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More: Utopia (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought) [Paperback]

Thomas More , George M. Logan , Robert M. Adams
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Book Description

30 Sep 2002 0521525403 978-0521525404 2
This is a fully revised 2002 edition of what is already one of the most successful volumes in the entire series of Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. This revision incorporates the many refinements to the translation of Utopia undertaken for the dual-language scholarly edition published by Cambridge in 1995, and Professor Logan has also updated the editorial commentary and introduction to take account of scholarship published since the first Cambridge Texts edition of Utopia appeared in 1989. This Logan–Adams edition is firmly established as the most accurate, accessible and student-friendly rendition of Utopia currently available. All the usual series features are included, with a concise introduction, chronology of More's life, and notes for further reading. This revised rendition should introduce further generations of students to Utopia, one of the most influential books in the western philosophical and literary tradition, and one of the supreme achievements of Renaissance humanism.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (30 Sep 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521525403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521525404
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 372,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'The Cambridge 'Texts' Utopia has become the standard English student version. The economical incorporation of the latest scholarly developments in this revised edition will ensure that it continues to hold that position.' Moreana

Book Description

This is a fully revised 2002 edition of what is already one of the most successful volumes in the entire series of Cambridge Texts. This revision incorporates refinements to the translation of Utopia undertaken for the dual-language edition published in 1995, and the editorial commentary and introduction have been thoroughly updated.

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My dear Peter Giles, I am almost ashamed to be sending you after nearly a year this little book about the Utopian commonwealth, which I'm sure you expected in less than six weeks. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A utopia for all seasons 25 Dec 2010
Format:Paperback
Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England under Henry VIII until the king had him executed for high treason, published "Utopia" in 1516. The title means "The land of nowhere", but due to the book's fame and popularity, "Utopia" has become a common byword for something good but unrealistic. Something utopian, in short!

As all utopian novels, "Utopia" can be interpreted in all kinds of ways. Was it a serious description of how a perfect society should really look like? Was it a veiled criticism of the conditions in 16th century Britain and Europe? Or was it some kind of frivolous joke? After all, the people and places in the story have names such as "Raphael the talker of nonsense", "The City of Shadows" or "The River without Water". As already noticed, Utopia actually means "The land of nowhere".

My guess is that "Utopia" is a sharp and witty criticism of More's own time. The point of the work is not really to describe the best society or propose far reaching reforms, but rather to parody Renaissance Europe. This would explain why Utopia looks like a strange inversion of early modern Europe. It would also explain why More's book gives such a humorous impression. But yes, there are serious scholars who believe otherwise, suggesting that "Utopia" is not simply a criticism of 16th century conditions, but also a real utopia, a serious description of how the best society should actually be like. Indeed, this seems to be the most common interpretation. Even so, More cannot have believed that his ideal commonwealth was ever going to be implemented. He strikes a pessimistic note in the book. In real life, More was one of the highest officials in Britain, the very society he was condemning in the novel! Some people see More as a caged socialist far ahead of his time.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A More perfect plan... 10 Jan 2006
By FrKurt Messick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Thomas More, executed by Henry VIII (one of his best friends) for treason, led an illustrious career of politics and letters. Under his friend the King, he served in many capacities - Speaker of the House of Commons, Master of Requests, Privy Councillor, etc. - culminating with the trust of the position of Lord Chancellor, a position in those days matching the prominence (if not the definition) of Prime Minister in these days. More's strong integrity and resolute mind caught the attention of scholars, political and church leaders internationally; it was this same integrity that most likely was his undoing, refusing to assent to the King's divorce and severance of ties binding the English Church with the Roman overlordship of the Pope. Indeed, More was, if not the actual ghostwriter, then certainly an inspiration and editorial aide to the document produced by King Henry VIII against the continental protestants, earning for Henry (and his heirs ever after) the title of Defender of the Faith (historical irony is that this title, most likely not intended to be hereditary, now declares the defense of a faith separated from the one for which the title was bestowed).

While an Ambassador to Flanders, More spent spare time writing this book, 'Utopia'. The very title is a still a by-word in the English language (as well as others) of a state of bliss and peace; it is often used with the context of being unrealistic. 'Utopia' is More's response to and development from Plato's 'Republic', in that it is a framework for a perfect society, or at least perfect according to More's ideas of the time. Penned originally in Latin, 'Utopia' has been translated widely; one of the better translations is by H.V.S. Ogden, in 1949, still reprinted in various editions to this day. Originally published in Latin in 1516, the first English version appeared in 1551, some 16 years after More's death.

