Cities of the Gods: Communist Utopias in Greek Thought

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Oxford University Press, 1992 - Medical - 305 pages
Modern studies of classical utopian thought are usually restricted to the Republic and Laws of Plato, producing the impression that Greek speculation about ideal states was invariably authoritarian and hierarchical. In this book, however, Dawson sets Plato in the context of the whole ancient tradition of philosophical utopia. He distinguishes two types of Greek utopia, relating both to the social and the political background of Greece between the fifth and third centuries B.C. Dawson outlines a "low" utopianism that arose from the Greek colonizing movement. A comprehensive program for an ideal city-state, conceived as a critique of existing institutions and a model for limited reform, it was intended for literal implementation. A "high" utopianism arose from the practical utopias--a theoretical system with unattainable standards of social reform designed as a thought experiment for exploring the potentialities of human nature and society. This more abstract model looked at institutional change at a much deeper level than was possible in real political reform. The second, higher utopianism, which was based on total communism in property and family, is the focus of Dawson's study. Attempting to reconstruct the lost utopian works of the Stoics, Dawson argues that their ideal state was universal and egalitarian, in deliberate contrast to the hierarchical and militaristic utopia of Plato. He further asserts that both theories were intended to bring about long-range social reform, though neither was meant for direct implementation. Dawson offers an explanation for the disappearance of the utopian tradition in the later Hellenistic age. Finally, he traces the survival of communist ideas inearly Christianity. Far from being merely another commentary on Plato's Republic, Cities of the Gods is a comprehensive study of the whole ancient tradition of philosophical speculation about ideal societies. Distinguishing two types of Greek utopian literature--the practical and the theoretical--Dawson focuses on the contrast between the authoritarian Platonic utopias and the egalitarian stoic utopias. He traces the history of utopian and communist ideas in pagan and Christian thought to the end of the Roman Empire. This book will be of interest to scholars, as well as general readers, interested in philosophy, political science, classical studies, and religion.

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1 The Birth of Utopia
A City Without the Household
A Life Without the Household
A World Without Households
5 The End of Utopia
6 The Ghosts of Utopia

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About the author (1992)

Doyne Dawson, Visiting Lecturer in History, High Point University.

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