Plato and More meet to discuss the idea of democracy as a form of government.
Plato: A democracy being a proper form of government – you cannot be serious Thomas.
More: Yes I am quite serious. It will allow for the country to prosper and for the citizens to elect officials and create a society full of happiness.
P: Democracy is a joke and does not work. Look at the state and Greece and Athens right now. Does it really look like democracy is working?
M: The democracy that Greece has is not a true democracy and is severely corrupted. A true democracy would never be run the way Greece is.
P: Thomas even if you create a democracy it will fail because over time it will become corrupted.
M: You really need to have more faith in the members of society. You make them seem so selfish and greedy. If a proper society is created individuals will want what is best for the overall community and not just what is best for them.
P: You are way too idealistic. Society needs rulers who have been trained their entire life. These individuals will be taken at a young age and learn what it takes to rule and how to rule a society. These individuals will be called philosopher kings and they surely will not have their minds corrupted by this idea of democracy.
M: That is the most absurd thing I have ever heard Plato you make people seem like they are sheep and need a shepherd to lead them. Your perception of man disgusts me. You must have more faith in people. People will work together so that they can have an overall better way of life. Democracy is a just form of government because not only is it “a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system”(dictionary.com) but it is the way to forming a utopia.
P: You must have lost your mind. This is truly the most bizarre thing I have heard. I don’t understand why you have such a difficult time understanding that democracy will never work. Democracy leads to chaos because it creates class separation in which the classes will eventually clash and the poor will revolt against the individuals in power. In addition, democracy makes society veer further and further away from a utopia.
M: If you were truly educated as you brag that you are, Plato, than you would know from reading my book Utopia that a society is most happy when the government is not involved and citizens feel that they aren’t being ruled. Your idea of the philosopher king is creating an elitist society where only the strongest and smartest can rule. These individuals cannot relate to the common man and will not know how to rule common people because these “philosopher kings” have an unrealistic perception of society and expect more from people than they really can do.
P: Thomas you have made a very good point. I want to sleep on this new concept that you have made me think about. Want to meet tomorrow for lunch to discuss further?
M: Most certainly.
Religion and Utopias
In their works on utopian societies, Plato and More believe that religion is key to the function of a society. They suggest that religious beliefs affect the morality of a society’s members and thus the preservation of the society itself. While Plato believes in “gods” and that society members should strive to attain the Form of the Good, a strict moral code, More believes that although many religious sects can exist in a society, society members should acknowledge one true deity. In the paper, Plato’s Republic and More’s Utopia will be analyzed to determine what role they believe religion plays in the overall function of their utopian societies. Then, their ideals will be compared to those of four religious communities that were founded in 18th and 19th century America. These communities were created as “utopian” societies that were founded upon very different religious ideals. The ideals of these American communities, The Shakers, Brook Farm, the Rappites, and The Oneida Community, will be presented to highlight the way in which religious beliefs affect the overall structure and success of the community. Finally, how Plato and More operationalize religion in their utopias will be compared to the way in which religious beliefs were implemented in the four American communities and eventually contributed to their demise.
This paper will look at how important religion is to the creation of Plato and More’s utopias. Next, it will examine whether Plato and More’s religious ideals were realistic or too idealistic to be implemented into an actual society. The Shakers, Brook Farm, the Rappites, and the Oneida Community were American communities that expressed their religious beliefs in different and radical ways for the time period. The similarities and differences between the communities will be discussed. One important question will be examined in relation to each community. How did the practices of each community affect its longevity? Were the religious ideals of these communities too radical for the times? Is it possible for a religious community to continue to function if a core belief is celibacy? Why did all of the American communities ultimately fail? Finally, how can the ideals of these communities be compared to those of Plato and More? Would Plato and More’s communities be successful if their religious ideals were implemented in present day society?
Little research exists on the comparison of Plato and More’s ideas on religion and the ideals of religious communities in 18th and 19th America. Exploring this topic will allow readers to create connections between two of the greatest works of all time and the way in which different religious beliefs of early American religious “utopias” affected their viability. Analyses of the religious ideals of early American “utopias” that failed can provide us information about how to create an actual utopian environment that may succeed. How religious views of a society’s members affect the morality and social structure of the community can also be examined. The study of utopias is still very important today because even though a true utopia is not attainable, if society strives to become better and uses the ideals of Plato and More and the four religious communities, society will be able to function better as a whole.
The concept of utopia is still relevant today because individuals throughout history have been discussing this idea, but have never been able to create a true utopia. Numerous books, articles, and websites will allow me to explore this topic in depth. I own both the Republic and Utopia. Using the library’s website I was able to find five books that I will use as secondary sources for my paper. The books are Brook Farm, Religion and Sexuality, Oneida Community an Autobiography, 1851-1876, and The Cambridge Companion to Plato. In addition, I have found a website that was created by the National Park Service that provides a lengthy description of the four religious communities I will discuss. The short annotated bibliography below gives a more in depth description of the sources I have listed.
Jowett, Benjamin. Plato The Republic. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2000.
This book discusses Plato’s ideas on creating a utopia and how he believes society must be structured and how individuals need to be trained to form his ideal utopia. In addition, it discusses his ideas on religion and what part he believes religion plays in society.
More, Thomas. Utopia. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1997.
This book discusses More’s ideas on society and how he conceptualizes a utopia. More discusses the island of Utopia where Raphael traveled. He describes Utopia’s way of life and how they live. More also discusses his ideas on religion and what role he believes it plays in society.
