No political or social philosophy or construct can be "perfect."

This is because any sociopolitical environment tends to produce some other reactionary environment, rather than a static copy of itself.

So, the ideal utopian "technical description," or formula for how we might best live, will have to be one that actually describes several states, through which the particular modes of living will oscillate. The simplest would be two mild extremes (mild because they need to be acceptable to those living in them) which alternate, perhaps even passing through in almost utopian "ideal" that lies somehow "between" them. This would resemble a physical or mechanical system oscillating due to alternating positive and negative feedback, almost never at its optimum point, but always heading back towards it before deviating very far.

Since the simplest case would just be two different "poles," I will retain that simplicity (reducing the potential descriptions to a one dimensional model), while also observing that 1), a simple trajectory back and forth between two states actually encompasses an infinite number of stations along the way, and 2) the oscillation described by the utopian might involve successive development through three or more distinctively unique "systems." To further complicate this image, several different conditions might oscillate not only out of phase with each other, but potentially on unrelated cycles. All that matters is that every static position in the system be a tolerable living condition for all concerned. But, dropping the multidimensional complexity for the sake of discussion, I will proceed.

It would not matter how unrelated these two "extremes" might be, as long as both they and the path(s) projected between them are all healthy, livable alternatives.

They could be as disparate as the alternating outbreaks of democracy and monarchy (oriental despotism) in ancient Greek cities, or as mind-numbingly similar as some of the power transfers between the two major parties in the United States.

The interesting thing here is the problem for the idealist, or utopian philosopher. It is one thing to posit an ideal state, and yet a much more daunting task to show what it will probably turn into as it reacts against itself, and if there is a way to construct this ideal so that if it is eventually approached and overshot, that there will be a restoring force returning society to this ideal before it becomes a bad place to live.

This would be something like trying to send a projectile into a stable orbit about some body in space. Consider the body to represent the "ideal" state invented by the philosopher, and any orbit sufficiently close to it to be along a path of "always livable" circumstances. The trick to to send society on a path that will enter such an orbit, never quite reaching the ideal, but always "approaching" it from all sides. (A projectile captured in orbit like this is always "falling" directly towards the central body, but it's (angular?) momentum leads it to a different position by the time it "falls.")

Such an elliptical model yields the intersting fact of multiple dimensions required to describe it, while at the same time relating them to each other in a strict phase relationship. If, just for the fun of it, we throw a coordinate plane (or space, for that matter) in, superimposed on the orbit, it's axes might be defined according to the descriptions of the political or social scientist. Perhaps the social system oscillates between mild tendencies towards, say, communism versus laissez-faire capitalism on one axis, and between representative democracy and some form of monarchy (say) on the other axis, with varying leanings towards each of the these states coming in different amounts in places on the orbit.

One thing to remember is, this cannot be framed as a set of "laws" (in the legal or legislative sense), that is, the philosopher cannot posit a "law" that says when things have gone far enough one way, they must turn about and head the other. The conditions that will cause the oscillation must be, essentially, laws of nature, fundamental aspects of how humans in relation to one an another (and in relation to the social structures they are living in, including any knowledge of history, mythology, and even the supposed utopian system into which they have been cast) will react and change their circumstances and legislative and historical conditions.

One microcosm of which the reader may be familiar that resembles this in one area is the concept of how supply and demand will affect the price, cost and production of goods and services is a free market. Given adequate information, transportation, and natural resources, these factors will theoretically oscillate about an ideal point, never straying too far from it. Of course in reality, nature and man both conspire to interfere in the flow of information, transportation takes a lot of time (introducing friction into the feedback loop), and natural resources are constrained by weather, geography, politics, and the limited supply of most mineral resources.

Relationship to Marxism. Marx' folly was to pick a utopian (in his opinion) outcome, and then simply describe human society as inexorably driving towards it. I think we certainly can see now that varying amounts of free markets and social engineering will tend to produce their opposite, as they become too extreme to be tenable for some number of the population. In other words, he would have been better off (accepting his socialist vision of paradise), figuring out a thing he could say that would send our "social projectile" into a stable orbit that always had an acceptable (to him) level of socialism present.

Succeeding at this sort of utopianism would mean that no particular condition gets so extreme as to be a huge problem before some automatic, human nature-based correcting force starts to mitigate it. This would be a rational utopianism, never expecting perfection (whatever that is), but postulating the possibility of a decent set of overlapping or alternating principles of social and economic organization that would never become tyrannical, dangerously chaotic, or impoverished, in their cyclic transitions.

6/13/04

filename = utopia.htm
printed 30 January 2023
© Huw Powell