Sir Thomas More's entertaining description of Utopia, an island supporting a perfectly organized and happy people, was a best-seller when it first appeared in Latin in 1516. This work of a Catholic martyr has later been seen as the source of Ana-baptism, Mormonism, and even communism. Utopia... read more
BOOK I: DIALOGUE OF COUNSEL
The work begins with written correspondence between Thomas More and several people he had met on the continent: Peter Gilles, town clerk of Antwerp, and Jerome Busleiden, counselor to Charles V. More chose these letters, which are communications between actual... read more
BOOK I: DIALOGUE OF COUNSEL
The work begins with written correspondence between Thomas More and several people he had met on the continent: Peter Gilles, town clerk of Antwerp, and Jerome Busleiden, counselor to Charles V. More chose these letters, which are communications between actual people, to further the plausibility of his fictional land. In the same spirit, these letters also include a specimen of the Utopian alphabet and its poetry. The letters also explain the lack of widespread travel to Utopia; during the first mention of the land, someone had coughed during announcement of the exact longitude and latitude. The first book tells of the traveler Raphael Hythloday, to whom More is introduced in Antwerp, and it also explores the subject of how best to counsel a prince, a popular topic at the time.
The first discussions with Raphael allow him to discuss some of the modern ills affecting Europe such as the tendency of kings to start wars and the subsequent bleeding away of money on fruitless endeavours. He also criticises the use of execution to punish theft saying that thieves might as well murder whom they rob, to remove witnesses, if the punishment is going to be the same. He lays most of the problems of theft at the cause of enclosure—the enclosing of common land—and the subsequent poverty and starvation of people who are denied access to land because of sheep farming.
More tries to convince Raphael that he could find a good job in a royal court, advising monarchs, but Raphael says that his views are too radical and would not be listened to. Raphael sees himself in the tradition of Plato: he knows that for good governance, kings must act philosophically. However, he points out that:
“Plato doubtless did well foresee, unless kings themselves would apply their minds to the study of philosophy, that else they would never thoroughly allow the council of philosophers, being themselves before, even from their tender age, infected and corrupt with perverse and evil opinions.”
More seems to contemplate the duty of philosophers to work around and in real situations and, for the sake of political expediency, work within flawed systems to make them better, rather than hoping to start again from first principles.
“... for in courts they will not bear with a man's holding his peace or conniving at what others do: a man must barefacedly approve of the worst counsels and consent to the blackest designs, so that he would pass for a spy, or, possibly, for a traitor, that did but coldly approve of such wicked practices”
BOOK II: DISCOURSE ON UTOPIA
Utopia is placed in the New World and More links Raphael's travels in with Amerigo Vespucci's real life voyages of discovery. He suggests that Raphael is one of the 24 men Vespucci, in his Four Voyages of 1507, says he left for six months at Cabo Frio, Brazil. Raphael then travels further and finds the island of Utopia, where he spends five years observing the customs of the natives.
According to More, the island of Utopia is
“…two hundred miles across in the middle part, where it is widest, and nowhere much narrower than this except towards the two ends, where it gradually tapers. These ends, curved round as if completing a circle five hundred miles in circumference, make the island crescent-shaped, like a new moon.”
The island was originally a peninsula but a 15-mile wide channel was dug by the community's founder King Utopos to separate it from the mainland. The island contains 54 towns, each with about 6000 households. The capital city, Amaurot, is located directly in the middle of the crescent island. Thirty households are grouped together and controlled by a Syphograntus ("Styward"), and 10 Stywards are overseen by a Traniborus ("Bencheater"). Each town has a mayor elected from among the ranks of the Bencheaters. Every household has between 10 and 16 adults and people are re-distributed around the households and towns to keep numbers even. If the island suffers from overpopulation, colonies are set up on the mainland. Alternatively, the natives of the mainland are invited to be part of these Utopian colonies, but if they dislike it and no longer wish to stay they may return. In the case of underpopulation the colonists are re-called.
There is no private ownership on Utopia, with goods being stored in warehouses and people requesting what they need. There are also no locks on the doors of the houses, which are rotated between the citizens every ten years. Agriculture is the most important job on the island. Every person is taught it and must live in the countryside, farming, for two years at a time, with women doing the same work as men. Parallel to this, every citizen must learn at least one of the other essential trades: weaving (mainly done by the women), carpentry, metalsmithing and masonry. There is deliberate simplicity about these trades; for instance, all people wear the same types of simple clothes and there are no dressmakers making fine apparel. All able-bodied citizens must work; thus unemployment is eradicated, and the length of the working day can be minimised: the people only have to work six hours a day (although many willingly work for longer). More does allow scholars in his society to become the ruling officials or priests, people picked during their primary education for their ability to learn. All other citizens are however encouraged to apply themselves to learning in their leisure time.
Slavery is a feature of Utopian life and it is reported that every household has two slaves. The slaves are either from other countries or are the Utopian criminals. These criminals are weighed down with chains made out of gold. The gold is part of the community wealth of the country, and fettering criminals with it or using it for shameful things like chamber pots gives the citizens a healthy dislike of it. It also makes it difficult to steal as it is in plain view. The wealth, though, is of little importance and is only good for buying commodities from foreign nations or bribing these nations to fight each other. Slaves are periodically released for good behaviour.
