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Chapter 4 of You Gentiles by Maurice Samuels (Pub 1924)
By Maurice Samuels
E-Y posted Dec. 15, 2017
Utopia (Chapter 4 of You Gentiles by Maurice Samuels Pub 1924)
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Chapter 4: Utopia
The dreams of men concerning the latter days are a common index to their ideals of life, for no one will think of the future except as his own. These dreams, like their close kin, the night dream, are extraordinarily difficult of interpretation—much more difficult than the psychoanalyst would have us believe. But on occasions they are presented with unmistakable clarity and directness—by the prophets.
The functions of the prophet as a seer and a foreseer have been confounded for this reason. The true prophet sees into the ultimate longings of his group—longings which may even run counter to the day's desires. These ultimate longings are shifted into the far future— beyond the reach of temporal complications and compromises: and he that unveils a man's inmost longings wins credence as having foreseen the true finality of life.
I have chosen Plato's Republic and our own Hebrew prophets as the basis of contrast between your dreams of the latter days and ours, between your longings for perfection and ours. I have chosen Plato because of all the seers who have sprung up in your midst he is the most universally accepted, and of all Utopias your thinkers refer to his most frequently: that is to say, he comes nearest to your desires. Hence in discussing him, I am discussing you.
I have used the phrase "of all the seers who have sprung up in your midst" because it is true that you still mention the Hebrew prophets more frequently than Plato. But it is of singular and final significance that as soon as you develop free intelligence and desire expression for it, you turn from our prophets to your own. The overwhelming bulk of your intelligent discussion of life and the end of life centers round the free philosophers or seers—and among these you have made Plato preeminent. Plato's analysis of the ideal life still approaches your dreams most intimately.
Investigating the true nature of morality, Plato bodies forth his ideal of a perfect state, and, with the license of a dream giving free reign to his imagination, unfolds step by step his famous Republic. No considerations of practicality or of feasibility were there to check the career of his fantasy. The Republic is to him life as it should be and as he would like to see it: the apotheosis of human aspiration.
Contrast this with the visions of his almost contemporaries, the Jewish prophets, and in this contrast you will find again the key to our essential difference.
The Republic of Plato is an institution, organized with infinite ingenuity and dedicated to the delights of the body and the mind. It draws its inspiration from the pure jot de vivre of the ideal man of perfect physical and psychic health. You would seek in vain that extraneous compulsion of a God which the Hebrews called inspiration. There is no somber passion driving to creation, no intolerant demands impossible of fulfilment. It is not God creating man in his mold: it is man creating God, or the gods, in his mold: gods that are companionable and comprehensible.
He sets before you a pretty, intriguing little model ("a city not too big to lose the characteristics of a city") which, sundered from universal humanity, untouched by the universal hunger, restricts Supreme Good to the possession of a comfortably secluded group. It is a city for the prosecution of the happy and artistic life; the harmonies and symmetries shall be carefully guarded, the satisfaction of body and of mind wisely and cleverly pursued. Nay, in that supreme human product there shall even be —astounding triviality— a censor!
There is a wealth of ingenuity devoted to these questions: How shall children be initiated into the art of war? How shall cowards and heroes be treated? What about the plundering of the slain, and the perpetuation of deeds of battle in monuments? "Now, is it not of the greatest moment that the work of war shall be well done? Or is it so easy that any one can succeed in it and be at the same time a husbandman or a shoemaker or a laborer or any other trade whatever, although there is no one in the world who could become a good draught player or dice player by merely taking up the game at unoccupied moments, instead of pursuing it as his special study from childhood? And will it be enough
for a man merely to handle a shield or any other of the arms and implements of war, to be straightway competent to play his part well that very day in an engagement of heavy troops or in any other military service? . . ."
"Is it not of the greatest moment that the work of war should be well done? . . ." This in a vision of human perfection—for it never occurs to Plato that perfection in humanity precludes the possibility of war.
And treating of God, he says: "Surely God is good in reality, and is to be so represented," but what can we make of his ultimate good? Is not his good merely "a good thing"—as right is for you "the right thing"? And what can we make of his God when, after talking of the goodness and dignity of God, he goes on to talk of the gods, and of how the poets are to be arraigned for not treating them respectfully in that they make them laugh or portray them in undignified occupations and postures!
Well does he say: "The inquiry we are undertaking is no trivial one, but demands a keen sight." He does not say that it demands the aid of God, or a loving heart, or hunger after righteousness. But the very question of God is a trivial one, for, as one says in this book: "It is urged neither evasion nor violence can succeed with the gods. Well, but if they either do not exist, or do not concern themselves with the affairs of men, why need we concern ourselves to evade their observation?"
