Why Is Utopia Impossible?

 

Goldenes-Zeitalter-1530-2“I prefer clarity over agreement.” — Dennis Prager

I think it’s safe to assume that all of us here agree that Utopia is impossible. Yet each of the two major caucuses here — call them “traditionally conservative” and “libertarian” as a rough shorthand — often view the other as having a suspiciously Utopian intent.

BDB’s recent thread gave me an idea. I thought it would be really helpful if each caucus explained why Utopia is impossible. Accusations of Utopianism seem to be based on misinformed views. So instead of accusing the other of Utopianism, we could explain why we hold that Utopia is not possible. It occurred to me that this could go a long way to helping us understand each other. To my knowledge, we have never discussed this subject, and this may account for why we continue to misunderstand and mistrust each other. Clarity helps to avoid misunderstandings and it also fosters trust. I want to foster trust, and since you are all my compatriots who are acting in good faith, I must do better to be more clear, more trustworthy, and more patient. Actually, I need to do those things anyway, but you’ve helped to provide a motive. :)

It occurs to me that attempting to speak for one’s entire caucus is too big a task, and therefore not a very reasonable one. I would like us to end up with a few guiding principles so that members of one caucus easily understand why the other caucus holds that Utopia is impossible and Utopianism a folly. Toward this end, I think it would be helpful if disagreements are limited to intra-caucus disagreements. For example, if you are a libertarian and you disagree with me about why I say that Utopia is impossible, I’d prefer it if you didn’t voice that here on this thread. On the other hand, if you’re a libertarian and you ask me for clarification because you don’t understand something, or if you’re a Catholic and you disagree with me about how I’ve characterized man’s sinful nature, then these kinds of exchanges are entirely within the realm of what I hope to achieve here. Those are just examples, but I hope they convey my intent. I realize that the comments will proceed however they proceed, but that is my preference.

I will go first.

As many of you know, I am an orthodox Catholic. The Catholic teachings about the fall of man and man’s inclination to evil inform my views.

Catholics make quite a few truth claims about human beings, why they were created, their structure and composition, and their nature. Catholics claim that every human being inherits original sin, which was passed down to us from Adam as the result of his disobedience to God. Original sin is the loss of sanctifying grace; it is not the same as personal guilt. This loss of sanctifying grace results in the darkening of the mind and the weakening of the will.

By definition, human beings who have a darkened mind and a weakened will can never create a Utopia, but, admittedly, this won’t stop some from trying. In fact, if they don’t understand their condition, it may mean they will try all the harder, not realizing their weaknesses. Certain nations in the 20th century provide horrifying examples of what can happen when sinners try to create a “worker’s paradise.” It should be noted that even Catholic saints, who surely have stopped sinning to an exceedingly large degree, still commit some sin in some small ways (we call it “venial sin”) and still struggle with the sinful nature they acquired at their conception.

In short, since every human person is a sinner, Utopia is always an impossibility. That’s my extremely brief explanation of the impossibility of Utopia. I am happy to elaborate or clarify. Regardless of your caucus, I hope you will consider joining this discussion so that we can all understand each other better.

Why is Utopia impossible?

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  1. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Jennifer Johnson: Why is utopia impossible?

    There are two big reasons.

    1. Because of the Laws of Thermodynamics. No system can operate at 100% efficiency.
    2. By definition. The word “Utopia” means “no place”. If Utopia was possible, it would no longer be “no place”. It would have to be called “Teleotopia”, which means “perfect place” or “ultimate place”.

    People think “utopia” and “dystopia” are opposites. It’s not true. “Dystopia” means “bad place” (not “worst place”). Its opposite would therefore be “aritopia”, which means “good place”.

    We should not strive for Utopia or Teleotopia. Instead, we should strive for Aritopia. There can be more than one Aritopia. Things can be different and still be good.

    • #1
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Um, what you said. If Paul still did things he did not want to do, and did not do what he wanted to do, what chance do I have?

    • #2
  3. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    In a broader sense, each person’s idea of utopia is different.

    Being honest, Bryan being the dictator of the world seems like ideal utopia for me. Does anyone want to sign on to that? Join my cause! One man, one vote, one time. You will be glad you did! Dissent now, or forever hold her peace (under penalty of my law).

    Seriously, though, this is human nature. I want things set up the way I want them set up. Anything less than that is not utopia. Even if one person gets just what he wants, a lot of other people do not.