Swift, Lindsay. Brook Farm: Its Members, Scholars, and Visitors. New York,
New York: Corinth Books, 1961.
This book describes the Brook Farm community and details how it is structured, the buildings and grounds of the community, the industries of the community, the household work, and the amusements and customs of the community. In addition, the book addresses the school system of the community, its members, and visitors.
Foster, Lawrence. Religion and Sexuality: Three American Communal Experiments of the Nineteenth Century. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
This book discusses the Shaker community. The book explains the origins of Shakerism, early growth of the movement, organizing the movement, daily life among the Shakers, membership, and the spiritual manifestations: crisis and renewal.
Robertson, Constance N. Oneida Community: An Autobiography, 1851-1876.
Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1970.
This book discusses the Oneida Community. It goes into detail about where they lived, how they lived and worked, what they believed, their education, their idea of complex marriage, the role women played in the community, and stirpiculture.
Kraut, Richard. The Cambridge Companion to Plato. New York, New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1992.
This book tells us about Plato’s ideas on religion. It also compares Plato’s religious ideas to the ideas of religion that the Greeks had.
“Utopias in America.” National Park Service, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2012
The Declaration of Independence and What Is the Third Estate? go about discussing their complaints and proposals in very different fashions. The Americans list many complaints but they provide few solutions to their grievances. On the other hand, the French list many complaints but also provide solutions to their issues. The Americans believe it is their duty to revolt and that they are suffering from cruel mistreatment. In the Declaration of Independence the Americans complain about how the King of Great Britain is denying them of their liberties and ruling unjustly. They propose that ‘these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the State of Great Britain (Blaisdell 66).” This quote illustrates how the Americans complained about how they were being ruled but never provided any solution to the issues only complete separation from Great Britain. This was a very bold statement and anything of this nature was unheard of during that time period. Few believed that the colonists would be able to successfully revolt against one of the world superpowers.
In the discussion of What is the Third Estate? the French are complaining about how they are being governed and how the political and social systems are unjust. The French have much more organized complaints and proposals than the Americans. On page 80 of The Communist Manifesto and Other Revolutionary Writings, the French state that in order for the society to be just and ruled properly they must “set forth in a solemn declaration, these natural, imprescriptible, and inalienable rights.” The French want to institute change in society through a peaceful way instead of an all out revolt against the existing government. They discuss exactly what the Third Estate is and how it will be created and governed. This structure is far more sophisticated than the Americans. The French may have these more structured ideas and plans because they were able to witness the American Revolution and what the Americans did properly and improperly. In addition, the French may have been more structured due to the fact that they had been a united country far longer than the colonies had existed. The Americans and French both went about complaining what they wanted to change in government in different manners and also proposed these changes differently but overall the French and Americans shared the same ideas in what they wanted to change in their countries.
For More and Plato, location of a utopia affects its development and success. While More believes that a utopia must be physically separated from other societies, Plato suggests that any society can become a utopia wherever it is located if certain conditions are developed and met over time. More’s utopia is located on a remote island. His placement suggests the utopia cannot be corrupted because its inhabitants are physically separated from others. Essentially, More thought that outside contact corrupts the mind and society. In Book II of Utopia, More describes Utopia as not an “island at first, but part of a continent (More 28).” Utopus, the ruler of Utopia, believes that the continent they conquered was full of “uncivilized inhabitants (More 28).” For this reason he orders all individuals of Utopia to dig a channel fifteen miles long to separate Utopia from the other continent. This channel serves not only as a physical separation, but also as a metaphorical one in which the ideas of Utopia become disconnected from the uncivilized culture surrounding their society. In addition, each town is located almost equidistant from the other. This placement is deliberate and creates an overall equality among the people because no individual has to go further for something than another individual demonstrating the true essence of a utopia.
In contrast, in Plato’s Republic, location is not as essential to the creation of a utopia. However, location plays a small role in how Plato constructs his utopia. Plato believes that his “philosopher kings” must be separated from society at a young age so that their minds are not corrupt. Plato believes the separation from society allows the philosopher kings to rely not on sensorial observation, but rather on their training and understanding the Form of the Good. The utopian society that Plato creates is different than More’s because he does not believe his utopia needs to be isolated. Plato suggests that if certain conditions are met, any society can become a utopia. For instance, if the philosopher kings are well trained in arithmetic, geometry, physical training, astronomy, and ultimately dialectics they will be able to create a utopian society no matter where they are. More and Plato both use location in many different ways while describing their utopias. More uses location as a complete separation from the world. Plato uses location as a way to separate a few individuals and train them to then return to society and then rule society in a utopian fashion. Thus location is essential to the development of a utopia.
When I first arrived on campus, I was quite surprised to observe how quiet and calm the HUB was. In a few short days, its quiet atmosphere become more vibrant as it bustled with people coming in and out for different events. I believe the HUB has changed not only because the upperclassmen have arrived and the campus population has increased, but also that the first year class has changed a great deal in the first week of school. The HUB’s quiet, subdued atmosphere reflected every first year student’s silent nervousness about being at college for the first time. Today, the entire atmosphere of the HUB has transformed because the first year class has transformed. Students now feel much more comfortable and less nervous about college. The quiet reserved conversations have become conversations full of laughter and shared interaction. It has been fascinating to observe the change in the HUB over a short period of time. I look forward to see the HUB’s atmosphere and first year students evolve over time.