Table of contents
- An Ideal Political Economy
- The Ideal Human Being
- Critical Evaluation
Raphael Hythloday’s description of Utopia depicts a society whose people’s behaviors and natures cannot be considered abnormal. Most, if not all the actions can be regarded as within the realms of physical possibility. Yet, the real world remains distinct from Utopia with the latter being regarded as a perfect form of the former. This, however, raises the question as to why such a disparity exists. Since Utopia is a fictional island and therefore affected by the imagination of human beings, the subjective interpretation regarding what can be constituted as an “ideal” society becomes varied. This paper sorts to present its own interpretation of Hythloday’s mythical society and provide its own opinion regarding whether such a society can be formed in reality or not.
The question of whether a Utopian society can be formed or not relies strongly on the actions of the people themselves. Development of altruistic, noble, and helpful characteristics in people helps society move closer to its Utopian goals whereas bad characteristics and behaviors take us more towards a dystopian future. This research proceeds with the assumption that most, if not all humans, possess certain characteristics that can be considered sinful, evil, or corrupt, and that such characteristics prevent human societies from naturally evolving into Utopian societies. Thus, the following thesis is presented for this research: A Utopian society of peak perfection can never be formed in real life because of the sins that affect humanity.
An Ideal Political Economy
The way the conversation between Hythloday, fictional Sir Thomas More, and his friend Peter Giles unfolds suggests an idealistic comparison between the real world and the society of Utopia. Hytholday himself insinuates that the Utopian society is superior to the European society in matters such as politics, culture, and religion (Utopia, Chapter 2). With regards to politics and the governing structure of Utopian cities, Hythloday points out its democratic monarchic form of government. The highest body of authority is that of a prince, who is elected for life by the people and can be removed if he is considered to be a tyrant against his own people. The existence of other magisterial positions such as the magistrates and Archpilarchs also highlights the power of representation of the common people of utopia. The existence of elections for these positions that occur frequently ensures that the prince and the magistrates do not consolidate power and take it away from the common people (Utopia, Chapter 4).
With regards to the cultural aspects, the Utopian society is portrayed as one that is far more merciful than the 16th century European societies. Their culture looked down upon the concept of mass enslavement and only reserved such positions for soldiers captured during wars or for people who are found guilty of serious violations. Their concept of marriage and sexuality was similar to the Christian ideologies that could be found in Europe as well. Sex and other carnal pleasures were strictly regulated, with out-of-marriage relations being prohibited (Utopia, Chapter 8). Even grants for divorces were given only after meeting very strict requirements. The Utopian society valued the importance of priests. Although suicide was considered to be something honorable to do when a person is suffering from enormous amounts of pain, if it was done without the presence of priests then they would not be given a proper funeral and simply thrown into a ditch (Utopia, Chapter 8). The Utopian society also represented a communist form of ownership where people were considered tenants and not landlords. People cyclically moved to farms to help with farming and cattle for specific periods of time.
The practice of religion in Utopia is portrayed to be tolerant, however, superiority has been declared as that of monotheistic ones who worship the all-powerful being known as “HIM”. This resembles the real-world reflection of Christianity where it might also practice tolerance for other religions but might see itself as the superior one. However, it was noted that although their monotheistic religion was similar to that of Christianity, they did not seem to believe in the opposing forces of the good and the evil as there was no mention of Hell.
The Ideal Human Being
The Utopian society has been described as a superior society to the European ones, where people use collective power in all aspects of their lives to govern their society. Some of the practices showcased by the utopians are possession of common land, ten-hour period of the day in which a human can exercise leisure, condemnation of people just lying idle and not doing anything productive even during leisure periods, the willingness to care for the sick and the injured and the willingness to perform charity work for the society. Such practices emphasize the caring and altruistic nature of human beings that have made society better. This might insinuate that they do not consider laziness, greed, and individualism as parts of an ideal society. They rarely force people to become slaves and usually force their society’s criminals to become slaves rather than being killed off. They do not care about the glory achieved in war and look down upon violence, yet they maintain an army that practices daily. This suggests the importance of pacifism but still having a strong defense. They even train their women who can protect themselves and their friends against aggressors or help in the war during times of need. They could not be considered as equal as women usually did not participate in wars, yet they are considered to be valuable members of society who are not just relegated to being mothers and wives.
Utopians also seem to be very conservative about acts of perverseness. As such, they widely condemn extramarital sex, cheating, fraud, extra-marital affairs, etc. However, the concept of marriage or sex does not seem to have a basis in any of their religion. The concept of religion seems to largely be focused on the after-life and death, where “HIM” only accepts those souls into heaven who are not sad about the fact that they are no longer living. The different ideologies formed based on religion are tolerated. People are allowed to convert people to their religion only through persuasion and not by any other force. This portrays the importance of diplomacy rather than force in the Utopian society.
