Utopia by Thomas More

Thomas More’s Utopia is a classic work on the “perfect society” at the time of More’s writing (the 16th century). More’s is an account of a fictional traveler, Raphael Hallodlay (roughly translated as “nonsense-peddler) to the land of Utopia (Ou-Toppos – Notplace or nowhere). This traveler recounts to More the wonders of Utopia, a “utopian’ society that exists in a state quite different from that of 16th century England. More’s fictional land is an island, with excellent harbours and abundant resources. It also has a society constructed off of the philosophical and political traditions of ancient Greek, Persian and Roman society (although it exists in the New World). Basically, More is looking at an ideal society from a Western European, Renaissance era perspective. Ideas from Plato, Aristotle and others, as well as societal customs from nations and people groups from the Indo-European region are explored, connected and amalgamated into a “perfect society.”

More’s account looks at ideals such as benevolent or enlightened despotism, where a King or leader rules according to the needs of his people, religious tolerance and freedom, greater equality of the sexes, communal living, tolerant criminal punishment, trade and mercantilism over warfare, and so on. These ideas were possibly revolutionary for their time, but more likely counterpoints to the society More lived in at the time. I say this because there are obvious issues with much of the political theory that exists in the book. Slavery exists in a form, although much more tolerant than what existed in reality even during early American statehood, and much of Europe at the time of writing. Religious tolerance exists, but issues like suicide are still frowned upon in More’s account. Equality of the sexes is not explored fully, with women still subservient to the patriarch of the household, and still the main domestic workers in this state.

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