BOOKS IN REVIEW
from the Semi-Periphery: Spain, Modernization, and the Enlightenment
Stelio Cro, ed. Description de la Sinapia, Peninsula en la Tierra Austral: A Classical
Utopia of Spain, [Hamilton, Ont.:] McMaster University, 1975. LVII +
146 [+ 721 pp. $7.50.
This edition of a hitherto unpublished Spanish manuscript makes an original
contribution to utopian scholarship. The manuscript, together with another - a treatise on
education almost certainly by the same anonymous author - was found by Professor Cro in
the archive of an eighteenth century lawyer and political bureaucrat, the Count of
Campomanes ( 1723-1802); Professor Cro has published the second ms. as an appendix to the
edition. Both manuscripts are undated. There is no doubt however, as Professor Cro argues
in his lucid and well researched introduction, that Sinapia is an eighteenth-century
utopia of the Spanish Enlightenment.1 It had long been
believed that Spain produced no systematic literary utopia.1b
We share Professor Cro's excitement at his find.
There is an additional factor: Sinapia may well constitute, up to this point, the only
literary utopia written from the perspective of what has been described as the
semi-peripheral areas of the modern world system. It therefore raises some useful
questions as to the relationship between utopias and what a contemporary scholar has
called "the tidal wave of modernization."2
Professor Cro relates the writing of More's Utopia to the widespread
transformation of European life, concepts, and attitudes subsequent to the Spanish
discovery and conquest of the New World, to the change and disruption that initiated the
modern era. Central to this transformation was the development of the first global
economic system. This world system, as described by Emmanuel Wallerstein,3 incorporated three areas, each defined by a different
dominant mode of labor control - the core by free wage labor, the semi-periphery by serf
labor, the plantation system of the periphery by forced slave labor. The world market
which linked these areas produced through the mechanism of trade - equal exchange between
unequally valued labor - the relatively unequal levels of development of the three areas.
The mechanism of trade served as a conduit for the accumulation by the core areas of a
disproportionate share of the social wealth that was now produced globally. This access of
social wealth was one of the factors that enabled a "spontaneous" dynamism of
growth which transformed the core areas into today's developed First World. The other
areas had instead to find ways and means of grappling with the correlative cycle of
This may explain the perceptive observation by Professor Cro that, although Sinapia is
heavily influenced by other previous utopias, the manuscript reveals ". . . a line of
political thought original to its creator ... the perfect state is a Christian state based
on science and technology" (p. XIII). If as Professor Cro conjectures, the author of
Sinapia was a feijoista, this would further suggest that a contributing cause of
the political originality of the manuscript is to be found in the nature of Spain's
semi-peripheral relation to European countries such as France, Holland, England.
Feijóo (1676-1764) was both a priest and an academic, one of the elite minority group,
who like Campomanes-- in whose archive both manuscripts were found-- represented the
Enlightenment in Spain. Professor Cro quotes the excellent Spanish historian, Vicens
Vives, who argues that with the inauguration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1700, a European
conception of life came to modify and substitute the Spanish mentality moulded by the
Counter Reformation. But as with all semi-peripheral areas -- Russia with its Slavophile
and Narodnik movements is a case in point -- there is always a strong ambivalence towards
the wave of modernization emanating from the core.
Both Feijóo and the author of Sinapia express an ambivalent attitude to the
European conception. On the one hand, both, like all the elites of underdeveloped areas,
share the dream of "catching up with the core"; and both aspired -- as did the
other ilustrados (i.e., members of the "enlightened" elite) of the time
-- to a "utopian city from which the remnant of medieval barbarism would disappear,
fused in the crucible of a superior culture moulded by progress and tolerance ."4
At the same time, however, Feijóo belonged to the Church-cum-academic bureaucracy,
partaking of the scholastic tradition which had fused intellectual and religious orthodoxy
with national orthodoxy. Most probably this is also true for the author of Sinapia, who,
as Professor Cro speculates, might well have been a priest. Like Feijóo, he was clearly
receptive to the new intellectual stimuli that came from abroad, but he also shared in
this group's identification of the national with the Christian-Catholic that had marked
Spain's brief, if dazzling, imperial hegemony.
