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From "Republic" to "Utopia": Can Millenniums of Thought be Real on 21st Century Bases?

The world humans have created, the world humanity have found, and the world society is living in, all people have participated less or more in every part of it for millenniums. It all started with wondering like nomads which was followed with hundreds of different political idols until the 21st century. Few of them only survived as yet to remember what is left of them or what is living inside people's minds. Utopianism says that there is a possible new future for humanity based on happiness where everyone and everything is equal, while Platonism says that everyone cannot be the same in a matter of aspects but equal happiness for the public can be achieved by the ways of Platonian republic. However, neither of these philosophies is a ruling ideology in any official country today.

What is known as a republic in the 21st century is more complicated than it was for Plato in 375 B.C. Plato was a philosopher who had seen tyranny and democracy many times in ancient Greece, and he decided to take care of how Republic should be on his bases for the community, for the government. He saw government as a person at the beginning and divided its soul into three pieces:

  • Urge: A desire to have something

  • Willpower: Bravery of Soul

  • Intelligence: Soul’s deciding body

And then he converted these into government:

  • Guardians: Philosopher rulers trained to rule in the interests of the community (Wisdom)

  • Auxiliaries: Warriors/soldiers (Courage)

  • Producers: Farmers, artisans, and craftsmen (Discipline)

All three metamorphoses into justice and if everybody applies to these, this would create harmony between them for Plato.

What Plato talked about in Republic is that he formed an order of government that was ironically not a democracy of Athens. He presented democracy as a corrupted form of mob rule. In Athens, every citizen had the right to attend the main decision-making gatherings. Due to the call for society on politics against all, the speech was the most lethal democratic weapon and it opened the feeling of equality and likeness among all citizens. He believed that democracy was competing voices and opinions all arguing to promote their self-interest without common group sense. This situation seemed to promote the most corrupt politicians and reward the most ruthless tactics to citizens who were easily swayed by demagogues and made terrible decisions. He finalized his point of view with these ideas as, democracy rejected the idea that society should be governed by wisdom and it should encourage people to see politics as a battle of opinion, power, and interests. However, what he believed in his idea of Republic was that a small group of philosophers who are specifically trained in every field of philosophy and governing would be ideal rules of the community.

Pericles Funeral Oration on 50 Drachmai 1955 Banknote from Greece.

Plato believed that rulers would learn how to perceive the world through philosophical training and could therefore decide what is best for the interest of the community. However, for this to become true, he believed that these people had to be trained in mathematics and philosophy for 15 years and they were not allowed to have nuclear family, property, or any money. They had to live in a community camp and children would be taken away, receiving common education. This idea was to separate the rulers from any action or thought of corruption which was influenced by the temptation of wealth and power. The purpose of the city was to promote the happiness of all individuals consisting of each class performing their role.

Although all this may sound like a perfect way to raise a leader, some parts of this Republic idea do not fit society's modern ruling system which are the ways that people are being educated and art's perception in Republic of Plato and 21st century. Plato offered an authoritarian system that controlled which stories would be suitable for the city and what his thought on poetry and drama was that they were taking people's attention away from true knowledge.

"An Audience in Athens During Agamemnon by Aeschylus" by William Blake Richmond.

Plato included extensive details of social reforms, education, and political institutions that seemed to go well beyond everything that could find a direct analogy in an individual. Some people disagree on this, however, Plato was likely trying to contribute to both moral and political philosophy even if some of these specific political proposals seemed quite–fetched. Poetry was corrupted in his view because it contained many gods and their actions of killing and punishing. Theatre would be banned in favor of more austere styles of art as plays could manipulate people. Music also had to be changed as it could affect the soul directly without using any words. It had to be written in a minor key with no complex harmony or rhythm, only instruments that played single notes. Plato ordered an education that let people believe that what they had chosen was right for them and all students had to be under the supervision of their teachers so that their jobs would be appointed by the teachers. They were educated by the true idea that rulers have the soul of gold, auxiliaries silver and producers have the soul of iron, in order to motivate every class.

Although Plato’s Republic contained some idealistic ideas in it, it also contained a lot of authoritarian ideas that were not suitable for human nature. His ideas on how the ideal Republic should be influenced many leaders in the next centuries but it could never achieve what it was designed for. Plato's wish to give happiness to the community was a dystopia for individuals in the end. Even though Plato’s ideal world for community ended as a failure, in 1516 Thomas More became a hope of light to bring what Plato could not to all communities and the world.

Thomas More’s Utopia has been heaven on earth for most people for hundreds of years. There is no private property which is the cause of inequality or corruption in society, people work six hours a day, as everybody obeys the rules the job title "lawyer" does not exist, Utopians use gold to create a necklace for slaves to be distinguished. Even though there is slavery, people from outer Utopia apply to be a slave on Utopia which shows how well people are treated in there and there is respect for all religions. Contrary to Plato’s Republic, More's Utopia has been tried by different nations or groups for hundreds of years since it has been published.

Hand-tinted map of the Island of Utopia.

There was Gerard Winstanley, who was the leader and one of the founders of the "Diggers," a group of dissidents in England. The Diggers managed to acquire formerly common land (which had been privatized) before they were wiped out. Which followed again in Münster in 1530 by Anabaptists as a following of Diggers to Anabaptists. Diggers managed to seize the town institute of all the wealth, and redistribute it to everyone and this lasted for a whole year. The problem with the ideal was that they decided to slaughter everyone wealthy, which was not a Utopia for people who started to gather some nickels for them. However, this was not the end for failed utopia attempts. Scotland tried to create its own utopia in 1700, and it spread overseas as well. There was a thing called "The Darien Scheme" in which 2000 Scots tried to settle on the Isthmus of Panama, but only 400 of them managed to come back as they were attacked by the natives while they were ruling their utopia, and also their settlement was a malaria spot which led to the death of most of them.

