Comparing the Lyrics of Imagine to Zeno’s Republic
People often tell me that they’ve heard a song the lyrics of which seem “kind of Stoic” to them. Usually they’re referring to songs about enduring hardship heroically, and so on. However, there’s a very different type of song that strikes me as uncannily reminiscent of ancient Stoicism. It happens to contain some of the most famous lyrics ever written by one of the most celebrated songwriters in recent history.
Imagine by John Lennon describes a shamelessly Utopian vision of society. I’m going to discuss the lyrics below, comparing them to the Utopian dream described in Zeno’s Republic, the most influential early Stoic text. The Republic was, in part, a scathing critique of Plato’s book of the same name, written while Zeno was aligned with the Cynic philosophy. Unfortunately, it has long been lost but we do have several fragments and commentaries, which allow us to make a comparison, as you’ll see.