Saturday, July 12, 2008
Duck asks such an interesting question on my previous post that it deserves a post of it own. 'Is the idea of civilisation utopian?' There's an easy answer to this - no. Utopia implies perfection whereas civilisation is just a case of making the best of a bad job. Civilisation redeems us from the wild condition but does not necessarily offer perfection, only an improvement. (You may argue about whether it is an improvement, but that's another matter.) Remove the idea of perfection, however, and the answer becomes more interesting. This blurs the meaning of utopian, but never mind. Reframing Duck's question we get: does civilisation entail the hope for/idea of a better world? I think it does. But, to traditional conservatives of the right and left, this must be a very modest aspiration. All civilisations end and what is right for one is not likely to be right for another. Utopians tend to ignore one or both of these truths. The hope for a better world embodied in civilisation is simply a case of patching up a leaky vessel on a stormy sea. Nothing wrong with that as long as we don't delude ourselves we will ever reach the promised land.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:51 am