Science Fiction Project - Free Culture
Analog - All editorials - John Wood Campbell
* * Back * *
CONSTITUTION FOR UTOPIA
The standard operating procedure for the Utopia-inventor is to describe his Utopia in terms of how he wants it to work. That is, he describes what he considers the goal-ideal of a society should be, and how he thinks that goal ideal will be achieved, in terms of how happy, healthy and wise citizens of Utopia co-operate beautifully to produce wonderful music together. Usually, there's no crime, because, says the author, in so perfect and happy a state no one wants for anything.
There is, however, an astonishing lack of discussion of the legal code on which these Utopias are based - the machinery of the social system is always happily hidden out of sight, and we don't need to look at it, because it works so nicely.
I've seen - and in a college textbook, at that! - a definition of the Socialistic System that read, in essence, "Socialism is a system assuring maximum distribution of the wealth of the society to the productive citizens...". That makes things real nice for Socialists; if that is the definition, then, by definition, they're bound to be right! If a system doesn't "assure maximum distribution of the wealth" then, it isn't Socialism, and any system that does achieve that obviously desirable goal is, by definition, a version of Socialism, and see, doesn't that prove Socialism is the ideal system?
It's been standard operating procedure to define Utopias in just such terms - and consider the legal code required to achieve them "a mere detail". Something gross-materialist, anti-idealist, conservative - or whatever opprobrious term happens to be current - people throw up as a deliberate effort to becloud the real, important issues.
Now Utopias always have been in the legitimate field of interest of science fiction; let's try, in readership assembled, rather than in congress assembled, to see what the whole group of some 100,000 readers can come up with in the way of designing a mechanism for a Utopian culture! This editorial is not intended as an Answer to the Question; it's intended to start the ball rolling; Brass Tacks can be the forum. What we're seeking is to pound out a Constitution for Utopia, defining a system that will generate the cultural system we want - not a eulogistic rhapsody about how glorious it will be when we get it done.
As a locale, let's consider that the Utopian culture is to be started among the people living in, on, and among the asteroids, about seventy-five years hence (the locale is not critical, of course; the machinery of government is designed for human beings; what devices they use, where they live, is of secondary consequence).
To begin with, recognize that we are not going to get a culture that is the perfect heart's-desire system of every inhabitant. That is called Heaven.
What we'll have to do is seek an optimum culture. It's an engineering problem, and should be approached as such. Many a time an engineer would like a material as transparent as glass, as strong and tough as steel, capable of resisting an oxidizing atmosphere at 2500°C, as light as foam plastic, and as cheap as cast iron. And as conductive as copper.
The useless engineer is the one who says, "See! They won't give me what I need! It's impossible to solve the problem!" The engineer who is an engineer starts figuring the optimum balance of characteristics that will yield not a perfect-ideal, but a thing that will work, and work with a reliability level high enough to be useful for the task at hand.
Now one of the first and broadest questions usually raised is, of course, "What form of government should it be?" Monarchy? Democracy? Oligarchy? Communism?
That question, I suggest, is of no importance whatsoever! Utopia can be a Communism, an Anarchy, or an Absolute Tyranny; the matter is of no real consequence.
My evidence is quite simple: traditionally, benevolent tyranny is the optimum form of government... if you can just assure that the tyrant is, and remains, benevolent. Also, traditionally, both Heaven and Hell are absolute monarchies.
Wise, benevolent, and competent rulers can make any form of government Utopian - and fools who are benevolent, kind, and gentle, can turn any form of government into Hell. Scoundrels need not apply; scoundrels normally have a reasonable degree of competence, and will, for their own benefit, maintain a higher standard of efficient government than will benevolent fools. Witness the incomparable mare's-nest of the Congo, which has resulted far more from the blundering of fools than machinations of villains. Villains wouldn't have loused things up so completely; nobody can make anything out of the idealistic shemozzle the Congo's become.
