Three Early Modern Utopias: Thomas More: Utopia / Francis Bacon: New Atlantis / Henry Neville: The Isle of Pines: Sir Thomas More's "Utopia", Francis ... "Isle of Pines" (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 4 Nov 1999
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People should be aware, though, that all of these texts are available for free on the internet and the introduction, insightful though it is, is relatively insubstantial - for those who don't mind reading off a computer screen, Project Gutenberg might be a better first port of call. Moreover, for those studying "Utopia" alone, there exists a more up-to-date translation from the Latin in the "Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought" series (ed. Logan) with a more thorough introduction, and the introduction of the Penguin edition is comprehensive further still (though the translation, by Paul Turner, is more dated).
This said, I'd recommend this edition both for the casual reader who wants easy access to all three texts and doesn't want to get them off the internet, and the more serious reader who's looking for up-to-date editorial insights: the introduction, despite its brevity, certainly has lots of this.
The largest portion of the book, and also by far the most well-known, is More's `Utopia', the story which birthed the genre of its namesake. For its prominent role in inspiring future generations of "Utopists", and providing a forerunner to socialism, `Utopia' is an enormously important work of philosophical literature. The ultimate irony of More's `Utopia' is, however, that it was probably satire. Although we will never know what More's intention behind `Utopia' actually was, Susan Bruce's excellent introduction presents a convincing argument that the liberal and communistic "ideal" society that More fabricated would have been completely at odds with his firm Catholic convictions. Furthermore, it seems that More dropped hints throughout his work, that only the most discerning of readers would have picked up on, that he wasn't being entirely serious. But, when you read More's description of the fictional island of Utopia in the second section of the novel, after his scathing attack on the medieval English society of which he was a part of in the first section, you can't help but feel that he had to have believed in at least some of the ideals he was writing about. However, when reading `Utopia' there is actually a distinct sense of "dystopia" permeating throughout, some of which you may need to read the introduction to pick up on, but other instances of which are very obvious (to a modern readership, at least).Read more ›
The following two works, New Atlantis and Isle of pines, are likely to be peripheral to most readers, except perhaps for the Bacon and Neville scholar. However, these both present writings which are very similar to More's and which are generally enriching. They ought not to be looked over, despite representing the smaller portion of the work, as they are equally well-written and more concise than More's account. For this reason, the whole product is an enjoyable example of descriptive prose and the social philosophy which underlies it is thought-provoking indeed.
There is much about Utopia which we would today consider progressive. Utopian society is democratic, with elected rulers and officials; it is also what we would call socialist, with no private property and all possessions communally owned. (The word "socialist" did not exist in More's day, but he clearly anticipated the concept). The inhabitants live simple lives and disdain luxury. Utopia is a welfare state with free education and healthcare. Euthanasia and divorce are permitted. Gambling is discouraged, as is hunting (on animal welfare grounds). All religions are tolerated; there is no single state religion. Some features of Utopian life would, from a twenty-first century perspective, seem less attractive, such as the penal system which permits slavery as a punishment for various offences including adultery. It should be borne in mind, however, that the system More describes here is less harsh than the one which prevailed in sixteenth-century England, where the death penalty could be imposed for relatively trivial offences against property.Read more ›