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Sir Thomas More

Latin prose dialogue and treatise on political philosophy.

When Thomas More published The Best State of a Commonwealth and the New Island of Utopia (1516), he coined the word utopia, which has since become a common term in English. More's Utopia finds its origins in the "best commonwealth" dialogue, a rhetorical exercise practiced by ancient Greek philosophers in which the writer attempts to define an ideal society. The best-known examples of such dialogues are Plato's Republic and Laws sections of Artistotle's Poetics. In Utopia, More explores a broad array of the elements that constitute any society—economic, legal, judicial, military, familial, and religious structures—all of which More envisions as closely regulated by the government. Over the years, political scientists have embraced Utopia as a work of creative political thought, ranking it with Plato's Republic and Machiavelli's The Prince. While most readers since the first publication have assumed that More advocated the social practices he ascribed to the fictional Utopia, many critics have pointed out that the author's intentions are not at all clear: the book could be either a best commonwealth exercise or a satire. In 1961, David Bevington noted that the "revered name of Thomas More has been invoked in support of the radical socialist states of the Soviet world empire, as well as in support of the anti-Communist position of the Papacy. Both interpretations purport to be founded on a critical reading of Utopia."

More was, in a time of religious upheaval, a devout Catholic; he was also an advisor to King Henry VIII, who ultimately broke England's tie to Catholicism. While More's work demonstrates an equal commitment to faith in divinity and faith in rationalism, his political allegiance to the king came into conflict with his religion when Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church and the Pope. Consequently, some critics have read the Utopia as a testament to More's efforts to negotiate between personal faith and duty to the government, although the conflict with Henry VIII occurred after More completed the book. More was executed in 1535 when he refused to comply with the king's wishes that he denounce Catholicism; the Catholic church canonized him in 1935.

Plot and Major Characters

More blended fact and fiction in the Utopia, creating characters based on real people (including himself) who encounter the purely fictional character Raphael Hythlodaeus, a traveler recently returned from the previously unknown island of Utopia. More bridged the gap from fact to fiction by prefacing the work with actual letters from friends and colleagues, all of whom endorse the book. These prefatory letters, also known as the perarga, constitute the first of three sections of the work. Book I, the second section, depicts the dialogue among Hythloday, More, and Peter Giles, which focuses on social conditions in sixteenth-century Europe, including agricultural economics and the penal system. The discussion also features a debate about the philosopher's responsibility to government: Giles encourages Hythloday to become a political advisor in order to make his unique knowledge available to rulers; Hythloday suspects that a position as a counselor would force him to compromise his principles. Book II presents Hythloday's in-depth description of Utopia, taking the reader through all aspects of its social, political, and economic structure.

Textual History

More began his writing with the section ultimately published as Book II of the Utopia while serving as an ambassador in Antwerp in 1515; he composed Book I in 1516, back in England. The first edition of the complete work appeared late in 1516 and was followed by yearly editions printed in various European cities. Scholars requiring authoritative Latin manuscripts for their work usually rely on the first edition and one produced in November of 1518. Publication continued throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (notable editions appeared in 1548, 1555, 1563, 1565-66, 1601, 1613, 1629, 1663, and 1672). While most of these editions were in Latin, translations became more common during the nineteenth century. The Yale University Press Complete Works of St. Thomas More (1965) is an authoritative English-language edition, presenting the Latin and an English translation on facing pages; Cambridge University Press issued a new edition, with Latin and English versions, in 1995.

Critical Reception

In 1935 R. W. Chambers asserted that "few books have been more misunderstood than Utopia." The central question concerning the Utopia is the issue of authorial intent: any critic studying the Utopia must first try to determine whether the text is a sincere endorsement of the commonwealth described—truly More's "ideal" commonwealth—or a satirical commentary. The Utopia's initial critical reception is that contained within the perarga of the volume: the letters from More's own friends and contemporaries endorsing the text. By and large, these thinkers received the Utopia as a wholly sincere best commonwealth exercise, and even occasionally treat Utopia as a real place. Much of the criticism leading into the twentieth century also treats the ideal as sincerely proposed; Frederick Seebohm (1867), for example, contends that the "point of the Utopia consisted in the contrast presented by its ideal commonwealth to the condition and habits of the European commonwealths of the period." Critics' attempts to determine if More endorsed the social policies he attributed to Utopia have produced lengthy discussions and debates, the most heated of which concern the subject of Utopia's economic communism. More describes the Utopians as living harmoniously without private property, which led Karl Marx and Frederich Engels to name a specific variant of socialism for More in The Communist Manifesto, calling it "utopian socialism." Nonetheless, scholars disagree widely over More's intentions, the extremes in the debate exemplified by Karl Kautsky's painstaking demonstration of More's communism and H. W. Donner's assertion that More's portrayal of communism rejected the practice.

As the work of a religious martyr, the Utopia has also invited study by Catholic scholars concerned with the saint's principles. The book has often resisted such theologically oriented interpretation, however, because it presents the student with a society whose citizens are not Christians. Also problematic is the fact that throughout the work, the character Hythloday describes and idealizes many practices condemned by Catholic doctrine, such as divorce and suicide. Consequently, Catholic scholars were-some of the first to approach the text as a "dialogic"—one in which the presentation of the debate carries more significance than the depiction of Utopia. These scholars point out that in the debates in Book I, the character with More's name often disagrees with Hythloday, suggesting that as appealing as Hythloday's rationalism may be, it is never quite enough without Christian faith. Other scholars have interpreted the same details, however, as an indictment of contemporary European Christianity, which was outstripped in virtue by a pagan society. Chambers exemplifies this view in his argument that the "underlying thought of Utopia always is, With nothing save Reason to guide them, the Utopians do this; and yet we Christian Englishmen, we Christian Europeans … /" Recently, this dialogic approach has also figured in the interpretations of scholars with more secular concerns, as later-twentieth-century scholars have tended to emphasize More's endorsement of specific problem-solving or intellectual mind-sets, rather than a particular social practice. David Bevington and Lee Khanna Cullen, for example, have focused on More's apparently positive portrayal of the intersection of different and often opposing viewpoints in openminded discussion. Twentieth-century critics in general, however, have tended to perceive Utopia as a negative commentary—possibly a satiric figuration of contemporary Europe. This trend appears to be inspired by a critical focus on passages that seem contradictory: depictions of the Utopian practices of slavery and imperialism and political practices that amount to totalitarianism. Ironically, these same portions, as Schlomo Avineri has demonstrated, allowed some German critics sympathetic to Nazism in 1920s and 1930s to embrace the Utopia.

Principle Translations

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Utopia (translated by Gilbert Burnet) 1685

Utopia (translated by V. S. Ogden) 1949

Utopia (translated by Robert M. Adams) 1975

The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, Vol. IV (translated by G. C. Richards) 1965

Frederic Seebohm (essay date 1867)

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SOURCE: "More's Utopia" in The Oxford Reformers, 1867. Reprint by AMS Press Inc., 1971, pp. 346-65.

[In the following excerpt from his critical study, The Oxford Reformers, Seebohm places Utopia in its political and historical context, contrasting what he believes to be More's ideal commonwealth with "the condition and habits of the European commonwealths of the period."]

The point of the Utopia consisted in the contrast presented by its ideal commonwealth to the condition and habits of the European commonwealths of the period. This contrast is most often left to be drawn by the reader from his own knowledge of contemporary politics, and hence the peculiar advantage of the choice by More of such a vehicle for the bold satire it contained. Upon any other hypothesis than that the evils against which its satire was directed were admitted to be real, the romance of Utopia must also be admitted to be harmless. To pronounce it to be dangerous was to admit its truth.

Take, e.g., the following passage relating to the internationalpolicy of the Utopians:—

While other nations are always entering into leagues, and breaking and renewing them, the Utopians never enter into a league with any nation. For what is the use of a league? they say. As though there were no natural tie between man and man! and as though any one who despised this natural tie would, forsooth, regard mere words! They hold this opinion all the more strongly, because in that quarter of the world the leagues and treaties of princes are not observed as faithfully as they should be. For in Europe, and especially in those parts of it where the Christian faith and religion are professed, the sanctity of leagues is held sacred and inviolate; partly owing to the justice and goodness of princes, and partly from their fear and reverence of the authority of the Popes, who, as they themselves never enter into obligations which they do not most religiously perform [!], command other princes under all circumstances to abide by their promises, and punish delinquents by pastoral censure and discipline. For indeed, with good reason, it would be thought a most scandalous thing for those whose peculiar designation is "the faithful," to be wanting in the faithful observances of treaties. But in those distant regions … no faith is to be placed in leagues, even though confirmed by the most solemn ceremonies. Some flaw is easily found in their wording whichis intentionally made ambiguous so as to leave a loophole through which the parties may break both their league and their faith. Which craft—yes, fraud and deceit—if it were perpetrated with respect to a contract between private parties, they would indignantly denounce as sacrilege and deserving the gallows, whilst those who suggest these very things to princes, glory in being the authors of them. Whence it comes to pass that justice seems altogether a plebeian and vulgar virtue, quite below the dignity of royalty; or at least there must be two kinds of it, the one for common people and the poor, very narrow and contracted, the other, the virtue of princes, much more dignified and free, so that that only is unlawful to them which they don't like. The morals of princes being such in that region, it is not, I think, without reason that the Utopians enter into no leagues at all. Perhaps they would alter their opinion if they lived amongst us.

Read without reference to the international history of the period, these passages appear perfectly harmless. But read in the light of that political history which, during the past few years, had become so mixed up with the personal history of the Oxford Reformers, recollecting 'how religiously' treaties had been made and broken by almost every sovereign in Europe—Henry VIII and the Pope included—the words in which the justice and goodness of European princes is so mildly and modestly extolled, become almost as bitter in their tone as the cutting censure of Erasmus in the Praise of Folly, or his more recent and open satire upon kings.

Again, bearing in mind the wars of Henry VIII, and how evidently the love of military glory was the motive which induced him to engage in them, the following passage contains almost as direct and pointed a censure of the King's passion for war as the sermon preached by Colet in his presence:—

The Utopians hate war as plainly brutal, although practised more eagerly by man than by any other animal. And contrary to the sentiment of nearly every other nation, they regard nothing more inglorious than glory derived from war.

Turning from international politics to questions of internal policy, and bearing in mind the hint of Erasmus, that More had in view chiefly the politics of his own country, it is impossible not to recognise in the Utopia the expression, again and again, of the sense of wrong stirred up in More's heart, as he had witnessed how every interest of the commonwealth had been sacrificed to Henry VIII's passion for war; and how, in sharing the burdens it entailed, and dealing with the social evils it brought to thesurface, the interests of the poor had been sacrificed to spare the pockets of the rich; how, whilst the very wages of the labourer had been taxed to support the long-continued war expenditure, a selfish Parliament, under colour of the old 'statutes of labourers,' had attempted to cut down the amount of his wages, and to rob him of that fair rise in the price of his labour which the drain upon the labour market had produced.

It is impossible not to recognise that the recent statutes of labourers was the target against which More's satire was specially directed….

The whole framework of the Utopian commonwealth bears witness to More's conviction, that what should be aimed at in his own country and elsewhere, was a true community—not a rich and educated aristocracy on the one hand, existing side by side with a poor and ignorant peasantry on the other—but one people, well-to-do and educated throughout.

Thus More's opinion was, that in England in his time, 'far more than four parts of the whole [people], divided into ten, could never read English,' and probably the education of the other six-tenths was anything but satisfactory. He shared Colet's faithin education, and represented that in Utopia every child was properly educated.

Again the great object of the social economy of Utopia was not to increase the abundance of luxuries, or to amass a vast accumulation in few hands, or even in national or royal hands, but to lessen the hours of labour to the working man. By spreading the burden of labour more evenly over the whole community—by taking care that there shall be no idle classes, be they beggars or begging friars—More expressed the opinion that the hours of labour to the working man might probably be reduced to six.

Again: living himself in Bucklersbury, in the midst of all the dirt and filth of London's narrow streets; surrounded by the unclean, ill-ventilated houses of the poor, whose floors of clay and rushes, never cleansed, were pointed out by Erasmus as breeding pestilence, and inviting the ravages of the sweating sickness; himself a commissioner of sewers, and having thus some practical knowledge of London's sanitary arrangements; More described the towns of Utopia as well and regularly built, with wide streets, waterworks, hospitals, and numerous common halls; all the houses well protected from the weather, as nearly as might be fireproof, three stories high, with plenty of windows, and doors both back and front, theback door always opening into a well-kept garden. All this was Utopian doubtless, and the result in Utopia of the still more Utopian abolition of private property; but the gist and point of it consisted in the contrast it presented with what he saw around him in Europe, and especially in England, and men could hardly fail to draw the lesson he intended to teach.

It will not be necessary here to dwell further upon the details of the social arrangements of More's ideal commonwealth, or to enter at length upon the philosophical opinions of the Utopians; but a word or two will be needful to point out the connection of the latter with the views of that little band of friends whose joint history I am here trying to trace.

One of the points most important and characteristic is the fearless faith in the laws of nature combined with a profound faith in religion, which runs through the whole work, and which may, I think, be traced also in every chapter of the history of the Oxford Reformers. Their scientific knowledge was imperfect, as it needs must have been, before the days of Copernicus and Newton; but they had their eyes fearlessly open in every direction, with no foolish misgivings lest science and Christianity might be found to clash. They remembered (what is not always remembered in this nineteenthcentury), that if there be any truth in Christianity, Nature and her laws on the one hand and Christianity and her laws on the other, being framed and fixed by the same Founder, must be in harmony, and that therefore for Christians to act contrary to the laws of Nature, or to shut their eyes to facts, on the ground that they are opposed to Christianity, is—to speak plainly—to fight against one portion of the Almighty's laws under the supposed sanction of another; to fight, therefore, without the least chance of success, and with every prospect of doing harm instead of good.

Hence the moral philosophy of the Utopians was both Utilitarian and Christian. Its distinctive features, according to More, were—1st, that they placed pleasure (in the sense of 'utility') as the chief object of life; and 2ndly, that they drew their arguments in support of this as well from the principles of religion as from natural reason.

They defined 'pleasure' as 'every emotion or state of body or mind in which nature leads us to take delight.' And from reason they deduced, as modern utilitarians do, that not merely the pleasure of the moment must be regarded as the object of life, but what will produce the greatest amount and highest kind of pleasure in the long run; that, e.g. a greater pleasure must not be sacrificed toa lesser one, or a pleasure pursued which will be followed by pain. And from reason they also deduced that, nature having bound men together by the ties of Society, and no one in particular being a special favourite of nature, men are bound, in the pursuit of pleasure, to regard the pleasures of others as well as their own—to act, in fact, in the spirit of the golden rule; which course of action, though it may involve some immediate sacrifice, they saw clearly never costs so much as it brings back, both in the interchange of mutual benefits, and in the mental pleasure of conferring kindness on others. And thus they arrived at the same result as modern utilitarians, that, while 'nature enjoins pleasure as the end of all men's efforts,' she enjoins such a reasonable and far-sighted pursuit of it that 'to live by this rule is "virtue."'

In other words, in Utopian philosophy, 'utility' was recognised as a criterion of right and wrong; and from experience of what, under the laws of Nature, is man's real far-sighted interest, was derived a sanction to the golden rule. And thus, instead of setting themselves against the doctrine of utility, as some would do on the ground of a supposed opposition to Christianity, they recognised the identity between the two standards. They recognised, as Mr. [John Stuart] Mill urges [in Essay on Utilitarianism, 1863] that Christians ought to do now, 'in the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, the complete spirit of the ethics of utility.'

The Utopians had no hesitation in defining 'virtue' as 'living according to nature'; for, they said, 'to this end we have been created by God.' Their religion itself taught them that 'God in his goodness created men for happiness;' and therefore there was nothing unnatural in his rewarding, with the promise of endless happiness hereafter, that 'virtue' which is living according to those very laws of nature which He Himself established to promote the happiness of men on earth.

Nor was this, in More's hands, a merely philosophical theory. He made the right practical use of it, in correcting those false notions of religion and piety which had poisoned the morality of the middle ages, and soured the devotion even of those mediaeval mystics whose mission it was to uphold the true religion of the heart. Who does not see that the deep devotion even of a Tauler, or of a Thomas à Kempis, would have been deepened had it recognised the truth that the religion of Christ was intended to add heartiness and happiness to daily life, and not to draw men out of it; that the highest ideal of virtue is, not to stamp out those feelings and instincts which, under the rule of selfishness, make a hell of earth, but so, as it were, to tune them into harmony, that, under the guidance of a heart of love, they may add to the charm and the perfectness of life? The ascetic himself who, seeing the vileness and the misery which spring out of selfish riot in pleasure, condemns natural pleasure as almost in itself a sin, fills the heaven of his dreams with white robes, golden crowns, harps, music and angelic songs. Even his highest ideal of perfect existence is the unalloyed enjoyment of pleasure. He is a Utilitarian in his dreams of heaven.

More, in his 'Utopia,' dreamed of this celestial morality as practised under earthly conditions. He had banished selfishness from his commonwealth. He was bitter as any ascetic against vanity, and empty show, and shams of all kinds, as well as all sensuality and excess; but his definition of 'virtue' as 'living according to nature' made him reject the ascetic notion of virtue as consisting in crossing all natural desires, in abstinence from natural pleasure, and stamping out the natural instincts. The Utopians, More said, 'gratefully acknowledged the tenderness of the great Father of nature, who hath given us appetites which make the things necessary for our preservation also agreeable to us. How miserable would life be if hunger and thirst could only be relieved by bitter drugs.' Hence, too, the Utopians esteemed it not only 'madness,' but also 'ingratitude to God,' to waste the body by fasting, or toreject the delights of life, unless by so doing a man can serve the public or promote the happiness of others.

Hence also they regarded the pursuit of natural science, the 'searching out the secrets of nature,' not only as an agreeable pursuit, but as 'peculiarly acceptable to God.' Seeing that they believed that 'the first dictate of reason is love and reverence for Him to whom we owe all we have and all we can hope for,' it was natural that they should regard the pursuit of science rather as a part of their religion than as in any way antagonistic to it. But their science was not likely to be speculative and dogmatic like that of the Schoolmen; accordingly, whilst they were said to be very expert in the mathematical sciences (numerandi et metiendi scientid), they knew nothing, More said, 'of what even boys learn here in the "Parva logicalia'"'; and whilst, by long use and observation, they had acquired very exact knowledge of the motions of the planets and stars, and even of winds and weather, and had invented very exact instruments, they had never dreamed, More said, of those astrological arts of divination 'which are now-a-days in vogue among Christians.'

From the expression of so fearless a faith in the consistency of Christianity with science, it might be inferred that More would represent the religion of the Utopians as at once broad and tolerant. It could not logically be otherwise. The Utopians, we are told, differed very widely; but notwithstanding all their different objects of worship, they agreed in thinking that there is one Supreme Being who made and governs the world. By the exigencies of the romance, the Christian religion had only been recently introduced into the island. It existed there side by side with other and older religions, and hence the difficulties of complete toleration in Utopia were much greater hypothetically than they would be in any European country. Still, sharing Colet's hatred of persecution, More represented that it was one of the oldest laws of Utopia 'that no man is to be punished for his religion.' …

T. E. Bridgett (essay date 1891)

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SOURCE: "Treatment of Heretics," in Life and Writings

of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England and Martyr Under Henry VIII, Burns & Oates, Ltd., 1891, pp. 253-72.

[In the following essay, Bridgett discusses More's views on the subject of heresy and addresses accusations that More hypocritcally abandoned the principles of religious tolerance advocated in his Utopia.]

In his epitaph More had designed and emphatically stated that he had been "troublesome to thieves, murderers, and heretics …."

We have seen Erasmus's commentary on these words. It is necessary, however, to study their force, not as apologists, but as historians. Whom does More designate as heretics? In what way did he trouble or "molest" them? In molesting them, did he contradict the principles he had laid down in his Utopia about toleration? Did he remain within, or did he go beyond the law as it existed in his time?

There is a long-standing tradition that he was not merely severe, which may seem to be justified by his own words, but even arbitrary and unjust. And as his amiable and upright character is admitted on all hands, the blame of this warp in his character and blot on his fame is cast on the religion which he professed. We have seen Horace Walpole writing of "that cruel judge whom one knows not how to hate, who persecuted others in defence of superstitions he had himself exposed." it is probable that Walpole derived this view of Sir Thomas More from Burnet's History of the Reformation.

Burnet writes: "More was not governed by interest, nor did he aspire so to preferment as to stick at nothing that might contribute to raise him; nor was he subject to the vanities of popularity. The integrity of his whole life and the severity of his morals cover him from all these suspicions. If he had been formerly corrupted by a superstitious education, it had been no extraordinary thing to see so good a man grow to be misled by the force of prejudice. But how a man who had emancipated himself, and had got into a scheme of free thoughts, could be so entirely changed cannot be easily apprehended, nor how he came to muffle up his understanding and deliver himself up as a property to the blind and enraged fury of the priests. It cannot, indeed, be accounted for but by charging it on the intoxicating charms of that religion, that can darken the clearest understandings and corrupt the best natures; and since they wrought this effect on Sir Thomas More, I cannot but conclude the 'if these things were done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?'"

In our own day the same accusation of cruelty, and the same explanation, have been renewed by a popular historian. Mr. Froude writes [in History of England]: "Wolsey had chastised them [the innovators] with whips; Sir Thomas More would chastise them with scorpions, and the philosopher of the Utopia, the friend of Erasmus, whose life was of blameless beauty, whose genius was cultivated to the highest attainable perfection, was to prove to the world that the spirit of persecution is no peculiar attribute of the pedant, the bigot, or the fanatic, but may co-exist with the fairest graces of the human character. The lives of remarkable men usually illustrate some emphatic truth. Sir Thomas More may be said to have lived to illustrate the necessary tendencies of Romanism, in an honest mind convinced of the truth; to show that the test of sincerity in a man who professes to regard orthodoxy as an essential of salvation is not the readiness to endure persecution, but the courage that will venture to inflict it."

Such is the accusation. Let us now hear Sir Thomas"s own statement of the case, made in the spring of 1533 [in his Apology]: "As touching teretics, I hate that vice of theirs and not their persons, and very fain would I that the one were destroyed and the other saved. And that I have toward no man any other mind than this—how loudly soever these blessed new brethren and professors and preachers of heresy belie me—if all the favour and pity that I have used among them to their amendment were known, it would, I warrant you, well and plain appear; whereof, if it were requisite, I could bring forth witnesses more than men would ween.

"Howbeit, because it were neither right nor honesty that any man should look for more thank than he deserveth, I will that all the world wit it on the other side, that who so be so deeply grounded in malice, to the harm of his own soul and other men's too, and so set upon the sowing of seditious heresies, that no good means that men may use unto him can pull that malicious folly out of his poisoned, proud, obstinate heart, I would rather be content that he were gone in time, than overlong to tarry to the destruction of other."

If, then, sir Thomas More requires a defence, no such apology can be set up for him as may be valid for the judges, who administered our cruel penal code with regard to theft, in the early years of the present century—viz., that not being legislators they were not responsible for the barbarity of the laws, and that being judges they were bound to pass sentence according to the laws as they found them. Such a defence is not applicable to the case of Sir Thomas More. It would exonerate him from any charge of injustice, if it can be shown (as it certainly can) that he did not go beyond the law. But as regards the imputation of a cruel disposition, Sir Thomas would reject a defence based on the supposition that he was the reluctant administrator of laws, the existence of which he regretted. In his Apology, written after he had ceased to act as judge, he fully and heartily approves of the laws, both ecclesiastical and civil, that then existed in England against heresy, and he maintains that these laws had been administered with the utmost leniency and indeed with a dangerous laxity.

The first question then that occurs is with regard to More's consistency. Did his later theories and practice contradict the more generous philosophy of his youth? That the reader may judge for himself, I will give without abridgment a passage from Utopia in Burnet's translation.

After stating that in Utopia there were several sorts of religion—some idolatrous, some monotheistical—and that the higher views were gradually setting aside the others, Raphael (the supposed traveller) says that Christianity also had been lately introduced by himself and his companions. He then continues as follows:—

"Those among them that have not received our religion do not fright any from it, and use none ill that goes over to it, so that all the while I was there one man only was punished on this occasion. He being newly baptised did, notwithstanding all that we could say to the contrary, dispute publicly concerning the Christian religion, with more zeal than discretion, and with so much heat, that he not only preferred our worship to theirs, but condemned all their rites as profane, and cried out againist all that adhered to them as impious and sacreligious persons, that were to be damned to everlasting burnings. Upon his having frequently preached in this manner he was seized, and after trial he was condemned to banishment, not for having disparaged their religion, but for his inflaming the people to sedition; for this is one of their most ancient laws, that no man ought to be punished for his religion.

"At the first constitution of their government, Utopus understood that, before his coming among them, the old inhabitants had been engaged in great quarrels concerning religion, by which they were so divided among themselves, that he found it an easy thing to conquer them, since, instead of uniting their forces against him, every different party in religion fought by themselves. After he had subdued them he made a law that every man might be of what religion he pleased, and might endeavour to draw others to it by the force of argument and by amicable and modest ways, but without bitterness against those of other opinions; but that he ought to use no other force but that of persuasion, and was neither to mix with it reproaches nor violence; and such as did otherwise were to be condemned to banishment or slavery. "This law was made by Utopus, not only for preserving the public peace, which he saw suffered much by daily contentions and irreconcilable heats, but because he thought the interest of religion itself required it. He judged it not fit to determine anything rashly; and seemed to doubt whether those different forms of religion might not all come from God, who might inspire man in a different manner, and be pleased with this variety; he therefore thought it indecent and foolish for any man to threaten and terrify another to make him believe what did not appear to him to be true. And supposing that only one religion was really true, and the rest false, he imagined that the native force of truth would at last break forth and shine bright, if supported only by the strength of argument, and attended to with a gentle and unprejudiced mind; while, on the other hand, if such debates were carried on with violence and tumults, as the most wicked are always the most obstinate, so the best and most holy religion might be choked with supersition, as corn is with briars and thorns; he therefore left men wholly to their liberty, that they might be free to believe as they should see cause.

"Only he made a solemn and severe law against such as should so far degenerate from the dignity of human nature, as to think that our souls died with our bodies, or that the world was governed by chance, without a wise overruling Providence: for they all formerly believed that there was a state of rewards and punishments to the good and bad after this life; and they now look on those that think otherwise as scarce fit to be counted men, since they degrade so noble a being as the soul, and reckon it no better than a beast's: thus they are far from looking on such men as fit for human society, or to be citizens of a well-ordered commonwealth; since a man of such principles must needs, as oft as he dares do it, despise all their laws and customs: for there is no doubt to be made, that a man who is afraid of nothing but the law, and apprehends nothing after death, will not scruple to break through all the laws of his country, either by fraud or force, when by this means he may satisfy his appetites. They never raise any that hold these maxims either to honours or offices, nor employ them in any public trust, but despise them, as men of base and sordid minds. Yet they do not punish them, because they lay this down as a maxim, that a man cannot make himself believe whatever he likes."

This passage of the Utopia was no doubt in Burnet's mind when he referred to More's having once "got into a scheme of free thoughts." Sir James Mackintosh, a real lover of liberty, very different from Burnet, has written on this subject as follows:

"It is evident that the two philosophers (More and Erasmus), who found all their fair visions dispelled by noise and violence, deeply felt the injustice of citing against them, as a proof of inconsistency, that they departed from the pleasantries, the gay dreams, at most the fond speculations, of their early days, when they saw these harmless visions turned into weapons of destruction in the bloodstained hands of the boors of Saxony, and of the ferocious fanatics of Munster. The virtuous love of peace might be more prevalent in More: the Epicurean desire of personal ease predominated more in Erasmus. But both were, doubtless from commendable or excusable causes, incensed against those odious disciples, who now, with no friendly voice, invoked their authority against themselves."

Though I have cited with pleasure this passage from an eminent writer, because it has a bearing on several things written by More in his Utopia, I can scarcely adopt it as regards the special matter of toleration we are now considering; for I do not find that More's early theories on this subject were ever brought as a reproach against him during his own lifetime, much less that the innovators whom he resisted and prosecuted ever appealed, in favour of their own liberty, to general principles of toleration. More himself has put the following wish into the mouth of his interlocutor in his Dialogue: "I would," says his friend, "all the world were agreed to take all violence and compulsion away, upon all sides, Christian and heathen, and that no man were constrained to believe but as he could be, by grace, wisdom and good works, induced; and then he that would go to God, go on in God's name, and he that will go to the devil, the devil go with him." This is perhaps the modern theory put in a homely way; but before giving More's answer, let me say that this was not the theory of the Lutherans with whom More had to do. They pleaded for liberty as having exclusively the truth, but they never thought of giving liberty to Catholics. The Mass was to be forcibly abolished as a horrible idolatry, the monks to be dragged from their cloisters, and if necessary whipped at a cart's tail till they would marry and work, and the gospel of Luther forced by the civil power upon the world. The state of things that More supposes in his Utopia had nothing parallel in that age either among Catholics or Protestants. Some may think that he approximately describes the present state of England; in which case, could he rise again, himself unchanged, in our changed state of society, he would doubtless plead for quiet and mutual forbearance, as did his Portuguese friend, Raphael, in the conversation at Antwerp.

For my own part, I can find no evidence of change of views, or of inconsistency in the author of the Utopia. In that work More is discoursing of people who had no revelation from God, and he condemns their acrimonious disputes and intolerance in matters of pure reason or natural tradition. Before he can be accused of inconsistency, it should be shown that the social and religious problems, discussed by him in his later English writings, were analogous to those contemplated by King Utopus, and if so, that he solved them differently. Did he, in later years, teach that men left by God to the pure exercise of their reason, should not also be left free by their rulers, "to seek God, if happily they may feel after Him and find Him"? Did he ever teach that the unbaptised heathen should be compelled by force to accept the true faith? Did he ever teach that men brought up from childhood in heresy, and in atheism and materialism, and dazed and bewildered by the multitude of opinions around them, should be punished because they could not see their way to certainty or unity? On the contrary, it was because he foresaw this very state of things as the result of Luther's revolt, and grieved over it; because he foresaw that if once unity were broken up, and the Catholic faith called in question, the people would be "tossed about with every wind of doctrine, by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive," he therefore met these innovations with an energy inspired no less by his love of freedom of thought, than by his love of his country. He thought, and he worte over and over again, that there was no slavery like the slavery of sectarianism, and no freedom like that enjoyed where all have on unchangeable faith. Did More understand the word heretic as it is generally understood in England at the present day? I am not proposing a theological, but a historical question. I am not asking whether More was right or wrong in his judgment regarding heresy, but what did he mean by it? To most Protestants, orthodoxy can only mean for each man his private opinion or conviction in matters of religion, while heresy can only be a nickname for his neighbour's views. It does not require a mind of More's acuteness, or a character of his fairness, to see at a glance that, in such circumstances, mutual forbearance is the strictest of duties, and that no one should be violently repressed but he who violently disturbs his neighbour.

To More the word heresy conveyed a very different meaning. It was the private choice, by an individual, of a doctrine contradictory to that held to be clearly revealed by the divinely guided society to which that individual had belonged. More himself points out (and it is his views we are discussing), that according to St. Paul, not only is heresy or faction in religion classed with grievous sins like murder, theft, and adultery, but it is supposed by him to be as easily recognised and proved; so that the ruler of the spiritual society can admonish and reprove and ultimately reject the criminal, and cast him forth from the society, either delivering him over to Satan, like Hymeneus and Alexander, that he may learn not to blaspheme, or at least warning and commanding the society to avoid him as a pestilence.

To More a heretic was neither a simple man erring by ignorance, nor a learned man using his freedom in doubtful points: he was a man whose heart was "proud, poisoned, and obstinate," because he denied the Divine guidance of the Church into which he had been baptised, while he claimed special Divine inspiration for himself.

But this is not an adequate explanation of More's aversion to Lutheranism and of his conduct towards it. What has been said would apply to all heresy, though it were limited to the most abstruse points of revelation, and though its holder took no pains to propagate it. The zeal, the indignation and the horror of Sir Thomas More were aroused, because to him the Lutheran doctrines, as they first came before the world, appeared as the denial of everything that the Christian people had hitherto held in veneration, and as uprooting the foundation of all morals. We have seen what he wrote about it in his Latin work, under the name of Ross. As time went on he painted it in still darker colours, as fuller accounts came of the excesses in Germany and Switzerland. "Is it not a wonderful thing," he asks, in his Dialogue, written in 1528—"Is it not a wonderful thing, that we should now see a lewd friar so bold and shameless to marry a nun and bide thereby, and be taken still for a Christian man, and over that, for a man meet to be the beginner of a sect, whom any honest man would vouchsafe to follow? If our Lord God, whose wisdom is infinite, should have set and studied to devise a way whereby He might cast in our face the confusion of our folly, how might He have founden a more effectual than to suffer us that call ourselves Christian folk, to see such a rabble springing up among us, as let not to set at nought all the doctors of Christ's Church, and lean to the only authority of Friar Tuck and Maid Marion?"

We have not, however, yet reached the full motive of More's conduct. It was because the buffooneries and infamies of Friar Tuck were united with the outrages and violence of Robin Hood that More justified their suppression by force. This is the answer he gives to his friend who wished that everyone might be left free to go to the devil if he chose. Yes, replies More, but he shall not drag society with him. It is here I find a perfect consistency with the opinions he had expressed in Utopia. King Utopus, he says, having no means of attaining unity, enforced moderation and mutual toleration, where he had found nothing but confusion and bitterness, because that contention had weakened the country and laid it open to foreign conquest. More, on the contrary, was the highest magistrate in a country hitherto in perfect peace and unity in religious matters. The Catholic Church had held exclusive possession of England for nearly a thousand years, and its doctrines, discipline, and institutions had leavened every part of English life. The policy of Utopus would certainly have allowed no heated dissensions to be introduced to break up this unity. He who would not allow the materialists to propagate their opinions, would have given no licence to false spiritualists "to bring in sects blaspheming." This is the contention of Sir Thomas More throughout his many voluminous works of controversy. He says [in English Works] that "it was the violent cruelty first used by the heretics themselves against good Catholic folk that drove good princes thereto, for preservation not of the faith only, but also of peace among the people." He enters fully into the history of the treatment of heretics. The Church, he maintains, had in no age punished them by death. The State had done it in self-defence, and had called on the Church to define heresy, to judge the fact and deliver the relapsed heretic into the hands of the civil power. The State (he maintains) only did this when it had attained peace and unity by means of the Church, and when it was found by experience that heretics ever stirred up sedition and rebellion, and if allowed to spread, brought about division and ruin. He points to the history of Lollardy in England in the time of Henry IV and Henry V; and to the fearful results of Lutheranism in Germany, in the violent destruction of the Catholic Church in some lands, the wars of the peasants in others; to the division of the empire making it unable to resist the threatened invasion of the Turks; and to that general breakup of what was called Christendom, which would be the inevitable consequence of the spread of these principles.

Let us now turn from the theories of More to his personal practice. Was he ever cruel or unjust? It is surely a bold thing to accuse him of this after his own challenge. In 1532 an anonymous writer under the character of a peace-maker had thrown great blame on the proceedings of the clergy, but always in general terms, as, "Some say," "Many say," etc. Sir Thomas writes: "Let this pacifier come forth and appear before the king's Grace and his Council, or in what place he list, and there prove, calling me thereto, that any one of all these had wrong—but if it were for that they were burned no sooner. And because he shall not say that I bid him trot about for naught, this shall I proffer him, that I will bind myself for surety, and find him other twain besides of better substance than myself, that for every one of these whom he proveth wronged, his ordinary or his other officer by whom the wrong was done, shall give this pacifier all his costs about the proof and a reasonable reward besides. And yet now, though no man would give him nothing, it were his part, perdie! to prove it for his own honesty, since he hath said so far."

This public challenge met with no response in More's lifetime. Thirty years after his death the Protestant martyrologist Foxe brought forward some stories of More's cruelty, which are the sole foundation on which Burnet and other writers have grounded their accusations of his having "delivered himself up as a property to the blind and enraged fury of the priests."

In his account of John Tewkesbury, a pouchmaker or leather-seller of London, Foxe writes as follows:

He was sent from the Lollard's Tower to my Lord Chancellor's, called Sir Thomas More, to Chelsea, with all his articles [i.e., the articles of accusation], to see whether he could turn him, and that he might accuse others; and there he lay in the porter's lodge, hand, foot and head in the stocks, six days without release. Then was he carried to Jesu's Tree in his privy garden, where he was whipped and also twisted in his brows with a small rope, that the blood started out of his eyes, and yet would not accuse no man. Then was he let loose in the house for a day, and his friends thought to have him at liberty the next day. After this he was sent to be racked in the Tower, till he was almost lame and there promised to recant.

Again, of James Bainham, a lawyer, Foxe writes that he also was whipped in Sir Thomas's garden at the Tree of Truth, and then sent to the Tower to be racked, "and so he was, Sir Thomas More being present himself, till in a manner he had lamed him."

Burnet says that Sir Thomas "looked on, and saw him put to the rack."

Foxe wrote in the time of Elizabeth, and he has been proved to have picked up every bit of traditional gossip, and to have added so many inventions and embellishments of his own, that unless where he gives documents his testimony is of no value.

As regards Tewkesbury, his first examination, after which he retracted, was on 8th May, 1529, and this was several months before Sir Thomas was chancellor. The story, therefore, of his torture in More's garden is clearly mythical. Foxe has strangely mixed up the stories of Tewkesbury and Bainham; both are whipped at a tree in Sir Thomas More's garden, though whether the Tree of Jesus was the same as the Tree of Truth we are not told; both are sent to the Tower and racked; both retract; both are afterwards overcome by remorse, and publicly bewail their retractation to their friends in a conventicle in Bowe Lane, and then afterwards make a public protest in a church, and so both are condemned to be burnt. These are strange coincidences; but it is still more strange that a part of what Foxe had written of Tewkesbury in one edition, in another edition he omitted, and tacked on to his account of Bainham. The accuracy of Foxe may be judged from the fact that he imputes the death of Frith to More, yet Frith died in 1533, and More had resigned his office a year before.

Foxe does not seem to have been the inventor of the sotry of the whippings and racking, for in the 36th chapter of his Apology Sir Thomas refers to some such lies as then in circulation. The passage is very important, and shall be given with little abridgment:

"They that are of this brotherhood be so bold and so shameless in lying, that whoso shall hear them speak, and knoweth not what sect they be of, shall be very sore abused [misled] by them. Myself have good experience, for the lies are neither few nor small that many of the blessed brethren have made, and daily yet make by me.

"Divers of them have said that of such as were in my house while I was chancellor I used to examine them with torments, causing them to be bound to a tree in my garden, and there piteously beaten. And this tale had some of those good brethren so caused to be blown about, that a right worshipful friend of mine did of late, within less than this fortnight, tell unto another near friend of mine that he had of late heard much speaking thereof.

"What cannot these brethren say that can be so shameless to say thus? For of very truth, albeit that for a great robbery or a heinous murder, or sacrilege in a church, with carrying away the pix with the Blessed Sacrament, or villainously casting it out, I caused sometimes such things to be done by some officers of the Marshalsea, or of some other prisons, with which ordering of them, and without any great hurt that afterwards should stick by them, I found out and repressed many such desperate wretches as else had not failed to have gone farther; yet, saving the sure keeping of heretics, I never did cause any such thing to be done to any of them in all my life, except only twain. Of which the one was a child and a servant of mine in mine own house, whom his father had, ere ever he came with me, nursled up in such matters, and had set him to attend upon George Jay or Gee, otherwise called Clerk, which is a priest, and is now for all that wedded in Antwep, into whose house there the two nuns were brought which John Birt, otherwise called Adrian, stole out of their cloister to make them harlots. This George Jay did teach this child his ungracious heresy against the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, which heresy this child afterwards, being in service with me, began to teach another child in my house, which uttered his counsel. And upon that point perceived, I caused a servant of mine to stripe him like a child before mine household, for amendment of himself and ensample of such other.

"Another was one, which after that he had fallen into that frantic heresy, fell soon after into plain open frenzy besides." More then tells how he was confined in bedlam, and when set free disturbed public service in churches, and committed acts of great indecency: "Whereupon I, being advertised of these pageants, and being sent unto and required by very devout religious folk to take some other order with him, caused him, as he came wandering by my door, to be taken by the constables and bound to a tree in the street before the whole town, and there they striped him with rods till he waxed weary, and somewhat longer. And it appeared well that his remembrance was good enough, save that it went about grazing till it was beaten home. For he could then very well rehearse his faults himself, and speak and treat very well, and promise to do afterwards as well. And verily God be thanked, I hear none harm of him now.

"And of all that ever came in my hand for heresy, as help me God, saving (as I said) the sure keeping of them, had never any of them any stripe or stroke given them, so much as a fillip on the forehead.

"But now tell the brethren many marvellous lies, of much cruel tormenting that heretics had in my house, so far forth that one Segar, a bookseller of Cambridge, which was in mine house about four or five days, and never had either bodily harm done him, or foul word spoken him, hath reported since, as I hear say, to divers, that he was bound to a tree in my garden, and thereto too piteously beaten, and yet besides that bound about the head with a cord and wrung till he fell down dead in a swoon. And this tale of his beating did Tyndale tell to an old acquaintance of his own, and to a good lover of mine, with one piece farther yet, that while the man was in beating, I spied a little purse of his hanging at his doublet, wherin the poor man had, as he said, five marks, and that caught I quickly to me, and pulled it from his doublet and put it in my bosom, and that Segar never saw it after, and therein I trow he said true, for no more did I neither, nor before neither, nor I trow no more did Segar himself."

From this it would seem that Tindale's report of Segar's false tale of the whipping and the twisted cord had, by the time of Foxe, got into the legend of Tewkesbury. On this declaration of Sir Thomas More, Sir James Mackintosh writes as follows:

This statement, so minute, so easily contradicted, if in any part false, was made public after his fall from power, when he was surrounded by enemies and could have no friends but the generous. He relates circumstances of public notoriety, or at least, so known to all his household, which it would have been rather a proof of insanity than of imprudence to have alleged in his defence, if they had not been indisputably and confessedly true. Wherever he touches this subject, there is a quietness and a circumstantiality, which are among the least equivocal marks of a man who adheres to the temper most favourable to the truth, because he is conscious that the truth is favourable to him…. Defenceless and obnoxious as More then was, no man was hardy enough to dispute his truth. Foxe was the first who, thirty years afterwards, ventured to oppose it in a vague statement, which we know to be in some respects inaccurate; and on this slender authoruity alone has rested such an imputation on the veracity of the most sincere of men.

Since the days of Sir James Mackintosh another charge has been made against More. Mr. Anthony Froude writes: "I do not intend in this place to relate the stories of his cruelties in his house at Chelsea, which he himself partially denied, and which at least we may hope were exaggerated"; but Mr. Froude goes on to relate what he asserts to have been acts of illegal imprisonment committed by More. The first is that of Thomas Philips; the second, that of John Field. The evidence against Sir Thomas is merely that Mr. Froude found petitions to the king drawn up by the men themselves. Of the result of Field's petition Mr. Froude call tell nothing; of that of Philips he has to tell that his complaint was against the Bishop of London rather than against More, and that it was cast aside by the House of Lords as frivolous.

Mr. Froude does not seem to be aware that More himself has spoken of these very petitions. In the 38th chapter of his Apology he relates how Thomas Philips, a leatherseller, was brought before him when he was chancellor; he was examined with great leniency ("in as hearty loving manner as I could") and at last "I by indenture delivered him to his ordinary," but afterwards, for reasons enumerated,

I advised, and by my means helped that he was received prisoner into the Tower. And yet after that he complained thereupon, not against me but against the ordinary. Whereupon the king's highness commanded certain of the greatest lords of his Council to know how the matter stood; which known and reported, his highness gave unto Philips such answer as, if he had been half so good as I would he were, of half so wise as himself weeneth he were, he would forthwith have followed, and not stand still in his obstinacy so long, as he hath now put himself thereby in another deeper peril.

Sir Thomas continues:

Others have besides this complained that they have been unjustly handled, and they have nothing gotten but rebuke and shame. And some hath been heard upon importunate clamour, and the cause and handling examined by the greatest lords temporal of the king's most honourable council, and that since I left the office, and the complainour found in his complaining so very shameless false, that he hath been answered that he was too easily dealth with, and had wrong that he was no worse served.

Sir Thomas does not mention the names in these latter cases, nor does he say that the petitions of redress were made against himself; yet it seems likely that Field's complaint is the one last enumerated. In any case history contains no record that when Cromwell and the Earl of Wiltshire, and More's other enemies, were seeking charges against him, Field's complaints were considered worthy of attention. Yet Mr. Froude takes the fact that complaints were made as equivalent to a proof that they were well founded. Surely the great chancellor's integrity can survive a ruder shock than this. In the Debellacion of Salem and Bizance, Sir Thomas More again referred to the accusations of harshness as follows:

The untruth of such false fame hath been before the king's honourable council of late well and plainly proved, upon sundry such false complaints by the king's gracious commandment examined. And albeit that this is a thing notoriously known, and that I have myself in mine Apology spoken thereof, and that, since that book gone abroad, it hath been in likewise before the lords well and plainly proved in more matters afresh, and albeit that this water washeth away all his matter, yet goeth ever this water over this goose's back, and for anything that any man can do, no man can make it sink unto the skin, that she may once feel it, but ever she shaketh such plain proofs off with her feathers of 'Some say,' and 'They say' the contrary.

The goose is still shaking her feathers in Mr. Froude's pages.

From all that has been gathered together in this chapter, I venture to conclude that there is no evidence of change in More's views as regards religious liberty, nor did his genial character become deteriorated or soured. He held strongly that the dogmatising heretics of those days, in the then circumstances of England and Christendom, should be forcibly repressed, and if necessary punished even by death, according to the existing laws. Yet in the administration of those laws he was not only rigidly upright, but as tender and merciful as is compatible with the character and office of a judge. "What other controversialist can be named," asks Sir James Mackintosh [in Life of More], "who, having the power to crush antagonists whom he viewed as the disturbers of the quiet of his own declining years, the destroyers of all the hopes which he had cherished for mankind, contented himself with severity of language?"

Karl Kautsky (essay date 1927)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3490

SOURCE: "The Mode of Production of the Utopians: Criticism," in Thomas More and His Utopia, translated by H. J. Stenning, A. & C. Black, Ltd., 1927, pp. 204-14.

[Kautsky, as the following chapter from his book demonstrates, is known among More scholars for presenting the first significant argument that More's Utopia described and advocated a socialist state. Below, he contrasts More's "communist" Utopia with the aims of modern Socialism.]

Nobody with any knowledge of the subject would assert that More's aims are in complete agreement with the tendencies of modern scientific Socialism, which is based on two factors: the development of the proletariat as a class and the development of large-scale machine production, which enlists science in its service and to-day imposes a scheme of systematically organised social labour within each undertaking. Large-scale industry constitutes the technical foundation upon which, as modern Socialism holds, the proletariat will shape production in accordance with its interests, when it becomes a politically decisive factor.

The capitalist mode of production, however, developed its evils at an earlier time than it created the elements which are destined to remove them. The proletariat must become a permanent institution and an important section of the people before it is conscious of itself as a class and can reveal itself to the investigator as the power which will bear the burden of social reorganisation. On the other hand, under the system of commodity production, large-scale industry can only develop in the capitalistic form; it only becamepossible when large masses of capital had accumulated in a few hands, which were confronted with an army of propertyless, work-seeking proletarians.

Capital and proletariat, mass poverty and great wealth must exist for a long time before they develop the seeds of a new society. So long as such seeds are not disclosed, all attempts to remove the evils of the capitalist mode of production by the introduction of an alternative system are futile, and Socialism is doomed to remain of a Utopian character.

This was still the position at the beginning of the nineteenth century. How much more unfavourable was it in More's time! At the beginning of the nineteenth century there was already a Labour Movement with definite aims; the only Labour Movement that More was acquainted with consisted of a few secret leagues and despairing revolts of artisan and peasant elements. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the transition from capitalist manufacture to large-scale industry could be clearly perceived. In More's time capitalism was just beginning to gain the upper hand over the industry and agriculture of England. Its domination had not lasted long enough to effect a technical revolution; the difference between capitalist and simple commodity production was of degree rather than of kind. The worker who wove wool for the merchant did so in the same way as the members of the Weavers' Guild. The difference consisted merely in the fact that the merchant employed more workers than the master weaver, and that the master weaver's journeymen had every prospect of becoming masters themselves, while the wage worker of the capitalist merchant had no chance of ever becoming a capitalist. The distinction between the capitalist and the guild mode of production was then only of a social, not of a technical character: handicraft was the basis of one as of the other.

Agriculture was in a like case. The undertakings of capitalist farmers were at first distinguished from those of feudal settlers by their magnitude. There was little to be seen of improvements in methods of cultivation or the use of perfected tools. Men were made superfluous, not by an increase in the productivity of agricultural labour, but by the transition to a ruder form of agricultural production, from cornfields to pasturage.

However obvious, therefore, certain of the evils of capitalism were in More's time, the technical foundations upon which it was based, and upon which More was obliged to build up his anti-capitalist commonwealth, were still handicraft and peasant agriculture.

It is clear that More could not avoid deviating in many points from modern Socialism. Reactionary as he seems to us in many respects, if one is so foolish as to measure him by the standards of the twentieth and not by the sixteenth century—being, in consequence of the backwardness of the proletariat, an opponent of every popular movement and a champion of constitutional monarchy—More's Socialism often appears retrogressive in an economic respect. The surprising thing is, however, that in spite of the unfavourable conditions, More's Socialism does exhibit so many of the most essential features of modern Socialism that he may rightly be counted among modern Socialists.

The unmodern aspects of More's Communism are the necessary consequences of the mode of production he was obliged to take as his starting-point. The chief of these reactionary features is the attachment of every man to a specific handicraft.

The most important work in modern large-scale industry is assigned to science, which methodically investigates the mechanical and chemical forces employed in production, and also investigates the mechanical and chemical properties of the various materials whose transformation is the object of production, and finally directs the application of the technical principles it has investigated. Onlya few easily learned movements in connection with supervising the machinery or the chemical processes are left to the hand worker.

This vacuity and simplicity of manual labour is to-day one of the most important causes of its degrading tendency. It no longer employs or attracts the mind, and is repellent and blunting in its effect. It permits skilled labour to be replaced by unskilled, and strong workers by weak workers. It also frees the capitalists to an increasing extent from the necessity of keeping a staff of skilled workers. And simultaneously the conditions of production are constantly being transformed by the application of science to production, for science does not rest, nor does the pressure of competition to effect new improvements. The machine of yesterday is obsolete to-day, and out of the running to-morrow.

When the proletariat directs production, it will transform these causes of the degradation of the working class into so many instruments for its elevation. The simplification of machine movements renders it possible for the worker to change his work from time to time, bringing into play a number of muscles and nerves whose harmonious activity will impart vitality just as unproductive gymnastics do to-day. Successively engaged in the most diverse occupations, he will then become conscious of his latent capabilities, and from a machine will become a free man. And the simultaneous preoccupation with the sciences, which will come with a shorter working day, will restore intellectual meaning to his work, by disclosing its connection with the totality of technical and economic processes and their roots.

Instead of changes of work, which is only possible with large-scale production, and will also be necessary if the working class is not to degenerate, More prescribes the attachment of every worker to a specific, handicraft. In handicraft the handling of the tool and the knowledge of its effect upon the raw material is not the result of methodical and scientific investigation, but is the accumulation of personal, often haphazard, experiences. This is also the case with manufacture, where, however, each division of production is split up into various detail processes, to each of which a worker is permanently assigned, and to learn which does not, of course, require as much time as is necessary to learn all the movements and methods of a specific process of production. While it is necessary in manufacture to keep a worker for a long time at his detail process, in order to acquire the needful skill to make his labour as productive as possible, in handicraft it is a technical necessity to put a worker to a certain trade in youth, so that from constant intercourse with a skilled master, he may become acquainted with all the traditions of the trade. This apprenticeship did not appear an evil, as handicraft still possessed a certain charm.

But how shall we deal with the work of day labourers, who were already very numerous in More's time, with the dirty work—slaughtering, sanitary services, etc.? These unpleasant labours, a favourite objection of the Philistine to Socialism, have been a thorn in the flesh for all Utopists. Fourier tried to solve the problem by introducing psychological motives, often very ingeniously contrived, into work. More attempted to achieve something similar, as we have seen, by the lever of religion, which was so strong in his time. But as he did not consider this sufficient, he was obliged to have recourse to the compulsory labour of slaves, and to introduce into his commonwealth a class without property and rights working for others. He resorts to all kinds of devices to soften this institution by pointing to persons in that class who might otherwise have been overtaken by a worse fate. To remove the degraded class entirely was impossible for him, given the technical foundation of his speculations. Only modern largescale industry provides the full opportunity for adjusting the various kinds of work, and so simplifying the residue of unpleasant work as to permit of its alternate performance by all capable of labour, thus abolishing any special compulsion upon an unfortunate class of workers. The distinction between pleasant and unpleasant work has largely disappeared, inasmuch as work which was formerly pleasant has been divested of every attraction. But modern technology has also succeeded in lightening or abolishing many unpleasant tasks. On the whole, however, technology has not hitherto accomplished very much in this direction. To make work more pleasant is not the task which capitalism assigns to it. Capitalism desires a saving of labour-power, even though the unpleasantness of work be increased. Only when the working class exercises a decisive influence upon the mode of production, will science be utilised to throw its whole weight into solving the problem of abolishing unpleasant labours. And there is no problem of this kind which modern technology could not solve as soon as it seriously applied itself thereto. Moreover, a great part of the unpleasant work of today will be abolished by the transfer of industry to the countryside, of which we shall have to speak.

A third feature which contradicts modern Socialism may be referred to in this connection: the frugality of the Utopians.

More's intention is—and this is quite a modern feature—to free the citizens of his commonwealth as much as possible from physicallabour, in order to procure them leisure for intellectual and social activity. His chief means to this end are the organisation of labour, to avoid all the useless work which the existing anarchy introduces into the economic life, and which was comparatively slight in More's time, and finally the restriction of wants.

The first two points More has in common with modern Socialism, but not the last. To speak to-day of the necessity of restricting wants, in order to shorten working hours, would imply a strange misconception of the conditions of our age of over-production, where one technical improvement follows another, where the mode of production has reached such a level of productivity that it theatens to burst the framework of capitalism, in order to develop without hindrance.

It was different in More's time. The productivity of handicraft developed very slowly, and sometimes completely ossified. And so it was with peasant agriculture. No considerable increase of production in relation to the number of workers could be expected from a communism established on this foundation. Consequently, wants had to be limited if it was desired to reduce hours of labour.

The effect of capitalism, as More saw it, was not overproduction, but scarcity. Pasturage was extended at the expense of agriculture, resulting in a rise in the prices of food, which was partly caused by the flow of silver and gold from America to Europe. What, however, was of greater weight with More in making his Utopians of frugal manners was the senseless luxury of his age. A luxury in clothing as in the furnishing of houses, an excessive pomp, developed, which served not for the satisfaction of an artistic need, but the display of wealth. It is easy to understand why More combated this with great vigour, and why he went to the opposite extreme in clothing his Utopians with skins and uniform woollen garments.

Do not, however, believe that More preached a monkish asceticism. On the contrary, we shall see him revealed as a true Epicurean in respect of harmless enjoyments which did not impose superfluous work upon the community.

Here, as elsewhere, his unmodern ideas appear as limitations imposed upon him by the backwardness of his age, without influencing him to the extent of obscuring the essentially modern character of his ideals.

This becomes obvious when we consider what features More's Socialism has in common with present-day Socialism, in contrast both to primitive communism, with whose vestiges More became acquainted, and to Plato's communism, with which, as we know, he was familiar.

We have already noted how world commerce broke down the exclusiveness and restrictions of the primitive community, beyond which even Plato did not advance, as he put the nation as an economic unity in place of the village community.

But world trade also broke down the caste system of the primitive communities.

Like the medieval towns, the Platonic Republic was divided into rigidly defined castes, and Plato's communism was a privilege of the supreme caste.

On the other hand, the vital principle of capitalism is free competition: equality of competitive conditions for everybody, and therefore abolition of caste distinctions. If capitalism united the small communities into a nation, it also tended to absorb all castes into one nation.

This tendency of capitalism also coincides with More's communism. It is national in contrast to the local and caste communism of the past, with which More was acquainted by experience and study. In this, he was more modern than present-day Anarchism, which aims at splitting up the nation into independent groups and communes.

