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on 30 March 2007
Sir Thomas More's Utopia is a hugely ambiguous, evocative and thought provoking book. It relays a conversation between Thomas More and Raphael Hythloday, who tells the story of a kingdom he has recently spent a number of years living in, Utopia. Raphael gives the details of this nation, a natiion where everyone is equal, where they all wear the same clothes, there is no money, everyone works for the good of the nation, everyone gets the same education, and so on, in short a perfect communist society.

However, even though Raphael Hythloday says throughout that there is no better system of government in the world than the Utopian way, the book in no way makes it apparent the author feels this, the charachter Thomas More in the book is sceptical of some of the Utopian ideals, and we are left ourselves to decide, and even though it is a utopia filled by equality, the image of the nation is quite a creepy one, everyone looks the same, all of the cities are identical, people are only allowed to visit other cities with a special permit and even when they are in other cities they still have to work. Criminals are forced into slavery rather than imprisoned, but even the "free" citizens appear to be slaves to an extent.

A critique of English Tudor government, of the role of the monarchs privy council and the running of England is also offered in book which is quite interesting. But this book will make you think about government and the ideals of a perfect society, and how in the end, the utopian ideal is flawed.

Wonderful book, read it.
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on 4 September 2001
I would hate for people to get the wrong impression of what for me is a first rate book. In this particular edition one even gets a superb and in many ways indispensible introduction from Paul Turner.
The great thing about this book is the nuances and element of irony that runs throughout. At first glance much of More's writing does in fact appear naive and incredulous. A more careful reading and one is left with a feeling of ambiguity as to what More's own motives for writing this book were. The most interesting part is seeing how More's writing compares to his own life and how often the two stand diametricaly opposed to one another. A good example of this is the question of how religion should be practiced.
The beauty of this book, therefore, is that one is left not entirely sure whether More is writing the first utopian novel or whether he is in fact writing a dystopia something that it is generally thought only came about much later. Remember More used the word utopia which means 'no place' to mean just that, it is only our present-day use of the word that attaches the idea of perfection to it, not his.
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HALL OF FAMEon 6 July 2004
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.
-----------
Utopia
-----------
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.
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HALL OF FAMEon 13 July 2005
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.
-----------
Utopia
-----------
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.
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on 25 March 2002
Utopia, as described by Sir Thomas More, is a terrifying concept. There are many aspects to the society that are laudable such as the eradication of poverty, starvation and homelessness. However these aspects are balanced by some extremely undesirable ones. Examples being the proposition that the best use of the mentally ill in society is as a source of amusement. Another being the restrictions on the movements of Utopian citizens within their country. Also the Utopians use of mercenaries to fight their wars for them where they have such a dislike for the mercenaries they hire that they consider it good if they are killed as it is deemed to do humanity a favour.
You are left picking out the aspects you like and discarding those that you don't. I cannot help but wonder exactly how many things you can remove from the Utopian society before the whole things collapses.
This is a book that everyone should read.
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on 8 May 2004
While short, this book is rich with radical ideas: Absence of private property, absence of currency, deposition of the prince if suspected of tyranny, freedom of religious belief, female priests, euthanasia, divorce by mutual consent.
I am not sure I would like to live in Utopia. It is definitely a more tolerant, free and equal society model than early 16th century England, but the excesses of Communism (e.g. forced work on farms for townsfolk) are just around the corner.
I would recommend this book, if only for its historical interest. However, it is not an easy read - especially if you are not a native English speaker. The convoluted Latin sentence structure is difficult enough without having to deal with the obsolete vocabulary.
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on 10 October 2002
This is a very good book that can be read on many different levels, from a pure fable about a 'perfect' world, to a blueprint for society.
People continue to debate the extent to which More meant Utopia to be such a blueprint and whether the book helps to provide the basis for modern day communism etc. Whilst these are intersting ideas (particularly for those who enjoy philosophy)for me one of the most interesting things about the book is the way More uses the character of Raphael to provide an often thinly veiled attacks on medieval kings and society.
In parts the book attacks the traditional roles of medieval Kings - for example it laments that kings seem more interested in waging foreign wars and amassing wealth than in looking after their subjects etc. In places it goes as far as to suggest that Kings are at best foolish and at worst tyrannical leaders who hold back the creation of a 'better' society. You may not think that this is anything new, but these statements of course need to be viewed in light of England in the 1500s, when the King was sovereign and murder/banishment was common practice for dissent. So in that respect I think that the book is quite radical.
It is also interesting to see the apparent contradictions between More's views in the book and his actions/beliefs in real life. For example, as outlined above, the book criticises medieval kings, yet More was happy to work for the king and was liable to commit similar excesses as the monarch - for example we know that More had people committed to death. The book also explains that euthanasia and divorce are acceptable, yet how does this fit with More's own Christian beliefs?
Conclusion - all in all an enjoyable read and not a book soley for budding philosophers. Give it a try and be pleasantly surprised.
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on 19 May 2012
New to Kindle App on my laptop, I started off with free books, to see how it worked for me. Utopia written by Thomas Moore in 1516, is really a critque of people of his own time, a book that has influenced much of society. The tale is based around a imaginery character called Raphael Hythloday, whom Moore meets and who tells him about his travels to a distant place called Utopia, and it is this that Moore bases his book on.