Other significant innovations of Utopia include: a welfare state with free hospitals, euthanasia permissible by the state, priests being allowed to marry, divorce permitted, premarital sex punished by a lifetime of enforced celibacy and adultery being punished by enslavement. Meals are taken in community dining halls and the job of feeding the population is given to a different household in turn. Although all are fed the same, Raphael explains that the old and the administrators are given the best of the food. Travel on the island is only permitted with an internal passport and anyone found without a passport they are, on a first occasion, returned in disgrace, but after a second offence they are placed into slavery. In addition, there are no lawyers and the law is made deliberately simple, as all should understand it and not leave people in any doubt of what is right and wrong.
There are several religions on the island: moon-worshipers, sun-worshipers, planet-worshipers, ancestor-worshipers and monotheists, but each is tolerant of the others. Only atheists are despised (but allowed) in Utopia, as they are seen as representing a danger to the state: since they do not believe in any punishment or reward after this life, they have no reason to share the communistic life of Utopia, and will break the laws for their own gain. They are not banished but encouraged to talk out their erroneous beliefs with the priests until they are convinced of their wrong. Raphael says that through his teachings Christianity was beginning to take hold in Utopia. The toleration of all other religious ideas is enshrined in a universal prayer all the Utopians recite.
“...but, if they are mistaken, and if there is either a better government, or a religion more acceptable to God, they implore His goodness to let them know it.”
Perhaps, by modern standards, women are not given a high degree of equality in the society. Wives are subject to their husbands and are restricted to conducting household tasks. Only few widowed women become priests. While all are trained in military arts, women are still subordinate to men, with women confessing their sins to their husbands once a month. Gambling, hunting, makeup and astrology are all discouraged in Utopia. The role allocated to women in Utopia might, however, have been seen as being more liberal from a contemporary point of view.
“The first principle is that every soul is immortal, and was created by a kind God, Who meant it to be happy. The second is that we shall be rewarded or punished in the next world for our good or bad behaviour in this one. Although these are religious pinciples, the Utopians find rational grounds for accepting them. For suppose you didn't accept them? In that case, they say, any fool could tell you what you ought to do. you should go all out for your own pleasure, irrespective of right and wrong. You'd merely have to make sure that minor pleasures didn't interfere with major ones, and avoid the type of pleasure that has painful after-effects.”
“The people of Aircastle are keen gardeners not only because they enjoy it, but because there are inter-street competitions for the best-kept garden.”
“While the fighting is in progress, the priests kneel a short way off, wearing their holy vestments, and hold up their hands to heaven. They pray first for peace, then for a bloodless victory - bloodless on both sides. As soon as their own troops start getting the best of it, the priests hurry on to the battlefield and stop all unnecessary violence. Once they appear on the scene, an enemy soldier can save his life simply by calling out to them, and, if he can manage to touch their flowing robes, his property too is safe from any sort of war damage. This earns them so much respect in every country, and gives them so much genuine authority, that they've often been able to protect the enemy's. Sometimes, at desperate moments when Utopian forces are in full retreat, and their enemies were rushing after them, intent on killing and looting, the intervention of the priests has been known to prevent massacre, part the combatants, and bring about the conclusion of a peace on equal terms.”
consider war perfectly justifiable, when one country denies another its natural right to derive nourishment from any soil which the original owners are not using themselves, but are merely holding on to as a worthless piece of property.Highlighted by 10 Kindle customers
Stop the rich from cornering markets and establishing virtual monopolies. Reduce the number of people who are kept doing nothing. Revive agriculture and the wool industry, so that there’s plenty of honest, useful work for the great army of unemployed – by which I mean not only existing thieves, but tramps and idle servants who are bound to become thieves eventually.Highlighted by 9 Kindle customers
But if a child fancies some other trade, he’s adopted into a family that practises it.Highlighted by 8 Kindle customers
They never force people to work unnecessarily, for the main purpose of their whole economy is to give each person as much time free from physical drudgery as the needs of the community will allow, so that he can cultivate his mind – which they regard as the secret of a happy life.Highlighted by 8 Kindle customers
If you’re caught without a passport outside your own district, you’re brought home in disgrace, and severely punished as a deserter. For a second offence the punishment is slavery.Highlighted by 7 Kindle customers
No town has the slightest wish to extend its boundaries, for they don’t regard their land as property but as soil that they’ve got to cultivate.Highlighted by 6 Kindle customers
Though, to tell you the truth, my dear More, I don’t see how you can ever get any real justice or prosperity, so long as there’s private property, and everything’s judged in terms of money – unless you consider it just for the worst sort of people to have the best living conditions, or unless you’re prepared to call a country prosperous, in which all the wealth is owned by a tiny minority – who aren’t entirely happy even so, while everyone else is simply miserable.Highlighted by 6 Kindle customers
You see how it is – wherever you are, you always have to work. There’s never any excuse for idleness. There are also no wine-taverns, no ale-houses, no brothels, no opportunities for seduction, no secret meeting-places.Highlighted by 6 Kindle customers
Each household, as I said, comes under the authority of the oldest male. Wives are subordinate to their husbands, children to their parents, and younger people generally to their elders.Highlighted by 6 Kindle customers
Plato says26 – that a happy state of society will never be achieved, until philosophers are kings, or kings take to studying philosophy.Highlighted by 5 Kindle customers
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