Utopia by Thomas More

Utopia by Thomas More


Good Place, No Place


I have chosen to write about the novel Utopia written by Thomas More in the year of 1516. By now, you might think:  “You’re 200 years off, stupid”. And as a matter of fact, I am. But the thing is, and here comes the intriguing part, so was More and his work, Utopia.  More held one of the most important offices under Henry VIII. But instead of enjoying the prosperous life which was available to him he started questioning the society he lived amid. A society imbued by the reign of the money. Where the starving were condemned to death for stealing food.  Where the poor stayed poor and were jeeringly looked down upon by the rich, who were voraciously hoarding their money. A society where the abundance of the upper-class only was outmatched by the misery of the serfs.  Even though Thomas More played an essential role in this contrivance of government he was well aware of its flaws and inequities and therefore he created Utopia, a fictitious book depicting the infallible society.

Utopia (it’s also the title of the depicted society) is a state where all citizens are responsible for the development of society and complete equity thrones above everything else. Ownership is practically abolished and everything is shared. Monetary value is reduced to nonexistence. Every citizen greets his neighbor as an equal. To ensure development work is mandatory. Every, and I mean “every”, citizen works six hours a day (3 three before dinner and three after). The limit of six hours is to avoid the slave-like toil which the European serfs have to endure. Also, every citizen works with the task he is most deft at.

Nobody in Utopia feels the urge to pursue any private capital, as it wouldn’t be worth anything (you cannot eat gold!) and the Utopians live in abundance when it comes to goods that are vitally necessary for life. Furthermore the Utopians see gold and other materials, which are only held in a high regard for their monetary value and not for the practical value as useful resources, as something odious.

Now, this vision of society may appeal with its values, especially if you consider the standard of living of the commoner during these times. But it is, as all societies, flawed. I am going to handpick some of the downsides of More’s Utopia and distribute my thoughts on them.

The first thing that comes to mind is the heterogeneity of the society. The appearance of the citizens was limited to clothes of one colour (probably to create the feeling of commonality). But the resemblance was not only limited to appearance. If you want to live in Utopia you have to abide the law of Utopia and conform to its school of thought. Reforms are clearly, not wanted.

Secondly, it is a strictly hierarchal and very patriarchal society. As for hierarchy, thirty families in each town choose, yearly, a magistrate, called Philarch. These are responsible for monitoring the families working process. The Philarchs should add up to 200. Over every ten of them there is one Archphilarch. There are supposed to be 100 Archphilarchs. These elect a prince who holds his office for life, unless he is removed upon suspicion of some design to enslave the people. As for the power of the prince the book is quite opaque. It only mentions that: “The Archphilarchs meet every third day, and oftener if necessary, and consult with the Prince either concerning the affairs of the State in general, or such private differences as may arise sometimes among the people…” So there is no real information about who is responsible for the executive branch of government, who holds the legislative and so on…  As for patriarchal, well, we can just look at the previous part and mention that only ones who had a saying were men. Also the most aspired attributes of women were “honesty and obedience” which does not correspond with equality between sexes which we perceive today.

Another thing I consider not to be very desirable is the limitation of freedom of movement and freedom in general. First of all, the utopians have slaves and although these are being treated well they are still slaves. This seems very paradoxical as this doesn’t correspond with the utopian values, the utopians do, in fact, start wars to liberate nearby countries from their oppressors. Concerning the freedom of movement, citizens of utopia have to have a written permission, signed by a Philarch or Archphilarchs on them when travelling. This also applies for a walk around the park. If somebody should be leaving his city without permission and is detected “he is punished as a fugitive, and sent home disgracefully; and, if he falls again into the like fault, is condemned to slavery”

This all now may seem to be a rather dystopian society instead of a utopian, but utopia has a lot of very progressive ideas which were not introduced to most westerns societies until hundreds of years later. For example, divorces are allowed, freedom of religion, proper health care, no death penalty, everybody works and therefore everybody works less,   euthanasia is allowed if the person suffers more from life than he is able to enjoy it and thus wishes to cease to exist, and the list goes on.