In the sixteenth century Spain had been the first core country of the emerging world
system. Her domination of Europe under Charles V, her conquest and expropriation of the
New World, seemed to provide empirical evidence for the national belief that she was a
country destined by God for providential mission, i.e., to realize a Christian utopia on
Earth. Professor Cro refers to the "remarkable utopian flavour" that marks the
sixteenth century chronicles and reports of travelers to the Indies. More "fiction
than history," the narrative impulse of these chronicles was "the search for
happy land, the quest for a perfect society in America" (p. XT).
For with the discovery of the New World a transposition was made by the European
imagination. The former ideal world remote in time, related to a "lost Christian
paradise" and/or "the Golden age of the ancients," was transposed to a
"world remote in space."5 The New World
reality was incorporated into the topos of an adynaton -- which serves both as
the censure of the times and the denunciation of the times -- "the world upside down."6 In Peter Martyr's Decades, e.g., the
factual lineaments of the New World are drawn into the stock literary representations of
the pastoral locus amoenus, and of the innocent neo-Horation aldea (village,
countryside) as contrasted to the corrupt court/city/ civilization. Through these devices
the New World is portrayed as a fusion of the Garden of Eden and the Golden Age, a
figuration that was central to the religious enthusiasm, to the reason-as-nature paradigm
of Christian humanism. The mechanism of world reduction 7
common to utopias works through a series of exclusions or eliminations. Thus Martyr's
Christian-humanist portrait of the New World utopia -- the "goulden worlde of which
oulde wryters speake so much" -- ritually excludes "pestiferous money" and
the legal state apparatus: "where men lyved simply and innocently with inforcement of
lawes, contente only to satisfy nature . . . ."8
The paradox was to be that, although there was an early attempt to model two cities in
New Spain on the model of More's Utopia (pp. V-VI), the actual Spanish New World
societies were in fact organized by the Church and State bureaucratic apparatus whose
minutely regulated laws -- the famous laws of the Indies -- negated the humanist dream of
a stateless paradise. And in Spain itself, this same apparatus, by representing the
Christian humanism of Erasmian thought as religious heresy, censored out this revitalizing
current of thought. The movement of Christian rationalization -- a secularization of
theology and a theologization of the secular -- that had been central to the ongoing
cultural transformation in the core countries of Europe was thereby postponed. Indeed,
through its imposition of religious orthodoxy as national orthodoxy -- heresy came to
constitute Un-Spanish Activities -- the Church/State apparatus stifled the rise of the
incipient Spanish commercial and industrial bourgeoisie. Since Spanish capitalism was thus
thwarted the wealth transferred from the Indies to Spain was siphoned off, through the
mechanism of unequal exchange, in trade to the new core countries: Holland, France,
England. During the seventeenth century Spain was displaced to the semi-periphery. In the
eighteenth century she would have to cope with the fall from grandeur, the retreat from
"manifest destiny" -- with the new phenomenon of underdevelopment.
The underdeveloped semi-periphery is always out-of-date. If the eighteenth century
European Enlightenment was marked by a wave of dechristianization which followed on the
earlier stage of Christian rationalization, Sinapia may be called the utopian
manifesto of the eighteenth- century Spanish attempt at a form of Christian
rationalization. This mode of rationalization might be called and the paradox is
instructive -- the Spanish Christian Enlightenment.
The utopian imagination in the semi-periphery must confront the empirical existence of
superior models of social transformation in the core countries, models which constrain its
projections, preventing it from postulating an autonomous and wholly other system. Because
of this the referential sub-text of the utopian discourse of Sinapia - i.e., the
social reality from which it takes its departure and which it constitutes through
negation/inversion9-- relates at the same time to
eighteenth-century Spain, to the core countries, and to the relation between
them. The utopian "development" plan of Sinapia projects a model which
can set the terms of a new relation, and which -- as with the Russian's Narodniki and the
Spanish ilustrados -- can incorporate selected aspects of the core model by and
through traditional institutions. Feijóo and the author of Sinapia, members of
the Church bureaucracy and of the intellectual scholastic tradition, would seek to use
institutions of the Church in order to create a national form of the European
The theoretical problems which Feijóo deals with in his essays, as well as the
possible solutions, are both posed and resolved by the narrative machinery of Sinapia.
