A blupete Essay

Utopia, Part 4 to blupete's Essay
"On The Nature Of Man"

The book shelves of the world are filled with the works of the Utopian writers, "both ancient and modern." They all suppose that a state of society is possible in which "the passions and wills of individuals would be conformed to the general good, in which the knowledge of the best means of promoting human welfare and the desire of contributing to it would banish vice and misery from the world, and in which, the stumbling-blocks of ignorance, of selfishness, and the indulgence of gross appetite being removed, all things would move on by the mere impulse of wisdom and virtue to still higher and higher degrees of perfection and happiness."5

The word Utopia comes from the book, Utopia, wherein Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) described his view of the perfect society. But the first Utopian blueprint in history was written in ancient Greece at about 380 BC. It is Plato's Republic. It was Plato's view that the individual person was not, and could not, be self-sufficient. His view of man is the same that one might have of a laboring beast of the field:

"... And even in the smallest manner ... [one] should stand under leadership. For example, he should get up, or move, or wash, or take his meals ... only if he has been told to do so. In a word, he should teach his soul, by long habit, never to dream of acting independently ... There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands." (Plato).
There was, in this world, to be no perfect state and no perfect men in it, one can only strive for the ideal. To Plato, there was no natural sense on how men ought to live, education was to be the key to the construction of a better society; from the "educated" would arise the elite to rule society. Plato thought it essential that a strict threefold class division be maintained. In addition to the rulers, the Philosopher-kings, there were to be "Auxiliaries" (soldiers, police and civil servants) and the "Workers" (the rest of us).

Plato's view of society was pinned by the belief that philosophers are capable of knowing the absolute truth about how to rule society, and, thus, are justified in wielding absolute power. Such a view is in striking contrast to that of his principal teacher, Socrates (469-399 BC), who was always conscious of how much he did not know, and claimed superiority to unthinking men only in that he was aware of his own ignorance where they were not.

Now, I think most would agree, a stable and efficient society is important; but one should wonder about a society that will use force (legislation) to make the individual give in to the desires of those who have set themselves up as knowing what is best for everyone. Those who subscribe to the theory that we should be ruled by those who really know best, subscribe, whether they know it or not, to Plato's theory of man. Whether we know it or not (and most do not), it is upon this Platonic theory that our modern day society dwells. The theory is: the community is to permit government to use persuasion and force with a view to unite all citizens and make them share together the benefits which each individually can confer on the community for the benefit of the community. This theory -- so attractive in its statement -- is a false theory. When, in its legislation, in its use of force, government suppresses the welfare of the individual; when its efforts are aimed to foster the attitude that one should not proceed to please oneself, government commits a fatal error in the achievement of its laudable object, the betterment of the whole. The essential problem in proceeding in this manner is that individuals cannot contribute to the whole, indeed will be a drain on the whole, unless they are allowed to be free and productive, that is to say allowed to suit themselves.

Men did not evolve into robots; they did not come to possess the independent spirit, so characteristic of man, by serving others; man came to be the superior being, that he clearly is, because of the exercise of free choice: free choice, the essential ingredient in the evolutionary process.


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Peter Landry

2011 (2019)