- Series: Penguin Classics
- Paperback: 176 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (May 6, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780140449105
- ISBN-13: 978-0140449105
- ASIN: 0140449108
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 489 customer reviews
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- #10 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Ideologies & Doctrines > Utopian
- #91 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Ideologies & Doctrines > Communism & Socialism
- #99 in Books > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Movements & Periods > Renaissance
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Utopia (Penguin Classics) Paperback – May 6, 2003
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About the Author
Thomas More was born a Londoner in 1477 or 1478. He served as a page, then studied at Oxford, was called to the bar and subsequently had a highly successful career in the City. Sent on an embassy to Flanders in 1515, he began Utopia there and completed it back in London. From 1528 he actively resisted innovation in religious matters and clashed with Henry VIII over his break with the Church. In July 1535, after he refused to accept the royal supremacy over the church, he was tried as a traitor at Westminster Hall and beheaded on Tower Hill. He was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935.
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Utopia is an awe inducing foray into what could be considered a perfect society. Moore's detailed descriptions draw the readers in magnificently. I rather enjoyed this almost clinical look into utopian society and the though provoking system that is presented. While indeed a work of fiction, it promotes critical thinking about how civilization generally functions and what form of structure would need to be in place for it to thrive on the same caliber as Utopia
Douglas McDonald beautifully narrates More's complex descriptions and explanations in such a way that kept me focused and interested. I would be delighted to hear more from him in the future.
This audiobook was provided to me for free in exchange for my unbiased review. Many thanks for the opportunity!
The text of Utopia is in two books. Book 1 was written after Book 2. It is in Book 2 that the society of the place named `Utopia' is described by a traveler, Raphael Hythloday, who through his travels had lived there for a time and has returned to England to report on what he learned. Book 1 is a lead-in to Book 2 and was probably intended to establish interest in the subject of Book 2. The narrative form of Book 1 is a conversation of Hythloday with Thomas More and Peter Giles, and of Book 2 the form is a monologue by Hythloday.
Hythloday, speaking in Book 1, agrees with Plato and the people of Utopia that "as long as everyone has his own property, there is no hope of curing them and putting society back into good condition." (48) More disagrees and believes, along with Aristotle and Aquinas, "that no one can live comfortably where everything is held in common. For how can there be any abundance of goods when everyone stops working because he is no longer motivated by making a profit, and grows lazy because he relies on the labors of others." (48)
These statements occur near the end of Book 1, which began, after some preliminaries, with a conversation about the justice of the death penalty for theft. (In an endnote on page 145, Miller tells of a report from 1587 that "in the reign of Henry VIII alone 72,000 thieves and vagabonds were hanged.") Hythloday believes that theft is a necessary consequence of personal property. Unstated but evident is that he believes also that personal property is not only a sufficient condition for theft (which makes theft a necessary consequence of it), but also a necessary condition for theft (which makes theft contingent upon it). Removing personal property, then, removes the possibility of theft, he believes: with the unexamined assumption that you cannot steal what you already own in common with everyone else. But of course you can: you take it and keep it for yourself so no one else can use it, taking what belongs to everyone, and not sharing it with anyone. Only the coercion of others, through established law or otherwise, can alter this. But then you are back to the existence of theft and social restraints to admonish and respond to it.
In Book 2 Raphael Hythloday describes Utopia. The word `Raphael' means "God's healer", and the word `hythloday', from Greek, means "peddler of nonsense". The word `utopia' is a Greek pun that means both "good place" and "no place". If Hythloday is speaking nonsense motivated by the deepest moral compassion, where is the nonsense? Is Utopia a good place that is no place, or is it no place that is a good place? (The second reading can mean it is not a place that is a good place.)
"From my observation and experience of all the flourishing nations everywhere, what is taking place, so help me God, is nothing but a conspiracy of the rich, as it were, who look out for themselves under the pretext of serving the commonwealth." (132)
Outside of Utopia, money is the cause of endless trouble. In Utopia, "once the use of money was abolished, and together with it all greed for it, what a mass of troubles was cut away, what a crop of crimes was pulled up by the roots! Is there anyone who does not know that fraud, theft, plunder, strife, turmoil, contention, rebellion, murder, treason, poisoning, crimes which are constantly punished but never held in check, would die away if money were eliminated?" (132)
Utopia is a society under full and strict regimentation. Its culture is, in effect, nothing but what is a consequence of social regimentation. Nothing exists in the culture that is not a result of this pervasive social control. Utopians believe they do not live in a tyranny only because they accept and desire the collective regimentation under which they live. They are the perfect slaves.
