Utopian Dreams

The Utopian dreams of Socialists, if they could be realized, would not give us a Utopia, for they do not take account of some of the most essential elements of human nature. When we have taken away his property and given it to others, we have not thereby turned the millionaire into a nobleman or the recipients of his money into saints. A drastic law or an economic system, which shall make it impossible for men to corner the market, will not place either speculator or producer or consumer within the gates of paradise. For paradise is first of all a condition of heart: it does not wait for crops and it does not follow the markets. It may exist where food is coarse and scarce; it never comes simply because luxuries abound or because men are at ease.

Even if a man makes two blades of grass grow where before only one grew, the exhortation of Carlyle, the extra grass-blade will not solve the deep problems of his life. It may make his cattle fatter, but will it make his life larger and nobler? No, indeed, for out of the heart, not out of fatted cattle, are the issues of life. Another blade of grass? Yes, by all means, for that is good, if used as means to nobler life. But just the grass-blade or the millions of them upon a thousand acres, will not uproot the vice that kills or take away heartache.

The same truth faces us when we go to the other extreme where poverty pinches. And the pinch of poverty is a real calamity in thousands of lives. Church and state may well unite, not only to stamp out pauperism, but to prevent the conditions that breed paupers. But what we see in nine cases out of ten as the real cause of distress is not so much low wages or an unjust land system, as deficiency of life: weak wilt, disordered body, low vitality, feeble conscience, industrial incapacity. What every charity worker deplores is not so much low wages as low life. The problem is human, not simply economic. There is no more necessity that we equalize things than that we equalize knowledge. There is, however, supreme need that we equalize opportunity for knowledge and for property, but on condition that both become the servants of life. We may well put a high value on these material conditions, which Socialism so overemphasizes, and we may well demand a more just distribution of the goods of the world. But let us not be deceived. It is not by such means that a Paul is created, a Sistine Madonna painted, a Hamlet written, or a Washington produced.

“The Way to Utopia: A Brief Essay”


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