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Utopia

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Thomas More writes this as if he were traveling, and meets his friend Peter Giles, who introduces him to Raphael Hythloday, a scholar/traveler with tales to tell.

Hythloday made friends with a prince who outfitted him for a journey. He traveled through deserts and fertile lands. He proceeds to give an account to Giles and More. In an ironic twist, given More's own attachment to Henry VIII, Hythloday states that he doesn't give his information in advice of kings or princes, for to be beholden to them is not a wise thing. He quotes Plato, in saying that unless kings were themselves philosophers, they should never appreciate philosophers.

More argues for public service, which Hythloday rejects as something that other place-seekers will use to bolster their own positions. Then Hythloday makes the startling pronouncement with regard to how a society should be constituted: 'As long as there is property, and while money is the standard of all things, I cannot think that a nation can be governed either justly or happily; not justly, because the best things will fall to the share of the worst men; nor happily, because all things will be divided among a few (and even these are not in all respects happy), the rest being left to the absolutely miserable.'

Hythloday proceeds to give an account of the life of Utopia, where, he says, there are so few laws and so much liberty and equality that virtue is always rewarded, and each person has what he or she needs. He talks about this under the following headings:

Of Their Towns, Particularly of Amaurot

Of Their Magistrates

Of Their Trades, and Manner of Life

Of Their Traffic

Of the Travelling of the Utopians

Of Their Slaves, and of Their Marriages

Of Their Military Discipline

Of the Religions of the Utopians

'Utopia' is a radical document. It anticipates the modern idea of communism, with private property at a minimum; it is generations ahead in the idea of equality of the sexes and freedom of religion. This may seem a remarkable statement from someone who will go to his death supporting the Roman hierarchy, but in historical irony, had religious freedom been respected in England at the time, More would have had nothing to fear.

'Utopia' was a place of education and free inquiry. Again, More's own life models this - travelers from as far away as Constantinople and Venice, visiting More's home in Chelsea, remarked on the incredible sense of knowledge and respect for reason and learning, not just for the men, but also for the women of the household (More's own daughter once impressed Henry VIII with her Latin training so much he was at pains to find something at which he excelled that he could best her at).

At different points throughout the text, More (speaking through Hythloday) jabs in witty and insightful manner the habits of the day - that kings are often more concerned to fill their own coffers than increasing the general wealth of the nation; that courts are designed to be self-serving and self-perpetuating; that liberties are curtailed not for just and reasonable causes, but often for petty personal reasons.

Some of the ideas, however, are not as modern or enlightened as they might seem at first glance. Utopians' freedom of religion exists only in very narrow bounds of reason - they are all monotheists, and while they might identify this deity with the sun or moon or a good person who died long ago, they are not permitted to speak or attempt to convert others to this idea, without risking bondage or death. Not too Utopian after all...

-------

More was beatified by Leo XIII in 1886 and canonised by Pius XI in 1935 (it is significant to note that Anglican-Roman relations were at a strained point during these times, and the raising of an English saint who rejected the Anglican construct served at least minor political points, something More would have been able to appreciate, if not approve). The official feast day is July 9.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A utopia for all seasons 31 May 2009
By Ashtar Command - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England under Henry VIII until the king had him executed for high treason, published "Utopia" in 1516. The title means "The land of nowhere", but due to the book's fame and popularity, "Utopia" has become a common byword for something good but unrealistic. Something utopian, in short!

As all utopian novels, "Utopia" can be interpreted in all kinds of ways. Was it a serious description of how a perfect society should really look like? Was it a veiled criticism of the conditions in 16th century Britain and Europe? Or was it some kind of frivolous joke? After all, the people and places in the story have names such as "Raphael the talker of nonsense", "The City of Shadows" or "The River without Water". As already noticed, Utopia actually means "The land of nowhere".

