Comments on More's "Utopia"

March 17, 2012
Utopia: Thomas More’s Alternative Society

Have you ever heard the word “Utopia” used in a conversation? In English the word is defined as an imagined place or state in which everything is perfect. Did you ever wonder from where the word came? The word first came into use by Sir Thomas More, when he wrote his book entitled Utopia, published in 1516. Utopia is essentially a description of a perfectly planned society, proposed by More. Whether or not More actually believed such a society could be achieved is debatable; however, More put forth many practical ideas regarding government, lifestyle, and economics that are worth reading.

Utopia is a well organized, crescent shaped, island nation, containing fifty-four cities evenly spread apart. A prince ultimately rules Utopia, but Philarchs and Archphilarchs are the local officials. A Philarch rules over thirty families, which are large units of men, women, and slaves. Slavery is used as a punishment for severe crimes. The walled cities are uniformly designed, in that the homes and streets are all relatively similar. Marketplaces make up the center of the cities. For jobs, each person practices a trade. Women typically sew or make cloth, while men are carpenters or blacksmiths. If one wishes to travel within Utopia, he does not have to pack any belongings because he will be hosted generously wherever he may go. As for the economy, Utopians produce an abundance of goods to use in case of a shortage. The Utopians do not prize gold and jewels like other nations. They put such materials to degrading uses, such as making toilets out of gold, in order to deemphasize their glam. Utopians believe pleasure is the source of happiness, but they value pleasures of the mind over that of the body. A specific religion in Utopia is not required, although most believe in the god Mithras. When introduced to Christianity, many also agreed with those teachings. Utopians are generally peaceful; therefore, they are against war. They fight only to defend themselves or a nation being oppressed. An important quality of Utopian life is that nobody owns anything; everything is shared, for there is no personal property. Utopia has many more unique ideas regarding society, but the ones above are prominent details of the lifestyle.

Utopia presents many useful proposals about governing a nation. Personally, I thought the idea of undermining the values of gold and jewels is a wonderful concept. People in our society kill, steal, and lie for such riches. The only reason gold and jewels are so popular is because we made them sought-after. In a world where such precious items are worthless, fewer conflicts would arise from greed. Another ingenious idea was that cosmetics were frowned upon. From a female perspective, makeup is a hassle to apply and remove. In a world where one’s natural self can be considered beautiful, there is no need for enhancing features by using lipstick or mascara. One last concept that I believe our society could benefit from applying is the occupational rules of Utopia. If everyone in our nation practiced a trade with a six-hour workday, then unemployment would decrease and the production of goods would increase.

Although Utopia contains some great ideas about running a society, there are some impractical thoughts put forth as well. Firstly, the fact that euthanasia is advocated could create ethical issues anywhere. Utopians were introduced to Christianity in the book, so obviously those observing that faith would question the morality of euthanasia. Another impractical concept is that Utopians believe the source of happiness is pleasure. In any society, such a statement could be taken the wrong way and become abused. If pleasure is the source of happiness, then people might become obsessed with a pleasure that may be detrimental to others, despite any law against harming others in the pursuit of pleasure. Humans are instinctively looking out for themselves and their own good, so naturally citizens would seek pleasure all too often. One last idea I believe is slightly irrational is that there is no private property in Utopia. If no citizen owns anything personally, the idea of communism arises. Although Utopians work for the good of the nation, in reality I don’t believe every person would actually work all day for no personal gain. The Utopians idea of no private property coincides with the communistic idea of publicly owned property. Communism in the past, Russia for example, did not work out. Thus I come to the conclusion that the removal of private property would not be practical in our nation.

After reading More’s Utopia, it causes one to reflect upon whether or not they would like to live in such a world. I personally would not want to live in Utopia. Why, one might ask, would you not want to live in a perfect world? I believe that “perfect” can never be achieved because there is always room for improvement. As humans, we are inclined to imperfection, regardless of any governmental plan. Also, living in Utopia would become monotonous due to the lack of variation in everyday life. In a world where everything is predominantly equal, the joy of achievement from personal gain cannot be experienced. Without the rewarding feeling of success, no one would be motivated to do better in their life or profession.

Utopia has many quality governmental propositions a society could apply, but converting to a Utopia would not only be close to unachievable, but also would strip from us the individuality our government permits. More makes several good points about ruling a nation throughout his book, and many of them could be beneficially applied today. Utopia is a worthwhile read to anyone in a position of national power.





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