On Utopia

As long as there has been civilization, it has been imperfect. As long as there have been philosophers, they have imagined perfect worlds. But the word utopia, coined by Thomas More in his eponymous book, is derived from the Ancient Greek οὐτοπία, which means “no such place.”

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ vision of a communist society has been the most widespread of all such ideas. Just as notable are the American states founded on utopian ideals — namely, Massachusetts and Utah. Such experiments on a smaller scale can be found throughout the United States. But these all have one thing in common — they have never succeeded.

Why is this? Why have Communist movements, despite their high ideals, always failed or been corrupted into totalitarianism? Why did New Harmony and Equality Colony falter while Packingtown had to be exterminated by the progressive movement? The answer, I believe, lies in an inherent flaw in the idea of a utopian society: every one of the members of the society must make conscious, continual efforts to adhere to its ‘central goal’, be it collectivism or theocracy or respect for nature. There is no room in such an idealized imagining for the realities of dissent and individualism; no place for the diversity of human beings, one of our most important characteristics, to shine. Instead, all people in the society are assumed to have the same slavish devotion to its principles as its creator. This is why utopias always collapse into debt or squabbling — because they cannot handle even small differences in opinion and action.

In contrast, philosophies of government that have ascended in power and proven their worth in matters of stability portray the opposite belief: capitalism, regardless of its lack of economic support for those who need it most, glorifies the individual’s ability to make choices, while functional democracy is based on the disparate opinions of its individual members.

Socialism cannot last because of its utopian attitude towards collectivism and economic welfare, whereas free market capitalism does nothing to alleviate the suffering of the poor. So is there a coherent economical philosophy that is both sustainable and receptive to the people’s problems? I believe there are several, which will be discussed in another post. #