The Endless Search For Utopia

One of the most enduring concepts through the centuries has been the search for utopia. Few ideas ignite mankind’s passion and intellect in the same way as the grand search for the ideal master plan for civil society. Interestingly, if one were to ask different people what utopia would be, there would often be areas of agreement. 

In essence, many people view utopia as a kind of society where strife would be at a minimum, human needs would be met, and there would be a productive place and sense of meaning for each individual. However, although this sounds both ideal and possible on one level, it’s in the implementation of utopian plans that problems can arise. 

Some social theorists have complained that attempts to implement utopian theories lead to high levels of anxiety due to the fact utopian ideals are often difficult to achieve. Therefore, the inability to achieve these ideals can lead to a constant state of unfulfilled longing and frustration for many. In addition, since some utopian theories place the needs of the group over the individual, there have been instances of persecution of individuals justified in the name of a utopian ideal. The famous injustices created over the years in Communist societies are a strong example of cruelties often committed in the search for social perfection.

Although creation of an absolutely perfect utopia has proven difficult to achieve, it has to be noted that a glance at history reveals that aspects of utopian theory have been implemented over the years. To many, a kind of pragmatic utopia that rings eternal is the type of society characterized by both Representative Democracy and regulated marketplaces and capitalism.

Although pure capitalism is difficult to achieve and can lead to strong social imbalances, a regulated market economy that provides rules that act as a check on power, has proven durable for centuries. Likewise, Representative Democracy of the type America helped usher in over 200 years ago, has become both popular and efficient worldwide.

Although America’s not been perfect, its form of government has endured precisely because it recognizes the simple fact that mankind’s not really capable of the kind of perfection some other forms of utopia advocate. In recognizing the basic imperfection of man, and setting up checks on both individuals and institutions gathering too much power, democracies such as ours provide a safety valve that keeps society in balance.

And yes…America, as well as other democracies have at times treated certain groups unfairly. A quick glance at American history shows the injustices suffered by Native Americans, as well as the slavery and Jim Crow laws that adversely affected the lives of African-Americans. However, if there was ever a society capable of acknowledging and rectifying historical wrongs, it’s the type of Representative Democracy that America has. Those who advocate moving away from both democracy and regulated marketplaces in America due to past injustices, risk getting rid of one of the most durable and pragmatically utopian societies in human history.



12 thoughts on “The Endless Search For Utopia

  1. I concur with your beliefs regarding regulated capitalism and the unlikelihood of utopia. As you note, the necessity for a regulated capitalism and the unlikelihood of achieving utopia both rest on characteristics of human nature. I think your conflation of the U.S. with any kind of utopia, however, is the sort of opinion that a materially comfortable white person might entertain and disregarding of history. The U.S.has been rife with inequity from the outset. The original colonies were either mercantile ventures or religious isolationists,or both. Displacement of aboriginal peoples and contention with other, nonwhite peoples, not even counting slavery, was a modus operandi also from the beginning. The material success of the U.S. and that of its representative democracy is an historical and geopolitical artifact of historically short term duration, the continuity of which appears to be entering a phase of evolution with uncertain outcome as conditions evolve both within the U.S. and around he world. It remains to be seen whether “democracies such as our” are a transient phenomenon or have real staying power. In short, I think your presentation represents an ethnocentric, rosy notion that is not so much shared around the world and even within the nation and unsupported by an objective view of history. The best that I can say is that some kind of regulated capitalism probably represents the best hope for a stable, if oscillating, form of political-economic regime, but time will tell.

    1. Interesting comment anonymous. Thx for the input!

      Obviously…utopian ideals to you have a strong streak of equality. And yes, throughout the past 200 years, since the heyday + birth of modern socialism, many have viewed the advent of socialism as a sign of utopian ideals.

      However, as the failed experiments in advanced socialism such as communism have shown, attempts to radically reduce inequality have not been entirely successful. Inevitably, the only way to enforce + regulate a highly equalized culture is the resorting to an extremely strong police state.

      And yes, one can easily say that you too may be supporting a rosy view of history if you fail to understand that attempts to create total equality-as communism attempted, resulted in the estimated deaths of about 100 million people. And isn’t it indeed a rosy view of history to negate the fact that aggressive injustices have been carried out by many nations on the planet + not just America?

      As you may recall, I did take stock of the historical injustices suffered by Native Americans + African-Americans.

      I do agree with you most whole-heartedly that regulated markets have a likelihood of staying power. After all, as my other blog pieces mention, I personally am quite comfortable with most aspects of Democratic Socialism. Since Democratic Socialism rests upon a strong Marketplace with capitalist features, it allows for a rational distribution of resources based on cause + effect as opposed to the command economy of centralized planners. And on top of that, the level of inequality in countries with Democratic Socialism is an issue that’s often addressed + dealt with.

      And yes, America is not perfect. That’s why I mentioned America was not an absolute utopia, but possibly a pragmatic one due to the nature of it’s democracy, the influence that it’s democracy had on the world, it’s hope for upward mobility, the freedom that such a system offers, + for the fact it addresses it’s imperfections.

