Philosophy in ancient Greece acquired a systematic unity with Aristotle. A logical method was adopted to unite different disciplines. With Aristotle, philosophy gained a rational narrative through prose with logical and substantive consistency. Philosophers prior to Aristotle, pre-Socratics in particular, expressed philosophy in the form of poetry.

Aristotle’s philosophy was a philosophy of solid objects; it carried the status of spatial objects “here and now” to rational concept by way of the union between their substantial and accidental qualities. In ancient Greece, the perception of time was rhythmic; past and future tenses were not used to express reality.

The Ancient Greek understanding of time was a rhythmic and circular one. There was confidence in the circularity of nature, and that confidence provided comfort. Moreover, this people had access to all sorts of material comforts in the Aegean region, including grapes, olive oil, wine, and cheese, and were fed by the goddess of fertility; they were content. Those who have no worries about the future, have no history either. Everything consisted of circular and pleasurable repetitions: autumn comes and the leaves fall… With harvest time come the most beautiful celebrations, Bacchus festivals, and vintages… Autumn, and thus life, was blessed, and there was no search for anything beyond; life was already beautiful and joyous.

You start imagining a different life, a utopia, when you live in depravity, when you are in the desert; you can only seek other worlds and utopias when even water is so precious that you are ready to trade your life for a cup. This is why prophets lament in the desert, whereas philosophers, living in pleasure, bless and talk about life. Here, life is rhythmic; this natural life within the cycle of birth and death is embraced.

With the inclusion of Christianity in European culture, the proposition for a spiritual life was emphatically put forward against a natural life. This involved the argument that people are spiritual beings, countering the view that they are natural beings. Therefore, human ontology, that is to say human existence, started to be questioned anew. The Christian faith argued that the human spirit was immortal, and that death first arrived in this world through original sin. This idea turned people’s attention away from nature toward themselves, and led to questioning. Socrates had also called attention away from nature toward people themselves, but this reached a whole new level with Christianity. Consistent with the idea that “The unexamined life is not worth living,” a dictum of Socrates famous among the Greeks, attention was focused on life; Christianity, on the other hand, called attention toward death and asked people to examine death, not life. The main question became “Why do people die?” And the answer to that question was the doctrine of original sin, the fundamental Christian dogma.

According to this doctrine, original sin is based on the story of Adam, who, considered to be the first human, was expelled from the Garden of Eden after he disobeyed God’s command. As seen here, the beginning is narrated through the relationships between a God and the human He created. In other words, the perception of a god that creates, a god that commands, and a god that judges was established at the foundation of life. According to this doctrine, it is possible with God’s help to be saved from the hands of death, which became part of this world through original sin. It is also believed that God sent a savior to Adam and his offspring in the form of a sinless spirit, that is to say Jesus Christ. The Christian doctrine, not content with the idea of living an ethical and aesthetic life proposed by Greek thought, heralded that all evil and death on earth were of people’s own doing, and that it was possible to be saved from it all and achieve eternal life. In Christianity, religion was defined as a life based on ‘faith,’ ‘hope,’ and ‘love.’ As seen, hope belongs not to the present, but to the future, and as a myth of the return home, after reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ, people would be able to return to the paradise from which they were cast out.

To repeat, philosophers of nature considered time to be rhythmic; in Aristotle’s thought, time, leading from the “here and now,” is a rational time regulated by the logic of comparison. In Christianity, on the other hand, time is a time that flows from past to future, has a clear beginning and end, and ends with the day of judgment. In other words, Greek thought is based on living in the ‘body’ and in ‘space,’ whereas Christian thought, in direct opposition, is based on living in the ‘spirit’ and in ‘time.’ Religious utopia is derived from the hope of the Christian faith. People hope, one day, to live the life of paradise promised to them by God. They repeat this in their daily prayers: “Our Father in heaven, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – The Holy Bible

There are many more utopian authors apart from the Christian teaching, but they stand out as ideological and secular constructs. In other words, these utopias propose that people establish an ideal life on earth using their own labor in an organized form, instead of being salvaged from their sins and hoping for God’s forgiveness.

From this perspective, the emergence of secular utopias are seen as a synthesis of Christian and Pagan teachings; the earthly-wisdom based perspective of the Pagans has merged with the other-worldly utopia of Christianity in the form of a design for the ideal civilization.

Thomas More

The word utopia is derived from the Greek root words OU meaning “not/non-existent,” EU meaning “perfect,” and TOPOS meaning “place/land/country.” It gained widespread usage after Thomas More’s 1516 book De Optimo Reipublicae Statu, Deque Nova Insula Utopia, shortened to Utopia. Well-known utopian writers include Plato (Republic and Laws), Augustine (City of God), Thomas More (Utopia), Al-Farabi (The Virtuous City), Tommaso Campanella (The City of the Sun), Francis Bacon (New Atlantis), and Nietzsche (Universal Paris). Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and George Orwell (1984), on the other hand, were dystopian writers.

