiritual autobiography. New York: Schocken Books.Winthrop, J. (1994). A modell of Christian charity. In P. Lauter (Ed.). The Heath anthology of American literature (Vol. 1) (pp. 226-231). Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company.
- This section examines the concept of arcadia and its relationship to utopianism. Frye (1966) suggests that a pastoral conception of human interaction and its relationship with nature is best defined as arcadian, not utopian -- "a society of shepherds without distinction of class, engaged in a life that permit[s] the maximum of peace and of leisure" (p. 41). The characteristics of an arcadian community, Frye notes, are simplicity and equality. Instead of placing humanity in a position of mechanized dominance over the landscape, arcadia finds the individual at peace with external and internal nature. Hardy and Ward (1984) emphasize arcadia's "purer way of life rooted in a past, more natural setting" (p. 9). The simplicity of desires which follows might be found in Rousseau's conception of the state of nature. The arcadian theme in art, literature, and community planning served as a critical response to the threat of mechanized society and its potential infringement against human nature. In her analysis of anti-industrial themes in Spanish literature, Litwak (1975) described the arcadian "propaganda" for beauty in contrast with the ugliness of modern society. She epitomizes the arcadian enemy with the London Exposition of 1851, "where it was proclaimed that art and industry could live together for a happier future" (p. 4).
- The emergence of an actual America from its mythic origins reveals that the arcadian vision contained the seeds of a nation of villages and high ideals. When Locke wrote in his Second Treatise that, "in the beginning all the world was America" (p. 29), he denounced an uncultivated wasteland, devoid of labor and currency. However, puritan founders envisioned a green space in which organic community vitiated the need for a Lockian body politic apart from civil society. Standing aboard the Arabella in 1630, John Winthrop declared in the linguistic style of his day "that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill" (p. 233). This shining example would not be forged in iron, but planted in the fields of human souls; and it would exemplify a world where all the world would become America again. Such a sentiment is explored by Eliade (1966), who writes of a myth of the eternal return: "[A] periodic regeneration of time presupposes, in more or less explicit form -- and especially in the historical civilizations -- a new Creation, that is, a repetition of the cosmogonic act" (p. 52).
- It must be recalled that puritan endeavors to grow an organic community took place not within a garden of Eden, but within a wilderness of evil. The struggle of building within that wilderness of demonic threats was viewed as a terrible ordeal designed to test God's chosen people before the promise was to be fulfilled. Yet, that arcadian vision, with its sense of organic relationship and cyclical return, enabled a stifling provincialism. Lingeman (1980) describes the organic quality of stability as a key element of the puritan New England town, writing that "[i]t's collective drive was fueled by ideals of peace and order, homogeneity and harmony, conformity and orthodoxy. It may well be said that the New England town government was the seedbed of the American form of democracy, but it was also the locus of the local tyranny of the majority -- or rather the ruling majority" (p. 35). Watkins (1972) notes that puritan community rested upon the "immense reassurance" gained by the use of testimony and home meetings to establish both a commonality of experience and surveillance against those who might rebel against the order (p. 231). This communal power structure which might, from a contemporary perspective, be viewed as oppressive was likely justified in an environment in which "it appeared certain to the more advanced puritans that . . . God was about to bring the long eschatological struggle of the past sixteen centuries to a sudden and resounding climax in their own time" (Brachlow, 1988, p. 79). This theme of immanent change provides common ground between arcadian and utopian literature.
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