history,  Houseful of Chaos Press,  meaning of life

A Paradise Without the Need to Work?

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I love following wisps of ideas as they lead me through different times and works of literature. Today I’m thinking about how different writers questioned the possibility of a paradise without labour.

Start with the Gonzalo’s speech in The Tempest about how he would run an island, if he could:

I’th’ commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things, for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty, (165)
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure; (170)
No sovereignty—

All things in common nature should (175)
Without sweat or endeavour. Treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,
Of it own kind, all foison, all abundance, (180)
To feed my innocent people.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act II, Scene i

The book the Many Headed Hydra suggests Shakespeare may have been writing it partly in response to the Virginia Company’s ship the Sea Venture, which crashed leaving a hundred and fifty people stranded on Bermuda. There they built another boat from which they could travel to their destination, but not everyone was pleased as the idea of leaving the island where they could forage freely to go to the colder, harsher Virginia where they were expected to work to repay the company.

However, Gonzalo’s lines go beyond just rejecting the need for constant labour and advocating that people rely on nature’s bounty. Here all writing, law, contracts, tools of labour, and of tools war are all seen as unnecessary. Shakespeare may also have been writing these lines in response to inaccurate stories coming from “the New World” of how the people there lived. These stories overlooked the truth of the people living in America, failing to acknowledge their cultures and the work they did, but it also brought up questions of whether life really had to be as hard as people were accustom to life in Europe.

To some Christians, the inaccurate stories of the First Nations would seem to resemble the stories of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, before they were forced to labour for their food and without the metal tools the Bible attributes to their descendants through Cain.

In the book The Flight of Angels, which I wrote about a little while ago, the story of Adam and Eve is reinterpreted to suggest that if they didn’t leave the garden they would have no way of creating all the wonders of civilization. It portrays Elizabeth I as an example of Eve’s descendants, ambitious and capable because Eve choose to leave the garden.

At the time when Europeans were beginning to learn about North America, some hoped it would contain El Dorado, the City of Gold, a new Eden for them.

With this in mind, I turn to the poem of the Passionate Shepherd to his Love by Christopher Marlowe. The passionate shepherd bids his love to come live with him, on beds of roses with a gown made of wool the pull from the sheep. The image is one of abundance there for the taking.

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote a reply. It goes:

If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd’s tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.

Time drives the flocks from field to fold
When Rivers rage and Rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complains of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy’s spring, but sorrow’s fall.

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten:
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy belt of straw and Ivy buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.

But could youth last and love still breed,
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy love.

“If all the world were young…” There is Eden calling. If it was Eden, yes, he a life of luxurious waiting would be fine. It isn’t Eden though. Time passes, things decay, and work must be done.

In my mind, I see time passing. I picture the English civil war breaking out and Thomas Hobbes devising his theories about how man would be in the state of nature. Hobbes would reject Gonzalo’s paradise because without law and an authority to enforce it each man would fear his plenty would be taken from him.

Time continues onwards, and John Locke writes about how men get to claim ownership because of the work they do. The fictional Gonzalo would probably argue that there would be no need to claim ownership, because each man could take only what he needs for the day, like the Israelites gathering manna. Locke would probably view that as very unambitious. Do people not want more than to live subsistence lives?

Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem suggests that time and the fading of things provides motivation for people to do things. I would like to compare that with The Garden of Proserpine by Algernon Charles Swinburne in 1866. But that mixes in the issue of death, and must be left for another time.

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