We have seen that the Senate of the Utopians consists of delegates from the various communities; it is this representative body of the nation which organises production, estimates the needs which it is to supply, and divides the labour produce according to the results of these statistics. The local communities are not commodity producers, exchanging their products for those of other communities. Each one produces for the whole nation. The nation, and not the local community, is also the owner of the means of production; above all, of the land. And not the local community, but the Commonwealth as a whole sells to foreign countries the superfluity of products and receives the proceeds of such sale. Gold and silver constitute the war chest of the nation.

The equality of all members of the community, however, which under capitalism only implies an equality of competitive conditions, becomes, under More's communism, an equal obligation of all to labour. This great principle connects it most closely with modern Socialism, and distinguishes it most sharply from Plato's communism, which is a communism of non-workers, of exploiters. The privileged class of the Platonic Republic, the "guardians," who alone practise communism, regarded work as something degrading; they lived on the tribute from the working citizens.

There is only one unimportant exception from the equal obligation to labour in Utopia: among the able-bodied a few scholars are exempted. This exception was necessary under the system of handicraft, where manual work was too onerous to leave time for mental activity.

The existence of compulsory labour, of course, contravenes the equality of the Utopians. We have seen what the explanation of this contradiction is. Moreover, More himself, in making this concession to the backwardness of the contemporary mode of production, preserved the modern character as much as possible, inas much as he made the bondsmen, not a hereditary caste, but a class. The bondsmen are either foreign wage workers, who may change their position if they desire, or declassed persons condemned to forced labour, owing to their misconduct, with the chance of retrieving their characters.

Specially noteworthy and completely in line with present-day Socialism is the equal obligation to work imposed on man and woman, the assigning to woman an industrial vocation. Women as well as men must learn a handicraft….

An important and characteristic feature of the mode of production of the Utopians has yet to be mentioned: the removal of the antagonism between town and country.

This problem is a wholly modern one, due to the concentration of industry in the towns. In More's time the solution of the problem was not so pressing as it is today. Yet the antagonism between town and country had already developed pretty considerably in many countries. This may be inferred from the rise of pastoral poetry (first in Italy in the fifteenth century) which expressed the longing of the townsman for the country.

More had a particularly good opportunity to observe the tendency of the modern mode of production to increase the size of the great towns, for London was one of the most rapidly growing towns of that time.

More himself left London as often as he could to stay in the village of Chelsea.

The conditions of London and More's own inclinations combined to convince him of the necessity for abolishing the antagonism between town and country.

This can only be done by transferring industry to the countryside, by combining industrial with agricultural labour. If, however, this adjustment is not to lead to general rustication, the technical means must exist to remove that isolation which is necessarily bound up with small peasant farming, means for the communication of ideas by other methods than personal intercourse—newspapers, post, telegraph, telephone, must be highly developed, as well as means for the transport of products, machines, raw materials, and persons: railways, steamers, motor traffic. Finally, every agricultural undertaking must be so extensive as to permit of the concentration of a larger number of workers in one spot.

All these preliminary conditions were entirely absent in More's time. His aim, however, was a higher level of mental culture, not the rustication of the whole people. This combination of agricultural with industrial labour was, therefore, impossible for him, and he was obliged to content himself with prescribing acertain period of agricultural labour for every citizen, making children familiar with it from an early age, and setting a limit to the size of the towns. We shall learn that no town might number more or less than 6,000 families, comprising ten to sixteen adults. These devices do not, of course, harmonise with modern Socialism, but they were a necessity imposed upon More by the small-scale production of his time.

We observe again that More's aims are modern, but their realisation was prevented by the backwardness of the mode of production of his time. This was sufficiently developed to enable an observer like More, methodically trained and specially cognisant of the economic conditions, and under the particularly favourable circumstances which England then offered, to perceive its tendencies, but not far enough developed to disclose the means of overcoming these tendencies.

Thus More's communism is modern in most of its tendencies, and unmodern in most of its expedients.

H. W. Donner (essay date 1945)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7247

SOURCE: "Communism?" and "Solution," in Introduction to Utopia, Sidgwick & Jackson, Ltd., 1945, pp. 66-83.

[In the following chapters from his critical study Introduction to Utopia, Donner addresses the debate concerning More's portrayal of communism; he concludes that the Utopia indirectly rejects communism as a solution to social ills, arguing that human behavior, rather than social institutions, must change.]

So far the apparent tendency of the Utopia seems to agree tolerably well with what we know of that "righteous and holy judge" who was its author. But we are not going to escape so easily. Of all the features of the Utopian commonwealth the most notable is the community of ownership. Yet we possess a most emphatic contradiction of the very principle of communism from the pen of More himself. In the Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, written during his imprisonment in the Tower, in expectancy of martyrdom, at a moment when he was opening his heart wholly to God, More wrote:

But, cousin, men of substance must there be, for else shall you have more beggars, pardie, than there be, and no man left able to relieve another. For this I think in my mind a very sure conclusion, that if all the money that is in this country, were to-morrow next brought together out of every man's hand, and laid all upon one heap, and then divided out unto every man alike, it would be on the morrow after worse than it was the day before. For I suppose when it were all equally thus divided among all, the best should be left little better then, than almost a beggar is now. And yet he that was a beggar before, all that he shall be the richer for that he should thereby receive, shall not make him much above a beggar still, but many one of the rich men, if their riches stood but in moveable substance, shall be safe enough from riches for all their life after.

Men cannot, you wot well, live here in this world, but if that some one man provide a mean of living for some other many. Every man cannot have a ship of his own, nor every man be a merchant withouta stock; and these things, you wot well, must needs be had; nor every man cannot have a plough by himself. And who might live by the tailor's craft, if no man were able to put a gown to make? Who by the masonry or who could live a carpenter, if no man were able to build neither church, nor house? Who should be makers of any manner cloth, if there lacked men of substance to set sundry sorts a work? Some man that hath but two ducats in his house, were better forbear them both and leave himself not a farthing, but utterly lose all his own, than that some rich man, by whom he is weekly set a work should of his money lose the one half; for then were himself like to lack work. For surely the rich man's substance is the wellspring of the poor man's living. And therefore here would it fare by the poor man, as it fared by the woman in one of Æsop's fables, which had an hen that laid her every day a golden egg; till on a day she thought she would have a great many eggs at once, and therefore she killed her hen, and found but one or twain in her belly, so that for covetise of those few, she lost many.

In the course of nearly twenty years that had passed between the writing of Utopia and the Dialogue of Comfort More might have changed his mind, as [Karl] Kautsky believed. For a long time that was the accepted view. And in fact, even in his life-time he was charged with inconsistency by [William] Tyndale. The accusation didnot concern communism, it is true, but it presents the same problem. Twitting him with the Encomium Moriae, written in his house and dedicated to him by his "darling" Erasmus, Tyndale wants to show that More did not always look with any great reverence upon the images and relics of the saints. More answered the charge. After quoting Tyndale's words he writes:

If this be true, then the more cause have I to thank God for amendment. But surely this is untrue. For, God be thanked! I never had that mind in my life to have holy saints' images or their holy relics out of reverence. Nor, if there were any such thing in Moria, that thing could not yet make any man see that I were myself of that mind, the book being made by another man, though he were my darling never so dear. Howbeit, that book of Moria doth indeed but jest upon the abuses of such things, after the manner of the disour's part in a play.

The Utopia was not written by another man, but the praises of communism were certainly laid in another man's mouth. Was Raphael Hythloday playing the Jester's part in the comedy of Utopia?

How important is the question of interpretation we may gather from the continuation. "In these days", More goes on to say,

in which men by their own default, misconstrue, and take harm of the very scripture of God, until men better amend, if any man would now translate Moria into English, or some works either that I have myself written ere this, albeit there be none harm therein, folk yet being (as they are) given to take harm of that that is good, I would not only my darling's books but mine own also, help to burn them both with mine own hands, rather than folk should (though through their own fault) take any harm of them, seeing that I see them likely in these days so to do.

More does not repudiate Utopia, but times have changed, and he seems to fear lest it should be misinterpreted.

In his Apology, published in 1533, when after his resignation he stood alone and in need of making his position clear beyond doubt, there is an interesting passage concerning private ownership, which takes us back at any rate two years nearer the publication of Utopia. Refuting the "Pacifyer" who had suggested the confiscation of the superfluous property of the Church, More answers with passion: "But by what right men may take away from any man, spiritual or temporal, against his will, the land that is already lawfully his own, that thing this pacifyer telleth us not yet." Then More goes on to relate the amusing experiences he has had inmaking people imagine instances where a change of ownership might seem suitable. At first they had always been enthusiastic, but on second thoughts they had usually had to give up the attempt of introducing a better order of things.

Not for that we might not always find other enough content to enter into their possessions, though we could not always find other men enough content to enter into their religions, but for that in devising what way they should be better bestowed, such ways as at the first face seemed very good, and for the comfort and help of poor folk very charitable, appeared after upon reasoning, more likely within a while to make many beggars more than to relieve them that are already.

The argument is the same as in the Dialogue of Comfort, and for a more detailed statement of his views on the question of the confiscation of property More refers us to the lengthier argumentation of his own Supplication of Souls, which had been published as early as 1530.

More's arguments are chiefly two. One is that no improvement would result if one man's goods were taken away from him and given to other people. The second is that it would be against the law. Remembering with what determination, not to say ferocity even, the Utopians upheld the law, it may be worth while going back to the argumentation which introduces the description of communist Utopia in the first book.

Raphael takes up the question of a redistribution of property, limiting the share of each private citizen and each officer of the crown—even of the king himself, as Fortescue had indeed suggested—to a certain statutory amount. But, he says, this would not solve the problem, for people would start enriching themselves anew and "while you go about to do your cure of one part, you shall make bigger the sore of another part: so the help of one causeth another's harm, forasmuch as nothing can be given to any man, unless it be taken from another". As to the utility of such an attempt there seems to be complete agreement between the opinion voiced by Hythloday and More's own. And in point of law also, surprising as this may seem, there seems to be a considerable amount of unison. For Hythloday says that "here among us, every man hath his possessions several to himself", a statement of fact, comparable to More's phrase concerning "the land that is already lawfully his own", just quoted from the Apology. About the legality of this arrangement there is as little doubt in the mind of Hythloday as in More's own. Nor does Raphael even question the justice of it, unless we attribute to his words a meaning which they do not seem to contain. All that he denies is: "that justice is there executed where all things come into the hands of evil men"; and where all except very few are compelled to "live miserably, wretchedly, and beggarly". This is the real problem.

Reasoning in favor of communism, Raphael argues that "where every man under certain titles and pretences draweth and plucketh to himself as much as he can, and so a few divide among themselves all the riches that there is" (the problem in England at that time), "be there never so much abundance and store, there to the residue is left lack and poverty". And, as if he had said that private property is the cause of greed and covetousness, he concludes that "wheresoever possessions be private, where money beareth all the stroke, it is hard and almost impossible that there the weal public may justly be governed and prosperously flourish". He seems to blame the institution of private property for making men evil. More has met that argument in his Apology, and he could have contradicted it most emphatically in the Utopia, had he wanted to do so. For the sake of argument, however, he lets Hythloday score the point and confines his objections in the dialogue to the utility of communism.

But I am of a contrary opinion (quod I) for methinks that all men shall never there live wealthily where all things be common. For how can there be abundance of goods, or of anything, where every man withdraweth his hand from labour? whom the regard of his own gains driveth not to work, and the hope that he hath in other men's travails maketh him slothful. Then when they be pricked with poverty, and yet no man can by any law or right defend that for his own, which he hath gotten with the labour of his own hands, shall not there of necessity be continual sedition and bloodshed? specially the authority and reverence of magistrates being taken away; which what place it may have with such men, among whom is no difference, I cannot devise.

The objection that there would be no respect for authority if all were made equal, is particularly interesting, for More's battle in life was always in defence of authority against the anarchy that was threatening, a defence to which he stuck even on the scaffold. In the dialogue he argues also that the institution of private property may encourage people to virtue, whereas community of goods might lead them to indulge in the sin of slothfulness, thus meeting Hythloday on his own ground, and making the reader forget how he got there. Raphael, however, shows no surprise at these objections. His answer is ready: nobody who has not seen the Utopian commonwealth can know anything about communism, his views are prejudiced and of no validity. And so Raphael tells his story. Yet even at the end the More of the dialogue remains sceptical. "Many things", he says,

came to my mind which in the manners and laws of that people seemed to be instituted and founded of no good reason, … and chiefly, in that which is the principal foundation of all their ordinaces, that is to say, in the community of their life and living.

It must be admitted, I think, that More could not have argued more strongly against communism without destroying his own fiction. We accept it as a potential reality because More tricks us to accept it. Evincing a consummate skill in the manipulation of the dialogue he makes us first accept reason, and not human ability, as the standard by which to judge whether something may be realised or no. Secondly he deliberately deceives us into blaming institutions, instead of human nature, as the cause of abuses and injustice. In this way he persuades us that society can be cured of all the evils besetting it, if only the institutions were reasonable. Raphael Hythloday's argument in favour of "cure" is allowed to get the better of More's own, which is that we should so contrive that"what you cannot turn to good, so to order it that it be not very bad", and which is dismissed by Raphael as effecting at the best no more than a "mitigation" of evil. This is the manner in which More brings about his brilliant jeu d'esprit. Without this deception there would have been no Utopia, or if there had, it must have been taken to be More's own ideal.

It is possible to marshal even more arguments against the identification of Hythloday's Utopian fiction with More's practical suggestions for reform. When at the end he says that he must "needs confess and grant, that many things be in the Utopian weal public, which in our cities I may rather wish for than hope after", More uses a phrase (optarim verius quam sperarim) which in Humanist terminology means that it would be too good to be true. He expresses it very similarly earlier on when he says that "it is not possible for all things to be well, unless all men were good: which I think will not be yet this good many years". More's "twin spirit" Erasmus had used a similar locution in his Institutio principis Christiani, where he said that "it is too much even to hope that all men will be good". And the phrase returns in More's Apology: "Would God the world were such as every man were good … But sith that this is more easy to wish, than likely to look for" … the cure is not as simple as that, and does not lie in a change-over from one political system to another. As for communism it is instructive to glance for a moment at the opinions of other members of that group of humanists whose unison of thought is such that one can often use the words of one to express the ideas of another. In his criticism of the doctrines of the Anabaptists Vives, Erasmus' pupil and More's friend who so warmly recommended the Utopia, puts the argument against communism more strongly than either of them, when he protests against "the recent iniquitous wars" and the demand of the rebels for property to be held in common,

whereas you cannot by any promulgation transfer the virtue of man's mind, or his wisdom, judgment, memory, into common property. Or even if you limit the demand to material things, the taking of the student's books away from him for the use of the soldier will not be recompensed by the student's joint use of the implements of war.

Erasmus also, speaking on the same subject, says that the communism attempted in practice "was only possible when the Church was small, and then not among all Christians: as soon as the Gospel spread widely, it became quite impossible. The best way towardsagreement is that property should be in the hands of lawful owners, but that out of charity we should share one with another".

During the last years of More's life communism was no joking matter, as indicated in the Confutation, and when he tackles the problem of how to reconcile private property with Christianity in his Dialogue of Comfort, More reaches much the same conclusion as Erasmus though as always he evinces an appreciation of the practical difficulties which escaped his learned friend. And in reading this extract we must not forget that More was "the best friend the poor e'er had."

But now, cousin, to come to your doubt, how it may be that a man may with conscience keep riches with him, when he seeth so many poor men upon whom he may bestow it; verily that might he not with conscience do, if he must bestow it upon as many as he may. And so must of truth every rich man do, if all the poor folk that he seeth be so specially by God's commandment committed unto his charge alone, that because our Saviour saith, Omni petenti te, da, Give every man that asketh thee, therefore he be bounden to give out still to every beggar that will ask him, as long as any penny lasteth in his purse. But verily, cousin, that saying hath (as St. Austin saith other places in Scripture hath) need of interpretation. For as holy St. Austin saith: Though Christ say, Give every man that asketh thee, he saith not yet, give them all that they will ask thee. But surely all were one, if he meant to bind me by commandment, to give every man without exception somewhat; for so should I leave myself nothing.

Our Saviour in that place of the 6th chapter of St. Luke, speaketh both of the contempt that we should in heart have of these worldly things, and also of the manner that men should use toward their enemies. For there he biddeth us love our enemies, give good words for evil, and not only suffer injuries patiently, both by taking away of our good and harm done unto our body, but also to be ready to suffer the double, and over that to do them good again that do us the harm. And among these things, he biddeth us give every man that asketh, meaning, that in the thing that we may conveniently do a man good, we should not refuse it, what manner of man soever he be, though he were our mortal enemy, namely where we see, that but if we help him ourself, the person of the man should stand in peril of perishing. And therefore saith St. Paul, Si esurient inimicus tuus, da illi cibum,—If thine enemy be in hunger give him meat. But now, though I be bounden to give every manner man in some manner of his necessity, were he my friend or my foe, Christian man or heathen; yet am I not unto all men bounden alike, nor unto any manin every case alike. But, as I began to tell you, the differences of the circumstances make great change in the matter.

St. Paul saith, Qui non providet suis, est infideli deterior,—He that provideth not for those that are his, is worse than an infidel. Those are ours that are belonging to our charge, either by nature, or law, or any commandment of God.

In this passage we come extraordinarily near to the meaning of Utopia and may be able to judge better of that unique consistency which marks More's life and writings. Utopia was not a programme either for imperialist expansion, as Oncken would have it, nor for a communist revolution, as Kautsky thought. If it had been understood as a plea for a communist state, would not this have been held against him by his enemies when More stood friendless at his trial? What he actually says in his own person in the dialogue of the first book is that if you want to improve things and influence ministers of state "you must not labour to drive into their heads new and strange informations". You must accept what order you find established and go slow about improving on it, lest you should end by marring rather than mending. This Hythloday admits, inasmuch as he says: "If so be that I should speak those things that Plato feigneth in his weal public, or thatthe Utopians do in theirs; these things though they were (as they be in deed) better, yet they might seem spoken out of place." Even Hythloday does not conceive of communism as a practical programme of reform, but what he has so far pleaded for, is that the greed and luxury of the rich should be restrained, that work should be provided for the poor, that kings should obstain from wars and conquest and seek peace and the welfare of their subjects. These recommendations he wants to push home, and so illustrates them with examples from the history and practice of fictitious peoples like the Polylerites and the Achorians. To More and Peter Giles, however, he tells his story of the happy state of the Utopians, and, the reader's mind being sufficiently prepared to accept the fiction, More publishes Hythloday's story as something "whereby these our cities, nations, countries, and Kingdoms may take example". It was More's manner to teach by means of examples, and like a modern Aesop he tells his fables about men instead of animals, but we must not forget that examples may be of various kinds and different application. They may encourage imitation, but they may warn us against it also. Even in the second book of Utopia More does not always point the way of the ascent to heaven, but that of the descent also into that hell whose glare flickers over its pages. And so he chose that double manner of praise and parody, making some things good in his ideal commonwealth and some things"very absurd", leaving it to the good sense of his readers to decide where he was in earnest and where he was speaking "in sport".

Returning now to the parallels that it is possible to draw between Utopia and Europe, we find that in the self-abnegating and austere communism of Utopia there lies concealed more than a vague likeness to the Christian monasteries, already threatened by the onslaught of a new age with "new and strange informations". Even more than in the common land agriculture, communism existed in the monasteries of Europe, and so the Utopian example becomes in this light a defence of the monasteries. Where it existed More did not want to see communism abolished, but he did not believe it was possible everywhere in this wretched state of the world. More did not believe in "cure", as did his own Raphael Hythloday, but he regarded it as the duty of all to try and "mitigate" the ills of this world. Nor has he left us in ignorance of the manner in which it should be undertaken….

The Utopian commonwealth is ingeniously built up from suggestions in the narratives of Vespucci and Peter Martyr, combined with hints from Plato's Republic and Laws, the Germania of Tacitus, and other sources which describe the workings of a primitive society, if byprimitive is meant a society living according to the law of nature. All Utopian institutions are founded on reason, and on reason alone. More has been careful never to exceed this self-imposed limitation. The Utopians have learned everything that the ancient philosophers can teach us, and even in their religion there is nothing for which there was no precedent in classical antiquity. Like their institutions, their philosophy and religion also are founded on reason. Their virtue consists in living according to nature, and the law of nature regulates their private and public life, their actions in peace as well as in war. As a synthesis of the best pagan customs and philosophical systems, of the political and religious thought of the pagan world, Utopia is an achievement of no small significance, a tour de force which delighted the humanists of the Renaissance and gained for its author a position among the foremost men of learning in Europe, excelling in wit, erudition, and style. To the learned it was not least for its scholarship that Utopia became an object of admiration. With a consistency that must impress minds trained in the school of the Platonic Academy of Florence and stimulated by the constructions of Pico and Reuchlin, More assigned to the Utopians a definite place in the order of the universe and in the history of mankind. To the common reader no such complexities need detract from his enjoyment of the book as a production of humanist wit, a jeu d'esprit of an uncommonly accessible nature.

Against the background of Europe ruled by Folly, as described by Erasmus in the Moriae Encomium or by More himself in the first book, Utopia is described as ruled by Reason. It is a picture that must stimulate even the most unthinking to some searching of heart. As the late R. W. Chambers put it, "the virtues of heathen Utopia show up by contrast the vices of Christian Europe". It is as a plea for Reason that the Utopia must strike the reader most forcibly. Against the background of insane tyranny and senseless war, Utopia enjoys both peace and freedom. Instead of lawlessness and anarchy in Europe, law and order in Utopia. It is an order based on respect for the dignity of man and the freedom of conscience, trampled under foot in contemporary Europe. Instead of the selfishness and greed of a few rich men depriving the European masses of their means of livelihood, collaboration for the common good providing plenty for all Utopian citizens. Instead of concentrating on material gains, the Utopians prefer the pleasures of the mind. Learning is there the property of all, whereas in Europe ignorance in the cloak of priesthood was persistently trying to stop the expansion of the mind. In Utopia there is no such contradiction, and, in words strongly reminiscent of Pico, More sets out the Utopian conviction of the agreement between the conclusions of anenquiring reason and the truths of a divinely inspired religion.

For whilst they by the help of this Philosophy search out the secret mysteries of nature, they think that they not only receive thereby wonderful great pleasure, but also obtain great thanks and favour of the author and maker thereof. Whom they think, according to the fashion of other artificers, to have set forth the marvellous and gorgeous frame of the world for man to behold; whom only he hath made of wit and capacity to consider and understand the excellency of so great a work. And therefore, say they, doth he bear more good will and love to the curious and diligent beholder and viewer of his work, and marvellor at the same, than he doth to him, which like a very beast without wit and reason, or as one without sense or moving, hath no regard to so great and so wonderful a spectacle.

Lest, however, we should be misled by the parallel to disapprove of the religious orders as such, More has given Utopia her monks also, who prefer hard manual labour to the contemplation of nature. For even the Utopians recognize that reason is not sufficient for the understanding of all mysteries in nature, and so in their philosophy they call on religion for the confirmation of the fundamental truths of the existence of God and man'simmortality, postulated by reason. While from the nature of his sources he had to make his Utopians embrace an Epicurean doctrine of pleasure which might seem to conflict with the mediaeval ideal of asceticism, More with his supreme intellectual facility dissolves the difficulty by making them recognize the insufficiency of reason to decide in what the felicity of man consists and so they come naturally to found morality on religion.

They reason of virtue and pleasure. But the chief and principal question is in what thing, be it one or more, the felicity of man consisteth. But in this point they seem almost too much given and inclined to the opinion of them which defend pleasure; wherein they determine either all or the chiefest part of man's felicity to rest. And (which is more to be marvelled at) the defence of this so dainty and delicate an opinion they fetch even from their grave, sharp, bitter, and rigorous religion. For they never dispute of felicity or blessedness, but they join to the reasons of Philosophy certain principles taken out of religion; without the which, to the investigation of true felicity, they think reason of itself weak and unperfect.

It is in the spirit that inspires the Utopian commonwealth that we must seek the key to the interpretation of its meaning. This is to be found neither in its laws nor in its institutions. Utopia is not a country where everybody acts reasonably from choice only, but under a compulsion intolerable to modern minds. Utopian law is indeed a law as "ungentle and sharp" as it is inexorable. To Europe, however, God has given "the new law of clemency and mercy, under the which he ruleth us with fatherly gentleness, as his dear children". In our appreciation of Utopia we must consequently understand that her citizens labour under the handicap of that "ungentle and sharp law" which reflects their "grave, sharp, bitter, and rigorous religion," whereas to us Christians God has given not only reason to guide us, but he has also revealed to us his own law, which is love, and peace, and justice.

"Reason is servant to Faith and not enemy", said More, and so faith rises on the foundations of reason, like the pinnacles and spires from the roof of a cathedral. But reason alone can never arrive at the "fruition of the sight of God's glorious majesty face to face". To a disciple of St. Thomas Aquinas, Pico, and Colet, the most elevated pagan philosophy and religion could only be a preparation for the revelation of Christianity, and the first rungs on Jacob's ladder. The law of reason, which governs Utopia, is subservient to the Divine law, which ought to rule the behaviour of all Christians. Raphael Hythloday consequently tells us that we mustnot "wink at the most part of all those things which Christ taught us and so straitly forbade them to be winked at, that those things also which he whispered in the ears of his disciples, he commanded to be proclaimed openly on the house-tops". However ideal it might appear by contrast with the contemporary Europe, Utopia does not represent More's ultimate ideal. It is a state founded only upon reason and ruled by the "ungentle and sharp" law of nature. It does not embody the religion of Christ with its "new law of clemency and mercy". It is a state where slavery is permitted, although in a milder form than in classical antiquity, but it is not a state where all are brethren, as Christ would have it. It is a community where grievous offences against the law are punished with death, but "God commandeth us that we shall not kill".

Reason by itself is "weak and unperfect". Only God's guidance can bring man to the perfection for which He created him. Hence pagan behaviour cannot be a model for Christians to imitate, or as Erasmus put it in his Institutio principis Christiani: "Whenever you think of yourself as a prince, remember that you are a Christian prince! You should be as different from even the noble pagan princes as a Christian is from a pagan." Providence had not granted to the Utopians the privilege of Revelation, and so their manners cannot serve as models for those who have received revealedreligion, even if the Utopian welcome extended to the Christians in Hythloday's party seems to indicate that they have not much farther to travel on the road of preparation for the reception of the mystery. So far they remain on the level of pagan philosophy, and the ultimate ideal is very much higher. Speaking of the great princes of antiquity, Erasmus says: "As it would be most disgraceful to be surpassed by them in any honorable deed of theirs, so it would be the last degree of madness for a Christian prince to wish to imitate them without change. The disgrace of being surpassed by the heathen was keenly felt by Vives in comparing the Legenda Aurea with the classical masterpieces of literature, relating not the lives of saints but of cruel soldiers and generals. Yet how much greater shame must not we feel, seeing that whereas we live at constant enmity one against the other, the Utopians have achieved a state of law and order. In spite of their hard laws they have surpassed us, not only in the perfection of their institutions, but in their mutual help and generosity and unreserved collaboration. Even in the instance of punishments they seem to have surpassed us, for whereas the Utopians inflict capital punishment only on hardened sinners, Europeans punish the loss of a little money with "the loss of man's life." In this manner of interpretation Raphael's arguments in the first book of Utopia derive the strongest possible support from the institutions of the Utopians, not in the likeness but in the differences between a Christian and a pagan state. Whereas the pagan Utopians may employ serfs to meet the needs of labour, the disgrace to Europe is almost inconceivable inasmuch as servitude in Utopia should be found preferable to so called "freedom" elsewhere. In attempting to understand More's meaning we must always remember this, that reason alone supports the Utopian laws and institutions, but reason has a claim on Europe also. It is not enemy to Faith, but servant. In the likeness of Utopia More shows how certain institutions in Europe, threatened by destruction, are founded on reason and so worth preserving, because where there is reason there is hope of religion. But for Christians to try and imitate Utopian institutions without change "would be the last degree of madness".

When therefore sociologists are concerned to show to what extent the Utopian ideal has been realised in modern society and to what degree it still remains unfulfilled, they are merely breaking up the Coloseum in order to build the Farnese Palace. They have seen only the stones and forgotten the vision. It was not the constitution of commonwealths that More desired to reform, but the spirit. The Utopian institutions can be nothing except "very absurd" without the spirit that informs them. They must not be copied, but surpassed by Christian institutions. The community of goods that reason recommends to the Utopians, must be excelled in the spiritual community of all Christians. It was the Christian monasteries that provided the pattern for the Utopian republic, and in More's mind it was they that represented the mundane revelation of the ultimate ideal.

It might be exemplified in concrete instances how far short of the Christian standard the Utopians actually fall. When the priests in Utopia are allowed to marry, this must not be understood as More's scheme for the reformation of the Church; it is merely that God has not granted them that personal intimacy which has only been made possible through the Incarnation. Utopian religious customs are no more models for the Christian Church than are the political institutions of that commonwealth, and so must not be taken literally. The fact that in Utopia God is worshipped under different names, is certainly not served up by More for imitation by the Catholic Church, to which in More's view God had alone revealed himself. The Utopians with reason as their sole guide can only convince themselves of the existence of God; about his nature they can know nothing. Hence toleration is natural to them. Yet I cannot agree with those who would have it not apply where Christianity is concerned, being a revealed religion and so admitting of no doubt as to the truth of its doctrine. The Divinelaw is a law "of clemency and mercy", and the Utopian toleration requires its counterpart in Christian charity. Whatever ideas he may have entertained concerning the reformation of the Church, and it would carry us too far to go into the question of its details, More left it to the Church itself. Even in the first part of Utopia where he so sharply criticizes European conditions, not sparing ecclesiastics any more than laymen, it is the abuses he condemns, not the institutions. What he is asking for, is that in the same way as reason was allowed to regulate life in Utopia, so reason illuminated by Divine revelation should be given a hearing in European affairs. Just as the Utopians live in strict obedience to the law of nature, so must we be ruled by the law of Christ. Temporal justice is "the strongest and surest bond of a commonwealth", says More, and he does not want us to set it aside, but man-made law must be tempered by the law of Christ which is itself the highest justice.

Such has long been the Roman Catholic interpretation of Utopia, and it has been convincingly restated dur ing recent years. It has been maintained with characteristic vigour and eloquence by the late R. W. Chambers in his great biography of More. This was also the way in which his contemporaries understood More's intention, as plainly appears from Budé's remark that if only the three principles of Utopia, which he accurately defined as equality, love of peace, and contempt of gold, could be "fixed in the minds of all men, … We should soon see pride, covetousness, insane competition, and almost all other deadly weapons of our adversary the devil, fall powerless." By showing how far short of the Utopians contemporary Europe fell in the practice of the four cardinal virtues of wisdom, fortitude, temperance, and justice, More wanted to stimulate us not only in the exercise of mundane virtue but of the Christian virtues also of faith, hope, and charity. In St. Augustine's terminology we may say that in Utopia More gives us such a description of a vita socialis, based only on the four pagan virtues, as must most forcibly remind us of our duty by means of an ardent exercise of the three Christian virtues to prepare for the Civitas Dei. Self-love, according to St. Augustine, is the opposite to the love of God, and so it is the love of self in all its utterances from mere vanity to cruel tyranny that More attacks most violently in the first book of Utopia, showing us in the second how the noble Utopians have eschewed self from all their dealings and find their greatest pleasure in working for the good of all and in actively helping their fellows. We cling to our worldly treasure, but the Utopians gladly give up their houses every ten years. More does not want us to imitate this custom, which no doubt he would have described as "very absurd", but he did want us to feel that onehouse is "as nigh heaven" as another. More did not want us to give everything away, but he did want us to use our wealth in such a way that it should not be said that in our states "money beareth all the stroke"; not for the increase of our own luxury, but for the relief of poverty, so that the prosperity of our society might rival that of Utopia itself. The love of power, which in the guise of the new Machiavellian statecraft was ruining Europe, was in More's view but another outcome of the love of self. In Utopia, however, aggressors are so cruelly punished that they are not likely to disturb the peace a second time.

Religion must reinforce the arguments of reason and Christian society surpass the pagan. It is not our institutions that we must destroy, but those evil passions which are at the root of the abuses. More's programme of reform was one of personal amelioration. "There is nothing better", John Colet, his teacher and confessor, had written to Erasmus, "than that we should lead a pure and holy life, which in my judgment will never be attained but by the ardent love and imitation of Jesus". Had not St. Matthew told us also, that "the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord". More had not forgotten the lesson, and his own passion bears witness to his pious striving to imitate his Master.

In his Apology More did not omit pointing to the personal responsibility of each individual for the good of all. Speaking of the "faults, enormities, and errors" that beset both state and church, he says these he would wish to have amended, "and every man specially labour to mend himself'. This is the advice also that Raphael Hythloday would have wished to give his king—to "let him rather amend his own life, renounce unhonest pleasures, and forsake pride". And in the next instance More asks all to work together to eliminate the faults of society, "observed in the doing evermore such order and fashion as may stand and agree with reason and justice, the king's laws of the realm, the Scripture of God, and the laws of Christ's Church, ever keeping love and concord…. This has been hitherto the whole sum of my writing." Neither did More neglect to rub in the lesson, "for I think every man's duty toward God is so great, that very few folk serve him as they should do".

If, then, one should want to sum up the Utopia in a few inadequate words—for the subject is interminable—one may say that:

In the first book More analyses the evils that beset early sixteenth century English society—and to some extent these are the evils of all human society—and makes suggestions how they might bemitigated. The second book is a moral fable, intended to delight with its wit and ingenuity while it teaches a lesson in private and public morals by means of an example. It does not describe the ultimate ideal, but one that is practicable enough, which we are asked not slavishly to copy, but to surpass and excel. The Utopia does not attempt a final solution of the problems of human society—for More was too wise to attempt the impossible—but it contains an appeal addressed to all of us, which allows of no refusal, that we should try and do each one his share to mend our own selves and ease the burden of our fellow-men, to improve mankind and prepare for the life to come. In this lies its enduring power, that however high we may fix the ideal, to whatever perfection we may attain, More points higher still, from matter to the spirit, and from man to God.

David Bevington (essay date 1961)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5071

SOURCE: "The Dialogue in Utopia: Two Sides of the Question," in Studies in Philology, Vol. 58, No. 1, January, 1961 pp. 496-509.

[In the following essay, Bevington suggests that the dialogue form of the Utopia provides a clue to the author's opinions: More identified with neither Hythloday nor the character named More, but used the discussion to present "a dialogue of the mind with itself. "]

Students of Utopia are divided in their interpretation of Thomas More's political and economic opinions. Is More himself for oragainst common ownership of property? Writers on the question have tended to fall into two clearly defined camps, according to mankind's innate tendency to be born into this world as "either a little Liberal, Or else a little Conservative," and the polemical conflict between the factions has assumed in the context of our uneasy modern world the proportions of ideological warfare. The revered name of Thomas More has been invoked in support of the radical socialist states of the Soviet world empire, as well as in support of the anti-Communist position of the Papacy. Both interpretations purport to be founded on a critical reading of Utopia.

One literary reason why Utopia has lent itself to such divergence of opinion is its basic genre: the dialogue. More's island community is essentially the focal point for an extended discussion on government and society between various speakers or personae, each a character created by the author and having his individual point of view: Peter Giles, Hythloday, and the persona More who may or may not represent the views of Thomas More the writer. Giles's part in the discussion is minor, but Hythloday and persona More present two fundamental sides to the question. Hythloday's platform is the common ownership of property, and he refuses to concede the feasibility of gradual reform in a monarchical society. The persona More is often forthrightly opposed to the doctrine of common ownership, and argues instead for a policy of compromise and slow change within the limitations of practical politics. Their dialogue concludes in apparent lack of reconciliation of these opposing points of view. Accordingly, the critic can choose his hero. If Thomas More speaks directly for himself through the name of More, as he does in his later dialogues against Tyndale, then Hythloday is a dangerous public enemy like Tyndale whose dogmas are explicated only to be exploded. If on the other hand Thomas More uses his own name merely as a protective device in order to propound through Hythloday an essentially subversive political philosophy, then the persona More may be viewed as a dupe or stooge, setting up straw men to be demolished in orderly succession by the invincible progressive.

Between the cry of voices from both sides, the middle position of regarding Utopia as the impartial presentation of two points of view, as a dialogue of the mind with itself, has received less attention than it deserves. The moderate stand is an unglamorous one. It does not have the ineluctable force of an idea carried to its logical absolute. Nevertheless the moderate position has much to commend itself in the writings of the eminently fairminded and humorously wise Thomas More. Our present purpose is to suggest thecritical basis for supposing that Hythloday and persona More represent the two polarities of More's own mind, by an analysis of Utopia in terms of its genre and its historical perspective.

As a literary technique, the dialogue is often used for purposes of refutation, for demonstrating the patent superiority of one idea over another. In this method the creator of the dialogue possesses the enviable advantage of being able to speak on behalf of his opponent, and to order his arguments in a fashion best suited to his own case. To such a type More's diatribes against Tyndale unquestionably belong. Abstractly considered, however, literary dialogue would seem to lend itself equally well to a rendering of two balanced sides of a question. Such dialogue partakes of the nature of the drama: its author can create characters who speak as representatives of the many divisions of humanity. In analyzing a dramatic work we guard ourselves against identifying its author with any one of the characters, however much we may want to believe that some character summarizes our view of the author's mind. In this connection it is worth noting the kinds of early sixteenth-century drama with which More was most likely to be familiar: e.g., Fulgens and Lucrece (printed by John Rastell, More's brother-in-law), and a little later the interludes of John Heywood (More's nephew by marriage). Nearly all of these interludesare characterized primarily by the element of rhetorical debate rather than dramatic action, and often present several sides of a question without preference for one side over the others. For example, Heywood's Play of the Weather reconciles all of Jove's petitioners with complete impartiality.

A balanced, two-sided dialogue is also analogous to the proceedings of a court trial, suggesting a parallel with the renowned impartiality of More's own judicial career. He served both as lawyer and judge on many occasions, and is known to have refused as a lawyer cases that he considered not worth a day in court. His overpowering sense of fairness inevitably found its way into his writings. Except for the occasions when he was refuting what he viewed as a palpable and gross public danger to society—such as a Tyndale or a Luther—More as a person was temperamentally inclined to grant any worthy cause a hearing and to arrive at the truth of the matter by the legal process of approaching every issue from two opposing viewpoints. As lawyer, More learned to argue for a case; as magistrate, he learned to receive conflicting arguments and to weigh them with justice.

More was capable, then, both of polemical dialogue and of a dialogue of genuine debate wherein real issues are to be decided. Which sort did he choose to employ in Utopia? An analysis of the literary method of this dialogue suggests that he viewed with detachment and fairness the presentation of both sides. The dialogue in Book I of Utopia contains a good deal more agreement than is generally supposed or recognized. Furthermore, the discussion moves in the direction of agreement. Amicable debate always is, or should be, a process of coming together, of discarding irrelevancies, of untangling those misunderstandings which are the artificial product of imperfect communication, of determining a basis of agreement in order to narrow the dispute to its elemental refinement of difference. The proponents concede points when convinced, until they have arrived at the distillation of their respective stands. Hythloday and persona More follow this generalized pattern, with the result that by the time they have discovered their ultimate positions they have left behind them a vast area of consent. They agree particularly with respect to their analysis of the historical facts: the condition of European society and government in the years of the early sixteenth century.

It is actually Peter Giles who begins the central discussion of Book I by posing the first major question, and accordingly it is important to account for More's literary purpose in introducing this third person to the conversation:

Then Peter, much marvelling at the man: Surely, Master Raphael, quoth he, I wonder greatly why you get you not into some king's court.

Giles is indeed something of an innocent, for he supplements his query with two reasons for joining a king's court which are immediately demolished: (1) an official position in the government will enable a man to assist all his friends and kinsmen, and (2) public power will give a man an opportunity to bring himself "in a very good case," that is, to line his own pocket. These considerations are raised only to be answered, and Hythloday wastes little time or effort in doing so. Concerning favoritism and personal aggrandizement there could be no dispute, nor would it have been appropriate for either of the two main contenders to have proposed such possibilities. We may see here the usefulness of having a third person present at a dialogue essentially between two persons. Giles's function is to pose the question and to state the superficial arguments that would be unsuited to either of his companions. Thereafter his part in the discussion dwindles to nothing. Throughout the rest of Book I Hythloday continually addresses "Master More" with only one mention of Giles, and Peter's only speech in all this time is another touch of simpleheaded complacency: "Surely, quoth Master Peter, it shall be hard for youto make me believe that there is better order in that new land than is here in these countries that we know."

It is doubtful that More wished deliberately to portray his good friend Giles as an intellectual lightweight. Clearly, More is consciously distinguishing between the persona and the actual man. Giles speaks in such conventional terms for dramatic reasons only. His function is an important one, for it is in the discrediting of Giles's suggestions of personal advantage and favoritism that Hythloday and persona More come to their first agreement. In fact, the very earliest utterance of persona More in the discussion is in support of Hythloday's deft answers to Giles:

Well, I perceive plainly, friend Raphael, quoth I, that you be desirous neither of riches nor of power; and truly I have in no less reverence and estimation a man of your mind than any of them all that be so high in power and authority.

Whenever we find an agreement between the two principals, we are surely safe in assuming the author's concurrence. In the analogy of the courtroom, it is as though plaintiff and defendant have stipulated concerning some fact that is plainly incontrovertible. Thus, at the beginning of his trial on the meritsand limitations of counselling a king, More rejects out of hand the consideration of private gain. In fact, the case is put far more strongly: Hythloday and persona More agree that court service, if it is to be undertaken, must prove a real personal sacrifice on the part of the philosopher. The greatest loss will be liberty, insists Hythloday: "Now I live at liberty after mine own mind and pleasure, which I think very few of these great states and peers of realms can say." And persona More readily concedes that public office will be "somewhat to your own pain and hindrance." The only point of contention between them is whether or not the result would be worth the self-sacrifice; that is, whether court service would prove to be a public benefit. Both speakers agree that personal comfort must never stand in the way of "the profit of the weal-public," but they differ as to whether the philosopher can be of use at all, no matter what the individual cost.

The chief question is: if the philosopher offers counsel, will the king take heed and will he translate good advice into wise policy? Which way does monarchy tend, to tyranny or to benevolence? Hythloday and persona More take sides from the start. For Hythloday, the record is almost entirely on the side of tyranny. To persona More, monarchy is at least a potential source of good, although he freely recognizes even at the beginning of thediscussion the equal power for evil: "For from the prince, as from a perpetual well-spring, cometh among the people the flood of all that is good or evil" (italics mine). Persona More's position is not naive, like that of Giles. His statement is cautious but hopeful. Hythloday also speaks with qualifications about "the most part of all princes." In neither case is monarchy absolutely good or absolutely bad. Once again we find the spokesmen not so far apart as it first seemed. They agree that monarchy exists in various degrees of quality. The question hereupon becomes, for the philosopher who is to make the personal decision whether or not to offer counsel, what are the specific historical conditions at the time and place of his choice? In Thomas More's case, this meant England under the reign of Henry VIII.

Unquestionably an ambiguity existed in More's mind concerning the nature of the reigning monarch. Henry VIII was a young king of many virtues and liabilities. To More's sorrow Henry vain-gloriously insisted on emulating his great ancestor Henry V in "delight in warlike matters and feats of chivalry" to the neglect of home administration and to the depletion of the treasury. Yet at his succession in 1509 Henry was immensely popular. He was amiable and generous, skillful in archery and tennis. He was competent in Latin, French, and Italian, was a musician and encourager of thearts, and a friend to new sciences and Humanism. Hence there was a contemporary validity in each of the respective stands of Hythloday and persona More. More, the lawyer and judge, argues each case as one who understands the issues involved. His presentation takes the form of a comprehensive and orderly historical survey of recent issues and events, embracing three chief areas of governmental activity: (1) domestic policy: unemployment, the farm problem, the penal code and question of capital punishment, and vagabondage (2) foreign policy, principally concerning foreign conquest and colonization and (3) fiscal policy: the valuation of money, benevolences and forced loans, monopoly grants, extortion, and bribery.

In the technique of literary dialogue, the factor which distinguishes the discussion of domestic policy from the other two major headings is that it does not take place between Hythloday and persona More. Hythloday relates it to his companions as an argument that took place many years before, in 1497, among himself, Cardinal Morton, and "also a certain layman cunning in the laws of your realm." The possible reasons for this removal in time are several. One obvious suggestion is that it is a form of self-protection for the author, an attack on Henry VIII under the guise of criticizing a former reign. Another possibility is that the author is payingcareful heed to his fictitious chronology, and accordingly dates Hythloday's visit to England at a time consonant with his voyages under the flag of Amerigo Vespucci. In the context of our discussion, however, a third reason may be offered: that the writer More's chief motivation is a removal of these specific issues from the immediacy of the Hythloday-persona More debate. Hythloday and persona More are enumerating the counts for and against English monarchy in 1515-16; we shall see, however, that domestic policy was not an issue wherein either of them found Henry VIII seriously at fault. Hence it was no longer a live issue in terms of the debate between More's two personae. We never actually learn persona More's opinion on the question of enclosure. At the conclusion of Hythloday's account he acknowledges that the narrator has spoken "wittily and so pleasantly," but implies that the entire matter of the speech has been slightly irrelevant to their debating point:

But yet, all this notwithstanding, I can by no means change my mind, but that I must needs believe that you, if you be disposed and can find in your heart to follow some prince's court, shall with your good counsels greatly help and further the commonwealth.

In other words, persona More gently reproves his friend for beating a dead horse, and proposes that they proceed to mattersthat will really test the nature of Henry VIII's intentions. Why does he consider the discussion of enclosure to be irrelevant?

When we read Hythloday's stirring pleas on behalf of the husbandman, and his defiance of the rich, we instinctively conjecture a denunciation of complacent governmental policy, and suppose that Hythloday has scored a telling point against Henry VIII. In point of fact, however, by 1515-16 the government was attempting to handle the crisis on a large scale, under the direction of Wolsey. Royal commissioners were appointed to study the problem, and they reported a need for positive action. Hythloday urges the government to "make a law"; important legislation was passed in 1514, 1515, and 1516. These acts were directed particularly against the evils which Hythloday mentions: engrossing and forestalling (i.e., buying up in advance to force up the market price), and the plucking down of farms and villages by rich men who were exploiting the demand for wool at the expense of other types of agriculture. The government actually ordered rebuilding, as Hythloday demands, and restrained numberless attempts at further enclosure. The problem continued, because it was too large an agricultural revolution to be stayed by any governmental policy; but there was at least no ambiguity in the government's position on the farm problem. Hythloday's strictures would have been relevant in 1497, but not in 1516. Hence More removes this topic from the present conversation not only in time but in persons involved in the discussion.

The debate on domestic policy is a discussion within a discussion, and in many ways it mirrors in microcosm the larger plan. The most striking resemblance is that we again find three persons present at a dialogue (the scoffer and the friar appear from nowhere much later in the conversation). Once again the function of the third party—the irascible lawyer—is to serve as spokesman for the wrong point of view, and thus provide a basis of agreement between the principal characters. Persona Morton, like persona More, tends somewhat to the cautious side, but he receives Hythloday's declamation on enclosure reform without an objection. He is also willing to give the Polylerites' penal code a practical trial by deferring death sentences in England for a period of time, and adds his own suggestion that "vagabonds may very well be ordered after the same fashion." This amicable talk ends in a quarrel between the scoffer and the friar which has all the appearances of a digression. Hythloday afterwards apologizes to his hearers for a "long and tedious … tale." A digression it may be, but it is not without purpose. The sharp tongues and short tempers of lawyer, scoffer, and friar provide a meaningful contrast to the sane andconsiderate conduct of Hythloday, Morton, and persona More. The primary object of the satire in this digression is not the court or the clergy, but the folly of unreasonable argument.

The proposals concerning social legislation and penal reform are included in the Morton-Hythloday conversation for a very different reason from that suggested for the inclusion of the enclosure problem in this same section. In this latter instance the reason was that governmental policy seemed to be entirely in accord with More's wishes. The same could hardly be said to hold true for relaxation of the death penalty or improvement of regulations concerning vagabondage. Paradoxically, the precise opposite was true. In exploring these possibilities More was centuries ahead of his time, and his suggestions clearly extended beyond what he was ready to ask realistically of Henry VIII. No sixteenth-century government considered such social benevolence as its proper sphere of activity, much less as its duty. Hence it was an unfair test in distinguishing between a tyrant and a true prince at that point in history. More evidently had no doubt as to the essential Tightness of this stand—both Hythloday and Morton agree to this—but More was not ready to propound such an advanced degree of enlightenment as a necessary condition of the philosopher's endorsement of any particular administration. In order to distinguish between theattainable and the unattainable, he relegated the latter to an abstracted conversation in a past reign. In summary, then, the material for the debate on domestic policy consists of a settled issue—enclosure—and an essentially impractical issue—social humanitarianism, both lying outside the realm of the central controversy concerning the nature of Tudor monarchy. It is for these disparate reasons that persona More can conclude the entire section with the easy dismissal, "But yet, all this notwithstanding, I can by no means change my mind." The crucial issues in the debate of the mind with itself lay yet ahead.

Plainly, it was to be in foreign and fiscal policy that monarchy would reveal its true inclination towards benevolence or despotism. The weight of evidence here would be decisive in persuading the philosopher to aid a government or to avoid its hopeless contamination. Policies of war and reckless expenditure were unavoidably interrelated, and were anathema to the Humanist scholar and supporter of London commercial interests. If, however, one could reason that a young king's sabrerattling had stemmed from the effusion of adolescent vanity, one might pray for a change of temperament and for an era of peace at home. Persona More and Hythloday characteristically take sides. In the former's view any possibility for improvement, no matter how slight, would oblige thephilosopher to assist and encourage the humane instinct. Hythloday is more inclined to expect the worst, and hints darkly at the incorrigible example of King Dionysius—with its obvious moral for the philosopher whose fate it is to be involved in duplicity beyond his control. Here is an issue that would influence one's choice, unlike the uncontroversial issue of domestic policy.

Consequently, in his consideration of foreign and fiscal policy the author shifts his scene from 1497 to the present (1516) and from the abstraction of a discussion within a discussion to the immediacy of the Hythloday-persona More debate. The foreign policy debate centers upon the example of the King of France, while fiscal policy is discussed abstractly with relation to "some king and his council." In neither case, obviously, is Henry VIII actually mentioned, and the extent to which his own actions partook of these evil examples is left unstated. The historical factors lie outside the scope of this study; we are interested in the literary method of debate and the extent of agreement between the two speakers.

In these terms, the fact of prime significance is that persona More and Hythloday agree entirely on the dangers involved. Although they implicitly differ as to whether Henry VIII in 1516 fell irretrievably into these categories of aggressive foreign policy and reckless spending, the two speakers do not question the essential perniciousness of these categories. In foreign policy the French king is plainly charged with meddling in affairs that are none of his business: laying claim to foreign dominions under pretext of an ancient hereditary line of succession, buying soldiers and alliances, encouraging pretenders to the enemy's throne, and the like. Persona More makes no pretence of finding a glimmer of hope in such a situation. When asked how well he thinks the French king would receive the philosopher's advice to "tarry still at home" and govern his own kingdom wisely, persona More readily concedes the point: "So God help me, not very thankfully, quoth I." In a case like this, any philosopher would show his greatest wisdom in sparing his breath and saving his own skin.

Similarly in fiscal policy persona More has no answer for Hythloday's example of "some king and his council" who indulge in extortion, bribery, "benevolences" and forced loans, creating exorbitant taxes (largely at the expense of the middle class) for the purpose of levying unneeded troops. After stating his proposals and objections, Hythloday concludes:

These, and such other information, if I should use among men wholly inclined and given to the contrary part, how deaf hearers think you should I have?

Deaf hearers doubtless, quoth I, and in good faith no marvel.

When confronted with completely "deaf hearers," persona More is ready to abandon the cause of counselling a monarch, and to live in philosophic retirement with Hythloday, pondering an impractical but ideal world across the oceans. But who is to say that an administration at any particular moment in history is entirely hopeless? Hythloday's examples of evil are as theoretical in their way as his picture of the ideal life of Utopia in Book II.

Somewhere between the ideally good and the perfectly evil stood Henry VIII, and his intentions were as yet uncertain. Thomas More had to make a decisive choice in answer to Henry's request for his wise counsel. The actual decision is beyond our present scope, but it is central to an understanding of the dialogue to realize that in 1515-16 More perceived a dilemma. He gave expression to it in a pattern of two alternatives: Hythloday's wariness of all Machiavellianism as an earnest of future ill intent, and persona More's cautiously idealistic tendency to seize upon any ray of hope as a basis for gradual improvement.

Now that the historical evidence is in, More's spokesmen proceed to their summations, to the concluding arguments of counsel for both sides. If one spokesman is merely serving as devil's advocate for the other, it is difficult to understand why both addresses to the jury are so coherent, rational, convincing, and essentially moderate in tone. Persona More labels the distinction between their points of view with the terms "school philosophy" (Hythloday's) and "another philosophy, more civil" (his own). He does not use the term "school philosophy" pejoratively; it is "not unpleasant among friends in familiar communication." Its only fault is that it is too forthright, too uncompromising; it lacks the quality of tact and diplomacy, of knowing when to speak and when to remain silent. "Civil" philosophy is the ability to "make the best of it," to "handle the matter wittily and handsomely for the purpose; and that which you cannot turn to good, so to order it that it be not very bad." This is no idle and naive humor, to be overturned and made ridiculous by Hythloday. More as a responsible public servant had long known the meaning of "compromise" in its best sense. He was eminently a practical man of policies.

Yet a man of principle knows where compromise leaves off and appeasement begins. At least, he knows in theory. More's beloved classical master Seneca found the dividing line to be exasperatingly thin and hard to locate. A policy of compromise involves a frightening element of chance. In a very real sense, compromise is a braver course for the true man of principle than stoical indifference. The counsellor of state is forever in need of reappraising the situation, while the man of principle stands fast on his logic. The worst that can befall the latter is martyrdom. The counsellor is in danger of personal dishonor and ridicule. Nero's reign might well have been the worse without Seneca's attempts at compromise, but the stigma of "appeaser" will live forever with Seneca's name. More evidently had Seneca's example in mind as he wrote Utopia, for he refers to the passage "out of Octavia the place wherein Seneca disputeth with Nero."

It is possible to be at the same time a counsellor of state and a man of principle—possible but dangerous. At every moment in history such a man must decide whether to acquiesce or to stand fast. He holds as incontrovertible the axiom that "You must not forsake the ship in a tempest because you cannot rule and keep down the winds." On the other hand, no sane man would undertake to contravene Plato's similitude of the philosophers who, being unable to persuade others to come in out of the rain, "do keep themselves within their houses, being content that they be safe themselves, seeing they cannot remedy the folly of the people." More, in hisown life, applied both courses of action to differing problems. The problem relevant to the dialogue in Utopia was a complex one, and depended on a great many variables. The choice was not easy, and by all indications it came months or even years after the composition of the work. What we hear in Utopia is the dispassionate voice of the author, laying before the world his view of the facts and of the philosophical basis for a decision.

The description of the island of Utopia in Book II deals similarly with the problem of the philosopher in deciding whether or not to participate in a government. The respective stands of persona More and of Hythloday are merely the obverse of their previous positions concerning tyranny. The former, who always tries to "make the best of it," is skeptical of a system that would overthrow entirely the established order of things. He is skeptical but not hostile; he is anxious to hear his friend's account of Utopia in all its details: "you shall think us desirous to know whatsoever we know not yet." Hythloday, who considers most princes to be beyond hope, is ready to try a more severe remedy. Yet even he does not reject the moderate solution out of hand. He readily grants that wise statutes may help somewhat to ease inequality of wealth, so that "these evils also might be lightened and mitigated. But that they may be perfectly cured, and brought to a good and upright state, it is notto be hoped for, whiles every man is master of his own to himself." The description of Utopia is a body of theoretical material towards which More's inquiring mind develops a polarity of rational attitudes. The philosophical mind must contain within itself always a Platonic ideal as a frame of reference. Notwithstanding, the Platonist in his worldly life is a practical man, recognizing the need for temporizing with human imperfection. Persona More is this practical man. It is he who accentuates mortal frailty: "For it is not possible for all things to be well unless all men were good, which I think will not be yet this good many years." Still, Utopia belongs to the future; and persona More's practicality remained a living force for its author in his life's application of Utopian ideals to English society. The two sides of the question continued for More to be valid and essentially unanswerable.

