Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 1. 1962.
Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More.
One of the earliest Socialists to consider this problem was Sir Thomas More, who wrote his "Utopia" in two books in 1515. Written in Latin originally, it was definitely revolutionary doctrine but was obviously not for Every-man. In More's Utopia, hours of work are restricted to six, three hours before dinner and three hours after. The theory here was that long working hours were a direct result from the large number of idlers which society carries, but if everyone did their fair share work could be distrbuted more evenly, thus shorter hours for all. And any leisure must be devoted "to some proper exercise," preferably a cultural activity. Essentially a Socialistic island, with no private property, More's Utopians are also way-out fore-runners of Bentham, believing in pleasure only, "using this caution, that a lesser pleasure might not stand in the way of a greater, and that no pleasure ought to be pursued that should draw a great deal of pain after it."
Yet the point Alexander Gray makes in his "The Socalist Tradition" is that in spite of the material comforts, reduced working hours and food-for-everyone advantages of a Utopia, life there would be as boring as in a conventional Heaven, where nothing has happened since the revolt of the angels. He maintains that life in any Utopia would have reached a static state, perfection, by definition, has been attained, and there is nothing left to strive for. Although More's book was only an exercise in fantasy, I do not think
Gray is sufficiently justified in his indictment on the "nothing happening" grounds. A world free of war, revolt, poverty, hunger, disease and crime would remove many events from the earth but these would only be the undesirable ones. Culture could never be static, and every change, however gradual, would be an advance, and therefore a happening.
This inevitability of change was advanced by Hegel and Fichte.
"History," said Hegel, "is a continuous process. Each and every society is but a landmark on the endless pilgrimage of humanity from lower to higher states of life." These ideas were expanded by Hegel's contemporaries to involve politics, religion, morals, culture and even aesthetics. But Hegel's dialectical philosophy which stated that all change is the result of conflict between diametrically opposed forces, took place primarly on the plane of ideas, while Marx, Engels and their followers applied the principle rather dogmatically to the class struggle in human society.