Saturday 12 October 2013

What is utopia? An ideal holiday or the ideal family?


A long time ago, mainstream Leftism used to be utopian - and to re-explore that era I began looking through my old copy of News from Nowhere, by William Morris - which always struck me (as a youth) as the most desirable socialist utopia I encountered.

I did not get very far reading it - because, although it is beautifully written, after about six pages I was overwhelmed with 'yes, I get the idea' and couldn't be bothered to read more and more examples of it.


The idea is that a socialist society would be like an ideal holiday, in a beautiful and unpolluted country, full of wonderful arts and crafts, and people who are warm, friendly and hardworking from the sheer joyous expression of their nature.

It is a world in which, so far as the externals of life go, there is nothing wrong.


But it is no better than an idealized holiday.

And I find it impossible, by any degree of extrapolation or amplification, to make an idealized holiday into an eternal Heaven. It is simply inadequate to my-self, and especially to my best-self.

To be contented for eternity with an ideal holiday I would have to be much less an entity than I perceive myself to be (at my best) - I would have to excise my deepest yearnings.


To a person who is crushed by poverty, pain, sordidness and tyrannical authority - an ideal holiday sounds like more than enough - to escape seems sufficient.

But to anyone who is not currently so crushed, and who has actually experienced something approximating to the perfect holiday, it is clear that no matter how vividly painted - such a world is not utopia.


It is also based upon either an error or a self-deception regarding human nature, and the possibility of Men being always as Men are at their very best; which means blaming all the significant evils of men upon social circumstances.

(Instead of Man being born free yet everywhere in chains; it is a case of believing that men Men are born good, but are everywhere being made to do evil by 'society'.)


But I find that the example of family life is qualitatively different from that of holiday. Family life at its best is something that I can easily imagine may be imaginatively extrapolated into such a type of ideal, that it would indeed be eternal fulfilment.

This is perhaps because family relationships have (at their peak) a divine quality, which reveals a level of response in ourselves and possibility in the nature of things - specifically an extension of family relations to include the divine -  that makes Heaven imaginable merely by quantitative extension.


In sum, an ideal holiday seems stubbornly to remain at the level of pleasure - and no matter how much pleasure may be amplified and sustained, pleasure does not suffice.

But an ideal family is a different matter, being of the realm of love - which in actual practice, as well as imaginable aspiration, satisfies us more deeply and fully than any conceivable pleasure.

Ideal family love satisfies, yet not only as a perfect blissful moment (although there are those); but also and mostly as a thing incorporating motivation and purpose, a thing changing and growing, and a thing we do not merely observe but are on-the-inside-of, completely involved-with.



Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

You are absolutely right. Nearly ideal holidays are very far from the heart's most profound desires, while ideal family life is. Ideal family life is a usual part of the earthly Paradise that many Protestants and Utopians are looking for; it is also remarkably near the real Christian envisioning of Heaven. But, in most cases, without a realistic vision of the fallen nature and Redemption, it gets on paths more or less removed from the right one.

Adam G. said...


My pleasures haven't left a mark; I can't even remember them mostly.

But there have been times I recall-- Sunday summer late evening with my parents sitting on the porch at our hold house, holding a bowl full of popcorn they'd made, us kids running around in the front grass--that I cannot recall without choking up and come unbidden to my mind. This even though to an outsider it would be impossible to describe why the scene mattered.

Nate said...

For me, without my family, it wouldn't be heaven, no matter how nice it might be.