Many have written about what the ideal state should be like. Some brave and often crazy people have actually attempted to build their own utopias. Here is a partial list of some utopian states that actually got off the ground, at least sort of.
The Republic of Amikejo
Named after the Esperanto word for “A Place of Friendship”, this republic was created in 1909 in what was then a neutral zone between Germany and Belgium. The territory occupied by the Republic of Amikejo was created in 1816, by the victors of the Napoleonic wars, who wanted to create buffer states between France and Germany. The resulting territory of Neutral Moresnet (its official name) had a population of over 2,500 people, most of whom worked in the local zinc mine, the area’s only industry, for their livelihood.
The country was so small and insignificant that it might accurately be classified as a micronation.
The inhabitants of Neutral Moresnet were exempt from military service in the armies of the neighboring states, but they had no passports and were literally not citizens of any country. In 1909, the locals decided to change this and proclaimed the Republic of Amikejo. They had their own national anthem, stamps, and post cards attracted to the curiosity of a state built on the principles of international brotherhood and a one world language of Esperanto. It was an ambitious project at creating a universal utopia that would unite the entire world in friendship, using one universal language.
None of the surrounding countries paid much attention to them, until the start of World War 1, when this tiny sliver of land was overrun by German armies on their way to invade Belgium. The little utopian Republic of Friendship learned the hard way that bullies do not want to be your friend. The country never recovered from the Great War and at the Treaty of Versailles, the winning powers gave the territory of Moresnet and its surviving inhabitants to Belgium.
The State of Franklin
The State of Franklin was an independent territory in what is now Tennessee, shortly after the end of the American War of Independence, created by settlers who were unhappy with the government of North Carolina. The settlers seceded from the State and declared themselves an independent territory, which led to a confrontation between the North Carolina and the territory. Eventually, the territory petitioned the American Congress to be admitted into the Union as a state. To gain support, the territory renamed itself The State of Franklin, after Benjamin Franklin, whom they hoped would support their petition to become a State within the Union.
Seven states voted to admit the tiny state under the proposed name Frankland. Though a majority, the number of states voting in favor fell short of the two-thirds majority required to admit a territory to statehood under the Articles of Confederation.
As a result, the State of Franklin remained de facto independent from the United States. The inhabitants toyed with utopian ideals and a plebiscite narrowly rejected a law that would have disallowed lawyers, doctors and preachers from election to the legislature.
The newly elected legislature made treaties with the Native American tribes in the area, and operated institutions of government such as courts. The State of Franklin had no currency and used barter as the economic system. Payment was allowed to be made using anything in common use such as corn, tobacco, whiskey and animal pelts. John Sevier, the first (and only head of state) was in fact paid in deer hides. The citizens were exempt from all taxes for the first two years of the state’s existence. Truly some kind of backwoods Utopia!
The lack of revenues made development difficult, so the State of Franklin sought a loan from Mexico. However, just like the Republic of Amikejo, the utopia of Franklin soon found itself caught between the not so utopian conflicts between larger countries. North Carolina feared an incursion by the Empire of Mexico which invaded the State of Franklin and deposed its leadership just because Franklin was in the way. However, the local population retained aspirations of independence until local Indian wars forced it to seek protection from the United States.
In late March 1788, the Cherokee, Chickamauga and Chickasaw nations began joint attacks against white American settlements in the State of Franklin. These Indian attacks led the short-lived state to settle its differences with North Carolina very quickly, so their militia could protect the settlers.
By 1790, the government of the State of Franklin collapsed entirely and the territory was re-absorbed by North Carolina. Sevier was elected to the North Carolina legislature to represent the region. Soon thereafter, North Carolina ceded the area former occupied by the State of Franklin to the State of Tennessee. The idealistic dreams of yet another utopia had been crushed by harsh reality.
In 1849, the Mormons who had settled near the Great Salt Lake established the State of Deseret. Deseret is a word meaning honeybee from their holy book, the Book of Mormon. Deseret would have been a Utopian state from the point of view of practicing Mormons, because it would have implemented a government and society strictly modeled after the teachings of Mormonism. Non-Mormons might have disagreed with that assessment, but it was nevertheless in intent, if not actually in practice, an ambitious attempt at creating a Mormon utopia. The project even got support in high places.
