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Thursday, November 23, 2017

On Thinkers in Ancient Greece Who Dreamed of Anarchist Utopia

Zeno of Citium
Bust in the Farnese collection
In his book The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Isaiah Berlin offers a brief description of the how the idea of anarchist utopia was developed in Ancient Greece by thinkers like Zeno the Stoic (Zeno of Citium).

Here’s an excerpt from the Chapter II, “The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West”:
In Plato’s republic there is a rigid, unified hierarchy of three classes, based on the proposition that there are three types of human nature, each of which can be fully realized and which together form an interlocking, harmonious whole. Zeno the Stoic conceives an anarchist society in which all rational beings live in perfect peace, equality and happiness without the benefit of institutions. If men are rational, they do not need control; rational beings have no need of the State, or of money, or of law-courts, or of any organized, institutional life. In the perfect society men and women shall wear identical clothes and feed in a ‘common pasture’. Provided that they are rational, all their wishes will necessarily be rational too, and so capable of total harmonious realization. Zeno was the first Utopian anarchist, the founder of a long tradition which has had a sudden, at times violent, flowering in our time.  
The Greek world generated a good many Utopias after the city State showed the first signs of decline. Side by side with the satirical Utopias of Aristophanes there is the plan for a perfect state of Theopompus. There is the Utopia of Euhemerus, in which happy men live on islands in the Arabian sea, where there are no wild animals, no winter, no spring, but an eternal, gentle, warm summer, where fruits fall into men’s mouths from the trees, and there is no need for labor. These men live in a state of unceasing bliss on islands divided by the sea from the wicked, chaotic mainland in which men are foolish, unjust and miserable. 
Berlin says that the anarchist utopias that the ancient thinkers dreamed of resemble an earthly paradise which exists beyond the grave. The inhabitants of the utopia live in static perfection, their human nature is finally and fully realized. They are fully rational beings, and the environment in which they live is perfect and eternal.

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