I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Retooling Utopia

Retooling Utopia

Philip MacCann
The oldest myths describe humans living in harmony with their surroundings: in Greek Arcadia, Hebrew Eden; in some pure form of Plato’s Republic; as observance of Confucius or Lao Tzu; in Indian maya consciousness, in submission to the Tao, on Buddha’s “Eightfold Path”. They recur as Augustine’s City of God, as Aristotelian metaphysics and as reconciliation of this with Catholic theology in Aquinas’s ideal society. That these myths may be true is suggested by Marco Polo’s account of the long-living Yogis in Central India. Man’s pre-agrarian wellbeing is argued by anthropologist Jared Diamond and this may have been glimpsed in our time among remote primitive tribes before observing eyes altered them forever. The ideal was believed beyond the Renaissance: it is Blake’s mystical vision of the weave of Nature and Mind – derided by the modernist Anglo-Catholic Eliot but valorised by Northrop Frye. It has been the stuff of utopian speculation down the ages and lives on in Marxist regurgitations and global political agendas. Once upon a time I thought I lived in the most civilised societies on Earth: in Copenhagen and Amsterdam in the 1980s and early 1990s. I used to wonder if minimal government of elite moderates had realised Wilde’s dream: the soul of man flourishing under socialism. Danes and Amsterdamers even referred to utopic qualities, perhaps in the sense meant by HG Wells explaining in 1904 that A Modern Utopia would have to be kinetic – no longer static – and develop from struggle with success and failure, victories and subjugations of separate individualities (an idea whose moment had come). He was impatient with the public service of Plato’s tiny Republic, the communal values of More’s monastic Utopia, the reduction of identity to social role in Campanella’s City of the Sun. Wells noted that utopias demand isolation or defences from their greatest threat: external interference. This is true of Hilton’s remote Shangri-La as it is for the politically isolated US of Bellamy or the psychology of hyper-real TV-land of Americans generalised by Baudrillard – walled in as obdurately as Derrida’s USSR. Wells insisted that enduring utopian models cannot deny history and he foresaw globalisation. His own is a well-meaning proposal for worldwide benevolent socialism realisable gradually as new world order. His enthusiasm was matched by none of the above. Plato foresaw his Republic degenerating into democracy, thereby attracting tyranny and leaving behind only its pure form experienced as hope for an afterlife. That one…



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