The Mirage of Utopia
By Sarah Prince
Why does man pursue Utopia?
There is a part of humanity designed to seek heaven as an ultimate goal, where all worldly troubles will cease. The desire to create heaven on earth reflects a universal human problem of humanizing heaven. In the earthly realm, this perfect place is called “Utopia”; it can be conceptually defined as “a perfect world or state, or, the pursuit of it.” (The term and the concept both come from St. Thomas More’s famous book of that name.) Although “heaven” and “Utopia” are often used interchangeably, they are in fact antitheses. The idea of an earthly paradise is in fact an evil pollution of the truth about heaven, God, and the salvation of mankind.
There are three main avenues by which humanity explores Utopia: literary and philosophical thought; government; and media. These avenues form a cycle of control over societal behavior, one leading into the next. Utopia is first portrayed as an ideal by authors, and then the popularization of this ideal leads to political applications. Then, the realization that the applied model is not fulfilling a Utopian vision causes it to be abandoned. Finally, Utopia is once again conceptually pursued in media and culture, which goes on to shape the formation of literature.
The search for Utopia in literature began in Greece with Plato’s Republic. The fictional dialogue between philosophers who serve as The Republic’s characters begins with a discussion of justice, or morality. The philosophers’ conclusion in the narrative is that justice is a natural balance of the human soul’s three parts: the thinking part, the emotive part, and the appetitive part which controls the pursuit of bodily desires. Socrates theorizes that this justice can best be seen through a hypothetical society where everyone plays their just part, and where there is perfect and unquestioning allegiance to the most supreme of rulers, the philosopher king. Only true justice as carried out by the philosopher king can prosper without individuality interfering. Plato theorized that a society acting as a controlled, coordinated whole is perfect.
This thinking, however, is flawed, because his society operates on the assumption that a perfect system can exist on earth, which it unfortunately cannot. Plato’s system serves as a model for Utopian thinking that authors and philosophers have built upon, and his thinking has greatly influenced the eras and epochs that followed him. Utopian literature can serve either as a dangerous or beneficial influence upon its readers, but it represents only the first of the three parts of the Utopian cycle. We must now move on to government.
Many forms of government represent the real-world applications of Utopian ideals, but none more so than Communism. We can see this from two main aspects of Communism. The first is universal equality, contained in the meaning of the term “comrade.” Jodi Dean, a Marxist theorist, defines the term in her book Comrade: An Essay on Political Belonging. “‘Comrade’ names a relation characterized by sameness, equality, and solidarity.” The problem here is that pure equality can never be achieved, because the system requires someone to determine the benchmark of equality—effectively creating a hierarchy which negates the idea of sameness. In reality, pure Communism has never functioned in practice, even through the most meticulous application.
Another important element of Communism is the destruction of culture and history. The founder of the Communist Party in Russia, Vladimir Lenin, is credited with saying “Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.” He saw that only when the old is completely destroyed can Communism begin its transformative work in creating the new; but in practice, this has created Utopias of death, poverty, and misery under the guise of progress. Essentially, Communism is a grand illusion that falsely promises perfect equality can be achieved.
Thirdly, media is one of history’s greatest contributors to the futile search for Utopia, and is the final component of the cycle. The power of media can be used for good and ill, but more often than not is used for ill. Movies and music serve to shape modern culture, and these forms of media encourage their target audience to seek a contrived ideal. Although the messages promoting Utopian ideals may not even be intended, yet they can almost always be found; the desire permeates nearly every aspect of human life. People reach for a heaven-like perfection in their own lives, believing they can one day achieve it. In media, the audience is either told to pursue their dreams of perfection, or observe the story of someone else attempting the same, at whatever cost. Media is thus often a corrupting force because it worships the idea of a perfect life and persuades people to achieve whatever they want by sacrificing decency and morality. Utopia sounds better than any existing system, so people allow themselves to be, sometimes willingly, fooled.
Why, then, does man pursue Utopia? It seems obvious from the outset that mankind is not perfect and never will be. Why has this search never ceased?
The answer can be found in C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters: “So inveterate is [young peoples’] appetite for Heaven that our [demons’] best method, at this stage, of attaching them to earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date …” One of the best tools used to the advantage of evil in turning hearts away from the creator is hidden in the words, “make them believe that earth can be turned into heaven.” In the Bible, human souls were wired with a desire for a perfect eternity, so of course mankind tries to fulfill that desire, even if he does not know where true perfection can be found. Mankind’s heaven takes one of two forms: true paradise, or Utopia. One is the truth, one is a perversion of the truth.
For the creation waits with eager longing to obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We ourselves groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:19-28, abbreviated)
God’s Word says that humanity’s soul cries out for redemption, which will happen when it meets God in heaven. The hope the world tries to give humanity is vain, but if people choose to love God over the world, then all will come together for their good.
Sarah Prince and graduated high school last May. She was classically educated at a homeschool co-op, and has always been passionate about studying, learning, writing, and reading; she hopes to become a literature or humanities teacher at a classical school. She will be attending New Saint Andrews college in the fall, pursuing a degree in Liberal Arts.
Every time we administer the CLT, top students from that date are invited to contribute an essay to the Journal. Congratulations to Miss Prince on her achievement! If you enjoyed this piece, you can find more work from our outstanding students here. You might also enjoy our series on “the Great Conversation,” dealing with the history of ideas in Western culture.
Published on 13th May, 2022. Page image of a French trading card from 1890-1900, depicting “Utopian flying machines.”