Today, we are entertained by some easily recognizable friends from 1948, who bring us a message, lamentably, easily recognizable to all Americans, 65 years on, in 2013.
In our little movie, we see that Dr. Utopia promises everything in the world you could possibly ever even imagine—if you are simply sophisticated enough to sign over all your freedoms to him in exchange for his New Garden of Eden—called Utopia.
Are you sophisticated enough for utopia? Do know what sophisticated means? I was born at Washington, America’s Babylon on the Potomac, and have lived here full 61 years, during which time I have witnessed a sleepy little southern cow town transformed into the American Mecca of big money, hilarious corruption, equally hilarious sanctimony and, now, in the city’s end-stage hubris, the promise of utopia.
Do know what sophisticated means? Mr. Webster tells us that sophistication means to him:
“The process or result of becoming cultured, knowledgeable, or disillusioned; especially: CULTIVATION, URBANITY or the process or result of becoming more complex, developed, or subtle.”
Fine and well as far as that goes, Mr. Webster, and we thank you, we do. The trouble is that Mr. Webster does not go quite far enough. Because, as we learned at school as wee laddies, all these pretty words ultimately derive from sophistry, a very naughty form of Greek philosophy which, put to the quick, meant winning the argument by whatever means necessary.
So, while the men of Washington today, America’s Babylon on the Potomac, are, beyond dispute, sophisticates in the common lexicon, they are, far, far, more so, sophists, in the classical sense—and that’s not reassuring.
Sophists were Greek travelling teachers hired by rich boys’ families to teach rich boys the art, if that is what the right word is, of sophistry.
Due in large part to the influence of Plato and Aristotle, the term sophistry has come to signify the deliberate use of fallacious reasoning, intellectual charlatanism and moral unscrupulousness. In more modern times, such men are called, by the Catholics, Jesuits, and their art is known as behaving in a manner jesuitical.
The sophisticates at Washington these days employ sophistry to promise the Americans utopia, best illustrated in our little film this day, but the villain of our film from 1948, Dr. Utopia, a sophist himself of top-shelf, fails to tell the unenlightened just what utopia means. Again, attend first to Mr. Webster.
Mr. Webster says that utopia means these things three, somewhat contrary, things:
1.) an imaginary and indefinitely remote place
2.) often capitalized : a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions
3.) an impractical scheme for social improvement
After attending to our Mr. Webster, cast your mind back once again to your prep school studies of the Greek philosophers. In their work we find these, on surface, quixotic and self-contradictory definitions of utopia, somewhat different from that of our Mr. Webster:
The first recorded societal utopian proposal is Plato’s Republic. Intended as, part conversation, part fictional depiction and part policy proposal, Plato’s Republic proposes a categorization of citizens into a rigid class structure of “golden,” “silver,” “bronze” and “iron” socioeconomic classes.
The golden citizens are trained in a rigorous 50-year long educational program to be benign oligarchs, the “philosopher-kings.” The wisdom of these rulers will supposedly eliminate poverty and deprivation through fairly distributed resources, though the details on how to do this are unclear. The educational program for the rulers is the central notion of the proposal.
There is a general pacifism or pacifist attitude. However, the people of the Republic are all ready to defend themselves or to compete militarily for resources, most particularly such as land, if necessary. It has few laws, no lawyers and rarely sends its citizens to war, but hires mercenaries from among its war-prone neighbors. These mercenaries were deliberately sent into dangerous situations in the hope that the more warlike populations of all surrounding countries would be weeded out, leaving hopefully, only peaceable men behind.
In the sixteenth century, Saint Thomas More’s book Utopia proposed an ideal society of the same name. Some readers, including utopian socialists, have chosen to accept this imaginary society as the realistic blueprint for a working nation, while others have postulated that Saint Thomas More intended nothing of the sort. Some maintain the position that Saint Thomas More’s Utopia functions only on the level of a satire, a work intended to reveal more about the England of his time than about an idealistic society.
This interpretation is bolstered by the title of the book and nation, and its apparent confusion between the Greek for “no place” and “good place”: “utopia” is a compound of the syllable ou-, meaning “no”, and topos, meaning place. However, the Greek prefix eu-, meaning “good,” also resonates in the word, with the implication that the perfectly “good place” is really “no place.”
England was no utopia under the rule of His Majesty, King Henry VIII, who ended Saint Thomas Moore’s pretensions of utopia, and his life, by slicing off Thomas’ head for treason against Henry. Specifically, for Saint Thomas’ not having signed off, with alacrity, on Henry’s planned divorce from His Queen, Catherine of Aragon. Henry could be very touchy.
As a boy, Henry was very jovial and sportive, but with age and infirmity and very, very much drink and far too many young girls for his own good, he became, as I say, very touchy. I suspect, but can’t prove, it was mostly the drink and the syphilis that made him ticklish with age. At events, Henry has now, in history, a very nasty reputation today.
The Catholics say that Thomas is a Saint in heaven above and is now, at any rate, in a perfect place, the utopia of the New Garden of Eden.
The Americans today are vexed sorely by complexity and have precious little time to attend to Mr. Webster, Mr. Plato, Mr. Aristotle, His Majesty King Henry VIII, Queen Catherine of Aragon or Saint Thomas More.
To the Americans, one must put things very simply, and comparatively quickly, most particularly in this city of the sophists, Washington on the Potomac.
Outside Washington, America’s Babylon on the Potomac, there is deep depression in the land. The sophists ignore the depression, which deepens ever still as they congratulate themselves that they have won all the arguments, and most cleverly so.
Meanwhile, the young Americans are possessed of spans of attention sorely short.
Outside America Herself, her troops are deployed very thin and face any number of wars on worldwide, with more to come any day now, beyond any doubt.
Back home again, the American educational system and its demands upon the busy young, is today, very, very lax.
For the vexed and the busy, let’s then all agree that utopia means both:
The perfect place and the place that can never be.