Anarchy is government-that-is-no-government. In other words, each individual citizen is his own ruler. Given that all the citizens are wise, benevolent, and competent, anarchy will produce a Utopia. Unfortunately, this requires that each citizen be in fact, not simply in his own perfectly sincere convictions, actually wise, benevolent, and competent. The observable norm of human experience is that the incompetent fool will show the highest certainty of his own wise competence, the strongest conviction that his answers can be doubted, questioned, even discussed, only by black-hearted, evil-minded villains who seek to oppose his good, wise intentions.
Given that all the rulers are-in-fact wise, benevolent and competent, Communism works just dandy. The Catholic Church has certainly not opposed the concept of Communism - they had it centuries ago in various monastic orders. It's just that the Church objects to the actuality - the legalistic mechanisms - of Russian and Chinese style Communism.
Since it can be pretty fairly shown that any form of government - from pure anarchy through absolute tyranny, with every possible shading in between - will yield Utopia provided the rulers are wise, benevolent, and competent, the place to start engineering our Utopia is with the method of selecting rulers.
I suggest, in fact, that the only constitution Utopia needs is the method of selecting rulers. England has gotten along rather well for quite a period of time without a formal constitution; if they had a better system of selecting their rulers, no need for a constitution would arise. Wise rulers will change traditional methods of governmental operation when, but only when, the change is warranted. We need not bind future centuries with a code that now seems optimum; conditions can change rather drastically. Let us set up a method of selecting wise rulers - and then let their wisdom be fully free to operate. If they choose Tyranny - then it can be assumed that Tyranny is, for that time and situation, the optimum governmental system. With a wise tyrant, it is optimum in war, for instance.
The problem is, was, and continues to be - "How to select the rulers?" Plato talked of "philosopher-kings"... but had a little difficulty defining them. The genetic system, based on the unfortunately false proposition "like father, like son" has been tried very widely. Of course, it's heresy to say so in a democracy, but we're members of the Constitutional Convention of the Minor Planetoids, assembled on Ceres, in 2035 A. D., and we can observe that, as a matter of fact, despite the inaccuracy of that father-son idea, the system worked about as well as any other that's been tried. For one thing, it gave England some three hundred years of highly successful government. It's still not good enough - but it's not completely worthless. It must be recognized as having a very real degree of merit. Aristocracy as a system has worked quite well indeed.
Plato's philosopher-king idea runs into the difficulty that, even today, we haven't any battery of tests that can be applied to small children that will, with useful reliability, distinguish the deviant-and-criminal from the deviant-and-genius. Plato's system depended on spotting the youthful philosopher-kings and educating them to the tasks of government; the system won't work, because we can't spot the wise-benevolent.
It gets into further serious difficulty; the way to pass any test is to give the answers the examiner expects. It has nothing whatever to do with giving the right answers. Consider a question like "Is the government of the German Third Reich a democracy?" In Germany, in 1941, the answer was, of course, "Ja!". In the rest of the world the answer was different. Incidentally, can anyone give me a standard dictionary definition of "democracy" that does not, actually, apply to Hitier's Reich? The forms of democracy were there, you know... it was just that the rulers operating under those forms were not "wise, benevolent, and competent".
Any formal technique of testing applicants for rulership will have, underlying it, some formal theory of what constitutes "wise, benevolent and competent"... which theory rather inevitably turns out to mean "like me".
That's perfectly understandable; the men drawing up the constitution are, of course, playing the role of rulers, temporarily. They feel themselves to be wise, benevolent, and competent... or they wouldn't be hying. And, of course, basically everyone feels himself "wise, benevolent, and competent" with the exception of rare moments when, in defense of justice, he has been forced to be malevolent and punish some wrong-doer who unjustly attacked his basic rights. Be it clearly recognized that a homicidal paranoic psychotic, who has just murdered fourteen people, feels deeply that he is wise, benevolent, and competent, and has courageously acted in defense of justice against great odds. They were all persecuting him, and he has simply rebelled against their tyrannies.
Any method of testing, any formal, logical, reasonably worked out and rationally structured technique of selecting those fit to rule... will be structured according to the examiners' theories of what "wise, benevolent and competent" means. The use of any rationally designed test simply means that the rationality of the test-builders is clamped on the examinees. They pass if they agree with the test-builders.
