Where We Suffer Correctly | Mark Seymour
I am glad that The Mallard has chosen to run a series on utopian thinking from the right, as the topic is almost fully dominated by the left. I think by the nature of the two movements it is right for the left to lean towards utopian ideas, as their core political program is about making changes for the better, to have a utopian vision allows you to have an end goal in sight, and the changes you make are in aid of that vision. Conservatives have a tricky go of utopia as they either think utopia has passed, or aren’t willing to make the sacrifices and changes to try and actualize this utopia. The Marxist movements that culminated in the creation of the USSR had a utopian vision guiding them, which also doesn’t help the case for people on the right entertaining utopian ideas. So, in this piece I want to look at how utopia might look for an authentically right-wing vision, this is to say that I will not simply take the left-wing framework of what utopian thinking is, and add right-wing values, but rather I think a rethinking of the framework itself is the only viable way of thinking of utopia. As Jake Scott elaborated in his piece, to avoid utopia fully leads us to stagnation.
Where people on the left might entertain grandiose ideas of a world without poverty, where everyone is equal, and where all are at peace, I would like to significantly reel in the scope of this utopian vision. It seems inherently anti-conservative to be that optimistic about the future, with this in mind, a utopian world for me would be one where everyone suffers correctly, by this I mean a world where the societal institutions are organised in such a way as to prevent the unnecessary suffering of the powerless in society, whilst encouraging the correct suffering of those in power. To build on this idea further, when we think of the homeless we understand that they shouldn’t be suffering as much as they often are, it’s seen as an injustice, and to add to that there is an anti-community desire from large businesses to design their stores and offices with anti-homelessness measures. In a utopian view of the world, the anti-homeless architecture wouldn’t exist. It serves only to further push the homeless out of society, and forces these powerless people to suffer even more than they already are.
On the other side of this, we have the top politicians, who don’t suffer correctly because they suffer superficially. We might see the government being harangued daily, but the politicians being berated will still earn ridiculous money, and after the rotten business of public office is over they’ll settle into a very comfortable retirement. I see this as a great flaw, which in a utopian society would be turned on its head. In a society where the top educated and wealthy children grow up to become prime ministers and top cabinet members because it’s a good well-paying job with lots of perks, one should wonder about their motivations. Why would someone from such a background enter into such an unflattering position? The power and money are too enticing. In my utopia, the people running the country wouldn’t be doing so to fill their wallets, but would rather be doing so because their duty to the country forces them too. Duty-bound politics is a beautiful thing, as the politician is authentically a servant of the state, there isn’t a big paycheck or the promise of golf in your 50s to drag you through the job, but a genuine innate duty to serve your fellow countryman. Of course, this is all getting a bit fanciful, as is the nature of utopia, but I think that such a change is practically possible. There are plenty of men and women with the fire in their belly to serve their country, and many smaller community members of parliament show this, it’s just that our current Eton-or-bust system doesn’t allow for their passion to be actualized.
It’s very cliché of utopian thought to essentially be a shift in power dynamics, where the powerless gain power and the powerful lose power, and from reading this my proposition might fit into that framework, so I would like to clarify that I don’t think we should have this grand rebalancing of power where everyone is made equal, inequality is what drives our world forward, and is so heavily entrenched in our culture that if we were to all become equal, we’d scramble to unbalance the scales. A utopian image wouldn’t be to achieve equality or world peace, but would be to create a reasonable baseline from which everyone can accept the world they live in, without being destroyed by it.