Thomas More’s use of dialogue in “Utopia” is not only practical but masterly laid out as well. The text itself is divided into two parts. The first, called “Book One”, describes the English society of the fifteenth century with such perfection that it shows many complex sides of the interpreted structure with such clarity and form that the reader is given the freedom for interpretation as well. This flexibility clearly illustrates More’s request for discussion and point of view from this reader.
In one concise, artistic paragraph, More clearly illustrates his proposition of the problems people possess within a capitalist society and the fault of the structure itself; clearly showing More’s point of view for “Book One”. If More attempted to get anything across to the people of England it was this: Take a barren year of failed harvests, when many thousands of men have been carried off by hunger.
If at the end of the famine the barns of the rich were searched. I dare say positively enough grain would be found in them to have saved the lives of all those who died from starvation and disease, if it had been divided equally among them.
Nobody really needs to have suffered from a bad harvest at all. So easily might men get the necessities of life if that cursed money, which is supposed to provide access to them, were not in fact the chief barrier to our getting what we need to live.
Even the rich, I’m sure, understand this. They must know that it’s better to have enough of what we really need than an abundance of superfluities, much better to escape from our many present troubles than to be burdened with great masses of wealth.
And in fact, I have no doubt that every man’s perception of where his true interest lies, along with the authority of Christ our Saviour….. would long ago have brought the whole world to adopt Utopian laws, if it were not for one single monster, the prime plague and begetter of all others—I mean pride. (More, pg.83)
For one to fully realize the significance of this virtuous paragraph they first must remember the time period it was written; more so now that we are in the twentieth century dominated by capitalism.
Before More accounts for his rhetorical, socialist society of “Book Two” in detail, he strengthens his idea of communism by pre-establishing the problems of England in “Book One”. This measurement makes one see the strengths and weaknesses between the two; as well as, their similarities. It is difficult to title Utopia as a socialist, communist society, in as much, it is just as valid to argue that Utopia is as oppressive as England described in “Book One”.
If Utopia is a truly socialist state, then one can see that oppression is inescapable in either society. Either way, it just shows the absurdity to claim either of these as an utopian commonwealth. However, it is clear that More’s attempt was to make Utopia an egalitarian society for the better of the people as a whole.
His description of the institutions Utopia is so precise and well-formatted that it is difficult to see any flaws other than the ones that were out of his control. More, just as anyone, was a slave of the society he lived in. No matter how hard More tried to escape it, his morals and values were still derived from the society he lived in.
This is why one must look at Utopia as a society designed only to better the people of the capitalist England. It is absurd to look at Utopia as a perfect state, in as much, the knowledge which was true to More would interfere with many areas within the society of Utopia; More’s faith, his ignorance of the evolving future, and the societies outside of Utopia described in “Book Two” would make the society of Utopia a paradox.
The strength of it all, is that More amazingly knew his socialist state was not perfect; even for the society of England: …though he is a man of unquestioned learning, and highly experienced in the ways of the world, I cannot agree with everything he said. Yet I confess there are many things in the Commonwealth of Utopia that I wish our own country would imitate—-though I don’t really expect it will (More, pg. 85) In correlation to both societies described in “Utopia”, with both oppressing the people within it, controlling their knowledge and way of life, it is clear that utopia is impossible to reach as long as humankind is confined to any institution.
The difference between the two societies is seen when one looks at where this oppression stems from. England’s capitalist society is structured in such a way that it allows the people within it to oppress or be oppressed by each other. In Utopia the oppression is derived not from the people but from the structure itself. Therefore, a capitalist societies’ structure allows more freedom for the people than the egalitarian society; thus, ironically, it is arguable to state that capitalism is more socialist than socialism.
The problem of a capitalist society stems not from its’ structure but from the people within it. In contrast, the people of the socialist society are all equal; yet, what makes this possible is the structures’ control over the people. Both societies have strengths and weaknesses. Until humankind can be re-socialized losing the terms power, greed, and pride from our vocabulary, will there be terms like oppression and freedom in it as well.
The only possibility for this is if humankind is confined within a similar society as described by More called Utopia; then evolve into a society with the same structural freedoms like capitalism. Therefore, for the capitalist England of the fifteenth century, More’s society in “Book Two” was not his ideal utopian state; but a path leading towards it.
As you can see, More’s literary dialogue called “Utopia”, as stressed throughout this essay is not an attempt to illustrate an utopian society, and would be a paradox if done so. “I think one get’s this false interpretation through the title of the text and the name of his socialist imaginary state with perfect political, social, conditions or constitution.”(pg.395) It also states that “Utopia” is derived from the Greek words “no place”. If More had this definition in mind it would clarify the majority of the ambiguities within the context of the text, also illustrating even more of the oppression More faced in England; as well as, his fear of it.
More’s “Utopia was done in such a way to enlighten the people of England about their oppressing capitalist society. Instead of leaving the reader with a sense of hopelessness, he gives an alternative society; not to make the reader interpret it as an ideal society to want over England’s, but make one realize the possibility of change.
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