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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Cabet's Utopia, at first glance, seems to be a bland sort of communistic Eden. The populace shares in the wonderful wealth of Icaria's agriculture and industry, with universal education and general good health. Equality of the sexes is given, and the arts and sciences flourish. At one oddly prescient point, the narrator notes the many contributions made by women in fields including astronomy - I'm told that, today, astronomy is among the most female-friendly of scientific fields. And, in a passage that I found remarkable for its 1840 authorship, we learn that the Icarians not only tolerate mixed-race couplings, but encourage them. On the whole, though, it looks a lot like Morris's News from Nowhere or any of many other socialist Utopia stories, complete with a drippy and over-heated romance.

Still, it doesn't take long for the chill to set in. Central administrators provide equally for all - identically, in fact, with little regard for individual difference of preference. Women make all the same contibutions to law, medicine, and commerce as men, but in courts, hospitals, and businesses of their own - very nearly a parallel society, segregated by sex, conjuring all the worst of how "separate but equal" policies work in practice. The arts flourish under Icarian commisars. As in Plato's Republic, however, they are commissioned by the state and rigidly selected (censored) for uplifting content. Literature, for example, comes only from state-sponsored and state-trained literateurs. The whole region is intensely cultivated by Icarian agriculture, as was done in Herland. This showed no apparent regard for preservation of natural areas, and took positive glee in extinction of animals deemed un-necessary or counter to human good. In manufacturing industries, the Icarian narrator cheerily describes how an individual artisan masters the creation of some sub-assembly or the execution of some process in constructing a complex product. Glowing words aside, it perfectly summarizes assembly-line hell, which we now understand as monotonous and dehumanizing. Their pageants seem familiar to modern readers, too. Thousands participate in days-long celebrations, where music, song, and drama all celebrate the marvel that was their revolution. So many people are involved in these productions that one wonders who was left to get regular work done while the show was being prepared, and who was left to watch once it started. The huge scale and exclusively patriotic content bring to mind North Korean events of our age, vast displays of wealth and opulence presented to a starving populace.

Cabet unwittingly assembled the worst kind of totalitarian state from the dregs of every other thinker of his time, and wrapped the package in cheery slogans built on assumptions that have not worked out in practice. Utopian thinkers have a duty to themselves to see just how horribly the best of intentions can miscarry.

-- wiredweird
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