#6 of 52: Utopia by Sir Thomas More

utopia

I’d like to state a disclaimer before we get started with Utopia by Sir Thomas More. Yes, my nails are purple. No, this was not a conscious decision made under optimal mental circumstances. I painted my nails on a whim on Monday morning around 3:45am since I was unable to sleep; which happens to me quite often. My un-manicured nails looked awful. I was restless. The only nail polish bottle under the bathroom sink that wasn’t dried out or clumpy was this magnificent shade of Barney the Dinosaur purple. Thus I made the brilliant decision to paint my un-pampered nail beds with this fine shade of eggplant. Ugh, I know. Not the best decision.

Don’t judge me! I’m already doing it enough for the two of us! LOL

On a positive note, the nail polish is vegan. It’s made by Julep which only makes vegan products. I love their stuff. You should check it out if you’re interested in not killing animals in the name of vanity. 😉

Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. I FINALLY picked a great book to read! Can I get an AMEN?!

This book……..is SO good! I had originally read it back in the 90’s when I was in my first year of college. I remembered having really enjoyed it back then but I couldn’t remember much about the book other than the fact that it was a well written political satire that eventually got the author sentenced to death. The book, like Sir Thomas More, is unmistakably anti-establishment. When Sir Thomas More refused to recognize King Henry VIII of England as the head of the church while serving as his key counselor, he was ordered to be executed by beheading. This well known fact of history is what drew me to purchase the book in the first place. I had forgotten just how good his writing really is until I started reading the book again last week. Furthermore, I had forgotten just how defamatory the material was or at the very least, could be perceived.

Utopia which means ‘no place’ is the story about a fictional island. The narrator’s name is Hythlodaeus which means ‘dispenser of nonsense’. Utopia describes an “ideal” but imaginary society which is equal parts communist and faith-based. In Utopia, Sir Thomas More indirectly criticizes Henry VII, Henry VII, the monarchy in general including nobility and the church; sometimes he judges them very directly and rather harshly. The book starts off with an exchange of letters between Sir Thomas More and Mr. Peter Gilles. In the letter exchange the men are discussing their recent encounter and conversation with Raphael (which I’m convinced is really Sir Thomas More’s alter ego) about his years in Utopia. The book is divided into two books. In the first book, the men are having a casual conversation about life in sixteen century England and the hardships that they face as a society reigned by an unsuitable monarch. In the second book, More describes his ideal society. The first part of the book will make you chortle here and there; especially, just as soon as you notice how much liberty the author takes in self-appraisal and self-indulgence.

In Utopia, Sir Thomas More’s fictitious world, no one owns land. In fact, More writes very harshly about his aversion to property ownership. “I feel much more sympathy with Plato, and much less surprise at his refusal to legislate for a city that rejected egalitarian principles. It was evidently quite obvious to a powerful intellect like his that the one essential condition for a healthy society was equal distribution of goods – which I suspect is impossible under capitalism. For, when everyone’s entitled to get as much for himself as he can, all available property, however much there is of it, is bound to fall into the hands of a small minority, which means that everyone else is poor. And wealth will tend to vary in inverse proportion to merit. The rich will be greedy, unscrupulous, and totally useless characters, while the poor will be simple, unassuming people whose daily work is far more profitable to the community than it is to them. In other words, I’m quite convinced that you’ll never get a fair distribution of goods, or a satisfactory organization of human life, until you abolish private property altogether. So long as it exists, the vast majority of the human race, and the vastly superior part of it, will inevitably go on labouring under a burden of poverty, hardship, and worry. I don’t say that the burden can’t be reduced, but you’ll never take it right off their shoulders. You might, of course, set a statutory limit to the amount of money or land that any one person is allowed to possess. You might, by suitable legislation, maintain a balance of power between the King and his subjects. You might make it illegal to buy, or even to apply for a public appointment, and unnecessary for a state official to spend any money of his own – otherwise he’s liable to recoup his losses by fraud or extortion, and wealth, rather than wisdom, becomes the essential qualification for posts. Laws of that type would certainly relieve the symptoms, just as a chronic invalid gets some benefit from constant medical attention. But there’s no hope for a cure, so long as private property continues. If you try to treat an outbreak in one part of the body politic, you merely exacerbate the symptoms elsewhere. What’s medicine for some people is poison for others – because you can never pay Paul without robbing Peter.” Hmm…this sounds so familiar.

utopia
My Charlotte, always at my side.

Some of the concepts of this Utopian society are really quite good, but so many aren’t. One of the things that I struggled with the most was that, for such a supposedly free-spirited, free-thinking and uncomplicated society, Utopia is riddled with incredibly detailed laws for just about everything you can think of even about the most trivial of matters. Furthermore, though Sir Thomas More describes Utopia as a country that does not agree nor favors any reason for going to war, he dedicates an inordinate amount of time speaking of their military strategies. I’m referring to pages upon pages of content. I was beginning to lose interest. Another underlying nuisance was all of the sexist laws that this free-thinking society seemed to have no qualms with whatsoever. “The prospect wife, no matter whether she’s a spinster, or a widow, is exhibited stark naked to the prospective bridegroom…But when you’re choosing a wife, an article that for better or worse has got to last you a lifetime, you’re unbelievably careless. You don’t even bother to take it out of its wrappings. You judge the whole woman from a few square inches of face, which is all you can see of her, and then proceed to marry her – at the risk of finding her most disagreeable, when you see what she’s really like.” The same law applies to Utopian men but of course, only one solitary and pithy sentence is dedicated to that description. There are many other sexist Utopian laws, too many to get into.

More’s writing is exquisite! His political views and observations on his contemporary sixteenth century English society are on point. I was enthralled by his ability to effortlessly and appropriately explain squarely so many of the problems of his era. He felt that a “Utopia” was the best answer, but as he himself explained it best at the end of the book, “The laws and customs of that country seemed to me in many cases perfectly ridiculous. Quite apart from such things as their military tactics, religions, and forms of worship, there was a grand absurdity on which their whole society was based, communism minus money.” I did not enjoy the garrulous written detail of their military strategies, and disagreed with many of their beliefs and religions. I also disagreed with the fact that it was such a suffocating and controlling society, which ironically was what Sir Thomas More described as an ideal society and the purpose of the entire second half of the book. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the book in which he unabashedly confronted the establishment, corrupt and lazy clergymen and an uncivilized and apathetic society which left much to be desired. It’s understandable why he would want to create an imaginary country. The first half of the book had me hooked; the second half, had me thinking that More’s idea of an ideal society was undoubtedly far from my own. I gave this book four stars on GoodReads. Let me know whether you get a chance to read it. I’d LOVE to hear your feedback.

Much love,

Globetrotter Momma

 

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. At the outset, I have had a bias towards classics. This review puts Utopia on my to read list. I know I would like to read a book like this and it will make me think and process and push the boundaries of my thoughts. Thanks for the review.

    Though, I must confess, I really enjoyed the part about that vegan nail polish! Lol !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha. I thought you’d like that (nail polish). Can’t wait to hear what you think about the book! Always great hearing from you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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