The name of "humanist," in the Renaissance, meant one who was trained in the study of Latin and Greek languages to the point of easy familiarity, who had read widely in those literatures, who had adopted the ancients' attitude toward man on earth, and who believed that the prescription for enlightenment in modern society was to be found chiefly through the study and imitation of those ancient classics.
The great society of the future, he believes, will have a worldwide structure, a World State. Nationalities will no longer have significance. The entire human race will become one commonwealth with uniform customs and mores and with a common language. Money will still be used for exchange, and individuals will still hold the right to ownership of personal property, though all of the earth's land and all sources of power will belong to the State — that is, to everyone. He does not subscribe to the idea that all work can be made pleasurable; consequently, he declares that every member of society shall be required to perform work up to a minimum which earns him enough to discharge his obligations. Beyond that, he may choose to work more to earn more or he is free to enjoy his leisure.
The features of Erewhonian society that surprise the author are those that differ from the England that he knew. According to the early impressions of the travelers, the people all appear to be exceptionally healthy, exceedingly handsome, and altogether contented. Their life style is characterized by simplicity and gracious manners, best described as Arcadian. Gradually, however, oddities, or what appear to be oddities to the visitor, begin to surface. Duplicity pervades every aspect of thought and action. The natives habitually profess agreement to a proposition although they do not believe in it, and their friends are perfectly aware that they do not mean what they say. There are two separate banking systems in operation and two sets of religions. The people give lip service to what they call the Musical Banks, but they transact all serious business with the currency of the other chain of banks. Similarly they recognize a group of deities representing the personification of human qualities — justice, hope, love, fear — and erect statues to them; but their pragmatic morality is evidently dictated by a goddess — Ydgrun (Grundy). More and more they reveal themselves to the traveler as victims of self-deception and inverted logic. Their universities are called Colleges of Unreason, and the principal course of study is Hypothetics.
In Book 2 Raphael Hythloday describes Utopia. The word `Raphael' means "God's healer", and the word `hythloday', from Greek, means "peddler of nonsense". The word `utopia' is a Greek pun that means both "good place" and "no place". If Hythloday is speaking nonsense motivated by the deepest moral compassion, where is the nonsense? Is Utopia a good place that is no place, or is it no place that is a good place? (The second reading can mean it is not a place that is a good place.)
Bellamy's optimism for the future of mankind is further revealed in his confidence that human ingenuity will continue to contribute inventions for comfort and convenience of mankind. Specifically, he predicts that there will be canopied sidewalks for the protection of pedestrians, and he describes piped-in home entertainment obtained by merely pressing buttons and turning knobs for sermons, lectures, or a wide selection of musical programs. He does not develop this aspect of modern living at length, his preoccupation being in the fields of economics and sociology; but he is clearly not in the camp of those later writers who fear the further advances of technology.
Erewhon is a remote kingdom not on any map, which the narrator claims to have discovered in his travels. Much of the landscape resembles a region of New Zealand where Butler had lived for a few years. The residents of Erewhon are without contact with any other nation and live according to their own eccentric pattern of civilization. In many respects their life resembles that of contemporary Western civilization rather than Plato's or More's plan of society. They are governed by a monarchy, and have lawyers, judges, and prisons. They have money, banks, rich citizens, and poor.
An early evidence of the impact of Utopia in Europe appeared in Rabelais's first book of Pantagruel (1532) in which a section is entitled "The Expedition to Utopia." Actually the narrative in no way resembles Utopia, but there are incidental parallels. Details of the voyage from France to Utopia are in a general way reminiscent of More's account of the travels of Hythloday. And it is noteworthy that Rabelais called the inhabitants of Utopia the Amaurotes, a word derived from More's name for the capital city of Utopia.
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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.