    • #3
  4. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Don’t need to leave my two person household for this one:

    One ‘should’ person, and

    One ‘will’ person,

    both of what I view as fairly well-developed moral character.

    • #4
  5. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    Utopia by their very idea are static. Things can never possibly get better, since everything is perfect.  Humanity strives to improve itself, to not accept things as they are but to ever go forward and make things better.  But such a state is impossible in a utopia.  Cause everything is perfect, unchanging everlasting sameness.

    • #5
  6. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Every imagined version of Utopia which I have encountered starts with the premise that everyone will think the same way.  Utopians not only want to build, say, the “workers’ paradise,” they want everyone to believe in the workers’ paradise.

    But people do not all believe the same things.  They cannot all be persuaded to believe the same things.  They cannot be forced to believe the same things.  The very most that the powerful can do is to suppress open dissent though fear.  We see it right now being carried out by the idiots at universities who are trying to suppress all dissenting opinions by calling people “racists” and “sexists.”

    As a libertarian, I would not claim to be immune to the Utopian impulse.  I certainly think that the world would be a better place if more people thought as I do, starting with the lefties.  But as a libertarian, I do enjoy one anti-Utopian advantage:  The only thing I want other people to agree with me about is that disagreement is acceptable and tolerance is desirable.  That means that I am not seeking to control them nearly as much as they want to control me.

    [Edit:  And, Jennifer, thanks for raising the subject.]

    • #6
  7. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Utopias are impossible for a variety of reasons.

    Material want is essentially infinite but the materiel is finite; thus, there will never be a time when we exist in a post-scarcity environment.

    Human beings are governed primarily by the twin impulses of seeking pleasure or avoiding pain.  They are powerful motivators, especially when paired with the promise of pleasure at other peoples’ expense or worse: the promise of pain to be inflicted upon those we don’t like.

    Human nature (as explained by Thomas Sowell) is constrained, limited and ultimately flawed.  No system, no matter how well designed can accomplish the goal of  alleviating human want because despite the good intentions of such a system’s designers, the system is still operated by people and designed by people in the service of people – people who aren’t to be satisfied.

    • #7
  8. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    Misthiocracy: We should not strive for Utopia or Teleotopia. Instead, we should strive for Aritopia. There can be more than one Aritopia. Things can be different and still be good.

    I strive for Eltopia.

    • #8
  9. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Misthiocracy:

    Jennifer Johnson: Why is utopia impossible?

    There are two big reasons.

    1. Because of the Laws of Thermodynamics. No system can operate at 100% efficiency.
    2. By definition. The word “Utopia” means “no place”. If Utopia was possible, it would no longer be “no place”. It would have to be called “Teleotopia”, which means “perfect place” or “ultimate place”.

    People think “utopia” and “dystopia” are opposites. It’s not true. “Dystopia” means “bad place” (not “worst place”). Its opposite would therefore be “aritopia”, which means “good place”.

    We should not strive for Utopia or Teleotopia. Instead, we should strive for Aritopia. There can be more than one Aritopia. Things can be different and still be good.

    You derive it from arren, male? Might white of you!

    • #9
  10. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    I believe in democratic peace theory. So I believe in the possibility of a paxtopia. (Peaceful place) If China elects a party that quotes Liu Xiaobo, and the Muslim world radically changes their Islamic doctrines to work with democracy then war could be pretty much over.  I think Europe is a good example of this, after centuries of habitually killing each other democracy and capitalism tamed most of their countries into having peaceful relations with each other.

    I know this seems a quite unconservative belief but the research that says democracies tend to be peaceful with other democracies is quite good and the whole story of the twentieth century is democracy and free markets becoming the international norm.

    That being said paxtopia is not utopia because there will still be depression, murder and people hating other people.

    • #10
  11. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Henry Castaigne:I believe in democratic peace theory. I think Europe is a good example of this, after centuries of habitually killing each other democracy and capitalism tamed most of their countries into having peaceful relations with each other.

    If you mean, democratic & capitalist America conquered half of Europe bathing it in blood & bombing the most developed cities to rubble while the Soviet communists conquered & raped the other half in a far bloodier & less transient way, then sure–democracy & capitalism tamed most of our countries into what you call peaceful relations. Like Freud recommended the Nazis to anyone, so also do I recommend to anyone world war…

    I know this seems a quite unconservative belief but the research that says democracies tend to be peaceful with other democracies is quite good and the whole story of the twentieth century is democracy and free markets becoming the international norm.