My guess is that "Utopia" is a sharp and witty criticism of More's own time. The point of the work is not really to describe the best society or propose far reaching reforms, but rather to parody Renaissance Europe. This would explain why Utopia looks like a strange inversion of early modern Europe. It would also explain why More's book gives such a humorous impression. But yes, there are serious scholars who believe otherwise, suggesting that "Utopia" is not simply a criticism of 16th century conditions, but also a real utopia, a serious description of how the best society should actually be like. Indeed, this seems to be the most common interpretation. Even so, More cannot have believed that his ideal commonwealth was ever going to be implemented. He strikes a pessimistic note in the book. In real life, More was one of the highest officials in Britain, the very society he was condemning in the novel! Some people see More as a caged socialist far ahead of his time. In a sense, everyone agrees that "Utopia" really was utopian.

The setting of "Utopia" is a series of fictitious conversations between More and a certain Raphael Hythlodaeus, who claims to have visited the splendid island of Utopia, somewhere beyond the equator. Hythlodaeus begins on a Socratic note, by explaining why philosophers should stay away from politics. He continues by describing and sharply criticizing the social transformations in 16th century England, especially the enclosures who turned the peasants into a landless and destitute mass with no prospect for productive employment. Raphael also attacks the constant wars for sheer territorial aggrandizement waged by various European powers, the rampant corruption and greed of the rulers, and the ridiculous behaviour of their sycophantic "advisors" and servants.

The second part of "Utopia" describes the Utopian Commonwealth in some detail. As many have noticed, More's description of Utopia is very contradictory. Some of these contradictions can be explained by assuming that the author was criticizing and parodying his own society. For instance, all Utopians, despite social station, work in agriculture for a fixed period of time, indicating that they are not above manual labour. Yet, they consider hunting and waging war below their dignity, and these tasks are therefore assigned to slaves or mercenaries. The denizens of Utopia seem somewhat hypocritical! However, the point is presumably to lampoon Renaissance Europe where the nobility considered manual labour below their dignity, while pursuing honour and glory in hunting parties and wars... In Utopia, the "glorious" hunting is done by slaves, while the presumably honourable wars are fought by hired soldiers explicitly described as lowlives lacking any concept of honour!

In the same manner, More describes how the Utopians make gold chains for their slaves, to show how much they despise fake wealth. I don't think this is really a comment on slavery per se, neither pro nor con. Once again, it's probably a device used to expose More's own time, perhaps by suggesting that his contemporaries were slaves to gold? Note also the strangely Christian habits of the Utopians, and the fact that they don't seem to know about real Christianity. This is another ironic inversion of Early Modern Europe, where everyone knows about it, but nobody practices it! I was also struck by More's statement that since all Utopians wear the same kind of clothes, they don't need that much wool. Is this another attack on the enclosures and their sheep?

So why do many readers take "Utopia" as a serious (if utopian) blue print for a real society? The reason, I assume, is "really existing socialism". The island of Utopia is said to be egalitarian and democratic, yet there is a ruling elite and tight regimentation. This certainly sounds like a caricature of the Soviet Union and its propaganda. Other traits, however, are more akin to Nazi Germany. The Utopians have slaves and believe in eugenics: they let the scum of the earth fight their wars, the better to get rid of them. There are also traits that strike me as typically Western, such as the contrast between enlightened tolerance and endless wars...

Perhaps this is what makes "Utopia" such a great work. It's a work of many dimensions, a work that is just as relevant today as it was 500 years ago.

More's novel is a utopia for all seasons.

Five stars.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Pity We Hominids Aren't Sapiens Enough... 27 July 2009
By Giordano Bruno - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
... to appreciate life in Utopia, the well-ordered commonwealth described by traveler Rafael Hythloday and reported by Thomas More. Assuming, however, that Hythloday was not prevaricating in the manner of world travelers, and that More recorded his comments accurately, Utopia sounds like a very nice place to visit but one that wouldn't suit my own peculiar temperament for permanent residence. In short, I could fully approve the governance of America and the rest of the world under the constitution of Utopia, as long as I could find refuge elsewhere.

The chances are either that you, dear reader, have read Utopia ages ago in college, or that you never will. The latter would be a mistake. It's a fascinating little book, open to endless speculations as exemplified by the substantial previous reviews here in the amazoo. The lengthy introduction to this translation asks the standard anachronistic question: "why did More invent a flawed commonwealth?" This is a question many modern readers have echoed. The flaw they perceive in Utopian society is the restriction of personal freedom. No one is hungry or homeless there, no one is abashed or humiliated by poverty alongside opulence, no one lives in sloth. Crime and depravity are vanishingly rare. Equality prevails... well, except for slaves, that is. But a uniformed virtue is self-imposed, of a sort that makes most of us itchy.

