Plato, Thomas More, and Aldous Huxley all place utopia on an island—a small city-state that self-governed.
For a long time, the city-state was our best and only form of government—Rome, Athens, Florence, and Venice became beacons of art and philosophy, of intellectual study and scientific progress.
But eventually, they went wrong where the state in Plato’s Republic did: they grew, consuming more land and more people and requiring an even bigger body of government to manage them all. Eventually, they were no longer city-states, they became nation-states.
At a certain size, a state can no longer make decisions for the local, but only for the national. In The Republic, when his entourage asks the ideal size of a state, Socrates replies, “I would allow the state to increase so far as is consistent with unity; that, I think, is the proper limit.”
Today most of our states have grown beyond the limit of unity with the exception of Singapore, a sliver of land chipped off a nation-state to become a new city-state. Singapore is not perfect, but it is a near replica of Socrates’ utopia and it’s modeled by charter cities around the world for its ability to create a life uniquely attuned to the people who live there.
I think we want this—our own autonomy. Perhaps that’s why we’re seeing a revival of the modern city-state—with developers around the world piloting projects like Telosa and Neom and Som, even Seasteading. There is this idea that we should manage ourselves—that we’d be more able to attain utopia if it was local.
That's why I wrote this post wondering what it might look like if the United States were actually the United City-States....