    If you happily ignore what started in 1914 & assume how things ended in 1945 & 1989 was necessary & inevitable, sure. If you believe a catastrophic war has become impossible, sure–maybe you will have less silly opinions than the pacifists of yesteryear.

    That being said paxtopia is not utopia because there will still be depression, murder and people hating other people.

    I was a bit skeptical, but with this reassurance–sign me up!

    • #11
  12. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Because people are always human.

    • #12
  13. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Titus Techera: If you mean, democratic & capitalist America conquered half of Europe bathing it in blood & bombing the most developed cities to rubble while the Soviet communists conquered & raped the other half in a far bloodier & less transient way, then sure–democracy & capitalism tamed most of our countries into what you call peaceful relations.

    Yes. Bombing people into democracy is one way to do it. The nice part about doing that is that when democracies are around for awhile they tend to remarkably resilient. (Some theorize that you need 12 elections before the democratic process sticks) Japan and the parts of Europe that America invaded have stayed democracies.

    Bombing people into democracy isn’t the only way to do it though. Come the end of the Cold War alot of Latin America and Africa became more democratic. Tunisia is now listed as a free country by Freedom House and there was not war there to facilitate it.

    • #13
  14. Vicryl Contessa Thatcher
    Vicryl Contessa
    @VicrylContessa

    Utopia can’t exist because there is sin in the world. Sin in it’s most fundamental meaning, which is not breaking the rules/laws, but a breach of trust or a rebellious spirit. There will always be people in the world that are not trustworthy. Utopia can only exist when everyone acts in good faith with trustworthiness and friendship. That’s called heaven.

    • #14
  15. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    I agree with your religious reasons, Jennifer, but I would add that God gave man free will for a reason.  We need to make choices in this life, and God’s hope is that we will choose Him.  But we have to have a choice or our obedience would be meaningless.  So, every generation the world (as Jonah Goldberg reminds us) is invaded by barbarians. They are called children–children of God in fact–but they have to be taught and raised and allowed to exercise their free will.  A whole lot of these barbarians will make bad choices that will lead to bad things, including the idea that taking a way free will will lead to utopia.  There’s a lot of that going around these days.

    Let me add that by free will, I do not mean the will unhampered by social mores, custom and law.  Humans have a will to order and these things are necessary for order.  We always walk a fine line.  We must be most wary of those who would impose overarching ideological systems that severely hamper the freedom and will of most people while allowing a few to control everyone else.  Many people are attracted to overarching ideologies and, of course,  power, and many have great confidence in their ability to select the ideology that works best for other people. That can be OK if they recognize that people must be free to choose their belief system, but if they don’t, ugly things happen.

    • #15
  16. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Because no matter how good you manage to make things, somebody somewhere won’t like it.

    Some will seek change to address real or perceived problems. Some will seek change because there has never been a system so well-tuned that some jamoke won’t spin a knob as he walks by.

    The universe is imperfect, and though we may be able to optimize a corner or two, we lack the intellect to do much more.

    • #16
  17. Vicryl Contessa Thatcher
    Vicryl Contessa
    @VicrylContessa

    Merina Smith:I agree with your religious reasons, Jennifer, but I would add that God gave man free will for a reason. We need to make choices in this life, and God’s hope is that we will choose Him. But we have to have a choice or our obedience would be meaningless.

    That is a very important concept, and it depends on one’s view of the character of God. Does God say, “Love me, or I’ll kill you” or does he invite us to be his loving friends?

    • #17
  18. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Henry Castaigne:Yes. Bombing people into democracy is one way to do it.

    What do you mean. one way to do it? What’s the other? Bloody civil war like England & America? You seem to me a blessedly happy man, unconcerned with the horror.

    The nice part about doing that is that when democracies are around for awhile they tend to remarkably resilient. (Some theorize that you need 12 elections before the democratic process sticks) Japan and the parts of Europe that America invaded have stayed democracies.

    America got to its sixteenth president & a few more elections than that before Americans killed more of each other than all America’s enemies combined have managed since. England is superior in avoiding that in its days of political freedom, but had horrifying wars before its civil war.

    As for saying a democracy while facing absolutely no enemy or any other real danger–that’s an achievement to you?

    Bombing people into democracy isn’t the only way to do it though. Come the end of the Cold War alot of Latin America and Africa became more democratic. Tunisia is now listed as a free country by Freedom House and there was not war there to facilitate it.