The ideological contradiction facing the Spanish ilustrados determines both
the structure of the text and the structure of the proposed social order.
Feijóo had posed the central problem in the context of addressing what is today a
widespread Third World dilemma -- the problem of the literary and other "backwardness
of our nation." In pushing for educational reform, he argued that Spain should not be
held back by fear of religious heresy from taking advantage of the scientific knowledge
offered them in foreign books. Feijóo's argument was that theology and philosophy each
had their own sphere, that the former as revealed knowledge was superior to the latter
which was the result of mere human knowledge. Spain was well supplied with trained
theologians who could discern what was opposed to Christian Faith and what was not. The
Holy Tribunal of the Inquisition was always on guard to defend religious doctrine by
removing, in Feijóo's words, any "poison" that might accompany the
"liquor" of the new learning.10 The new
climate of thought was to be filtered through the selective framework of bureaucratized
Sinapia, in giving narrative representability to this solution, both resembles
and differs from the utopian structures of the French Enlightenment. This relationship of
parallelism and divergence can most usefully be envisaged in terms of Mannheim's and
Deleuze/Guattari's analyses of utopia. Mannheim's distinction between ideology as the
legitimation of the ruling group and utopia as the manifesto of a social group aspiring to
hegemony is reinforced by Deleuze and Guattari's analysis of the role played by utopias in
the legitimation and delegitimation of desire. They argue that utopias function not
"as ideal models but as group fantasies, as agents of the real productivity of
desire, making it possible to disinvest the current social field, to de-institutionalize
it . . . ."11
Like its contemporary French utopias, Sinapia disinvests the social field of
the aristocracy, delegitimates its accompanying climate of thought. Professor Cro points
to the difference between Plato's Republic and Sinapia (pp. XVII-XVIII).
The former legitimates the rule of a military aristocracy, the latter delegitimates the
representational categories of the still powerful landed aristocracy. By limiting war and
preferring peace, even if gained through bribery and stratagem, Sinapia displaces
the military code with the work-ethic. It replaces the aristocratic code of honor with the
bourgeois utilitarian ethic; the prodigality and conspicuous luxury consumption of the
aristocracy with the sober moderation of the middle class. The speculative imagination
here acts as "a general solvent" 12 of the
system of representation of the aristocracy.
In this, Sinapia is at one with the European Enlightenment, sharing
in its "social equalitarianism and rationalism" (p. XXVIII). This is borne out
by the internal evidence of the utopian stock figures in the text. The figures of the
Persian prince Sinap and the prelate Codabend, and in particular that of Siang, the
Chinese philosopher, are all borrowed from the French Enlightenment. And it is the wave of
dechristianization in Europe, Baudet suggests, that may have been responsible for the
enthusiasm "for China and other lands that swept across Europe in the eighteenth
century." The real historical figure of Confucius -- the philosopher who was not a
religious founder -- was central to the European representation of the Chinese "who
honour everything, their parents and the ancestors." This mixture of reverence for
tradition allied to a secular morality coming out of a higher culture provides the
ideological legitimation for the figures of one of the founders of Sinapia, the
Chinese Siang. The other two founders, the Persian prince and prelate also come out of the
eighteenth-century literary stock in which - together with the Noble Savages -
"Turks, Persians and other Non-Westerners were installed alongside the Chinese."
However, if Sinapia borrows figures from the European Enlightenment, it uses
them in a specific manner. The narration in which the Chinese philosopher Siang is
converted by the Persian Christians signifies a reconciliation between Christian orthodoxy
(the Persians) and the natural sciences (Siang). In addition, by re-transposing the
imagined ideal world back in time -- the Persian Christians represent an earlier mode of
Christianity, that of the third and fourth centuries -- and combining this with the
European Enlightenment's use of cultures of a higher order, Sinapia turns its
back on both the prelepsarian Golden-Age-type utopia of the Christian Humanists and on the
Rousseauist perfect state of nature with its emphasis on the individual.