I suggest, therefore, that the selection of rulers must be based on some non-rational method! Some method which, because it does not involve any formal - or even hidden-postulate! - theory, will not allow any special philosophy of "wise, benevolent and competent" to be clamped on the future rulers.
One possible irrational method would, of course, be selection by random chance. I think it's not necessary to go into details as to the unsuitability of that particular non-rational method.
The method I propose is a non-rational method which, however, practically every logician will immediately claim is the very essence of rationality. It is, of course... in an ex post facto sense. I suggest a pure, non-theoretical pragmatic test.
Of course, since the ultimate goal of rationality and logic is the mapping of pragmatic reality, there's a strong tendency for logicians to claim that any real, pragmatic test is logical. That's not a valid statement; while it is true that a chain of reasoning is valid if, and only if, it correlates with reality, it is not true that a thing is real only if it correlates with logic.
A pragmatic test is, therefore, a non-rational test. It may be said that "It is rational to use a pragmatic test" but that doesn't make a pragmatic test a rational test. It does not depend on theory - and any rationality does.
The only way we can maintain flexibility of viewpoint in our rulers is to make their selection immune to theoretical determination.
Aristocracy operates on the theory that wise men have wise sons. The theory has value... but it isn't sound enough for reliable, long-term use. It gets into trouble because, theoretically, the son of the benevolent monarch will be benevolent, but practice turns up a not-quite-drooling idiot every now and then - and the theory of aristocracy can't acknowledge that.
The Communists hold the reasonable sounding proposition that only the politically educated should be allowed to vote. Therefore only Party members, who have been given a thorough education in political theory and practice, are permitted to vote. There's certainly a lot of sound value in that idea; it's not unlike Plato's carefully educated philosopher-kings as rulers. And suffers the same serious flaw; the way to pass an examination is to give the answers the examiner expects. The idea sounds good, but has the intrinsic difficulty that it rigidly perpetuates the political theories of the originators.
A theocracy accepts that only the dedicated priest is fit to rule, because his dedication to things above and beyond this world, and his communion with God, make him uniquely qualified. That system's worked fairly well, now and then.
Robert Heinlein, in his recent novel "Starship Trooper" proposed that only those who accepted the responsibility of defending the nation in the armed forces should have the right to vote. There are very few systems of selecting rulers that have not been tried somewhere, somewhen; that military-responsibility test for rulers has been tried. It works very well... so long as the military is run by wise, benevolent and competent instructors. That, however, as I've said, is true of any system of government whatever. In actual practice, the Roman Legions became the effective rulers of Rome during the Empire period - and the results were horrible. Anyone wishing to be Emperor need only bid for it, and if he offered the Legions enough money, they'd murder the current emperor, and install him. One Emperor lasted four days, as I remember it, before someone outbid him.
This, again, is based on the theory that the Legions should feel responsible.
Finally, the theory of popular democracy says "Let everyone vote; do no selecting of rulers, and there will be no unjust rulers in power".
That theory is fundamentally false, by ancient and repeated pragmatic test. Maybe it should be true, but it isn't. The most deadly dangerous, destructive and degrading of all possible rulers is installed in power when true Popular Democracy gets into power.
The difficulty is this; the old saw that "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely" is not quite correct. Power does not corrupt; no matter how great the power a man may hold, he will not become corrupt... if he is not also immune. It is immunity that corrupts; absolute immunity corrupts absolutely. I need very little power to be a force for unlimited destruction - if I am absolutely immune.
Therein lies the key to that horrible mass-entity known as the Mob. A mob has no organization that can be punished; it is immune.
The members of the mob are immune through anonymity. It has huge physical mass-power; it is immune to the resistance of its victims, and to the opposition of any normal police force. Only an army can disrupt a mob; even so, the mob cannot be punished - called to account and its immunity broken - because it simply disperses, and no one of the ordinary citizens who composed it is the mob, or "belongs to" the mob.
