Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Popper's theses on gov't (6) - Utopia is an impossibility

A Liberal Utopia – that is, a state rationally designed on a traditionless tabula rasa – is an impossibility.

As one of the last Enlightenment philosophers – indeed the one whose legacy did most to shut the Enlightenment down – Karl Marx, like many others, set himself the task of planning out a brave new world where people would live happily and without oppression.

This didn’t happen in a vacuum. In 1772 Denis Diderot had published his Supplément au voyage de Bougainville, a year after the eponymous captain had published the accounts of his circumnavigation of the world which including a visit to Tahiti, which he initially described as an egalitarian paridise. He then revisited this opinion, saying he had overlooked the "cruel inequalities" between different ranks on the island.

But before they got to that bit, swathes of European philosophers had acquired what we might call, to mangle a Star Trek phrase, Tahiti Syndrome by Proxy. Marx was one of many to plan out a Utopian future for Europe, not bothering to ask himself when he referred to the work in Capital why Thomas More had set his paradise on a fictional island.

Utopia never materialised in the Paris Commune, and in its first 20th century manifestation it was taken to Russia by Lenin, who was sent there by the Germans as a unique weapon of mass destruction that would take his country out of the war. Cutting all ties of tradition meant, as Popper said in his 5th thesis, that Russia became the opposite of what the Communists had intended: more repressive and more colonial than it had under the Tsars.

History shows a long, painful journey to attain what rights the Russians had in 1916. We had no less a long, painful journey before the Utopian Lisbon Treaty was signed in 2007, sweeping aside centuries of tradition and common law. We need to reconnect our country to its tradition before Utopia takes the path it has always done.

Gerry Dorrian
300 words

This series:

Popper's theses on gov't (1): state a necessary evil

Popper's theses on gov't (2): democratic government can be got rid of without bloodshed

Popper's theses on gov't (3): democracy confers no benefit on citizens

Popper's theses on gov't (4): we're not democrats because the majority is always right

Popper's theses on gov't (5): institutions are insufficient without traditions

Popper's theses on gov't (6): Utopia is an impossibility

Popper's theses on gov't (7) - liberalism is evolutionary, not revolutionary


Supplément au voyage de Bougainville (French) - Denis Diderot - project Gutenberg

Voyage Autour du Monde (French) - Louis Antoine de Bougainville - - the passage about the cruel inequalities (la disproportion cruelle) is on p99 of the pdf

Capital - Karl Marx - Internet Archive - use the search function on your browser to locate quotes about Utopia

Utopia - Thomas More - PDF

The Sealed Train full text of Michael Pearson's book on Lenin's journey to Russia to establish a communist state

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