My rating: 4/5
Utopia (Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia) is a work of fiction and political philosophy by Thomas More (1478–1535) published in 1516 in Latin. The book is a frame narrative primarily depicting a fictional island society and its religious, social and political customs.
This book has been on my TBR ever since I saw Ever After with Drew Barrymore. I knew it was something specials and contributed a different way of thinking in our society. I had thoughts of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village because of an attempt to create a place that solves modern day issues of politics, religion, economy, and family structure. The book is broken into two sections – the first being an informal conversation between More and a man who has traveled to the island of Utopia. The second being the account of this gentlemen in a long monologue. This makes me ponder what this could look like in the U.S. (long shot!). I could see how it could be negatively construed however, the elements listed below could potentially sway. In this day and age there is quite a lot of controversy with these topics and I have written my thoughts in the affirmative because of my nature – this by no means disallows me from understanding other perspectives!
“You allow these people to be brought up in the worst possible way and systematically corrupted from their earliest years. Finally, when they grow up and commit the crimes that they were obviously destined to commit, ever since they were children, you start punishing them. In other words, you create thieves, and then punish them for stealing!” (More 27). Speaking to socio-economic status, this is a bold statement in order to alleviate (or lessen significantly) crime as being a lower class consistency, based on the stereotypes created.
“And whatever he asks for, he’s allowed to take away without any sort of payment, either in money or in kind. After all, why shouldn’t he? There’s more than enough to go around, so there’s no risk of his asking for more than he needs – for why should anyone want to start hoarding, when he knows he’ll never have to go short of anything?” (More 61). This brings up the difference between consumerism and minimalism in my mind! Consuming just because we can can be a dangerous and frivolous act, based on these claims. By only taking what we need, there is more than enough for everyone to maintain order and health. In that case, why have money at all? “For obviously the end of money means the end of all these types of criminal behavior which daily punishments are powerless to check” (More 111). This is a bold assumption for sure!
“The main purpose of their whole economy is to give each person as much time free from physical drudgery as the needs of the community will allow, so that he can cultivate his mind which they regard as the secret of a happy life” (More 58). For this, having a 6-hour or shorter work day allows for a good night’s rest and free time to improve one’s mind. With a lot of focus on mental health and wellbeing, this concept could result in unique conversations – “this is achieved by limiting the supply of consumer goods to the barest essentials” (More xvii)
Finally, I feel strongly about what they say about harm to others, particularly as it comes to war. Utopians “think no one should be regarded as an enemy who haven’t done you any harm. Human nature constitutes a treaty in itself, and human beings are far more effectively united by kindness than by contracts, by feelings than by words” (More 90). However, they are not opposed to war as they’ve exemplified what is worth fighting over as being “perfectly justifiable, when one country denies another its natural right to derive nourishment from any soil which the original owners are not using themselves, but are merely holding on to as a worthless piece of property” (More 60). This again goes back to only taking what you need. I can see how this could backfire because of not thinking of the future and those “just in case” situations.
Overall, this novel was what I hoped it would be and more. It is an example of an ideal society but I would think about other criticisms as well as other societies that lean into some type of Utopian model.
- Too many to add all of them (take a peak at my Moleskine book journal – 2 pages of notes/quotes!)