The immunity of the mob can produce a corrupting and degrading effect that utterly appalls those who were swept up in it, afterward. No viciously sadistic affair in the Roman Arena exceeds in corruption and degradation what a modem mob, anywhere in any nation today, including the United States, will do. The mob will do things that not one member of that mob will consider doing.
Immunity, and the sense of immunity, is the deadliest of corrupting influences. It is, in essence, simply the result of cutting off the normal negative feedback, the pain-messages that warn of excesses. Imagine yourself not only blinded, but deprived of all kinesthetic sense, so you could not tell where your limbs were, how hard your muscles were pulling, or whether you were touching anything; you would then be totally immune to external messages. You would certainly tear yourself to pieces in a matter of minutes.
The record of history seems to indicate one fundamental law of civilizations: the Rulers must always be a minority group, or the culture will be destroyed.
Note this: under the exact and literal interpretation of democracy, it is perfectly legitimate democracy for a ninety per cent majority to vote that the ten per cent minority be executed by public torture, in a Roman Arena style spectacle.
The advantage of having the Rulers a minority group is that, under those conditions, no group has the deadly feeling of immunity. The Rulers are a minority, and know it, and must rule circumspectly; like the mahout driving an elephant, they must rule always with the realization that they rule by sufferance only - not by inalienable right.
The majority, then, knows it is ruled - that it is not immune to punishment, that it is not free to become a mob.
True popular democracy - true rule by the majority - establishes the government of the mob. It was the growing influence of the people of Rome, under the venal and practically inoperative rule of the Legions - the Legions wanted money, not political responsibility; they were fools, rather than villains - that built up to the demand of "Corn and Games!" and the consequences that followed.
A minority group, aware that it is a minority group, is also aware of the problems of other minority groups through direct, personal experience.
Long ago, Machiavelli pointed out that the Prince cannot rule in the face of the active opposition of his people; the Prince must rule circumspectly, for he is a minority.
So whatever system of choosing Rulers we may select for our Utopia - it must be a system that never allows any group to achieve the position that, inevitably, every group wants to achieve - a position of security! The concept of "security" is, in essence, the same as "immunity"; I am secure if I am immune to all attack, or efforts to punish or compel me. The Rulers must never be secure; since they are to have the power of rule, they must not be a majority, so that there will be the ever-present insecurity of the potential threat of the great mass of people. The majority, on the other hand, must never have security from the power of their rulers - or they become a self-destructive mob.
This boils down to the proposition that we want a non-theoretical-rational test for selecting a minority group of people who will be, with high reliability, relatively wise, benevolent, and competent.
The simplest test for this, that does not depend on the rationale and prejudgment of the examiners, is the one the founders of the United States proposed - and which we have rejected. It's quite non-theoretical, and hence has a tendency to be exceedingly irritating to our sense of justice - sense of "what ought to be". The test is simply whether or not a man is competent to manage his own affairs in the real world about him; is he a successful man in the pragmatic terms of economic achievement?
The difference between a crackpot and a genius is that a genius makes a profit - that his idea is economically useful, that it returns more in product than it consumes in raw material.
Now it is perfectly tine that competence does not guarantee benevolence. But it's also true we have, for this argument, agreed that we're not designing a constitution for Heaven, but for Utopia - an optimum engineering system, not a perfect system. Inasmuch as no one can define "benevolent" we're stuck on that one. But we can say this with pretty fair assurance: a man who consistently injures his associates will not have a successful business for long. A man may hurt his associates quite commonly, and be highly successful - provided his hurts are, however painful, essentially beneficial. The good dentist is a simple example. But the man who injures will not be successful for long; the "painless" dentist who is incompetent, and uses lavish anesthesia to cover up his butchery, for instance, doesn't hurt his patients, but won't remain in business long.
The founders of this nation proposed that a voter must have five thousand dollars worth of property - a simple economic test, perfectly pragmatic tied with no theoretical strings about how he garnered his five thousand dollars. The equivalent today would be somewhat nearer one hundred thousand dollars.
That particular form of the test is not quite optimum, I think; instead of a capital-owned test, an earned-income test would be wiser, probably. A man can inherit property, without inheriting the good sense of the father who garnered it. But earned-income is a test of his competence.
