by Anniel 11/10/14
by Sir Thomas More; Published in Latin in 1516 A.D. • I wanted so much to understand and do a thorough Book Review of Utopia, as written by Sir Thomas More, that Man For All Seasons. I had only read the book years ago in a condensed version, and I had wondered since if More was writing a parody or believed what he wrote. The name Utopia is said to be a pun on a Greek word meaning “No place.”
Thomas More was born in London in February, 1478, rose to become Chief Counselor and Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII. He was beheaded at Tower Hill on 6 July, 1535, after refusing to accept Henry’s rejection of papal authority and the Catholic Church, and his alleged bigamist marriage to Anne Boleyn. More was charged with treason, and, probably on perjured testimony, found guilty and beheaded. To Catholics Thomas More is a Saint. After More’s execution, King Henry went on merrily lopping off heads, while becoming Head of the break-away Anglican Church.
I pulled up the best full-length and unexpurgated English translation of Utopia, which was originally written in Latin. I tried, oh how I tried, to read every word, but there is only so much room in life for self-flagellation, and I reached the limits of my endurance after gritting my teeth and soldiering on for page after dreary page for more days than I care to count.
I try to make allowances for different styles of writing in different eras, but when sentences are tendentious and repetitive for hundreds of words in length, and single paragraphs are up to 10 or 12 pages long and you haven’t a break in the printing, or even a clue anymore as to who is speaking, or about what, your eyes tend to glaze over and you get even more lost. Going back and rereading can be agony.
To make matters even worse, when I finally read something that made sense, it usually came from one of the opponents the protagonist, Hythloday, sometimes called Raphael after the Archangel, is arguing with.
I finally got to the section where everyone agrees to let Hythloday speak of the joys of Utopia’s founding, gradual formation, and its rules and regulations without being interrupted. Page after page extolling the virtues of no private property; everyone wearing the same clothing; all living quarters the same, which anyone is free to enter at any time and take what they need; everyone is provided with everything, cradle to grave; communal education, eating and rearing of children; gadzooks, talk about sheeples, these people would take the cake.
I again banged my head on the table when Hythloday said that to take a walk into the woods or to travel to another town, permission was needed. And anyone found wandering about without signed permission would first be chastised and made to agree not to do it again. If found wandering a second time they would have a permanent identification notch cut into their ear and then have to live the life of a slave. Which might have been OK, because even slaves in Utopia seemed to have a better life than anywhere else, according to Hythloday.
I believe it was the Shaker Religious group in the 19th Century who tried to live such a strict communal life on the American frontier. No locks on the doors allowed, simple furniture (a style people still love today), vegetarianism, no private investment, etc., but they also tried to ban sex, even for married couples. Good luck with that. In the end people left because it was simply an unworkable lifestyle, and there wasn’t much of an up-and-coming generation. Not everyone worked as hard as his neighbors, so that caused problems, too. Because there was no private property of any sort, a man might hang his cloak up one evening and wake to find it gone in the morning because another man grew cold during the night. Loss of private property rights works only in theory.
Do I believe that Thomas More believed what he wrote? Yes, I’m sure he did, even though at the end of the book he writes that there were many things in Hythloday’s account he disagreed with. Religiously, though, Utopia could be seen as More’s yearning for lost Eden.
Unfortunately, Hythloday, in his account of life in Utopia, presented many truths about the vile state of affairs in Europe at that time, but the causes he attributed the problems to are 180 degrees out of whack. The real problems came about because the King owned absolutely everything. A man could be hanged, drawn and quartered for poaching the King’s deer, or not paying taxes on the King’s wheat. Hythloday’s utopian solution is to just do away with private ownership. If a man or woman is jealous of another’s jewelry or fine possessions, just don’t allow gold, silver, pearls or beautiful clothing to be used. Problems solved. And of course all the people living on the island want only the very best for their fellow citizens because their life style makes them all intelligent, self-sacrificing, and wonderful.
Being an imperfect human being, I like my cloak and pearls to be there when I need, or simply want, them, thank you.
Perhaps the best way to cure Utopianism is to make the book required reading. I am so cured. • (2617 views)