J. H. Hexter (essay date 1965)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 18261

SOURCE: "Utopia and Its Historical Milieu," in The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, Vol. 4, edited by Edward Surtz and J. H. Hexter, Yale University Press, 1965, pp. xxiii-cxxiv.

[Hexter's essay, "Utopia and Its Historical Milieu" has been recognized since its publication as a groundbreaking contribution to More scholarship. The excerpt that follows presents Hexter's observations on Christian Humanism as the context for the Utopia; in the concluding section, "The Radicalism of Utopia," Hexter argues that More's vision transcended its time in its image of social equality.]


The years of the most intense and fertile development of Christian humanism coincide with the years of most intensive communication between Erasmus, its most active propagator, and More. And near the end of those fruitful years, in 1515-16, More wrote Utopia. These facts suggest a possible, indeed a probable, connection between the book and its author on the one hand and Christian humanism as it was being propounded in those years by Erasmus on the other. Yet two very persuasive expositions of Utopia, each deserving serious and careful consideration, tend to separate it from the Christian humanism of Erasmus and to assimilate it to modes of understanding either opposite or unrelated to his. The first exposition [P. Albert Duhamel, "Medievalism of More's Utopia,"Studies in Philology, 1955] proceeds by counterposing two opposite methods of attaining knowledge—the analytical method of the medieval schools and the rhetorical method of the humanists. The former moves by means of logical argumentation from presumably irrefragable premises to putatively ineluctable conclusions. It is substantially metaphysical and formally dialectical. By its very nature the scholastic method fragments whatever literary texts it uses—whether Cicero or St. Paul—employing bits and pieces of them as premises or supporting statements or conclusions for its sequence of syllogistically connected trains of reasoning. The rhetorical (or historical) method of the humanists on the other hand takes a literary text and by studying it at once internally as a coherent expression of its author's intention and externally in connection with its setting in time and space, with its historical milieu, aims to achieve a sympathetic understanding of the work as a whole and of the whole intention of its author. For this purpose a most careful study of the language of the text is indispensable, so that philology and history replace dialectic and classification as the instruments of investigation. For the literature of pagan antiquity this kind of study began in the age of Petrarch. It was the greatachievement of the northern Christian humanists, beginning with John Colet, to apply the methods hitherto focused on classical literature to Scripture itself. Now there is none of this sort of thing in Utopia, no philological investigation, no explication de texte, no historical orientation. There is, however, especially in the Discourse, a considerable amount of what can be construed as systematic logical exposition. Therefore, it is argued, far from being a humanist work Utopia is More's most medieval effort.

This argument, presented with far more erudition and persuasiveness than the above inadequate summary conveys, nevertheless is not entirely convincing. In the first place the very mode of demonstration by which the argument for the scholastic character of Utopia is put forward is itself a trifle scholastic; it would better satisfy a medieval logician than a Renaissance humanist. It tends to break the text of the Discourse on Utopia to bits and reshuffle those bits into a structure dialectically adequate, rather than to examine the work as the expression of a living man at a moment in his life, and to discern the meaning and intention of the work in terms of the interplay between a personality and its historical milieu. Moreover the argument rests on a conception of Christian humanism which would exclude not only Utopia but also Erasmus' Colloquies, The Education of a Christian Prince, even The Complaint of Peace and The Praise of Folly, since they are not explications de texte while, perhaps a trifle oddly, it would find room for Luther's Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans. Under the circumstances the dissociation of Utopia from Christian humanism seems less likely to be the consequence of More's intention than of an arbitrarily meager image of Christian humanism on the part of the scholar who makes the dissociation.

But as soon as one places Utopia in its chronological setting, in its relation to More's own activities and those of his friends, the likelihood that at that point More's habits of thought assumed a scholastic cast begins to evaporate. In England, with the patronage and encouragement of the circle who were More's warm friends, Erasmus was engaged on the task that above all others defined the Christian humanist's method and goal, the emendation of the Greek text of the New Testament and the provision of a new Latin paraphrase. More's mission to the Netherlands in 1515 did not take him out of the Christian humanist circle, for Cuthbert Tunstal was one of his colleagues, and he spent time during his stay with Jerome Busleyden and Peter Giles.

To get an idea of the degree to which common outlook, common purpose, and common sentiment bound More and Erasmus together in 1515, we need to turn first to More's long letter to Martin Dorp, a professor at Louvain. Apparently urged on by fellow theologians there, Dorp in an exchange of letters with Erasmus had taken exception to some of the satire, especially that against theologians and the theology of the schools, in The Praise of Folly. He had also expressed alarm at the implication, latent in Erasmus' editorial work on the New Testament, that, on occasion, a towering medieval theological structure might rest on a foundation no more firm than a copyist's error. To combat both these views More took up his pen, rushing to the defense of his friend in what he wryly called a laconic note—a letter-apologia of more than 15,000 words.

The letter is a vigorous defense of two positions, one embodied in The Praise of Folly, the other in the edition of the New Testament. Those positions were the key points in the propaganda of Christian humanism as Erasmus conceived it. The first position was that one of the best and most effective ways to combat stupidity, fatuousness, and even in some instances evil itself was through satire. The second position, as we have already seen, was that to bring about a revival of religion and a reform of society men needed to know the teaching of Christ, and that to achieve this knowledge the study of His words and those of the Apostles as theywere first spoken and written was indispensable. Exhaustively and exhaustingly in his letter to Dorp, More offers a detailed defense of satire and of the philological study of scripture. The length of his apologia measures the depth of his conviction: he had had his introduction to the Christian humanist method of studying the New Testament from John Colet more than a decade before, and he made evident his high valuation of satire as early as 1506, when jointly with Erasmus he translated several of Lucian's dialogues. He may have been able to dash off the long letter to Dorp in jig time because, besides being saturated with the subject, he had seen Dorp's first letter and Erasmus' answer well before he composed his apologia. The letter to Drop is a hasty, rambling composition, but it expresses a long-ripening, coherent and firmly held judgment.

More's concern with the Erasmus-Dorp controversy and his composition of Utopia were continuous if not indeed stimultaneous. But this increases the difficulty of thinking of Utopia as a work predominantly scholastic rather than humanist in character. It requires us to suppose that while one part of More's mind was most intensely focused on the sort of thing that most concerned Christian humanists in his letter to Dorp, the other part of his mind dealing with Utopia fell or had just fallen into a pattern of thinking which at that very time he was holding up to ridicule andcontempt. For in his letter to Dorp one of the stratagems by which More defended Christian humanism was a devastating and unqualified attack on school philosophy from Peter Lombard on. The suppositions above stated subject our credulity to excessive and unnecessary stress.

The same observation applies to a second way of thinking about Utopia and its author which emphasizes their medieval orientation and dissociates them from Erasmus. The Utopian commonwealth, the argument goes, was patently a heathen, not a Christian, state. To anyone reared as More had been in Catholic orthodoxy there was an obvious distinction between the four pagan virtues, which were accessible to heathen reason, and the three Christian virtues, which were not. By basing his Utopia on the distinction between Temperance, Courage, Wisdom, and Justice on the one hand and Faith, Hope, and Charity on the other, More both follows the medieval tradition and gives point to his satire on contemporary abuses in Christian Europe. "The underlying thought of Utopia always is, With nothing save reason to guide them, the Utopians do this; and yet we Christian Englishmen, we Christian Europeans…! The virtues of heathen Utopia show up by contrast the vices of Christian Europe. But the Four Cardinal Virtues are subsidiary to, not a substitute for, the Christian virtues. More has done his best to make this-clear. It is not his fault if he has been misunderstood" [Chambers, Thomas More, 1935].

Yet in Utopia itself one vainly seeks any such distinction. If More indeed did his best to make this point, he did it so badly that for four hundred years no one recognized it as being his point. Fortunately, there is another alternative: that what stood to the fore of its author's mind as he wrote the Utopia may not have been the contrast of the virtuous heathen and the wicked professed Christian. This turns … to the question of historical milieu. And … the region of More's historical milieu which is pertinent to our present inquiry is the one we have designated Christian humanism.

What preoccupation of Christian humanists, especially of Erasmus and of More himself, at the time the latter was writing Utopia, most satisfactorily explains the unmistakable and invidious comparison which More insistently makes between the Christian realms of Europe and his imaginary commonwealth? In raising this question we again follow the method of the humanists themselves rather than that of their opponents, the philosophers of the schools. It would not be much use, after the scholastic fashion, to try to contrive the particular set of logically interrelated doctrinal propositions to which, if they were put to the question, most Christian humanists might assent. For such assent would tell us little about the matter of paramount interest to us (and to them): what at a given moment did they feel a serious Christian should especially concern himself about? what did Christendom at that moment most need to worry about? The moment or time span to which our inquiry is directed is 1515-16.

The question that Erasmus believed was paramount in those years was at once great and simple: "What is it to be a Christian?" Concerning that question he had two powerful convictions. The first was that the answers to it represented in much of the teaching and most of the common practice of his day were worse than wrong, that they were an outrageous parody of the truth, perpetuated by men narrow of mind and blinded by self-interest. The second was that the true answer was already in a large measure accessible and that it could be made more readily accessible. Erasmus believed that it was his vocation, with the help of his evergrowing circle of friends through all Christendom, unremittingly to strive to discredit the wrong answers to the question "What is a Christian?" and to give men the best chance possible to know the right one.

These two convictions Erasmus most strikingly juxtaposes in theadage Dulce Bellum Inexpertis. In early editions of the Adages from 1508 on, the Dulce Bellum had received less than forty words of comment. In the edition of 1515 it becomes the subject of a vigorous invective essay of about 11,000 words. Although particular major facets of Erasmus' way of thinking receive fuller and more coherent expression elsewhere, in no work does the relation of those facets appear more clearly. The ills of his world, Erasmus believed, resulted from a deadly interplay of wrong thinking and bad acting. The wrong thinking was in part the result of the principal ends that the universities of Erasmus' day, and for centuries before his day, had set for the education they provided. Those ends were the assimilation of knowledge to the patterns provided by the corpus of Aristotle's philosophy and the Roman Corpus Juris. The propagators of this kind of education were the professors of theology and law at the universities of Christendom. In effect the philosophy of the schools accommodated the teaching of Christ to the doctrines of Aristotle, to theories of Roman lawyers, and by extension to the notions of all sorts of pagan writers. To achieve this accommodation the faculties of the universities had literally torn the word of God to tatters. When it did not engage professional logicians in noisy but sterile arguments, this process led them to something worse. It set them to seeking ways to bring the teaching of the Son of God, who set Himself over against the ways of the world, into accord with Aristotle's philosophy and Roman law, which accepted the world, never looking or thinking beyond it.

For those who lived by their rules, Aristotle and the Roman jurists aimed only to make life within a worldly framework as satisfactory and orderly as could be. Following Aristotle, the school philosophers taught that no society where all things were common could flourish; to attain perfect happiness men must have the goods of the body and of fortune. And masking Roman law under the cloak and name of equity, the civilians supported the schoolmen, allowing force to be met with force, approving the pursuit of gain and even moderate usury, and declaring war, if just, to be a splendid thing. To seek to bring such teaching into agreement with that of Christs was to mix fire and water. The pursuit of honor, the pursuit of riches, the pursuit of power became acceptable, and with them greed, pride, and tyranny. And so the teaching of Christ, dismantled bit by bit, was scattered with scarcely a trace in a world that called itself Christian.

But ideas have consequences. What is Christianity in a world that disregards Christ's teaching? In such a world, what does a man mean when he professes to be a Christian? When one takes the heart outof Christianity, all that is left, all that can be left, is a dead body. To simulate life in such a body it must be put through ever more exacting and ever more numerous formal and mechanical motions. What are the motions? Pilgrimages, worship of relics, hagiolatry, fasts, rites of all sorts, degenerating at the worst into sheer superstition and magic-mongering. And who beat the drums for this vain parade? The beneficiaries of course: the monks with their collections of relics, the ignorant friars, the lordly bishops. It cannot be otherwise. Once the teaching of Christ is rationalized away, there is nothing left but external acts of sacerdotally certified and clerically sponsored busy-work.

The price of the reduction of Christianity to a mockery of what Christ came for is high; it is also inevitable: it is the war of Christian against Christian. The mystical body of Christ becomes a battleground; Christians burn and loot; they rape and murder other Christians. For war is the culminating act of corrupted man, the colligation of all his evil propensities. The teachers of Christendom had given over their true vocation in order to become apologists at retail for each particular kind of worldliness, provisioners of counterfeited Christian licenses to allow base men to do what they would, and therefore the final wickedness of war was sure to follow. Those teachers were not merely silent in the-face of war among Christians, the ultimate treason to the Prince of Peace; they even sanctioned that treason. If they did not quite dare to make war as such into a positive good, they so managed matters as to relieve every warrior, from the hated mercenaries to the insatiable soldier-princes, of any qualms of conscience for a course of conduct as congenial to their vile appetites as it was disastrous to the Christian commonwealth and contrary to the Savior's teaching and example.

Though the learned of Europe had long engaged in what Erasmus took to be a conspiracy to misguide men as to what it meant to be a Christian, he had no doubt about what being a Christian meant. To be a Christian was not first and foremost to assent to a creed, or to participate in a particular routine of pious observances; it was to do as a Christian; to be a Christian was a way of life. To help them to discover this way of life men had of all guides the best—the very Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself. He still taught men how to be Christians, as He had taught His disciples hundreds and hundreds of years before, by His words, preserved in the Gospels and expressed in the letters of the Apostles. He also taught by His own life, for Christ was the first and perfect Christian. What men needed then was not new teaching; it was to find again the best teaching of all; and having found it to make it their way ofliving. The most important work a man of letters could do was to rescue the Gospel from the theologians and canon lawyers who had torn it to shreds and thus prevented men from knowing it. Erasmus believed he had notably advanced this work by editing and translating the New Testament. The philosophy of Christ which he speaks of often in the Paraclesis has nothing to do with the philosophy of the schools. It rests more on feeling than on syllogism; it is life rather than discourse, inspiration rather than erudition. And the simple man inspired by the Gospel is a far better teacher of that philosophy than the learned worldly-wiseman. For the philosophy of Christ belongs to the heart not to the head; it is a matter of spirit and action rather than of ceremonies and maxims. What men do, not what they say, what they practice, not what they profess, makes them Christian; and the best Christian is he whose doings, whose whole life, comes nearest the teaching and example of the Master.

We need not inquire whether on the critical or on the constructive side Erasmus' judgment was sound and his history accurate, whether school philosophy, Roman law, and formalism in religious observance were related to one another and to the early sixteenth-century world as Erasmus believed them to be. For present purposes it is enough to recognize that at the time of their publication withouta single explicit qualification Thomas More accepted the main positions which Erasmus took in the two crucial works just examined—the Dulce Bellum Inexpertis and the Paraclesis. Indeed to say that More accepted Erasmus' positions is to understate and perhaps to misstate the matter in at least two ways. In the first place he did far more than passively accept the positions; in the second place to describe those positions merely as those of Erasmus implies a view of their origin which might be hard to sustain.

From 1515 to 1520 More not only "accepted" Erasmus' views; he was their most pertinacious and combative defender, in one instance indeed more combative than Erasmus himself. Aside from Utopia and an unfortunate and tiresome squabble with the French humanist Germain de Brie, More directed his literary efforts for five years into a defense of his friend, or rather into an all-out assault on his friend's detractors. During these years he wrote four important letters. In the one to Oxford University, using what over the distance of four hundred years looks like a mallet to crush a gnat, he threatened the "Trojans," the opponents of Erasmus' New Learning there, with the displeasure of the Archbishop of Canterbury, of the Cardinal-Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor, and of the King himself. In the three other letters—to Dorp, to Edward Lee, and to a Monk—More gave himself over to energetic attacks on those whodoubted the wisdom or the worth of Erasmus' work on the New Testament. The letter to Dorp gives More a chance to flay the school theologians, the letter to a Monk gives him a chance to do the like to the regular clergy—for a long time two choice targets of Erasmian satire. More with great zest seizes both chances. The sophistic pedantry of the dialecticians, their wanderings in a confused labyrinth of questiunculae, their absorption in "the petty casuistry of the moderns," which is to Scripture as a kitchen maid to the queen, are the objects of his unmeasured and unqualified contempt. And the life of the professed religious of his day fares no better. Lately much has been said about More's admiration of the monastic life, and what has been said is part of the truth, but in his letter to a Monk he shows small respect for the notion that "to reside forever in the same spot and, like a clam or sponge, to cling eternally to the same rock is the last word in sanctity." The occasion of this tirade was monkish criticism of Erasmus for his perpetual wanderings over the face of Europe, and More seizes on the opportunity to appraise the character and work of the chief of Christian humanists. It is an appraisal which should give pause to recent scholars who have tried to impute major differences in outlook to the two friends as early as 1515.

The lazy, More says, would no doubt rather squat with the monksthan roam with Erasmus, who "does more work in one day than you people do in several months…. He sometimes has done more for the whole Church in one month than you have in several years, unless you suppose that anybody's fastings or pious prayers have as deep and wide an influence as his brilliant works, which are educating the entire world to the meaning of true holiness." Erasmus "defies stormy seas and savage skies and the scourges of land travel, provided it furthers the common cause." He bears "seasickness, the tortures of tossing waves, the threat of deadly storms, and faces the ever present danger of shipwreck." He plods "through dense forest and wild woodland, over rugged hilltops and steep mountains, along roads beset with bandits." He is ever "tattered by the winds, spattered with mud, travel-weary, worn out by hardships." And the body that Erasmus subjects to these torments "is growing old and has lost its strength from hard study and toil." Clearly Erasmus must have long since succumbed to these hardships "had not God preserved him for the benefit of an ungrateful people. No matter where his journeys take him, he always comes back bearing wonderful gifts for everyone else, while he gets nothing but shattered health and the insults of wicked men, occasioned by his beneficence." Erasmus is forced to travel in the interest of his studies, "that is, for the common good…. As the sun spreads its rays, so wherever Erasmus is, he spreads hiswonderful riches." Dedicated wholly to the service of others, he expects no personal reward here below. Surely there is a more than accidental parallel between this account of the tribulations of Erasmus in his valiant propagation of the philosophy of Christ, and Paul's tale of his hardships in behalf of the gospel of Christ [in II Corinthians], "in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers … in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea … in weariness and painfulness … in hunger and thirst … in cold."

Returning again to the relative value of the monk's service to God and the service Erasmus was rendering, More continues, "God will prefer his speech to your silence, his silence to your prayers, his eating to your fasting, and in short everything you proudly despise about Erasmus' way of life God will value more highly than all that you find most sweet in your own way of life." The tree may be known by its fruit and the fruit of Erasmus' ceaseless toil and travel has been the publication of more works "abounding not merely in learning but in solid piety than any other man has written for many centuries." And the advances made in sacred as in secular learning are due as much to the unflagging efforts of Erasmus as to "anyone else in the past several centuries." This is why in every land in Christendom men of true intellectual and moral worth seek to outdo one another in their thanks to Erasmus for what his work has done for them.

The scholarly proficiency and the unremitting, almost ruthless, dedication of Erasmus' enormous output were unique. But the ideas and beliefs that inspired that output were probably less the achievement of Erasmus' individual genius than the product of the mutually fructifying interplay of a number of like minds. A very important phase of that interplay had begun with Erasmus' first journey to England in 1499. More had a part in it from the beginning; and one of its consequences over two decades seems to have been an ever closer congruence in the outlooks of the two men. Even before 1506 a friend of theirs had remarked on a likeness of "mind, tastes, feelings, and interest such that twin brothers could not more closely resemble one another." At the center of this common ground shared by the two men was the conviction that to be a Christian was first of all to live like a Christian, to take as the model of day-to-day conduct the words and acts of Christ.

During the very year when Erasmus quoted the above comment on the similarity of their outlook, More in his dedication letter to his translation of Lucian observed that in The Cynic that satirist was praising Christian living, those·Christian virtues of "simplicity, temperance and frugality that make up the straight and narrow path which leads to life." There is no distinction here between pagan virtues and Christian. All virtues that men must practice in order to live righteously are Christian virtues. The distinction that concerns More is not one between types of virtue but between kinds of men—the men who live the rigorous disciplined life commanded and exemplified by Christ and the men who—whatever their assiduity in lip service to orthodoxy—live like pigs and hyenas.

Nine years before he wrote Utopia, then, More, like his friend Erasmus, saw Christianity as a way of life. Whatever moves men toward that way of life is Christian. And if it comes from Lucian, who was not a Christian, it is no less Christian for that. This indeed follows from the Christian humanist propensity to see Christ primarily as a teacher, as the most effective of all teachers of virtue, who perfectly embodied in action what others, whether pagan or Jew, had offered as precept. In the sphere of conduct particularly, the boundary between the region of nature and the region of grace is not very sharp. This is especially so if Christ's mission was, as Erasmus and perhaps More believed, the renewal of a nature once wholly good but corrupted by evil custom beyond the power of mere men to restore it.

In 1515 More and Erasmus and many of their friends were full of the excitement of new discovery—the discovery, they believed, of a method of understanding the message of Christianity and the life and teaching of their Lord Jesus far superior to the method current in their own day. Into a world gone stale and sour they hoped they could bring a sense of the good and the true, which would freshen and sweeten it. The method of understanding espoused by the humanists was new, but not the understanding itself. The method—philological investigation and "rhetorical" apprehension of Christ's teaching—had to be new because the old method, so the adherents of the New Learning contended, had buried both understanding and the thing to be understood under a pile of sophistical scholastic debris and futile formalism. The thing to be understood was of course as old as, in some matters older than, the Apostles, and as new as tomorrow. It was the eternal word of God's revelation of His Truth, His Will, and His Love to men.

Our inquiry about the relation between More and Erasmus and about the substance of Christian humanism has revealed that in 1515-16 the two men stood in complete agreement on precisely those matters which at the time both regarded as of primary importance—especially on the need to deploy the talents and the erudition of humanists in order to remold the world in conformity to Christ's rule. Was this Christian humanist outlook which More so fully shared with Erasmus reflected in Utopia, and particularly in that contrast, sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit, between Europeans and Utopians which pervades the book? Not if the question that the contrast raises is merely: how can Christians behave so badly when heathen Utopians behave so well? That question smacks a little too strongly of the medieval schools. But the contrast may raise another question, at once shocking and more in line with Christian humanist habits of thought: as between the Europeans and the Utopians, which are truly Christian? Such a question would bring Utopia into positive and central relation to the defense and propagation of Christian humanism which was More's primary commitment when he wrote the book. For in wrestling with the question about Europeans and Utopians in the context More provides, one also by inference wrestles with the question: what, truly, is it to be a Christian?

There is a reasonable amount of evidence that these questions were among those with which More intended to confront the reader in Utopia. Comments by both Budé and Erasmus indicate that they sense such an intent. Budé calls Utopia Hagnopolis, a holy community. He describes Utopia as a place where, as by a miracle, men have achieved Christianity without revelation. In a marginal note Erasmus calls it a holy commonwealth. In those notes, too, he observes how the Utopians surpass European Christians in several matters characteristically Christian—Utopian rejection of astrological superstition, Utopian belief in immortality, and the sanctity of the Utopian priesthood.

In its content and occasionally even in its language the Discourse on Utopia keeps before the reader the problem of balancing the nominal Christianity of Europeans against the way of thinking and acting of the Utopians. The Utopians not only possess in the highest measure the virtues More had described as Christian a decade earlier—simplicity, temperance, frugality; they also have faith in a God in whose goodness and mercy they trust. Along with that faith goes spes, hope for life eternal. And along with faith and hope goes charitas, or love. The Utopians repay their benefactors with charitas and share a mutuus amor charitasque while magistrates and citizens deal with one another lovingly like fathers and children. The institutions of Utopia are not only prudentissima, the most prudent; they are also sanctissima, the most holy. And their social order established the rules of life which Christ had taught as the right way for men, but which, according to Erasmus' Dulce Bellum, had been reasoned away in Christian Europe by Aristotelian theologians and Romanist lawyers in order to permit the pursuit of profit, usury, private property. Nowhere does More make the community of spirit between true Christians and Utopians more explicit than at the point of the story where one would expect the contrast to be sharpest—the point where Hythlodaeus and his band convert many Utopians to Christianity. For beside Christ's miracles and the martyrs, what draws the Utopians to Christianity is His teachings and character. The contrast of Christian teaching with what they know by reason is not what moves so many Utopians to accept baptism in the faith nor does More say anything about such a contrast. Quite to the contrary, they become converts because the teaching of Christ accords with their most cherished beliefs. It is of special weight with them that "His disciples' common way of life had been pleasing to Christ and that it is still in use among the truest societies of Christians". The italics are mine, the emphasis is More's. It is the emphasis of the Christian humanists. The teaching and the way of life are what count above all else. In their teaching, the Utopians are very like Christians; and in their way of life they are far closer than any European Christian people to the way of the first and best Christians of all. Their whole society indeed exemplifies the chief Christian virtue—charitas. More than any other Christian institution the family embodies giving without demanding an equivalent in return. And this is the very essence of charitas, of that Christian love of which Christ's giving of Hislife for sinners is the supreme symbol and perfect example. Fulfilling the Gospel command of Christian brotherhood—"mutuum date nihil inde sperantes, Give, seeking nothing in return"—in Utopia "they make up the scarcity of one place with the surplus of another. This service they perform without payment, receiving nothing in return from those to whom they give." And so, More concludes, driving his point home, "the whole island is like a single family". If in the light of all this one wonders today whether the Utopians were not better Christians than the formal Christians of More's time and place, it seems likely that More's contemporaries wondered the same thing, and that this is what More intended should happen.

From the description of the conversion of the Utopians More might have meant to suggest that even before Hythlodaeus instructed them in Christian teaching and baptized them with water, the Utopians already enjoyed what Catholic theologians call the baptism of desire. This, however, might impute to More in 1516 a stronger preoccupation with the niceties of school theology than the evidence seems to warrant. It is more likely that he was reaching for a less technical distinction—that between those who know God in the bottom of their heart and those who merely acknowledge Him with the top of their head. The latter avowed their faith and performedthe required ritual motions of a Christian but denied Christ in every other act of their lives. The former, not having heard Christ preached or seen the sacraments administered, did not know how to produce any of the outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace, but that grace was nevertheless in them and showed itself in their relations to their fellowmen. The great commandment was not two separate injunctions but one. Truly to "love the Lord thy God" and not to "love thy neighbor as thyself" was impossible; thus their own deeds gave the lie to all the Christian professions of the princes and great ones of Europe. But the reverse was also true. Men could not truly love their neighbors without having God in Christ at the bottom of their hearts, no matter what the errors with which the top of their heads might be furnished. And such a people loving God and their neighbors were the Utopians. Surely for men not heavily committed to any formal school of philosophy—and none of the Christian humanists seems to have been so committed—the most pertinent fact about the Utopians was not merely that they discoursed like reasonable pagans but that they lived like very good Christians. When they heard about Christ for the first time, they experienced not so much revelation as recognition. For the first time they recognized the truth that had inspired their actions and their institutions and that made Utopia the best of commonwealths. If this is so, then in 1515 More like Erasmus was preoccupied with the central problem of the Christian humanists, "What, truly, is it to be a Christian?" And Utopia reflects his preoccupation. The conclusion which Utopia suggests without flatly stating it is that Christianity was not a mere occasional flurry of formal deeds demanded by authority but a way of life that emanated from every heart where Christ had found a home.

The peculiar twist More gives to that problem—the Utopians living in the New World had been out of the range of the spoken and written Word—testifies to his early perception of what was to become a difficult psychological problem for the Christian world. The untold millions of men who had never heard the gospel preached were only slowly emerging into the consciousness of Christians in the wake of the great discoveries and explorations. Increasing contact with and awareness of these millions were to impose on Christians a crisis of creed and conscience altogether different from that raised by contact with overtly anti-Christian Moslems in the Middle Ages. For these new millions were not anti-Christian, at least not in the beginning; they were non-Christian. In Utopia More had started to nudge Western men into a posture that might have spared non-Europeans much suffering and spared Christian Churches from assuming, toward the unconverted, attitudes that were to impede and in places wholly frustrate the Christian mission ofconversion and that were one day to help drive Western men of sensitive conscience from the Christian fold. But it was not to be.…

Did More believe that there was in Europe a group of men suitable to serve as its rulers? If so, what was this group? How could these men be found?

One way to find them is to start with a dream—a dream of the author of Utopia. To try to solve a problem in social history by the analysis of a dream is not a procedure likely to commend itself very often to a sober historian; it is the sort of thing he is likely to expect from the more desperate varieties of social scientist. But in this case we confront special circumstances. Utopia, after all, is fantasy; and—many of the difficul ties in interpreting the book result from this—fantasy itself dwells where the boundary between dreaming and waking, imagery and actuality, is not a sharp line but a broad, indistinct twilight region. Indeed we cannot be sure whether the dream of Thomas More which we are about to look into was a true dream or a day-dream, another bit of sheer fantasy. He tells of his dream in a letter to Erasmus of December 1516. When More wrote Erasmus, he was still waiting "for our Utopia, with the feelings with which a mother awaits the return ofher boy from foreign parts." His letter goes this way:

You have no idea how thrilled I am; I feel so expanded, and I hold my head high. For in my daydreams I have been marked out by my Utopians to be their king forever; I can see myself now marching along, crowned with a diadem of wheat, very striking in my Franciscan frock, carrying a handful of wheat as my sacred scepter, thronged by a distinguished retinue of Amaurotians, and, with this huge entourage, giving audience to foreign ambassadors and sovereigns; wretched creatures they are, in comparison with us, as they stupidly pride themselves on appearing in childish garb and feminine finery, laced with that despicable gold, and ludicrous in their purple and jewels and other baubles. Yet, I would not want either you or our friend, Tunstal, to judge me by other men, whose character shifts with fortune. Even if heaven has decreed to waft me from my lowly estate to this soaring pinnacle which, I think, defies comparison with that of kings, still you will never find me forgetful of that old friendship I had with you when I was but a private citizen. And if you do not mind making the short trip to visit me in Utopia, I shall definitely see to it that all mortals governed by my kindly rule will show you the honor due to those who, they know, are very dear to the heart of their king.

I was going to continue with this fascinating vision, but the rising Dawn has shattered my dream—poor me!—and shaken me off my throne and summons me back to the drudgery of the courts. But at least this thought gives me consolation: real kingdoms do not last much longer.

With every due allowance for the fanciful element in the letter, something about More's yearnings emerges from this unusually distinct dream or vision. For to the heart's desire of a man what better guide can there be than his dreams? When More let his imagination range freely it did not reveal ascetic flight from the world or a purely contemplative immersion in scholarship to be the ultimate desire of his heart; More saw himself most completely fulfilled as a ruler, or prince. But he saw himself as a prince in Utopia; it was with the rulers of his own imaginary commonwealth that he identified himself. And this meant that, save for the fact of ruling, he would in every way differ from the rulers of Europe, the leaders of the cosmopolitan military élite, the primary target of his most savage satire.

What manner of men were these rulers of Utopia of whom he would be one? The letter itself tells us something about them. They are contemptuous of finery and wealth; and they themselves wear onlythe simple habit in which all Utopians dress. The emblem of office borne before them is not the sword, the symbol of power, destruction, war; it is the sheaf of wheat, symbol of peace, prosperity—and work. Simplicity, sobriety, industry, love of peace—the virtues of the rulers of Utopia begin to seem a bit bourgeois after all! Until, of course, we recall that the medieval bourgeoisie had not undergone purgation by Calvinism, that in the centers of urban life in More's day—the Netherlands and Italy—the town rulers were distinguished neither for their austerity nor for their addiction to the ways of peace. The list omits two indispensable bourgeois traits—craftiness and love of gain. The Utopian magistrates with their sobriety and appetite for hard work are modeled not on the moneygrubber but on the scholar; the end of their way of life is not to maximize gain or profit or wealth, but to maximize leisure—otium in the good sense of time free for study and contemplation. Industria and studium have as their ends not the accumulation of riches but cultus and humanitas, culture and humanity, libertas and cultus animi, spiritual freedom and culture. The very pastimes of Utopians are steeped in the pursuit of learning, and possession of it is the prime qualification for office.

The rulers of Utopia did not buy office or inherit it or receive itas a favor from a king as was the common European practice. Indeed anyone caught soliciting office was forever banned from it. Their fellow citizens elected them to office for life because they were the best men in the land—the best not because they were the strongest, the richest, or the craftiest, or because they had had great and renowned forbears, but because they were chosen from a select group of men. For their excellence, and by the recommendation of the priests and the secret vote of the lesser magistrates, the members of this group, which was about one-thousandth of the population, were exempted from the common Utopian requirement of six hours of labor a day. During good conduct and when not required for government service, this very small band of men devoted itself wholly to study. It was therefore for extraordinary merit attained in the life of learning that the highest office was awarded in Utopia, the place which beyond all others would have satisfied Thomas More's freest fantasy of the best life a man could have on earth.

In the Europe of his own day, were there any men who for More represented living analogues to the rulers of the Utopian commonwealth? There were indeed, and our previous investigation of the relationship between More and Erasmus allows us to infer who they were. We need not, however, rely altogether on inference, forin a letter More comes close to identifying them for us explicitly. While still nervously awaiting the publication of his book, More wrote Erasmus:

I am anxious to find out if it meets with the approval of Tunstal, and Busleyden, and your Chancellor; but their approval is more than I could wish for, since they are so fortunate as to be top-ranking officials in their own governments, although they might be won over by the fact that in this commonwealth of mine the ruling class would be completely made up of such men as are distinguished for learning and virtue. No matter how powerful those men are in their present governments—and, true, they are very powerful—still they have some high and mighty clowns as their equals, if not their superiors, in authority and influence. I do not think that men of this caliber are swayed by the fact that they would not have many under them as subjects, as the term is now used by kings to refer to their people, who are really worse off than slaves; for it is a much higher honor to rule over free people; and good men, such as they, are far removed from that spiteful feeling which desires others to suffer while they are well off themselves.

When More thought of ruling and rulers in connection with Utopia, among the names which came to his mind were those of Busleyden, Tunstal, Jean Le Sauvage, Chancellor of Prince Charles—and himself. The first three men were already serving their rulers in important offices; he was under pressure from his King to do the like. In Utopia such men would not be servants of rulers, but rulers themselves "in authority and power." Here indeed are the true analogues in Christendom to the rulers of Utopia. Or rather, to align the fantasy with the facts, the rulers of Utopia are the analogues of such men as Busleyden, Tunstal, Le Sauvage, and More—analogues, that is to say, of the Christian humanists. It is hardly surprising that More felt that the one group of men suited for rule in Europe was the group which shared his convictions on those matters that at the moment he deemed of paramount importance….

Utopia and the Christian revival

… In the powerful currents of religious reform of his day, More was deeply involved, and never more deeply than in 1515 when he was composing the Discourse on Utopia. In one of its aspects the Discourse is thus the fruit of More's meditations, begun long before he conceived and wrote Utopia, on the necessary conditions of a society in which Christ's will was man's rule, the conditions of the regnum Christi. So in 1515 in the matter of the regnum Christi, as in so many other matters, More shared the concern of his friend Erasmus. Yet in this matter at this time the differences between the two friends were considerable. It is possible to discern these differences very clearly, for within a few months of the writing of the Utopian Discourse Erasmus wrote The Education of a Christian Prince. It afforded him an opportunity, if he chose to take it, to set forth his conception of the right ordering of a good society.

Contemporary and recent works with which to compare Erasmus' tract abound. Indeed, leaving aside its plea for Christian peace, that tract, distinguished from the rest, if at all, only by the amenity of its style, tends to vanish into the endlessly tepid puddle of hortatory treatises addressed to Christian princes. When Erasmus turns from his two central preoccupations, the restoration of Christian letters and the maintenance of Christian peace, his social observations are invertebrate; they are unconnected, particular responses to social malaises, because he has only a very slight awareness of the interpenetration of social institutions and social structures.

On the other hand, to find an earlier literary work with which to compare Utopia one must go back almost two thousand years toPlato's Republic. We have already been at considerable pains to point out the divergences of Utopia and the Republic, but we had to be at such pains because of the unmistakable likenesses between the two books. The significant fact in this context is that there is no similar felt need to point out the difference between Utopia and any book written between the fourth century B.C. and 1515. The differences are obvious to the hastiest reader.

To his meditations on the problems of the regnum Christi, More's Netherlands mission brought a new dimension, almost literally. It enabled More to see in depth, in perspective, and in mutual relation problems which his contemporaries saw in the flat and as a disjointed series. In 1515 More sees European society as a whole, and this enables him to achieve his vision of the best commonwealth, Utopia. For Utopia is a sort of anti-Europe, a reverse-Europe, whose institutional organization at all levels above the family is the opposite of that of Europe. Whether he made sense of Utopia because he had already made sense of Europe or whether, as the sequence of the composition of Utopia suggests, it was the other way about, More does achieve a clarity of vision about the world he lives in unsurpassed by any contemporary but Machiavelli and perhaps Guicciardini, and a range of insight into that world of which neither of his Italian contemporaries wascapable.

And yet in Utopia he does not ultimately ascribe the troubles of the world to impersonal forces, to the underlying patterns of history, to chance, or to human error and the natural insufficiency of human understanding—not once, not ever. His way of explaining and understanding contemporary social pathology bears the imprint of the evangelical and prophetic outlook which he shared with other men affected by the Christian revival: for him social ills resulted from sin. And, among the sins, sloth, greed, and pride above all infect More's world, as it is set forth in Utopia—the sloth of the idle retainer and his more idle master; the monstrous greed of the usurer, the fat abbot, and the enclosing landlord; the insatiable pride of the rich and the powerful, displayed in rich clothing, in gems and baubles, but above all in a passionate and ruthless pursuit of social place. For man's pride glories in the subjection and servility of others, it knows no limit and no satisfaction because it is the result of no natural need. It grows hungrier from what it feeds on because it is rooted in the ultimate and infinite emptiness of the sinful soul turned away from God. It is the shame of Christians that despite the clear teaching of Christ, which they profess to follow, they have erected their so-called commonwealths on foundations made of the very stuff that human sinfulness and especially pride feeds on—the glorification of force and violence, rewards for successful chicanery, tolerance of individual and private aggrandizement at the expense of the common good and the public welfare. Actual Christian societies are therefore faulty in their foundations, in the very structure of their laws; to try to raise the regnum Christi on such a footing is to build on sand. Such is the explicit judgment passed in Utopia on the world More lived in; and it is a judgment not explicitly made by any of More's intellectual comrades-inarms.

Under such circumstances pious exhortation and instruction are ineffectual, since they run completely counter to men's deeds and the laws which sanction them. Nowhere in Utopia does More suggest that propagands for reform directed at individual consciences is of itself enough to raise Europe from its slough. When law, by sanctioning iniquity, renders it easy for bad men to satisfy appetites offensive to God at the expense of their fellow men, mere words are not enough to counter its force. The only sure foundation of a righteous society is the bond of law. Thus it is in Utopia. There the human propensity to sin, instead of being fattened by the very rules of the commonwealth, is starved and weakened by those rules. No man can seek a false prestige for himself by personal adornment, because all clothing is the same and unadorned. No mancan waste the substance of society on what a later writer was to call conspicuous leisure and what More with greater directness calls idleness, because by the laws of that holy commonwealth he who does not work does not eat. No man can lord it over others by making them his servants because in Utopia no adult freeman, indeed no slave, has a man for a master or a lord, not even for a landlord. Service, bond or free, military or civil, is rendered to or for the commonwealth only.

Finally, consider that institution of Utopia which not only is most striking to the casual reader but which was most striking to some of the shrewdest of More's contemporaries, the institution which he himself singled out as the chief difference between Utopia and all European societies—Utopian communism. Of all the measures to crush the monster Pride it is the most important and most effective, because it goes to the root of the evil, which is man's chronic sense of insecurity, insufficiency and anxiety. In Europe, men's endless pursuit of money and ruthless victimization of their fellows resulted largely from the sin of pride; but the institutions of Europe often enough encouraged men to act in such ways and did nothing serious to discourage them. To acquire more than one's fellows had acquired was legally possible and socially advantageous; from this fact followed the worst of the socialmalaises that afflicted Christian Europe. Utopian communism made such acquisition socially absurd and legally impossible; from this followed the potentiality for a decent society. Thus attacked at its roots, pride is a sin that "can have no place at all in the Utopian scheme of things."

As we have already seen in another connection, the overall effect of the structure of Utopian law is the elimination of all social organisms intermediate between the commonwealth on the one hand and the patriarchal family on the other. What is left are two institutions, one by definition public, the other by nature providing minimal scope to individual idiosyncrasy. Men live, eat, travel, work, study, and play (if the no doubt elevating but rather stuffy recreations permitted in Utopia can be called play) according to public regulation, in public places, under public authority. They drink, brawl, gamble, and fornicate nowhere, at least not without danger from Utopia's harsh laws. In Utopia there is no "pretext to evade work", and men live all the time under everyone's eyes. Truly there is no place to hide in the land Budé called Hagnopolis, the City of Saints.

Utopia then is a society at once religious and austere. Its austerities, however, are not those of a withdrawn community of spiritual athletes performing special feats of self-mortification to win thereby from the divine spectator some transmundane guerdon for themselves or for their spiritual beneficiaries. The austerities of Utopia are imposed on all Utopians, the laws of a commonwealth, not the rules of a cloister. They are also the laws for a commonwealth, neither arbitrary nor useless. The laws for a holy commonwealth, of course; their vigor is the indispensable prop of social righteousness; the asceticism of Utopia is an asceticism of this world, an innerweltliche askese, directed toward securing that, on earth by mortal men as in heaven by saints and angels, God's will be done and His Name thereby glorified.

In such a holy commonwealth the problem of the Dialogue of Counsel vanishes. The Christian humanists of the early sixteenth century were caught, as we have seen, on the horns of a dilemma, the dilemma of the prophet to whom the greatest danger turns out to be honor in his own country. Most of them acknowledged the duty and responsibility of an active life; but their range of choice in carrying out their duty was narrow and, to the more conscientious among them, painful. They could serve the commonwealth with only the pen as unattached intellectuals or they could enter the council of a prince, where the power of decision lay. Once there, they would have to "approve the worst counsels and subscribe to the mostruinous decrees," since to give "only faint praise to evil counsels" is to be counted "a spy, and almost a traitor." But in Utopia the Christian humanist would have the duty, which then would be the privilege, too, of serving by ruling the kind of society that it was his prophetic mission to set before Christians as a goal and an example. In that society Christ's law of love of God and neighbor prevailed, and public service meant something better than active participation in "a kind of conspiracy of the rich, who are aiming at their own interests under the name and title of the commonwealth." Earlier we saw that in a vision More imagined himself a prince in Utopia, and found the vision good, because Utopia was ruled by cosmopolitan intellectuals, in effect by humanists like himself. But More found the vision good not only because of who ruled but also because of what the rulers ruled—an austere laic commonwealth whose ordinances struck at the roots of sin, a commonwealth where Christ's teaching of equality, righteousness, and love toward God through love toward one's neighbor was the custom of the land and its law. Thus Utopia expressed the highest aspirations not only of early sixteenth-century men of letters but especially of Christian humanists. It also figured forth some of the hopes of that Christian Revival which was an important element in its historical matrix.

More ingeniously conceived a mode of organizing human affairs which would resolve many of the spiritual dilemmas of his day, of his friends, of his own, which would incorporate within itself a broad band of the spectrum of religious renewal as the most ardent reformers of the age envisaged that renewal. Having performed this rather remarkable imaginative feat, More put it in a book. There was nothing much else to do with it. So slight was the likelihood that the only people—the princes and the popes—who could do anything forceful to bring the regnum Christi closer to actuality would do anything, that some have doubted the seriousness of Utopia, especially since a little after the book was published its author took a course quite contrary to the one Hythlodaeus prescribed. In hopes, no doubt, of ameliorating the evils of his day along the lines that he suggested in his stories about the Achorians, the Polylerites and the Macarians in the Dialogue of Counsel, More entered the service of his prince. In a fashion almost too pat, his experience vindicated Hythlodaeus' wisdom; his hopes were quite baseless. Under a rather heavy veneer of humane learning and geniality Henry VIII was the very model of the predatory leader of a predatory semi-military ruling class; he was magnificent, splendid, spendthrift, idle, envious, treacherous, rapacious, and stupidly and stupefyingly vainglorious. His chief minister and alter ego, Wolsey, made up for Henry's idleness by hisown tireless activity; in all other respects he shared in full measure his master's traits of character.

As a councilor of his prince during the decade before Wolsey's fall, More was an intimate witness of much that he most detested in the doings of Europe's rulers—notably the judicial murder of the Duke of Buckingham and the fruitless and inordinately costly war against France. As speaker of the House of Commons in 1523, he helped Wolsey bully and cajole a large grant from Parliament for a military venture which he must have detested; and he received, for his "faithful diligence" in helping his master extort money from his subjects, a reward of £200. The English got only humiliation and heavy financial loss from Henry's misbegotten enterprise against France. After Francis' disaster at Pavia, however, the French paid Henry's councilors off for their good offices in truce negotiations with the Emperor. Sir Thomas was in the book for a pension of 150 crowns. Whether in these douceurs, the common rewards of the servants of kings, the delicate spiritual sensorium of More caught a whiff of blood-money, one cannot say. There is no evidence that he refused to accept payment. In any case he may have felt more poignantly than when he wrote it the force of Hythlodaeus' remark that although in a prince's council it might barely be possible to keep "your own integrity and innocence, you will be made a screen for the wickedness and folly of others." He learned soon enough in person what his own literary creation could have told him: what happens to a would-be prophet who puts his faith in princes. The route to the regnum Christi did not pass through the courts of Renaissance rulers.

A window to the future: the radicalism of Utopia

As we have just seen, More's perception of the requirements of a holy commonwealth, more astute than that of his contemporaries, projected his vision beyond theirs. Utopia transcended its milieu in another way, however, a way that justifies speaking with appropriate reservations of its modernity….

The modernity of Utopia lies in the institutions of the Utopian commonwealth; it is there that More clearly transcends his historical milieu, there that he stands on the margins of modernity. The conditions for righteous living in Utopia were achieved by means of its institutions, and its central institution is Utopian communism. What fascinated and still fascinates so many people about Utopia, what has kept the book selling, what is new about it, is precisely this Utopian communism. This assertion, however, opens the door wide to an onrush of objections anddenials. Surely in the sixteenth century there is nothing new about communism. We find it in Plato's Republic, and in Utopia More acknowledges his debt to that book. We find it in that "common way of life … pleasing to Christ and … still in use among the truest societies of Christians", that is, the better monasteries which, says Hythlodaeus, made it easier to convert the Utopians to Christianity. We find it in the later Stoic conception of man's natural condition, which included the community of all possessions. This conception was taken up by the early Church Fathers and by canon lawyers and theologians in the Middle Ages; and More was far too well-read not to have come across it in one or several of the forms thus given it.

But although the idea of communism was very old in More's day, it is not with communism as such that we are concerned. We are concerned not with the genus communism or with other species of the genus: Platonic, Stoic, early Christian, monastic, canonist, or theological communism; we are concerned with Utopian communism—that is, simply communism as it appears in the imaginary commonwealth of Utopia, as More conceived it. Perhaps one way to sharpen our sense of the modernity of Utopian communism is to contrast it with the principal earlier types of communistic theory.

The contrast in substance between Utopian communism and the communism of the Republic is especially notable because of the very odd formal relationship between Utopia and the Republic, More and Plato. The enthusiasm for Plato as against Aristotle was well-rooted among many Renaissance philosophers of the generation or two before More's own. More himself surely knew about the Platonic Academy in Florence with which Colet had had direct contact. He even translated the biography of one of the most famous members of that group, Pico della Mirandola. But although wellacquainted with the Republic the Renaissance Platonists showed little interest in the political theme of that work or in the ordering of Plato's imaginary commonwealth. What drew them were those parts of the Republic which could be made to fit their Neoplatonic preoccupations and their desire to set Christianity on a Platonic rather than an Aristotelian philosophical foundation. And this preoccupation is very remote from a concern with the best condition of a commonwealth. This view of Plato is quite evident in John Colet. Colet, deeply moved by the sinfulness of humanity in contrast to the righteousness of God, spoke out sharply against some of the social iniquities of his day. But for all the connection he made between his social views and the Republic, or for that matter any of the dialogues preoccupied with man as a political animal, he need not have known Plato at all. On the otherhand, it would take a very fine mesh indeed to sift out of Utopia any discernible residue of Renaissance Neoplatonism. Yet in the book More explicitly refers to Plato five times, more often than to any other man of letters. Four of his five references are to Plato's political views, and all those four are to the Republic. But—and this is an extreme oddity—while three of the four political references report the substance of their source with reasonable accuracy, a fourth does not. In that fourth reference Hythlodaeus says that if he told the advisers of princes about "the kind of things which Plato creates in his republic or which the Utopians actually put in practice in theirs … such institutions … might appear odd because here individuals have the right of private property, there all things are common." As we have seen, this is simply not so: in Utopia private property is indeed altogether abolished; in the Republic it is not.

In Plato's Republic communism is—to speak anachronistically—a communism of Janissaries. Its function is to separate from the ruled mass, among whom private ownership prevails, the governing warrior élite. Moreover, it is too readily forgotten that in the Republic what gave the initial impetus to Plato's excursus into the construction of an imaginary commonwealth was his quest for a canon for the proper ordering of the individual human psyche; and it isto this problem that the Republic ultimately returns. In More's Utopia communism is not a means of separating out a warrior élite from the lumpish mass. Utopian communism applies to all Utopians. And in the economy of the book it is not peripheral but central. As specified in its title, the concern of Utopia is directly with the optimo reipublicae statu, the best ordering of a civil society or commonwealth; and it is again and again made clear that Utopian communism provides the institutional array indispensable to that best ordering.

To derive Utopian communism from the Jerusalem community of the apostolic age or from its medieval successors-in-spirit, the monastic communities, is as misleading as to derive it from Plato's Republic: in the Republic we have to do with an élite of physical and intellectual athletes, in the apostolic and monastic communities with an élite of spiritual and religious athletes. The apostolic community was literally an élite: personally chosen by Christ himself. And the monastic communities were supposed to be made up of volunteers selected only after a novitiate which would test their religious aptitude for monastic rigors. But Utopians were not selected for citizenship in Utopia, they were born there.

Nor can More's emphasis on Utopian communism as the very root of the matter be ascribed merely to his involvement in Christian humanism and the Christian Revival. It is true of course that a spiritual impulse which moves men to listen open-eared to the Gospels has latent in it radical possibilities. But to find in the Gospel one of the sources of inspiration for the radicalism of Utopia is by no means to exhaust that radicalism. The effect of the Gospels taken seriously is to deracinate old habits of thought about the way life should be lived; but to one concerned with the civil life of men it does not provide unambiguous guidance or any clear mandate. Men who in the name of the Gospel have rejected the way of living of their daily world have arrived at the most diverse conclusions as to what the Gospel requires them to put in its place. More was surely moved to his criticism of his own world by his share in the concern of his day with biblical Christianity. But the bare fact of the matter is that no one else involved in Christian humanism or the Christian Revival achieved the sort of modern conception of society which manifests itself in Utopian communism.

Finally, the conception of the natural community of all possessions which originated with the Stoics was firmly fixed in tradition by More's time, although it was not accepted by all the theologian-philosophers of the Middle Ages. It moved its communism back to the safe distance of the age of innocence, but it did not serve to contrast the existing order of society with a possible alternative order, because, for the Christian, the age of innocence was not a possible alternative once man had sinned. The actual function of patristic-civilian-canonist-scholastic communism was set forth by St. Gregory almost a millennium before More wrote Utopia. "The soil is common to all men; when we give the necessities of life to the poor, we restore to them what is already theirs. We should think of it more as an act of justice than compassion" [Gregory the Great, "Regulae Pastoralis Liber," Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 1896].

Because community, not severalty, of property is the law of nature no man can assert an absolutely unalterable right to private possessions. Indeed, every man is by nature and reason and therefore by conscience obligated to regard himself as a custodian. He is a trustee for the common good, however feeble may be the safeguards which the positive or public law of property provides against his misuse of that share of the common fund wisely or unwisely entrusted to his keeping. In contrast to this Stoic-patristic view, Utopia implies that the nature of man is such that to rely on individual conscience to supply the deficiencies of public law is to embark in a sieve on the bottomless sea of humansinfulness. The Utopians brace conscience with legal sanctions. In a properly ordered society the massive force of public law performs the function which in natural law is ineptly left altogether to a small voice so often still.

In all the ways shown above, Utopian communism differs from previous conceptions in which community of possessions and living plays a role. Neither from one of these conceptions nor from a combination of them can it be deduced; it remains an integral whole, original—a new thing. And Utopian communism is one of the few new things in Utopia; much of the rest is medieval or Christian humanist or part of an old tradition of social criticism. But to say that at a moment in history something is new is not necessarily to say that it is modern; and for this statement the best evidence comes within the five years following the publication of Utopia, when Martin Luther elaborated a new vision of the nature of God's encounter with man. New, indeed, was Luther's vision, but not modern, as anyone knows who has ever tried to make intelligible to modern students what Luther was getting at.

Although Utopian communism is both new in 1516 and also modern, it is not modern communism or even modern socialism, as they exist or have ever existed in theory or in practice. Consider the features of Utopian communism: generous public provisions for the infirm; democratic and secret elections of all officers including priests; meals taken publicly in common refectories; a common habit or uniform prescribed for all citizens; even houses changed once a decade; six hours of manual labor a day for all but a handful of magistrates and scholars and careful measures to prevent anyone from shirking; no private property, no money; no sort of pricing at all for any goods or services, and therefore no market in the economic sense of the term. Indeed by the standards of economists—capitalist or socialist—the Utopian commonwealth is quite hopeless. It is not properly geared to maximizing utilities, to satisfying men's wants. On the contrary, so many things that a good many people want are banned in Utopia that Calvin's Geneva looks a bit frivolous and frisky by comparison. We have already had a clue to the reason for the deficiencies of Utopia as an economy. More's interest was not in the most effective organization of economic resources for the satisfaction of human wants because he was not concerned with the best economy or with the satisfaction of wants, and probably he had no clear conception of an economy distinct from the other relations of men in a community. He was primarily concerned, as he said on the title page of his book, with the best condition of a commonwealth, with the common well-being. And this well-being could be attained not by seeing that men, often corrupted and certainly corruptible, had what they wanted, but by seeing that those same men, often good, and certainly improvable, had what they needed for their welfare.

So, although Utopian communism diverges substantially from any communist tradition of thought or action with which More was acquainted, it also differs in detail and outlook from present-day socialist and communist economic theory and economic practice. It is not the details, however, that make Utopia modern; it is the bent of the spirit, the attitude of mind which informs and gives structure to those details. What that bent and that attitude were we will understand better if we examine more carefully the character of their contrast with the bent and attitude of the communist theory, familiar to More, with the longest continuous tradition. That was the theory which reached Christianity by way of Stoicism through the Church Fathers of late antiquity.

As one examines closely what the Fathers had to say about communism one is struck by something beside the substance of their views. The two obvious gross facts about those views—so obvious that they have tended to be overlooked—is that, first, they are scattered and, second, they are meager. When the Fathers deal with the communism which they suppose existed in a state of nature, it is rarely inconjunction with other arrangements that they assume existed in that state—equality of all men, universal liberty, and so on. They tend to come at the question casually and obliquely, if at all, in conjunction with some other matters of larger and more present concern—the sin of avarice, for example. Most of them probably believed that, like slavery, private property was at once the result and the corrective for sin after humanity had fallen through the disobedience of the first man. Yet this fact usually has to be inferred from the general tenor of their remarks: rarely do the Fathers make wholly explicit and unambiguous the relationship between communism and the state of innocence on the one hand, and private property and sin on the other.

Moreover, the Fathers' observations on communism before the Fall are so sketchy and vague that one can never gather from them the faintest conception of how it worked. Perhaps they felt that in a region so scantily populated and so abundantly endowed by Nature as the Earthly Paradise, detailed arrangements were otiose. But the more certain and significant reason for the meagerness of the Fathers' observations on the organization of a society in which possessions were held in common was, as we previously indicated, that not even as an act of imagination did they conceive of such a society as an alternative to the one in which they lived.

