Borges’ Utopia

Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was especially known for his collections of short fictions such as The Aleph and Ficciones, where he generally dealt with metaphysical ideas about time and identity.  Furthermore, to a certain extent, his work evidences the series of political and ideological transformations he went throughout the course of his life.

In his late teens, circa 1918, while he was living in Europe, he identified with the communist ideals of the Bolshevik Revolution, an experience that encouraged him to pen the poem called Red Rythms, a poem that in his old age he was only too happy to have lost and forgotten.  In the early twenties, when he finally returned to Buenos Aires, he went through a period of nationalistic fervor to the extent of supporting the populist caudillo, Hipólito Yrigoyen, whom many consider as a forerunner of the famed authoritarian demagogue, Juan Domino Perón.  Many of his poems and essays celebrate everything Argentine, from the mythological stature of the gauchos to the slang of the suburbs of Buenos Aires.

As time went by and Borges grew older, he became very skeptical and disenchanted towards politics in general.  Well into his sixties, he called himself a conservative because as he claimed with his usual ironic tone, ”it is the duty of gentlemen to support lost causes.”  At times he voiced controversial opinions about current affairs such as the Vietnam War and the last Argentine military government (1976-1983) that put him at odds with the intellectual establishment.  However, it is also fair to add that in the 1930’s and 1940’s he was a staunch opponent of any totalitarian form of government; he denounced antisemitism and attacked fascism and Nazism at a time when they found many supporters in Borges’ native Argentina.  Ultimately, his opposition to the fascist inspired regime of General Perón would cost him his post in a modest public library of Buenos Aires.

In any case, despite the many contradictions in his public statements regarding political affairs, there is a rather consistent political philosophy to which he always adhered: Spencerian anarchism or individualist anarchism.  He inherited this penchant for anarchism from his father, Jorge Guillermo Borges who as a son of English immigrant Frances Haslam, became fluent in English at an early age.  He soon became infatuated with the works of Herbert Spencer and developed a skepticism towards governments and political power.  Borges senior also distrusted public schools and during the first years of Borges’ education he was homeschooled by his father until the age of nine.

TheBookOfSandThe ideals of Jorge Guillermo Borges were to remain with his son for the rest of his life. He would finally pay his greatest hommage to his father’s anarchism in a short story called A Weary Man’s Utopia (Utopía de un hombre que está cansado) contained in his collection of short stories The Book of Sand published in 1975.  In the story, an alter ego of the author called Eudoro Acevedo travels far into the future where he meets a man that puts him up to date regarding the developments of the last millennium.  When Acevedo inquires about the fate of governments, the man responds,  “It is said that they gradually fell into disuse. Elections were called, wars were declared, and attempts were made at imposing censorship—but no one on the planet paid any attention.  The press stopped publishing pieces by those it called its ‘contributors,’ and also publishing their obituaries.  Politicians had to find honest work; some became comedians, some witch doctors—some excelled at those occupations.  The reality was no doubt more complex than this summary.”

This excerpt reflects a yearning that Borges shared with his father.  They both preferred the independence of the individual over the boundless power of the State.  In several interviews, late in his life, he would express his desire for a time when we deserved to have no governments at all.