“Utopia” by Thomas More
A road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and a road to the worst forms of totalitarianism may be paved with the idea of ideal people’s community. The worst totalitarian regimes have their roots in the noble ideas of liberal philosophers, as it appears to be that their ideas can be interpreted quite oppositely and dogmatism can replace the idea of justice. Perhaps the most famous of such philosophic concepts of an ideal society has been provided by Thomas More in his memorable “Utopia”.
This paper aims to compare “Utopia” to the view of totalitarianism demonstrated by Hannah Arendt in her “Origins of Totalitarianism” in order to demonstrate how the basic themes of More are related to the totalitarian reality. Additionally, I am going to examine the American Declaration of Independence in terms of totalitarian development in order to demonstrate how it’s provisions reflect the fear of totalitarian rule and resist it. “Utopia” means “non-existing place”. It was nothing but More’s ideal philosophic construction, of which he himself was aware that it is principally inaccessible.
More opens his work with correspondence in which he explains that the European state and society at the time is imperfect and proposes his own ultimate social model embodied in the island of Utopia. Considering that morals are distorted by money and private property, More describes a culture in which there is no money and property at all. Equality is the basic value for the Utopians, so they perform the same works, receive the same education and even have similar clothes. Surprisingly, this society is familiar with slavery, as Utopian criminals or war prisoners are typically turned into slaves.
The entire Utopian society is based on obedience: everyone has to obey to the government, wives have to obey to husbands, children have to obey to parents and slaves have to obey to masters. Thusly, it is not a society of freedom, this is an ideally constructed society, which is similar rather to a machine, than to actual people’s community. Perhaps More himself realized the impracticability of his conception as he concludes: “there are many things in the commonwealth of Utopia that I’d rather wish than hope to see followed by our governments” .
It should be added that freedom is not a self-sufficient value for More. He speaks of abstract happiness, and it is a prince who “ought to take more care of his people’s happiness than of his own” . People can not achieve happiness themselves because of their corrupted nature, and so the government should give them happiness. Such happiness is somehow forcible, since each and every person who refuses to follow the laws, admittedly leading to happiness, is going to be recognized a criminal in Utopia.
It a community of extreme paternalism, and paternalism is one of the key features of a totalitarian social order. Comparing Utopia to the actual totalitarian regimes, as they are described by Arendt, we can trace numerous analogies. Arendt argues that in fact there existed only two purely totalitarian governments: the Nazi Germany and the Stalinist USSR. Upon careful investigation of such regimes as Italian fascism, Arendt concludes that, in contract to the dominating idea, Nazism is much closer to Stalinism than to Fascism.
Mussolini is an autocratic ruler, whose principal purpose was to aggrandize the state and nation, while for Hitler and Stalin the principal purpose was to dominate in every aspect of social life and eliminate the idea of freedom itself, at least in the meaning in which it is understood in the Western philosophy. Arendt describes it as “tremendous force of compulsion over the minds of men” . Arendt did an outstanding work investigating the roots of totalitarian governments.
Under her, perhaps controversial, but yet powerful concept, totalitarian regimes originate as social movements which are opposed to traditional political parties. The reason for their nascence is public discontent with certain situations resulting in racism and imperialism. For some period, those ideas remain to be nothing but public aspirations which are likely to be overcome in most cases. Yet if a society is driven deeper into crisis, it starts a blame game both with certain social and national groups and own failed government, calling racism and class struggle to being.
This initial stage is very similar to More’s initial reasoning, with the only difference that More criticizes governments from his own point of view, whereas totalitarian trends include public discontent and criticisms. As it has been already noticed, More demonstrated the Utopian society as an indiscrete mass of faceless individuals. Arendt in turn emphasizes that in the totalitarian society classes are transformed into masses ruled by propaganda and fear.
Although collectivism is declared to be a supreme value in a totalitarian society, in fact the members of such society face loneliness and isolation making it even easier for a state to rule them. As she herself puts it, “what totalitarian rule needs in the stead of principal action is a preparation of individuals which will fit them equally for the role of executioner and the role of a victim” . So, can totalitarian trends be opposed in the society? They certainly can, otherwise we would see totalitarianism dominating most of the nations, that in fact never happened.
American Declaration of Independence offers a brilliant example of public discontent with oppressive rule and opportunities to overcome it. The grieves of the colonists listed in the declaration, including dissolving of representative bodies, refusal to provide the people with legislative powers, obstructing the administration of justice, electing new offices and oppression of freedom by mercenaries describe a society driven into tyranny, while inspiring conflicts between colonists and Indians can be viewed as an attempt to stir up hatter towards the foreigners which, under Arendt, is a cornerstone of a totalitarian rule.
Similarly to More, the Declaration proves happiness to be a natural human right and interest, yet, contrasting More, it stresses that happiness is impossible without freedom. This is where the basic difference between totalitarian and non-totalitarian rule lies: in a totalitarian regime happiness stays on the first place and is obtained from a state, while in the Declaration of Independence personal freedom plays a key role, with happiness being listed after freedom .
To summarize the overstate, it can be concluded that totalitarianism derives from individual and social discontent, that is stressed both by More and by Arendt. More has demonstrated an ideal social machinery being actually totalitarian, but yet making people happy, while Arendt proved that totalitarianism is a self-sufficient system, providing only an illusion of happiness, whereas its actual purpose is supreme and absolute domination.
This can be avoided only in case it is recognized that happiness is impossible without personal freedom. Works Cited: 1. Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Washington: Harvest Books, 1973. 2. More, Thomas. Utopia. Boston: Adamant Media Corporation, 2001. 3. United States Declaration of Independence. 07 Apr. 2009. Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia. http://www. ushistory. org/declaration/document/index. htmSample Essay of BuyEssay.org