Hythloday describes the Utopian society as those who preach tolerance, non-violence, and communal living. However, he also describes it’s the origins of the fictional island, which was not Utopia, or even an island once. The area was first conquered by Utopus, or Abraxas, who defeated all the native societies that were divided based on religion (Utopia, Chapter 2). He used ‘divide and conquer tactics by helping one society to defeat others. The natives chose to fight alone than combine their strength against his forces. Once conquered, he forced his own people to dig a 15 miles long channel that separated the area from the main continent. Such portrayals showcase that humans weren’t altruistic, communal, or religiously tolerant from the beginning. It was Utopus who enforced such concepts on the island and forced people to showcase empathy and respect certain degrees of equality. The attempt to cut off the island from the rest of the main continent seems to have been done in order to isolate the Utopian society. This insinuates that Utopus wanted to protect the society away from external invaders who simply wanted to conquer their cities. As such, it can be said that Utopia does not consider its humans to be naturally peaceful and benevolent. Whatever the practice was imparted as learning from the early founders of the cities, that had remained.
Utopia can be considered as the peak of perfection which is considered a standard to achieve for every society. However, it was not such a society from the beginning of time. It was made that way after Utopus conquered other non-perfect societies and transformed them into a society of peak perfection. However, there were certain facets of the society that may still not be considered as qualifying to be “ideal.” Despite having more respect in society, women are still subservient to men. Thus, the concept of gender equality, a key factor for what can be considered an ideal society, is missing. There still remains the presence of slaves even though they are treated better than their European counterparts during the 16th century. Married couples were bound to each other and could not get divorced unless for exceptional cases such as infidelity or extreme perverseness. A mutual separation was scorned. Sex was also regulated amongst the people where men and women could not have intimate relations without being married. Such restrictions, by modern standards, can be considered negative factors toward achieving peak perfection in society.
The concept of Utopia also does not consider the presence of sins. Utopians are described as charitable, caring, and communal. However, the reason for the absence of any forms of sins such as treachery, lust, greed, etc. is not mentioned. Such factors cannot be ignored in modern times. Utopians discouraged people from remaining idle. However, in real life, it would be difficult to stop some people from idling away. Similarly, people, especially those considered as the society’s elite, would never agree to go toil on farmlands for any length of time. Hythloday talks about punishments for people who commit sins or repeat their offenses. Such descriptions insinuate that the Utopian society itself is not completely absolved from the sins of humanity. However, it has not been mentioned why people do not commit such sins in larger numbers. Political manipulation to gain more power and carnal perverseness are some of the negative aspects of humanity that have been observed in every society and there is no reason to suggest why such aspects are not present in a Utopian society. Lack of their mention also results in absence of ways to depict how to regulate such actions.
There are certain arguments that could be made regarding how the concept of Utopia is analyzed. This paper has largely analyzed the Utopia as described by Hythloday. However, it is also important to understand the purpose of introducing the concept of Utopia. Sir Thomas More tried to show a society that was practicing what can be described as the most liberal and morally righteous actions of its time. As such, the concept of Utopia should be analyzed from the perspective of every new generation, where the mythical society would always represent the very best ethics and morals of such a generation. Thus, though More’s Utopia might not have had the concept of gender equality, the 21st century’s portrayal of Utopia should include them and many other prevalent aspects of social justice.
It can also be argued that people’s unwillingness to abstain from sinning should not mean that a Utopia cannot be achieved. It is theoretically possible for humanity to stop committing sins against other people and to start a society based on communal living and democratic representation, regardless of whether we want it or not. Such arguments are well justified but are still unrealistic. The 21st century’s standards for what can be deemed as an “idea” is far higher than they were in the 16th century. Thus, if we couldn’t reach More’s version of Utopia, it would be almost impossible to create the 21st century’s version of Utopia. Second, although it is theoretically possible, it would never turn real because humanity would likely never willingly stop committing sins. Thus, the impossibility of humanity to stop committing sins inhibits the possibility of them reaching the state of peak perfection. One of the final issues of the concept of Utopia is the end of progress. If humanity reaches a point where it has reached peak perfection, society would have nothing to progress or develop further on. It would have reached it's ultimate and there would be nothing more to develop or achieve. Such finality seems to be impractical as humanity has still a lot to learn and develop.
There lies the issue of subjectivity when it comes to considering what is peak perfection. More’s Utopia, with all its above-mentioned flaws, cannot be considered a society of peak perfection by modern standards. Unless there exists an efficient system of combating social evils and inequalities, all societies would be considered as having Augustine's model of perfection rather than a Utopian model of perfection (Video: Lecture 4).
As such, the thesis of this paper stands true for the near future. However, it still remains to be seen whether this thesis would hold true in the far future. With the ever-growing technological advancements and biological modifications, human society may reach a stage where they could manipulate the biology that would prevent them from doing bad things and finally live in a peaceful society. However, such a future might also entail a different version of Utopia which might not be reached by simply eliminating all the sins