In the European conception, the theme of economic freedom "defined as social
equality based on the division of labour and private property"14
was linked to the representation of man's individual origin in a state of nature. The
concept of the originally free and unbound individual with his natural right to private
property was to be the mythological charter of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie
on their rise to hegemony. The feudal rights of the nobility to their large landed estates
was delegitimated along with the concept of rights based on birth. In the state of Nature
there is a reversal of all ranks. Merit is what now counts in the competitive
Sinapia also joins in this delegitimation of the property rights of the
nobility. But it postulates as its ideal imagined world the earlier Church structure with
its emphasis on the Christian community, where all property is held as collective
state property. Thus in Sinapia, with its ritual exclusion of private property,
money, and markets, capitalism is put off limits. If the "natural state"
conception led in France to the idea of remaking the world anew on the model of its
imaginary origins, the remaking of the social order in Sinapia means a
conservative return to earlier political structures, which are paradoxically able to
incorporate the natural sciences represented as the pagan tradition of thought of
"higher cultures." The state of Nature is in it implicitly delegitimated; thus,
the "noble savage" American Indian and Black can play no ideal role in Sinapia.
Rather they are subjected to the "civilizing" influences of the superior
Christian and Chinese cultures. The ideal Incas, the model for Campanella's City of
the Sun, become in Sinapia Peruvian Chinchas whose "rusticity" has
to be civilized, just as the Malay's "ferocity" has to be
"domesticated" (p. 6).
It is the Black, however, who is most displaced from the natural state ideal of
"noble savage," to the lowest rank in the pecking order of races and cultures.
Blacks are represented as simple and docile, as negrillos called Zambales. They
were cleared out of the geographical space by the Malays who drove them into the adjoining
country of the Galos. Later, in the context of Christian universality, the Blacks are
represented as one of the races involved in the mixture which has produced the Sinapian.
Here their "race" is designated by the literary term of Ethiopian. They are
assimilated by the use of this term to a legendary medieval utopian figure -- the
priest-king of Ethiopia, Prester John.
When Europeans were themselves semiperipheral to the then hegemonic Mohammedan power,
Prester John had played a powerful role in the European imagination as the black image of
Christian power who would one day deliver them from the Moors.15
His imagined kingdom -- a magical utopia with a pool which rejuvenated men, and a magic
table which cured drunkenness -- was also the ideal model of a Christian state in which a
Priest King combined religious and temporal power. This original model of a priest king
becomes, in the utopia of Sinapia, the model of the ideal state patterned on a
church hierarchy. The magical model of Prester John is transformed into the rationalized
model, in which the Christian community is converted into a paternal social machine.
Geographically Sinapia is divided into units-family dwellings; several such units
constitute a barrio, several of which constitute a villa (town), several
of which constitute a city, several of which constitute a metropolis, several of which
constitute a province, nine of which constitute Sinapia. Socially and
politically, each unit is ruled by a Father, each Father with prescribed degrees of power
to punish their family members and the two slaves allotted to them. Slaves, private and
public, are made slaves as a punishment for their crimes, but the power to decide on
limited or perpetual slavery is confined to the top Fathers and to the Prince who
functions as chief magistrate. Thus the fathers of the family are punishable by the
fathers of the barrio. who in turn, are punishable by the fathers of the villa,
and so forth. The prince, with the Senate's approval, alone has the right to punish
by death, life-slavery, or exile. Sinapia thus exemplifies the carceral complex,
designed to identify deviance and the social norm of orthodoxy.16
Exile is retained as the punishment for heresy. Heretics are given a chance to recant;
if they do not, they must be totally excluded from the Kingdom. For Sinapia is,
above all, a social and ideological autarchy, that mode of utopia central to all
forms of the bourgeois - i.e., both non-aristocratic and non-popular-imagination. As
Roland Barthes points out, the sites of utopia are always rigidly enclosed so that they
can constitute a social autarchy. The inhabitants of these bourgeois modes of utopia are
always shut in so as to "form a total society, endowed with an economy, a morality, a
language and a time articulated into schedules, labours, and celebrations. Here as
elsewhere the enclosure permits the system, i.e., the imagination...."17
Sinapia is represented as completely enclosed from the rest of the world; it is well
protected by armed forces against any outside intrusion. Trade is strictly regulated and
only carried out by a few selected bureaucrats; exit and entrance visas are strictly
supervised. And if Sinapia rigidly excludes Christian religious enthusiasm, a new
kind of rational enthusiasm for totalitarian supervision and control pervades the text.