The community of Utopia is based on the idea that everything is shared, both social and political. There is no private wealth, and everything is shared, so all men and woman capable of working, must contribute to the community, by doing their fair share of work. Those that will not work, yet are capable are punished. The idea is one of sharing and exchanging items to make sure everyone has what they need to live simply. There is no money within Utopia.
There is an equality of men and woman and the opportunity to educate themselves, People are allowed to worship any religion, all of them are equal in Utopia. Utopia is a democratic and equal society, where everyone can grow, both mentally and as a community, working together.
In many ways the book Utopia opened peoples eyes to new ideas and ways of working together.

This book deserves to be read, I defiantly reccomend it....
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on 29 June 2016
The first thing you have to keep in mind is that this is a translation from Latin and the translation is necessarily a betrayal of the original text. This is quite obvious with the simple words “slave,” that has the standard meaning of human being owned by someone else who exploits the former as a beast of burden or labor, and “slavery,” that has two distinct meanings. As the Online Etymology Dictionary says for “slavery”: “1550s, "severe toil, hard work, drudgery;" from slave (v.) + -ery; meaning "state of servitude" is from 1570s; meaning "keeping or holding of slaves" is from 1728;” ([...], accessed June 28, 2016) the word “slavery” did not exist with the modern meaning in English before the 1550s. Thomas More book was published in 1516 and the book uses in Henry Morley’s translation the word “slavery” with two meanings. The most frequent one has little to do with the modern meaning, and the second but by far less frequent one carries the modern meaning. The modern meaning is “the state of dependence of a slave.” The word that does not carry the modern meaning is often in the plural which indicates that difference in meaning.

What is the most frequent meaning of this “slavery,” especially when you find words like “inclislaverys” or “divislavery (so much observed among other slaverys)” or “imagislavery”?

The first instance of this word with its special meaning is in the plural and is also the first instance of the word in the text.

“’And on his own too,’ replied he [Peter Giles, Thomas More’s friend when introducing the man from Utopia, Raphael Hythloday], ‘if you knew the man, for there is none alive that can give so copious an account of unknown slaverys and countries as he can do, which I know you very much desire.’”

The last instance of this word is going the same way in the singular this time but with an indefinite article showing this word is countable and not abstract. It cannot be “slavery” in the modern meaning that is of course always abstract and used with no article.

“. . . many things occurred to me, both concerning the manners and laws of that people, that seemed very absurd, as well in their way of making war, as in their notions of religion and divine matters--together with several other particulars, but chiefly what seemed the foundation of all the rest, their living in common, without the use of money, by which all nobility, magnificence, splendor, and majesty, which, according to the common opinion, are the true ornaments of a slavery, would be quite taken away. . .”

This word “slavery” here can only mean “society” and in the context of this excerpt the society that is meant is that of the dominant noble class of England or Europe at the beginning of the 16th century. It carries though another element. The suffix –ery is a common suffix in the Middle Ages coming from French and means only the place where someone works, some activity is performed or something is produced, (information from [...], except when otherwise indicated) like in “butchery” from Middle English (denoting a slaughterhouse or meat market) and from Old French boucherie, from bouchier ‘butcher’; or “brewery” that is in fact a late reconstruction probably on the model of the Dutch word “brouwerij” replacing the original Middle English word, perhaps from circa 1200 as a surname element, from brew (verb) + -ery, Old English word “breawern” in this sense (from aern "house"), and “brewhouse,” the more common word up to the 18th century, (...); or “cutlery” that means 1. cutting instruments collectively, especially knives for cutting food; 2. utensils, as knives, forks, and spoons, used at the table for serving and eating food; 3. the trade or business of a cutler; from 1300-50 Middle English cutellerie from Middle French coutelerie.

That leads us to understanding “inclislavery” as the social situation of someone who is practicing the profession he is “naturally inclined” to practice, “divislavery” as the status of someone who is practicing a divine activity in this society (limited in number and highly selected), and “imagislavery” as some society imagined by some member of this Utopia island. These three compounds clearly indicate that slavery has nothing to do with the modern meaning.

But then what is the meaning of the root of this “slavery”? The reference is obviously not “slave” as a human being owned by another and exploited as a simple beast of burden or labor. We are in fact tricked here by the translation. What was the Latin word used by Thomas More and what was the meaning of this Latin word? But the meaning of this word in Thomas More’s text is quite clear as I have explained.