In the Church Fathers' view of the matter, then, as a consequence of human sinfulness, men are at once punished and safeguarded by, among other things, the severalty of property; and communism and a number of other desirable human arrangements have slipped from beyond the grasp of men because of that sinfulness. Utopia does to this view what Karl Marx did to Hegel; it turns it upside down. Private property is not a partial prophylaxis to human sinfulness—quite the contrary. Though not perhaps the unique cause, private property and the dense mass of inequalities which are ancillary to it are the most blatant occasions of human iniquity; they provide the rich black rottenness in which man's sins most abundantly flourish. And the way to deal with the evils which flourish under a regime of money and markets, private property, and inequality is simply to destroy that regime; without destroying it there will be no cure for the ills it engenders. Although a certain amount of patchwork may keep a sick society from falling into utter decay, patching one part often weakens another, and really "there is no hope … of a cure … as long as each individual is master of his own property." Here we get to the heart of what is modern about Utopia. It has as one of its central preoccupations not the amelioration of a sick society but the conditions indispensable to a sane one. Moreover, a nature essentially different from the ordinary nature of ordinary men emphatically wasnot one of the conditions of a sane society. The occidentals "are inferior" to the Utopians, says Hythlodaeus, "neither in brains nor in resources." The Utopians themselves had once been a "rude and rustic people," who lived in "mere cabins and huts, haphazardly made with any wood at hand, with mudplastered walls." The basis for the transformation of this barbarous folk to "such a perfection of culture and humanity as makes them now superior to almost all other mortals" was a drastic, a radical transformation of their institutions. That transformation drew out of the private sphere and into the domain of public law matters that in More's time were left to the desires and decisions of unregulated or lightly regulated individuals and groups—costume, meals, care of the aged and infirm, education, work and the hours of labor, the distribution of goods, the allocation of what a later generation was to call the factors of production, even the consumption of leisure.

The contrast between this way of looking at human affairs and the way most widely current in the Middle Ages and still widespread in More's own day could hardly be sharper. In that earlier perspective men through their misdoings had lost the capacity for a rational ordering of their affairs, so that for their present scarcely civil condition there was no real remedy on earth; and they had betteraccept the bad that was, in fear of the worse that might be. This older perspective Martin Luther shared with St. Augustine. In the perspective of Utopia, however, the irrational ordering of their affairs provided the incentive for men's misdoing; but they could escape from their present scarcely civil condition if they would undertake a resolute, rational, and radical reordering of their affairs. This is the point of view precisely set forth by Hythlodaeus. In More's sixteenth-century world, he says, self-seeking is as rational as concern for the common good is in Utopia. In a corrupt society, corrupt action is reasonable; in a decent society, decent action is reasonable. In its intense perception and presentation of community of goods as a conceivably viable alternative to private property and in its insistence that communism, not private property, is prophylactic against human wickedness, Utopia stands on the margins of modernity

Another indication of the peculiarity of Utopia, of its deviation from the traditional norm, is provided by its diametrical contrast to the common medieval Christian attitude toward the broad spectrum of doings and ways of living which continuously or sporadically have strongly attracted large numbers of men. Professor [R. H.] Tawney summarizes the medieval view [in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, 1947] as follows: "Society is an organism of differentgrades, and human activities form a hierarchy of functions which differ in kind and in significance, but each of which is of value on its own plane, provided that it is governed, however remotely, by the end which is common to all." This is a most spacious and accommodating attitude toward human affairs; it enabled the custodians of medieval values to accept a very wide range of activities as proper to man, if only some way could be found to construct for those activities sets of rules which did not manifestly run counter to divine law.

In effect, during the medieval centuries the social function assumed by the Christian Church, acting primarily through the clergy, was to Christianize society as it found it. By and large with only occasional and unsystematic eruptions of queasiness it simply accepted the hierarchical order, the domination of society by a warrior élite, chivalry, serfdom, romantic love, a market economy. By subjecting all Christians to auricular confession and to the sacrament of penance, the ecclesiastical hierarchy sought to infuse all existing legitimatized relations with a Christian spirit; and by setting forth penitential rules based on experience and on a detailed casuistry it brought each new sort of human activity as it emerged under the surveillance and, hopefully, the restraint of Christian morality. In a sense this stance affectswith a presumption of Tightness, or at least of non-wrongness, the things that at any time men are currently doing and customarily have done. Concerning any human activity the medieval question becomes, "Is there any compelling reason why this should not be permitted in moderation?" On the other hand, the Utopian question is, "Why should a society consistently aiming at the best pursue or permit the pursuit of this activity?" In answering the medieval question it is easy to find room for the chase, the game of chance, the tavern, the gorgeous costume, the jewels, and the gold. In answering More's question it is hard to find room for any of these. In Utopia there are practically no adiaphora, practically no things indifferent.

The shift from the medieval stance of initial acceptance of the variety of human desires to the Utopian position which tests the admissibility of every desire by its congruity with the needs of a society rationally conceived generates radicalism of the modern kind. But Utopian communism does not tie in with any of the varieties of scientific socialism originating in Marx or with the anarchists' apocalyptic. It rather anticipates the radical egalitarianism which flared up fitfully in the Enlightenment. This egalitarianism gained force during the French Revolution among the Jacobins and later in England among the utilitarians. During thenineteenth century, radical egalitarians came to recognize that other kinds of equality became meaningless when traversed by the fierce inequality of the rich and the poor. They concluded that the effects of such inequality could be destroyed only by eradicating the inequality itself, by applying curbs of law in the interest of justice to the force of power and wealth. Thus modern egalitarian radicalism arrived at the point where Hythlodaeus began his Discourse on Utopia.

Once we have linked Utopian communism with its proper modern analogue, the way in which Utopia projects its vision into a later age becomes clearer. Nevertheless it is a quite curious way. Erasmus has often been identified as a precursor of the philosophes of the Enlightenment. Indeed, in some measure, the inhabitants of Utopia in their outlook are Enlightenment philosophes. The fund of moral conceptions common to most of the philosophes was after all the residue of centuries of Christianity; it was largely Christian ethics minus Christian mystery. The philosophes held as evil almost everything (except unbelief) which Christian ethics deemed sinful, as good almost everything Christian ethics deemed righteous (except faith in Christian dogma). In the main they dredged up a more or less plausible non-Christian rationale to provide shoring for a Christian morality for which they sought no substitute. What the philosophes did because they rejected Christian revelation, More had done over two centuries earlier because technically his Utopians could not know Christian revelation. The equation reason equals nature equals virtue, the deism precariously perched on rational foundations of doubtful solidity, the feeble and slightly apologetic hedonism wavering between the logical need for a this-worldly base and the psychological need for other-worldly sanctions—all these positions, common to so many eighteenth-century philosophes, recapitulate the "philosophy" of the Utopians.

More important, the author of Utopia combines certain traits and habits of thought in a pattern that was to become part of the ordinary stock in trade of the modern radical. More's contemporaries, especially the humanists, were inhibited from making a like combination by the very form in which they usually cast their writing on politics. That form is the Férstenspiegel, the Mirror of Princes…. The form was venerable, and in innu merable treatises "over a period of ten centuries" from A.D. 500 to 1500, "the most striking and prominent thought that we find is the personal attitude toward rulership and rulers. Every one of the writers lays great stress upon the personal moral virtues of the prince. It is from him alone that good or evil, as he wills it, is visited on the land" [Erasmus, Institutio]. The question to which this sort of work addresses itself is, "What should the best prince do?" Given the habitual patterns of thought of almost ten centuries, this question had concealed within it a peculiar limitation. What a good prince did not do, so said the unvarying voice of traditional wisdom for a millennium, was to take the law into his own hands. He administered the law, he amended the law, occasionally he even dictated the law; but he did not abolish the law and replace it with a totally different law. Under such circumstances it is no wonder that most of the Mirrors of Princes of the Middle Ages and Renaissance go on at great length about the moral qualities of a good ruler and his proper style of conduct but are stonily silent about the substance of his actions. Consequently, in the context of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the question, "What ought the prince to do?" does not lead to the question, "What ought a good society to be?" On the contrary it prevents the latter question from being raised by focusing its entire attention on the personality and wisdom of the prince and giving no heed to the structure of society.

Giles offers Hythlodaeus the standard humanist prince-book gambit early in Utopia: a "truly philosophic spirit" ought to be a royal councilor because "from the monarch, as from a never-failing spring flows a stream of all that is good or evil over the whole nation."The result might be described as prince-book gambit declined. The protagonist of the Dialogue, Hythlodaeus, refuses to turn it into a disquisition on the character of the virtuous prince. Of course, given the order of composition of Utopia, he was bound to refuse the gambit. The discourse on Utopia had already made pivotal a question that earlier humanists scarcely asked, "What is the best way to order a commonwealth—a polity-economy-society?" And by a significant inversion the princely deus ex machina of Utopia, King Utopus, does precisely what the ideal princes of the Férstenspiegel literature never do and what even Machiavelli's prince never does: instead of maintaining the law that he finds among his subjects, he utterly abolishes it. Thus More breaks out of the circle which limited so much humanist writing about politics to platitudinous trivia and futile moralistic incantation.

Having escaped the confines of the humanist princebooks, More's thinking about the commonwealth was free to assume a new pattern. The components of that thinking in fact took a form which strikingly anticipates that of modern radicalism; not only are there a number of identifiable elements common to both, but the colligation of those elements seems similar. Separately these elements are 1) humanitarianism, 2) in connection with problems of human conduct a preference for arguments based on reason againstarguments based on tradition or custom, 3) belief in the efficacy of good law and good education as a remedy for the ills of the commonwealth, 4) environmentalism, 5) the sense that drastic change is necessary to deal with current ills. Readers of the literature of the Enlightenment and of English radicalism will surely recognize that a considerable part of the story that that literature has to tell can be organized under these five rubrics. It remains to identify them in Utopia. The humanitarian element is of course unmistakable—touching sympathy for men dogged by the insecurities and anxieties of life in More's own society, pity for the overburdened working people, concern for decent provision for the aged and infirm. Most clearly symptomatic, however, of More's transcendence of his own milieu is his preoccupation with crime and punishment. Both in the Discourse and the Dialogue there is evidence of his concern with a rational penology—in his description of how the Utopians treat their bondmen, in his contempt for England's harsh penal law, in his conception of punishment as a means of both deterrence and correction rather than of vengeance. Indeed Hythlodaeus' description of the organization of penal servitude among the Polylerites is perhaps the first of those attempts to conceive a wholly rational penology of which the Panopticon of that radical of radicals, Jeremy Bentham, was to be the most notorious, though not the last.

In Utopia the humanitarian quest for a rational penology is of a piece with a preference there made explicit for the rational over the merely customary and traditional. Writing in a world that, in matters of property and power, habitually identified right with custom and tradition, More gives short shrift to both. It is well enough to let the "wisest provisions" of the forefathers be; it is another matter in the face of a rational proposal for improvement to say, "Our forefathers were happy with that sort of thing, and would to heaven we had their wisdom." This kind of nonsense, rampant among the councilors of Europe's rulers, is unknown in Utopia. There, any new thing that may make life better, whether proposed by a traveler or learned from books, is eagerly seized on and tried. While nature and reason are the sure guides to the good life, perverse habit hardened into custom leads to vice. But more significant than any detail, the whole project of the Discourse on Utopia is by its nature an unlimited exercise in rationality; its underlying presupposition is that the best ordering of human affairs can be discerned by subjecting all merely human institutions to rational criticism, rational consideration, and rational reconstruction.

The extreme rationality of Utopia in respect to the ordering of society is as distinctively marked on the negative as on thepositive side. Even more curious than what Utopia says is its silence. Wholly lacking through out the book is any hankering, explicit or implicit, for the good old days, a hankering that seems to have been pandemic in More's time and that is so deeply rooted in the stuff men are made of that it survived into an age dominated by the idea of progress. Indeed it survived among such passionate exponents of progress as William Morris and Friedrich Engels. Even though the best days were coming, good days there had been; it was now that was truly awful. In More's own time the good old days might mean the dream world of chivalry, and obviously he had no time for that. It might also mean, and in More's intellectual milieu usually did mean, Greco-Roman antiquity; but oddly enough there is not a trace in Utopia of that worship of ancient civilization (as distinct from admiration for an ancient literature) which was common coin among humanists. For the apostolic community of the first century after Christ, More indeed obliquely indicated his admiration, but in antiquity, as he well knew, that community was not a civilization; it was a group separated off, living in the world but not of it.

The means by which the best society is kept best are good institutions and good education—again a recipe after the heart of Bentham and of the generations of radicals who walked along andwidened the path he opened. Thus the indifference of Utopians to gold, their aversion to a money economy, and their abomination of the "madness of men who pay almost divine honors to the rich" have two sources. One is doctrina and literae, teaching and letters, for some schooling is given to all; the other is their educatio, their upbringing in a commonwealth whose institutions are far removed from such folly. Their very fighting spirit in war derives its force from the institutions of Utopia, from its radical communism. In other lands concern about their livelihood at home and about the future of their families saps the courage of the bravest. The Utopian in arms has no such worry, and consequently is more ready to fight to the finish. Finally it is the institutions of Utopia that make it at once most happy and most stable; and (so goes the last sentence of the Peroration) as long as its institutions remain sound no external enemy can destroy it.

Clearly More, like all good modern radicals, is a social environmentalist. This does not imply in either case a belief that men can so manipulate their social environment as to eliminate the need for external controls and coercion. The anarchists have dreamed such a dream; but very few garden-variety radicals have done so. And More certainly did not; he was both too good a Christian and too widely experienced a man to suffer delusionsabout human perfectibility. Nevertheless the obvious implication of his sketch of a society made excellent by its laws, institutions, and education is that human happiness can be increased in a very large way by rules and teaching that repress men's evil impulses and foster their good ones, that do not subject them to temptations which are beyond the capacity of ordinary mortals to resist. More is very careful to note that the vast difference between the good way affairs are ordered in Utopia and the ill way they are ordered in Europe has nothing to do with any difference in natural endowment between Europeans and Utopians. It is in the use to which they put their natural gifts that the Utopians surpass the people of Europe.

In effect Utopia provides an environment in which men's natural gifts flourish, Europe an environment which causes them to grow twisted and rot. For example, in England the law which calls for thieves to be hanged simply gives them an incentive to murder, since if they are caught the penalty will be no greater. The condition which makes thieves is poverty and unemployment; and yet the English "ordain grievous and terrible punishments for a thief when it would have been much better to provide some means of getting a living, that no one should be under this terrible necessity first of stealing and then of dying for it." Again "you allow your youths to be badly brought up and their characters, even from early years, to become more and more corrupt…." To punish men for crimes "which from boyhood they had shown every prospect of committing" is first to "create thieves and then become the very agents of their punishment." The remedies proposed to reform the penal law are like the ones built into the institutions of Utopia. They aim to achieve the security of life and means of livelihood which will take away the temptation to theft. The emphasis is all away from mere sermonizing before the criminal event and mere retribution after, all in the direction of prophylaxis by wise social controls. Since those controls are sound in Utopia, all Utopians "having had an excellent rearing to a virtuous life," they subject their fellow-countrymen convicted of heinous crimes to the harshest bondage. It is because men respond rationally to their environment that Europe is racked with social ills. For 'there men talk freely of the common interest—but look after their private interest only. In Utopia, where nothing is private, they seriously concern themselves with public affairs. Assuredly in both cases they act reasonably (italics mine).' The social arrangements of Europe drive sensible men, of necessity, to take care of themselves, and the public be damned. It is the social environment of Europe, its laws and customs, that leads Christian men to prey on Christian men in a society based not on community but on thethinly masked oppression of the poor by the rich.

The analysis in Utopia is radical. It stands at the opposite pole to the best-known piece of social analysis in Tudor literature—Ulysses' apostrophe to the principle of hierarchy in Troilus and Cressida. Shakespeare's splendid lines are only the most superb exemplar of the current orthodoxy. That human nature was red in tooth and claw, that by inclination men were wolves to other men, that they continually tended to fall into the savage war of each against each and that the sole safeguard against such horrors was the maintenance of the serried array of the existing order of society under its current rulers, was the firm conviction set forth to and for those who ruled in Renaissance Europe, to whom it doubtless made good listening. Concerning the conviction of those who were ruled in Renaissance Europe our evidence is scanty. The fundamental social conviction expressed in Utopia is that, far from being worth preserving, the social order based on hierarchy is only worth eradicating; that outside the family the true principle of the good commonwealth is the very opposite of hierarchy; it is equality.

The idea of eradicating, deracinating, pulling up by the roots—the starting point of radicalism—is not only implicit in Utopia, it issporadically explicit. To attain justice, property must be utterly cast down. In Europe pride is too solidly fixed in men to be ripped out easily, but the Utopians have extirpated the roots of ambition. When the Utopians abolish the use of money they cut away a mass of troubles and pull a crop of crimes up by the roots. Subferre, evellere, radicibus extirpare, subferre again, rescindere, radicatus evellere—the vernacular equivalents of such terms are the standard coins of intellectual commerce with the modern radical.

The radicalism of Utopia is not a bit of trompe-l'oeil, a trick of perspective, the results of staring too long at a sixteenth-century book from some place in the twentieth century. The relation of the order of composition of the parts of Utopia to the completed book confirms the radical character of the work. Our analysis of the structure of the book indicated that the Dialogue of Counsel, including the Exordium in Book I, and the Conclusion, including the Peroration in Book II, were written after More's return to London, and most likely in about that order, since the effectiveness of both the Exordium and the Peroration indicates that More had the whole work—Dialogue as well as Discourse—clearly in mind and probably on paper when he set them down. In other words these sections of Utopia, though certainly not written at leisure, were composed after More had a chance to ruminate a bit on what he had-already written in the Netherlands. He was free to proceed in a wide variety of possible ways, or, if he chose, not to proceed any further at all, but simply to pack up the job with the Introduction and Discourse. So in a way, what More writes in London is his own judgment on what he wrote earlier in the Netherlands. The Discourse was a work of many facets, both of mood and of substance. In the parts of Utopia he wrote subsequently in London, More could continue the variety of mood or assume a particular one, could select some substantial elements of the Discourse to the neglect of others for emphasis by reiteration or development.

With respect to mood, the range is narrower while the intensity is greater in the later-written parts of Utopia than in the Discourse. In the Discourse there is wit, considerable whimsy, a good bit of detailed but somewhat fanciful elaboration, many touches of humor, and some disengaged intellectual play, as well as harsh satire and angry social comment. In the parts of Utopia written in London there is only a trace of whimsy, no intellectual play, no elaboration of detail for the sheer pleasure of elaborating, and only a few bits of humor. There is wit, but the wit is sardonic, at times even savage. The Dialogue is also a diatribe; and whatever shreds of doubt may remain about More's own attitude toward his imaginary commonwealth of Utopia, the Dialogue leaves none at allabout his detestation of the way of life of sixteenth-century Europe. The festivus, the gay, aspect of the libellus about Utopia is almost wholly confined to the Discourse; the Dialogue, the Exordium, and the Peroration are very sober. The satire, of which there is a great deal, is rarely playful; it is often grim, even bitter. It is the almost unbroken sobriety and earnestness of the exchanges between Hythlodaeus, More, and Giles and of Hythlodaeus' peroration that gives them their extraordinary intensity.

All this suggests that More may well have taken the Discourse more seriously after he thought it over in London than he did while he was writing it in the Netherlands. Or rather that he took more seriously those substantial elements of the Discourse which in the Dialogue, the Exordium, and the Peroration he chose to emphasize by reiteration and development. And what elements were these? Not the philosophy of the Utopians. In what he wrote in London More simply stopped fitting the social commentary of Utopia to the peculiar exigencies of a specious Epicureanism. Even in the Exordium and the Peroration, where Hythlodaeus is specifically contrasting Europe and Utopia, decrying the former, lauding the latter, he has nothing to say about the Utopian philosophy of pleasure. Indeed the word voluptas, which in the Discourse More skillfully wove into Hythlodaeus' praise of Utopian institutions, occurs scarcely at allin the rest of the book. Nor in the Dialogue, Exordium, and Peroration is there any reference to the religious creeds and practices of the Utopians. More did not take the religions of the Utopians, their diverse beliefs and formal practices, seriously any more than he took their philosophy seriously. In the Dialogue he castigates the appetite for ruinous war among Christian princes; he denounces rulers who were wolves devouring their subjects through outrageous exactions rather than shepherds watching over them; he attacks the English penal system for its inhumanity. In effect he inveighs against the sins of the whole ruling class of the West—especially against its sloth, its greed, and its pride.

It is the Exordium and the Conclusion (including the Peroration) rather than the Discourse or even the Dialogue that bring the radical character of Utopia into the sharpest focus, all the more significantly because these appear to be the sections of the book that More wrote last. In both, the emphasis is the same; in both the colligation of elements that makes the pattern of modern radicalism holds the center of attention. Mild measures, ameliorations are rejected; they may prevent utter disaster, but they are inadequate. If human nature is to grow straight and clean instead of twisted and foul it must be transplanted into a society which will foster such growth. Such a society is Utopia, where-there is no money, no private property, no mine and thine. Without Utopian equality in all things, all the evils that plague a commonwealth by destroying the characters of its citizens will again take possession of the body politic, rendering transitory and ultimately futile all reforms and making the commonwealth once more a mere conspiracy of the rich against the poor. Community of property and abolition of money are the only means for achieving true equality. They are also only the means; the end is equality. For the final equations are simple and radical: the equitable is the good; equality is justice.

Equality is justice. That is the cutting edge of More's thought in Utopia. It frees him of the unexamined assumption, nearly universal in his day, about men's relations to men, the assumption not merely of difference, but of inequality, of status, of hierarchy. It envisages equality not as the lost prize of a golden age forever gone, but as the indispensable condition for a righteous social order. Its orientation is not toward the past but toward the future; and it impels the thinking of More into the future, and toward a particular point in that future—toward modern radicalism. Not toward Marx and scientific socialism. More would have found little congenial to him in the combination of economic analysis, German speculative thought, and the worship of science soconspicuous in the Marxian canon. One quotation from an eminent modern historian is enough to indicate where Utopia fits in the crazy quilt of modernity, and to summarize the whole structure of More's radicalism, with each element so distinct and sharp that it needs no further clarification here:

The reality of a class struggle in modern society … is … insistent and the indignation aroused by the phrase is itself evidence of the fact. But to suppose that such phenomena are preordained and unavoidable—to find their sources in inexorable historical tendencies … instead of in the obvious, commonplace operations of folly and greed, which can either be indulged till they bring their nemesis, or chastened and repressed—is not science but superstition…. Democracy … can be used to correct inequalities…. Contrasts of environment, and inherited wealth, and educational opportunity and economic security, with the whole sad business of snobbery and servility which such contrasts produce, are the creation, not of nature, but of social convention…. Men have given one stamp to their institutions; they can give another. They have ideal-ized money and power; they can "choose" equality [R. H. Tawney, Equality, 1931].

Lee Cullen Khanna (essay date 1971)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7345

SOURCE: "Utopia: The Case for Open-Mindedness in the Commonwealth," in Moreana, No. 31-32, November, 1971, pp. 91-105.

[In the following essay, Khanna contends that More recommends open-mindedness in his text, exemplifying it both in the Utopians and in the dialogue between the characters of Hythloday, More, and Peter Giles.]

The Utopia has been read as an economic, social or political treatise, hailed as a precursor of communism, and praised for its illustration of medieval and monastic virtues. Some critics have analyzed its philosophic precepts, while others have seen it as a light-hearted jeu d'esprit. More's major work has fascinated and puzzled readers for generations.

The continuous popular appeal of the work may itself indicate, however, a more fundamental and universal meaning than that attributed to it by most critics. I believe that the dramatic emphasis of Utopia does not depend upon any philosophical or political system. Rather the two books form a self-contained literary unit whose consistent theme is the importance of openmindedness for the improvement of the social order. The ability to experiment, learn, and change is more important to Utopia than any particular new institution or custom presented.

The importance of the experimental attitude is often overlooked, because critical debate frequently centers upon a reader's preference for Hythloday's or More's opinions. But a close reading indicates that both are created characters serving More's larger purpose. Hythloday's fictional nature is usually accepted, but, as early as the prefatory letter to Giles, the author begins to establish a fictional "Thomas More" as well. In that letter More portrays himself as a scrupulously honest, literal reporter when in fact, as his humanist readers realized, he was a sophisticated feigner. Throughout Utopia More exists as a persona distinct from the author. He is literal-minded and pragmatic, occasionally almost fatalistic. This character confronts Raphael Hythloday, idealist, extremist, and revolutionary. The two personalities are deliberately played against one another, but finally neither has the upper hand. The reader is faced, directly and dramatically, with two different perspectives. He need accept neither "More" nor Hythloday as the author's spokesman nor, indeed, Utopia itself as a blueprint for the perfect order.

Although this uncertainty about how seriously to take the characters and the society they discuss has troubled many critics, it seemed to pose little problem to More's humanist readers. Their commendatory letters and verses, published with the first four editions of Utopia, share in its spirit and enhance its meaning. The prefatory letters are not dogmatic, but, as Peter Allen notes [Studies in the Renaissance, 1963], they praise Utopia as "both a delightful literary game and an important philosophic work." Many ideas, practical and impractical, are espoused in a highly imaginative fashion, and readers are invited to participate in this wise and witty discussion about society.

The tone of the prefatory material indicates that More's humanist readers did respond as he had intended. Guillaume Budé, for example, does not provide any absolute interpretation but adopts various points of view. First, in the manner of Hythloday, he attacks the vices of Europe; then, philosophically, he speculates on the nature of Utopia. Finally, although he seems to suggest that the island is ideal, Budé's closing advice to Europeans is not athoughtless imitation of Utopia but a receptive attitude. He says that the present age and those succeeding will "hold his [More's] account as a nursery of correct and useful institutions from which every man may introduce and adapt transplanted customs to his own society" (italics mine).

Further evidence of reactions that point toward More's basic meaning is given by Erasmus and Giles, the humanists most closely associated with Utopia. In a letter to William Cop Erasmus indicates his reaction to the work. Interestingly enough he does not commend it as the depiction of an ideal republic. By reading More's book, he says, you will be amused and simultaneously discover "the very sources from which almost all the evils of society rise." A modern reader cannot be sure precisely what Erasmus meant by the "sources" of social evils. But the similarity of this remark to that of Peter Giles is striking. In his prefatory letter to Jerome Busleyden Giles does not know whether to admire most More's "happy memory" or the conversation with Hythloday "or the sagacity with which he has noted the sources from which all evils actually arise in the commonwealth or from which all blessings possibly could arise …"

Giles provided a clue to his meaning by the quatrain in the "Utopian vernacular" he contributed to the first edition. In that little poem "Utopia" speaks, saying she represents the philosophical city for mortals but does so without the aid of any "abstract philosophy." No particular system or systems are mentioned to account for her greatness. The last lines of the verse reveal the actual source of Utopia's strength. "Ungrudgingly do I share my benefits with others; undemurringly do I adopt whatever is better from others." The willingness to learn and change is the origin of Utopian blessings, just as the narrow-mindedness shown in the council scenes of Book One is the source of the evils that afflict Europe.

The two men closest to the Utopia, Erasmus and Giles, do not hold it up as a model, nor do they isolate any of its institutions for special praise or imitation. Rather they admire the expanded awareness afforded by More's book. The Utopia illustrates a certain plasticity of attitude, a fundamental insight which illuminates the causes of evil in the social order. Agreeing on a generalized tribute to More's insight rather than to the particular constitution of the island, Erasmus and Giles perhaps also agreed on the crucial importance of tolerance and receptivity expressed in the lines of Giles' quatrain.

Although later commentators tended to dismiss Utopia as unreal or dogmatically assert, with Hythloday, that it was totally ideal, More probably desired more flexibility from his reader. His use of two fictional characters served this end.

In traditional voyage tales the reader responds solely to the point of view of the adventurer himself. He may dismiss the traveler's stories as far-fetched, the strange customs as simply wrong, the lands as unreal. Even if he fully approves the new institutions, he may not see any hope of applying them to his nation. By using two narrators, however, More incorporated some of these very "realistic" reactions into the work itself. As a practical man of affairs the character "More" points out the extremism of many of Hythloday's views and often voices persuasive reasons for compromise. Thus he often emphasizes the potential relevance of Utopian institutions. But his final resignation to the status quo expresses the very reaction that readers of Utopia might have had without him. By incorporating this passive reaction into the work More revealed its inadequacy. Such apparent apathy, following as it does Hythloday's persuasive peroration contrasting Utopian industry and European complacency, pushes the reader toward a positive "Utopian" response. Let us see, he might say, if we cannot profit from these new ways and appropriate to ourselves "whatever seemsbetter." The contrasting personalities of More's two characters thus might make the reader affirm the necessity for change. Confronted by opposites and given no definite solution, the reader is freed to react with his own suggestions for reform—to participate in the process of devising a better society.

If opening the reader's mind to social change was More's purpose, the form of Utopia suits his aim. The unresolved opposition between "More" and Hythloday leaves both books open-ended. In addition, contrasts are established on multiple levels between Europe and Utopia. These numerous differences do not, however, lead to an absolute choice between the two societies. Just as the exchange between Hythloday and "More" is inconclusive, the merits of the two governments remain relative. This relativity is emphasized through the dialogue form of Book One, and the conflicts there prepare the reader to see contrasts between Utopia and Europe implied in Book Two. Thus a tension between opposites tends to shape both sections to More's purpose.

The open-ended form created by More's controlled use of contrast advances the theme of Utopia as well as its purpose. A textual analysis of both books should show that the importance of experimental attitudes is the real subject of the work.

This theme finds dramatic focus at the end of each book. At the conclusion of his debate with Giles and "More", Hythloday reveals what is actually most important about Utopia. Denying the usefulness of counsel in a corrupt state, he summarizes his position by contrasting the "holy institutions of the Utopians" with the injustices of European society. When "More" objects to communism, Hythloday's response is significant. He tells "More" that he should have seen Utopia, not because of its communism, but because of the people's "industry". It is not their intelligence but their willingness to apply new ideas that causes the citizens of Utopia to surpass Europeans. "I hold for certain," Hythloday says, "that even though we surpass them in brains, we are far inferior to them in application and industry."

Although Utopians have had little contact with distant countries, their chronicles do report the landing of shipwrecked Romans and Egyptians some twelve hundred years earlier. "Now mark what good advantage their industry took of this one opportunity," says Hythloday. "The Roman empire possessed no art capable of any use which they did not either learn from the shipwrecked strangers or discover for themselves after receiving the hints for investigation—so great a gain was it to them that on a single occasion some persons were carried to their shores from ours." Hythloday draws the important parallel with European response to his landing and the new information he brings. "But if any like fortune has ever driven anyone from their shores to ours, the event is as completely forgotten as future generations will perhaps forget that I had once been there. And just as they immediately at one meeting appropriated to themselves every good discovery of ours, so I suppose it will be long before we adopt anything that is better arranged with them than with us. This trait, I judge, is the chief reason why, though we are inferior to them neither in brains nor in resources, their commonwealth is more wisely governed and more happily flourishing than ours" (italics mine). It is Utopian ability to change, to heed and apply new ideas that Hythloday lauds as their chief quality—not their communism, Epicureanism, nor any of their customs.

Utopian open-mindedness comes dramatically to the fore again at the end of Book Two. At this point it is not Hythloday's opinions but a vision of the Utopians themselves that emphasizes their chief virtue. The account of their religious belief has become increasingly more impressive and is finally crowned by the description of the Utopians at prayer. These people, who have achieved so much in the way of material well-being and philosophic sanity, humbly beg further instruction. The Utopian thanks God for "benefits received, particularly that by divine favor he has chanced on that commonwealth which is the happiest and has received that religion which he hopes to be the truest." Then the Utopian adds, "If he errs in these matters or if there is anything better and more approved by God than that commonwealth or that religion, he prays that He will, of His goodness, bring him to the knowledge of it, for he is ready to follow in whatever path He may lead him." Despite all his justifiable reasons for pride and a strong sense of self-assurance, the Utopian readily admits the limits of his knowledge. He prefaces his belief with a conditional and is able to qualify even his religious views. Addressing God he says, "if this form of a commonwealth be the best and his religion the truest, he prays that then He may give him steadfastness and bring other mortals to the same way of living and the same opinion of God—unless there be something in this variety of religions which delights His inscrutable will" (italics mine). The humility that allows such qualification also fosters progress. This is the point brought out in a variety of ways and climactically espoused at the end of each book.

Even as these dramatic high-points reveal the importance of a receptive attitude, so too does the chief line of argument in the body of each book. This consistency of theme welds the somewhat disparate forms of the two sections into an effective whole. An analysis first of the dialogue and then of Hythloday's monologue—the description of Utopia—should reveal this underlying thematic unity.

The conversation between Giles, "More" and Hythloday in Book One centers ostensibly on the value of service at a royal court. After the introduction to "More" is completed and the three are comfortably seated, Giles says, "Why, my dear Raphael, I wonder that you do not attach yourself to some king." The debate is on. It is concluded, although not resolved, at the end of the book when Hythloday says that service in any state other than Utopia is futile.

Perhaps, then, a critic of Utopia should concentrate on external information about More's own decision to enter the court circle. Presumably he decided to enter Henry's service soon after the composition of Utopia. The danger is, however, that the analysis may lead away from the work itself toward More's "probable" thinking and "possible" conversations with friends around 1515. When J. H. Hexter, for example, tries to ascertain the "furniture of More's mind" in 1515, he fails to see the relevance of the actual dialogue in Book One to the whole of Utopia.

Why, in fact, is there such a conflict about the merit of royal service? The debate arises from the underlying recognition of the difficulty of provoking change. European kings, courtiers, and even ordinary citizens are not ready to receive new ideas. The dialogue in Book One brings out the importance of this issue in several ways.

After Giles has urged Raphael to join some court in order to benefit himself and his friends, "More" then tries to persuade him on the basis of public service. Hythloday modestly denies the ability More ascribes to him, but adds the real reason why he disdains councilorship. He says, "Among royal councilors everyone is actually so wise as to have no need of profiting by another's counsel, or everyone seems so wise in his own eyes as not to condescend to profit by it … If anyone, when in the company of people who are jealous of others' discoveries or prefer their own, should propose something which he either has read of as done in other times or has seen done in other places, the listeners behave as if their whole reputation for wisdom were jeopardized and as if afterwards they would deserve to be thought plain blockheads unless they could lay hold of something to find fault with in the discoveries of others. When all other attempts fail, their last resource is a remark such as this: Our forefathers were happy withthat sort of thing, and would to heaven we had their wisdom.'" In this fashion Hythloday points out the destructiveness of provincialism and insists that while it exists, no counsel can be useful.

After the disadvantage of excessive respect for tradition has been pointed out, Book One falls roughly into three council scenes: the one at Cardinal Morton's remembered by Hythloday, and the imaginary councils of the French king and those of another, unidentified ruler. In each case Hythloday explores some particular English or European evil and offers remedies for it. He supports his arguments by examples from history and from travel. But his final point in each case is that his proposals make no difference, since they will not be heeded. When he opposes capital punishment for theft at Cardinal Morton's and indicates the evils of enclosure and of idle retainers, he is immediately dismissed by a supposedly learned lawyer—a representative of English justice. After he suggests bondage as a punishment for theft, Hythloday adds that he sees "no reason why this method might not be adopted even in England …" The lawyer replies: "Never could that system be established in England without involving the commonwealth in a very serious crisis …" Hythloday recalls, not without bitterness, that "all who were present gave him their assent." Although the Cardinal sways his courtiers to a more favorable reception, Hythloday realizes that the primary reaction to his new ideas is based on traditionalism, national pride, and preference for one's own opinions.

Apologizing to "More" for the length of his tale, Hythloday points out, "This conversation I had to relate, though somewhat concisely, to exhibit the attitude of those who had rejected what I had said at first yet who, immediately afterward, when the Cardinal did not disapprove of it, also gave their approval, flattering him … From this reaction you may judge what little regard courtiers would pay to me and my advice." When "More" still demurs, Hythloday offers a hypothetical case. The French king decides to meet with his council to determine the most successful method of waging war on Italy. His councilors argue about which plan will best further the king's goal. Suppose I, asks Hythloday, suggested that Italy be left alone. Suppose I opposed war in general. "What reception from my listeners, my dear More, do you think this speech of mine would find?" "More" must concede Hythloday's reiterated point. "'To be sure, not a very favorable one,' I granted." Hythloday proceeds to make his case about the narrow-mindedness of European rulers still stronger. "Picture the councilors of some king or other," he continues, "debating with him and devising by what schemes they mayheap up treasure for him." "At this point suppose I were again to rise and maintain that these counsels are both dishonorable and dangerous for the king, whose very safety, not merely his honor, rests on the people's resources rather than his own." Hythloday returns to the purpose of his hypothesis: "To sum it all up, if I tried to obtrude these and like ideas on men strongly inclined to the opposite way of thinking, to what deaf ears should I tell the tale!" Again "More" concedes the point, "Deaf indeed, without doubt, I agreed."

As the book closes, Hythloday reiterates his position about the futility of advising kings who will not listen. Then he contrasts Utopia. His climactic testimony to Utopian open-mindedness bears directly on the issue at the heart of the entire book. Hythloday's fundamental frustration with Europeans is not their private property, but their "deaf ears". By the time the reader reaches the end of Book One and learns of the readiness with which Utopians heed new ideas, he might well agree that "this trait" could be "the chief reason" why a commonwealth might be "more wisely governed and more happily flourishing."

In spite of Hythloday's consistent disparagement of European courts, however, the question of counsel remains open. "More" argues for the necessity of setting forth new ideas even in a hostile atmosphere. And some hope of response is offered. In the first council scene, cited by Hythloday to prove the futility of advice, one major source for optimism exists—Morton himself. The lawyer and the rest of the company dismiss Hythloday's suggestions, to be sure, but the Cardinal quells the disapproval with these words: "It is not easy to guess whether it would turn out well or ill inasmuch as absolutely no experiment has been made." In his willingness to experiment, the Cardinal foreshadows the Utopian attitude lauded in Book Two. He also offers a positive counter to Hythloday's pessimistic view on the fruits of counsel in Europe. The uncompromising Hythloday is too much angered by the general lack of response to appreciate the importance of the Cardinal's interest. But the Cardinal gives weight to More's argument—the possibility of effecting some change. After recalling his conversation at Morton's, Hythloday points out the futility of his service, but "More", without openly disagreeing, dwells on the Cardinal and his happiness at his court as a boy. Later "More" does voice his opinion. He admits that Hythloday's radical advice would encounter deaf ears. But he adds, "and by heaven I am not surprised. Neither, to tell the truth, do I think that such ideas should be thrust on people, or such advice given, as you arepositive will never be listened to." "More" then argues that some good can be achieved by working through the convictions of the hearers—and not in direct opposition. He actually states the basic assumption about human nature presupposed by his view. He tells Hythloday that by "the indirect approach you must seek and strive to the best of your power to handle matters tactfully. What you cannot turn to good you must make as little bad as you can. For it is impossible that all should be well unless all men were good, a situation which I do not expect for a great many years to come!"

"More", accepting the severe limits of human nature, is willing to adapt to a given situation. Rather than pessimism, he urges gratitude for whatever small change might be effected. Hythloday, on the other hand, insists that a favorable climate of opinion is a necessary base for any improvement. Both, however, recognize the fundamental importance of receptive attitudes to the welfare of the state, and both make the primacy of this issue apparent to the reader. They differ only in the degree which each deems acceptable for progress. The confrontation of Hythloday, the radical idealist, and "More", the practical man of affairs, provides the reader a complete spectrum of possibilities on the issue of change in an established state. The question of whether or not to advise kings is necessarily based on the possible effect of such advice. And itis this issue that relates the dialogue intrinsically to Hythloday's discourse.

In the course of Hythloday's description of the island, constituting Book Two, Utopian willingness to take advice is seen as a vital factor in their achievement. For instance, Hythloday points out the eagerness with which Utopians adopted the ideas introduced by his company. They learned Greek, discovered the art of printing and manufacture of paper, and received the religious doctrine of Christianity from Hythloday and his companions. Appropriately enough, Hythloday stresses the teachableness of the Utopians in his discussion of Utopian travel. The citizens travel little, but can take full advantage of new experiences, whether their own journeys or, as in the case of Hythloday and his friends, the travels of others. "When they had heard from us about the literature and learning of the Greeks," Hythloday says, "it was wonderful to see their extreme desire for permission to master them through our instruction." At first the Portuguese adventurers only humored their hosts, doubting their ability to grasp so difficult a tongue. Yet, Hythloday confesses his astonishment, "in less than three years they were perfect in the language and able to peruse good authors without any difficulty unless the text had faulty readings."

In the case of printing on paper, the Utopians did not even wait for explicit instruction. So ready were they to respond to new methods that they seized the initiative. In Europe it might be necessary to explain painstakingly the advantages of something different, and then justify the cost and labor involved in conversion to such new methods. In Utopia the citizens were so intrigued by the very sight of Aldine printing that they promptly set to work on the problem of reproducing it. Hythloday tells the reader that neither he nor any of his companions were "expert in either art". With "the greatest acuteness" the Utopians guessed how it was done. The most important factor in their success, however, was not their intelligence, but, as Hythloday had suggested earlier, their open-mindedness and industry. Hythloday says, "Their first attempts were not very successful, but by frequent experiment they soon mastered both." His closing remarks seem to emphasize the most important aspect of his comments on travel. "Whoever, coming to their land on a sightseeing tour, is recommended by any special intellectual endowment or is acquainted with many countries through long travel, is sure of a hearty welcome, for they delight in hearing what is happening in the whole world."

The observations about travel are not the only points in Book Two that indicate the over-riding virtues of Utopians. In his accountof their religion Hythloday gives another example of the educability of the island's citizens. He says, "After they had heard from us the name of Christ, His teaching, His character … you would not believe how readily disposed they, too, were to join it [the Christian religion]." Many Utopians were baptized, persuaded to love the sacraments and "desire them with the greatest eagerness." In religion, as in more earth-bound affairs, the Utopians were eager to appropriate whatever seemed better.

In the case of the Utopian interest in Christianity, however, Hythloday rounds out his account with a particularly interesting story. First he pays tribute even to those Utopians who did not adopt Christianity. Even those, he says, "who do not agree with the religion of Christ do not try to deter others from it. They do not attack any who have made their profession." More remarkable, still, than this tribute to pagan tolerance and maturity coming from a Christian, is its juxtaposition with the account which follows. "Only one of our company, while I was there, was interfered with. As soon as he was baptized, in spite of our advice to the contrary, he spoke publicly of Christ's religion with more zeal than discretion. He began to grow so warm in his preaching that not only did he prefer our worship to any other but he condemned all the rest. He proclaimed them to be profane in themselves and theirfollowers to be impious and sacrilegious and worthy of everlasting fire." The fiery neophyte oversteps the forms of decorum observed by his fellow Utopians. He abandons reason and the sense of his own finite limitation to impose his views on others. In the end he is sentenced to exile, not for his Christianity, but for his bigotry.

The over-zealous Utopian described in Book Two corresponds to the friar at Cardinal Morton's mentioned in Book One. Like the friar, the Utopian becomes destructive through his excessive partisanship. He damns all who do not agree with him just as the friar threatens all who scorn friars with excommunication. Because he forsakes the tolerance that made his nation great, the baptized Utopian is made to look as foolish as the friar.

In both books, then, More discloses the folly of narrow-mindedness and also reveals the value of tolerance for social improvement. In addition, he gives evidence that Utopians themselves recognize the importance of maintaining receptive attitudes and make notable efforts to preserve them.

The founder of the island avoided rigid precepts and showed a profound personal tolerance. Utopus readily admitted the limits of human knowledge and was, says Hythloday, "uncertain whether God didnot desire a varied and manifold worship and therefore did not inspire people with different views." He was open to all possibilities but felt the best approach was ideological freedom. "Even if it should be the case that one single religion is true and all the rest are false, he foresaw that, provided the matter was handled reasonably and moderately, truth by its own natural force would finally emerge sooner or later and stand forth conspicuously." He felt it his duty to promote free exchange and control any violent suppression of views, for, he observed, "the worst men are always the most unyielding." Here, as in the rest of Utopia, flexibility seems to be a necessary condition for the emergence of the best. With such premises Utopus, says Hythloday, "made the whole matter of religion an open question…."

The citizens' common life, often held up as the most important aspect of Utopia, also contributes to flexibility. In so far as communism encourages detachment, it encourages change. Possessions tend to generate protective or acquisitive attitudes that limit the actions and even the thinking of the owner. Hythloday notes one social result of common life when he says, "No city has any desire to extend its territory, for they consider themselves the tenants rather than the masters of what they hold."

Since the Utopians have no need—either personal or national—to acquire more land or goods, they do not rush into war. They decide to do battle only if they judge it to be in the best interest of the commonwealth or of their allies. Once the decision is made, they endeavor to accomplish their goals with as little bloodshed as possible. They devise new military strategies, because they are no more bound by concepts of honor than they are by desire for land. Encouraging treachery within the enemy ranks, the Utopians capture their leaders and so demoralize their opponents. They do not disdain such betrayal, because it saves lives on both sides. Hythloday says, "They boast themselves as having acted with valor and heroism whenever their victory is such as no animal except man could have won, that is by strength of intellect…." They do not consider it heroic or honorable to die unnecessarily. Life is not cheap in a state where each citizen has equal access to pleasure—material and intellectual.

If the society as a whole adopts new approaches to age-old human problems, the ordinary citizen is likely to be receptive to new methods too. Hythloday often comments on those aspects of Utopian common life that encourage individual pliancy. For example, he points out that men alternate between rural and urban life on a regular basis. Each man thus has the experience of two quite different ways of life on which to base his judgments. He does not have to defend his profession, since he has at least two. Nor is he limited to the virtues of town or country life and so likely to scorn one or the other.

His personal flexibility is encouraged by other, apparently diverse, Utopian customs. For example, Hythloday notes that the Utopians change their homes by lot every ten years. He does not explain the purpose of this rotation, yet it surely discourages attachment. In this communistic society no one becomes so concerned about his home that he is not willing to risk losing it if the occasion demands. In only one aspect of Utopian life is the competitive drive mentioned. The Utopians do take pride in the beauty of the gardens behind their homes. Yet even this rivalry is skillfully contrived to hinder individual vanity. For the "keen competition" which Hythloday observes in the case of gardens is "between blocks."

The family structure is also designed to discourage protective self-interest. Members may be transferred from one family unit to another on the basis of the size of each group. A major result of this regulation, too, must be to free the individual to think about the good of the community. He need not fearfully resist change lestit endanger his family or his goods.

Just as many features of Utopian communism encourage receptive attitudes, so too does Utopian natural philosophy. Much has been written about Epicurean and Stoic elements in the Utopia and the sources of More's version of them. Yet what is important in Hythloday's lengthy description of Utopian philosophy is not just its relationship to classical schools of thought, but its relevance to More's basic purpose. When the Utopians define virtue as living according to nature's precept, they are espousing a system that tends to discourage an accretion of irrational traditions. Nature, reason, and use afford a yardstick against which to measure customs, institutions, and ideas.

Hythloday illustrates the function of their philosophy in his discussion of false pleasure. He notes that when fashion is artificially determined, men tend to measure their own value by the quality of their clothes. Yet, as Hythloday observes, "If you consider the use of the garment, why is wool of finer thread superior to that of thicker?" He goes on to question the worth of "empty and unprofitable honors", asking "what natural and true pleasure can another's bared head or bent knees afford you? Will this behavior cure the pain in your own knees or relieve the lunacyin your own head?" In Utopia citizens are honored in proportion to their contributions to society, their strength of intellect, or their virtue. Freed from the bonds of artificial social conventions, Utopians are able to respond to new customs or ideas on the basis of their natural utility.

Utopian conclusions about dress, ways of showing honor, and other issues are not meant to be wholeheartedly embraced by the reader, but the fresh perspective their system offers is of great significance. Hythloday summarizes his presentation of Utopian philosophy by saying, "This is their view of virtue and pleasure. They believe that human reason can attain to no truer view, unless a heaven-sent religion inspire man with something more holy. Whether in this stand they are right or wrong, time does not permit us to examine—nor is it necessary. We have taken upon ourselves only to describe their principles, and not also to defend them" (italics mine).

It is not necessary or important to establish the absolute validity of the Utopian system. In fact the whole method of Utopia tends to confute absolutism. Hythloday himself had expressed hesitation about the high estimation of pleasure in Utopia, and the qualification about "heaven-sent religion" in the passage quoted-probably indicates a Christian reservation about a pagan state. But Hythloday's main emphasis is on the triumphant result of Utopian attitudes. He commends their "nimbleness" of body and their nimbleness of mind after discussing their philosophy. It is at this point in fact that he praises their quick comprehension of Greek, printing, and papermaking. Because they are no more bound by provincial pride in their own techniques than they are by an artificially established nobility, Utopians can experiment freely with new methods, even as they can value men for their minds.

Utopian religion, communism, and moral philosophy all contribute to the inquisitiveness and intellectual agility of the citizens. Humility before God's superior wisdom forbids an absolutist acceptance of manmade dogma, and an eagerness to know the divine will encourages an exploration of nature. Hythloday observes that when the Utopians investigate "the secrets of nature, they appear to themselves not only to get great pleasure in doing so but also to win the highest approbation of the Author and Maker of nature." The Utopian system of communism frees citizens from the worries of private property, and the business of accumulating goods for oneself and one's family, and it frees the state from deleterious wars. Consequently, individual and national efforts may be turned to intellectual and cultural improvements. And, finally, Utopiannatural philosophy offers the perspective of nature and reason by which to judge individual and social endeavors.

These three major aspects of Utopian society foster the willingness to change that both "More" and Hythloday agree is crucial for the good state. In addition, the Utopians preserve their social pliancy in many incidental ways. For example, they do not establish a rigid schedule for labor. Normally they work six hours a day, but if production needs do not require the fruits of any particular trade, the men are freed for more useful work. If the roads need repair, the unoccupied workers may do that. If no work remains to be done, then "they announce publicly that there will be fewer hours of work. For the authorities do not keep the citizens against their will at superfluous labor…." Regulations like these indicate a kind of built-in flexibility in the Utopian system. Another example is a rather remarkable rule for debate in the Utopian senate. Utopians refuse to discuss any proposition on the same day it is laid before the body. In this case, the officials reveal their awareness of the dangers of dogmatic stands and try to avoid them. As Hythloday explains, "This is their rule lest anyone, after hastily blurting out the first thought that popped into his head, should afterwards give more thought to defending his opinions than to supporting what is good for the commonwealth…."

Not only does Hythloday describe regulations in Utopian society which indicate the citizenry's own appreciation of pliancy and respect for learning, he also relates humorous tales about the state which, even as they amuse, suggest the value of such attitudes. In the first chapter of Book Two, for example, the Utopian method of hatching eggs is introduced. In the midst of the serious discussion of agriculture and the duties of farmers, the reader is suddenly confronted with the startling image of chickens pursuing human beings as their parents. Some readers might have heard of the ancient Egyptian method of artificial incubation via Pliny, Diodorus Siculus, or Mandeville, although the practice did not yet exist in Europe. But the suggestion that the newly hatched chickens followed "humans as their mothers" probably seemed strange and funny. In many of their institutions Utopians were wholly admirable, a reader might well observe, but in cases like this they were just peculiar. Yet even this amusing Utopian phenomenon contributes subtly to More's larger purpose. On a level more of entertainment than of Platonic discussion, the artificial incubation of chickens gives a striking alternative to something as apparently standardized as the way of raising fowl. The crowning touch is of course the claim that chicks follow humans as mothers. In other words, chickens adapt to the situation in which they find themselves; their custom is modified by experience—not maintainedin spite of it. With a laugh then, More says, look here, even chickens can change.

There are many other whimsical tales in the Utopia, such as the story of the Anemolian ambassadors, the legend about the creation of the island from a peninsula, the strange methods of Utopian courtship, the description of the outlandish garb worn by Utopian priests, and Herculean methods of placing raw materials near urban centers. These accounts of strange Utopian customs all give fresh perspective to traditional European values. The legend about Utopus' conquest and his subsequent excavation of fifteen miles of land connecting the island to the peninsula shows the fruit of cooperative effort. As the marginal note points out, "What Is Common to All Is Borne Lightly". The "light work" of course is of heroic proportions and so serves to remove Utopians from the realm of a purely practical discussion of the best state—even as it testifies to the advantages of communism.

The laughter evoked by such strange tales serves its own purpose. A sober discussion of the best state of the commonwealth might well seem to forbid purely experimental ideas. Such a ponderous subject seems to call for only the most prudent suggestions. But the humorous stories and occasional excesses of Utopian customs lend alighter tone. In this atmosphere, one feels, there is the freedom to make mistakes. Engaged by the wit as well as the subject of the discussion, a reader might well respond with his own ideas for an improved commonwealth. To awaken this response was surely More's primary intent in the Utopia.

The amusing aspects of Utopia also serve to limit the land as an ideal, and, in fact, Hythloday's final remarks do not simply hold up the vision of a perfect state. Instead his closing statement contrasts Europe and Utopia and then points to the source of European failure—pride. Europe might long ago have admitted the superiority of such just methods as those practiced in Utopia, Hythloday says, "had not one single monster, the chief and progenitor of all plagues, striven against it—I mean Pride." The angry diatribe against pride which follows is intrinsically related to the entire movement of More's work. Since More's fundamental message is the vital importance of receptive attitudes, it is logical that his protagonist should finally lash out against the enemy of change. It is the vanity of nationalism and delight in one's own opinions that prevent Europeans from heeding a fresh suggestion. Pride is a "serpent from hell" because she closes men's minds to improvement for the community at large. Under her influence people foolishly exalt the status quo, like the lawyer at Cardinal Morton's. Because she drains men's objectivity and capacity to "see life whole," pride, says Hythloday, "acts like the suckfish in preventing and hindering them from entering on a better way of life." Hythloday's final anger is consistent with his frustration at the inflexibility of European thinking seen throughout Book One. In his early conversation with "More", Hythloday suggests the relationship between pride and the refusal to accept new ideas. He will not offer his counsel to European governments because "everyone seems so wise in his own eyes as not to condescend to profit by it [another's counsel]…." Excessive self-esteem prevents most men from listening to others. Or if the proud do deign to hear anyone else, they only criticize. As Hythloday says, "The listeners behave as if their whole reputation for wisdom were jeopardized … unless they could lay hold of something to find fault with in the discoveries of others." Pride is therefore the vice most to be feared in the royal councils of Europe, the reason for Hythloday's own unwillingness to enter public service, and the appropriate subject of his final denunciation.

The pertinence of Hythloday's final attack on pride is only one indication of the unity between the two books of Utopia. Positing the basic need for experimentation in all efforts for the "beststate of a commonwealth", More skillfully interlocks both sections. The dialogue, concentrating as it does on Hythloday's account of European ills, tends to stress the negative—the disadvantages of pride and provincialism. The reversed image, Utopia, affords a view of positive achievement. Here is a society where a flexible outlook is fostered and preserved—by the religion, the economy, and a variety of regulations and customs.

The contrast is not that simple, however. As if to illustrate formally the substance of his work, More never shuts the door to debate. Therefore Book One is not wholly taken up with the limited vision of Europeans. Cardinal Morton testifies to the possibility of change. And More argues that improvement might be effected, even in England. Similarly, Book Two does not present a perfect state. Not only is Utopia pagan, but some of its rules are excessive, some of its customs absurd. Finally, neither the positive vision of the imaginary Utopian at prayer nor the negative attack on European pride predominates. Rather, the contrast itself, like more subtle juxtapositions throughout the text, creates the lasting impression and serves to encourage a realistic approach to social problems.

More includes a discussion of actual contemporary evils in the larger context of urging experimental attitudes. By way ofindicating English pride Hythloday points out specific injustices, like capital punishment for theft. And although he denies that partial remedies to such problems have any real utility, he does suggest ways to alleviate this evil. In Book Two Utopian humility, teachableness, and the conscious effort to preserve flexibility are revealed again and again. In the process, however, the particular achievements possible in such a society are noted. Practices like bondage as a punishment for crime, electoral representation of the people, and the provision of adequate hospital facilities relate pertinently to European ills. Throughout his work, then, More is trying both to point out the general social advantages of flexibility and to bring about a willingness to change in the case of specific practical problems.

The very existence of Utopia reveals Thomas More's hope that new ideas could have some effect in the European state. The depiction of the conflict between "More" and Hythloday, like Hythloday's surprising admission that he left Utopia only "to make known that new world," indicates a basic optimism about the possibility of creating—not a perfect commonwealth—but a better one.

Alice Morgan (essay date 1973)

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SOURCE: "Philosophical Reality and Human Construction in the Utopia," in Moreana, Vol. 9/10, No. 39, September, 1973, pp. 15-23.

