This blog’s primary topic is “literary citizenship”, as in, being part of a greater community of writers. This got me thinking: what would a nation of writers look like? As in, a place where one could literally be a citizen – a nation where every single person is, to some extent, a writer. (Note that this is just a hypothetical thought experiment, for fun. Not a serious proposal.)
Firstly, the name. Let’s call it Vivliopolis, or “book city”, because I have an affection for the Greek. (I suspect the Vivliopolitans would, too.) The name would affirm their commitment to traditional books over other mediums, and also show their affection for the classics.
Secondly, the constitution. I think it’s fair to say that writing would be upheld as one of the primary principles of Vivliopolis. (If this seems far-fetched, consider that the Italian Regency of Carnaro upheld music as one of its fundamental principles.) Writers, being a naturally opinionated and individualistic bunch, would probably select a liberal, democratic republic (similar to what we have in the USA) as their form of government. I won’t go into a huge amount of detail about their political system, because then this would become a manifesto, and those tend to be dry and boring. (The plan for this post is to have some fun and be descriptive, rather than prescriptive.)
In Vivliopolis, it’s hard to imagine that the public wouldn’t be far more educated than our own. Debates over the issues in society would be far more intellectual, without so much need, necessarily, to oversimplify issues. They would also be much longer and more verbose, and less interesting to the average person. But then again, the average person in Vivliopolis wouldn’t be the average person here – maybe debate, in written or spoken form, would be encouraged rather than viewed as divisive.
Another important thing to note about Vivliopolis is that the people, as writers and readers, would carry with them the knowledge of the ancients – Plato, Aristotle, Burke, Locke, etc. Students would likely be educated in the classics, and learn Latin or Greek. (Or both.) Like the ancient Greek “liberal arts”, the goal of education would be to cultivate virtue and ensure a person was a well-rounded human being, rather than just preparing them for a job.
Onto politics, the divisive issue. I don’t have numbers to back this up, but I would suspect that writers are, as a whole, a left-leaning bunch, with eminent authors like Hunter Thompson, Al Franken, and George Orwell. (Although there are a disproportionately large number of far-right authors, like Ezra Pound, William Luther Pierce and Julius Evola, too.) However, I think that most extremist beliefs would be tempered by the collective wisdom of a society educated by the classics. While Vivliopolis might be majority left-wing, it would differ from contemporary left-wing politics in its embrace, rather than denial, of atavistic traditions and the wisdom of past generations.
One of the key concepts to modern political theory is Edmund Burke’s interpretation of social contract theory. Here’s a quote from his key work, Reflections on the Revolution in France:
“Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure—but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primæval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place.”
Sorry if the quote is wordy and esoteric – it was written in 1790, not long after our own country forged its own way through fire and blood. At the same time, the French revolution was taking a turn far worse than our own, with the Reign of Terror occurring under the totalitarian “Committee of Public Safety”. Essentially, Burke is saying that the social contract is not a normal contract that can be broken or thrown to the wind, but that the social contract – between government and society – is a permanent contract. Government, then, is a partnership including those living, those dead, and those yet to be born. (This was very important since the American and French revolutions were both led by radical Whigs, or liberals, and Burke was a more moderate Whig, who opposed the overhaul of society.)
You might be wondering how this bit of obscure political theory is relevant to Vivliopolis. Since every citizen would be a writer by necessity, each individual would leave a body of written work behind. Each generation and each individual would have their morals, beliefs, practices and hopes for the future laid out in stories and books, allowing them to give their knowledge to the next generation, and so on, in an uninterrupted and permanently evolving transfer of wisdom. (Whether or not the Vivliopolitans would be inclined to actually care about their ancestors isn’t so certain, but a people reared on the classics would hopefully care more than most.)
Another important aspect of Vivliopolis is aesthetics. This is another area where Vivliopolitans would depart from modern left-wing politics. Where the modern left tends towards a relative view (i.e. beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there is no such thing as objective beauty), writers, as artists, would be more inclined to believe in beauty for its own sake, and that objective beauty existed in the first place. This would almost certainly carry over to architecture. Gone would be ugly, brutalist bureaucracies. Instead, Vivliopolis’ landscape would be dotted with elegant, artistic, and – yes – beautiful buildings.
Speaking of the landscape, it would probably be very well preserved and protected. It’s hard to be inspired when you live in an area constantly clouded with industrial smog.
There are a lot of obvious logical flaws with this general outline. How would they force everyone to be a writer? (By exiling everyone else to Cinematopia, obviously.) Who would grow food? Wouldn’t their productivity be extremely low?
I don’t know. Stop taking this so seriously.
Now that this long-winded post is (finally) at an end, let me know what you think. Would you live in Vivliopolis? Do you have any criticisms to make? I’d love to hear them.