The work begins with written correspondence between Thomas More and several people he had met on the continent: Peter Gilles, town clerk of Antwerp, and Hieronymus van Busleyden, counselor to Charles V. More chose these letters, which are communications between actual people, to further the plausibility of his fictional land. In the same spirit, these letters also include a specimen of the Utopian alphabet and its poetry. The letters also explain the lack of widespread travel to Utopia; during the first mention of the land, someone had coughed during announcement of the exact longitude and latitude. The first book tells of the traveller Raphael Hythlodaeus, to whom More is introduced in Antwerp, and it also explores the subject of how best to counsel a prince, a popular topic at the time.
The new Boston of 2000, Julian West discovers, is a city of beauty and grace, with many splendid public buildings, reflecting an undreamed of prosperity; but, more important, it is populated by people who are remarkably healthy and happy. The basic reason for these conditions is that equality has been attained throughout the population. There are no more rich, no more poor.
Utopians are tolerant of differing views on religion and "on no other subject are they more cautious about making rash pronouncements than on matters concerning religion." (122) However, they scorn unbelievers in any deity or afterlife, and "do not even include in the category of human beings" nor "count him as one of their citizens" if he "should sink so far below the dignity of human nature as to think that the soul dies with the body or that the world is ruled by mere chance and not by prudence." (119) "For who can doubt that someone who has nothing to fear but the law and no hope of anything beyond bodily existence would strive to evade the public laws of his country by secret chicanery or to break them by force in order to satisfy his own personal greed?" (119) "He is universally looked down on as a lazy and spineless character." (119) In fact, "a religious fear of the heavenly beings" is "the greatest and practically the only incitement to virtue." (127)
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Quentin Skinner's interpretation of Utopia is consistent with the speculation that Stephen Greenblatt made in The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. There, Greenblatt argued that More was under the Epicurean influence of Lucretius's On the Nature of Things and the people that live in Utopia were an example of how pleasure has become their guiding principle of life. Although Greenblatt acknowledged that More's insistence on the existence of an afterlife and punishment for people holding contrary views were inconsistent with the essentially materialist view of Epicureanism, Greenblatt contended that it was the minimum conditions for what the pious More would have considered as necessary to live a happy life.
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Yet, the puzzle is that some of the practices and institutions of the Utopians, such as the ease of divorce, euthanasia and both married priests and female priests, seem to be polar opposites of More's beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church of which he was a devout member. Another often cited apparent contradiction is that of the religious tolerance of Utopia contrasted with his persecution of Protestants as Lord Chancellor. Similarly, the criticism of lawyers comes from a writer who, as Lord Chancellor, was arguably the most influential lawyer in England. It can be answered, however, that as a pagan society Utopians had the best ethics that could be reached through reason alone, or that More changed from his early life to his later when he was Lord Chancellor.