[In the following essay, Morgan examines More's treatment of the theme of "the natural" versus "the artificial" in Utopia, emphasizing his concern with "the distinguishing of true from false values."]

In More's imaginary commonwealth the structure of Catholic feudal Europe is overwhelmingly challenged. There is no inherited social hierarchy, no single approved religion. Economic and political equality are maintained by the institutions of communism and the election of public officials; material parity is assured by uniform dress, lodging, and meals. Utopia is a radical change from the society mercilessly anatomized in the first book.

The chief question about Utopia is the extent to which we, and More, find sympathetic this radical reorganization. That Utopia is a perfect ideal for a Christian is clearly untenable: suicide, for example, is even hypothetically acceptable only in the absence of Revelation. More cannot have meant his model as a full and particular moral guide. But when Utopia is seen as a state organized without the aid of Revelation, by man for himself, it appears superior to contemporary Europe in most respects. In Utopia, man creates a structure which answers his natural and civil needs adequately. This positive view of More's Utopia has recently been challenged in particular by Harry Berger, Jr. and by Robbin Johnson, and, of Utopias in general, by Lewis Mumford. The rigidity of Utopia, its inhospitality to change, and its inorganic relation to history, are seen as negative, even destructive, forces. Yet this view seems a modern imposition on an age which sought stability, and which considered the universe to be rigidly structured, on the cosmic model rather than on the organic. The problem was to find a proper structure, one conforming to the organization of nature, and equally immutable in all but particulars. This is the great achievement of the Utopian commonwealth: its fundamental structure follows Nature, and More makes the relation between nature and artifice a central issue.

The way in which the natural and the artificial are related is of course a major Renaissance theme, and it is no surprise to find it in Utopia. More uses it as an index of the profound difference between his constructed, or model world, and the 'real' world of both his created and actual audiences. One of the first details we learn about Utopia is that it is an island. A. L. Morton offers a typical response to this information [in The English Utopia, 1952]: "It is as an island that we always think of Utopia. The fact that an island is selfcentered, finite, and may be remote, gives it just the qualities we require to set our imagination to work." Islands, of course, have a vast literature of their own, as "other worlds", and, more obviously, England too is an island. But Utopia is not a natural island: it has been transformed into one, like Plato's Atlantis. King Utopus is responsible for this feat, as he is for two related acts of reconstruction. One is, of course, the establishment of the government itself, the other is the renaming of the nation, "Utopia" replacing "Abraxa". The three are parallel acts, or the same act on different planes, the simply physical, the political, and the verbal. Whether one sees this as a necessary fresh start, or, with Johnson, as "discontinuity with [the] past … isolation" [More's Utopia: Ideal and Illusion, 1969], it shows a characteristic coherence among the realms of human action. Utopia is defined by construction: its physical qualities, its institutions, and its name are the work of man. This suggests its relationship to the work Utopia itself, a relationship hinted at in the introductory quatrain as it is translated from the made-up language of this imaginary world: Vtopus me dux ex non insula fecit insulam. Literally, 'Ruler Utopus made me an island out of a non-island', and "me" can be the island, or the work in which the island is postulated.

Despite this assertive naming and creation, More's position is not that of a nominalist. The name or the term is not arbitrary, but is a verbal reflection of an essential reality—hence 'Utopia' or 'nowhere', and all the other names whose covert statements about reality More emphasizes in the concluding letter to Giles. It is characteristic of Utopia that the right terms are in common use: language is not a form of deception. The ironic constrast is the European peace treaty or alliance, where the word and the reality are so distant that one must make a formal treaty with one who is, nominally, a brother! The treaties themselves, of course, are always deceptive. But in Utopia, where no treaties are necessary, and where their paradoxical quality is apparent, definitions are always accurate. 'Pleasure', for example, is correctly understood; it does not lead to what a European would consider a 'life of pleasure'. True pleasure follows "the guidance of nature" and is contrasted with "spurious" or false pleasures. In these, the word 'pleasure' is being used inaccurately: these pleasures, in short, are not pleasures at all, and hence in Utopia are not called pleasures, for here word and reality conform. The reality of 'pleasure' is an absolute: the Utopians explicitly reject a subjective theory of pleasure, noting that apparent pleasures which "inspire in the sense a feeling of enjoyment—which seems to be the function of pleasure—" "have nothing to do with true pleasuresince there is nothing sweet in them by nature". Context is unimportant: pleasure is immutable and inherent in the natural qualities of the 'thing itself—if a man values something not really pleasurable, it is because he is perverse: "… it is impossible for any man's judgment, depraved either by disease or by habit, to change the nature of pleasure any more than that of anything else".

It is highly significant that the treatment of false pleasures focuses on economic issues, for Utopia's economic philosophy is closely related to the principles which underlie the definition of pleasure. The first spurious pleasure Hythlodaeus mentions is that derived from the possession of fine clothing. This pleasure is based on a double misapprehension of reality. First of all, a man's own worth is not altered by his clothes, or any other thing external to himself. His value is absolute and inherent in himself alone. Secondly, "fine" clothes are of themselves no more valuable than coarse clothes: the value of clothing is determined by its natural function, to cover warmly. "If you consider the use of the garment, why is wool of finer thread superior to that of thicker?" This is one of Hythlodaeus' many invocations of an extreme theory of use value: we see it most clearly in the Utopian's treatment of gold and jewels. The man with rich clothes is worth no more thanthe poor man because, first, the clothes are not part of his nature, and second, both sets of clothes fulfill the same function and should be equally valued. We may recall Lear's disquisition on this theme, taking the opposing view:

Oh reason not the need; …
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man's life is cheap as beast's. Thou art a lady:
If only to go warm were gorgeous,
Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear'st,
Which scarcely keeps thee warm …
(II. iv. 266-272)

The Utopians hold with nature's needs, and reject the pleasures of the gorgeous as they reject this concept of "lady". An item of clothing, then, is given value not by accidents of context—rare gems, difficult and timeconsuming embroidery, a cut especially new or flattering—but by its capacity to keep the wearer warm or suitably modest, which is its natural use or function. Use value (as opposed to exchange value) is thus an absolute: "Exchange value comes to a thing from outside; it is a value bestowed upon it by other things … Use value … is inherent in the thing" [Everett Hall, Modern Science and Human Values, 1966].

To accord an item a value other than use value, as in the case of elegant clothes, is to substitute an imaginary value for a true one. To desire these elegant clothes is to seek a false pleasure rather than a true pleasure. Characteristically, Utopians see the fallacy of fine clothes, and also ensure that no one will desire them by virtually eliminating all distinctions among garments.

If the theory of use value is pushed to its limit, it suggests that all considerations of supply and demand be obliterated. This was not a part of the Aristotelian or medieval formulation, but it is just what occurs in Utopia, where, as Hythlodaeus takes pains to emphasize, there is always abundant supply, and hence never excessive demand. The contemporary attack on money was based on its value as investment capital:

The natural purpose of exchange, the more abundant satisfaction of wants, is lost sight of; the accumulation of money becomes an end in itself. The worst form of money-making is that which uses money itself as the source of accumulation: usury. Money is intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest; it is by nature barren; through usury it breeds, and this must be the most unnatural of all ways of making money [Erich Roll, A History of Economic Thought, 1940].

Hythlodaeus goes beyond this standard formulation by treating all of money's functions as unnatural, thus putting money in the role of a construction neither required by, nor consonant with nature:

So easily might men get the necessities of life if that blessed money, supposedly a grand invention to ease access to those necessities, was not in fact the only barrier to our getting what we need.

The concept 'invention' is vital: money, as we tell ourselves, doesn't grow on trees. It is a construct, and an unhealthy one; it has no place in Utopia.

Utopia, then, is fortunate in the operation of human ordainments. Typically, artifice works to reinforce nature, not to oppose it. The elaborate legal system of England, for example, is without Utopian parallel. Laws in Utopia are simple, few, and just, and there are no lawyers. The legal system depends upon the natural intelligence of man for its interpretation: in this way it contrasts with the obscurity and complexity of English law. In this discussion the emphasis is on the untrained, or natural, intelligence, which is all that is necessary for comprehension of Utopian law. A later attack on the European legal system is more radical, as it suggests that the laws are not only difficult to understand, but positively unjust: the rich "invent and devise all ways and means by which … they may keep … all that they have amassed … These devices become law …". The law in Utopia is not a conglomeration of "ways and means" to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor; in accordance with Utopia's institutional integrity, law serves to advance justice and not to eliminate or obscure it.

The legal system is thus another example of the beneficent use of the artificial. Utopians welcome the capacity of artifice to bring nature into useful civil order. Although the citizens despise the use of cosmetics as a deception they accept the disguising of nature when, for instance, they add to their naturally risky harbor a series of guides. These make navigation safe for Utopians, but can be shifted about to deceive and destroy hostile visitors. Similarly, cities are consciously ordained and constructed; their location, size and layout are not matters of chance. The farmhouses too are planned, and, within limits, the size of the family is also a construct. Poultry is bred by incubation; the river at Amaurotum is elaborated by engineering so that drinking water will be accessible even if an enemy dams it up. The farthest reach of Utopian ingenuity (and More's delight in hyperbolic action) is the transplanting of a forest so that it will be nearer to the destination of its lumber. These are all benign, indeed exemplary, uses of the human capacity to ordain, alter, construct—like the Utopian commonweal itself. This is perhaps the defining characteristic of Utopia, and one that makes it particularly unrealistic, for while there are evil acts in Utopia, and evil people, there are no evil institutions.

Northrup Frye, in discussing Utopias [in "Varieties of Literary Utopias," Daedalus, 1965] links More's work with The Prince and The Courtier. As might be expected, both these books show concern for the issues dealt with above. Machiavelli stresses a political version of the supply-and-demand economy: value is determined by context, not by inherent worth. A man's success is largely dependent on his times: they may be unpropitious for one of his temperament, and nothing can alter that fact. Correspondingly, Machiavelli is free to advise his readers to construct a public image, although it does not conform to the private reality. And, not surprisingly, he displays particular interest in the man whose ultimate station is not one he is born to: the prince who begins as a private man has displayed more force in achieving his role of leader than one whose position was inherited. The man, in short, who is least dominated by nature or fortune (i.e. by his personal outlook, his capacities, his birth) and who most dominates his surroundings, is the man Machiavelli finds most exciting. With this we may compare an early discussion in The Courtier, where the issue is whether a courtier's skills are most praiseworthy in one of good birth or in one of no particular standing. The argument for the latter is that such a man is to be judged on his personal qualities, not on his ancestry; the argument for the former depends on a sense of harmony between the outer and inner man. We may sense that Machiavelli would have preferred the man who must take his position entirely by himself, while the consensus in The Courtier is "that good should spring of good" and that nobility of birth is most consonant with nobility of action. Both works deal constantly with the idea of artifice, treating it now as an ornament, now as a deception. But Machiavelli accepts it in both its forms, while Castiglione must at least appear to condemn it when it is meant to deceive. And yet he is far more flexible than is Hythlodaeus, allowing his courtier to follow orators who, "dissembling their cunning, made semblant their Orations to be made verie simply, and rather as nature and truth ledde them, than studie and arte …". The ramifications of this issue are too great to consider in detail here, but they are based on the same alternatives as those of Utopia: art or skill can be seen as cohering with nature or asopposing nature. Castiglione in general is more tolerant of art as mask than is Hythlodaeus; Machiavelli goes so far as to recommend it. For Renaissance writers the archetype of cooperation between the natural and the artificial is the garden: it will not do to dwell on Shakespeare's many garden scenes, or to more than drop the names of Spenser, Bacon and Marvell. We may note, rather, that in Utopia where all men wear the same clothing, and where houses are exchanged every ten years to prevent their being too much personalized, gardening is a favorite pastime, and competition in creating gardens is not only permitted but is encouraged. This seems to be a symbolic statement of the ideal relation between nature and art in that favored nation.

Outside Utopia, constructions are likely to be falsifications. Fine clothing is followed in the list of false pleasures by "empty and unprofitable honors":

What natural and true pleasure can another's bared head or bent knees afford you? Will this behavior cure the pain in your own knees or relieve the lunacy in your own head?

Again the valuable is the useful, and not the hard-toget. Nobility, jewels, superfluous wealth are all subject to the samederision: their value lies not in their use but in the (disordered) imagination of men: such value is a construct, and a vicious one. Gambling and hunting too are worthless in themselves, for "there is nothing sweet in them by nature". In Utopia true pleasure is recognized and rationally pursued. Outside Utopia the organization of society ordains untrue pleasures as goals and these also are rationally pursued:

… outside Utopia, how many are there who do not realize that, unless they make some separate provision for themselves, however flourishing the commonwealth, they will themselves starve? For this reason, necessity compels them to hold that they must take account of themselves rather than of the people, that is, of others.

Reason, in Utopia, is the pursuit of true pleasure, and the establishment of ordinances and institutions in accord with nature. In the light of this definition, we can see the general coherence of the Utopians' religious preferences. With few exceptions, reason tells them that nature includes a God. As is generally the case in Utopia, those who disagree with this proposition, while they are tolerated, are not permitted to create institutions of any sort. Their unreasonable behavior is punished by isolation, but not soharshly as to lead to their adopting a religious stance simply to avoid punishment: this would be a deceit, and is hence to be avoided. The only formal structure for religion is the non-denominational church with its few and holy priests. Zealous proselytizing or derogation are alike forbidden, so that religious quarreling will not occur. The reason for this is given in a telling simile: "But if the struggle [between religions] were decided by arms and riots, since the worst men are always the most unyielding, the best and holiest religion would be overwhelmed because of the conflicting false religions, like grain choked by thorns and underbrush". In this borrowing from husbandry we are once again reminded that while nature is the ethical absolute, and reason a guide to nature, there is still the need for human disposition and imposed structure. It is the Utopians' great good fortune to have only such structures as match the true reality of nature.

The necessity for some 'artificial' impositions derives from More's basic view of man as fallen. The villain of the piece is that cardinal sin, Pride: Hythlodaeus makes this clear at the very end of his discourse. "Pride is too deeply fixed in men to be easily plucked out". Only in Utopia has it been, at least, kept under control: "They have adopted such institutions of life as have laidthe foundations of the commonwealth not only most happily, but also to last forever …". And More the listener at once begins to muse on "the customs and laws of the people described" in a critical fashion. His unspoken objection recalls to us the way in which the philosophical, the economic, and the institutional are related in Utopia:

Many things came to my mind which seemed very absurdly established … most of all in that feature which is the principal foundation of their whole structure, I mean their common life and subsistance—without any exchange of money.

(More emphatically underlines this construct as the fundamental one in Utopia).

This latter alone utterly overthrows all the nobility, magnificence, splendor, and majesty which are, in the estimation of the common people, the true glories and ornaments of the commonwealth.

In this, which Hexter rightly considers an intentionally weak response, the focus is not on communism per se (in contrast the Aristotelian objection offered earlier, is basically economic). Atissue, instead, is the distinguishing of true from false values. The Latin words make this clearer: "vera … decora atque ornamenta"—in Utopia the goals are the true ornaments of a commonwealth; in England and Europe the opinion of the public is vitiated, and the goals are false pleasures, mere imaginary constructions, ornaments that deceive philosophically and divert economically from the Natural and hence the Good.

Wayne A. Rebhorn (essay date 1976)

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SOURCE: "Thomas More's Enclosed Garden: Utopia and Renaissance Humanism," in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 6, 1976, pp. 140-55.

[In the essay that follows, Rebhorn investigates the parallels between More's Utopia and Renaissance humanist ideals, exploring how the Utopia draws upon and extends humanist agricultural metaphors associated with education and social improvement.]

Thomas More has generally been paired with Erasmus as one of the leading representatives of Renaissance humanism, and his Utopia has been widely read as a provocative expression of humanist ideals. With the works of fifteenth-century humanist educators like Vittorino da Feltre and Aeneas Silvius and of contemporaries like Erasmus, the book shares certain fundamental doctrines: a faith in man's educability; a conviction of his potential goodness, rationality, and willingness to cooperate with his fellows; and a belief in social planning and the transformation of social institutions as the best means both to improve society as a whole and to raise the individual to the heights of human possibility. However, while More's Utopia reveals a clear relationship to Renaissance humanism through its sharing of such basic doctrines and assumptions, it also possesses a deeper relationship to the tradition than the existence of doctrinal similarities alone might suggest.

Going beneath the level of doctrine, More is linked to the humanist tradition at the fundamental level of language. His Utopia is organized about a few key images which not only generate his conception of human nature but also inform his vision of the natural order, dictate the construction of Utopia's social institutions, and even determine the distinctive features of the island's topography. One critic [Michael Holquist, "How To Play Utopia," in Game, Play, Literature, 1968] has argued that for the Utopian writer generally, "anthropology leads necessarily toecology," and this cryptic maxim, I would claim, is especially applicable to More precisely because in his work he perceives both human nature (anthropology) and the natural world (ecology) through the same set of images—both are terrain to be cultivated or farmed, transformed by the human art of agriculture into a perfect, almost paradisical, garden. More shares with his humanist predecessors and contemporaries these images and the sets of terms they generate in the course of being elaborated, and if he differs from them in any way, it is in the degree to which the images dominate his thought and receive concrete embodiment in his vision of Utopia. Where the humanists thought of education as a kind of agriculture and longed for a world transformed at least metaphorically into a garden of innocence, More's artistic imagination treats those metaphors literally, making the Utopians into a race of farmers and the Utopian state into an immense walled garden.

More's Utopia is based on a particularly unsentimental, Christian view of nature as fallen and in need of human management and labor if it is to be fertile and bear fruit. To be sure, the Utopians speak of it as a good parent because it supplies in abundance all those things truly needful for human existence and buries away underground useless commodities such as gold and silver; nevertheless, Hythloday stresses that Utopia does not possessparticularly fertile soil or especially good weather, and he alludes obliquely to the existence of swamps and mountains which certainly could not provide comfortable sites for human habitation. Contrary to the opinion of several modern critics, Utopia is clearly not a nostalgically envisioned Golden Age where a benevolent Mother Nature makes life soft and easy. Rather, its success is due to its inhabitants' persistent labor, planning, and care, which alone have turned a potential desert into a garden paradise.

From the very first pages of Book II More emphasizes the absolute importance of human art to the success of his Utopian state. He describes how his ideal citizens have complemented the natural defenses of their central bay and exterior shores with fortresses and garrisons, have thoughtfully designed their houses and cities to keep out chill winds, and to protect themselves from the attacks of their neighbors have excavated the huge ditch which severed their state completely from the mainland. Within all these protective walls and barriers, the Utopians engage in one art more than any other which epitomizes what all the arts mean for them—the art of agriculture. Defining themselves primarily as "agricolae", rather than lords over the land, they all practice this art which assumes that the imperfections of the natural world can be remediedto a large degree by human planning and industry, an art which thus easily serves as a resonant symbolic center for the basic images and values of More's work. Essentially, agriculture involves nothing less than the incorporation of nature into culture; literally, the word means the cultivation of the fields, the human act of dwelling upon, possessing, and thus transforming a piece of brute and virgin wilderness into a settled suburb of the city of man. Agriculture stands symbolically at the center of More's work because it is the primal act by which civilization defines itself.

Appropriately, More describes his Utopian isle in such a way that agriculture seems to determine totally the features of its topography. Since all its cities are situated twenty-four miles from one another and surrounded by twelve miles of cultivated fields, almost the entire space between them must logically be occupied by cultivated fields and pastures. Looking at Utopia from above, one would see an endless succession of fields, interrupted only occasionally at regular intervals by cities, and descending lower, one would see within those cities rows and rows of houses all enclosing their own sets of interior gardens. Gardens within gardens, all surrounded by protective walls and barriers, all symmetrically laid out within those almost mathematically regular boundaries—Utopia is an immense Renaissance garden where man's arthas civilized and domesticated practically every aspect of the natural world.

Instructively, in the one passage where the existence of a Utopian forest receives passing attention, Hythloday is actually praising the Utopians for having transplanted it from one location to another on the isle. Traditionally, from Dante to Shakespeare, the forest was presented as antithetical to the city and its gardens; it was outside the boundaries of human culture. Evaluated positively, it could be seen as a place of refuge, an oasis into which one might retreat or flee, if only temporarily, from an oppressive or perverted civilization. But it was also depicted as a savage wilderness dangerous to man's body, a dark wood of error perilous for his soul. In every case, the forest, whether Arden or Dante's "selva oscura," was never considered man's home. In the passage from Utopia alluded to above, More effectively obliterates the dichotomy between forest and civilization by incorporating the former into the latter. The forest becomes something man plants and transplants at will. It is put under the control of human agriculture which neutralizes its dangers, transforming it into just one more fertile precinct within the Utopian walled garden which is man's best home on earth.

In depicting Utopia as a walled garden, More deliberately invokes comparisons with the earthly paradise. He even suggestively locates his island, to follow one interpreter of his text, at the Antipodes, where some medieval and Renaissance cartographers thought the earthly paradise to be. More's garden differs, to be sure, from Eden in one absolutely crucial respect: it is not the result of God's benevolent creation and maintenance on behalf of man, but is due to human effort, intelligence, and perseverance. Utopia is fallen man's attempt to re-create something of Eden in the midst of a fallen world.

As testimony to the fundamental, imagistic unity of More's Utopia, human nature is presented in the same agricultural terms used for the natural world. Man is conceived metaphorically as soil which must be cultivated if he is to prosper and bear fruit, and the cultivation of Utopia's citizens, for which Hythloday commends them, is every bit as thorough as that which their island receives at their hands. The repressive social institutions and constant monitoring of behavior which mark Utopia testify to a fear that nature—human or otherwise—will never be fruitful if left to its own devices and will be drawn to evil more easily than to good. Thus travel is restricted and idleness discouraged; only slaves are allowed to hunt or butcher meat, lest good citizens come to enjoythe act of slaughter; and marriage is protected by rigorous laws, since men would naturally prefer the pleasures of casual fruition. Finally, just as the Utopians have eliminated wild and dangerous natural terrain by subjecting it to cultivation, so they have subjected human society to a process of total cultivation, eliminating all those wild and hidden places—taverns, alehouses, brothels—into which men might slip away from the ever-watchful eyes of their fellows in order to dally joyfully with vice.

Agriculture and the terms describing its operations thus effectively determine the moral categories of Utopia. From the very start of the book, when More recounts Hythloday's travels in the New World, he establishes the basic moral opposition between the cultivated and the rude and rustic as he contrasts the savage lands and peoples of the torrid zone with the more civilized lands and peoples of the temperate. Later, he will criticize the Zapoletans (Swiss mercenaries) who live in wild and rugged mountains and have become so "agrestis" that the Utopians rejoice whenever one of them is killed. Most strikingly, More's basic moral dichotomy appears in his praise of Utopian colonization which has aroused the ire of more than one modern critic of the book. Colonization, it should be remembered, derives from "colo," which means "to cultivate," and by extension, "to settle land," and those individuals who carry it outare called "coloni," a word which means both farmers and colonists and which More uses interchangeably with "agricolae." Thus, since colonization and cultivation are really the same process, it should hardly be surprising that More would praise it through Hythloday's mouth. Colonization is not presented as the suppressing of an inferior by a more powerful people, but essentially as the extension of Utopian agriculture, civilizing an otherwise barren land by transforming it into yet another garden.

More's basic moral opposition between the cultivated and the uncultivated underlies Hythloday's vitriolic attack on sheep-raising in England. He paints a depressing picture of a land where no soil is tilled and the farmers, the "coloni", have been forced into work condemned as sterile and unfruitful. They have been replaced by sheep whose wool they cannot afford to buy and whose meat does not serve to nourish them. Those sheep are depicted as monsters which devour not only men, but cities and fields as well. England, once a green and pleasant land, has become a parodie inversion of civilization, a dreary "solitudo" unfertile because uncultivated. No wonder More places Utopia at the Antipodes from his native land!

If agriculture generates an opposition between the cultivated andthe uncultivated, it also generates one between domestication and wildness, between the taming of nature, whether animal or human, which allows it to be brought safely within the walls of the city or garden, and an untamed, wild, bestial nature which presents a constant threat to man and his culture. Thus the torrid zone near the equator is described not only as uncultivated, but also as full of wild beasts ("effera" and "belua"), whereas in the temperate zone all things grow mild and tame ("omnia mansuefacere"). Similarly, the Zapoletans are condemned as ferocious ("ferox") creatures who love war, an activity twice deplored as fit only for beasts. Even worse, the English have become a race of beast-men: the landlord class serves the serpent of hell ("Averni serpens"), the wild beast of pride; their idle retainers and mercenaries are labeled, respectively, drones ("fuci") and wild animals ("beluas"); and the poor peasants, whom all the others have chased from the land and the civilizing pursuit of agriculture, have become mere beasts of burden ("iumenta") whose lives are pitied as even worse than those of beasts. England offers a monstrous inversion of the whole process of domestication where sheep, normally tamed and raised to provide men with clothing and food, have become wild again ("indomitae") and metaphorically devour those who should literally devour them. In this context, it is entirely appropriate to recall how More praised Hythloday for not coming to Europe withstrange tales of monsters which eat men—the monsters were already there!

By contrast, the Utopians receive great praise as domesticators. They breed poultry and utilize the ox for both farming and food. But what is more important, they constantly strive to domesticate themselves and set up institutions for monitoring behavior lest the beast lurking in every man take possession of him. Appropriately, the Utopians condemn as beasts ("pecuini") those citizens who commit crimes like theft and violence as well as those who simply reject fundamental religious tenets. Criminals who rebel against the just punishment of servitude are "untamed beasts" ("indomitae beluae"), and the Utopians feel no qualms about slaughtering ("trucidantur") creatures who have fallen so far beneath the dignity of human behavior. On the other hand, they willingly release those slaves whom servitude has rendered tame ("domiti") and thus restored to the proper condition of man.

Agriculture also involves a third set of opposed terms in Utopia, since it means not only cultivation and domestication, but also effective segregating of the clean and healthy from the dirty and diseased. Living in a fallen world ever ready to invade and corrupt their island paradise, the Utopians have to maintain a constantvigilance against the evils that could easily contaminate them. They must build walls around their communal gardens and set rock barriers and fortresses around their island. They must constantly weed and chase away pests that would impair the fertility and productivity of their land, and they must similarly protect and guard their physical and moral life from contamination by disease and evil. Many Utopian institutions reflect an intense concern with the segregation of good and ill. Amaurotum, the model for all Utopian cities, is located on a river which insures an abundant supply of pure, fresh water, and all animals are slaughtered outside the city so that their filthy remains ("tabum acsordes") can be washed away at once in another river, thus preserving the purity of the city and the entire island. Similarly, the sick are quarantined in hospitals located outside the walls of each city, and unclean things are not allowed inside lest they infect the air the Utopians breathe. Nor should it seem surprising that a people so obsessed with excluding dirt and disease from their world would require prospective marriage partners to inspect one another naked, a practice justified by the argument that one would not buy a horse unless one checked it first for disease.

If the Utopians seem anxious to avoid contact with filth and disease which corrupt the body, they are equally anxious to protectthe mind from moral infection. Thus slaves perform all kinds of dirty work, lest free citizens develop bad habits. To extinguish the monster of pride, which elsewhere takes pleasure in piling up gold at others' expense, the Utopians teach an utter disdain for gold by using it not only for children's toys, thus identifying pride as infantile, but also to make chamber pots, thus identifying it with excrement. Similarly, they condemn all those who fall below their standards of humanity as filth or disease or excrement. The Zapoletans are scornfully dismissed as "that dregs of a people" ("illa colluvie populi"). Suicides who commit their desperate act when not terminally ill are thrown into swamps, a symbolic consigning of the foul to the foul. Most strikingly, the Utopians develop their own philosophy in which health is considered something positive and good in itself, not merely the absence of disease and pain or a precondition for other, real pleasures. The word for health, "sanitas," moreover, applies not only to man's physical, but also to his moral and spiritual, condition. Finally, the Utopians think of their entire state as a collective entity which can enjoy health or be afflicted with disease ("pernicies"), and they recognize their own responsibility in choosing magistrates and instructing the people so that health and salvation are maintained.

This imagery of sickness and health, filth and cleanliness, dominates Hythloday's description of Utopia and fits perfectly his conception of Europe's problem and his personal role as a healer of souls (Raphael means the "healing of God"). Hythloday explicitly criticizes European monarchs as infected from childhood with perverse opinions ("perversis opinionibus … infecti"), and sees himself proposing "decreta sana" in order to cure the disease. He characterizes the sheep which trouble England as a plague ("pestis"), and attacks the idlers who abound in Europe as just so much filth. Most effectively, he argues that one cannot cure the basic disease of Europe, its pride and greed and inhumanity, merely by treating symptoms or local infections. To achieve public "salus," the entire system must be changed and vice eradicated from Europe as completely as possible.

While images of filth and cleanliness, disease and health, may seem intrinsically unrelated to agriculture, in More's thought at least the connection is established frequently and with compelling force. For instance, in condemning the Zapoletans, More attacks them for their lack of cultivation and their wildness and dismisses them as filth, thus utilizing all three of his basic categories almost as through they were completely interchangeable in his mind. Similarly, the English sheep are fearful monsters who have reversedthe processes of cultivation and domestication and are excoriated as a "pestis." This last term actually admits of two translations which demonstrate the interpenetration of these categories in More's thought, for "pestis" means both "plague" and "pest," both disease and destructive, wild animal. In another passage concerned with the fear of contagion felt by the Utopians, disease is described as creeping like a snake from person to person ("ab alio ad alium serpere"). Disease thus becomes a sly and dangerous serpent, a "pestis" of particular malignancy, and this image is echoed later when pride is labeled the prince and parent of all "pestes" and is identified as the serpent of hell. By contrast, when More praises the Utopians for transforming their not particularly fertile soil into fruitful fields, he speaks of their curing the land ("terrae sic medentur industria"), as though lack of fertility were some sort of disease. Finally, when Hythloday speaks of curing the ills of Europe, he repeatedly uses agricultural metaphors: cure vices, he insists, by tearing up the roots which the weeds of depraved opinion have sent down from evil seeds; pluck out pride; and by ending the use of money, uproot an entire crop of evils. Thus More's language reveals the basic connections he accepted between sound agriculture, health, and cleanliness, connections which demonstrate the profound, imaginative unity of his work.

All these basic categories—cultivation and domestication, health and cleanliness—relate More's work directly to the humanist tradition. Although there is no firm evidence that he knew of Italian educators like Vittorino da Feltre and Guarino da Verona or that he had read the writings of Leonardo Bruni and Aeneas Silvius, it is unlikely that he was entirely ignorant of the doctrines and concepts they had propounded. On the other hand, it is almost a certainty that he knew Quintilian and Plutarch, on whom those Renaissance humanists depended for many of their educational conceptions. Moreover, it is quite unlikely that an admirer of Pico della Mirandola and of Florentine Neoplatonism generally would have missed the optimistic note in their assessment of man which they shared with the humanist thinkers and educators mentioned above. Most effective in establishing More's connection with the thought of Renaissance humanism, however, are his deep and abiding friendship, frequent conversations and letters, and all the labors shared with the greatest of the humanists, Desiderius Erasmus. Consequently, it should appear no more than reasonable to place More within the humanist camp, to seek parallels and analogues for his major concepts and images in the works of men like Vergerius, Aeneas Silvius, and Erasmus, and ultimately to argue that the Utopia can be read as a brilliant articulation of humanist ideals.

From Vergerius to Erasmus, the humanists argued that nature generally, and human nature in particular, although impaired by the Fall and thus never completely perfectible by human efforts alone, nevertheless were granted a freedom and a potential to develop in almost any conceivable direction. Like their ancient mentors, Cicero, Plutarch, and Quintilian, the humanists never tired of praising the liberal arts as those worthy a free man ("liber"), but where the ancient writers thought of freedom primarily in a political sense, the Renaissance saw it as metaphysical, moral, and existential. Vergerius, for instance, declared that while a man's place of birth and family were inevitably determined beyond his control, he could nevertheless distinguish and define himself by means of his virtue acquired through education and training. Erasmus envisaged the newly created infant's mind as a "tabula complanata," thus anticipating Locke's "tabula rasa" by two hundred years. This blank tablet was morally neutral, dangerously open to the possibility of degenerating to bestial levels, but equally capable of rising up almost to divinity. This double potentiality received its most eloquent expression in the myth which Pico used to open his famous Oratio, but Erasmus himself summarized it succinctly in one of his treatises on education: "Nature, when it gives you a child, hands over nothing other than a crude mass. … If you disregard it, you will have a wild beast; if you watchover it, you will have, if I may speak thus, a god." Essentially, the humanists felt that before being transformed by man's art, nature was rough and imperfect, filled with unrealized potentialities, and man as man did not yet exist. Erasmus declared simply, "men are not born, but made"; with a defective—or a missing—education, they could never move beyond the level of the brutes, could never hope to repair the defects of their fallen condition, but with proper care they could indeed realize the potential they possessed, in spite of the Fall, for goodness and rationality and could thus, in a limited measure, cooperate in their own salvation, which God's grace alone could ultimately insure.

As the humanists elaborated their conception of the art of education, they repeatedly had recourse to the same basic metaphors which lie at the center of More's thought in Utopia. Vergerius, for example, sees education as the implanting of the seeds of virtue in the child's mind, and, developing this idea of agriculture even further, Aeneas Silvius tells the young prince to whom he addresses his treatise: "just as farmers ('colini') surround their hedges with little trees, so admonishments and arrangements ('instituta') consonant with a praiseworthy life ought to surround you, so that the most upright seeds of mores may germinate, for the fountainheadand root of honesty is legitimate discipline." Erasmus likewise considers the child's mind a fertile field which has the potential to become a magnificent garden, although he cannot decide whether the seeds of virtue already lie dormant in the soil or are planted by the preceptor, who, in either case, must, like a good farmer, care for them and remove noxious weeds.

Just as the humanists thought of education as a process of cultivating the soil of the mind, they also conceived it as domestication, a taming of the mind. This conception was doubtless suggested by the notion of education as "disciplina," a restraining, limiting, or even punishing, and it must have been influenced by the striking comparisons ancient writers like Plutarch made between animals' educability and man's. The identification of education with the domestication and taming of man's potentially wild and bestial nature received its most powerful presentation in a short colloquy entitled Ars notoria which Erasmus wrote to attack the popular "art of memory" ("ars notoria") because it promised an easy, painless method for acquiring knowledge of all the liberal arts. On the contrary, Erasmus has his spokesman declare that wisdom and learning can be had only through labor, which can indeed come to seem reasonably agreeable, but only after the mind has been tamed so that it cancarry out the exercises involved without resistance. Thus, he declares, "Let your first care be that you understand the thing deeply and then that you rehearse and repeat it to yourself. And in this, as they say, the mind is to be tamed, as often as is necessary, so that it can fix itself in cogitation. For if there's any mind so rustic that it cannot be tamed to do such a thing, then it is scarcely fit for learning."

Finally, all the humanists conceive of evil as filth or disease from which the individual must be segregated. Leonardo Bruni, for instance, speaks of evil as filth ("tabes") which befouls or pollutes the mind ("mentem … coinquinat"), and Francesco Barbaro, in his treatise on woman, which includes a long chapter on childrearing, sees the helpless infant as sucking wickedness and impure diseases ("impuras aegritudines") along with the milk of a corrupt nurse, thus suffering both body and spirit to be simultaneously infected by the contagious disease of evil ("pernicioso contagio"). And, of course, More's close friend Erasmus has recourse to the same characteristic metaphors when he warns of the ease with which the young child's tender mind may be infected by passions and desires ("amoribus aliisque cupiditatibus inficiatur").

The humanists do more, however, than merely anticipate the essential metaphors which underlie More's Utopia and receive concrete expression in its topogra phy, institutions and, philosophies. They also anticipate in a limited fashion both the idea of creating an ideal environment to produce and suitably house ideal men, and they characteristically tend to visualize that environment as a garden, especially a garden contained within an ideal palace or city.

Although the humanists praised man's potential for selfimprovement, they, like More, distrusted the natural in man: men were considered weak, frail beings whose fallen natures exposed them openly and continually to vice and passion, disease and sloth. In the fifteenth century, Aeneas Silvius asserted the characteristic position: man was always prone to sin, but youth especially possessed a particular propensity to imitate evil.

Erasmus later claimed that young children clung to evil more readily and easily than to good and were more given to passion than reason, and he explained these defects as the result of man's fallen condition:

… that early age, led more by its natural sense than by judgment, will imbibe evil as easily as good, or more easily…. The pagan philosophers understood this matter and marveled at it. They could not find the cause which Christian philosophy has offered us, for it teaches that this propensity toward evil was planted in us by Adam, the founder of the human race.

Man's fallen nature expressed itself not only in terms of a predilection for vice and an indulgence of the passions, but also in an ultimate uneducability afflicting some members of the species. Finally, the humanists worried that all men were physically weak, exposed to disease and danger, and thus terribly in need of developing strong, healthy bodies to complement their strong, healthy minds.

Although confronted with man's physical, intellectual, and moral weaknesses, the humanists remained confident that education could overcome almost all obstacles to human improvement. However defective nature might be, they felt that man's art could remedy it within very large and generous limits. "Nature is an efficacious thing," admits Erasmus, "but a more efficacious education will conquer it." Considering the importance agricultural metaphors had in their thought, it is striking that the humanists turned their particular attention to the environment in which the child would beraised. They saw the creation of an ideally moral and intellectually stimulating environment as essential if education were really to triumph over a less than cooperative human nature. Moreover, they felt that this ideal environment had to be segregated from the fallen world about it if any traces of the child's Adamic innocence were to be preserved and his potential for rationality and goodness realized. According to Erasmus, "it is most true that the largest portion of … evil in us derives from impure associations and a depraved education, especially in that period of life when we are weak and easily moved in all directions." The segregation of the child from evil, a proposition all the humanists endorsed in more or less radical forms, meant essentially a careful selection of schoolbooks, nurses, tutors, playments, and companions, as well as a specially purified and moral home and school. Fearfully aware of man's tendencies toward evil, the humanists kept pushing back the point at which the child was to be placed in this environment, until someone like Erasmus could even write prescriptions for the proper method of sexual intercourse. Moreover, the humanists wanted the child's behavior within his ideal world to be carefully and continuously monitored by parents and educators. They particularly distrusted unsupervised leisure, believing with Alberti—and clearly with More—that "l'ozio si è balia de' vizii," and urging the playing of instructionalgames, healthy exercises, and reading during time spent away from studies. In effect, what the humanists wanted for the child's education was nothing less than the transformation of the world—or at least a piece of it—into an ideal kinder-garten, an edenic schoolroom, thoroughly moral, separated by firm boundaries from the fallen world about it, and rigorously monitored for any appearance of vice.

Just as important for More's conception of his ideal state, the humanists came increasingly to feel that an immense and unbridgeable gap lay open between their schoolroom-garden and the rest of the world. Where Italian humanists in the fifteenth century could still envisage an education that led directly to public service and social activity, the education imagined by Erasmus and his contemporaries was designed less to prepare the child for the active life in society than to make him an upright Christian. Moreover, as humanism developed between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, thinkers also came increasingly to feel the need to extend the time of education—and hence its ideal environment—further and further into adult life, until Erasmus could imagine the whole of life as being a continual process of education. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in his Convivium religiosum he should imagine an ideal adult existencespent in an enclosed garden that maintained the essential features of the child's educational environment intact.

In the light of all these humanist ideals, More's Nowhere does indeed appear to be Somewhere. Although clearly influenced by Plato's Republic, ideas of ancient Sparta, and accounts of kingdoms in the New World, Utopia can also be seen as an imaginative extension of the ideal enclosed garden which several generations of humanists had desired and even, in limited ways, had attempted to create. Utopia simply expands the humanist schoolhouse until its walls reach the borders of the entire state. In its institutions it enshrines the basic features of that ideal environment. Where the humanists wanted a purified, clean, healthy school away from the smoky cities of the fallen world, Utopia totally separates itself from that world and sets up barriers of rocks and fortresses to prevent any intrusion of vice of disease or filth from its neighbors. Where the humanists wanted the child exposed to only the best books and people in order to insure his moral perfection, the Utopians constantly offer models of virtue to their children, erecting statues commemorating good men and ridiculing slaves by means of gold chains and ornaments. Filled with a cautious faith in man's potential for goodness and rationality, but fearing his ever-present inclination to vice, More follows in the footsteps ofthe humanists and designs a rigidly controlled environment where freedom of movement, religious dissension, and sexual association are carefully restricted. Not trusting men to amuse themselves honestly, he has their leisure-time activities supervised so that only constructive games, work like gardening, and self-improvement through continuing education are really tolerated. Finally, More takes the constant monitoring the humanists desired to the point where no one in Utopia can ever escape public scrutiny. No wonder Erasmus and Giles, Busleiden and Budé wrote admiringly of More's work—the enclosed garden of Utopia is a colossal version of the educational environment they all desired for their children and dreamed of as a model for a brave new world.

George M. Logan (essay date 1983)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3245

SOURCE: "Utopia" in The Meaning of More's "Utopia," Princeton University Press, 1983, pp. 131-253.

[In the following excerpt, Logan describes Utopia as a "best commonwealth exercise" in the classical tradition, pointing to the echoes of Plato and Aristotle in the work.]

To examine the theoretical questions advanced at the end of Book I of Utopia, More employed the original and central exercise of Greek political philosophy, the determination of the best form of the commonwealth. [In a footnote, the author adds: "To preclude misunderstanding, let me say at once that this statement does not imply that Utopia must be More's ideal commonwealth. The exercise can … be undertaken for reasons other than elaborating one's own ideal."] This exercise, which has its ancestry in the inveterate Greek practice of comparing polities, and its literary antecedents in such passages as the debate among spokesmen for monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy in Herodotus' Histories, entered political philosophy in Plato's Republic. In their attempt to specify the nature of the perfectly just man, Socrates and his companions are led into discussion of the perfectly just polis. The resulting exchanges delineate in effect the Idea of the polis. "Perhaps," Socrates suggests, the Republic "is laid up as a pattern in heaven, where those who wish can see it and found it in their own hearts." Although there is small chance that this polis will ever actually exist, the determination of its form has practical value. Like the image of the just man, the Republic provides a model to guide action: "By looking at these perfect patterns and the measure of happiness … they would enjoy, we force ourselves to admit that the nearer we approximate to them the more nearly we share their lot."

In the Republic, Plato's earliest political work, speculative development is untrammeled by practical considerations. In particular, Plato does not acknowledge that the recalcitrance of human nature imposes constraints on the realization of political ideals. The most important reflection of this fact is found in the circumstance that the Republic is a government of men—the philosopher-rulers—rather than of law. Indeed, Plato always regarded government by wise men as preferable to even the best government by law. In the Laws, however, a late work, he takes account of the fact that it is in practice extremely difficult to assure a supply of wise men and elaborates the optimal pattern for a polis governed by law—his "second-best state." It is this work rather than the Republic that provided, as [George H.] Sabine says [in A History of Political Theory, 1961], the "point of departure" for the third and last of the great best-commonwealth exercises of Greek theory, the discussion of the ideal polis in the seventh and unfinished eighth books of Aristotle's Politics. For Aristotle is acutely aware of the constraints that empirical fact places upon theory. According to Aristotle, Plato erred in the Republic by not considering "the teaching of actual experience." Even in discussing a nonexistent, ideal polis "it cannot be right to make anyassumption which is plainly impossible," since in order for a pattern of an ideal polis to be useful, the ideal conditions "must be capable of fulfilment as well as being ideal."

It is crucial to understand that the best-commonwealth exercise is not, for Plato and Aristotle, simply a matter of piling together seemingly ideal features of a polis. As the quintessential manifestation of the rationalistic and holistic character of Greek political theory, the exercise has at its core the conception of the polis as a system of reciprocally-affecting parts. Since the polis aims at self-sufficiency, its ideal form is a structure of just those elements that will constitute a self-sufficient unit. Plato's pronouncement that "society originates … because the individual is not self-sufficient" leads immediately to the specification of the human needs—food, shelter, clothing—that must be supplied within the polis, and this list, in turn, leads to the development of a list of essential occupations. Superfluity in any component of the polis is as harmful as deficiency. One manifestation of social pathology is "a multitude of occupations none of which is concerned with necessaries." The provision of the luxuries produced by these professions means that "the territory which was formerly enough to support us will now be too small," a circumstance that fosters aggression: "If we are to have enough for pasture and plough, we shall have to cut a slice off our neighbours' territory. And if they too are no longer confining themselves to necessities and have embarked on the pursuit of unlimited material possessions, they will want a slice of ours too." By contrast, in the ideal polis "the land must be extensive enough to support a given number of people in modest comfort, and not a foot more is needed."

The method of Aristotle's best-commonwealth exercise is essentially the same as that of the Republic and Laws, but Aristotle characteristically articulates the principles of this method in a much more explicit and systematic fashion. Book VII of the Politics opens, as I pointed out earlier, with a statement of the relation between ethics and politics: "Before we can undertake properly the investigation of our next theme—the nature of an ideal constitution—it is necessary for us first to determine the nature of the most desirable way of life [for the individual]. As long as that is obscure, the nature of the ideal constitution must also remain obscure." There follows a recapitulation of Aristotle's views on the best life. Axiomatically, the end of life is happiness. The constituent elements of the best life, then, are "external goods; goods of the body; and goods of the soul," for "no one would call a man happy" who was seriously deficient in respectof any of these classes of goods. But "differences begin to arise when we ask, 'How much of each good should men have? And what is the relative superiority of one good over another?'" The truth is that external goods and goods of the body are merely instrumental. Thus, "like all other instruments, [they] have a necessary limit of size": "any excessive amount of such things must either cause its possessor some injury or, at any rate, bring him no benefit." On the contrary, "the greater the amount of each of the goods of the soul, the greater is its utility."

It is evident that the goal of the polis is to facilitate the achievement of happiness by its citizens: "There is one thing clear about the best constitution: it must be a political organization which will enable all sorts of men to be at their best and live happily." There follows an argument against the idea that the happiness of the polis lies in war and conquest, which concludes with a restatement of the view that the goal of the polis is to secure the good life for its citizens:

if military pursuits are … to be counted good, they are good in a qualified sense. They are not the chief end of man, transcending all other ends: they are means to his chief end. The true end which good law-givers should keep in view, for any stateor stock or society with which they may be concerned, is the enjoyment of partnership in a good life and the felicity thereby attainable.

The formulation of the goal of the polis leads in turn to discussion of the physical and institutional components necessary to secure the attainment of this goal. It is made clear early in the discussion that the governing principle is, as in Plato, self-sufficiency, which implies certain demographic and geographic requirements and the fulfillment of a specific list of occupational functions. The polis requires "such an initial amount of population as will be self-sufficient for the purpose of achieving a good way of life in the shape and form of a political association." Population may exceed this number, but not by so much that the citizens are unable to "know one another's characters," something that is necessary "both in order to give decisions in matters of disputed rights, and to distribute the offices of government according to the merit of candidates." Thus the "optimum standard of population … is, in a word, 'the greatest surveyable number required for achieving a life of self-sufficiency.'" Similarly, the territory of the polis must be such as to ensure "the maximum of self-sufficiency":

and as that consists in having everything, and needing nothing, such a territory must be one which produces all kinds of crops. In point of extent and size, the territory should be large enough to enable its inhabitants to live a life of leisure which combines liberality with temperance…. What was said above of the population—that it should be such as to be surveyable—is equally true of the territory.

In addition to having an appropriate population and territory, the polis must provide six "services": food, the required arts and crafts, arms, "a certain supply of property, alike for domestic use and for military purposes," "an establishment for the service of the gods," and "a method of deciding what is demanded by the public interest and what is just in men's private dealing." Thus the polis must include specific occupational groups: "a body of farmers to produce the necessary food; craftsmen; a military force; a propertied class; priests; and a body for deciding necessary issues and determining what is the public interest." Discussion of the best arrangements for fulfilling and maintaining these requirements (including a long discussion of the proper education of citizens) occupies the remainder of Aristotle's treatment of the ideal polis.

The best-commonwealth exercise, then, is made up of four sequential steps, which underlie the design of the Republic and Laws are clearly articulated in the Politics. On the basis of a conception of man's nature (both Plato and Aristotle devote some space to this topic, which properly belongs to psychology and physiology), one first determines the best life of the individual (the principal subject of ethics and the starting point of politics). The second step involves the determination, given these conclusions about the individual, of the overall goal of the commonwealth and of the contributory goals the joint attainment of which will result in the attainment of the overall goal. The third step constitutes the elaboration of the required components of a self-sufficient polis. Finally, the theorist must determine the particular form that each of these components should be given in order to assure that, collectively, they will constitute the best polis, that truly self-sufficient entity that achieves all the contributory goals, and thus the overall goal, of the polis.

It has always been recognized that Utopia is related to Plato's and Aristotle's accounts of the ideal polis. But treatments of the relation, when they have gone beyond general statements that More was inspired by these works, have usually been restricted to the enumeration of particular geographic, demographic, andinstitutional parallels between Utopia and the ideal poleis of Greek theory (especially that of the Republic). More is thought, that is, simply to have appropriated a selection of desirable-sounding features from the Greek works, a view of the relation that fits comfortably with the common notion that the Utopian construct is a collection of randomly-chosen and whimsically-ordered features that seemed (for the most part) ideal to More. [Edward L.] Surtz, for example, writes that More goes to the Republic "for the broad bases of the Utopia, e.g. the search for justice … [and] the introduction of communism into the best state," while "for many of his details he turns to the more realistic and practical Laws." The Politics "may be the ultimate, though remote, source for such items as the following: condemnation of wars of conquest and dedication to peacetime pursuits, … the end of government as the good of the citizens, … the objections to communism, the traditional case for democracy, and education as the foundation of the state because of the importance of early impressions." In his Commentary, Surtz annotates numerous specific parallels (and differences) between More and Plato, as well as a good many between More and Aristotle.

Among his annotations of Aristotelian parallels, however, is a scattered series of notes that suggests that the choice of topicsin the account of Utopia reflects, and follows roughly the order of, Aristotle's list of the six necessary services of the polis—a fact that should have made Surtz wonder whether Utopia might owe an underlying constructional schema, as well as some materials that flesh it out, to Greek theory. And indeed [Thomas I.] White has recently shown [in "Aristotle and Utopia," Rensaissance Quarterly, 1976] not only that More's debts to the Politics are direct and extensive but also that many of them reflect the fact that the design of the Utopian construct is fundamentally informed by the concept of self-sufficiency:

Self-sufficiency is not an explicitly avowed goal of Utopia, but it should be clear that simply because of Utopia's avowedly ideal, or at least superior, nature, self-sufficiency is a necessary aim of the society. That is, it seeks both the end (full human development) and the means (self-reliance and a static culture) implied by [aularkeia]. More has at least implicitly and quite possibly consciously adopted Aristotle's idea as the basis of Utopia. And there are a number of similarities between specific institutions or practices described by these two thinkers which demonstrate their general agreement on self-sufficiency as the fundamental goal of the state.

One can in fact go a good deal further and say simply that More's Utopian construct embodies the results of a best-commonwealth exercise performed in strict accordance with the Greek rules. The construct includes all the parts of the exercise, and it includes nothing of substance that is not either a part of it or of More's comments on his results. This fact, which provides the quietus for the view of the account of Utopia as whimsical mélange, would be obvious were it not that More decided to present his best-commonwealth exercise in a form that doubly disguised it. First, unlike Plato and Aristotle, he offers not dialectics but a model that embodies the end-product of dialectics. Second, the model is presented as a fictional travelogue. The choice of this mode of presentation entailed suppressing or disguising the various components of the dialectical substructure of the model—its generative postulates and the arguments involved in the four steps of the best-commonwealth exercise—and a partial abandonment of the logical order of topics in the exercise for the rather different order (or disorder) of the traveler's tale—geography, and then any number of topics in any associative order. The crucial arguments deducing the best life of the individual from human nature are presented out of their logical place and attributed not to the author (nor to Hythloday, who is only recording what he saw and heard) but to the Utopian moral philosophers, and they are offered not as a step in the generation of the Utopian construct but simply as supposedly interesting incidental information about Utopian philosophy. The conclusion about the goal of the commonwealth that follows from this view of the best life of the individual is presented in one sentence at the end of the account of Utopian occupations: "the constitution of their commonwealth looks in the first place to this sole object: that for all the citizens, as far as the public needs permit, as much time as possible should be withdrawn from the service of the body and devoted to the freedom and culture of the mind." The contributory goals of the commonwealth, and the arguments about the array of features calculated to facilitate the attainment and maintenance of these goals, can for the most part be inferred only by examining the individual features of Utopia and their interrelations.

It is clear that the best-commonwealth exercise offered a perfect way of exploring the questions raised in Book I. The question whether social justice necessitates communism had been the most conspicuous concern of the original best-commonwealth exercises. Moreover, the degree of compatibility between the politically expedient and the imperatives of morality and religion can be precisely determined by examining the institutions and policies of an ideal commonwealth constructed according to Greek principles, since by definition such a commonwealth is characterized by perfect expediency: the best-commonwealth exercise is designed to generate the constitution of a polis that acts with perfect rationality to assure that its citizens individually and collectively pursue their real interests.

These considerations suggest the solution to the muchdiscussed problem of why More made Utopia non-Christian. More and all his contemporaries—including Machiavelli and Guicciardini—knew that moral, and Christian, behavior is advisable on suprarational, religious grounds. The liveliest question in early (pre-Reformation) sixteenth-century political thought, however, is that raised in Book I of Utopia: how far, in political life, is this kind of behavior advisable, or unadvisable, on purely prudential grounds? More realized that this question could be answered by seeing what a society pursuing perfect expediency through perfectly rational calculations would be like. This realization was doubtless prompted by the fact that, as I noted above, the political works of Plato and Aristotle in which the best-commonwealth exercise originates also provide the most authoritative bases for the claim that the expedient sometimes differs from the moral. If one wants to refute or modify these conclusions, then, a most effective way is to show that thebest-commonwealth exercise, if performed more correctly, does not in fact lead to them.

It is also clear why More chose to present his results as a fictionalized model. He presents them as a model because he feels, as he indicates in Book I, that this form of presentation represents an important methodological advance in the systemic approach to social analysis. He disguises the model as a fiction for the same reason that Utopia as a whole is presented as a fiction. Fictional dialogue is conventional in humanist philosophical writing; underlying this convention is the valid observation that the appeal, hence the utility, of a learned work is enhanced if its lessons are dressed in the sugar-coat of fiction. Sidney's later description of the poet's calculations applies to the humanist tradition as a whole:

he doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, as will entice any man to enter into it. … He beginneth not with obscure definitions, which must blur the margent with interpretations and load the memory with doubtfulness; but…with a tale forsooth he cometh unto you…. And, pretending no more, doth intend the winning of the mind from wickedness to virtue….for even those hard-hearted evil men who think virtue a school name, and know no other good but indulgere genio, and therefore despise the austere admonitions of the philosopher, … yet will be content to be delighted—which is all the good-fellow poet seemeth to promise—and so steal to see the form of goodness (which seen they cannot but love) ere themselves be aware, as if they took a medicine of cherries. (An Apology for Poetry)

In his second letter to Giles More acknowledges that such considerations underlie the mode of presentation of the Utopian construct: "I do not pretend that if I had determined to write about the commonwealth and had thought of such a story as I have recounted, I should have perhaps shrunk from a fiction [fictio] whereby the truth, as if smeared with honey, might a little more pleasantly slide into men's minds."

Ann W. Astell (essay date 1985)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5903

SOURCE: "Rhetorical Strategy and the Fiction of Audience in More's Utopia," in The Centennial Review, Vol. XXIX, No. 3, Summer, 1985, pp. 302-19.

[In the essay that follows, Astell focuses on the letters, or parerga, that introduce More's text, using them to study how the fiction constructs its audience and, specifically, how the dialogues achieve their purpose through "indirection. "]

St. Thomas More's Utopia, whether considered as dialogue or discourse, is a self-consciously rhetorical work, and critics tend to approach it accordingly. Scholars primarily interested in logos as a means of persuasion typically characterize Utopia either as an argument upholding the superiority of the "philosophical city" so vividly described in Book II, or as a carefully balanced (and unresolved) debate about "The Best State of a Commonwealth." Critics especially sensitive to the pathetic appeal describe More's book as a satire against England. Still others, concerned with the personal appeal, have argued that More qualifies the ethos of Raphael Hythloday in a way that discredits him, disassociates him from More, and renders Utopia itself suspect as an ideal state.