Utopians are ambivalent, in fact illogical if not morally arrogant, about killing for food or defense. They eat animals but "they do not allow their citizens to be accustomed to butchering animals" but rather have "bondsmen" do this because they believe that butchering animals for food "gradually eliminates compassion, the finest feeling of human nature." (68) Bondsmen are apparently immune to such a descent into moral corruption, or else they are bondsmen exactly because they are already morally degraded and so either immune to further corruption or they are beyond moral rectification, and therefore the moral consequences of killing for food cannot matter for their moral selves. So bondsmen who butcher animals either have no compassion, it having been gradually eliminated through butchering, or because their moral precondition, their qualification of moral impurity, includes diminished compassion from which their moral descent continues, or else they have compassion and, being bondsmen, they are somehow immune from the moral consequences of killing for food, either because of their moral deficiency or because bondsmen have a moral strength that the citizens of Utopia lack.
Marriage is not allowed until age 18 for women and age 22 for men. Extramarital sex is a crime, and in the case of anyone married, the consequence of a second act of adultery is death. The method is not stated, nor who in Utopia administers capital justice, although it is likely to be a slave. (99)
It is mainly (or only) the slaves who kill for the Utopians, but it did not require any killing to become a slave. In fact, "the most serious crimes" (unstated, but clearly not only murder) are punished by "servitude" (slavery). "If slaves are rebellious or unruly, then they are finally slaughtered like wild beasts that cannot be restrained by bars or chains." On the other hand, if they are "tamed by long suffering and show that they regret the sin more than the punishment, their servitude may be either mitigated or revoked, sometimes by the ruler's prerogative, sometimes by popular vote." (100)
What happens to those slaves (bondsmen) who helped feed the citizens of Utopia by butchering animals for food and thus suffering the apparent moral consequence of diminished compassion is not stated. Perhaps Utopia uses only slaves gotten from outside the citizenry of Utopia for their necessary killing. Utopia has slaves captured in wars they fought and other "foreigners who have been condemned to death" which the Utopians "acquire [...] sometimes cheaply, more often gratis and take them away." Foreign slaves are kept "constantly at work" and in chains. (95) Utopia also has slaves who entered into slavery by choice. These are "poor, overworked drudges from other nations [...] who chose to be slaves among the Utopians." Such slaves can relinquish their slavery whenever they choose, but in doing so they leave Utopia, although they are not "sent away empty-handed." (96)
Utopians do not fight their own wars if they can avoid it. Killing, although morally necessary, is morally degrading, so they hire mercenaries to defend Utopia. They do, however, train for war - men and women both - "so that they will not be incapable of fighting when circumstances require it". (105) They go to war reluctantly, and "do so only to defend their own territory, or to drive an invading enemy from the territory of their friends, or else, out of compassion and humanity, they use their forces to liberate a[n] oppressed people from tyranny and servitude." (105) Upon declaring war, they immediately offer enormous rewards for the assassination or capture of the enemy prince and others "responsible for plotting against the Utopians." (108)
Utopians are tolerant of differing views on religion and "on no other subject are they more cautious about making rash pronouncements than on matters concerning religion." (122) However, they scorn unbelievers in any deity or afterlife, and "do not even include in the category of human beings" nor "count him as one of their citizens" if he "should sink so far below the dignity of human nature as to think that the soul dies with the body or that the world is ruled by mere chance and not by prudence." (119) "For who can doubt that someone who has nothing to fear but the law and no hope of anything beyond bodily existence would strive to evade the public laws of his country by secret chicanery or to break them by force in order to satisfy his own personal greed?" (119) "He is universally looked down on as a lazy and spineless character." (119) In fact, "a religious fear of the heavenly beings" is "the greatest and practically the only incitement to virtue." (127)
There is a kind of state religion in Utopia which includes high priests and public worship. "They invoke God by no other name than Mythras, a name they all apply to the one divine nature, whatever it may be. No prayers are devised which everyone cannot say without offending his own denomination." (126) "When the priest [...] comes out of the sacristy, everyone immediately prostrates himself on the ground out of reverence; on all sides the silence is so profound that the spectacle itself inspires a certain fear, as if in the presence of some divinity." (128) Priests are held in such high esteem that "even if they commit a crime they are not subject to a public tribunal but are left to God and their own consciences. [...] For it is unlikely that someone who is the cream of the crop and is elevated to a position of such dignity only because of his virtue should degenerate into corruption and vice." (124)