    I’m not sure you’re up on events in Tunisia. Have you heard of the recent horrors following the change of regime?

    Of course, all the Latin American countries went through their ugly wars in the early nineteenth century & some since…

    • #18
  19. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Merina Smith:

    We must be most wary of those who would impose overarching ideological systems that severely hamper the freedom and will of most people while allowing a few to control everyone else. Many people are attracted to overarching ideologies and, of course, power, and many have great confidence in their ability to select the ideology that works best for other people. That can be OK if they recognize that people must be free to choose their belief system, but if they don’t, ugly things happen.

    What a lovely statement of libertarian philosophy.

    • #19
  20. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Titus Techera: I’m not sure you’re up on events in Tunisia. Have you heard of the recent horrors following the change of regime?

    300 people dead and about 700 injured along with the terrorist attacks that happen everywhere. Compared to Syria, Iraq and WWII, I can’t call those things horrors.

    Furthermore, horrible wars are a normal part of human existence, until you can get rid of slavery and firmly establish capitalism, democracy and liberal values.

    Titus Techera: Of course, all the Latin American countries went through their ugly wars in the early nineteenth century & some since…

    Well going through ugly wars is what you usually do. I don’t think becoming a democracy is much more violent than staying a dictatorship or a communist government. If North Korea had a horrible civil war to become a democracy, would it be more horrible than another mass famine? 

    • #20
  21. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Jennifer Johnson: In short, since every human person is a sinner, utopia is always an impossibility. That’s my extremely brief explanation for why utopia is impossible.

    Sin is one reason. But even if we could reform sin (and I’m not suggesting that we can), we still wouldn’t have utopia. Because knowledge is costly to gather and risks are real, even when you’re not busy sinning.

    If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we say we suffer only because we have sinned, though, we also deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Not every regrettable decision is a sinful decision.

    In a world of costly information, even a completely virtuous person would not always have enough information to guarantee the right decision, and so would be forced to gamble on some decisions, and might, in gambling, lose.

    Now, as a theological abstraction, knowledge costs may be linked with the “darkening of the mind” Jennifer described in her OP. Christians are told that, when Sin is done away with completely, nature itself will be restored, which might mean that knowledge costs are done away with, too (we can speculate that something like this must happen, though we cannot know for sure).

    But yes, utopia would take an alteration of nature itself. Even perfect human virtue would not be enough.

    • #21
  22. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Henry Castaigne:

    Titus Techera: I’m not sure you’re up on events in Tunisia. Have you heard of the recent horrors following the change of regime?

    300 people dead and about 700 injured along with the terrorist attacks that happen everywhere. Compared to Syria, Iraq and WWII, I can’t call those things horrors.

    I suppose everyone who has an experience of horror could be dulled to other horrors. Maybe that is the case with you. Otherwise, the notion that this is not a horror is as troubling as your phrase ‘terrorist attacks that happen everywhere.’ Happen is the mot just, you think?

    Furthermore, horrible wars are a normal part of human existence, until you can get rid of slavery and firmly establish capitalism, democracy and liberal values.

    Always the pacifist concedes, the war to end all wars might come!–finally, liberalism will save the world! The evidence for that is nil. That war saved America & England from worse is pretty obvious; that liberalism was in some way the power behind the American or English war is not at similarly obvious. I suppose it is a faith with some. Of course, liberal democracy’s defeat of Nazism has need of more than liberalism: The Communist empire was also necessary; 1939 ended with 1945, not with liberal peace on earth. I’m sure that if one of those liberal fears like nuclear apocalypse comes true, the liberal pacifists will still say–but if only liberalism had won! Yes, if only-

    • #22
  23. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Because humans.

    • #23
  24. donald todd Inactive
    donald todd
    @donaldtodd

    Noting that the scriptures said that He sent them out by twos, it seems time for my contribution.

    Adam had not been introduced to a supernatural state when he sinned, so what Adam lost at the fall was part of his nature.  Adam’s first loss was the justice and holiness in which he was constituted at his making.  He lost control over his passions, which is not sin itself but has come from sin and leads to sin.  Adam lost integrity which is the absence of conflict between right reason and the urges of nature.

    When Adam lost these things, he lost them for his posterity, noting that even those who have been baptized still experience this conflict in their persons.  So we have an inclination toward sin.

