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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

 

On Utopia and Rothbard

This semester I'm taking a history course that covers the rise of modern Europe, spanning from the 16th to the 19th century. The past two weeks one of our texts included Thomas More's famous work called Utopia. Even though Utopian literature was named after More's book, the genre dates far back to Plato, who wrote of a similar utopian society called the Republic. Utopia means "no place" and More uses this idealistic country to demonstrate the failures of his present day England under the reign of Henry VIII, especially in regards to the government's use of capital punishment.
     Prior to reading Utopia, I was not aware that this "perfect society" has nothing to do with private property. At the beginning of Book Two, More's fantastic traveller from Utopia, Raphael Hythlodaeus, describes the Utopian cities. Raphael professes that if you've seen one Utopian city, you've seen them all because they all look alike and there's nothing special to distinguish one home from another. The Utopians grow up in a society that does not put worth into material possessions and considers material goods childish and petty.
     Households usually hold thirty to forty people and every thirty households "elects an official called a Styward every year." (More, 54) Stywards are also called District Controllers and every ten District Controllers report to a Senior District Controller. Raphael goes on to explain that the doors of each household are double-swing doors, "So anyone can go in and out - for there's no such thing as private property" (More, 53)
     Raphael's Utopian society does sound ideal if one solely looks at the surface. All citizens of Utopia work 6 hours a day and everyone is given an education, a job, a home and daily meals. Everyone seems happy and is given what they need to survive. What could possibly be wrong with this socialist system?
     In his Libertarian manifesto called, "For a New Liberty", Rothbard vehemently argues against communism. "We can state that this ideal rests on an absurdity: proclaiming that every man is entitled to own a part of everyone else, yet is not entitled to own himself." (Rothbard, 34) As a human race we are  meant to grow and flourish. By mixing our labor with the earth, we create goods that become our property. Why?, a Utopian might ask. Well, it's our property because we took the time and effort to make it! The daily meals that the Utopians eat together were not made from their own labor but from the labor of others. All food produced in Utopia is sent to the community halls where the food is divided amongst everyone registered there to eat. This may seem fine to the Utopians but they fail to see that the process goes under the supervision of those touching the Force; District Controllers. These elected officials have control over everything: the Utopians' food, their houses and even what textbooks they read in school.
       The presence of District Controllers and other authorities echos Rothbard's sentiments towards communism and ruling class. "In practice, then, the concept of universal and equal other-ownership is utopian and impossible, and supervision and therefore control and ownership of others necessarily devolves upon a specialized group of people, who thereby become a ruling class." (Rothbard, 35) Utopian society may start out with the best intentions, but one must realize that lack of private property puts its citizens at the mercy of authorities to organize the system and make it work. A society based on right to private property, on the other hand, has no need for government regulation because each individual is in control of the results of his or her own labor.
    

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