The real stroke of imaginative brilliance in the work is to be found in the meticulous
arrangements for a form of censorship which will enable the incorporation of the novelties
of the natural sciences without any danger of deviationist heresy.
Merchants of Enlightenment - mercaderes de luz, much as in Bacon's New
Atlantis -- are dispatched to purchase, with no expense spared, the "new
technology": books and models for "the advancement of the sciences and the
arts" (p. 58). When brought back, all material must first be decontaminated,
distilled by a highly ingenious form of censorship. A group of censors -- gatherers,
miners, distillers, improvers -- select out the material that can be utilized, and even
improve upon the models and scientific paradigms. Whatever is considered ideologically
dangerous to the Christian-bureaucratic mode of organization, to its static perfection --
for Sinapia is a classical utopia -- is filtered out, the "poison"
removed (to repeat Feijóo's metaphor) as the "liquor" is distilled.
Sinapians are therefore locked within a totalitarian representation of reality.
material distribution is used as the legitimation for unequal access to the
means of information and communication. The desire disinvested from the social field of
the landed aristocracy is reinvested not into the private property bourgeoisie but into
the social field of the technocratic/bureaucratic bourgeoisie whose representational
categories legitimate an intellectual and imaginative autarchy. In fact, the utopian mode
of Sinapia seems to prefigure the dystopian realization in our time of the
representational autarchy -- with its managed reality and managed fantasy -- imposed by
the bureaucratic/corporate elite of the First, Second, and Third World through the
Indeed, correlative to this Sinapia can also teach us something about modern
SF. Our century has seen the beginning of the end of the Eurocentric cultural autarchy
with the historical emergence of former utopian fictional Others -- the Chinese, the
Persians, the Blacks, the Mohammedans -- from exoticism. In the context of this historical
movement another transposition has been made from terrestrial to extra-terrestrial
time/space, and fictional Others. If we see SF as the updated pseudo-utopian mode of the
global (and increasingly dominant) technocratic bourgeoisie, as the expression of its
group fantasy, then one of SF's more troubling aspects -- a neo-fascist elitism that
reminds one of Sinapia's, based as it is on the projection of "higher
cultures" -- becomes theoretically explicable. From Clarke's 2001: A Space
Odyssey to Star Wars, SF -- like Sinapia -- ritually excludes or
marginalizes the "Lesser breeds without the law," outside of technological
rationality -- what Ursula Le Guin has called the social, sexual, and racial aliens.18 Such SF excludes, in fact, the popular forces who today
embody the millenarian heresy of utopian longing,19 and
who are on our world scene the only alternative to the new, non-propertied technocratic
1. The ms. dating has led to an ongoing critical dispute
between Professor Cro and Professor Miguel Avilás Fernández, who has also published an
edition of Sinapia: Una Utopia Española del siglo de las luces (Madrid: Ed.
Nacional, 1976). Cro in his later work A Forerunner of the Enlightenment in Spain (Hamilton,
Ont.: McMaster Univ., 1976) argues on the basis
of a newly discovered reference
for a 1682 date, which would imply that the author is a forerunner rather than
contemporary or follower of the feijoista current. Against this, Avilós
Fernández argues from internal evidence that Sinapia is a product of the
Enlightenment and was most probably written by the Count of Campomanes in the last third
of the 18th century. I agree that this work belongs to an 18th-century discourse, even
though I would place it in the earlier part of that century, so that I am reluctant to
attribute it to Campomanes. For a balanced discussion of the opposing viewpoints see F.
Lopez Estrada, "Màs noticias sobre la Sinapia o utopia española," Moreana No.