      As for an objective view of history, that’s a complex topic. With so many schools of history out there, it’s hard to know if there’s a totally objective history out there. After all, the Marxist view of history, with it’s emphasis on exploitation + equality, differs much from a conservative view of history which tends to view human nature much more in a Hobbesian vein.

      Till next time 🙂

    2. What an anonymously brave person might impugn and “a materially comfortable white person might entertain,” is the evolutionary reality that humans aspire to egalitarianism. Altruism and self-sacrifice are not unique to humans alone but the cultural aspiration toward these traits is and this is what those confident in their gender would refer to as hope for mankind.
      Laws, judges and enforcement are needed for historic man, but this may not be the case in the future. Some two thousand years ago it was reported that “Indeed they (people) do by nature things required by law…for the law is written on their hearts”.
      Are humans divinity in human form? Or are we weak, animalistic and craven beyond redemption? Is there a spiritual and physical duality that allows an anthropomorphic omnipresence to write laws that itself does not obey? Or, are the infinite symmetries and similarities in the universe proof of an omnipresence that IS our existence? Since there are infinite differences as well, we are free to choose.
      In economic and political terms (physical reality), the question of spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment is now a matter of survival. ~TE

      1. Hey Tom…I love the picture + thx for the thoughtful response!

        Yes…the timespans that deal with human history, as opposed to geologic history, are incredibly short. That’s why you’re correct to note that with the advent of modern laws in Rome, about 2,000 ago, there was a simplicity to the concept of law that’s missing today. In addition, that’s why it’s easy to think the 230 year history of America seems relatively short in one sense. In the grand scheme of things geologically, America is barely a blip. However, in human history, it looms large since a 230 yr old country is indeed rare these days.

        And Tom, you’re correct to hint that the laws of the future are a bit beyond today’s comprehension level. After all, some futurists hint that Artificial Intelligence may soon start to make lawyers obsolete. Now just think about it: are these futurists hinting that law is indeed not an interpretive art, but an absolute science subject to the laws of algorithms? Humm…

        You pose an interesting question about how man aspires to egalitarianism, at least rhetorically, while you also recognize that on the other hand we may be weak + craven. Indeed…it appears that we are both.

        Also, the infinite symmetries you talk of that appear mathematically in the world, have puzzled, delighted, + at times frustrated both scientists + philosophers for centuries.

        Take Care Tom!

  2. The danger with utopian societies is that in most cases, the utopian societies come with the one-size-fits-all characteristic.

    In everyone’s dream of a utopian society, everything is perfect and there’s no reason for anybody to change anything.

    In real life, one of the strengths of a society is the ability to argue over things, deciding which is a better solution to society’s problems.

    Debating with each other, and arguing different points of view is one way in which society grows stronger. It’s how we get closer to the goal of some utopian society.
    Like the author said, everyone wants a utopian society, but a perfect society is impossible for flawed mankind.

    The danger comes when society’s (such as the Communist ones mentioned), portray themselves as the perfect solution to life. They then go out of the way stamping out all differing opinions.

    What’s left is a state which has given itself the power to monitor your most basic civil right, what you think. When governments claim they can think for you and better than you, the original goal for a utopian society is stood on its head.

    By definition, a utopian society should be perfect. But there isn’t just one utopian society out there, there are claims to many. And they all disagree. As soon as you start comparing one utopian model to another, you’ve destroyed the whole concept of a perfect, utopian society.
    The concept behind utopian theories is that only one perfect utopia exists, and that it is inherently infallible. But just by raising the question of whose utopia is best, and whose is right, negates the very idea that a perfect one, one-size-fits-all, can even exist

    1. Nice to hear from you again luv4all1959!

      Wow…you’ve very concisely pointed out how the search for perfection actually lies in not only admitting the imperfect nature of man, it also lies in the fact that a certain amount of debate + arguing is actually the glue that holds society together. Powerful…

      After all, since America has one of the oldest constitutions + governments in history, it’s good to note that in many ways, faults + all, America has much going for it. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we can’t make things better though. This is where the healthy debate comes in. 🙂

      Your point about Communism’s attempt, in the name of some abstract utopian ideal of a one-size-fits-all mindset, to control thought, is very powerful. How soon we forget the sheer horror that many experienced during Communism’s heyday.

      And finally, this brings me back to the point of Democratic Socialism + the question of balance. As you know, some socialist polices have proven to not only be very functional, but widely accepted. Interestingly, by blending a strong marketplace with a strong regulatory + service-oriented government, countries that are Democratic Socialist provide much for their citizens.

      Again…as with everything it’s a question of balance. If we veer too far one way + try to get too much of a good thing, it can actually turn bad since we block out the counter-balancing forces.

      Thx for the comment + dialogue!

  3. Utopia as a state better than the current (suggested as minimum strife, satisfied needs, and a sense of meaning) seems always to be just around the corner, yet never achieved. Challenges to its attainment come from either of two extremes – a top down, enforced Tyranny or bottoms up, libertine Chaos. Whether through coercion or volition, Dystopia inevitably arises.

