In 1515, Sir Thomas More wrote a fictional description of a foreign land that he called "Utopia" (meaning "nowhere"). It may be remembered that Marco Polo had previously created a new literary genre, the travelogue. In Utopia, private property and money had supposedly been abolished (Hatred of private property is a common theme running across revolutionary writers advocating utopias. We see it in Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, on Marx’s and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s What is Property? And Peter Kropotkin’s Anarchism), there was complete equality, travel was restricted and could only be done with permission from the authorities, euthanasia was encouraged, goods are held in common, individuality and diversity were suppressed, everyone wore drab clothing of the poorest quality, yet everyone was supposed to be happy...See a problem here? Have you spotted it yet? Yes, it says everyone was supposed to be happy. Why? Would you be? Neither would I. What these writers are engaging in is a flight from reality in which they posit that if only others would act as they say they should, then they would be happy. These people place the burden of making themselves happy on others, and thus are never happy themselves. And you can see it in the Leftists who seem to occupy a significant portion of the news. Are feminists happy? Are the race hustlers happy? Indeed, are any Leftists you know happy, or were they during the Obama years? No? I have actually spoken to hard core Marxists who insist, despite all evidence to the contrary that the Soviet Union wasn't communists. True communism (whatever that is) has never been tried! By moving the goal posts around the field, they hope to keep the beautiful dream alive in the face of hard evidence it does not work.
However, the real reason they disappeared is that they went against human nature. This human nature was not the result of a lifetime of bad habits and education and values, as the utopians insisted, but rather what constitutes a human being. These utopian communities were the inventions of intellectuals, who, as is their wont, were out of touch with reality and besotted with particular ideologies. (As John Dewey pointed out in Human Nature and Conduct, artificial systems of morality have been based on a disregard for human nature instead of being based on it. Moral constructs, whether religious or philosophical, are fantasies, they are ideals created outside of man and if people do not live up to those ideals, well, it just means that human beings are too corrupt.) They invented castles in the sky, convinced others through their verbal virtuosity (to use Thomas Sowell’s apt phrase) and then were bitterly disappointed when reality repeatedly slapped them in the face. The fact of the matter is that people, by nature, want to own things. They want to excel. They have pride. They have individuality. They have their own opinions. They are not "equal" in the extreme sense of the word. They want a spouse who is faithfully exclusive. They enjoy good food, homes, clothes, property, possessions and objects of exquisite quality. That is normal. It is normal to enjoy life.Perhaps what my friend really meant was that the people subjected to these "Utopias" didn't react as predicted. But since the theory can never be wrong, oh no, the people must be forced to see it the way Fearless Leader sees it, which of course simply makes the stubborn mules more unhappy. Fearless Leader then has to administer more punishments to get his people to like their medicine. It reminds me of an old saying in bureaucratic organizations: the beatings will continue until morale improves.
While a regime like the Soviet Union has slipped from our consciousness at the moment, it is well to remember that we still live in a vast surveillance state, in which every electronic communication is recorded and stored in huge government facilities. Wikileaks, who are not our friends, nevertheless inadvertently provided us with a useful reminder. The shear volume of it all really, the phone conversations, the emails, and the surreptitious spying upon essentially 7 billion people, preclude ever making it useful for any legitimate purpose. The spies tell us that they have stopped untold numbers of terrorist plots with all this information, but we can not know about any of it, so just trust them. Really? This focus on the minutiae of the lives of ordinary people by powerful men seems somehow creepy. But, it reminds us that the totalitarian temptation, as Jonah Goldberg put in in his book Liberal Fascism, is always with us, and sometimes infects us all. The only way to get rid of it is to rigorously mind our own business, and let other mind theirs.