The island of Utopia as recounted by ship captain Raphael Hythloday is to a great degree neither realistically obtainable nor desirable. Sir Thomas More, the author of Utopia, was a firsthand witness to the many changes made in England under the rule of King Henry VII during the sixteenth century. Horrified by all of the greed infecting all of Europe, More begins the literary construction of an ideal society where wealth is seen as a symbol of selfishness, not success. Sir Thomas More’s Utopia presents an argument of whether or not a radical commonwealth focused strictly upon common welfare is true, a Utopia.
By far the most predominant characteristic of the commonwealth of Utopia is the abolishment of private property. In the section titled “Of the Religions of the Utopians”, Hythloday provides More and Giles with some insight into the reasoning for the absence of private property and communalism in Utopia. Hythloday explains that “every man only seeks his own wealth; but there, where no man has any property, all men zealously pursue the good of the public” (More, 142). All of the citizens within the fifty-one states of Utopia share identical houses and wear the same handmade clothing that only mildly changes to distinguish married or unmarried men and women (More, 61). Lastly, the communal agricultural practices of the Utopians mentioned by Hythloday are vastly different than that of England during the time in which Sir Thomas More wrote the book. In Utopia, every person not on an academic pathway works the land with their fellow citizens on a daily basis for exactly six hours per day (More, 62). This method of farming ensures that everyone contributes to the overall success of the community and that no one is left hungry or in poverty. More might have chosen to emphasize the lack of private property and equality through uniformity to shed a light upon his own humanist beliefs.
As a counter to the ideas fabricated, one could simply argue that a society based on communalism, collective ownership, and authoritarian rule completely goes against human nature. Every human being born onto this earth has their own personality, interests, abilities, and lust for personal freedom. However, when there is inconsistency and inequality between individuals in a utopian society, disorder follows suit. This is what the leaders of More’s utopia must combat through uniformity in order to guarantee a peaceful life for all of its citizens. Yet, this complete control and lack of self-expression are not realistically obtainable. When imperfect people are forced to follow a regime that aims for complete perfection, the organization fails to succeed. The utopia would not survive, eventually turning into a repressive, dreadful dystopia.
Based on evidence from the text, it can be easily understood that More did not provide a feasible blueprint for an ideal society, nor did he intend to do so. It may be that the elements of More’s utopia are meant to come off as absurd and completely radical. Utopia is not realistic but it does provide some comparison and further insight into the real issues faced in the societies of the real world. An indication of the purpose behind More’s utopia lies within the word itself. According to the British Library, the word ‘utopia’ is derived “…from the Greek word ou-topos meaning 'no place' or 'nowhere'…[and] the almost identical Greek word eu-topos means a good place ('Utopia' 2006). It is as if more is proposing a question for the reader to think about, is a perfect society or a utopia possible in real life? Fast forward a couple of hundred years to the rise of socialist ideologies in Europe during the 1900s. When the characteristics of a utopian society are listed alongside those of a socialist and fascist regime, they are eerily similar to one another. The most well-known manifestation of utopian/socialist ideologies is the Nazi regime in Germany during the years 1933 to 1945 (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 2020). The result of this attempt to create a perfect society cost the lives of millions who either did not fit the Arian race or anyone who tried to fight against the regime. This is the war and brutality that was left out of the pages in Utopia. It was only mentioned that General Utopus had conquered the unruly island first named Abraxa. It was after the initial conquering by Utopus, that the island was referred to as Utopia, and Utopus “brought the rude and uncivilized inhabitants into such a good government… that they now far excel all the rest of mankind (More, 510).
In conclusion, the utopia illustrated in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia is not realistically feasible nor desirable for it is not really a utopia at all. Based on the elements and ideas written by More it can be concluded that it was not intended to be the “ideal” commonwealth. The radical ideas are presented to provide More’s perspective and insight into the real societal issues in 16th-century England. Despite the success and functionality of Utopia as accounted for by Hythloday, the subduing of an entire population of people under a utopian socialist regime would be nearly impossible, for there is too much variation in personal interest and how people ideally want to live.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Third Reich.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 9 Jan. 2020, www.britannica.com/place/Third-Reich.
- “Utopia.” The British Library - The British Library, Http://Www.bl.uk/Copyrightstatement.html, 3 Apr. 2006, www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/21cc/utopia/utopia.html.
- More, Thomas, et al. Thomas More: Utopia. Cambridge University Press, 2002.