Utopia - Quick Journal Review

At some point in reading Utopia, it becomes evident that Thomas More isn’t necessarily describing the ideal society, the definition for which we have given utopia, but his own version of that society. That’s not to say anyone who attempted the task would be able to deliver anything more than that, but More succeeds in coming closer than those with less wit, and less idealism otherwise might. His description of Utopia, and the Utopians, proves that he has taken the task of building a perfect society very seriously, and perhaps at the time of his writing, most could have agreed that the world described by Raphael Hytholoday is a near-perfect vision of a commonwealth.

Unfortunately, with the knowledge that hindsight allows, it becomes mostly evident that More’s ideal society, while noble, is still rooted particularly in the customs and times from which the text originates. Could the society of Utopia still prosper in a modern and technological world? More’s definition of utopia might, if reevaluated today, mention that there is no need for the technology that we now have; and that it only stands in our way from reaching the state of a perfect society. However, that stands in direct opposition to the course that More gave the Utopians by embracing the idea of the printing press so openly. More opened the door for the Utopians to accept technology, and while our technology today might often contribute to a less than noble society, it has become something that in our own, modern vision of a utopia, we couldn’t live without.

Interestingly enough, while much of our society is in direct opposition with the Utopians, that doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t similar. At the time of writing, More predicted many things that actually came to pass years from his original writing, such as women being able to marry at the age of 18, or the idea that Utopia was a nation that allowed it’s citizens to embrace any religion they chose. These ideals, while More may have borrowed what he felt were the best ones from ancient civilizations, often weren’t popular until hundreds of years later.

The age of More’s Utopia also shows in the occasional brutalities and direct courses of action for many crimes and punishments. For the simplest transgressions citizens are reduced to prisoners, and the consistent notion that acting against the society will cause them to be looked down upon, or disrespected, makes for a society that is obviously oppressive to those harboring any ideas of change. Utopia even makes use of the death penalty for numerous offenses, some less deserving than what we allow today. Could we look at a society in modern times and view that as ideal?

Religion in More’s work is actually one of the more forward-thinking aspects in Utopia, but there is one section in the text that seemed unnecessary. My original belief that Christianity wouldn’t have been accepted in Utopia was obviously incorrect, but in review, it was my own view of Christianity that was shaping my opinion. Where I see Christianity as believing Jesus is the son of God, the Utopians have accepted what seemed to be the view that Jesus and God are one in the same, which is a fairly popular perception. This isn’t so far outside the idea that Utopians believe men are all born equal, but it did still feel forced into the reading. More’s own religious views might have been overshadowing the impartiality he gave to the character Hytholoday. Even later in the writing More’s description of the most holy priests in Utopia also seems awkward in relation to the other descriptions of Utopian society. Why, when princes and all other men were viewed as equals, were these priests so unique in being revered and respected?

Ultimately, More might have failed in creating a society that is perfect and would forever continue to be. Whether that is based on his own faults in opinion, the limited vision he could have coming from his time, or the basic belief that we as people can’t be jammed into an “ideal” society; is difficult to say. It is obvious though; that the fictionalized society of Utopia is a vision that is easily one of the most noble, and complex works ever created with the hope of making a nation a better place for all of its citizens.


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