55-56 (1977): 23-33.
lb. Monroe Z. Hafter in "Towards a History of Spanish
Imaginary Voyages," Eighteenth Century Studies,8 Spring 1975):
265-82 discusses a "full-length Spanish imaginary voyage written in the
Enlightenment" which pretends to be the true account of a philosopher who voyages in
an unknown civilization, Selenópolis (Madrid, 1804). Hafter argues that although
no study of imaginary voyages lists so much as a single original Spanish text,
nevertheless this account, while it "stands out for its developed portrait of the
ideal lunar society of Selenopolis ... forms part of a trajectory to which interest is
astronomy, distant travel, and social satire contributed over a period of many years"
(p. 266). The parallels between Sinapia and Selenópolis are clear - the
problem of incorporating the natural sciences and the need to rationalize society. But the
basic difference is that Selenópolis is an open society (encouraging trade, internal and
external) which marginalizes religion, while Sinapia is a closed theocratic society. The
narrative device of the voyage to a land which is projected as existing -
Selenópolis - leads to somewhat different conclusions than does the projection of a
utopia - a no-where - whose existence is figuratively located in the geography of the
narrative itself. But Sinapia does belong to a wave of speculative thought,
typical of underdeveloped countries, ceaselessly seeking to correct a
"backwardness" whose causes are as much external - in the system of relations -
as they are internal; a history of thought therefore marked by a Sisyphean futility.
Hafter discusses the history and extension of this wave, expressed both in book form and
in journalistic literature.
2. Ernest Gellner, Thought and Change (Chicago, 1965),
3. Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modem World-System: Capitalist
Agriculture and the Origin of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century (New
York, 1974), pp. 86-87.
4. Jaime Vicens Vives, Manual de historia económica de
España (Barcelona, 1969), p. 431; my translation of the original Spanish quoted by
Professor Cro (p..XIX).
5. Henri Baudet, Paradise on Earth: Some Thoughts On European
Images of Non-European Man (New Haven, 1965), p. 32; and J.H. Elliott, The Old
World and the New, 1492-1650 (Cambridge, 1970), p. 25.
6. Ernst Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle
Ages (New York, 1952), p. 96.
7. Fredric Jameson. "World Reduction in Le Guin: The
Emergence of Utopian Narrative," SFS 2 (Nov. 1975).
8. Peter Martyr, Decades, trans. R. Eden (1555), in The
First Three English Books on America, ed. E. Arber (Birmingham, 1885), p. 71; quoted
by J.H. Elliot, p. 26.
9. See Fredric Jameson, "Of Islands and Trenches:
Neutralization and the Production of Utopian Discourse," Diacritics (June
10. Padre Feijóo, Cartas eruditas y curiosas, etc.
1742-1760; see the letter, "Causas del atraso que se padece en España en orden
a las ciencas naturales," in the anthology Spanish Literature 1700-1900, B.P.
Patt and M. Nozick eds. (New York, 1965), pp. 7-16.
11. Karl Mannheim. Ideology and Utopia (New York,
1940), p. 38; and G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia (New York, 1977), pp. 30-31.
12. Jakob Burckhardt, Reflections on History (London,
1943), p. 110; quoted by Baudet, p. 72.
13. Baudet, p. 43 and p. 45.
14. Ibid., p. 59.
15. See Ibid., pp. 15-20; also Robert Silverberg, The Realm
of Prester John (New York, 1972).
16. See Michael Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth
of the Prison (New York, 1977), p. 30.
17. Roland Barthes, Sade/Fourier/Loyola (New York,
1976). p. 17.
18. Ursula Le Guin, "American SF and the Other," SFS,
19. The emergence, in the periphery areas of the world system,
of political /religious cults like Jamaican Rastafarianisin -- the Reggae singer Bob
Marley expresses in his hit song "Exodus" the inversion/negation of the social
order through its delegitimation as Babylon compared to the projected true home of Zion --
are the contemporary expressions of popular movements of insubordination. The parallels
with the Gnostics who delegitimated the classical kosmos at the end of antiquity, thus
ushering in the new figurative space which Christianity was to inhabit, are clear.