Utopia by Thomas More

As stated before, one of my new year’s goals is to read through a number of books which exist in my library because I really ought to read them at some point. The first book plucked from this collection is Utopia by Sir Thomas More. The text itself is not necessarily the current authoritative one. It was produced in 1964 using the Yale translation by a Jesuit scholar who does let his own beliefs creep into his textual notes.

This entry, however, is not about historiography. I read Utopia with the humanistic desire to be entertained and enlightened. I read the text for the simple sake of reading the text. The fact that I read it at Union Station in Toronto while waiting for transit instead of in the scholarly abode of a library speaks volumes on my desire to engage the text on a scholarly level. Nevertheless, I apparently have some scholastic muscle memory remaining which awakened about two thirds of the way through the book. The following are my thoughts on the book composed in the Dilworthian fashion* of point form bursts that may or may not be connected with one another.

Utopia not so much a critique of European policies and ideas; rather, it is one of the first instances of the “noble savage” in European literature. The land of the Utopians is seperated by the Atlantic Ocean and a massive desert from European civilization. It brings forth More’s point that knowledge, unassisted by European scholastic tradition, can indeed be discovered through the use the natural world and logic. Their “savage” nature is evident, not in their use of warfare since they hire mercenaries, but by their ready acquiescence to European knowledge that is entering their system through visitors.

It is doubtful that the Utopian idea of trade would be able to exist in an actuality because of the rapid devaluation of currency and trade imbalance that exists between them and their neighbours. By overpaying for simple things, simply because they have so much money, they through the economy of their neighbours into flux. Interestingly enough the Utopians, by eschewing proper European notions of commerce, are in fact the ultimate example of a mercantilist economic system. All the monetary resources are being absorbed by the Utopians.

Utopian follow More’s own ideas that women are to be taught but hold no positions of authority or influence.

Living in Utopia is meant to be a compliment, not an insult. More recognizes that the ideas presented in the work will be misunderstood or mocked by mentioning a number of other ideas that follow logic and natural reason in book one. These ideas for the governing of a country would be mocked or construed as hostile by a ruling monarch or his privy council.

Utopia presupposes that humanity is willing to act in accordance to the greater good of the whole over the greater good of the individual. Although the individual is given opportunities to live their own life by giving them certain freedoms, they are still bound by a rigid patriarchal system that controls all aspects of exisistance including the child’s career. In order to change apprenticeships another family must be found that will be wiling to take the child into their family in perpetuity.

The limitedness of possesions is not novel of an idea. In fact, one could make an argument that it coincides quite well with the beliefs in monastic poverty: the group owns the items used by the whole.

*those of you who studied with Dr. Dilworth will know what I’m talking about. His classes are some of those I truly wish I had a chance to repeat now that I’m “all grown up” and can truly appreciate them.