Once this first element is cleared we can move to the main ideas of the text. I do not intend a full study, just a few remarks.

This Utopian society is highly hierarchical with three strata in each town, knowing that this society is urban, meaning the population is administratively gathered in cities, and yet agricultural since the main activity is agriculture: all city residents have to go to the agricultural fields for various periods of time that can be several years or may only be for the harvesting season, because agriculture is seen as the main training and educating activity. This society is founded on work that has to occupy six hours a day, and cover every single day. The three hierarchical levels are as follows:

"Thirty families choose every year a magistrate, who was anciently called the Syphogrant, but is now called the Philarch; and over every ten Syphogrants, with the families subject to them, there is another magistrate, who was anciently called the Tranibore, but of late the Archphilarch. All the Syphogrants, who are in number two hundred, choose the Prince out of a list of four who are named by the people of the four divisions of the city; but they take an oath, before they proceed to an election, that they will choose him whom they think most fit for the office: they give him their voices secretly, so that it is not known for whom every one gives his suffrage. The Prince is for life, unless he is removed upon suspicion of some design to enslave the people. The Tranibors are new chosen every year, but yet they are, for the most part, continued; all their other magistrates are only annual.”

This hierarchy is based on free secret ballots for the Prince but also for the lower echelons.

The very first element is the fact that everyone is supposed to work. There is no normal exemption, even those who are by law exempted, only temporarily indeed since they are the annually elected officers (who can be reelected) who go back to work at the end of their terms and even work during their terms outside the performing of their duties. This society of compulsory productive work is cut in daily time slices of which one is work for six hours (twice three hours a day, three in the morning before dinner and three in the afternoon after dinner), sleep for eight hours (from 8 pm to 4 am) and then various activities that have to be productive, particularly productive of knowledge by studying, following their inclinations (inclislaveries).

“The chief, and almost the only, business of the Syphogrants is to take care that no man may live idle, but that every one may follow his trade diligently; yet they do not wear themselves out with perpetual toil from morning to night, as if they were beasts of burden, which as it is indeed a heavy slavery, so it is everywhere the common course of life amongst all mechanics except the Utopians: but they, dividing the day and night into twenty-four hours, appoint six of these for work, three of which are before dinner and three after; they then sup, and at eight o'clock, counting from noon, go to bed and sleep eight hours: the rest of their time, besides that taken up in work, eating, and sleeping, is left to every man's discretion; yet they are not to abuse that interval to luxury and idleness, but must employ it in some proper exercise, according to their various inclislaverys, which is, for the most part, reading. […] Even the Syphogrants, though excused by the law, yet do not excuse themselves, but work, that by their examples they may excite the industry of the rest of the people; the like exemption is allowed to those who, being recommended to the people by the priests, are, by the secret suffrages of the Syphogrants, privileged from labor, that they may apply themselves wholly to study; and if any of these fall short of those hopes that they seemed at first to give, they are obliged to return to work; and sometimes a mechanic that so employs his leisure hours as to make a considerable advancement in learning is eased from being a tradesman and ranked among their learned men. Out of these they choose their ambassadors, their priests, their Tranibors, and the Prince himself, anciently called their Barzenes, but is called of late their Ademus.”

Thomas More comes to the conclusion that this compulsory work organization with only six hours of productive work is not in any danger of running out of labor since everyone is supposed to perform these six hours. Note there is no mention of the young and their education. Do they work too? The answer is probably in the situation at the end of the 15th century. Children work like any other members of society as soon as they can stand on their feet and use their hands (around five or six). If we stick to this period to interpret the text we have here the pure Lutheran description of society in which work is the supreme value and working the supreme activity. All ranting or raving about what will come later (socialism or communism) is absurd and anachronistic since it projects onto an old text concepts that only developed several centuries later, not to mention the Soviet Revolution that could have been inspired by Thomas More’s Utopia, why not, but that has no meaningful value on the analysis of Thomas More’s text.

"And thus from the great numbers among them that are neither suffered to be idle nor to be employed in any fruitless labor, you may easily make the estimate how much may be done in those few hours in which they are obliged to labor.”

These work ethics and workaholic social vision is, as I have said, vastly connected to the Lutheran and Calvinist, Protestant in one word, approach of life, by the way dictated at the time by the Black Death that reduced the population of Europe by at least 50%, not to speak of constant wars, the most famous of which being the Hundred Years’ War. This conception is perfectly represented in the economical approach of clothing that has to be lasting, functional, simple, with no wasted luxury or sophistication (absolutely no frills) even at the level of colors that are reduced to “natural” colors: that of wool or linen.