The Utopian ethic was to sail away across the ocean and start again and as these three attempts ended with failure, the last sparkle of Utopia was just coming out.

There were new reasons for Utopia: The New World / America was discovered at a time when Europe was fragile and separated with a lot of small states that were ruled by severely religious or secular authorities. These small states were continuing their transformations due to the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) and a population of 74 million inhabitants was too crowded for Europe as a continent. When the other side of the ocean is looked at, there was the Antarctic: French colonies, British colonies, 800,000 inhabitants while Europe had 74 million. The question of where to test the experiment, where to move people in Utopian communities, began to arise. This was a sparkle that Utopians needed. What made a new Utopia possible for people between the 17th and the 19th centuries were that industrial cities produced new health issues and religious and political conflicts led people to leave Europe. Poverty and inequalities in cities were other reasons, and there were wars all over Europe. People built a Utopian city called "Hygeia" (which is near Kentucky in the United States today) based on Thomas More’s Utopia for a new start. In the end, there were 200 Utopian communities in North America but they did not last as they got overrun by groups and scavengers, military invasions. Architects started to design their Utopia; Garden cities were built by Ebenezer Howard. He advocated for the connection between nature and human architecture, a new way for people to live healthily and united with nature, which is the same architecture as Thomas More’s cities. However, whatever was done to achieve a utopia ended with nothing like More's Utopia. When humanity looks at all of these failed attempts, what society/ Utopians do not gain insight into is the reasons why they failed all the time (except for the habitants' military invasion or other outer forces).

The original Garden City concept by Ebenezer Howard.

There is a Utopian community in the 21st century at north of Scotland in Findhorn. People do three different jobs each week there and when they do one job better than the other two, they expect to be rewarded, and to keep succeeding. However, according to the Utopian mentality, everybody has to do the same jobs which leads to that person hating the two other jobs and lose their interest on what they could do successfully. People in Utopia put all their items into the warehouse of the community and when they need something, they take it from there, which prevents having a private item or having one more item than any other person in that community. When someone has one more blanket or pot than other people, this creates a black market in Utopia. The more the community gets planned, the more the black market grows. Another problem is that there is no currency system in Utopia which means that there is no price mechanism to determine "We are running out of bread" as there is no price scale that society can follow to understand if its value rises or falls. This brings the question of how does anyone value for anything and how does anyone trade with outer countries if utopian society don’t have any currency. Another problem is the island method of the Utopia in which Utopians isolate themselves from the main world. This means that they are no longer trading with the rest of the world.

Today, even a computer can contain 20 different parts from different countries to assemble one and Utopians only have the technology that they have managed to reach, which is breaking down and losing its self over time. For most people, Utopianism starts with millennialism, which is something that happens to the world and people start to build Utopia in accordance with their thoughts: the final collapse of capitalism would lead to universal equality, French Revolution which was the bloody destruction of kings and queens would end up with universal peace and equality, the end of imperialism would lead all nations to be free, and so on. These earth-shattering events have taken place in the world but there has never been a lasting utopia. Even if the world lives through a catastrophic situation that would wipe most of the civilization, people still would not create utopia as utopia is only a dream of the best community, which people want to achieve but they will never do so as human nature is too violent and selfish for it. People always dream about what they cannot achieve and try to do everything to achieve or obtain, and utopia is nothing more than an achievement which cannot be achieved in the near future of humanity at least to rule any country. Only very few utopias in the history of utopias have lasted more than one generation.

Lastly, someone’s utopia can be other's dystopia and if someone justifies everything in pursuit of their utopia, then that is a recipe for not just authoritarianism but also for totalitarianism which people suggest is non-Utopian. However, there is a bigger question awaiting us: How can you create a utopia if you do not know what is absolute truth or evil as it has been with Adam and Eve? Neither Plato’s strict Republic can be true nor More's Utopia can be achieved as both are ideals that inspired many but could not succeed in forming one.

Bibliographical References

Mennasemay, M. (2012). Utopia and Ethiopia: The Chronicles of Lalibela as Critical Reflection. Northeast African Studies. Plato. (2019). Devlet: Hasan Ali Yücel Klasikleri (Turkish Edition). İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları. More, T. (2019). Utopia: Hasan Ali Yücel Klasikleri (Turkish Edition). İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları. Debele, M. L. (2016). The Ethiopian root of Thomas More’s Utopia. International Journal of African Renaissance Studies - Multi-, Inter- and Transdisciplinarity. Political Philosophy. (2019, August 14). Plato - The Republic | Political Philosophy [Video]. YouTube. TEDx Talks. (2019, June 28). Why are utopias important for human mankind? | Gregory Claeys | TEDxLinz [Video]. YouTube. Yıldırım, T. [Turhan Yıldırım]. (2020, September 24). Thomas More - Ütopya (Kitap İncelemesi) [Video]. YouTube. TEDx Talks. (2017, May 18). The History of Utopian Thinking | Danilo Palazzo | TEDxUCincinnati [Video]. YouTube.

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Doğukan Ejder

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