Despite this kind of critical interest in the rhetoric of Utopia, practically no attempt has been made to relate the moving power of the text to its effect upon its intended, historical audience: the circle of More's Latinist friends whose response to the work is recorded in the so-called parerga—the letters, poems, and marginalnotes that accompanied the editions of 1516, 1517, and 1518. Indeed, there has been relatively little scholarly interest in the humanist writings on Utopia. In J. H. Hexter's brilliant 1952 study [More's Utopia: The Biography of an Idea] he relied upon the opinions expressed in the parerga to set forth an "unimpeachably orthodox" interpretation of More's social doctrine. In 1963 Peter R. Allen called attention to the prefatory letters and verses as a way of identifying Utopia to the reader as a specifically "humanist document within the growing forces of the movement" ["Utopia and European Humanism: The Function of the Prefatory Letters and Verses," Studies in the Renaissance X (1963)]. In the 1965 Yale edition all the supplementary material that accompanied the first three editions of More's Utopia was reprinted for the first time. Four years later R. S. Sylvester complained [in Si Hythlodaeo Credimus: Vision and Revision in Thomas More's Utopia," Soundings, 1969] that the comments of More's humanist friends had been "rather unjustly neglected" and urged that their attitude toward the work be reconsidered as a model for reader response.

Like Sylvester I believe that the parerga provides a means for us to recover the rhetorical context within which the book's symbols are to be understood. Quid and guibus belong together. More addresses his Utopia to a particular, historical, humanist audiencewhom he fictionalizes within the work itself as the auditors of Raphael Hythloday. Through the fiction of audience More delights his readers, engages their imaginative cooperation with the narrative, and directs their response, step by step, from within the text. He does so in order to achieve a particular rhetorical objective: the moral education of his audience towards humility, the single most important virtue for a servant of the commonwealth. The writings of the parerga, which according to More's wish should accompany Utopia into print, provide a guide for reader response and remind us that artifact and audience, structure and rhetorical strategy, must be considered together.

More himself attached great importance to the parerga as a way of placing Utopia within its proper rhetorical context. His 1516 correspondence with Erasmus reveals that the desired the soon-to-be-published Utopia to be "handsomely set off" by the "highest of recommendations", and that he actively solicited written responses to the book from "both intellectuals and distinguished statesmen." He himself supplied two of the letters within the parerga. More's second letter to Peter Giles, published in the 1517 Paris edition, alerts the reader to clues in the text which disclose the nature of Utopia to be "truth under the guise of fiction," and urges him to read it accordingly. Two other items inthe parerga, the poems of Gerhard Geldenhauer and Cornells de Schrijver, are specifically addressed to the general reader, telling him what he may expect to find in the book and what benefits he will surely derive from the reading experience. All of the supplementary material, including the marginalia, was certainly approved by More for publication in the 1518 Basel edition, and there is every reason to believe that More expected the humanist commentary to lead, not mislead, the reader.

As causa exemplaris for the larger reading audience, the humanist circle makes a typical and therefore supra-temporal response to More's Utopia in the writings of the parerga which preface the text proper,

interpenetrate it in the form of marginalia, and follow it as an appendix. The parerga continually invite the reader to respond as others have responded before him; to take up membership in an audience that already exists, and generally agrees, about the meaning of Utopia; to sit down, as it were, in company with Erasmus, Froben, Budé, Lupset, Giles, Busleyden, Desmarais, Geldenhauer, de Schrijver, Rhenanus, and More himself. Indeed, the parerga present the humanist circle as an audience capable of assimilating the individual reader who makes their response his own.

This outer audience, moreover, functions as an extension of the fictive humanist audience More creates within Utopia itself. More effects that rhetorical extenion of audience into audience by fictionalizing himself and Peter Giles as the auditors of Raphael Hythloday. As a rhetorical device, the frame audience provides More with a self-conscious way of doing what Father Walter Ong insists the writer always does—i.e., he casts his readers in a particular role, directs them toward the discovery of their part, and invites them to play it. As model and teacher, More himself assumes

the part he expects his readers to play. Ambrosius Holbein's delightful woodcut, which headed the text proper in the 1518 edition, suggests that the reader's place is on the garden bench, next to More and Giles, facing the bearded Hythloday, and listening to him as he speaks. The title, directly below the garden scene, invites the reader to read a transcription of the very discourse More has heard, to join company with the trustworthy reporter.

The parerga reveals that More's original audience, the circle of European humanists, delighted in the role More had assigned to them, and responded by fictionalizing themselves even further. The scholar William Budé, for instance, in his letter to Thomas Lupset, contends that he has conducted a personal investigation as to the whereabouts of Utopia. Peter Giles contributes two poems, aquatrain and a hexastichon, that he claims to have translated into Latin from the Utopian vernacular. Giles also reports to Jerome Busleyden that the island's exact location is unknown to him because someone coughed very loudly just at the moment when Raphael described it. John Desmarais, the orator of the University of Louvain, proposes in playful earnestness that "a number of distinguished and invincible theologians … betake themselves to the island". More himself continues the fiction in his correspondence, asking Giles to contact Raphael and find out from him the exact length of the bridge spanning the River Anydrus at Amaurotum.

The enthusiastic willingness of representative humanists to play the part of Raphael's audience reflects their understanding that the benefit to be gained from the reading experience depends on their imaginative cooperation with the fiction, their tasting the honey where More has hid the moral truths he wishes to convey. Indeed, the reader only learns the lesson More teaches if he plays the part of Raphael's auditor in company with More and Giles.

The response of that fictive audience to Hythloday's discourse is guided, in turn, by the responses of other groups who have supposedly given Hythloday a hearing in the past: Cardinal Mortonand his associates, and the Utopians themselves. A series of hypothetical audiences, introduced by Hythloday during the Dialogue of Counsel, also influences the response of More and Giles. As the various responses of all these audiences to Hythloday's speeches are recorded and evaluated, the range of possible reader responses is simultaneously explored, with certain responses being systematically excluded as inappropriate. The textual directives constrain the reader to respond with increasing openness and humility to Hythloday's speech.

At the same time Hythloday's success or failure with each group of auditors becomes eventful. The hero Hythloday is in search of an audience that will pay heed to his message. Indeed, there is no other plot and, as Elizabeth McCutcheon notes [in "Thomas More, Raphael Hythlodaeus, and the Angel Raphael," Studies in English Literature, 1969], "the most dramatic moment in all of Utopia occurs in the last few paragraphs" when the reader finds out whether or not Raphael Hythlodaeus succeeds with that most promising of audiences, More and Giles. To the extent that the reader's sympathy for Hythloday is aroused, he wishes him success—even to the point of becoming himself the audience Hythloday seeks. The reader who does so eventually confronts his own pride and, in that confrontation, achieves the self-knowledge that makes it possible for him to be both a rhetor and a reformer.

In the moral education of his audience toward humility, More points to a solution of the problem posed in the Dialogue of Counsel when Hythloday denies, and More affirms, that a reformer can reach his goals in a court culture opposed to his views by way of rhetorical indirection and accommodation. Hythloday insists that one cannot proceed obliquo ductu without coming "to share the madness" of those he sought to cure, and More does not deny that that danger exists. Striving "to handle things tactfully" can easily lead to a compromise of principles and the loss of one's prophetic mission. In many ways this problem—the necessity of using rhetoric to attain one's goal and the near impossibility of doing so—is a specifically humanist version of a universal Christian problem: how is it possible to be in the world without being of it?

The Dialogue throws into relief the difficult rhetorical situation actually confronting the humanist reformer at court in a moral climate fraught with "many and great dangers". More observes in his October 31, 1516 letter to Erasmus that Cuthbert Tunstal, Jerome Busleyden, and Jean le Sauvage have to endure "some high and mighty clowns as their equals, if not superiors, in authority and influence." The parerga includes Budé's complaint that most of thepeople in positions of authority "to give definitive replies on what is good and fair" achieved that status by accumulating dishonest wealth. Busleyden, too, writes with a certain poignancy that More is one of a very few men "who not only sincerely want to serve the commonwealth, but also have the learning to know how, the trust of others to be able, and the prestige with the corresponding power, and who consequently can serve" with loyalty, honesty, and wisdom.

John Cardinal Morton has the qualities Busleyden names, and his presence in the Dialogue symbolizes the solution to the dilemma it poses. Hythloday's high esteem for Morton endears him to More, who has admired the Cardinal from the days of his youth. As he tells Hythloday, "Since you are strongly devoted to his memory, you cannot believe how much more attached I feel to you on that account". Remembering Morton, then, produces a certain harmony between the disputants. Indeed, in his person the issues that divide More and Hythloday are transcended. What is impossible for Hythloday (and, indeed, for most men) is possible for Morton. Hythloday describes the Cardinal as a man "who deserved respect as much for his prudence and virtue as for his authority", and observes that "the King placed the greatest confidence in his advice, and the commonwealth seemed to depend on him when I was there". Morton, then, represents the possibility of combining service to the King with genuine service to the commonwealth, a position of public influence with nobility of character, experience with youthfulness, eloquence ("his speech was polished and pointed") with honor, rhetoric with moral philosophy, tact with the ability to effect reform.

Hythloday notes that Morton had come directly from school to the court where, during the course of a long political career filled with "many and great dangers", he has acquired "a statesman's sagacity." In the wolfish court circle he has learned to be cunning as a serpent, gentle as a dove. Through hard and humiliating experience with the ways of the world, he has come to know his own worst tendencies, and to guard against them.

The lesson Morton learned by passing through "many and great dangers" is the same lesson More wishes to teach his readers. Knowing "the original causes of the world's evils" and "the very sources of right and wrong", the reader will be in a position to serve the commonwealth and lighten the burden that "cannot be removed entirely" even in Utopia because it belongs to the condition of fallen man.

More's second letter to Giles, included in the parerga of 1517, suggests that human nature is such that the hard truths of failure and sin, the experiential knowledge of one's own, and England's, wickedness, can only "slide into men's minds" if it is "smeared with honey". The poet as moral teacher, then, must use the "indirect approach" More recommends to Hythloday. More's obliquo ductu, like Cicero's de insinuatione, names the rhetorical strategy one must employ in the face of an audience that is opposed to one's view, or offended and alienated by the subject of one's speech. In such a case the rhetor must proceed by way of indirection—"dissimulatione et circumitione obscure, " as Cicero puts it in his De Inventione—gradually approaching his true subject, stealing into the minds of his auditors ("subiens auditoris animum ") who are surprised, or even tricked, into assent.

Utopia as a whole is a masterpiece of rhetorical indirection. It is More's book, but it is entitled "The Discourse of the Extraordinary Character, Raphael Hythlodaeus." It pretends to make known the "manners and customs" of a distant people when it actually lays bare our own pride as the fountainhead of all injustice. It purports to be about Utopia when its true subject is Europe, and England in particular. Erasmus testifies to this in his famous July 23, 1519 letter to Ulrich Hutten when he states that More's "Utopia was published with the aim of showing the causes of the bad conditions of states; but was chiefly a portrait of the British state." Similarly, Gerhard Geldenhauer's verse address to the reader maintains, "In this book the very sources of right and wrong are revealed by the eloquent More". And Cornells de Schrijver's poem preface advises the reader to "read these pages which the celebrated More has given us" if he wants to "uncover the original causes of the world's evils and to experience the great emptiness lying concealed at the heart of things".

In order to disclose the emptiness of vainglory, More first conceals that truth in the honey of his fiction. In order to teach true humility, he identifies himself with his audience and plays with them the part of Hythloday's pupil. When the reader first encounters More he finds him in the company of Cuthbert Tunstal, a humanist statesman well-known for his "integrity and learning". They are negotiating with Georges de Themsecke, the shrewd and eloquent representative of Charles, Prince of Castile, on behalf of a "model monarch," Henry VIII. When the Provost of Cassel temporarily breaks off the negotiations, More goes to Antwerp where he meets Giles, "an honorable man of high position in his home town" who is "distinguished equally by learning and character." These brief sketches serve to establish the ethos of Hythloday' simmediate audience for the reader. Certainly the humanist scholars and statesmen who read More's Utopia found it easy to identify with these men whom they knew by reputation, if not personally, as leading exponents of their own high ideals.

When Giles introduces the sunburnt and bearded Hythloday to More, he describes him as a wayfaring philosopher, more conversant in Greek than Latin, who has just returned from a voyage like "that of Ulysses or … of Plato". Giles informs More that Hythloday, an associate of Amerigo Vespucci, can tell him much about "unknown peoples and lands," adding that this is a subject about which More is "always most greedy to hear." Thus the reader's curiosity is piqued along with More's, and directed by his interest in the "excellent institutions" of foreign commonwealths away from a trivial concern with "stale travelers' wonders". Indeed, More rather pointedly remarks that "those wise and prudent provisions" which Hythloday noticed in his travels through various civilized nations are the sort of facts which "would be useful to readers". Not only are the "well and wisely trained citizens" of other nations useful to our own people as exempla leading to the "correction of … errors"; they are also, More observes, more rare, wonderful, and interesting than the "scyllas and greedy Celaenos and folk-devouring Laestrygones" that are the subjects ofpopular travelogues. Remarks of this sort prepare the reader for what is to come by defining the genre of Hythloday's discourse, appeal to the reader's sense of civic responsibility, and incorporate the reader's motives for reading into More's own reasons for listening to Hythloday.

According to Hexter's reconstruction, Hythloday launches into his account "of the manners and customs of the Utopians" immediately after this brief introduction in More's original draft of the Utopia. More, however, apparently felt the need to provide a more fully developed rhetorical context for the speech Hythloday delivers in Book II. Therefore, in his revised draft, More added the so-called Dialogue of Counsel—"the talk which drew and led [Hythloday] on to mention that commonwealth".

The discussion begins with Giles' naive suggestion that the knowledgeable and wise Hythloday attach himself to some king in order to profit the commonwealth while securing personal gain and "the advancement of all [his] relatives and friends." In words echoing Luke 9: 25, Hythloday replies that he does not want to become "prosperous by a way which [his] soul abhors", and More commends him for his personal integrity: "It is plain that you, my dear Raphael, are desirous neither of riches nor of power. Assuredly, I reverence and look up to a man of your mind." Thus, at the very beginning of the Dialogue, Hythloday's high moral character is affirmed, and the reader is invited to respond to him as More does, the ethos of the speaker appealing to the ethos of the audience.

More proceeds to make an ethical appeal to Hythloday, telling him that his own "generous and truly philosophic spirit" should motivate him to apply his "talent and industry to the public interest," even at the cost of "personal disadvantages." More stresses that he who influences the king affects the people as a whole, the monarch being, like a "never-failing spring," the source of "good and evil" for the nation. Hythloday modestly replies that he lacks the great abilities More ascribes to him, and that he would not be able to accomplish any good anyway in the king's service because neither the king nor his courtiers would listen to his counsel.

Hythloday proceeds to call up a number of possible audiences for himself as test-cases. He imagines himself making an innovative proposal "in the company of people who are jealous of others' discoveries or prefer their own". He pictures himself arguing for measures of reform in the presence of a long-winded lawyer, ahanger-on, an unholy friar, and a flock of other flatterers surrounding John Cardinal Morton. He imagines himself advocating peace to the King of France before "a circle of his most astute councilors" at a meeting called for the express purpose of planning military aggression against Italy, Flanders, Brabant, and Burgundy. He pictures himself admonishing a king against arrogance and greed at a session when the other councilors are busy "devising by what schemes they may heap up treasure for him". He concludes that his opinions would surely meet with an unfavorable reception from each of these audiences, exclaiming, "if I tried to obtrude these and like ideas on men strongly inclined to the opposite way of thinking, to what deaf ears should I tell my tale!" More can only shake his head and agree with Hythloday that he surely would not succeed if he tried to "force upon people new and strange ideas which … carry no weight with persons of opposite conviction".

This series of strange and difficult audiences has proved troublesome to critics of Utopia who usually conclude, as David Bevington does, that Hythloday is proposing extreme cases that are irrelevant to the topic actually under discussion: the Tudor monarchy. In his introduction to the Yale edition, Father Surtz suggests, moreover, that Hythloday's hypothetical audiences have no relationship to Utopia's real audience, outside of defining theintended readership by negation.

The ending of the Dialogue and the conclusion of Book II, however, suggest that these fictive audiences do have an inner relationship to Utopia's intended audience, and that the discovery of that relationship belongs to the gnosis imparted by the poet as moral teacher. Certainly More expects his high-minded readers to suppose that the corrupt court circles, who would reward Hythloday with banishment or ridicule for his attempt to "uproot … the seeds of evil and corruption", are far-removed from themselves. Indeed, he cultivates that response by awakening in his (and Hythloday's) audience moral outrage against kings and councilors who have inflicted so much suffering on the peoples of Europe through their schemes, deceptions and warmongering.

Suddenly, however, the audience is asked to direct that same moral outrage toward themselves when, at the end of the Dialogue, Hythloday candidly reveals his "heart's sentiments" and tells More that such abuses are inevitable in a society based on private property—i.e., the unequal distribution of goods: "wherever you have private property and all men measure things by cash values, there it is scarcely possible for a common-wealth to have justice or prosperity". Hythloday's conclusion challenges the value system of More's readers, all of whom are property owners, and suggests that they are not untainted by the selfishness and pride which manifests itself so blatantly in the wealthy and powerful. Persona More adds weight to Hythloday's charge when, at the end of the Utopian discourse, he remarks that the "estimation of the common people" places a high value on worldly goods—"nobility, magnificence, splendor and majesty"—as "the true glories and ornaments of the commonwealth".

When Hythloday connects the moral ills of the court in a causal relationship with an economic system based on private ownership that encourages fallen man's propensity toward covetousness, his auditors in the garden suddenly find themselves among the "persons of opposite conviction" whom Hythloday had addressed hypothetically before. More declares that he is "of the contrary opinion" and proceeds to enumerate the usual arguments against communism. When Hythloday refutes More's objections by citing his happy experience among the Utopians, Giles, equally on the defensive, says that he finds it hard to believe "that a betterordered people is to be found in that new world than the one known to us". The notion of common ownership is thrust upon them as one of Hythloday's "novel ideas".

As threatened as More and Giles may feel by Hythloday's position, they can hardly respond in any of the ways that have previously been rejected as reflecting "proud, ridiculous and obstinate prejudices". They cannot reject Hythloday's view out-of-hand as the punctilious lawyer had. They cannot respond with contempt, as the Cardinal's courtiers did. They can hardly treat the matter as a jest, as did the foolish hanger-on. Nor can they turn a deaf ear like the wicked kings and courtiers. More himself makes a direct connection between his possible response as an auditor and the responses of Hythloday's other audiences at the conclusion of the afternoon discourse when he recalls Hythloday's "censure of others on account of their fear that they might not appear wise enough, unless they found some fault to criticize in other men's discoveries", and decides (at least for the time being) not to voice any opposition to Hythloday's views. If at the end of the long Utopian discourse More still recalls Hythloday's other audiences and measures his response by theirs, we may be sure that they are much closer to his thoughts at the end of the Dialogue. The reader, like More and Giles, finds himself constrained to respond with greater humility and open-mindedness to Hythloday's "novel ideas" than others have.

In Book I More provides his readers with two models for that kindof magnanimous response to Hythloday's message in the Utopians themselves and in the person of John Cardinal Morton. The Cardinal, as Lord Chancellor of England, listens attentively to Hythloday's impassioned harangue on the injustice of the death penalty for thieves, the disastrous consequences of maintaining a standing militia, and the multiple problems stemming from the policy of enclosing arable farmland for grazing sheep. After silencing the lawyer who is about to reply to Hythloday "in the usual manner of disputants", Morton offers the opportunity for further discussion at a later meeting. When, in response to the Cardinal's sincere question about what penalty, other than the death penalty, Hythloday would propose for theft, he suggests an adaptation of the penal system used by the Romans and the Polylerites, the Cardinal agrees with Hythloday that there is no reason "why this method might not be adopted … in England". Indeed, Morton immediately conceives a plan for experimenting with Hythloday's proposal, even extending its application to vagrants as well as thieves. Morton's wisdom keeps him from clinging to old practices that have proven ineffectual, and from rejecting new ways that have not been tested. He serves as a model for the reader who is asked, not to ape him as the blind courtiers do, but to assume his fundamental attitude toward Hythloday's "novel ideas".

At the end of the Dialogue, however, Hythloday is not merely opposing the abuses of the rich and powerful; he is challenging private ownership itself, an institution cherished even by the common man, and suggesting that justice will never be achieved by a society that fails to counteract fallen man's root tendency toward greed, sloth, and pride by taking Utopian measures. Despite the example of openness set by Cardinal Morton, More and Giles are in obvious disagreement with Hythloday even before he begins to describe "the manners and customs of the Utopians".

Ultimately he secures their attentiveness by appealing to their civic pride and supplying them with the example of yet another model audience, the Utopians themselves. Hythloday reports that the islanders "immediately at one meeting appropriated to themselves every good discovery of ours". This openness to change and willingness to "adopt whatever is better from others" is, Hythloday asserts, the chief reason why "their commonwealth is more wisely governed and more happily flourishing than ours".

More responds by begging and beseeching Raphael to describe the island:

Do not be brief, but set forth in order the terrain, therivers, the cities, the inhabitants, the traditions, the customs, the laws, and, in fact, everything which you think we should like to know. And you must think we wish to know everything of which we are still ignorant.

The sincerity of More's request gains symbolic expression when he reserves the whole afternoon for listening to Hythloday's account, commands the servants to leave them in peace, and takes up his seat anew in the same place, on the same bench. Both Giles and More urge Raphael to "fulfill his promise," and he sees them "intent and eager to listen".

At the end of Book I, then, Hythloday has gained an audience for himself through the use of other audiences: the censured audiences whose response arises out of "proud, ridiculous and obstinate prejudices" and the commended audiences, outstanding for their good will, attentiveness and docility. More has also gained an audience for Book II of his Utopia by fictionalizing himself and his fellow humanists (represented by Giles) as Hythloday's attentive listeners. The part More expects his audience to play is clear enough: they are to set aside their prejudgments about how a society is to be ordered, and seriously entertain the possibility of a better way of doing things as a way of reorienting themselvestoward the ideal, and directing their energies in everyday life toward the achievement of "the best state of a commonwealth."

The writings of the parerga indicate that More's original audience read Book II in just that way. The reader hears no more of More and Giles until the very last paragraphs, and their less-than-wholehearted response to Hythloday's discourse is concealed from the reader until the very end. Throughout almost all of Book II the only audience directing the reader's response is the enthusiastic outer circle of humanists whose side-comments in the margins either capsule Hythloday's description, express admiration for the Utopian ways, or pass judgment against European practices that fall short of the ideal. When, for instance, Hythloday reports that no city on the blessed island "has any desire to extend its territory", the comment in the opposite margin reads, "Yet Today the Desire for Expansion Is the Curse of All Commonwealths." When Raphael notes that the Utopians are unacquainted with dice "and that kind of foolish and ruinous game", the unseen audience whose voice is recorded in the marginal comment exclaims, "Yet Now Dicing Is the Amusement of Kings." At other points the humanist response is a burst of exclamatory praise: "O Holy Commonwealth—and Worthy of Imitation Even by Christians!", "How Much Wiser the Utopians Are than the Common Run of Christians!", "O Priests Far More Holy than Ours!". Page by page, paragraph by paragraph, the marginal comments render the outer audience present and invite the reader to enter into its ranks by appropriating the canonical response.

At times, too, the reader is directly addressed. When Hythloday notes that the Utopian religion is the best to which human reason, unaided by revelation, can attain, the side comment reads: "Careful Attention Must be Paid Also to This Point". And when Hythloday in his peroratio surveys the European status quo and denounces it as a "conspiracy of the rich" who only pretend to serve the commonwealth, the speaker in the margin urges, "Reader, Take Notice of These Words!"

More's ultimate goal—the bringing of his humanist audience to a new self-knowledge and humility that will safeguard and increase their fruitfulness as advocates of reform—can only be accomplished if the reader cooperates with the text, fictionalizes himself as Hythloday's audience and (at least for a while) believes that there is a Utopia somewhere. Only if the reader takes the blessed island seriously, and imaginatively perceives it as an ideal state that other men have actually achieved, will the on-going comparison with England bring about the desired effect. More wants the reader to experience the failure of England and Christian Europe keenly. Therefore he uses Utopia, "the best state of a commonwealth," as a standard of comparison; he holds up the fictive island as a Golden World before the eyes of his readers so that they can realize anew that they have fallen short of the communal ideal to which they are called. Indeed, Hythloday, Budé, and Erasmus all describe Utopia as the embodiment of Christ's social teaching, which remains the ultimate standard by which all human conduct is judged and found wanting.

At the end of the Dialogue of Counsel Hythloday draws a causal relationship between the abuses of the nobility and the self-seeking generally encouraged by the economics of private ownership. At the end of the Utopian Discourse he goes a step further and declares that men have institutionalized the unequal distribution of goods and rejected communism (even though the latter has obvious benefits and has been recommended to us by Christ Himself) because of the urgings of "one single Monster, the chief and progenitor of all plagues", Pride. The progression is rhetorically potent, beginning with an evil that is distant from the reader and localized in the king and his court, proceeding to a systemic evil in which the individual participates, and ending at the the threshold of each heart with the personal sin of pride, the chief sin which is the root cause of all the others, includingcovetousness. The broad outline of this progression reveals to what an extent the rhetor More has taken the philosopher Hythloday into his service and used him to accomplish the education and formation of Utopia's audience. More, the "arranger of the materials" supposedly presented by Hythloday, proceeds by way of indirection, first arousing the reader's indignation at unjust laws and the corrupt practices of others, and then gradually redirecting that same indignation toward his own moral shortcomings.

Having brought the reader into a confrontation with his own pride and achieved his educational aim, More calls attention to the rhetorical strategy he has used by discarding its devices, distancing his reading audience from the fictive audience, and himself from Hythloday. In the very last paragraphs of Book II persona More confides to the reader that he finds many of the Utopian customs and laws to be "very absurdly established"; he admits that he "cannot agree with all" that Hythloday said; and he says that he has little if any "hope of being realized" in Europe those features which he admires in the Utopian commonwealth. While he may be provoked to thought and desirous of further discussion, he is certainly not persuaded, not moved to action, by what he has heard.

In Hythloday's failure with More and Giles, the poet More dramatizes the failure of unadorned philosophy to move men, and addresses the very problem Sir Philip Sidney accuses him of having overlooked when he patterned a "most absolute commonwealth." With a certain shock the reader recalls that the book he has been reading is not, after all, a transcription of the talk given by Raphael Hythlodaeus, but a fiction of Thomas More. Like Sidney, More believed that "the fayned image of Poesie" has a greater power than "the regular instruction of Philosophy" to move men. Accordingly he retells Hythloday's facts as fictions, translates his Greek into Latin, turns his "philosophical city" into a "phantom", changes his Somewhere into a No-Where, and thus transforms even the philosopher Hythloday (much against his will, no doubt) into a rhetor and poet.

Thus it is that while persona More responds in a reserved and almost patronizing way to Hythloday's afternoon discourse, the humanist writers of the parerga respond with an unqualified enthusiasm to the book which purports to be nothing more than a reporting of that same talk. All of them praise More for his eloquence, and attribute to his artistry the moving power of the book. At the same time they attribute the philosophical function of revelation to Hythloday, calling him "the discoverer" of Utopia. They distinguish, however, only in order to unite, and thus pay tribute to the perfect poetry of the Utopia that delights even as it moves and teaches. They know, after all, that "Utopia lies outside the limits of the known world, … perhaps close to the Elysian Fields" and that Hythloday himself belongs to the realm of More's imagination. On the other hand, they know that Utopia has a serious message for the reader who is willing to enter into the game and play along with More himself the part of Hythloday's audience.

Peter Iver Kaufman (essay date 1987)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5206

SOURCE: "Humanist Spirituality and Ecclesial Reaction: Thomas More's Monstra," in Church History, Vol. 56, No. 1, March, 1987, pp. 25-38.

[In the following essay, Kaufman takes issue with the traditional reading of Utopia as a direct embodiment of humanist ideals, calling it instead "a gentle ecclesial remonstrance " to the principles of More's humanist colleagues.]

"Do you want to see new marvels (monstra)? Do want to seestrange ways of life, to find the sources of virtue or the causes of all evil; to sense the vast emptiness that commonly goes unnoticed?"

Cornelius Grapheus was responsible for this sales promotion. Along with other prefatory material, it introduced Thomas More's Utopia to readers in 1516. More's friend, Erasmus of Rotterdam, had collected endorsement, and either he or Peter Giles had approached Grapheus, then secretary to the municipal government at Antwerp. It is reasonable to assume that Grapheus jumped at the chance to associate his name with the new work. He had published nothing before this time, save for some devotional verse in 1514, yet careers were launched, patrons found, and reputations ennobled by promotional material as well as by the material promoted.

But Grapheus appears oddly equivocal when he cheers More's monstra. The inducement hardly seems com patible with what we know, or with what we think we know of humanists' sunny and optimistic dispositions. What are we to make of that "vast emptiness?" Did Grapheus smuggle some skepticism into his assignment? Could "nova monstra" mean both "marvelous new things" and "monstrous new things?"

Small questions such as these often summon us to reassess larger issues. In this instance, the apparent equivocation of humanist correspondents tempted me to review the character of renaissance humanism in northern Europe and to offer a reappraisal of the Utopia's place in the history of renaissance spirituality. I shall argue that Thomas More carefully traced the trajectory of humanist idealism and discovered that it led humanists back to the religious formalism that they ostensibly deplored but that he was increasingly willing to defend. Hence, we may think of the Utopia as an ecclesial reaction.

Equivocation in the prefatory material does not settle the question of humanist discontent. In fact, traces of the correspondents' bafflement are difficult to detect. Friends were eager to flatter one another. Bounders were happy to hurl hyperbole at distinguished colleagues. Peter Giles was delighted with the Utopia and wrote to that effect to Jerome Busleyden, whose greetings to More were also incorporated in the first edition. William Budé composed a favorable review for the second edition, and Erasmus's own imprimatur surfaced with the third edition in 1518. Still, one wonders why Erasmus waited so long.

Jean Desmarais, who wrote for the earliest printing, offered arather curious suggestion that hints at some humanist dissatisfaction with Thomas More's dream commonwealth. Utopian government, Desmarais conceded, had much to teach Europeans. Since the unleavened people on the remote island were fascinated with Christianity, Desmarais proposed that the church's "invincible" theologians be sent to expedite conversions, to sift the natives' laws and customs, and to return with strategies for the improvement of public administration. But the mission is packed with irony, for Erasmus, More, and their friends considered those "invincible" theologians arrogant, unteachable, and insufferable. Had humanists been able to lease their antagonists to the Utopians, they would have cared little for their recovery. If only to keep the fiction working, Desmarais might have volunteered himself or some more itinerant humanist—Erasmus, perhaps. But the prospect of travelling to More's island was unwelcome. Utopian order was too perfect, uncomfortably perfect. William Budé averred that the community of saints or hagnopolis was not simply a utopia or "no place" but a "never-to-be land" ("Udepotia") as well.

Would Desmarais have volunteered to export the invincible scholastics, and would Budé, in this intance, have seemed so despairing, if the Utopia were the culmination of the humanist "program" for social and religious reform? Would Grapheus haveinvited fellow humanists to "see strange ways," if Utopian society had been conjured as the hypostasis of humanist spirituality? Before answering, of course, one must consider the character of the humanist "program" as well as the character of humanist spirituality, and these considerations require a review of the nature of northern renaissance humanism.

The prefatory endorsements provide a fine place to start. Nearly every correspondent applauds Thomas More for his scholarly attention to antiquity. Desmarais thought England exceedingly fortunate to have such a citizen who was equally at home in ancient Greece and Rome. Desmarais also announced that the study of classical literature flowered elsewhere, but he guessed that the Utopia would be a goad to greater achievement on the continent. More's fabulous commonwealth was certainly an occasion for several parts of the community united by a devotion to classical literature to join in celebration and mutual encouragement. The prefatory letters borrow ideas and superlatives from one another, much as neighbors might trade recipes. The point to be remembered, however, is that the correspondents were not neighbors. Their friendships were choreographed and often, I suspect, contained by the letters that crisscrossed Europe.

The epistolary evidence is difficult to read. If northern renaissance humanism was a "movement," the direction in which it was moving at any given time is not always clear. What is clear and incontestable is that the prolific, refined, and usually charming Erasmus of Rotterdam occupied the center of the friendship network. Yvonne Charlier remarked that Erasmus attracted friends as light attracts insects. The simile is rather patronizing, yet scholars who have lavished years and pages on other northern European scholars of the period generally concede Erasmus's preeminence. For his part, Erasmus tirelessly stressed the importance of friendship for the success of Europe's belletristic revival and for religious renewal. His famous and frequently anthologized adage, Dulce bellum inexpertis ("War is Sweet to those who have not tried it"), insists that nature made humans companionable and that "she added also the love of learning and the pursuit of knowledge. And this, just as it is instrumental in drawing the mind of man away from all savagery, has the greatest power of knitting up friendships. Indeed, neither family connections nor blood relationship bind souls together in closer or firmer bond of friendship than does a shared enthusiasm for noble studies."

Erasmus's very first letters reveal his own craving for friendship and collegiality. "If you love me," he wrote to Cornelius Gerard, "pray let me have some share in your own studies." Yet it was soon obvious to Gerard and to other correspondents that Erasmus would not be content to fall in as one oarsman among many. He wanted to determine his friends' tastes, to prescribe their reading, as well as to encourage their writing. He harassed Gerard, for example, to alter his unfavorable estimate of Laurentius Valla, whom Erasmus himself admired tremendously. But Erasmus could afford only to be mildly censorious when he pestered correspondents, for friendships were fragile and, above all, precious. Terms of endearment and assurances of unflinching admiration punctuate his petitions: only disreputable barbarians libel Valla, and surely Gerard, "most faithful devotee of literary culture," dazzling poet, and perfect friend, will not long be misled. Erasmus's overtures were compelling. His perseverance and compassion seem commendable, even now. He circulated among his friends in Paris a manuscript by Gerard's nephew, Williams Hermans, "the first and chief hope of our Holland," in order to find a patron and launch a friend's career.

To those same ends, Erasmus composed a dedication to his own patron, the bishop of Cambrai, to accompany Hermans's odes. The dedication tells us a great deal about Erasmus's belletristic prejudices, so it is a shame to leave so much of it unglossed. But one particular fiction takes us directly to our principal concernwith the character of northern renaissance humanism. When a smaller perjury would have sufficed to stress his friend's modesty, Erasmus retailed at considerable length the fable that he had taken and circulated the manuscript without Hermans's permission. He pleaded guilty to the theft. He confessed that he had manufactured summerweight stories to cover the text's disappearance, tales that would not hold together once the Silva odarum had reappeared in print. Erasmus also incriminated colleagues in Paris who had agreed to review the manuscript. Finally, he invoked antiquity's experts to exculpate his accomplices and himself, for Cicero, among others, had suggested that friendships made meaningless such distinctions as mine and thine: friends have all things in common.

Erasmus took some liberties with his Cicero. Ownership and copyright had no place in Cicero's De amicitia, which contends that lasting and satisfying friendships depends on common interests, common tastes, common opinions—on consensus. Informed readers would have known that Erasmus's fable referred to that consensio studiorum, and they would have understood that Erasmus was industriously trying to mortar a humanist consensus with his own letters and dedications. Manuscripts were exchanged, patrons shared, books promoted, egos inflated, and the network of friends grew because Erasmus was shrewd and entrepreneurial. He cultivated the impression that his correspondents were engaged in a momentous battle against "barbarians" who discredited learning that exceeded their own narrow range. His friends joined the chant, villified barbarous educators, and scolded indifferent ecclesiastical officials. Erasmus had generated something of a siege mentality that gave humanists a sense of solidarity and that braced their consensus. The idea that they were surrounded by hostile forces and left to their mercy by listless authorities fashioned a scholarly association of humanists who seldom assembled in one place long enough to be surrounded.

Erasmus's interwoven exhiliration and alarm filled the early letters. Not only was he alarmed by barbarous critics. He was distressed as well at the prospect of losing a single colleague. The consensus, he figured, must be sufficiently broad and ambiguous to accommodate friends who most certainly would have squabbled with one another over refinements. Erasmus's letters reflect his latitudinarian approach. His epistolography enshrines his impatience with rules and restrictions that inhibit expression. The earliest drafts of his Opus de conscribendis epistolis, composed for his students in Paris shortly before 1500, caution stylists against following too slavishly the formulae prescribed by medieval epistolographers, who seemed to have a tried and true phrase forevery occasion. Erasmus kept to his theme in his revisions of the De conscribendis, yet the nature of his complaint had changed. True, he had lobbied relentlessly for a belletristic revival, but that was no reason to lie low while classical literature was made an idol, while personal expression was sacrificed to imitation. Correspondence was too important for the consensio studiorum to be encumbered by prescriptions or to be stuffed with salutations and exordia imported from antiquity.

Erasmus could not very well have purged all commonplaces. Even humanist correspondents hardly knew how to console without echoing well-worn assurances and without pronouncing on life's uncertainty and God's inscrutability. Erasmus's remarks and examples de consolatione merely suggest that condolences crammed with clichés were less effective than letters conditioned by circumstance. Neither Cicero nor custom ranked higher in humanist epistolography than utility and inventiveness. Erasmus replaced formulae and detailed prescriptions with a set of general standards.

To the extent that letters became the instruments for social and religious reform, as humanists gained some influence at court and among leading prelates, the very contribution of the northern renaissance hinged on this epistolographic reform. But that is notthe main reason for having paused here over Erasmus's Opus de conscribendis. Imagine that the formulae that guaranteed epistolographic decorum are analogous to religious formalism that steadied the ecclesiastical order. Erasmus thought it necessary to debase the former, patterned expression and imitation, in order to assure authentic, meaningful communication. He believed it necessary to minimize the latter, patterned action, in order to revive and dignify lay spirituality.

On that count, the church's ceremonies and sanctions seemed ineffective to Erasmus. As far as he could tell, penances, pilgrimages, indulgences, and oblations had not improved lay behavior at all. Such complaints were not new, yet learned critics like Erasmus had a knack for entertaining while complaining, so humanist grievances had a greater chance to reach influential ears than the related charges that unsociable heretics gripped to their graves.

This was certainly the case in England. While a guest of Thomas More in London, Erasmus composed his justly famous Praise of Folly, which targets the clergy for criticism and lists Europe's leading prelates among Europe's principle purveyors of (and slaves to) foolishness. Erasmus accused the clergy of peddling superstition, of harnessing guileless Christians to an assortment of worthless customs. Even the mendicants, once the church's resident crusaders against greed and indolence, had learned to empty merchants' purses and to seduce their wives with pretentious nonsense. Folly probably was not as subversive as it initially appears. Eramus poked fun at pride and power and was not content to confine his criticisms to one institution or one class. Nonetheless, his irreverence for the church in Folly may be paired with several of his less playful comments—especially with his indifference to ritual and ecclesiastical structure—in the Enchiridion militis christiani. The Enchiridion sets aside all the machinery that enabled the church to define and to maintain discipline, from confessionals to consistory courts. It stands as a rough equivalent of a self-help manual. An armload of imperatives and a vague sense of lay perfectability eclipse the little that remains of the Christian cult.

"Free yourself from the errors of this world," the Enchiridion urges; "find your way into the light of spiritual living." Erasmus seems to have implied that the church's arbiters of morality, both theorists and officials, were meddlesome yet ineffective. Even when driven by the best intentions, clerical Christianity had failed to inspire (or appropriately reward) piety. Erasmus and his humanist friends were persuaded fully that Christianity without vows, rules, and rituals would not leave Christendom rudderless, any more than human intelligence without formulae would be left speechless. Laurentius Valla, for instance, noted that religiosi sealed their promises to be chaste and obedient with elaborate consecrations, yet he pronounced that the piety behind the promises meant far more than the profession that confirmed them. John Colet implied that those same promises transformed virtuous laypeople into a spiritual priesthood that might do more for the spread of righteousness than the ordained clergy. No need, then, to stand on ceremony or to be awed by clerical status. Christ and the apostles abundantly supplied laypeople with the sturdiest standards for Christian conduct. Lay spirituality could flourish without constant ecclesiastical review and restraints.

But not without grace! Spiritual living required divine empowerment, for human determination, at its best, faltered. Erasmus was not one to sour on the vast capacities of humankind, but his Enchiridion does not undervalue the formidable temptations that Christians confront. Powers that belong exclusively to the phenomenal world cannot long hold them off or quiet them. Spiritual living, therefore, must be a divine gift and a divine force rather than a human achievement. Erasmus's conclusion, on this matter, might have come from observation, to the extent that consistentlyexceptional conduct seemed then, as it always does, inconsistent with lives crafted month by month from crisis and routine. In this case, however, he and other humanists extrapolated from their sacred texts—on the question of spiritual empowerment, principally from the pauline epistles. Paul enabled them to tailor the meaning of moral autonomy to fit their understandings of lay spirituality. They readily incorporated his proclamation that Christ was the consummation of the law (finis legis) into their protests against religious formalism. Paul also saved them from extreme Pelagianism. In the context of moral theology, both Colet and Erasmus revived what they took to have been the apostle's stipulation that genuine piety originated with spiritual assistance and was reducible to constant spiritual empowerment. Before Martin Luther stirred violent reactions against the rhetoric of reform, Erasmus implied that some release from ecclesiastical regimentation was perfectly appropriate for some mature Christians (and that some forms of regimentation were inappropriate for all Christians), but neither Erasmus nor his humanist friends suggested that Christians were (or should be) ultimately independent.

Humanists were disinclined to fight for their adaptations of the Pauline materials with irascible colleagues who often brought time-honored philosophical categories to bear upon their biblicaltexts. By responding "so as to seem not to respond," Erasmus hoped to disarm Jacob Latomus, one of his more stubborn scholastic critics. To humanists who eschewed theology as it was then practiced, there seemed no surer sign that God had abandoned theologians to their own devices than their willingness to engage in interminable and disagreeable disputes about the darker corners of doctrine. Controversies over categories too long had obscured the straightforward ethical application of Paul's distinctions to moral regeneration, from which humanists expected the free and joyous fulfillment of the law in personal love for God and for neighbor. Erasmus believed that Paul had called for precisely this "fulfillment" when he had called Christ the consummation of the law.

Scholasticism, then, occasionally came under heavy fire. Sometimes humanists were polite when they replied directly to their scholastic critics, but cruel comments and jokes about those "invincible theologians" circulated in their letters to one another and, of course, in Erasmus's satires. Scholastic exegesis was ridiculed, yet scriptural study per se was above reproach. Georges Chantraine goes to great lengths to make explicit and more or less systematic humanism's sanctification of informed exegesis, which began with training in languages and exposure to the literature ofclassical antiquity and proceeded as "a progressive initiation into God's mysteries." One can argue that Chantraine has overdrawn his account, but there is enough evidence to suggest that the scholar's study had acquired the standing of a church. There, God's mysteries and God's spirit were accessible without clerical mediation. With this understanding in mind, whether one continues to explore Erasmus's "exegetical mysticism" or reassesses his remarks on spiritual empowerment, considerable ground should be yielded to those who have underscored the importance of humanist anticlericalism or, let us say, the importance of extra-ecclesial dimensions of humanist spirituality.

"Free yourself from the errors of this world." Stow that directive and others like it, and a very different picture of humanist spirituality materializes. Stress Erasmus's imperative, as I have done, and two choices present themselves. One might travel south to locate the origins of the humanists' "lay sermons," satires, and spirituality in order to test Charles Trinkaus's impression [in The Scope of Renaissance Humanism, 1983] that Erasmus and his friends "most perfectly fulfill the promises and programs of the religious thought and studies of the Italian humanists." Yet the other avenue quite conveniently brings us back to the remarks that introduced this essay, and it leads to some strangely reactionary sentimentsthat were formulated in Thomas More's Utopia and therefore leads close to the center of the humanists' campaigns for consensus without conformity.

The Utopia is usually thought to have been the capstone of the humanist position and protest. But I shall argue that More's fantasy was a gentle ecclesial remonstrance. Thomas More appears to me to have invited his humanist friends to reconsider the cultural and institutional consequences of their imperatives and, perhaps, to temper their optimism. Even as More gave fresh vitality to humanist convictions, he recommended that his colleagues contemplate outcomes as well as "oughts."

At the outset, one has to concede that More's Utopia is a mystifying text. The author created Raphael Hythloday, an opinionated tourist, to tell readers of a fabulous island, a medieval Lake Wobegone, where citizens were "easy-going," "good-tempered," and truly "ingenious": a place where minds invariably were alert, bodies were healthy and nimble (agili vegetoque). Greed had been suppressed. In fact, Utopians permitted no private ownership. Citizens were diligent and disciplined workers, whose leisure was arranged and spent most cleverly and whose love for literature was intense. Priests' conduct was unexceptionable; their piety, unpretentious. Hythloday admired Utopian culture uncritically, perhaps too much so for his maker, who allows a second character, "Morus," to insert something of a disclaimer. The Utopia's second book closes with Morus's suggestion that many things on the island were "very absurdly established." But the disclaimer confuses rather than enlightens, for Morus's reservations are immediately followed by a brief yet bewildering defense of opulence and ostentation, as if Thomas More meant to discredit his Morus. More himself was troubled by the swagger of the Tudor aristocracy and somewhat embarrassed by the affluence of the Tudor church. If he intended Morus to introduce his own criticisms of Utopia ("Very absurdly established"), why burden Morus with a preposterous vindication of wealth and pomp? If he admired the Utopians as assiduously as Hythloday, why tax them with Morus's opinions? The conclusion only muddles an already complicated problem. After pages of Hythloday's rapturous recollections and after centuries of interpretation, we cannot say with confidence how much of Thomas More was transported to his Utopia.

If, as was once claimed, the Utopia is only a humanist conceit, the answer has been permanently shelved beyond reach. If the Utopia had been composed as serious social criticism, perhaps one or more ofthe Thomas Mores already lured from this teeming document someday will tower over the others. For now, however, each reader finds a favorite facsimile, and none appears to have distinct and decisive advantages. More the humanist and humorist competes with More the puritan. More the communist jostles More the apologist for bourgeois capitalism. To this collection, add More the imperialist, the monk, the phrase-cradling exhibitionist, the master of "self-cancellation," the unflinching secularist, the "deeply divided soul." The proliferation has been staggering, and who can tell what contraband character the next reading will drag into the assembly?

Several of the interpretations, especially those that speak of "self-cancellation," pathological disorders, and divided souls, have touched upon the contradiction in the Utopia. Many of the Utopians' peppery opinions endorsed by Hythloday recast humanism's faith in education and reflect humanism's preoccupation with virtue. Yet virtue and learning in Utopia are purchased at a price that would have outraged most humanists. The Utopians, it seems, had discreet doubts about human nature. They prized education and literature, yet they suspected that character was tractable to a point beyond which learning was unlikely to have had any wholesome effect. What, then, should be done? The author was reluctant tolace Utopian social order with laws and lawyers (few humanist satires concluded without a slap at solicitors, summoners, and self-important justices); still, the Utopia asks rules and regulations to do what literary culture and self-discipline could not. They kept Utopians at work, determined their vocations, shaped their leisure, bridled their lusts, framed their courtships, preserved their marriages, set out their wardrobes, and designed their homes. The Utopia's totalist appraoch to social control swerved from humanism's fascination with freedoms.

More's approach in the Utopia was also demonstrably ecclesial. There was nothing remarkable in his pragmatic regard for religion. Much as humanists, Utopia's moral theorists insisted that citizens be ever mindful of the afterlife and moderate their pursuits of pleasure accordingly. Hythloday reported that no serious discussion of moral philosophy in Utopia floated free from religion. But the Utopia does more than wrap religion in its program for moral improvement and civic virtue. It stands as the preamble of More's impassioned defense of ecclesiastical structure and ritual in his Responsio ad Lutherum, which was composed six years later, after he had been persuaded that Martin Luther's ecclesia diffusa or "invisible church" was a dangerous abstraction. The Response, particularly More's revision of the original draft in 1523, barkedremorselessly at Luther's irreverence and purported inconsistencies. It seemed to More that, once Rome, her officials, her traditions, and her pronouncements were discredited, any cadre of eccentrics could call itself a church.

It could be argued that late medieval anxieties and aversions to anarchy commissioned and fueled More's Response. "Give us a rule" to control exegesis, he badgered Luther. "Det nobis regulam " or your rhetoric will seem insubstantial as well as subversive. Reckless assertions about the sole authority of scripture, when hitched to a destabilizing ecclesiology, seemed to Thomas More to invite trouble. One compelling rogue could challenge with impunity understandings that had developed over the centuries. And Luther had opened scriptures to everyone (viam aperit omnibus), the rogues and the righteous.

Thomas More was unimpressed by Luther's talk of universal faith. To him, it was a paper consensus. The first gust of common sense would make short work of it. Genuine consensus was fastened by a pervasive rationality (in the Utopia) or by some spiritual bond and sensus fidelium (in the Response). And genuine consensus, for More, rested on rules and rituals devised to prevent the decline of public morality.

The Utopia and the Response are variations on a theme, which reduces to the triumph of ritual and routine over rhetoric. In the Response, the triumph is explicitly ecclesiological. Ecclesial elements and a fund of ecclesial characters in the Utopia suggest that the distance between the two works is less than one might think. J. H. Hexter, for instance, inventoried the patently monastic features of Utopian life [in More's Utopia: The Biography of an Idea, 1952], from the distribution of resources to the regimentation of livery. Ordinarily, the similarities are referred exclusively to Thomas More's nostalgia for the Charterhouse, which he left more than twelve years before he manufactured Hythloday. Without splitting the Utopia's seams, however, one also might relate the fictional commonwealth's monastic habits to the subsequent development of More's sense of ecclesial order. The same should be said of Utopia's clergy, for Thomas More, it turned out, was incapable of conjuring a priestless republic. In the Utopia's first book, Hythloday complained that a gang of good-for-nothing priests had been allowed to prey upon European society. Utopian prelates were different in some respects, but not in all, yet Hythloday quickly warmed to them. They educated the young, scolded delinquents, and consulted with politicians on moral policy. They were able and admirable. Usually men, they took the realm's finest women as wives (uxores selectissimae). Utopians revered their priests, and they exempted them from normal duties and routines.

Utopian priests also escaped criminal prosecution simply because they were clerics. This was a telling concession for More to have made in 1515, for the issue of clerical immunity was caked with controversy in late medieval England. After acrimonious debate, parliament had just reinstated the practice of extending protection to clerics in minoribus. This is not to imply that the Utopia was written as an editorial on the parliamentary debates. Still, it is worth noting the conserving and conservative character of the text as well as its radical displacements. In essence, the partnership between politicians and priests, as it had been contracted in northern Europe, was not substantially altered in Utopia, though the commonwealth was churchless. Collaboration sustained discipline. Priests drafted projects for citizens' consciences. Magistrates intervened when excommunicated malcontents resisted their clergy's plans for their penance.

At one point, the Utopia seems to endorse direct prelatical involvement in politics. More's closest friends cautioned against it. John Colet wrote squeamishly and sometimes angrily about the clerical worldliness that inspired priests' political careers. Erasmus celebrated Archbishop Warham's retirement as chancellor in 1515 as a release from prison. Hythloday's sense of the corruption of court life and his fear of contamination, should he stoop to public service, compress the opinions of several influential humanists, though More may not have scripted them for that purpose. But Hythloday also eulogized John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and, from 1487 to 1500, Lord Chancellor. That tribute, the monastic cast of Utopia social order, and the civic responsibilities of Utopia's priests are the text's most overtly ecclesial elements. Along with the rituals of citizenship, the rules, restraints, and routines, they constitute a reaction to humanism's obsessions with learned conversation, correspondence, self-discipline, and consensus without conformity.

Two biographical observations appear to capsize this conclusion. In the first place, epistolary evidence proves that More did not decamp and leave his friends to campaign without him. Scholastic critics, notably Martin Dorp, learned that to contend with Erasmus was to contend with More. And More continued to file briefs, amicus curiae, favoring Erasmus's biblical and patristic scholarship and furthering the humanists' belletristic revival. The Utopia's nova monstra, then, started no feuds. But brawls are not required to make the point that equivocation and apparent discontent, submerged in the prefatory materials, mark More's text as a departure fromother humanists' extra-ecclesial orientations. The Utopia was not a shrill manifesto that immediately made friends and enemies. It was a muted recognition of the ecclesial frontiers of humanist spirituality.

A second bit of biography takes us from evidence to assessment. Brian Gogan most succinctly puts the problem in his recent study of ecclesiological themes in More's work [The Common Corps of Christendom, 1982]. Gogan declares at the start that "Martin Luther killed off the More of Utopia," and that More is entombed in his own introduction, never to return and haunt the remaining pages. John Headley's account [in "Thomas Murner, Thomas More, and the First Expression of More's Ecclesiology," Studies in the Renaissance, 1967] is more provident. He maintains that Henry VIII started More thinking seriously about ecclesiological issues when the king asked for assistance with his Assertio against Luther (1521). Thomas Murner, then in England, alerted More to the magnitude of the crisis on the continent. The Responsio ad Lutherum soon followed, according to Headley, as "the first expression of More's ecclesiology." We must grant that no amount of prowling through Utopia's churchless commonwealth will produce an ecclesiology. Still, we find that the ecclesial dimensions of the Utopia make the Response's "first expression" rather predictable.

Biographies continue to provide us with many Thomas Mores. The variety itself signals that the meaning of the Utopia may not be recoverable as long as that meaning is construed in terms of generative intentions. The course followed in this paper has been a different one. It started with several readers' responses to the Utopia and pressed ahead to define the discourse in which humanist spirituality and the Utopia's ecclesial reaction might best be understood. Here, the method contributes principally to the unwriting of biography. Erasmus's rehearsal of More's life, as Heinz Holeczek has shown [in "Die humanistische Bildung des Thomas More und ihre Beurteilung durch Erasmus von Rotterdam," Zeitschrift für historische Forschung, 1976], suppressed (verwischt) anything that threatened the author's image of the immaculate humanist. Many of Erasmus's heirs similarly launder More's "lives" as humanist and as saint in order to cinch complete compatibility. Others insist that the incompatibility was so conspicuous that it can be accommodated biographically only by two contrary phases. The Utopia, as we may read it now, should inhibit progress along either of these two lines, though it does not suggest an infallible alternative. Perhaps our reading accords only with Stephen Greenblatt's sense that Thomas More stubbornly yearned "to be absorbed" in "the total institution" all his life [Renaissance Self-fashioning: More to Shakespeare, 1980].

But our business has been with texts rather than with psychologies. The conclusion is simply that the Utopia's ecclesial reaction is most fully disclosed and appreciated as part of the discourse constituted by our particular evaluations of Erasmus's Enchiridion, humanists' epistles and epistolography, and Thomas More's own Response to Luther. But it seems fair to say as well that our knowledge of humanist spirituality would be wanting, were we incurious about More's marvelous and monstrous new things.

Quentin Skinner (essay date 1987)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11421

SOURCE: "Sir Thomas More's Utopia and the Language of Renaissance Humanism," in The Languages of Political Theory in Early-Modern Europe, edited by Anthony Pagden, Cambridge University Press, 1987, pp. 123-57.

[In the essay below, Skinner examines the values and conventions that characterized Renaissance discussions of political theory in order to determine the Utopia's place in that discussion and to argue that the work is More's vision of a "best commonwealth".]

Almost everything about More's Utopia is debatable, but at least the general subject-matter of the book is not in doubt. More announces his theme on the title page, which reads: De optimo reipublicae statu deque nova insula Utopia. His concern, that is, is not merely or even primarily with the new island of Utopia; it is with 'the best state of a commonwealth'.

To say that this is More's concern is at once to raise what has always been seen as the main interpretative puzzle about his book. Does he intend us to take the description of Utopia in Book II as an account of a commonwealth in its best state? Are we intended to share and ratify the almost undounded enthusiasm that Raphael Hythloday, the traveller to Utopia, displays for that island and its way of life?

Until recently More's interpreters tended to answer in the affirmative. One theory has been that More aimed to picture the best state that reason can hope to establish in the absence of revelation. Another suggestion has been that he not only sought to portray a perfectly virtuous commonwealth, but wished at the same time to convey that, in spite of their heathenism, the Utopians are more truly and genuinely Christian than the nominally Christian states of western Europe. While disagreeing on the extent to which More holds up Utopia as an ideal, both schools of thought acceptthat Utopia must in some sense be regarded as an ideal commonwealth.