“As to their clothes, observe how little work is spent in them; while they are at labor they are clothed with leather and skins, cut carelessly about them, which will last seven years, and when they appear in public they put on an upper garment which hides the other; and these are all of one color, and that is the natural color of the wool. As they need less woolen cloth than is used anywhere else, so that which they make use of is much less costly; they use linen cloth more, but that is prepared with less labor, and they value cloth only by the whiteness of the linen or the cleanness of the wool, without much regard to the fineness of the thread.”

In other words, without speaking of a direct reference to Lutheran or Calvinist Protestantism, we have here the economical, economy-oriented and hyper-productive conception of a social value-adding economy and political system. Is it totalitarian? Once again in 1516 this term is anachronistic. In fact this vision is dictated by the necessity to repair the damage of the past century and a half and to lift up Europe, in fact Christianity, from the dire straits in which history and the Black Death had set it. We seem to forget that Christianity at that time was in a situation that could compete in poverty and misery with some of the poorest countries today in AIDS devastated Africa, without any help from outside, be it from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or the United Nations, that did not exist – but do I have to mention that – at the time.

The last element I want to insist on is the fact that this society considers slavery, this time the situation in which a human being is deprived of absolutely all human or civil rights, is basic in its functioning. For any crime, petty or not, including “vagabonds,” slavery is preferred to any other punishment, like the death penalty, which is a waste of human labor. War prisoners are also reduced to being slaves. Without entering the problem of war, vastly discussed in this pamphlet, let’s say that war is always envisaged as an extreme but necessary method to solve problems with neighbors, including with mercenaries (the Zapolets). The objective of war is not to conquer slaves, but it is always ending in engulfing all prisoners into slavery, into being slaves, meaning human beings – but are they still human? – who have no tights whatsoever, not even to speak. The only limit I found about this constant presence of slaves is that each family can only have two slaves. But since a family is forty people (“no country family has fewer than forty men and women in it, besides two slaves”), slaves represent something like 5 per cent of this society, at least at the level of the families. It is not specified if there are slaves owned by society as a whole or any organization in that society (note there is no mention of such organization that would not be based on one family but be transversal).

This element is essential because in this vision of an ideal society, slavery is stated as a normal state limited only in the fact the children of slaves are not born slaves. Note this idea implies slaves are married, like anyone else: marriage at the age of 18 for women and 22 for men is universal, meaning everyone has to be married and the objective is procreation. This is an obvious sign of the state in which Europe is after 1450. But this approach of slavery as a normal fate for a human being because of his “crimes” or because he is a “war prisoner” will explain later that slavery will be seen as a normal state of affairs in America, in Virginia first and then the thirteen colonies and then all American territories. This will all the more be true since the “pioneer” John Smith was a slave of the Ottoman Empire before escaping and sailing to what was to become Virginia in 1607. Thomas More is thus demonstrating that the concept of slavery was deeply rooted in the English conception of human society as well as humanity if not the human species. Note here that has nothing to do with feudalism that stated all human beings are potential Christians and that rejected slavery when instating the social category of serf. A serf was not a slave. He was a Christian and a subject of the King and other Lords. He had the right to benefit from all religious sacraments and education. He was protected by justice and could not be sentenced to anything without a trial, even if that trial was often based on torturing seen as a divine way to find the truth which could only be divine in nature.

This last word brings up my last remark. Thomas More pretends this Utopian conception of society is natural. He states the existence of a Supreme Being in the very Catholic perspective of his time, but this Supreme Being created Nature and man is supposed to follow Nature. This implies this society is by essence natural since it follows the divine conception this God represents. The strange or surprising element is that Thomas More states tolerance among all religions of any kind has to be the rule with no exception, and slavery for those who break this rule. This is of course an echo of the Reformation and could probably be seen as the final stage of the medieval debates against heresies and the practice and existence of the Inquisition. It could also be seen as maybe a presage of what was to happen in England with Henry VIII and his son and daughters leading to the Stuarts and the Puritan revolution.

I said it could be seen because this idea is anachronistic in a way. How could Thomas More envisage what was to happen over the next century? It is true the reformation in Germany and on the European continent was enough to make Thomas More dream of a Britain, or England, that could be saved from these tribulations by the practice of tolerance in their island, since Britain, like Utopia, is an island. Thomas More is a Brexit supporter exactly five century, year for year, before the famous referendum. And in his text the island was devised as such but the digging of a channel cutting it from the continent, the Channel in a way.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
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on 2 November 2012
I read this for a class and it was a very good read. If you make it to the second half it gets quite fascinating - although I decided I'd rather not live in "Utopia". (The first half is pretty dull and half the time I couldn't tell who was speaking.)
This version of the text is nice and clean, not a scholarly edition, I suppose, because of its lack of footnotes. I regretted the lack of footnotes eventually, but whilst reading it, their absence made the page less distracting.
It's a thin, light copy - good to carry around!
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