It violates our rational-theoretical sense of justice, because not all men have equal opportunities for education, a start in business, et cetera.
But we're seeking a non-theoretical, non-"just", purely pragmatic test, so that alone would not be an argument against the economic-success test.
Also - to use the dental analogy in another context - if a certain man wants to be a dentist, and has never had the opportunity to study the subject, but sets himself up as a dentist, and wants to work on your teeth... why shouldn't he? Is it his fault he never had an opportunity to go to dental school? Why shouldn't he start trying out his own, original ideas on your teeth...?
Are you being unfair to him if you refuse to allow him to practice on you?
And are you being unfair when you refuse to allow a man who never had an opportunity for an adequate education to practice on your nation's affairs? Look, friend - this business of running a nation isn't a game of patty-cake; it's for blood, sweat and tears, you know. It's sad that the guy didn't have all the opportunities he might have... but the pragmatic fact is that he didn't, and the fact that he can't make a success of his own private affairs is excellent reason for taking the purely pragmatic, non-theoretical position that that is, in itself, reason for rejecting his vote on national affairs.
There's another side to this pragmatic test, however; neither Abraham Lincoln, George Washington Carver, nor Thomas Edison ever had an adequate opportunity for education. The guy who bellyaches that his failure in life is due to lack of opportunity has to explain away such successful people as those three before he has any right to blame all his misfortunes on the hard, cruel world around. Those three individuals all get the vote, aristocrats, and formal intellectualists to the contrary notwithstanding. One un(formally) educated frontiersman, one Negro born a slave, and one nobody who never got beyond grammar school; three properly qualified Rulers. They made a success of their private affairs; let them have a hand in the nation's affairs. We do not care who their parents were; we need not concern ourselves with their children, for the children will vote only if they, themselves make a success of their own private affairs.
Let's make the Test for Rulers simply that the individual's earned annual income must be in the highest twenty per cent of the population. This automatically makes them a minority group, selected by a pragmatic test. It bars no one, on any theoretical or rationalized grounds whatever; any man who demonstrates that he can handle his private affairs with more than ordinary success is a Voter, a Ruler.
The earned-annual-income figure might be determined by averaging the individual's actual income over the preceding ten per cent of his life, taken to the nearest year. Thus if someone eighteen years old has, for two years, been averaging in the top twenty per cent - he votes. He may be young, but he's obviously abnormally competent. The system also lops off those who are falling into senility. It automatically adjusts to inflation and/or recession.
It isn't perfect; remember we're designing Utopia, not Heaven. We must not specify how the income is earned; to do so would put theory-rationalizations back in control. If a man makes fifty thousand dollars a year as a professional gambler - he votes. Anybody who guesses right that consistently has a talent the nation needs.
There may be many teachers, ministers, and the like, who by reason of their dedication to their profession do not make the required income level. If they're competent teachers and ministers, however, they'll have many votes - through their influence on their students or parishioners. If they're incompetent, they will have small influence, and deserve no vote.
The economic test does not guarantee benevolence; it does guarantee more-than-average competence, when so large a number as twenty per cent of the population is included. And while it doesn't guarantee benevolence - it provides a very high probability, for each successful man is being judged-in-action by his neighbors and associates. They would not trade with him, or consult him, if his work were consistently injurious.
There are exceptions, those eternally-puzzling areas of human disagreement between sincerely professed theory, and actual practice. Prostitution is perhaps the clearest example; for all the years of civilized history, prostitution has been condemned. It's been legislated against, and its practitioners scorned... by the same population that, through all the years of civilized history have continued to support in action that ancient and dishonored institution.
The people who voted to keep Prohibition on the books were also those who contributed to the high income of bootleggers.
There are many such areas of human ambivalence; no theoretical or rational solution appears to be in sight. The simple fact remains that, by popular vote-in-action, not in theory, prostitution, illegal gambling, and various other socially-denounced institutions continue to win wide popular support.
So... Utopia still won't be Heaven. But maybe we can say it will never be a Blue Nose Hell, either!
Ok, friends - now it's your turn!