So to sum it up, Utopia is not the perfect society which it was supposed to, at least not from our modern point of view. From a modern point of view a utopian society should be one were everybody thrives. But More’s Utopia stunts the flourishing of, for example, women, individualists and  freedom-loving people. Still, Utopia is definitely very progressive and surely facilitated for the thinkers and revolutionaries of the 18th century. And here is where its importance lies. Utopia is never going to be realized, everybody who has met another human being knows that and even More knew it. But this is not its purpose. Its purpose is to give ideas, to question the inequities, to create opposition, to provoke thought about the society which More lived in and to some extent we do still live in. This was, and still is the purpose of Utopia.



The book, of course! (http://www.adlibris.com/se/product.aspx?isbn=0486295834)


If you have further questions on Utopia, as there are a lot of things I didn’t even mention, I’ll be happy to answer them.

// Baloo Peinkofer

Postat av: Unni

I think that Utopia seems like a "robot society" in someway. I think that this article was good. I also think that the Utopia society is not very good. You made a good article and maybe Mores idea was good in 18th but not in our life now, not at least in sweden ;)

2011-03-28 @ 19:44:26
Postat av: Baloo

I think it's quite common to think about to Utopia as a "Robot society" and to some extent I do agree with that. But on the other hand, if look at the lives of the serfs (or just the commoner) back then, life was probably even more "robot-like". On your statement that his ideas are not suited for the modern (swedish) society, I must say that I only agree partially again. Certainly More's ideas of homogenuity in society and the patriarchal domination are things that the swedish society does well without but many of More's ideas are implemented in the swedish society. He was one of the forerunners, if not THE forerunner.

2011-03-28 @ 20:28:48
Postat av: Baloo

Thanks for the compliments by the way

2011-03-28 @ 20:29:26
Postat av: Kamila

I really enjoyed your article, Baloo! It is very detailed and you've presented the topic in a really interesting way. It seemed like you've spent a lot of time just to prepare -- I mean, you read the book! ;)

Okay, about 'Utopia':

If they're all equal, why is there Philarchs, Archphilarchs and the Prince?? It doesn't seem very 'logical' (?) so to say. There isn't supposed to be any hierarchy, but there is. People are not equal. Does Prince, Archpilarchs and Pilarchs decide about everything? Or do they vote and have sort of democracy?? It seems quite fuzzy to me right now.

Also, about the Robot society. True, we could get that impression. Since people are supposed to be the same, dress the same, property is common etc. -- well, is this actually possible? If it was us, who were supposed to live in Utopia, would we actually be willing to live this way?? Maybe that could be considered the robotic part of their life.

The last thing I want to comment is people's freedom. They can't leave without permission, can't walk aroud town without permission. I also read somewhere that you eat at a specific time and if one's late, one gets nothing... That seems wrong too.

However, in general I am quite fond of the idea of Thomas More's society - where everyone is equal, money doesn't exist and the government is responsible for providing food to everyone :)

2011-04-01 @ 11:34:56
Postat av: Lia

Very interesting article!

I think that the main things in Utopia are good, as it's about equality etc. However, this seems to not be the case in Utopia as they had slaves and also that they elected Philarchs, a prince and so on. In an equal society, shouldn't everyone hold the same status and be allowed to participate in the important decisions?

Also, when you mentioned the 6h working-day I thought of the "environment party" in Sweden which wants to create a 6h working-day. Maybe they've been influenced from this?

2011-04-01 @ 11:44:57
Postat av: Baloo Peinkofer

Thank your for the compliments!

As for the hierarchy, I totally agree with you. If I understood the book correctly, the higher offices decide about everything. But they are elected by the people and can be forced to resign by the people.

In regard to the "Robot society": We would probably not be willing live in Utopia. Mankind is imbued by folly and will never settle with a life that simplistic and pragmatic as that of the Utopians.

Concerning the 6h work day and those influenced by Utopia: I would say that "Miljöpartiet" has definitely been influenced by Utopia. I think that Utopia has influenced everybody who sit on the left side of the National Assembly, metaphorically speaking. Speaking of which, did you know that Thomas More is honoured with a statue, which is located near the Kreml, by the Russian communist movement?

2011-04-15 @ 11:27:35

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