The editors of this volume go halfway toward answering their own question, in trying to assess More's intentions through his 'memes' -- that is, in terms of the grid of current customs and general assumptions of 16th C Europe. They are correct in revealing the cut-to-pattern predictability of More's invented society, and they are also correct in noting that More's greatest originality is in his presentation of his ideal society in the guise of a travel account, a fiction. Not by any means the first such exercise in hypothetical social planning, More's Utopia has become the classic it is more because of its literary merits than for its cogency.

Most commentators have struggled with the disorderly imbalance between Book 1 and Book 2 of Utopia, the former being a lively dialogue and the latter a systematic exposition. The simplest explanation is that More didn't hold himself to the canons of academic writing of our enlightened era. He wrote the darn thing in longhand miniscule in his spare time, for heaven's sake! If the whole makes less sense than the parts, don't be surprised. That's a clue, I think, to how the best minds of the Renaissance worked.

The argument against capital punishment in Part 1, and the whole analysis of criminal behavior as a symptom of societal malaise, is astonishingly 'modern' and persuasive. The debate hasn't changed in half a millennium. More's fictive spokesman was right in 1515, and he's still right. Capital punishment is indefensible both morally and pragmatically.

And then Hythloday discourses, complete with marginal glosses, on "the Best State of a Commonwealth, Book 2". That commonwealth is not as unprecedented as modern readers might suppose. For one thing, there's a lot of ancient Sparta about it, and the humanists of More's epoch were well acquainted with Sparta by way of Plato, Plutarch, and other ancients. There's also a lot of monasticism, particularly of the vast and vastly successful Carthusian monastic communities of the Middle Ages, communities which managed economic production and 'diplomatic' affairs with their neighbors very much like the Utopians. The ethos of the Utopians - "that no kind of pleasure is forbidden, provided harm does not come of it" - is likewise not particularly original to More. It's in keeping with humanist efforts -- the writings of Erasmus, for instance -- to blend revived Classical philosophy with Christian orthodoxy. More's version is a 'house blend' of epicurean and stoic. It's not a bad blend; one could live by it today.

Hythloday's account of 'assisted suicide' in Utopia will certainly ring bells for modern readers. It's quite humane, as he recounts it. Another delightful custom of the Utopians is that "any man who campaigns for a public office is disqualified for all of them." Huzzah! More was equally a social prophet in proclaiming freedom of religion -- "for it is one of their oldest rules that no one should suffer for his religion" -- at a time when his living peers were given to burning heretics at the stake; alas for me, however, his tolerance didn't extend to "anyone who should sink so far below the dignity of human nature as to think that the soul perishes with the body." Atheists were ineligible for public office in Hythloday's Utopia.

On the troublesome side, the Utopians practice enslavement, rather as the ancient Romans did, both of war prisoners and convicted felons. They also depend on the semi-slavery of immigrants: "A third class of slaves consists of hard-working penniless drudges from other nations who voluntarily choose slavery in Utopia." Is it incumbent on me to point out the eerie similarity of this passage to affairs in our modern Land of the Free? An equally eerie parallel to hegemonic America is the preference of the Utopians for "covert action", for assassination of enemy leaders and for propagandistic subversion. The pertinent chapters of More's Book 2 could almost be a handbook for the CIA.

More wrote in Latin -- rather difficult and at times imperfect Latin. We latterday humanists are at the mercy of translators and editors therefore. This Cambridge translation, by Robert Adams, is the standard of clarity and accuracy, and the explanatory notes are excellent - enough to be helpful, not so many as to be an encumbrance.
4.0 out of 5 stars Every politician in the world needs to read this 31 Aug 2013
By David J. Hall - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was written in the 1400's. Its statements on how to drain a nation of all its resources by meddling in the affairs of other countries is timeless and a lesson that the U.S. in particular seems unable to grasp. There is also a section that describes that any country with a military force can only go so long before those being trained (and their leaders) have an overwhelming need to prove their military prowess in battle; even if it means looking for a war that it has no business getting involved in. Another lesson that the U.S. in particular seems unable to grasp and learn from.
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