The proposes state would have been bounded by natural geographical features: the Rocky Mountains (to the east) and the Sierra Nevada (in the west), and Deseret would have touched the ocean south of the Santa Monica Mountains, to include the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego. In 1849, President Taylor proposed combining California and Deseret into a single Union state, although the American government never officially recognized Deseret.
The State of Deseret carried on all of the functions of a state, calling a Great Assembly, which appointed judges, approved legislature (establishing taxes on liquor and outlawing gambling) and formed a militia.
However, In 1850, the US Congress created the Utah Territory, which encompassed only the northern part of Deseret. The spiritual leader of the Mormons, Brigham Young, was inaugurated as the first governor of Utah Territory on February 3, 1851. On April 4, 1851 the General Assembly of Deseret dissolved itself and the Provisional State of Deseret, though many Mormons continued to dream of the State of Deseret and continued to hold sort of shadow government consisting of Mormon elders which met to “ratify” the laws passed by the legislature of the Utah Territory in the name of “Deseret”. This vestige of Deseret was not finally dissolved until 1870.
The various colonies established by Finnish idealists in various parts of the world represent a little known chapter in the history of utopias.
New Australia (which paradoxically was not located any where near Australia) was a utopian socialist settlement in Paraguay founded by the Australian New Australian Movement. The colony was officially founded on 28 September 1893 as Colonia Nueva Australia and comprised 238 adults and children. Unfortunately the settlers could not agree on whether alcohol should be prohibited in the new colony, and conflict between the pro-alcohol and prohibition forces led to some of the colonists leaving New Australia and forming their own utopia at Cosme, about 72 kilometers farther south. Eventually New Australia was dissolved as a cooperative by the government of Paraguay, and each settler was given their own piece of land.
Finnish Utopian Colonies
From 1792 to the early 1920s, different groups of Finnish emigrants established utopian societies in Africa and elsewhere. Many Utopias were based on religious ideals, while others were devoted to vegetarianism and non-violence.
In 1792, a joint Finnish-Swedish-English planned the establishment of New Jerusalem in what is now Sierra Leone in Africa. However the colony was never established.
A second attempt resulted in the establishment of a colony on Russia’s pacific coast, which actually functioned for a couple of years.
A third attempt led to the establishment of a socialist colony in what is now Queensland, Australia in 1900. However this colony never prospered and remained just an assembly of tents, until it dissolved completely.
A more successful attempt led to the establishment of a socialist colony in British Columbia, Canada which lasted from 1901 to 1915.
Meanwhile a nationalist Finnish colony was founded in Cuba in 1904 to escape Russian domination. A second Cuban colony was established in 1906, but neither colony lasted long.
In the 1920s utopian idealists turned their attention to the tropics which led to plans for four new colonies, three of which materialized, all based on vegetarian principles. In 1929 the colony of Penedo was founded in Brazil and one year later Viljavakka in the Dominican Republic. At the same time a colony of vegetarians was established at Colonia Villa Alborada in Paraguay.
The most thoroughly utopian settlements were Sointula and Penedo, both of which sought to build a completely new world. Most Finnish utopian communities were based on socialist principles. In many communities members received equal wages, and in some communities wages were replaced altogether by social remuneration or payment in kind. In many of these utopias, people ate at communal meals and shared communal dwellings.
The Jonestown Colony
This was a serious attempt at building a utopian religious colony in the middle of the South American jungle. Many hundreds of people, mainly from the United States, emigrated there under the leadership of the charismatic and evil Jim Jones, hoping to build a society based on tolerance, racial equality, and Christian values of compassion, sharing and love.
Instead, what they got was slavery, oppression and mass murder/suicide. The sad ending to this utopian project stands as a testament to what can go wrong when people aim for the perfect state but miss. While it is a noble endeavor to aim for a utopia, it is also important not to drink the kool aid.
Current Utopian Projects
Unfortunately, the practicalities of building a utopia often interfered with the dream. Nearly all the communities suffered from quarrels and disagreements, often over finances but also because the utopians could not agree on a common vision of utopia.
Despite the failure of these Utopias, people have never given up. Even before Sir Thomas More coined the phrase “Utopia” people have been trying to develop the perfect community. Some have never gotten past the drawing board; others have been tried but turned into nightmares (witness the Jim Jones Colony) or fragmented when the Utopian idealists could not all agree on a shared vision of Utopia. Here are some current projects to build the perfect Utopia.