As we know from previous discussion, Sir Thomas More was an English lawyer, philosopher and humanist who was counselor to Henry the VIII. In 1516, he wrote and published Utopia. This classic tells the tale of the political system of an imaginary and ideal island nation. We have previously discussed More, Book 1 of Utopia and his opposition to the Protestant Reformation. In this post we will discuss Book 2 of this classic work.
Book 2 provides a discourse on Utopia.
Linking Raphael’s travels with the real life voyages of Amerigo Vespucci, Utopia is placed in the New World. In fact, he links his tale to the factual event that Vespucci had to leave 24 men behind for six months at Cabo Frio, Brazil. This is set out in the account made in Four Voyages (1507). This becomes transformed into the five years spent by Raphael in his travels ton and on Utopia. There he spends his time observing and writing about the customs and traditions of this land.
Utopia is a land separated from the mainland by a channel dug by its founder King Utopos. The island contains 54 cities. The capital city, Amaurot, is directly centered in the middle of the isle. Each city is uniformly structured in familial stratification based on 6000 household families and overseen by an elected prince. These numbers are very carefully regulated and redistributed to keep it as even as possible, even to the point of establishing colonies on the mainland.
Private property has been abolished and goods are kept in common stored in warehouses and given to the people as needed. Agriculture is the primary occupation with each person taught in and required to live in the country, farming for two years at a time with women working alongside the men in the same sorts of labor. Along with farming, at least one other essential trade is required to be learned. Interestingly, More allows the scholars to rise to the top as the ruling class. But all citizens are encouraged to learn in their spare time.
Quirky characteristics of this way of life is that slavery is allowed and that criminals are kept in gold which is otherwise devalued and used for things like chamber pots. Wealth is not important and used only for buying commodities from other lands and bribing foreign nations to fight each other. Oh and jewels are only worn by children until they mature and give up such trinkets.
To find out more about More’s conceptions of how a utopian society might operate best, please know that Book 2 of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia may be read here:
In the alternative, this work may be listened to in an audiobook format here: