Not satisfied. Not content with the world as it exists, people have always tried to imagine the world as it might become.Utopia has always been on the map of the imagination and every age, with some notable exceptions has created a realm of Nowhere for its visions of the future. We are not talking about Arcadia or the Golden Age, nor the same Utopia as the Messianic Kingdom where wolves will dwell with lambs and lions will chomp on straw like the ox. This peaceable kingdom, though it may be on earth, can only come about through divine intervention.
However, time seems to have darkened these utopian visions in more ways than one. After all, Utopia is a city of men and women. And utopians are prophets in the sense of predicting the future and as a means of castigating the present; their very vision of things as they should be was a reproach to things as they are. One of the facts of our time is that utopias have become extremely dystopic; dark and horrific instead of hope and heaven. Like Aldous Huxley in Brave new World we are marching toward utopias in which the elite will dream about means of evading utopia and returning to non-utopian society. A century and a half ago, the Vicorian era held a steadfast optimism about human destiny, but the triumphs of science and technology have invested our lives with a hubris resulting in a paradox of the enlightenment where our good and perfectible side has been traumatized with too many blood and gory stories both real and imagined to feel relaxed about the chances for perfection and what used to appear as a simple process is a nightmare.
Plato’s Republic is the prototype utopia that set the pattern; one which was more concerned with order than liberty. To Plato, the commoner was basically wicked,like children who must be led and occasionally lied to and manipulated for their own good. To ”administer a great quantity of falsehood and deceit for the benefit of the ruled, as he phrased it. It was a hierarchal system, caste, like chess pieces with some mobility, aided by abolition of the family with pre-selected mating and children reared by the state, and with no private property for if the guardians owned land and property they would become hateful masters rather than fatherly friends to the people.
Artists are silenced or severely censored. Despite all this there is a certain bucolic yearning, and a serenity that many would find hard to resist. Diogenes found it a pile of manure, but somehow in various incarnations, these Spartan ingredients appear in almost all utopias after Plato. Utopias without a real check on the rulers since everything depends on their goodness and wisdom. Like many utopians, Plato was naive about the nature of power. he condemned tyranny, without really understanding what tempts people to become tyrants. What troubles us is not the notion that the philosopher should be king, but the serene assumption that a philosopher will never be a tyrant. And the tautology that the wise man is wise is a flimsy assumption at best…