Sometimes when you are reading, you come across something so well said you exclaim out-loud, Wow! This is what happened when I read the following. It was even more meaningful when I realized it was written by someone who is barely an adult. The points Joe makes are about movements, but they are really about how to live your life. It is worth the time to read. Enjoy!
The following was written by 18 year old Joseph Lundeen, a senior in high school. It represents some thoughts he was asked to write down after a conversation regarding the Trust Tour, which his father considers a realistic movement toward substantial world improvement. Joe wants to be a physics major in college and enjoys thinking about philosophical problems as below only as a hobby.
On Successful Utopian Movements
The most important point is that no one person or group can design a utopia single-handedly. History easily illustrates this as seen in the case of such attempted utopian societies as the Soviet Union or other communist state. The mechanism behind this is that no one human being can anticipate all future developments. If one group attempts to create all aspects of a society, no matter how pure their intentions, implicit bias will inevitably result in skewed or flawed precepts, or in ideas that simply grow outdated. Rather, a successful political movement must start off with a set of basic, firm, but very vague and adaptable tenets. For example, the Declaration of Independence, one of the most enduring documents when it comes to republican government in both America and the rest of the world, is centered on the simple themes of freedom and self-government; terms with concrete but adaptable meanings relevant to any time period. From here, the movement must be a dynamic process, with each new generation of members contributing something and keeping it relevant to current events and attitudes. The American Revolution is, an example of a successful movement and demonstrates many of the above qualities. Prior to the revolution itself, the colonies had a good century or so of lax British rule to develop functioning governments and stable societies. As a bonus, a series of great Enlightenment thinkers, starting with John Locke, provided another century’s worth of intellectual justification. Thus, when the revolution came, it had a stable ideological base and well-developed structures to work with. The movement continued to evolve and adapt to present day, as seen in the many amendments to the Constitution. So too must any modern political utopian movement if it is to be successful. It must allow itself to adapt, and in order to do so without compromising its own meaning, that meaning must be broad and vague, but still concrete enough to inspire action. From here, as stated above, new members and generations can continue to improve and expand on the movement until it comes as close to perfection as possible.
When it comes to founding utopian movements, there are few concrete rules and no infallible process. However, there are several key “do nots” that can spell the death of a movement from its inception. First, and most importantly, it must be non-exclusive; anyone must be able to join and one must never turn away a sympathizer. Most movements ultimately failed because they committed this easiest of sins. A few historical examples: the Athenian democracy failed in part because it excluded the lower classes; the Confederacy fell in no small part due to the defection of discontented slaves. In contrast, inclusive movements, such as Christianity, grew rapidly and eventually displaced the society where they were birthed. Excluding potential members based on pre-existing qualities such as class or race not only greatly reduces available person-power, but, should the movement succeed in gaining control, creates factional animosity which can tear a society to pieces. Second, the leader(s) must be someone who is persuasive and a well-spoken, but not overly egotistical. If a cult of personality develops around the leader, their death or exit from the political arena will result in the group disintegrating. Examples include Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, which disappeared upon Roosevelt’s retirement, and most cults based on a deified leader. As historian of science Michael Shermer puts it, the true test of any movement is how it reacts to the loss of its first leader. If the movement has gained enough support and organization and attracted a sustainable segment of the population, it will live on. Once again, the United State’s continued functioning even after the retirement of George Washington, the face of the movement, illustrates how necessary it is to have people who can take over via a method of choosing new leaders with speed and efficiency, in this case an election. Finally, a movement cannot become grounded in the past or in a single narrow mindset. If this happens, it not only loses relevance, but eventually will be replaced by something more relevant or better developed. Societies such as the Roman Empire and Imperial China demonstrate this, in that both became complacent with the existing order even though it was unsustainable, the result being the Romans where replaced by the Germans and the Imperial family by the Communist Party. This is the most important reason why the movement’s precepts must be vague and adaptable, so it can stay relevant and keep its fundamental identity.