    Yet, given Who made us, we also desire good.  Utopia is a recognition of that desire, but it is beyond us.  If we don’t recognize our deficiency and its origin, we are doomed to hope for, speak for, and fight for something which we cannot achieve.

    Some will undoubtedly take cause against me.  I would recommend reading history.  There have been leaps in understanding and those leaps have been applied to agriculture, animal husbandry, and the gradual conquest of many difficulties and physical evils, such as polio and other maladies.

    Abortion.  Addiction.  Murder.  Slavery.  Theft.  Lost integrity.

    • #24
  25. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Larry3435:

    Merina Smith:

    We must be most wary of those who would impose overarching ideological systems that severely hamper the freedom and will of most people while allowing a few to control everyone else. Many people are attracted to overarching ideologies and, of course, power, and many have great confidence in their ability to select the ideology that works best for other people. That can be OK if they recognize that people must be free to choose their belief system, but if they don’t, ugly things happen.

    What a lovely statement of libertarian philosophy.

    And yet, what some libertarians want would be an tyranny (like open boarders). That is what makes this hard.

    • #25
  26. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Vicryl Contessa:

    Merina Smith:I agree with your religious reasons, Jennifer, but I would add that God gave man free will for a reason. We need to make choices in this life, and God’s hope is that we will choose Him. But we have to have a choice or our obedience would be meaningless.

    That is a very important concept, and it depends on one’s view of the character of God. Does God say, “Love me, or I’ll kill you” or does he invite us to be his loving friends?

    Many of us refer to God as our Heavenly Father, which means He is in authority over us, but loves us as a father loves his children.  God would never say “love me or I’ll kill you,” nor does he force us to obey him because then we wouldn’t have free will.  And like parents who warn beloved children about mistakes they are about to make, but let them make those mistakes anyway because they understand that their children (after a certain age) must make their own choices and learn their own lessons, God allows us to learn in this way, while providing a way for us to repent and return.  It’s a beautiful thing.   By contrast, I think of loving friends as equals.  So I guess I’d go with the loving part, but don’t think “friend” is exactly the best description, though not completely wrong.

    • #26
  27. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Larry3435: Let me add that by free will, I do not mean the will unhampered by social mores, custom and law.  Humans have a will to order and these things are necessary for order.

    Ah, but you left out what I said before that quotation, which was

    Let me add that by free will, I do not mean the will unhampered by social mores, custom and law.  Humans have a will to order and these things are necessary for order.

    Socons and libertarians disagree greatly about what this entails.  For human life to exist, flourish and be truly free, certain social prerequisites are necessary, marriage and family forms among them. This difference of perspective is a chasm between Socons and libertarians.

    • #27
  28. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Bryan G. Stephens:

    Larry3435:

    Merina Smith:

    We must be most wary of those who would impose overarching ideological systems that severely hamper the freedom and will of most people while allowing a few to control everyone else. Many people are attracted to overarching ideologies and, of course, power, and many have great confidence in their ability to select the ideology that works best for other people. That can be OK if they recognize that people must be free to choose their belief system, but if they don’t, ugly things happen.

    What a lovely statement of libertarian philosophy.

    And yet, what some libertarians want would be an tyranny (like open boarders). That is what makes this hard.

    Wait what? How is open borders in and of itself a tyranny? What other libertarian proposals constitute tyranny?

    • #28
  29. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Merina Smith: Socons and libertarians disagree greatly about what this entails.  For human life to exist, flourish and be truly free, certain social prerequisites are necessary, marriage and family forms among them. This difference of perspective is a chasm between Socons and libertarians.

    Please point to the libertarian on Ricochet that disagrees with this.

    • #29
  30. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Jamie Lockett:

    Bryan G. Stephens:

    Larry3435:

    Merina Smith:

    We must be most wary of those who would impose overarching ideological systems that severely hamper the freedom and will of most people while allowing a few to control everyone else. Many people are attracted to overarching ideologies and, of course, power, and many have great confidence in their ability to select the ideology that works best for other people. That can be OK if they recognize that people must be free to choose their belief system, but if they don’t, ugly things happen.

    What a lovely statement of libertarian philosophy.

    And yet, what some libertarians want would be an tyranny (like open boarders). That is what makes this hard.

    Wait what? How is open borders in and of itself a tyranny?

    See how utopia is impossible? We disagree on what is and is not an imposition. Thank you for the demonstration.

    When I am world dictator, I will remember this and treat you kindly ;)

    • #30

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