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Utopia - The Impossibility of Perfection

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Introduction

Utopia - The Impossibility of Perfection "The latter end of [this] commonwealth forgets the beginning." William Shakespeare, The Tempest From Plato's The Republic to Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto, the search for a perfect social state has never stopped; its ultimate goal of achieving a human society that exists in absolute harmony with all due social justice, however, has proved to be woefully elusive. The pure concept of a utopia can be theoretically visualized as a perfect geometric circle: one that is seamless, all-inclusive, yet impossible to draw out in reality. In 1516, Sir Thomas More depicted in his famed Utopia what he envisioned to be an ideal state, one that frees its citizens from material worries by mandating economical equality amongst them and dividing social responsibilities impartially. More's work, however brilliant, cannot conceal the serious fallibilities and troublesome limitations of the utopian thoughts; and being the ambivalent creator that he was, More consciously emphasized the paradoxical nature of his ideal society. A century later, in his last work The Tempest, the great playwright William Shakespeare presented his audience with a mystical Commonwealth that is a reflection of the Golden Age from the classical literature. This fantasy, wrapped in the larger still whimsy that is The Tempest, will have the human race return to the purest state of nature. ...read more.

Middle

Gonzalo's speech calls for a revival of the Golden Age that is first depicted in Ovid's Metamorphoses: "All things in common nature should produce / Without sweat or endeavor? but nature should bring forth / Of its own kind all foison, all abundance / to feed my innocent people" (Shakespeare 135-136) The fantasy of a bountiful nature that spares humankind the need to till the earth is not an uncommon one, nor is the total rejection of the idea of human government. When compared with Utopia, what is noteworthy about Gonzalo's speech is its evident anti-intellectualism and the glaring contradiction in its supposed order of governance. Contrary to More's belief that a perfect world must be human made through painstaking organization and even manipulation, in The Tempest the utopia is to be produced by nature alone. In fact, according to Gonzalo, the creations of human civilization such as trades, arts, and social institutions all but tarnish the pristine condition of the Golden Age. The human intellectual tradition, arguably the only realistic hope for achieving a near-perfect society, becomes the very scapegoat for its absence. Whereas More put his faith in men and the possibility of a flawless system designed much like a bee hive, Shakespeare's Gonzalo cannot envision an artificial Eden. ...read more.

Conclusion

Both models, however, are flawed in essence. If one is to accept the possibility of a utopian state, then he must embrace the belief that men are inherently good, or at least can be made to observe good rules without fail. In the Golden Age this was, we are told, the reality: "No law or force was needed; men did right freely without law or judge all men were safe" (Ovid 89). Yet in a society such as Utopia, "good" is in a sense merely what the law dictates and the majority agree to; while in The Tempest, "good" is understood to be "innocent" which is by definition without knowing the distinction between good and evil. At the heart of a social system's imperfections are the defects and weaknesses of human nature. After all, separate individuals are the atomic components of an inclusive society that is the sum of all their virtues and faults. The utopian philosophy falters because it refuses to address the darker side of the fundamentals of human nature the foremost of which is greed and malice. It needs to be remembered that human evils breed oppressive systems, not vice versa. By revolutionizing the societal system into a form that is supposedly just, one does not redeem nor remedy the intrinsic moral defects of its citizens. The Utopian philosophy remains, after all the pursuits, a hollow icon on the altar of aspiration. ...read more.

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