Of late, however, the best scholarship on Utopia has instead laid all its emphasis on the doubts and equivocations in More's text. Some commentators have stressed the inherently ambiguous character of the dialogue form that More chooses to employ; others have underlined the points at which he seems to criticise his own analysis of the 'best state', and even to treat it as a futile theory which is doomed to 'get nowhere'. From several different perspectives, scholars have thus converged on the suggestion that (as [Brendan] Bradshaw [in "More on Utopia," The Historical Journal, 1981] puts it) More must be taken to be expressing 'serious reservations about the ideal system' which Hythloday describes. More's final aim (in [W.S.] Allen's words [in 'The tone of More's farewell to Utopia: a reply to J. H. Hexter', Moreana, 1976]) must have been to leave us 'with an ambivalent and puzzled view' about Utopian life as a whole.

There can be no doubt that this new approach has added significantly to our understanding of More's text, especially by insisting on the implications of the fact that the figure of More in the dialogue disagrees with Hythloday at several importantpoints. Nevertheless, the new orthodoxy seems to me to embody an unacceptable view of More's basic purposes. I shall accordingly try in what follows to restate the case for saying that, for all the ironies and ambiguities in More's text, his main aim was to challenge his readers at least to consider seriously whether Utopia may not represent the best state of a commonwealth.

Otium and Negotium

More's handling of the theme of the optimus status reipublicae undoubtedly contains many unusual and puzzling elements. But it is important to note at the outset that there was nothing unusual about More's decision to consider that particular theme. More's text is sometimes approached as if he introduced a completely new topic into Renaissance political thought. But in fact the question of what constitutes the best state of a commonwealth was a standard subject of debate throughout the era of the Renaissance. We find the question being raised by a number of scholastic political philosophers in the wake of Aristotle's discussion in the Politics. And we find the same question being raised, and the same phraseology used, by an even wider range of so-called 'humanist' political writers—that is, by writers whose primary intellectual allegiances were owed to the studia humanitatis, and hence to themoral and political philosophy of Rome rather than Greece.

This in turn suggests a way of approaching the complexities of More's text. If Utopia is an instance of a familiar genre of Renaissance political theory, it may be best to begin not with More's text itself but rather with some attempt to indicate the assumptions and conventions characteristic of the genre as a whole. Beginning in this way, we may eventually be able to gain some sense of More's own basic purposes. For we may be able to see how far he is accepting and reiterating common assumptions, or perhaps rephrasing and reworking them, or perhaps criticising and repudiating them altogether in order to attain a new perspective on a familiar theme. It is this approach which I shall now attempt to put to work.

Among political theorists of the Renaissance, whether scholastic or humanist in allegiance, there was little debate about what constitutes the optimus status reipublicae. A state will be in its best state, it was widely agreed, if and only if two claims can appropriately be made about it. One is that its laws are just, and thereby serve to promote the common good of its citizens. The other is that its citizens are in consequence able to pursue their own happiness, 'living and living well' in the manner most befitting the nature and dignity of man.

As soon as writers of this period turn, however, to ask how these conditions can be brought about, large differences of opinion begin to emerge. Among these, the most basic concerned the form of government that needs to be set up if a commonwealth is to have any chance of attaining and remaining in its best state. One widely held belief was that the only sure method is to assign all the affairs of the res publica to a wise guardian, a Pater patriae. His duty is to take upon himself all the burdens of the vita activa, leaving everyone else free to pursue their own higher purposes and so attain their happiness. This was the view of the earliest generation of self-styled humanists, including Petrarch himself in his last political testament, and of such younger contemporaries as Pier Paolo Vergerio and Giovanni da Ravenna, both of whom lived and wrote—as did Petrarch in the closing years of his life—under the patronage of the Carrara lords of Padua in the final decades of the fourteenth century.

It was the belief of all these writers that, as Giovanni expresses it, 'the government of a single individual is always to be preferred, even when the person in question is only a moderately good man'. One of his grounds for this belief is that 'where oneperson is in complete control, everyone else is able to pursue his own affairs in an untroubled way, and remains entirely free from public business'. One reason for supposing this to be a highly desirable state of affairs is that a life of otium, of freedom from public duty, is indispensable for the achievement of our highest ends and hence our greatest happiness. But a further reason derives from the fact that the alternative, the life of negotium as lived by courtiers, public servants and advisers to princes, is said to be inherently corrupt. 'No life is more miserable, more uncertain, more self-deceiving.' Flattery takes the place of truth, while approval is constantly sought for the most disgraceful policies, including violations of peace and betrayals of trust. The moral is said to be obvious: 'if you wish to remain pious, just, a respecter of truthfulness and innocence, remove yourself from the life of the court'.

These commitments remained an enduring element in humanist political theory, and became increasingly popular after Ficino's translations in the 1480s made Plato's political doctrines widely available for the first time. We find the ideal of the philosopher-king being espoused even by a number of Florentine humanists in this period. The connected suggestion that, under any less perfect system, the philosopher must remain aloof frompolitics recurs even more prominently among northern humanists in the opening decades of the sixteenth century.

Within More's own intellectual circle, for example, we find the claim that a princely regime is always to be preferred, together with the claim that a life of otium is best for everyone else, both being eloquently defended. Erasmus's Institutio principis christiani, published in the same year as More's Utopia, is founded on the assumption that the only means to attain the optimus status reipublicae is to ensure 'that there is a prince whom everyone obeys, that the prince obeys the laws and that the laws answer to our ideals of honestas and equity'. Similarly, More's younger contemporary, Thomas Starkey, writing his Dialogue between Pole and Lupset in the early 1530s, begins by presenting the related ideal of otium as the outlook to be expected from a fashionable humanist intellectual trained in Italy. Pole opens the discussion by announcing that he desires no part in public life. Instead he wishes to imitate 'the old and antique philosophers', who 'forsook the meddling with matters of common weals, and applied themselves to the secret studies and searching of nature'. He offers two main reasons for his preference, both very familiar by this stage in the development of humanist culture. One is that the life of negotium inhibits us from attaining our highest ends and thereby cheats usof our fullest happiness. This is because 'the perfection of man resteth in the mind and in the chief and purest part thereof', and in consequence requires a life dedicated to otium and the pursuit of truth. The other reason 'which hath caused many great, wise and politic men to abhor from common weals' is that the life of negotium forces the philosopher, whose concern is with truth, into a world of compromise, hypocrisy and lies. It leaves the wise man 'nothing obtaining but only to be corrupt with like opinions as they be which meddle therewith' and is therefore to be shunned in the same way that a good man shuns the company of thieves.

This strand of humanism was always opposed, however, by a school of thought which argued that it can never be safe or even just to entrust our happiness to others. The exponents of this position generally concluded, by contrast, that the only possible means of bringing about the optimus status reipublicae must be to train an active citizenry and cleave to a fully participative system of republican government.

This so-called 'civic' humanism has been associated in particular with the great city-republics of Renaissance Italy, and above all with Quattrocento Florence. But the movement was of course of much broader significance than this, and even penetrated the princelycourts of northern Europe in the early years of the sixteenth century. For example, while Starkey's Dialogue opens with Pole's Platonist defence of otium, the figure of Lupset quickly replies that if anyone allows himself to be 'drawn by the sweetness of his studies' away from 'the cure of the common weal', then 'he doth manifest wrong to his country and friends, and is plain unjust and full of iniquity, as he that regardeth not his office and duty, to the which above all he is most bounden by nature'.

Nor of course was this 'civic' scale of values simply a product of the Renaissance. The ideals in question, as well as the vocabulary used for expressing them, were taken more or less wholesale from the last great defenders of the Roman republic—from Livy, Sallust and above all from Cicero, whose De officiis furnished virtually the whole framework for civic humanist discussions of the active life.

The De officiis had taught in the first place that the highest aim of a good man must be to embrace the four cardinal virtues, since these are the qualities needed for the effective performance of our duties. To possess these qualities is to be honestus, Cicero's general and most honorific term for someone who succeeds in cultivating the virtues and performing the officia they prescribe. For Cicero, however, it was also a crucial principle that 'all the praise of virtus derives from action'. From this he inferred that our highest earthly duty must always be to place our talents in the service of our community. We must learn to recognise that 'every duty which tends to preserve society and uphold the unity of men must be given preference over any duty to forward knowledge and science'. Acting on this insight, we must train ourselves to discharge with industria all the officia of war and peace. We must labour for our res publica in everything that conduces to honestas and a well-ordered life. We must, in short, make it our principal task 'to respect, defend and preserve concord and unity within the whole community of men'.

But what of the Platonist objection that this will cheat us of happiness, since it will carry us away from the life of otium, the way of life best suited to the nature and dignity of man? Cicero directly addresses himself to this central contention of Greek ethics in Book I of the De officiis, and offers an answer that was later to be endlessly cited by civic humanists of the Renaissance.

He admits that 'the noblest and greatest philosophers' have always 'withdrawn themselves from public affairs'. They have held that, if you are a sage, it is essential 'that you should be able to live asyou wish' (sic vivere, ut velis). But he firmly repudiates this scale of priorities. Near the start of his discussion he roundly declares that 'it is contrary to one's duty to permit oneself to be drawn away by one's studies from taking an active part in public life'. And later he reiterates the same point in far more positive terms. The life of negotium is not merely of more importance than that of otium, but also calls for greater abilities. As a result it is not only 'more fruitful' as a way of life; it is also capable of bringing us greater fulfilment and happiness. 'So it appears that what Plato says about philosophers is not really adequate. Although they secure one kind of justice, in that they do no positive harm, in another way they fail; for their studies prevent them from living an active life, so causing them to abandon those whom they ought to defend.'

What of the further objection that the life of negotium will degrade the philosopher, since he will be obliged, in an imperfect world, to abandon the cause of truth in the name of playing a part and accommodating to the times? Again Cicero has a direct answer, and again it was endlessly echoed by civic humanists of the Renaissance.

The truly wise man, Cicero retorts, is someone who recognises thatall the world's a stage. 'Actors select for themselves not the best plays, but those in which they are best able to accommodate their talents.' The relevance of the image is that 'if a player looks to this consideration in selecting his roles, should not a wise man look to the same consideration in his entire way of life?' Surely we must recognise that 'necessity will sometimes thrust roles upon us which we do not in the least feel to be suitable'. But we must recognise at the same time that our duty in such a situation is to do the best we can, 'serving with as little indecorousness as can be mustered' in the adverse circumstances.

These debates about the form of regimen best suited to bringing about the optimus status reipublicae provide us, I suggest, with a context for understanding some at least of the complexities of More's text. In particular, they help us to make sense of what he is doing in Book I, the dialogue between Hythloday and the figure of More himself. We can now hope to recognise some of what is at stake in their argument: what orthodoxy More is questioning, what response he is offering, what exact position on the spectrum of political debate he is seeking to defend.

Like his younger contemporary Thomas Starkey, More begins by allowing a fashionably Platonist commitment to be fully stated. This is done through the figure of Hythloday. When we first encounter him, we are told that he is no ordinary traveller; rather he is a voyager in the manner of Plato, a man in search of the truth about political life. After this introduction, the next fact we learn about him is that he adopts an unequivocal stance on what we have seen to be one of the major topics of debate in Renaissance moral and political philosophy: whether the truth about political life is more readily to be gleaned from Greek or from Roman sources. Hythloday 'is by no means ignorant of the Latin language', we are told, 'but he is exceptionally learned in Greek, which he has studied with far greater attention than Latin. This is because he has devoted himself completely to philosophy, and in Latin has found nothing of the least significance in that subject except for some bits of Seneca and Cicero.'

Hythloday then begins to recount what he has learnt on his travels, at which point his interlocutors urge him to place his wisdom at the disposal of the public by entering the service of a king. Hythloday responds in precisely the tones which, as we have seen, Cicero had particularly associated with the admirers of Platonic philosophy. According to Cicero, the view adopted by that greatest of all philosophers had been that, if you are a sage, you must seek your happiness by living as you please—vivere, ut velis. Hythlodaycompletely agrees. 'I live as I please' (vivo ut volo), he replies, and in consequence live more happily (felicior) than a life of public service would ever permit.

When the figure of More presses him, he later offers a further—and again a purely Platonist—reason for refusing to enter public life. Being a philosopher, he says, 'I wish to speak the truth.' If I were to become a courtier, 'I should instead have to approve openly of the worst possible decisions and endorse the most disgraceful decrees'. The invariable outcome of such a way of life, he insists, is that 'rather than being able to do any good, you find yourself among colleagues who are easily able to corrupt even the best of men before reforming themselves'. Plato was right, he concludes: he showed us 'why wise men are right to take no part in public affairs'.

Having allowed these standard arguments in favour of otium to be fully laid out, however, the figure of More in the dialogue then attacks them point by point. He does so, moreover, not merely from the general perspective of a Ciceronian civic humanist, but in precisely the vocabulary which, as we have seen, Cicero had originally put into currency in his defence of the active life.

More first assures Hythloday that 'if only you could induce yourself not to shun the courts of princes, you would be able to do the greatest good for the commonwealth by means of your advice'. To this he adds in sterner tones—echoing the De officiis almost word for word—that 'there is in fact no greater duty than this one incumbent upon you as a good man'. The Platonist objection that such a life cheats us of happiness is met with the lie direct. A life of public service 'not only constitutes the means by which you can help people both as private individuals and as members of the community, but is also the means to secure your own greater happiness'. Finally, the Platonist fear that this will betray the cause of truth by forcing the philosopher to accommodate to the times is met with a strong rebuke, one that again echoes the sentiments and even the imagery of the De officiis almost word for word. All that this betrays, More retorts, is a kind of scholasticism, whereas a wise man knows 'that there is another and more practical kind of philosophy, one that understands its place on the stage, accommodates itself to whatever play is already in hand, and seeks to discharge whatever roles are assigned to it as decorously as possible'. The same considerations, he goes on, 'apply equally in the case of the commonwealth and in the matter of giving advice to princes. Even if you cannot pull out evil opinions by the roots, even if you cannot manage to reform well-entrenched vices according to your own beliefs, you must never on that account desert the cause of the commonwealth.'

There are, I think, two morals to be drawn from this first part of the story. The first is that the labels 'humanist' and even 'Christian humanist' have come to be applied too loosely to More's text even in some of the best recent scholarship. More's stance in the opening Book of Utopia is undoubtedly that of a humanist, and includes some explicit criticism of scholastic philosophy. But we cannot simply speak of Hythloday as 'the ideal type of Christian humanist'; nor can we say that, in defending the importance of counselling princes, More's position is 'in all respects the orthodox humanist one'. The question whether philosophers ought to counsel princes was a subject of intense debate among Christian humanists; no specific answer to the question can properly be called orthodox. If we are to speak more precisely, we must recognise that what More is doing in Book I is reviving one particular set of humanist beliefs—those of a 'civic' or Ciceronian humanism—and sharply opposing them to a more fashionable and broadly Platonist outlook which was threatening to undermine the element of political commitment in the humanism of More's own time. More is restating the case for a humanist ideal to which the courts of northern Europe were proving increasingly inhospitable: theideal of civic self-government, based on an active and politically educated citizenship.

The other moral suggested by this first part of the story concerns the relationship which has often been noted between Book I of Utopia and More's own personal circumstances at the time of writing it. In 1515, the year when Utopia was conceived, More was employed on an embassy to Flanders; in 1516, the year of its publication, he was first offered a pension by Henry VIII; in the course of 1518, after much apparent hesitation, he accepted a place on the privy council and embarked on his career at court. The arguments about otium and negotium in Book I have often been seen as a dramatisation of the 'moral tension' induced by the 'temptation' to give up the ideals of humanism embodied in the figure of Hythloday in favour of just such a worldly life.

It is arguable, however, that this is to misunderstand the nature of More's humanist allegiances. So far from viewing the choice of a public career as a temptation, the figure of More in the dialogue clearly regards it, in good Ciceronian style, as the one means of fulfilling the highest officium of a true humanist philosopher. If we are to relate this first half of Utopia to More's own life, my suggestion is that More should not be seen as expressing doubts about the decision he was himself in the process of making; he should rather be seen as offering a justification for that decision as the outcome of a true understanding of the proper relationship between philosophy and public life.

Vera nobilitas

I now turn to a second debate among Renaissance political theorists about the optimus status reipublicae. This arose within the ranks of those who agreed that the best state can only be attained if we live as active citizens within a self-governing commonwealth. The further question they raised concerns the range of attributes that citizens need to possess if they are to discharge their civic officia to the best effect. To phrase it in the form in which it was habitually discussed, the question is about the qualities that make a citizen best fitted to serve the common good, and in consequence most deserving of honour, esteem and praise. Or, to put it in the precise vocabulary the Renaissance writers liked to use, the question is about the qualities that go to make a truly noble citizen, a citizen of vera nobilitas whose conduct is worthy of honour, esteem and praise.

The humanists inherited an unambiguous answer to these questions from scholastic and ultimately Aristotelian sources. It became a favourite literary tactic of theirs to dramatise their doubts about this intellectual inheritance by way of writing dialogues about the concept of vera nobilitas, dialogues in which they counterpoised their own ideal against the more commonly accepted point of view. This genre first attained widespread popularity among the civic humanists of Quattrocento Florence. Buonaccorso de Montemagna's Controversia de nobilitate (c. 1420) provides one of the earliest examples, while Poggio Bracciolini's De nobilitate (c. 1440) is perhaps the most celebrated. Thereafter the topic became a standard one, with many leading humanists of the second half of the Quattrocento contributing to the debate. For example, such well-known figures as Cristoforo Landino, Bartolomeo Sacchi and Antonio de Ferrariis all wrote dialogues on the meaning of true nobility.

If we turn to the first exponents of the studia humanitatis in England, and thus to More's immediate intellectual background, we find the same topic being widely taken up. John Tiptoft made a translation of Buonaccorso's Controversia as early as the 1460s, and by the start of the new century the question of vera nobilitas was much discussed in Erasmian humanist circles. Erasmus himself raises the issue in his Institutio principis christiani, and withina few years we find it recurring in such works as Fulgens and Lucrece, Heywood's Gentleness and nobility, Elyot's Book of the Governor and many other writings of a similar humanist character.

The problem all these writers address—as Tiptoft's translation of Buonaccorso puts it—is to identify who should hold 'of right' the various 'offices of estate and worship' in the commonwealth. According to the commonly accepted view, the answer is that those citizens who are noblest and worthiest to occupy such honourable positions will be those who are possessed of high lineage and ancient wealth. As Tiptoft more succinctly expresses it, the suggestion is that 'noblesse resteth in blood and riches'.

Although lineage is held to be important, the defence of this position principally centred on the claim that wealth is one of the conditions of true nobility. One point on which everyone agreed was that, if wealth is indeed a criterion, it must be inherited wealth. If it is instead the product of one's own acquisitive talents, this robs one of any title to be regarded as a citizen of the highest worthiness. As Niccolo explains in Poggio's De nobilitate, 'I certainly cannot see what kind of nobility can be acquired by trade, for trade is judged by wise men to be vile and base, and nothing that can be regarded as contemptible can be related tonobility in any way.'

The positive argument purporting to connect nobility with wealth was essentially Aristotelian in character. To possess extensive riches, but without exercising the contemptible abilities required to amass them, is to be in a position to serve and benefit one's friends and community in a truly noble style of splendour and magnificence altogether denied to those who live in more modest circumstances. As Lorenzo de' Medici—the protagonist of the Aristotelian case—emphasises in Poggio's dialogue, a rich man is in a unique position, 'both in time of war and peace, whenever the spending of money is of the utmost importance, to acquire glory for himself by that means, thereby winning the nobility that arises from that source'.

The underlying assumption is that wealth, far from being a hindrance to civic virtue, is one of the means to ensure its effective exercise. This had been Aristotle's contention in the Politics, and Aquinas had very influentially restated and developed the argument under the title De honestate in the Summa theologiae. Beginning with the claim that 'honour is due to many other things besides virtue', Aquinas had declared in his responsio that this position is essentially correct. Some objects other than virtue arerightly honoured because, like God, they are of even greater significance than virtue itself. 'But others are rightly honoured, even though they are of lesser significance, on the grounds that they are helpful to the exercise of virtue, and these include nobility, power and wealth.'

As will by now be evident, this scholastic view of true nobility rests not merely on strong beliefs about the importance of inheritance, but also on aristocratic assumptions about the proper uses of extensive wealth. As in Aristotle, an ethic of display and splendour, of liberality and magnificence, lies at the heart of the argument. Again, Aquinas was to prove a highly influential intermediary in the transmission of these values. As his title De magnificentia in the Summa insists, 'the achievement of anything great—from which the term 'magnificent' arises—appropriately relates to the idea of virtue, from which it follows that the term 'magnificent' denotes a virtue'.

The same assumptions generally reappear in humanist dialogues about vera nobilitas, where they usually figure not merely as scholastic arguments but as commonly accepted beliefs. In Buonaccorso's Controversia, for example, the first speaker ends by explaining that his reason for treating wealth as a criterion for true nobility is that 'the chief and highest part of noblesse must rest in liberality', and that 'he paineth himself vainly to exercise liberality to other folks which hath not whereof to use it to himself. 'If you deny this view', as Lorenzo adds in Poggio's dialogue, 'you will be rejecting what is agreed about this matter by everyone.'

Among humanist intellectuals, however, this view was in fact denied. It was challenged with a claim that soon became almost a slogan of humanist political thought: the claim that virtus vera nobilitas est, that the possession of virtue constitutes the only possible grounds for regarding someone as a person of true nobility.

This is not to say that the humanists in general had any quarrel with the basic assumptions about private property and its hereditability that underpinned the Aristotelian and scholastic case. On the contrary, they strongly endorsed Aquinas's classic account of the indispensability of private property in any well-ordered commonwealth. Drawing once more on Aristotle, Aquinas had argued in his title De furto et rapina in the Summa that private property is not merely legitimate but essential to the satisfactory conduct of political life. One reason he gave wasthat, if all things are instead held in common, everyone will avoid working and in consequence help to bring about a state of gratuitous poverty. But his main contention was that, in the absence of private property, endless confusion and quarrelling will be sure to arise, a state of disorder that can never be regulated and stabilised except by recognising that some goods must be held privately and not treated as part of the common stock.

The humanists found little to say about the first of these claims, although Cicero in the De officiis had argued that one of the prime duties of our rulers must be to ensure that there is an abundance of goods, a point he had made in the course of his own defence of private property. But they firmly underlined Aquinas's second point, making it a commonplace of humanist political theory to insist that no political order can ever be maintained unless the values of 'degree, priority and place' are firmly upheld. As always, Cicero's arguments in the De officiis furnished them with their highest authority, and on this issue Cicero had spoken with exceptional vehemence. 'What plague could ever be worse', he had written, than to favour an equal distribution of goods? Those who do so 'are undermining the foundations of the commonwealth, for in the first place they are destroying harmony, which cannot possibly be sustained where money is taken from one person and given tosomeone else; and in the second place they are subverting equity, which will altogether collapse if it ceases to be lawful for people to hold their own goods'.

Despite their endorsement of these widely accepted beliefs about the social basis of nobility, the humanists completely repudiated the related claim that the quality of nobility itself is in any way connected with lineage or inherited wealth. They permitted themselves a tone of pure amazement at the idea that ancient lineage might be supposed relevant. As Niccolo puts it in Poggio's dialogue, 'what can conceivably be thought noble about a man who merely has numerous ancestors and a long account of his family history?' Erasmus in his Institutio was later to allow himself a similar note of surprise. He concedes that he has no wish 'to take away honour from those of high lineage, provided they are formed in the image of their ancestors and excel in those qualities that originally made them members of the nobility' But he adds that this gives us no reason at all 'for allowing the title of nobility' to those who merely happen to be members of a leisured class and live a life of iners otium, 'sluggish idleness'.

The main point the humanists make, however, is that it is even more ridiculous to suppose that the possession of inherited wealth canin any way entitle someone to be regarded as truly noble. Niccolo flatly declares in Poggio's dialogue that 'riches cannot in the least ennoble us', while Erasmus in the Institutio offers an anatomy of true nobility which serves to underline the same point. 'There are three forms of nobility,' he maintains, 'one of which arises from virtue and good deeds, while the next derives from an understanding of those studies which are honestissimae and the third from ancestral portraits and long lineage, or else from the possession of wealth. But this third and lowest degree is so low that it really amounts to nothing at all unless it has arisen out of virtue itself.

If lineage and inherited wealth are both irrelevant, what gives rise to the quality of true nobility? Erasmus's analysis already gives the answer, and in offering it he was able to draw on a century of civic humanist argument. As Niccolo had declared in triumph at the end of Poggio's dialogue, 'it is virtue that constitutes the one and only nobility', a conclusion he takes both Seneca and 'our Cicero' to have demonstrated beyond doubt. 'It is thus the judgment of wise men', he adds, 'that nobility arises neither from a life of otium nor from contemplative solitude, nor even from the possession of great wealth; it arises exclusively from the study of virtue, a quality we are much better able toexercise when living in cities and amid the fellowship of mankind.'

As before, my suggestion is that this aspect of the debate about the optimus status reipublicae supplies us with a context that helps to make sense of some of the further complexities of More's Utopia. In particular, it helps us to explain the connections between the two Books into which Utopia is divided, and at the same time enables us to reconsider what has always been the chief interpretative question about the book, the question of how far More intends us to admire the portrait of Utopian society sketched by Hythloday in Book II. What emerges, I suggest, if we turn to these aspects of the work—and especially to the exact vocabulary More employs—is that one of his main concerns in Utopia is to intervene in the precise debate we have so far been considering, the debate about the meaning of true nobility. To grasp the nature of that intervention, I shall argue, is at the same time to uncover the serious message that underlies the seemingly detached and ironic surface of his text.

Hythloday engages with the issue of vera nobilitas at two connected but distinguishable points. First of all, he provides us simply with a picture of what he describes as the true and the counterfeit images of nobility, together with a description of the contrastingsocial consequences that naturally flow from espousing one or other of them.

The moment at which he draws this contrast most forcefully is in the closing pages of the book. After outlining the Utopian way of life, Hythloday ends by discussing with the figure of More the significance of the story he has told. The first claim Hythloday makes at this juncture is that, in his judgement, the Utopians have in fact attained the optimus status reipublicae. Their laws and institutions seriously aim at the common good, as a result of which they are able to live felicissime, as happily as possible.

How have they managed it? Hythloday answers in essentially negative terms. They have managed by not organising their society 'according to the unjust ideas of justice that prevail everywhere else'. These unjust ideas take the form of 'lavishing great gifts' upon nobles, rich merchants and other 'so-called gentlemen' who either live a life of otium and 'do no work at all', or else occupy themselves with 'wholly superfluous negotium' that contributes nothing of value to the commonwealth. 'For this they are rewarded with a luxurious and a splendid life.' By contrast, no thanks, no benefits, no feelings of kindness are shown to those who work 'with unceasing labour' at tasks 'so essential to the commonwealth thatit would not last a single year without them'. 'The lives they lead are so full of misery that the condition of beasts of burden might seem altogether preferable.'

We may say, then, that what Hythloday appears to be claiming, at this summarising point in his argument, is that the Utopians owe their happiness to their avoidance of mistaken beliefs about the qualities that truly deserve to be regarded as noble and praiseworthy, as opposed to the qualities that merely happen to be displayed by the so-called gentry and nobility. Nor is this to put words into Hythloday's mouth. If we turn back to the account he gives in Book II of the Utopians' social attitudes, we find him phrasing his description in exactly these terms. The Utopians are distinguished by their belief that to connect nobility with splendor, with richness of apparel or other conspicuous displays of wealth, 'such that someone will think himself nobler if the texture of his garments is finer', is nothing but insane. The Utopians 'not only think it extraordinary, they actually detest the insanity of those who pay almost divine honours to the rich, especially when those who do so owe the rich nothing, are under no obligation to them, but behave towards them in that fashion simply because they happen to be rich'.

Rejecting this counterfeit view of nobility, the view the Utopians espouse is exactly the one we have already encountered in Cicero and his humanist disciples, and is couched in exactly the same terms. The Utopians believe that what is alone noble and deserving of honour is a willingness to labour for the common good. The qualities they think of as truly noble are accordingly the qualities of virtue that are indispensable for performing such civic tasks. As a result, the laws and customs of Utopia not only forbid otium and require negotium from everyone; they are also designed to ensure that the elements of civic virtue are encouraged, praised and admired above all. Thus we learn that the Utopians are all trained in virtue. They are all encouraged to follow a virtuous way of life by the fact that virtue is so highly honoured in their society. They are especially incited to virtue by the fact that statues of great men who have performed outstanding services to the community are erected in their marketplaces. Magistrates who serve with the highest virtue are rewarded with honour and praise. And the priests, who are chosen for their outstanding virtue, are regarded for that reason as persons of true maiestas. The whole society is portrayed as one in which the quality of virtue has been made the ruling principle. It is a society in which the women, the magistrates and the heads of families are all described as possessing honestas, the highest termof praise among Ciceronian humanists for those who attain the full range of the virtues and deploy them upon the betterment of our common life.

As a result of substituting this view of what is truly noble for the commonly accepted one, the Utopians have managed at the same time to avoid a number of baleful social consequences that stem, according to Hythloday, from accepting the counterfeit belief. Hythloday lists them when first mentioning the existence of Utopia at the end of Book I, and reiterates them when summarising his argument in the closely parallel passage at the end of Book II. One is poverty, which is unknown in Utopia, a society in which 'it has dwindled away completely', leaving 'no poor men, no beggars', but 'abundance of everything for everyone'. The other is social disorder, the inevitable concomitant of poverty. This too has 'perished completely' in Utopia, leaving 'a people so well-ordered', according to Hythloday, 'that if you had seen them, you would say that there is no good order anywhere else'.

We can summarise the entire scale of values Hythloday is describing—as he does himself when first mentioning Utopia—by saying that Utopia is a society in which virtuti precium sit, in which 'virtue has its reward'. For it is a society in which virtueis regarded, as it ought to be, as the one quality truly deserving of honour, esteem and praise.

I am suggesting, then, that Hythloday's description of Utopia in Book II should be read as an account of the social benefits that flow from espousing the true instead of the counterfeit view of nobility. By contrast, his famous analysis of the injustices of English society in Book I forms a perfectly balanced account of the dire effects that stem from accepting the counterfeit view in its place.

That the English endorse the counterfeit view is emphatically asserted in the course of Book II, especially at the point where Hythloday compares 'what is now believed' about this question with the Utopian attitudes we have just examined. 'What is now believed is that nothing else counts as nobility' except 'being descended from a long line of ancestors who have been rich over a long period of time, especially if they have been rich in landed estates'. The result is that men of high lineage and inherited wealth 'believe themselves to be noble' in the sense of being entitled to honour and respect, entitled to be met with bared heads and bent knees,

Hythloday not only characterises this belief as 'sweetly insane'; he also treats it as the cause of all the woes afflicting English society that are analysed in Book I. Not only does he start by directing his accusations specifically against 'the great number of nobles' and their 'immense crowds of idle retainers'; he subsequently confines himself almost entirely to illustrating how these particular social groups have been the ruin of English society.

The most obvious consequence of their ascendancy is widespread poverty. Recognising that their title to respect depends on their capacity to live a life of splendor and magnificence, the nobles are driven into 'evil greed' as the only means of satisfying their pride. 'They are not content, living in otium and luxury, to do no good for their community; they actually do it positive harm.' To ensure the highest profits from their lands, 'they leave no arable at all, but enclose everything for pasture, demolishing houses, destroying towns' and evicting tenants who are then left to starve. Desperate and gratuitous hardship is the price that others pay for their aristocratic way of life.

The other and consequential outcome is endemic social unrest. The armies of retainers kept by the aristocracy form a serious part of the problem, for they live in idleness, never learn any kind oftrade, devote themselves to the arts of war and 'continually make trouble and disturb the peace'. Finally, even worse disorders are caused by those evicted from their lands and livelihoods. 'For what remains for them, in the last resort, but to steal and then be hanged—justly, no doubt—or else to wander and beg?'

Hythloday completes this aspect of his argument when he points, at the end of Book II, to the principles that must inevitably govern any society founded on this view of nobility. As we have seen, to base a society on the true view, as the Utopians do, is to make virtue its ruling principle. By contrast, to base a society on the counterfeit view is to ensure that its citizens cultivate the worst of the vices. Of these the deadliest is pride, 'that serpent from hell which coils itself round the hearts of mortal men'. To connect nobility with wealth is to place 'this chief and progenitor of all plagues' at the centre of our social life. For pride 'measures prosperity not by her own advantages, but by the disadvantages suffered by others', and therefore loves to live 'in circumstances where her happiness can shine more brightly by comparison with their miseries'. Finally, once the life of magnificence demanded by pride becomes our highest aspiration, the other ruling passion of our society can only be avarice. For everyone will then be forced to act 'with insatiable cupidity' if the demands of pride are to beadequately satisfied.

So far, then, Hythloday has simply reiterated and defended a conventional humanist equation between virtue and true nobility. As I began by observing, however, his contrast between the rival views of nobility only represents one of two ways in which he engages with the debate about vera nobilitas. When we turn to the further claim he wishes to make, we find ourselves moving beyond the confines of humanist orthodoxy, confronting an argument at once more radical and explicitly Platonist in character.

Hythloday signals this further commitment in the form of two metaphors introduced at the end of Book I. He remarks that hitherto he has been talking about the diseases of bodies politic; he now wishes to consider 'how to return them to a healthy state'. But there is no hope of such a cure, he adds, unless we can first identify the seeds of evil in social life and pluck them out by the roots.

What then is the evil that needs to be rooted out? After surveying the Utopian system, Hythloday answers his own question in a single word. At the root of social injustice lies a mistaken belief about what should count as privatus, the realm of private as opposed topublic interests. Describing Utopia as a community in which the optimus status reipublicae has in fact been reached, Hythloday at once adds that it is a society of which it can also be said that nihil privati est, there is nothing of the private about it at all.

This explains why there is such a strong suspicion of privacy in Utopia. The Utopians never eat in private, but always in public halls; they seem to prefer public to private worship; they live in private houses, but these are kept public by virtue of a design that 'gives admission to anyone who wishes to enter'; and they even insist that, before marriage, the private parts of the body must be made public to the partner involved. What they have recognised above all, however, is that no community can ever hope to attain its best state unless the institution of private property, and the money economy sustaining it, are both abolished. We can now see the force of Hythloday's metaphor: money, he is saying, is the root of all evil, and must be eradicated if there is to be any prospect of serving public as opposed to private interests. As Hythloday declares at the end of Book I, this is what Plato recognised. 'As that wisest of all men easily foresaw, the one and only road to public welfare is by way of an equality of goods.' Hythloday emphatically agrees, and goes on to spell out theimplications of the argument. 'I am fully persuaded that no just and equal distribution of goods will ever be possible, nor will happiness ever be found in mortal affairs, until the institution of private property is totally overthrown.' To put his point at its simplest and most resonant, what he is saying is that we have no hope of establishing a genuine commonwealth unless we base it on a system of common wealth.

As Book II goes on to show, this is the insight the Utopians have put into practice. As a result, Hythloday affirms at the close of his account, they not only live felicissime, as happily as possible; it also seems likely that their happiness will last aeternum duratura. And the right way to translate that last phrase is surely by observing that Hythloday ends in just the way that such stories are supposed to end, by assuring us that the heroes lived happily ever after.

The optimus status reipublicae

Hythloday's conclusion is a sufficiently resounding one, but it still leaves us with the problem of assessing where the author of Utopia stands in relation to it. Are we to take it that More endorses the claim that the Utopians have succeeded in establishinga perfectly rational society? Are we even to suppose, as some commentators have lately argued, that the description of Utopia is intended as the portrait of a perfectly Christian commonwealth? Or must we conclude, as the best recent scholarship has claimed, that More's irony and indirection reflect his own deep feelings of ambiguity about the Utopian way of life?

If we are to reconsider these questions, we need to start by reminding ourselves of the precise topic More addresses in the book. As I began by observing, it is surely uncontentious to say that More's basic concern is with the character of the best state of a commonwealth. But to say that this is his theme is at the same time to insist that he is not primarily concerned with a number of other distinct though closely related questions that also preoccupied Erasmian humanists at the time. He does not begin—as Erasmus does in the Enchiridion—by telling us that his topic will be 'the right way of life, such that, if you are instructed in it, you can attain that state of mind which is worthy of a true Christian'. Nor does he announce—as, for example, Starkey does in his Dialogue—that his aim will be to examine the relationship between the best state of a commonwealth and the attainment of that way of life 'wherein lieth the perfection of man'. More's concern, as his title page tells us, is purely and simply with the beststate of a commonwealth in itself.

Once we recognise the precise focus of More's inquiry, and the need to distinguish it from other topics of debate within the Christian humanist movement, we can hope to re-examine some of the interpretations of More's text suggested by recent scholarship. In particular, we can hope to reconsider Hexter's thesis that, for all the heathenism of Utopia, it was More's intention to portray the Utopians as living a perfectly virtuous and hence a truly Christian way of life.

This interpretation cannot survive an examination of what Hythloday tells us about the place of religion in Utopian life. The chief point he makes is that, insofar as the Utopians have any shared religion, their religious beliefs are at the same time dictates of rationality. They all think it obvious that the world is governed by divine providence. Likewise, they all agree 'that the soul is immortal; that it is destined by God's mercy for a life of happiness; and that there will be punishments after this present life for our crimes as well as rewards for our virtues and good deeds'. But they think that 'although these principles belong to religion, reason also leads us to the judgement that they are worthy to be believed and accepted'. This makes the Utopians willing to enforce these particular principles, for they feel that to deny them 'would be to sink below the dignity of human nature.' But it also leads them to acknowledge that, apart from these obvious exceptions, nothing about religion is certain and everything ought therefore to be tolerated.

The first comment Hythloday offers on this outlook is that even the Utopians admit that it may not be altogether satisfactory. They recognise that moral arguments depend in part on religious premises. 'They also concede without hesitation that, if religious sanctions were to be withdrawn, no one would be so foolish as not to pursue his own pleasure by fair means or foul.' They think the religious principles they introduce into their own discussions about human happiness are such that 'no truer viewpoint can be attained by the processes of human reasoning alone'. But they emphasise that their conclusions have been arrived at 'in the absence of a heaven-sent religion'. Finally, they acknowledge that such a religion might well be able 'to inspire men with something more holy' than the beliefs they currently accept.

Moreover, Hythloday himself—a fervent Christian no less than a Platonist—makes it clear that in his view the religious and in consequence the moral attitudes of the Utopians are in factseriously flawed. He thereby introduces into his analysis a distinction familiar to classical humanists: a distinction between the optimal conduct of public affairs on the one hand and the optimal conduct of one's own individual life on the other. The former he believes the Utopians have already attained; on the latter point, however, he feels that they still need to be further instructed.

Hythloday is quite explicit in the first place about the incompleteness of religious understanding in Utopia. Before his arrival the Utopians knew nothing of the Incarnation, being wholly ignorant of 'the name and the doctrine and the nature and the miracles of Christ'. Even after his voyages they still lacked any access to the Sacraments or the Scriptures, thus remaining cut off from the Church's mediating powers and from any understanding of the divine positive law and the soteriological scheme outlined in the Bible.

Hythloday is equally emphatic about the resulting limitations of the Utopian moral code. These derive from the one feature of Utopian life he directly criticises, namely their view of human happiness. Basing themselves on reason alone, and knowing nothing of God's purposes as disclosed in the Bible, 'they show themselvesmore inclined than is right' to conclude that individual happiness must simply consist 'in leading as carefree and joyful a life as possible while helping others do the same'. One implication of their outlook is that in certain circumstances they are ready to permit and even encourage both suicide and euthanasia. 'If someone has a disease which is not only incurable but a source of continual agony and distress', then 'the priests and magistrates exhort the man' either to commit suicide and 'free himself from this bitter life' or else 'voluntarily to allow others to free him from it'. Such decisions are regarded not merely as wise but as 'pious and holy', and those who take them are honoured for doing so.

Given their view of human happiness, this attitude strikes the Utopians as perfectly reasonable. But it is a case in which their reliance on reason alone, without the benefit of Christian revelation, leads them seriously astray. Although they have no means of knowing it, the actions they regard as pious and honourable are at once mortal sins and a negation of an important aspect of Christian soteriology. The Utopians lack any understanding of the intrinsic value of suffering, a value which—under the symbol of the Cross—is central to the soteriological scheme presented in the New Testament. At the same time they fail to recognise, as Hythloday remarks in his tiradeagainst the English practice of hanging thieves, that 'God has not only forbidden us to kill', but 'has withdrawn from us the right to bring about our own death as well as the death of others'. Although reason might incline us to allow certain exceptions—as the Utopians do in their ignorance—the divine positive law made known by God in the Mosaic Code, and renewed by Christ in the New Testament, is completely unambiguous. It simply tells us 'Thou shalt not kill.'

It cannot, then, have been More's intention, in emphasising the heathenism of Utopia, to point ironically to the fact that the heathen Utopians, 'far more than the nominal Christians of Europe, have succeeded in establishing a truly Christian commonwealth'. The irony of the situation seems rather to be registered by the figure of More himself when he first tells us at the start of Book I about his conversations with Hythloday. He reports that Hythloday 'told me of many mistaken customs to be found among the newly-discovered peoples'. But he adds at once that Hythloday 'also informed me of not a few customs that could well serve as examples to our own cities, nations, peoples and kingdoms, thereby enabling us to correct our own mistakes'. Possessing as we do the benefits of revelation as well as reason, we ought to be able to surpass such heathern communities in all respects. The irony—and the scandal—lies in the fact that we have so much to learn from them.

The Utopians have not attained for themselves the ideal of a perfectly Christian life. But it does not follow that they have not attained the best state of the common-wealth. Reason and revelation are both indispensable for the first, but reason alone suffices for the second, and reason is a universal possession of mankind, one common to heathens and Christians alike. It is certainly possible, therefore, that More intends us to accept that the Utopians have in fact achieved a correct view of what constitutes true nobility, have avoided the baleful consequences of espousing the counterfeit view instead, and have arrived as a result at the optimus status reipublicae.

As we have seen, it is certainly Hythloday's belief that this is the case. But the question, as before, is whether More intends us to endorse that belief. The answer appears to be contained in a single highly charged passage at the end of the book, a passage in which the figure of More comments directly on the lessons Hythloday has drawn from his own narrative. 'When Raphael finished his story, many things occurred to me which seemed absurdly established in the customs and laws of the people he had described.' Of these, More goes on, 'the one that struck me most was the feature that constitutes the foundation of their entire social structure: their common life and mode of subsistence, based on having no moneytransactions at all. If this were to be established, it would overthrow all the nobility, magnificence, splendour and majesty that represent, according to the commonly accepted opinion, the true decorations and ornaments of a commonwealth.'

This is a highly ambiguous as well as a highly charged passage. But it certainly contains one objection to Hythloday's analysis to be expected from a good Ciceronian humanist—the persona that, as we have seen, the figure of More sustains throughout the dialogue. The objection More implicitly raises is in fact no different from the one we have already seen him making at the end of Book I. Philosophy, he had told Hythloday, must seek to be useful in civic life. But in order to be useful it must be willing to accommodate to the times. It must work with commonly accepted opinions and try to make them 'as little bad as possible'. But, as we have seen, the most commonly accepted opinion in More's time about nobility, magnificence, splendour and majesty was that they are all connected together. It is precisely Hythloday's contention, however, that the ideal of nobility will have to be separated from these other values if the optimus status reipublicae is ever to be attained. More's objection is, therefore, in part a purely practical one: what is absurd about Hythloday's advocacy is the fact that it takes no account whatever of what is generally believed.

It seems clear, however, that More is also offering a deeper comment on the story Hythloday has told, and the question of what further comment he wishes to make has become a subject of intense debate. Recent commentators have suggested that More's remarks must simply be taken at face value: he is criticising the absurdity of the Utopian system for failing to recognise the importance of nobility, magnificence, splendour and majesty in social life. But this thesis has I think nothing to recommend it. In the first place it is not what More says in the crucial passage. All he says is that the Utopian system would overthrow 'the commonly accepted opinion' of these values—the opinion that they are all indissolubly linked with each other. As I have laboured to demonstrate, however, it was one of the characteristic ambitions of humanist political theory to dissolve those very links in the name of upholding the rival opinion that true nobility derives from virtue alone. To suppose that More, at this crucial summarising point in his argument, was aligning himself with the very orthodoxy his fellow humanists were overwhelmingly concerned to attack is not merely to go beyond anything he actually says in the text; it is also to make nonsense of the fundamentally humanist allegiances he displays throughout the book.

The clue to More's meaning lies instead, I suggest, in examiningthe implications of his argument from the point of view of his fellow humanists. His argument itself (to repeat) is that if the Utopian system were to be instituted—forbidding the use of money and abolishing private property—the effect would be to overthrow the values conventionally attached to the concepts of nobility, magnificence, splendor and majesty. As I have been emphasising, however, it was precisely the ambition of More's fellow humanists to overthrow just those conventional values. The implication seems inescapable: More is pointing out that, although the Utopian system may look absurd at first sight, it provides a means of overturning those very values which, according to the humanists themselves, were standing in the way of their own equation between virtue and true nobility, and in consequence standing in the way of enabling the best state of the commonwealth to be realised.

It appears, then, that what More is doing in this crucial passage is putting a challenge to his fellow humanists, and in particular raising a doubt about the coherence of their political thought. On the one hand they liked to claim that they wanted above all to prevent inherited wealth from being treated as a criterion of true nobility. But on the other hand they continued to insist on the indispensability of private property, of hereditability and in general of 'degree, priority and place' as preconditions of any well-ordered society. The question we are left with at the end of Utopia is whether we can really have it both ways. If we are serious about the claim that virtue constitutes the only true nobility, it may be incoherent simply to endorse the usual justifications for private property. It may instead be necessary to consider the Utopian case for abolishing it in the name of ensuring that virtue alone is honoured, and that the best state of the commonwealth is thereby attained.

There is one very obvious objection, however, to supposing that this is the fundamental message More intends to leave with us at the end of Utopia. This is the fact that the figure of More appears throughout the book in the guise of a good Ciceronian humanist. As I have shown, that school of thought consistently and vehemently opposed the Platonist claim that the attainment of the optimus status reipublicae might require the abolition of private property. Moreover, when Hythloday first presents the Platonist point of view at the end of Book I, the figure of More responds in precisely the terms I have shown to be characteristic of humanist (and scholastic) theories about the indispensability of private property in any well-ordered commonwealth. 'It is quite impossible to live a satisfactory way of life', More retorts, 'where everything is held in common.' One reason is that gratuitous poverty will result.' For how can there ever be an adequate supply of goods where individuals are no longer spurred onwards by the motive of personal gain, and become sluggish through trusting to the industry of others?' A further reason is that 'endless quarrelling and sedition' will be sure to arise, 'especially since the authority of magistrates and any reverence for their office will have been completely undermined'.

But the point which has not been sufficiently noticed about the structure of More's Utopia is that Hythloday's entire contribution can—and I think should—be read as an ironic inversion of precisely these two central assumptions of scholastic as well as humanist political thought. What Hythloday shows us in Book I is that, even if you uphold the rights of private property, you do not necessarily avoid the twin dangers of poverty and disorder. For in England, where the rights of property-holders are defended with extreme violence, the country nevertheless suffers, as we have seen, from exactly these two social diseases. By contrast, what Hythloday shows us in Book II is that, even if you abolish private property, you do not necessarily contract these social diseases at all. For in Utopia, where everything is held in common, the community is nevertheless described as one in which—as Hythloday very revealingly puts it in his summary—there is no disorder, andwhere there is abundance of everything for everyone.

There is, moreover, a carefully contrived asymmetry between More's response to these claims at the end of Book I and his later response to exactly the same claims at the end of Book II. At the end of Book I he confidently replies by putting the standard case in favour of private property. By the end of Book II, however, his confidence has completely evaporated in the face of Hythloday's arguments. He makes no attempt to restate his earlier case, but instead brings the discussion to a close by making fully explicit the two points we have seen to be implicit in his earlier comments on Hythloday's narrative. On the one hand he reiterates his purely practical doubts. 'I cannot have any hope', he says, of seeing many features of the Utopian commonwealth adopted. But on the other hand he leaves us to wonder whether this may not be entirely to our loss. For the book ends with More saying that 'I readily confess that there are very many features of the Utopians' commonwealth which, although I cannot have any hope of seeing, I should nevertheless like to see, realised in our own communities.'

Like his fellow-humanists, More acknowledges the impracticability of seeking to abolish the institution of private property. Unlike them, however, he implies that such realism is purchased at a highprice. To concede the point, he shows us, is to close off one of the means—perhaps even, Hythloday insists, 'the one and only means'—of bringing about the optimus status reipublicae. As a result, Utopia ends on a wistful and elegiac note. Doubtless we have no hope of ever living in the manner of the Utopians; but the thought we are left with is that, for all that, theirs may nevertheless be the best state of a commonwealth.

James Romm (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3727

SOURCE: "More's Strategy of Naming in the Utopia," in Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. XXII, No. 2, Summer, 1991, pp. 173-83.

[In the following essay, Romm examines the significance of naming in the Utopia, arguing that More used irony and ambiguity in an effort to demonstrate the unreliability of language.]

Like his fellow humanists, Thomas More was deeply interested in both philology and semiology, and in particular in the ways these two disciplines overlapped. For him Greek and Latin, or language in general, could at times become a kind of code, the meanings ofwhich could be extracted only imperfectly or not at all. Concerns over the relationship between language and meaning are particularly prominent in the Utopia, a work which opens with a "decoding" of a nonsensical quatrain, and which contains numerous proper names said on the one hand to derive from ancient Greek and on the other to be mere "barbarisms" signifying nothing at all. Such paradoxes, and the various obstacles met by critics attempting to resolve them, offer occasion for a new consideration of More's strategy of naming in the Utopia, and thereby of his relationship to Lucian's Vera Historia—the source and model for this kind of linguistic play. I hope to show that the frustration of critics who have attempted a systematic analysis of Utopia's names—in particular the seventeenth-century Dutch philologist Gerhard J. Vossius—is in fact exactly the response More meant to evoke, in imitation of the strategies of contradiction and incongruity he, like other humanist authors, had found in Lucian.

Vossius, in a letter entitled "De Utopia Mori ac paradoxis in illa vocabulis agit," conducts an extensive inquiry into the proper names of the Utopia, but ends by complaining to his addressee that More himself has rendered the task impossible:

I hope I have made an adequate response to your requestregarding these matters. Except perhaps you will deem that some of these names seem to be less successfully composed, if we analyze them in the above manner. I won't deny it; but we must not be made to take the blame off of More's shoulders.

Other, more recent commentators have attempted to pick up the analysis where Vossius left off, but their efforts at schematization, especially in regard to the names of Utopia's famous peoples, have been similarly unsuccessful. Thus, most scholars have found that More's ethnologic names break down into two broad categories: those which, like "Utopians," ironically negate the peoples they describe, and those like "Macarians" which identify some prominent moral or ethical quality. Complicating this scheme, however, are a handful of invented names which do not fit comfortably into either category, and others which have been variously assigned, by different commentors, to both. Should these anomalies, as Vossius suggests above, be attributed to a culpam Mori? And if so, what was More's purpose in creating such linguistic obfuscation?

Let us begin, as Vossius does, by distinguishing a group of invented names for which More supplies his own translations, thereby himself raising the problem of how names convey meanings. For example, the two titles for Utopian state officers, "syphogrant" and "tranibor" in the "ancient tongue" of the island, have since been modernized by the Utopians themselves to "phylarch" and "protophylarch." Vossius believes that, by supplying Greek equivalents for these words, More effectively precludes the possibility that their meanings could be independently derived from the verbal elements they contain, and indeed this seems to be the case; commentary on "tranibor," for instance, has produced no more convincing translation than "bench eater," and that only by stretching the word's morphology rather badly out of shape. Later in his letter, however, Vossius violates his own not unreasonable principle by supplying an etymological analysis of a name which More has already translated: "Buthrescas," as he notes, is composed of threskos, an obscure adjective meaning "religious," and the intensifying prefix bou-, to give the very sense which Hythlodaeus supplies, "religiosos." In at least this one instance, More's translation paradoxically confirms that his coinage indeed derives from standard Greek roots.

In setting up these two models of noun construction, More seems to be elaborating an inconsistency common to Greek ethnographic writing, where foreign names are occasionally recorded in their original language but at other times are given in translation. Utopia's nominal play becomes more complex than this, however, when the two kinds of signification are blended together, as in the case of the Utopian festival names, "cynemernos" and "trapemernos." These have been translated by More, via Hythlodaeus, as "primifesti" ("first feasts") and "finifesti" ("last feasts"), but their verbal elements also seem, at least to Vossius, vaguely Hellenic:

One might have suspected that the name should be written "Cynemerinos," as if it came from the word kunos ["dog"] and hémerinos ["days"], so that it would refer to the dog days. Similarly the other name can be thought to derive from the same hémerinos and the word tropés ["winter solstice"], so that "winter days" would be understood. But these analyses must cease, since the words would in that case be from Greek, which More did not intend; otherwise he would not have included his own translation, primifesti and finifesti. This explanation does not fit well with the idea of a Greek origin. The same is true of the names "syphogrant" and "tranibor"…. It would be an empty labor, to derive the roots of these names from the Greek.

This halting, on-again-off-again attempt at etymological explication reveals the incongruity built into More's nomenclatural scheme: the festival names seem to Vossuis to hint at a deeper meaning than that which Hythlodaeus supplies, but the counterexample of "tranibor" and "syphogrant" puts an abrupt end to this type of speculation. Variations in nominal construction therefore create larger discontinuities in the meanings of names, derailing the commentator's quest for coherence.

Similar discontinuities, moreover, can be observed within larger groups of More's coined names, especially in the largest group, those which designate the countries and peoples described by his narrator Hythlodaeus. Here we must reject the view of Dorsch that all of Utopia's coined names serve, like the title itself, to disclaim or ironize the entities for which they stand. "Macarians" in Book I, for instance, has no such function, unless we presume that a "blessed" race is a self-evident impossibility in More's scheme of things. A more prominent case is that of "Zapoletans" or "Profiteers" in Book II, the name of the mercenary people who hire themselves out to any paying customer. Here, in fact, More has fashioned the name not as an ironic jest but as an attack on a practice which, to judge by the vehemence of Hythlodaeus' several remarks on the subject, he clearly detested. Granted, the construction of this name is more obscure than that of "Macarians," since its first element, za-, represents a rare dialectical variantof the intensifying prefix dia-, and poletae, a nonce-word from the verb poleó ("to sell"), looks rather confusingly like the suffix politai ("citizens") more common in ethnographic contexts. Nevertheless "Zapoletans" finally admits of only one interpretation, so that we must presume its obscurity to be another strategy in More's etymological game. Like the "cynemernos" which so tempted Vossius, puzzle-words of this type invite us to come after them in search of larger significance, suggesting a kind of encryption which must be decoded to be understood.

Indeed, the arcane construction of "Zapoletans" seems to imply that Hythlodaeus' critique of mercenary soldiery is aimed at some particular race within More's own purview; such, a least, was the inference drawn by the author of Utopia's marginal notes (perhaps Erasmus), who here remarks, in his only attempt to reveal specific referents below the surface of the text, "gens haud ita dissimilis Eluetis." Whether or not the Swiss are indeed More's target, it is significant that Utopia's earliest reader saw in this invented name a veiled polemic against a very real and proximate political abuse. The more specific and prescriptive More's verbal coinages, the more closely they border on code, just as—to extend the same principle to topographical inventions—his detailed descriptions of the Utopian landscape have seemed to some interpreters to demand-correlation with that of England. Such particulars engage a heuristic impulse in the reader which struggles to systematize and assign significance; we find it difficult to believe that they may have been composed at random, or without any larger pattern in mind.

Some interpreters have indeed attempted to apply the model established by "Zapoletans" more widely; James Simmonds, for example, suggests [in "More's Use of Names in Book II of Utopia," Neueren Sprachen, 1961] that the names of all the non-Utopian peoples in Book II of Utopia have a similarly opaque ethical meaning, while those that describe the Utopians themselves are entirely of the self-negating variety. The scheme holds true only in its very loosest outlines. Simmonds' etymologies, derived in part from an English translation attributed to Goitein, often require us to impart strained or unnatural meanings to More's Greek; and he neglects to explain why no comparable scheme governs Utopia's first book, where, for example, we find the names "Macarians" as well as "Achorians" ("Nowherites") both assigned to non-Utopians. Worse, Simmonds ignores the fact that the poet-laureate of Utopia, Anemolius, shares his name with a foreign race, the Anemolians of the Book II embassy scene. The coincidence invalidates the idea that More linguistically distinguishes Utopian and non-Utopian names, even though the contrast between "Utopians" and "Zapoletans"—the former a name which proclaims its referent to be non-existent, the latter seemingly a pointed reference to a very real European nation—might have led us to that conclusion. In Simmonds' case, then, as in that of Vossius, an initially promising analysis of More's naming breaks down if we attempt to apply it more widely.