    In our post-post-modern world, the swing between these polar extremes bludgeons every initiative like with a sledgehammer. Escaping the tribalism of the past, enlightenment has freed the individual from restrictive societal constraints. However, by rejecting the foundations of the past the individual has leaped into the new, yet is floundering in thin air, no longer supported by a common weal that has all but vanished. Punished by the destruction of Chaos, the masses cry out for the Tyrant to enforce stability and order at any cost. Liberties gained over centuries of struggle are eroded.

    So, a middle road, commonly agreed to, must be found. Sadly, Representative Democracy, that great achievement of the Liberal era, that shining example of such a middle road, is losing its effectiveness. Factions bicker, individuals demand, and compromise is seen as defeat. There is no basis for consensus when positions are entrenched. Extreme partisanship is further exacerbated when there is little representation and even less democracy. The will of the people is ignored by power thirsty politicians beholden only to their wealthy donor patrons. Inequality grows.

    Furthermore, what we face with Capitalism can also be considered bi-polar. Take two examples: American crony capitalism with business at the center calling the shots or Russian crony capitalism with government at the center calling the shots. Society as a whole is not elevated, the elites thrive, the common man is left behind in a race to the bottom. Today’s Progressives tend to support identity politics over economic justice, adding to our alienation without solving any issues impacting the 99%. Again, the middle ground has fallen away from us.

    But what has caused this societal degradation? We have abandoned any sense of universal meaning in exchange for temporal power, the struggle for self-enrichment, and nothing else, matters, there is no other meaning. Yet, Utopia itself is a meaning, a goal, an aspiration, but of or towards what? We all are either void of meaning ourselves or have our own self-definition of it. And even then, great strain is placed on the emancipated individual in a search for universal meaning when traditional patterns have been replaced by these self-chosen ones.

    We will remain in this state until we return to some semblance of the common weal. Yes, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution defined man’s relationships, but really only of man and government, not of man to man. During that enlightened era another document did that work, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man with its ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood. We have striven to achieve and mostly attained the first two, the last proves elusive. Until we return to a state of brotherhood once understood from a tribal perspective, but in full volition and not traditional coercion, we will struggle on the road to Utopia, it destined to be beyond grasp.

    (One idea I’ve toyed with is aligning the great spiritual movements with these three ideals and seeing how they are fulfilled. In my mind the Buddha showed us the path to Liberty, from desire and suffering, the Christ bestowed on us Equality, that we are all one with our Creator, and Mohammed’s Islam was to lay the groundwork for Brotherhood, that, in its founding era up to its apogee as an advanced civilization was the most tolerant society anywhere. Buddhism and Christianity thrive today while Islam is perversely discredited. Why is this? Is it our challenge is to reverse this so Brotherhood can flourish? Just an idea…..and a provocative one at that!)

  4. Thx so much for the incredibly in-depth + philosophical comment PJ!

    As you allude to, utopia is often looked at + talked about as being just around the corner. In our lifetimes we’ve seen so many political initiatives + social movements that claim that if we’re only patient enough, activist enough, or donate enough money, that the powers that be will ensure injustices are eroded, + a calmer day with higher amounts of happiness, will be in our grasp.

    And yet much like the proverbial carrot dangling in front of us…instead of utopia arising, a sort of dystopia arises because the tyranny or chaos you talk of PJ inevitably rear their head. And yes, as you alluded to, some in power morph away from being truly enlightened to merely being self-interested + deceptive.

    I’m impressed that you are + others are picking up on the fact that in our post-enlightenment world, there needs to be a certain amount of respect for tradition. This is a difficult topic to address since tradition is sometimes thought of as an impediment to progress. And yes, at times it is.

    However, as you talk of, without a common weal of sorts, mankind flounders + chaos sets in. And yes, although identity politics evolved somewhat out of a desire to create equality of opportunity, it’s now verging on being a mindset that contributes to chaos by upending tradition on a frequent basis.

    Interestingly…many utopian ideas deal with creating a society that tries to create equality of opportunity. For many of us, this sounds reasonable since it still allows for different levels of attainment + outcomes + still has an element of meritocracy. In addition, by seeking equality of opportunity there’s a chance that the strong inequality with the 1% in control of all, will be dampened down.

    Lately though, as you’re aware of PJ, there’s been a resurgent of the theory that equality of outcome, as communism professed, Is a goal. Ironically, since all of us are so different in many ways, seeking equality of outcome can contribute to a sense of chaos since it’s such an unreachable goal.

    Yes, Representative Democracy-the crown jewel of the Enlightenment, has taken a big hit since so many factions are so deeply entrenched now. And yes, crony capitalism, which works against the cleansing aspect of the marketplace, is a very powerful force nowadays.

    And finally, your statement about the French Declaration + the major religions representing different aspects of the rights of man, is extremely powerful! Yes…true brotherhood eludes us.

    Take Care PJ!

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