The utopias of these authors each consist of a design and a wish. The utopia of Christianity, on the other hand, is tied to God’s will. Distinct from these, the ideology of scientific socialism, or the theory of Karl Marx, proposes to change the current unjust social order through social revolutionary praxis (organized social action) in order to reach utopian life.

The Ancient Greek roots of utopia, in addition to Plato’s Republic or the myth of Atlantis to which he refers to as the submerged continent, extend to Themistocles as well, a precursor to Karl Marx. Themistocles was an interesting political figure; instead of revising and improving Athens, he proposed to “desert Athens altogether, and build a new Athens upon a new principle.”

A utopia is a myth of “the end,” and myths of “the end” are supported by a myth of the beginning. For example, in Sumer, Ancient Egypt, and Mesopotamia, there is mention of God and a period of God Kings in the beginning. Religions also talk about a paradise in the beginning. In later times, the period of Ancient Greece also became known as a golden age, and was turned into a myth of “the beginning.” As these examples show, utopia as a ‘hope’ contains a yearning for the happy life that existed in the beginning. In other words, a utopia is not merely a mental construct, it is also a spiritual yearning. Myths of the beginning contain the narrative of a land of happiness that once existed but was later lost. When this turns into a shared dream or common yearning in society, it produces a dynamic and moving spiritual force (intention), but this is an unconscious phenomenon. In addition, artists imagine and present the rulers of this lost world as gods that will make the hopes of society come true. Thus, in a sense, Pagan gods were created by artists. The god figures depicted by these artists represent certain principles and characters. These gods are each examples that represent the hopes of society through their stories and appearances. Emulating these ideal characters created semi-gods and then, over time, heroes. Thus, by turning into heroes, Pagan gods became concrete bearers of society’s hopes and wishes. On the other hand, prophets, as heroes, assumed the position of God’s messenger, used images and messages to convey the divine to, and thus created hope within people. Utopia or “the promised land” is referred to in the Old Testament as “ha’aretz hamuvtakhat” (arz-i mawud).

Utopias, by denying the reality that is, suggest what should be. The utopia, in both the Pagan world and religious teachings, is a collective construct and derives its power from the images people create on the basis of their needs.

Utopias also contain their own dystopias; in other words, dystopia in the form of destruction and chaos is a prerequisite for reaching utopia. When the “chaos-cosmos” duality of the Pagans and their attempt to create cosmos out of chaos are projected into the future, going through a destructive process appears to be a prerequisite for establishing a new cosmos, a new order. The famous phoenix, burning up and being reborn from its ashes, has been carried as a symbol of utopia to present-day.

Karl Marx

The mythical, religious, and artistic expressions of utopia address the faculty of imagination. Philosophy and ideology (political world view), on the other hand, employ conceptual narratives that address the faculty of reason. The former requires a spiritual influence, while the latter requires intentional action. This is why Immanuel Kant, a subjective idealist, urges people to claim ownership of their lives; he argues that people have only themselves to pull them out of the hole they have fallen into, which requires having the courage to use one’s own reason. Scientific socialism or Marxism turned this individual principle into a social one through organized praxis. This view asks the laborer of services and goods to find the long-awaited salvation, whether from divine will or a hero, in their very own action. In a sense, it calls upon everyone to be the hero of their own life. It tries to explain that a better life can only be obtained through one’s own actions. As with myth, it does not address children nor immature minds because they are in need of parents or guardians; it addresses responsible, adult minds. It emphasizes that salvation is born out of people’s own organized action.

Moses succeeded in taking the Hebrew people from the house of slavery in Egypt to the house of freedom in the promised land, full of rivers of honey and milk and abundant grapes and wine. However, there is no comfort in this promised land either, unless shed of slave morality. Jesus described salvation as spiritual salvation. “The world shall not change as long as hearts do not change,” he said, emphasizing the need for the revolution to start in the spirit.

People live in a utopia to the extent that they do not give up on the dream of having a world where rights and freedoms are secured, and where people have the necessary opportunities for self-improvement and self-realization, be it through reason, spirit, or organized action. This desire for salvation has its purpose in the wish to be salvaged from immorality, oppression, slavery, iniquity, injustice, and the like. This is why there appears to be no way other than interpersonal cooperation.

People cannot live without hope, and this is why utopias will always exist. Whenever a utopia dies, a new one is born out of its ashes.


* Metin Bobaroğlu, Düşünüyorum, Special Edition: Utopia, AAV Pub, Istanbul, 2018. Translated by Dr. Emre Eren Korkmaz, and revised by the editorial board.