The flaws in Simmonds' scheme become especially apparent in the case of names like "Nephelogetae," which although clearly Greek in origin do not easily fit either the pattern of Utopian self-negation or of non-Utopian ethical satire. Vossius again reveals the nature of the problem when he attempts to recast this name, using even more force here than he had done earlier with "cynemernos":

I would prefer "Nephelogenetae"; [vefeloyevetai] would be "those born from cloud," that is, as unreal as the centaurs of poetry, of whom you would say [vefeloyeveiv] and [vefeloyevetai] because they are said to have been begotten by Ixion from a cloud.

Vossius correctly points out that the second element here, getés, has no evident meaning, although it comes maddeningly closeto genetae, a form that would have made the resulting name perfectly intelligible. Instead we are left with an indeterminate sense of "cloud" that does not apply to its referent in any readily apparent way, yet which, in its very obscurity, seems to require some sort of explanation. That is, the half-formed name leaves us dangling between intelligibility and nonsense, a median position from which any heuristically-minded reader, like Vossius, strives immediately to extricate himself.

Vossius' frustration can moreover be replicated by modern readers, who attempt to analyze "Nephelogetae" with the help of the Yale commentary. The editors of this work cite a variety of possible meanings for the name, including the one Vossius attempted to create, "born from a cloud" (derived from what is termed a "syncopated" form of genetae), and that proposed by Simmonds and Goitein, "'people under a cloud,' i.e. a cloud of oppression" (because they are set upon by their foes the Alaopolitans). That is to say, we are faced with the same unresolved dichotomy we encountered earlier, between a self-negating meaning and a reference to a particular social abuse, contained this time within the various explanations of a single name. Nor do the literary parallels cited by Surtz and Hexter help to alleviate our distress: for we are given the examples of Lucian's Nephelokentauroi or"Cloud-centaurs," and Aristophanes' Nephelokokkygia or "Cloud-cuckooland," alongside Homer's august and grandiloquent epithet for the god Zeus, nephelégereta or "cloud-gatherer." Here our editors yoke together the ironically self-negating sense of the nephelos verbal element in Greek comedy and satire, with the far more stately and substantive Homeric usage, replicating at the level of literary reminiscence the split between sense and nonsense.

The Yale editors, while offering no clear preference of their own from among these alternatives, imply that it is incumbent upon us to make such a choice; but in this, I believe, they have missed the importance of More's carefully constructed verbal ambiguity. Surely it is no accident that "Nephelogetae" here can be analyzed as either a self-negation or as a meaningful ethical critique, since the Utopia as a whole consistently and deliberately treads a median line between these two poles. Meaning and nonsense are carefully held in equipoise throughout the work, a form of irony cultivated by More, and other humanist authors, from out of the pages of Lucian. It is the same ambiguity, moreover, which presents itself in Utopia's very title, another paradox which has caused Vossius, as well as Scaliger before him, to throw up his hands in despair. With its first element balanced perfectly between ou and eu, as Anemolius' opening hexastich reveals, the name can mean either "Noplace" or "Fine place"—or rather, as was undoubtedly More's intent, both at once. The fact that "Nephelogetae" also invites interpretation at both the ethical and ironic level, therefore, seems to be part of Utopia's larger strategy of assigning double-edged significance to its inventions; the text always seeks to place us in this median zone where meanings suggest themselves but fail to emerge fully.

In fact, once this duplicitous strategy has been recognized, we can discern it in several of Utopia's more puzzling names. Thus "Anemolians," like "Nephelogetae," mixes a substantive, ethically oriented meaning taken from Homer with a self-negating one found in Lucian: In their vain desire to impress the Utopians, the Anemolians are certainly "windy" in the Homeric sense of "boastful," but at the same time they share in the meaning Lucian suggests when referring to astrology as logon pseudea kai anemólion, a "false and windy discipline." Both connotations of the adjective were certainly known to More, and he seems to have preserved the ambiguity between them quite intentionally. Similarly "Alaopolitans" can be analyzed, as Vossius points out, either as a-lao-politai or alao-politai, so as to refer either to '"dwellers in the city of the blind,' given to a people who oppress anotherwith 'an unjust accusation under the colour of justice'" [Simmonds, "More's Use of Names," quoting Goitein], or more simply, as "cives ex nullo regionis populo" (Vossius). Here, in other words, an ambiguity of formation, rather than connotation, creates another 'toss-up' situation in which an ethically pointed meaning is held in suspension with a self-negating one; and again, More's duplicity is perfectly mirrored in the ambivalence of subsequent interpretive efforts.

More's model for this catch-me-if-you-can etymological game was undoubtedly Lucian, and in particular the one Lucianic work which peers out from behind Utopia's ironic veils at every turn, the Vera Historia. This fantastical travelogue delights in coining compound names for foreign places and peoples, but, if we look for a consistent scheme of thought governing these names, we shall come away as frustrated as Vossius; Lucian simply does not make things that easy. To take one prominent example, the description of the world inside a whale's belly at the end of Vera Historia I, creates names for a wide array of peoples, most of which blend human physiology with that of marine creatures: "Crab-hands," "Tuna-heads," "Flounder-feet," and the like. But amid this list occurs the more troublesome "Tritonomendetes," seemingly a compound of Tritón, the monstrous Greek sea god, and Mendes, an obscure-Egyptian word meaning "goat." Whatever meaning (if any) this word is meant to convey, the anomaly it creates throws an otherwise coherent series of names into disarray. And again, as in More's case, the effect of this disruption can be gauged by the division it has caused among interpreters:

Quelques commentateurs demandent ici quelle analogie il peut y avoir entre des pieds de bouc et la forme d'une belette; mais nous pensons que le mot Tritono-mendetes est ici une dénomination vague et qu'on ne doit point toujours chercher une exacte analogie entre la définition d'une chose et sa dénomination. [Jean Baudoin in the 1613 translation of the Oeuvres de Lucien de Samosate]

The debate recorded here closely parallels that over Utopia's toponymy, in that here as well the arcanity of an invented name poses itself, at least to some commentators, as a puzzle that demands an arcane solution; while others, like the editor quoted above, sense that the text's entire scheme of signification has simply fallen apart.

Perhaps the most telling of the paradoxical names employed by More in the Utopia, "morosophi" or "wise fools," was taken straight outof Lucian, although in this case from the Alexander rather than the Vera Historia. Although the word is not used by Lucian as a proper noun, More practically converts it into one by capitalizing it in the one passage where it appears, a discussion of the French practice of employing a standing army even during times of peace:

Evidently it seems to the Morosophi that their public safety lies in this: Whether they have a strong and stable garrison at the ready, made up in particular of veterans.

The absence of any demonstrative pronoun here makes "Morosophi" a virtual stand-in for "French," who have been identified only as a country rather than as a polity in the passage just prior to this. Here, then, is yet another twist in More's nomenclatural game: by renaming a very real people with a Lucianic coinage, in this very first instance of ironical naming, he further undermines our sense that names will allow us to distinguish between real and fantastic entities, or to properly locate nodes of signification.

For the reader, of course, the temptation to meddle in these nomenclatural mysteries is quite strong, especially since several of them seem to be verging on a solution. More lures us into hisgame by arousing our instinctive desire for verbal signification, but then frustrates that desire by keeping fulfillment just out of reach. Like the commentator whose marginal note attempts to identify the referent of "Zapoletans," we sense incipient meanings taking shape out of recognizable verbal elements, but if we grasp at these meanings in an effort to articulate them fully we find nothing in our hands but formless putty. In this way the names of Utopia are only a single, especially illustrative instance of the larger strategies which govern the work as a whole, and which are, moreover, an integral aspect of all fabulous voyage literature: our need to create a one-to-one mapping of words onto things, or of real places onto invented ones, is first invoked, then defeated when those mappings fail to cohere. If we play the game in the same spirit of "merry jest" in which the author offers it to us, the tension of the unresolved meanings can be a source of pleasure; if we take it too seriously, however, we will end, like Vossius, by stamping out feet in frustration and walking away. To conclude, then, we can see that Vossius, and other commentators like him, have become lost in the verbal labyrinth More constructs out of Utopia's names, vainly following avenues of interpretation that eventually turn into blind alleys. Furthermore More has ingeniously baited them with their own most cherished pursuit, philology; for what linguistic scholar can resist the challenge of a code, especially one based on familiar Greek roots? In fact, More's own last word on the subject of nomenclature, contained in a letter to Peter Giles appended to the 1517 edition, reveals that the more learned members of the audience had been the particular butt of his joke:

Thus if I had done nothing else than simply insert the names of prince, river, city, island so as to warn the more expert readers that the island was nowhere, the city invisible, and the river waterless, the prince lacking a people—which would not have been hard to do, and would have been much cleverer than what I actually did—I am not so obtuse as to have wished to use those barbarous and meaningless names, Utopia, Anydrus, Amaurotum, and Ademus, unless the need to observe historical accuracy had compelled me.

By casting himself as the bumbling "stupidus," in contrast to the learned "peritiores" who have become caught in his etymological trap, More dons the familar mask of Socrates, the sage whose wisdom comes out of not knowing: ultimately, he seems to say, the only interpretation of his names which carries any weight is that which reveals no meaning in them at all. However, the contorted grammar of the sentence in which this is expressed defies our efforts topin down his precise meaning, and moreover seems to give more weight to the naming strategy the author claims to reject than that which he actually uses. Evidently More intended his one retrospective statement on the nomenclatural problem to increase, rather than resolve, its complexity, and thereby to poke fun at those already attempting a solution.

One name I have not discussed herein is that of the narrator, Raphael Hythlodaeus, but it should be clear by this point how this coinage establishes a pattern which governs the others we have examined. In a work largely dedicated to showing that "'Nonsense' is well worth hearing out, well worth arguing with" [John Traugott, "A Voyage to Nowhere with Thomas More and Jonathan Swift," Sewanee Review, 1971], it should not surprise us to find the very signifying power of language called into question by the irregular and irrelevant operations performed on its constitutive elements. The struggles of subsequent philologists, like Vossius, to decipher these riddles serve to prove More's larger point, that a naïve faith in inflexible linguistic—or political—systems only leads to befuddled perplexity when those systems prove less regular and more open-ended than had been apparent. The victory in this game of etymological hide-and-go-seek finally belongs to More himself, who has hidden his nominal meanings in a way which seems to require that we uncover them, but who gives us shifting and contradictory clues as to where we should look; and who, moreover, only watches in detached amusement as we blunder about in the wrong direction.

John Freeman (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: "More's Place in 'No Place': The Self-Fashioning Transaction in Utopia," in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, Summer, 1992, pp. 197-217.

[Freeman interprets the Utopia as an autobiographical text in the essay that follows, finding in it an expression of More's "desire to strike a proper balance between what is private and what is public."]

Long the reverenced object of hagiographers, from the humanist saint of William Roper to the socialist martyr of Karl Kautsky, Thomas More is undergoing a second martyrdom at the hands of modern biographers. They have argued for a lack of integration between More's life and its literary productions. The image of the utopian idealist and dreamer is refuted, for instance, by claims that the fury of the polemical works reveals More's "true personality." A point to irremediable contradictions between Thomas More, the humanist idealist, and what Stephen Greenblatt [in Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, 1980] labels "Morus," the public servant on an embassy for Henry VIII. In his The Public Career of Thomas More [1980], J. A. Guy portrays More as a sycophantic courtier. Guy argues that More dissembled his intentions to enter court employment even from his dear friend Erasmus. For Guy, More's entry into court service was the culmination of savvy political stagecrafting, "the climax of a progression by which he gained the attention of Henry and Wolsey." Focusing on More's activities in the Netherlands during the time of the writing of Utopia, Richard Marius points out [in Thomas More, 1984] that the embassy upon which More had embarked was intended

to increase commerce, especially in wool, and … while he penned these immortal lines, he was working hard to add to the wealth of those classes in English society whom Raphael castigates for their heartless greed…. Whether More recognized these ironies himself is an unanswerable question, but at least they reveal what we learn from a study of his other works, that when he wrote he built a world he could control and that, like mostwriters, he did not always take care to make that created world correspond entirely with the world where he had to make his way.

In his Utopia [1984], Louis Marin concurs that Utopia in its detachment relates "in a different way to the historical and geographic world whose contradictory consciousness produced it." Marin even argues that More "erased" himself as the author of the text by pointing at himself as both "a character in his book and, even better, as a historically existing figure, as a real representation." In these critics' estimation, More's place in No Place is by no means assured.

Differing with Marius and Marin, I wish to argue that the "created world" of Utopia corresponds very closely to the world in which More had to find his place; in fact, Book I represents both England and More's historical and biographical situations, and Book II offers an allegorization of those terms. Moreover, a central problem for Utopia involves the question of how one authors oneself, how one authorizes oneself to speak. More's perceived lack of an integer vita, marking Utopia itself as a disintegrative text, is belied by the offering of the text itself as a discursive space (topos) for transacting the terms of More's self-fashioning. A literary topos in Book II, this becomes historicallydetermined with the addition of Book I. Far from being situated nowhere, Utopia represents a transaction of values that link the formation of social identity to the agrarian crisis of More's day. Restoring a sense of place to the literary topos by filling in these agrarian values will demonstrate a greater integration of the "created world" of Utopia with the historical circumstances surrounding its composition. This restored topography will also lead to a fuller understanding of the conflicting elements of More's social identity being played out in Utopia (the various bioi constituting life in the private, communal, and state domains). While the Utopian text may not have succeeded in integrating these conflicting bioi in a satisfactory fashion, its two books can be read as a convertibility formula for working them out.

One reason biographers have difficulty placing More in No Place is that the text itself is situated on the very fault line of shifting topographical values. In More's period, the individual is being redefined, particularly in terms of that individual's relationship to the land. As J. H. Hexter has shown [in "Utopia and Its Historical Milieu," in The Complete Works of Thomas More, 1965], More writes a text that plays a sense of personal crisis against the historical backdrop of an England plagued by problems of class divisions and social injustice. Stephen Greenblatt, citing Marin, notes the existence of ruptures in the Utopian text, "ruptures betrayed by subtle inconsistencies and contradictions in topography, economic exchange, the exercise of power," and other factors. Far from "tearing the canvas" of the work (Marin's estimation), such ruptures in Greenblatt's view represent the artist's self-consciousness about fashioning himself in "the presence of those sociohistorical forces to which Utopia owes its existence." More's individualism, the place he will occupy in his society, is forged from the conflict of those forces.

In tracing the emergence of the individual in the early Renaissance [in "The Land Speaks: Cartography, Chorography, and Subversion in Renaissance England," Representations, 1986], Richard Helgerson examines the role of the Renaissance cartographer and asserts that cartography not only served to free the land from royal ownership in diminishing the signs of that royal ownership but also allowed cartographers in their power of representation to gain a growing measure of authorial autonomy. Helgerson maintains that the emergence of the land from royal dominance and the emergence of the individual authorial self are parallel phenomena "deeply implicated in one another." This parallel development begins with "a common term of difference," the royal absolutism from which each is beginning to detach itself. Helgerson maintains that, althoughneither the land nor the authorial self explicitly rejects this royal absolutism, "they nevertheless edge toward a different sense—a sense of words and images caught in a complex and mutually self-constituting exchange between individual authors and the land they represent." Helgerson proclaims the mapmaker as "novus homo chorographicus," a prophetic being who in his self-asserting, nascent autonomy signals growing challenges to that royal absolutism.

Although Utopia precedes by some one hundred years the period on which Helgerson concentrates, it serves as an interesting early text in evaluating Helgerson's assertions. The ideological differences that arise from the splitting of the island of Utopia from the once historically contingent England are an initial indication of the power of the author to remake the map, to work at the margins of history in reformulating England in an image far different from that envisioned or sanctioned by any historical monarch. A disciple of Vespucci, bringing word of a New World with a new ordering of society, Hythloday offers in his account of Utopia the possibilities of a new vision not only of society but of the individual as well.

A strategy of displacement governs the operations of Book II, theneologism "utopia" expressing a detaching of the land from royal absolutism. Pure escapism, the book inscribes the character of the land in the mythic figure of King Utopus. Utopus—or Eutopos, "the Good King of the Land"—has conferred positive value upon the land and its people by breaking the land link and effectively enclosing that land. Textually, he exists in the fullness of the letter, enclosed entirely from history in his total self-referencing in the figure of the mythically displaced land of Utopia.

As long as Utopia remains No Place, a merely literary topos in a long tradition of Golden Age lands, Eutopos can operate as a mythic Lycurgus. Autonomous in the purest etymological sense of the word, he is a law unto himself. His identity is not contingent upon history, nor is it contingent upon the vagaries and royal prerogatives of a Henry VIII. Indeed, Eutopos serves in many ways as an absolute contrast to the historically contingent figure of Henry VIII. As a point of departure from history, the absolutism of Utopus is benign, in sharp contrast to that exercised by Henry VIII. A ruler who would phase out monarchy in his own land represents a bit of wistful thinking on More's part when we consider the fanatical preoccupation Henry VIII had in providing himself an heir. In establishing the terms of these two forms of royal absolutism, Morus and Raphael define the terms between the restrictive royal absolutism of Henry VIII and the possibilities of self-creation represented by the royal absolutism of Utopus (an absolutism that elevates the individual to his own kingly status). In his more fanciful moments, More actually imagined himself as king of Utopia. At the height of his enthusiasm for Utopia, he confides to Erasmus:

"You have no idea how thrilled I am; I feel so expanded, and I hold my head high. For in my day-dreams I have been marked out by my Utopians to be their king forever; I can see myself now marching along, crowned with a diadem of wheat, very striking in my Franciscan frock, carrying a handful of wheat as my sacred scepter, thronged by a distinguished retinue of Amaurotians, and, with this huge entourage, giving audience to foreign ambassadors and sovereigns; wretched creatures they are, in comparison with us, as they stupidly pride themselves on appearing in childish garb and feminine finery, laced with that despicable gold, and ludicrous in their purple and jewels and other baubles."

This "fascinating vision" or "dream" is broken up by the light of day, "deposing poor me from my sovereignty." More's only consolation is that "real kingdoms are not much more lasting."

Not only do we witness in this remarkable exaltation a personal dissatisfaction with the royal imperative, but we can also witness the fundamental nature of Utopia, specifically Book II, as the place in which an overreaching individuality is mounted against that royal imperative. In this light, Marie-Claude Rousseau writes [in "Utopies, 1516-1977," Moreana, 1979] of the utopist as "the demiurge of his world and his work, a psychodrama where his dreams are projected." The modest symbols of this Utopian kingship, emblems of which Raphael certainly would approve, mark More, at least in this momentary fancy, as sympathetic to the peasant. Expressing a subversive, momentary desire for absolute autonomy, More is the farthest possible from Morus, the court servant; at the same moment, he is closest to Raphael in Hythloday's championing of the oppressed and his hatred for gold and the trappings of courtly spectacle and excess. In this dream, More does not see himself in the image of the aspiring courtier, trained in the Inns of Court for a career as a royal servant and adviser. The desire projected here, given free play in the utopian field wherein all things are possible, is one in which More can momentarily find a place for himself and his longing for the monastic life (symbolized by the Franciscan frock). This dream marks the autonomizing appeal Utopia had for More in its glorifying of the private individual. More's assurance to Erasmus that his fanciful rise from his "lowly estate to this soaring pinnacle" will not threaten their friendship indicates that his concerns about entering Henry's court and compromising his humanist principles are also scripted into this psychodrama. This vision suggests that elements of the historical More are incorporated in the text, that Raphael embodies impulses in More contradictory to the Morus persona.

What might make one a king in fiction would not necessarily serve to advance one in the more practical world of court politics. The limits to self-fashioning in fiction and imagination were indeed boundless, not so the limitations placed upon self-fashioning in the very real and dangerous world presided over by Henry VIII. Even on its own terms, however, the created world of Utopia reflects the historically contingent circumstances surrounding its composition.

Those critics who see rifts between the created world of Utopia and the life More led fail to recognize that More's text is a more faithful mirror of his life and England's historical circumstances than a superficial investigation reveals. In seeking to situate Utopia in the discursive space between the concept and history, Marin asks a series of provocative questions: "To what reality or to what absent term does it ["utopia"] finally refer? What figure—fraught with incoherencies of its own—traverses it? What discursive conclusion opens up as soon as the thesis of historical truth, from whose posture it speaks, is lacking?" In posing Morus against Raphael, the historical figure against the mythic figuration, More has hedged his bet. I use the term "hedged" advisedly, for it is the figure of enclosure—"fraught with incoherencies of its own"—that traverses the text as a constant equation in the self-fashioning transaction. It mediates the conversion of values between the private and the public, between opposing class identities.

The bet that More is hedging is that involving his own self-fashioning, and its broadest values are those represented by the opposing figures of Morus and Raphael. The self-fashioning that must be worked out between the opposing terms of Morus and Raphael points toward class conflict, a conflict between an expropriating class and an expropriated class in which More represents the very middle class that was being defined in this conflict. Morus, the representative of the expropriators of land, and Raphael, representative of the dispossessed, cause this topographical discourse to be extended into the narrative structure of the text as their two voices bring the historical notions of improvement and impoverishment into that text.

If we reexamine the myth of Utopia's founding, for example, we find that in his conquering of the Abraxians, King Utopus acts out of a myth whose plot is very much grounded in a history vexed with the problems as well as the opportunities of enclosure. The "incoherencies" of enclosure expose Eutopos as Outopos in demonstrating just how closely the created world of Utopia is linked to historical contingencies. The "problem" that the text of Utopia seeks to solve is that of enclosure, particularly the large-scale pastoral enclosure occurring in More's day. Lying along a fault line that represents a break in historical continuity occasioned by the irreconcilable programs of large-scale enclosers, small-scale improvers, and subsistence-level farmers, Utopia must mediate the class conflicts that arise from shifts in agrarian values. The myth of Utopia's founding is not at all divorced from the problems of English history; in fact, the king's conquering of the Abraxians is simply the telling and enactment of that history over again, its characters disguised in myth.

The improver, Utopus, is not merely conducting a raid upon a fictional people; he is, in essence, raiding history, for his conquering of the Abraxians allows him to redefine and reshape English history for his own ends. This reworking of history begins with a forcible expropriation of people from their land. While weare not told specifically whether that part of the conquered Utopians who resist are killed or expelled, this initial expropriation of Abraxa sets an obvious precedent and model for the Utopians' spillover colonization of lands outside their territory. In these seizures of territory, those who refuse to be ordered by the Utopians' laws are driven "out of those bounds which they [the Utopians] have limited and defined for themselves" (Reneuntes ipsorum legibus uiuere, propellunt his finibus quos sibi ipsi describunt"; note the initial surveying that has occurred before eviction, a surveying not unlike that preparatory to the evictions of historical enclosure). Like their historical counterparts, the enclosers, the Utopians justify their expropriation of others' lands by arguing their ability to improve them by a fuller utilization than that practiced by the natives. These vanquished people, their rights of landholding extinguished, are the fictional counterparts of England's squatter population evicted by enclosure. Those who do comply join with their conquerors in enclosing the peninsula of Utopia as an island. They, along with the conquering Utopians, become the class of improvers, their historical counterparts.

The plot of Book II thus offers a careful reenactment of English history in this conquering and evicting of one part of the Abraxians. This is the overt content of Book I, the historical injustice perpetrated against a displaced class. As the problem of Book I, it gets little play here, for the myth of Book II must work toward finding an intermediate term between the displaced yeomanry and the large-scale encloser. To insist too strongly upon the historical identity of any of the players in this mythic reenactment would undermine the myth of improvement so dear to Raphael. Obliquely, the text addresses the problems of vagrancy and idleness by enclosing the wastes of the "New World." As a means of implementing and expanding social control in More's England, enclosures of the unenclosed wastes were advocated, for these wastes were commonly characterized as "nurseries of beggars." Enclosed lands were reputed to breed a more prosperous, better quality citizenry; they also yielded a higher parliamentary subsidy. Those who block Utopus's "improvement" are evicted, the counterparts of the historically dispossessed (and their voicelessness in Raphael's account of Utopia's founding corresponds to the voicelessness of their counterparts in history). If we consider the problem of history beyond the confines of Book I, we shall find that this glossing over the evicted Abraxians allows Book II to redefine history not as a conflict between the expropriated and the large-scale encloser but as a collusion between the small-scale improver and the large-scale encloser.

This collusion, constituting the myth of Book II, is essential if the text is to recapture the historical value of improvement for itself. As Rodney Hilton indicates [in Class Conflict and the Crisis of Feudalism, 1985], within the peasantry a split was developing as this peasantry began to separate into "elements with differing economic interests." Unlike the "poor and middling peasants" involved in subsistence farming, a wealthier class of entrepreneurial peasants had accumulated both movable and landed property and were increasingly the beneficiaries of any new economic ordering (the improvements which could be had through enclosure, for example). These were what Hilton labels the "upper stratum of the peasantry, benefiting from the crisis in the seigneurial economy." With the impetus of the textile industry, these peasants would play an important role in constituting the class of capitalist farmers that emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Hilton closely links the growth of this class, which struck against all forms of seigneurial control, with the emergence of capitalism.

Historically within the English "tribe," a widening separation was occurring between the upper- and lower-strata peasantry, a division very much rooted in the political and economic shifts that occurred in sixteenth-century England. The "wolves"—large-scaleenclosers—not only expropriated the land of the poorer peasantry—the sheep—but they have also disrupted the orderly historical shift being brought on by the small-scale enclosers. The plans of the large-scale encloser and the small-scale improver are merged in Book II, as the remaining Abraxians are subsumed into one common identity with their conquerors, both henceforward known as Utopians. This merger runs counter to history, for Hilton has shown that the programs of these two groups ran directly counter to one another. In this respect, Utopus raids history twice over, for he both expropriates one element of the peasant class while co-opting the program of another. Most important, this conquering and transformation of the "compliant" element of the Abraxians allow Utopus to wrest the historical value of improvement from the program of the small-scale enclosers and to reinvest it in the large-scale enclosing of Utopia.

Utopus and, by association, Raphael rework historical situations and identities in a fashion that does not bear close scrutiny; indeed, the myth of Utopia is undermined when one converts the values expressed in Book II into those more historically oriented ones of Book I. The myth of Utopia's founding by enclosure risks being exposed if it is not disguised. The expropriation of the Abraxians is thus muted, displaced, and "alienated" in the exampleof Utopus's conquering of foreign lands. The historical expulsion of peasants from private land by members of the yeomanry and nobility might not seem to equate to the conquest of an alien territory and the expulsion of some part of its people by a king; however, the digging out of the land link, transforming the mythic Abraxian peninsula into a figuration of the English island, reminds us that there is a strong sense of the familiar in the alien. It also marks Book II as a prophetic text in a sense quite contrary to Kautsky's celebration of Utopia as a precursor to socialism. The text's transfer of the enclosing function from the levels of yeomanry and nobility to that of the state predicts the link between large-scale Acts of Enclosure and the growth of the modern state.

The charge of duplicity that Marius brings against More is offset and answered by the double text of Utopia, for Book I provides many keys for reading and deciphering the myth offered in Book II. Indeed, unwound from the historical materials of More's own embassy is another embassy, uniting history and myth, that brings Raphael forth. Raphael argues on behalf of the dispossessed yeoman who appeared many times before More in Chancery court; Hythloday sets forth—this time quite pointedly and eloquently—the rights of the expropriated. As Richard Sylvester points out in "Si Hythlodaeo Credimus" [in Essential Articles: Thomas More, 1977], Hythloday is "both uprooted himself and an uprooter of others. His most urgent pleas for reform bristle with metaphors of deracination and eradication." In service to the interests of royalty and the wool merchants, More is suddenly confronted in the Netherlands with the very spokesperson for those less powerful, competing interests: the dispossessed yeomanry. Contrary to Marius's and Marin's assertions, Thomas More provides a text entirely contingent to history and to his personal circumstances at the time of its composition. Utopia exemplifies Jean Howard's dictum [in "The New Historicism in Renaissance Studies," English Literary Renaissance, 1986] that literary texts do not constitute "monologic, organically unified wholes" but "sites where many voices of culture and many systems of intelligibility interact." Raphael's curious—and untenable—position as a spokesperson for the expropriated and a representative of Utopus, a large-scale encloser, bears witness to the text's rootedness in the history it allegorizes. Morus himself, representing a collusion between monarchy and merchants in an embassy that sought to improve trade equally advantageous to both, offers yet another voice in the text's encoding of dissonant cultural interactions.

The historical contingency of Utopia, a text that uses enclosureboth as a theme and as a principle of its own organization, provides a better sense of place for More in his text. It should cause some revision of critical stances that argue that More led a duplicitous and in-authentic life. Stephen Greenblatt, for instance, sees More's life as "nothing less than this: the invention of a disturbingly unfamiliar form of consciousness … poised between engagement and detachment." He notes further a distinction between text and "lived reality … precisely abrogated by More's mode of existence." Raphael, summoned forth by this rupture between lived reality and self-fashioning, stands between More and the "achieved" identity of Morus, marking within that identity "the signs of its own subversion or loss." As an abrogation of More's mode of existence, Raphael stands in the place of that marginalized existence. Nonetheless, the enclosing of Book II in Book I brings that which is marginal into the enclosure of the text. Critics who emphasize the gaps between the text and lived reality fail to recognize that the two books, taken together, offer a full presentation, if not an integration, of Thomas More. In fact, in hedging the text as a bet between Morus and Raphael, More reveals an authorial intention bent upon confrontation.

If history has not been erased from the text, then it is reasonable to assume that traces of the historical Thomas More yet linger. For Marin, the initial erasure of the author from his book and the attendant gap that opens up thereby are repaired only at the end of the Book II. Here, Marin indicates, the historical figure of Thomas More reappears "to initiate an ambiguous transition toward the author of the book, to exit the book." Between the two identical signatures, the last of which will reunify narrator and author, Marin sees More's historical identity as having been suspended. Marginalized for the space of the text is the public identity of "Thomas More, Citizen and Sheriff of the Famous City of Great Britain, London," a representative of the London merchants. This public identity, inscribed at both margins of the text, provides the topical circumstance in which Utopia was composed, for it was as the popular under-sheriff of London that More was called upon by the merchants of the city to travel to the Netherlands to negotiate matters of trade in English wool and Flemish cloth.

The opening lines of Book I, however, point toward the potentially divisive nature of More's embassy as both a representative of the London mercers and as an ambassador from Henry VIII ("The most invincible King of England, Henry the eighth of that name, who is distinguished by all the accomplishments of a model monarch, had certain weighty matters recently in dispute with His Serene Highness, Charles, Prince of Castile"). At this time, the interestsof king and merchants coincided, but there is a disturbance lying just beneath this officious, laudatory opening to Book I. Indeed, More has struck an uneasy balance here between Ambassador Thomas More and what Russell Ames labels Citizen Thomas More. As Ames indicates in his Citizen Thomas More, the middle class "campaigned" against feudalism as a decaying system, employing the merchants "as its chief economic power and the humanists as its ideological shock troops—with More active in both groups." A member of the Company of London Mercers, their "chosen mouthpiece" sent, as [William] Roper tells us [in The Lyfe of Sir Thomas More, Knighte], "at the suite and instaunce of the Englishe marchauntes," More was embarked upon a mission that represented "the interests of all English exporters of wool." At this point, at least, More was not a king's man but, as Ames asserts, someone far more "attached to town republican political principles than [to] monarchist principles." That More himself felt an opposition here is a matter of historical record, for he turned down a pension offered him by Henry, feeling that acceptance would cause him to come into a conflict of interest in fulfilling his role of sheriff. As he writes to Erasmus in 1515, "Should any question arise between them and the King about their privileges (as sometimes happens) they might have less confidence in me as a pensioner of the King."

At each margin of the text, the reiterated signature of "Citizen and Sheriff" encloses the two identities of Morus and Raphael, hedging in the dialectic they represent. Far from representing an exclusion of biographical detail or an incomplete self-presentation, the text reclaims one part of More's split and marginalized identity in the figure of Raphael, making it part of the self-fashioning transaction that is usually discussed in terms of Morus alone. The narrative splitting of Thomas More between Morus's narration of Book I and Raphael's narration of Book II makes the two appear to be marginal to one another. Upon closer examination, however, a certain convertibility formula exists between the two books as well as between Utopia and the marginalized identity that constitutes its circumambient context.

When we consider the relationship between Morus and Raphael, we find a contradictory pairing in which there is both a sense of identification and denial. Dialectically opposed, there seems to be very little the two can agree upon. More defends service to the state; Raphael shows that "servitude" and "service" are divided from each other by an easily removed prefix ("servias" versus "inservias"). Morus is in the Netherlands representing the wool industry and the interests of enclosers; Raphael appears as the advocate of the threatened yeomanry, offering a stinging attackagainst those very interests.

Commenting upon the relationship between the two as presented in Book I, critics have spoken of Raphael as More's alter ego, someone radically different from More coming at a critical moment to challenge him. That More fashioned part of Raphael from himself becomes clear when Raphael tells us that he was brought up in the household of John Morton, Thomas More's mentor at the Inns of Court. As the author of Social England [Henry Duff Traill, 1902] indicates, Morton was an unrelenting reformer of the decaying Church, and his influence upon More would be a lasting one:

From him it may well be that More learnt first to view with sympathetic eyes the sorrows of the people, and to speak what was in his mind so boldly and clearly. He belongs half to the past, half to the future: in him the interests of the Middle Ages and those of Tudor times, if not of modern life, seem to find a connecting link.

This shared biography denotes some of the affinities Raphael bears to More; of course, the More we encounter in Book I—Morus—serves as the antithesis to Raphael in reflecting the practical and politically ambitious side of Thomas More. If Morus represents More's tendency toward royal service, then the portrayal of Raphael is a hedge against that bet. The product of four separate voyages to the New World, Raphael cuts a figure in striking contrast to what we can imagine of Morus's own person as the courtly representative that negotiates for English wool merchants. The ambassador, locked in technical and interminable negotiations of international commerce, finds himself in an unexpected, face-to-face encounter with Hythloday, "a man of advanced years, with sunburnt countenance and long beard and cloak hanging carelessly from his shoulder." Indeed, there is no more striking a contrast imaginable than this between Raphael, with his future course already set on the New World, and Thomas More, who, in his embassy to Flanders, represents the new "economic" man being created from the dissolution of feudalism and the rise of capitalism. And yet, the more Raphael's mythic mask is stripped away, the clearer it becomes that the negotiations undertaken in Utopia represent a crisis that involves all elements of More's self-fashioning.

The sense of crisis to which Utopia is a response represents for More an uncertainty about his place, the role he should play in his society. This sense of dislocation can be expressed in terms of the social identity that modern society has inherited from the Greekcity-state. As Hannah Arendt asserts in The Human Condition [1959], the rise of this city-state meant, according to Aristotle, "that man received besides his private life a sort of second life, his bios politikos. Now every citizen belongs to two orders of existence; and there is a sharp distinction in his life between what is his own (idiom) and what is communal (koinon)." Arendt catalogs the three ways of life (bioi) that Aristotle thought were the choices allotted to the free man:

the life of enjoying bodily pleasures in which the beautiful, as it is given, is consumed; the life devoted to the matters of the polis, in which excellence produces beautiful deeds, and the life of the philosopher devoted to inquiry into, and contemplation of, things eternal, whose everlasting beauty can neither be brought about through the producing interference of man nor be changed through his consumption of them.

The influence of the first bios occurs in the discussion of pleasure in Book II, in which we are told that the Utopians maintain "that a person would be stupid not to seek pleasure by fair means or foul," the only restriction being that this pleasure should not "interfere with a greater nor … follow after a pleasure which would bring pain in retaliation." The influence ofthe life devoted to matters of the polis, the second bios, is a central concern for Citizen Thomas More as representative of the mercers. The third bios, the life philosophic contemplation and detachment, is the path advocated by Raphael in his rejection of royal service as a form of servitude. In particular, this second and third bioi define the conflict between Morus and Raphael. As Greenblatt indicates, the vita activa or vita ne-gotiosa is an essential concern in Utopia, where More argues with Raphael about the choice of a detached and philosophic existence versus the choice of a more engaged life devoted to public-political affairs. What is central to this question is how much of one's own life should one preserve in the face of public demands upon one's time and even upon one's very self. To what extent is one a private individual and to what extent a public one? Thomas More tries to fashion himself amid the counterweights of three different possible fashionings: private, communal, and state.

The presence of these three identities in Utopia suggests a far more complete self-presentation than what is often characterized. Representing a mixture of the private and philosophic bioi, Raphael, as the narrator of Book II, offers More a tempting escape from the world of historical circumstance and political compromise. As Robbin S. Johnson argues [in More's Utopia: Ideal and Illusion, 1969], Raphael's disengagement from the political realm is isolative, for "the individual utopian dreamer … tends to withdraw from any socially common cause. He merges his own being into the ideal [thereby turning] all expression inward." She finds Raphael's idealism "self-serving." Arendt also notes the limitations of an excessive privatizing and isolating of oneself from the community. The ancients, she argues, stressed "the private trait of privacy…. A man who lived only a private life, who like the slave was not permitted to enter the public realm, or like the barbarian had chosen not to establish such a realm, was not fully human."

It is little wonder that, faced with these two identities of Morus and Raphael, More seems to have insisted on the middle term, of Citizen Thomas More, for he resisted both the extreme detachment of Raphael's elevation of the individual as well as the emptying out of one's private life involved in committing oneself to royal service. The essential problem in Utopia, however, remains one of demarcating the boundary between the private and the public that, for Arendt, signifies "the world itself, in so far as it is common to all of us and distinguished from our privately owned place in it." What is one's own and what part of oneself is public? What boundary should one set around oneself in terms of maximizing whatone could achieve in both realms?

In each of these three elements of a self-fashioning, one can find limitations and risks. As Arendt notes, "The rise of the city-state and the public realm occurred at the expense of the private realm of family and household." More felt this opposition, noting at one point that he could remain an ambassador only by starving his family. The problem for More in this period was that of establishing the boundary of his own private sphere while maximizing the benefits to be derived from participating in the larger spheres of communal and state life. This is, of course, an essential concern in Raphael's and Morus's argument about the desirability of public service. Morus argues in behalf of such service, even though it often intrudes upon the private preserve. He invokes Raphael's "generous and truly philosophic spirit" in arguing that he "apply your talent and industry to the public interest, even if it involves some personal disadvantages to yourself."

In Utopia there is an overriding concern with balancing what is private and one's own with what is the public interest ("publicum rem"). The communality stressed in Utopia ("Nature calls all men to help one another to a merrier life") is tempered by an allowancefor individuality so long as that individuality does not move the person to further his own advantage to the disadvantage of his neighbors. Especially in terms of contracts and laws, Utopia offers a fine resolution of tensions between the private and public spheres, a resolution seemingly unobtainable in the litigious times of More's England:

Therefore they hold that not only ought contracts between private persons to be observed but also public laws for the distribution of vital commodities, that is to say, the matter of pleasure…. As long as such laws are not broken, it is prudence to look after your own interests, and to look after those of the public in addition is a mark of devotion. But to deprive others of their pleasure to secure your own, this is surely an injustice. On the contrary, to take away something from yourself and to give it to others is a duty of humanity and kindness which never takes away as much advantage as it brings back.

Here, pleasure itself is viewed as a "commodity" for distribution as the Utopians seek to balance equality of "ownership" with each individual's exercising of a private right. There is a sense of fluidity between private and public; indeed, the boundaries that compose what is private display an open face tothe public interest, in the fashion of the Utopian houses that are "permeable" structures in allowing for both private as well as public accessibility. What is private can be easily merged with the public domain in Utopia, a merger and lack of conflict that surely must have appealed to a Thomas More striving to strike a proper balance between the private and the public in his own life.

In working out the proper equation between the public and the private, Arendt does not believe it is accidental "that the whole discussion has eventually turned into an argument about the desirability of or undesirability of privately owned property." The conflict between private property and communal right is, of course, a crucial one for Utopia. Raphael is a strident critic of private property: "When every man aims at absolute ownership of all the property he can get, be there never so great abundance of goods, it is all shared by a handful who leave the rest in poverty." This privatizing of land takes the land out of communal ownership; it separates individuals from the community in freeing them from many of the communal obligations previously situated in the very character of that land. Morus's counterargument to Raphael—"Life cannot be satisfactory where all things are common"—emphasizes "the motive of personal gain" as a necessary inducement for making individuals productive and not slothfully dependent upon the industry of others. At the root of this conflict is the fact that More's complete self-fashioning into Morus, the public bios, cannot be achieved without retrieving private property from Raphael's condemnation; equally true is that the self-fashioning represented by Raphael cannot be achieved without the total rejection of the public bios that Morus advances.

Greenblatt indicates the topographical basis of this conflict when he states that "private ownership of property is causally linked in Utopia to private ownership of self" (what C. B. Macpherson calls 'possessive individualism'). The conflict in Utopia is that the abolition of private property advocated by Raphael is for Morus, a representative of the propertied interests, a threat to that very self he seeks to fashion ("to abolish private property is to render such self-conscious individuality obsolete," Greenblatt). Enclosure, with its asserting of individual rights over communal rights, is at the very heart of More's embassy to the Netherlands. The privatizing of land resulted in the privatizing of individuals, the creation of a middle class whose very identity had been formed through its claim to private ownership of property. This is the class from which Citizen Thomas More had emerged. The class conflict entailed by enclosures becomes personalized in the choices More had to make among these possible bioi. Citizen Thomas More, forming the hedge between a private and enclosed life and a more public and expansive life, must decide upon the costs involved in converting the private into the public (Morus's position) or the public into the private (Raphael's position).

The absolutist positions taken by Raphael and Morus produce the dialectic from which More must work out his place in society. Raphael's freedom from private property—he very early gave away wealth and possessions in disengaging himself from all familial obligation and expectation—guarantees him an absolute privacy. The willingness of Morus to surrender personal misgivings in entering court service, to sacrifice what is private for the public good, compromises that very privacy. Here, the surrender of the private ownership of oneself is repaid by improvement, either the improvement gained for oneself or, more idealistically, for the collective state. As Peter Giles argues, the two forms of improvement can be compatible, just as the private gain to be won from his embassy could be compatible with the public good. The advantage of operating between the two domains is argued by Morus himself, for an insider and adviser retains the option of subverting the aims of the ruling order ("What you cannot turn to good you must make as little bad as you can"). The problem with working as a private individual within the margins of the dominantideology is that More runs the risk of being subverted himself, deprived (de-privatus) of that private ownership of himself by the co-optive force of that ideology. This is the direction in which Morus heads him. Indeed, in his final justification of royal absolutism, Morus points toward a total refunding of the common (and private) good in the deifying adulation that commoners paid to that royalty, a transaction that is negated by the Utopians' moneyless economy and communal life.

For Thomas More, maintaining a right to his private opinion came into conflict with Henry VIII's idea of what was "owned" by the state. We can find even in as early a text as Utopia a desire to strike a proper balance between what is private and what is public. Enclosure, of course, is the very embodying principle of this conflict. In "The Property Rights Paradigm," [Journal of Economic History, 1973], Armen A. Alchian and Harold Demsetz point toward this commingling of property rights and privacy in arguing that "what is owned are rights to use resources, including one's body and mind, and these rights are always circumscribed, often by the prohibition of certain activities." The state, for instance, can regulate and limit a person's right to own certain ideas and opinions even to the point of violating the most private preserves, the home and the individual's very person.

While Citizen Thomas More might retain some independence in the conflicts between the propertied interests and the expropriated, Morus the royal appointee would undoubtedly find himself at times personally compromised by this public identity. Still, the publication of Utopia, particularly the Dialogue of Counsel, suggests an optimism about freely expressing one's ideas at Henry's court. That More also includes a healthy dose of Raphael's skepticism about court service demonstrates a desire on More's part to weigh carefully the risks and rewards of courtly service against the security and detachment offered by Raphael. Even though Morus argues in such a way as to emphasize what the individual could accomplish in the court, the truth was that Henry VIII had already begun to shape humanists like More to his own ends, as ideologists for the court in terms of influencing public opinion. As Kautsky notes, no bureaucracy had yet been formed for carrying on such vital functions. Thus, as Morus, More faced the very real prospect of being an instrument of public policy shaped to the strong-willed Henry's ends. As a spokesperson for that very class that was being expropriated, Raphael threatens More's self-fashioning as Morus. As a representative of Utopus, however, Raphael also serves as a reminder that More cannot seek his place in No Place, for there is ultimately no escape from historical contingency and the conflicting choices to be found there. To be expropriated, to beremoved from one's own proper sense of oneself, is a conflict of both a personal and a historically agrarian nature in Utopia.

The working out of a place for oneself, the making of a place for oneself, is the underlying theme of the Dialogue of Counsel in Book I. More's negotiation of his place in society is ultimately traceable to the landed values reflected in the agrarian crisis from which Utopia has risen. Raphael and Utopus reflect the ironies of finding a place, ironies that Marius felt were excluded from the text. On the contrary, More's place in No Place can never be fixed beyond the land surveyor's measure. "The genius of a place," Raymond Williams informs us [in The Country and the City, 1979], "was the making of a place." This "socially resonant word" was as important in More's day as it was in the eighteenth century. The improvement of land became tied to the improvement of one's own social position; however, the large-scale enclosure behind More's ambassadorship often improved one class at the expense of impoverishing another. The capital accumulation it engendered was part of what Williams labels "an ambiguous process: increasing real wealth but distributing it unevenly"—quite contrary to the impulse of small-scale enclosure. Williams, who remarks upon "a continuing contrast between the extraordinary improvement of the land and the social consequences of just this process," speaks in the same voicefor the dispossessed and vagrant of the eighteenth century that is Raphael's for the expropriated of the sixteenth century. Raphael, of course, speaks in Book I for the marginal and the displaced, subverting that dominant ideology represented by Morus. Morus argues not only for the improvement of society—along with More—but also for the improvement of one's own position, the bettering of one's place in society. Representing wool-trading interests in negotiations whose success would only serve to spur the progress of enclosures, More already faced an ethical and moral dilemma in choosing between the two positions.

In hedging the text within the doubly inscribed identity of Citizen Thomas More and allowing the engaged and public self of Morus to dispute with the detached and private self of Raphael, More has recreated the sense of personal crisis from which the text has risen. "Citizen Thomas More," the proper middle term in this self-fashioning, provides the middle ground for these marginalized identities to be defined and valued through the enclosure transaction (for enclosure involved the claiming of the marginal). In this respect, autobiography is expressed in the conflict among these various bioi: the private, communal, and state ownership that, derived from the larger discourse of the sixteenth-century agrarian crisis, is particularized in More's own personalsituation. The negotiating of wool contracts becomes for More, often idled by long breaks in these negotiations, a negotiating of his own particular place in society. In this sense, the total work represents More's efforts to take possession of himself, to define what was private against that which was the special province of the communal or state. Books I and II, representing respectively the external and internal components of the enclosure formula, thus serve in their dialectical opposition to establish the boundary lines of what More hoped to call his own.

The biographical gaps that critics perceive between the life More led and the "created world" of his text are surveyors' errors in failing to measure a seemingly mythic and alien landscape in real world terms. The error is not entirely their own, for the text faithfully represents a world in transition whose shifting values are difficult to represent. Until those values are fully restored to Utopia, autobiography can only present itself as auto-{ }-graphy; historically, a gap has opened up between self-reference or self-presentation (eautos) and the authorizing power of the letter to inscribe (graphein) that identity. One of the primary bases of social identity (topos: land) is shifting along with class boundaries, a fact signified by the uncertain, indeterminate prefix of "utopia." Expressed as auto-{ }-graphy, this term underscoresboth the importance of land in forming social identity and self-referencing as well as the effect of that land (absent, an undecided value) in preventing the possibility of self-reference, of individualization, and of self-fashioning. If scholars are to accomplish more than mere second-guessing about the fashioning of More's life, then they are going to have to do their reconstructions from the ground up, employing the complex set of terms that More himself had to negotiate. More's place in No Place can be determined by a formula through which the apparent terms of difference between the mythic island of Book II and the historical England of Book I are demonstrated to be convertible values.

Neologism institutes a new term: autopography. Awkward, certainly, but no other term better expresses the complex oppositions of exclusion and inclusion, privatization and communalism, that constitute the Utopian dialectic. Conjoining the two discourses of autobiography and topography, this neologism fills in the suspended, bracketed term of the former (bios) with an important determiner of social place in More's day (topos). It constantly keeps before us the supplementary nature of the Utopian text. If the figure of the land is mythically displaced, the possibility of self-referencing exists once more in the text, but only through the mediation of the land as it has been restored in the creation of Utopia by King Utopus. If the figure of the land remains historically situated, under the absolutism of Henry VIII and the state, then there is the risk of expropriation. Raphael's vision of improvement as expropriative and self-corrupting wars against that of Morus, who represents the privileges and prerogatives of courtly service. Each figure seeks to shape More to his own ends, to bring that which is marginal within the special enclosure of each one's vision of improvement.

As More's autobiography, Utopia represents the serious work of determining identity amid the special set of circumstances for making this determination in early sixteenth-century England. If Raphael's vision is less preferable to what Morus offers, it is because the Utopian myth ultimately points to the incontrovertible evidence of history. Rather than disguise that incontrovertible evidence in myth and wish-fulfillment, More staked out a claim to a life whose course he could not always control like a work of art. While More's most recent antihagiographical critic, Jonathan V. Crewe, speaks [in "The 'Encomium Moriae' of William Roper," English Literary History, 1988] of the "theatricality" of his martyrdom, exposing William Roper's "figure of saintly constancy," he at least recognizes the encircling ring of threats and pressures that drove More increasingly inward at the end of his life. For Crewe, "Roper's More is one who finally inhabits its [the text's] structure of simultaneous total masculine empowerment and implied dependence, of familial enclosure beyond both power and law." In his final days, within this familial enclosure, More sought to preserve his private conscience from the intrusions of the state. But this time the wolf would not go from his door.

As More's autobiography, Utopia is a text through which much of what Greenblatt calls "social energy" is circulated in terms of historical identities and situations newly coined into myth and refunded once again into history. The dynamics of this circulation had to have been an abiding concern for Thomas More as he sought to find his place in his tumultuous times. Those critics who look for inconsistencies and faults in More might do well to make sure their own moral bookkeeping is in order. At least they might recognize that there is only one place where these conflicts between public and private can be fully resolved and transcended. This is the martyr's topos, the saint's burial place, where More now lies. Our scholarly exhumings of the historical Thomas More have invoked an unquiet spirit, restlessly wandering between our heaven and earth of sanctification and vilification. "The unburied dead are covered by the sky" is the consolation the well-traveled Raphael would offer More today. The small consolation that I have to offer is neither a monument nor an urn. It is simply a restoring of the narrower historical confines in which this controversy can be worked out, a modest plot of land, indeed.

Further Reading

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Gibson, R. W. St. Thomas More: A Preliminary Bibliography of His Works and of Moreana to the Year 1750. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961, 499 p.

A descriptive bibliography of early editions of More's works and Moreana, with a bibliography of Utopiana by Gibson and J. Max Patrick.


Allen, Peter R. " Utopia and European Humanism: The Function of the Prefatory Letters and Verses." Studies in the Renaissance X (1963): 91-107.

Discusses the letters and poems written for early editions of Utopia by More and his fellow humanists. Allen concludes: "The appended letters and verses … share in both the fictional aspect of Utopia and its serious intent, and commend it as both a delightful literary game and an important philosophic work."

Berger, Harry, Jr. "Utopian Folly: Erasmus and More on the Perils of Misanthropy." English Literary Renaissance 12, No. 3 (Autumn 1982): 271-90.

Maintains that "in their very different ways both The Praise of Folly and Utopia dramatize the same vitiated attitude toward life, and explore its consequences."

Boewe, Charles. "Human Nature in More's Utopia." The Personalist XLI, No. 3 (Summer 1960): 303-09.

Investigates More's beliefs concerning the social influence of heredity and environment as they are implied in Utopia.

Bradshaw, Brendan. "More on Utopia." In Historical Journal 24, No. 1 (1981): 1-27.

Determines More's proper place in the context of Renaissance and Christian humanism, concluding that Utopia is a story of "a process of conversion: evangelization, producing intellectual assent and followed by sacramental initiation."

Davis, J. C. "The Re-emergence of Utopia: Sir Thomas More." In Utopia and the Ideal Society: A Study of English Utopian Writing, 1516-1700, pp. 41-61. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Presents Utopia as a radical text, emphasizing in particular More's attack on the status quo of Renaissance aristocracy.

Elliott, Robert C. "The Shape of Utopia." In The Shape of Utopia: Studies in a Literary Genre, pp. 25-49. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

While addressing the "Catholic interpretation" of Utopia, argues the need for more analysis of Utopia as a literary work and less effort to reach More's mind through that work.

Frye, Northop. "Natural and Revealed Communities." In Myth and Metaphor: Selected Essays, 1974-1988, 289-306. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990.

Presents a range of reflections on Utopia and humanism.

Heiserman, A. R. "Satire in the Utopia." PMLA LXXVIII, No. 3 (June 1963): 163-74.

Argues that "only an application of the satiric principle … explains the apparent discrepancies between More's career and his 'ideal' state, and accounts for the fact that Utopia has seemeda jeu d'esprit, a philosophical argument, a program for political reform, and an enigmatic document in the history of ideas."

Johnson, Robbin S. More's Utopia: Ideal and Illusion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969, 166 p.

Approaches the text as More's personal attempt to negotiate "the role of social myth or Utopian idealism in the real world."

Kinney, Arther F. Rhetoric and Poetic in Thomas More's "Utopia." Humana Civilitas: Sources and Studies relating to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Vol. 5. Malibu, CA: Udena Publications, 1979, 36 p.

Studies the rhetorical complexity of Utopia.

Ludwig, Hans-Werner. "Thomas More's Utopia: Historical Setting and Literary Effectiveness." In Intellectuals and Writers in Fourteenth-Century Europe, edited by Piero Boitani and Ann Torti, pp. 244-63. Tübingen, Germany: Gunter Narr Verlag Tübingen, 1986.

Praises the literary form of Utopia, claiming that this enables the work to transcend its historical context and its status as historical document or social commentary.

McCutcheon, Elizabeth. "Time in More's Utopia." In Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Turonensis: Troisième Congrès International d'Études Néo-Latins, Tours, edited by Jean-Claude Margolin, pp. 697-707. Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1980.

An in-depth analysis of the role of time in Utopia and its moral and spiritual implications.

Mason, H. A. "More's 'Utopia': The Vindication of Christian Humanism." Humanism and Poetry in the Early Tudor Period. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959, 296 p.

Presents More as straddling two epochs, the medieval and the modem, in his Utopian construct of Christian humanism.

Metscher, Thomas. "The Irony of Thomas More: Reflections on the Literary and Ideological Status of Utopia." Shakespeare Jahrbuch 118 (1982): 120-30.

Discusses the concept of ideal social order in Utopia, commenting as well on More and the traditions of radical literature.

Pineas, Rainer. "Thomas More's Use of the Dialogue Form as a Weapon of Religious Controversy." Studies in the Renaissance VII (1960): 193-206.

A close survey of More's use of the dialogue form in his controversial works, concluding: "By using the dialogue to discuss the issues rather than just to ridicule his opponents' beliefs, More widened the scope of the Renaissance dialogue of religious controversy."

——."Thomas More's Use of Humor as a Weapon of Religious Controversy." Studies in Philology LVIII, No. 2 (April 1961): 97-114.

Explains More's controversial works, arguing that "in his bitter struggle to preserve the Catholic faith, More made humor one of his main weapons."

Raitiere, Martin N. "More's Utopia and The City of God." Studies in the Renaissance XX (1973): 144-68.

Probes the dichotomy of "natural right and patriarchal authority" in Utopia, suggesting that More was influenced by St. Augustine's The City of God.

Rexroth, Kenneth. "Thomas More's Utopia." In Classics Revisited, pp. 154-59. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1968.

A brief review of Utopia, describing the work as "a kind of perfected and purified Old Testament."

Additional coverage of More's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Literature Criticism 1400-1800, Vol. 10.

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