This graceful skepticism, which strikes the opening note of the book, sets the tone for the entire theme. "What is justice?" What indeed? Does any man that loves true justice (not the game) ever ask this question? Can any one truly believe that the subtlest and skilfulest analysis of justice will help one jot in creating love of justice, desire for justice?
A vision of the perfection of mankind and children being trained for warl. Contrast it with this: "In that day there shall be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land. Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying: Blessed be Egypt my people and Assyria the work of my hands and Israel mine inheritance." Or with the better known passage "And it shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow into it. And many peoples shall come and say: Come, let us go up to the mountains of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us of his ways and we will walk in his paths. . . ., And he shall judge the nations and shall rebuke many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks : nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn any more war."
A vision of the perfection of mankind, with censors and with carefully groomed gods I—the limit of his imagination. But this!— "And the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea." And this!—"And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy: your old men shall dream dreams. Your young men shall see visions. And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit."
And because his world is not God's world, but the world of his self-created gods, he must sit down and argue anxiously, "What is justice?" But he that really loves justice asks no questions: he cries instead: "Seek good and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord, the God of Hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken. Hate evil and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate." And: "Let judgment run down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream."
And when, baffled by the inadequacy of his human standards, your philosopher refers justice to the "categoric imperative," he betrays the triviality of your world. What is that "categoric imperative," that helpless compromise and confession? What man recognizes it, will bow to it? That phrase itself is its own denial, for he that refers mankind to a "categoric imperative" is himself neither categoric nor imperative. But even the deaf will hear and tremble when the Prophet thunders: "Thus saith the Lord." There is the categoric imperative!
For me, conscious of being Jewish and of the meaning of being Jewish, it is impossible to write of this contrast without bias, as if this book were merely an intellectual exercise. Because I am Jewish I look with ultimate aversion on the world which finds supreme and ideal expression in Plato's Republic. And though I may repeat that this is no question of right and wrong in these two worlds, yours and ours, I cannot but feel profoundly and vehemently that ours is the way and the life.
Yet I would pay what tribute I can to the dreams of one like Plato. I have at least touched your world closely enough to have caught some of the beauty of its freedom. There is a Jewish legend which tells that when God brought the Law, his Law, to the children of Israel assembled at the foot of Sinai, after he had offered it to all the other peoples, only to have it rejected, he left them no choice, but said: Either you take my Law or I will lift up this mountain and crush you beneath it. I attach no psychological significance to the fable (the practice of interpreting fables psychologically is , as a rule, a dishonest one), but quote it as a handy illustration. We are not free to choose and to reject, to play, to construct, to refine. We are a dedicated and enslaved people, predestined to an unchangeable relationship. Freedom at large was not and is not a Jewish ideal. Service, love, consecration, these are ideals with us. Freedom means nothing to us: freedom to do what?
Yet in glimpses I understand the charm of your life and sometimes lose myself in the fascination of your Plato's dream. Such a world as he foreshadows, a world of sunlight, exercise, singing, fantasy: a world of graceful and elastic bodies, of keen, flashing minds, of clash and effort, wars and heroes and monuments, a life wheeling and dashing in splendid formations, rejoicing under free and lovely skies: a life without brooding and gloom, without the intolerable burden of this unrelaxing immanence. Man and man's effort, man's love and agonies are ends in themselves, to be exploited for themselves: the coming and going of men and nations and gods are without ultimate significance, a dance of atoms, a passing ecstasy without thought of the sinister beyond. Beautiful—but not for us! While this dance goes on, while nations and gods enter the game and leave it, we continue through all time, an apparition almost, a dread reminder of infinity.
Your dreams of perfection are only of a piece with your present life—the transient become permanent: the skies will be blue forever, your dance will never end. Your bodies will always be strong, your wits keen, your battles glorious: the game will reach its limit of enjoyment!
But for us this is not an apotheosis: this is not a vision. For us the end is ecstatic unity, the identification of man with God. Your ideal is eternal youths ours lifts toward an unchanging climax of adult perfection. You would like to play with your gods forever: we will return to God, to the universe. Yours is a sunlit afternoon, with the combatants swaying forever in a joyous struggle. Ours is a whole world, with the spirit of God poured through all things.
Your ideal is Plato's Republic: ours is God's kingdom.
Chapter 5: Loyalty
You Gentiles: Contents (Only chapters 1-5 and 9 are currently uploaded)
1. The Question ........................................ 7 6. Discipline ...........................................107 11. The Masses .....................................177 2, Sport .................................................. 38 7. The Reckoning ...................................124 12. Solution and Dissolution ...................188 3. Gods ...................................................64 8. But as Moderns .................................135 13. The Mechanism of Dissolution ......... 196 4. Utopia .................................................78 9. We, the Destroyers ............................144 14. Is There Any Hope? ........................210 5. Loyalty ............................................... 91 10. The Games of Science ......................156 15. A Last Word ...................................221
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