Thomas More lived from 1477 to 1535. He was convicted of treason and beheaded in 1535 for refusing to accept King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England. Utopia, written in Latin, was published in 1516. It was translated to English by Ralph Robinson in 1551. The translation by Clarence Miller was published by Yale University Press in 2001. [This review is based on the Miller translation.]
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.
Excellent read and great translation for the modern reader. Retranslated from the original Latin, with the Greek translated further into English (i.e. River Nowater), the satire and biting commentary of More comes alive for the modern reader who likely lacks the Greek or Latin language skills of the educated classs of the 16th Century. This translation makes Utopia eminently readable. This edition also includes an extensive commentary and glossary for the reader new to the work.
Still further afield from sailors' tales of island kingdoms but nevertheless enlightening in the broad study of man's aspirations toward a better world, one may consider some of the more sober expository documents such as: Rousseau's Discourse on the Origins of Inequality and his Social Contract, De Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Carlyle's Past and Present, Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto, and Engel's "On Authority" from Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.
One of the most brilliant utopian novels, using a mixture of devastating satire and compelling narrative to both decry the developments of mechanised labour and to show how society might be better run. Terrified by the prospect of machines ruling the future, Butler was essentially suspicious of any model of perfection, mocking people who "really do know what they say they know".
Most scholars see it as a comment on or criticism of 16th-century Catholicism, for the evils of More's day are laid out in Book I and in many ways apparently solved in Book II. Indeed, Utopia has many of the characteristics of satire, and there are many jokes and satirical asides such as how honest people are in Europe, but these are usually contrasted with the simple, uncomplicated society of the Utopians.
St. Augustine's famous De Civitate Dei (City of God, 413–26) is frequently cited as a source for Utopia. It was, of course, well known to More. He had delivered a series of lectures on the work, as has been mentioned. The basic plan of Augustine's book is different from the Republic, although Augustine was a devoted admirer of Plato. By the same token, More's work differs in basic concept from Augustine's, though inevitably echoes of Augustine are to be found in More.
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Italy was unquestionably the fountainhead of Renaissance civilization. As early as the 14th century, men of enlightenment, notably Petrarch and Boccaccio, were introducing Renaissance concepts and proclaiming a new allegiance to classical antiquity, and through the 15th century a feverish development toward new attitudes and styles marked the work of brilliant artists, scholars, philosophers, and men of letters. Through most of the 15th century, the achievements were predominantly Italian, but by the beginning of the 16th century the movement was spreading to other countries of western Europe; at the same time that Italy was losing her political independence through conquests by French, Spanish, and Austrian armies, she gradually yielded her preeminence in the arts and letters to France, Spain, and England.
Money has been outlawed, but a substitute means of transacting personal business has been devised. Every individual is given a monthly allowance in the form of a credit card, a kind of punch card, to record his expenditures. This method permits individuals to exercise judgment and taste in the way they like to live. Some will set a better table than others, some acquire a larger house, some will travel extensively, but everyone's allowance is the same.
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) offers a projection of what life on earth might become in another 500 years if technology plays an increasingly dominant role and if government control of all aspects of human activity becomes absolute. Skyscrapers will become taller, factories will become more efficient, travel will be mainly by air, diseases will be virtually eliminated, and universal happiness will be provided through elaborate sports and entertainment programs and through a happiness pill called soma.
In 2013 Princess Cruises began operating the lead vessel in its Royal Class, Royal Princess. Britannia is built to the same template, but is very different in its character and exterior appearance. The second ship of the Royal Class, Regal Princess, was delivered 11 May 2014 to Princess Cruises. The latest Royal Class ship, Majestic Princess, entered service 30 March 2017.
Utopians do not like to engage in war. If they feel countries friendly to them have been wronged, they will send military aid, but they try to capture, rather than kill, enemies. They are upset if they achieve victory through bloodshed. The main purpose of war is to achieve that which, if they had achieved already, they would not have gone to war over.
It is a fundamental disposition of humankind to concoct imaginary Utopias, although their names for such places may differ. The word utopia, which has become the familiar designation for such states, was More's creation. It is inevitable that people, recognizing the manifold stupidities, corruptions, and inequities current in their society, should attempt to devise a better system for people living together. Omar Khayyam voiced the attitude admirably in The Rubaiyat.
The book itself is a social commentary on the excesses of 16th Century Europe. Often viewed as one of the first communist treatises, Utopia represents both More's personal opinion, as well as devil's advocacy on topics such as religious tolerance, capital punishment, labor and industry as well as social and political topics. More's genius and foresight are evident 500 years later, as many of the elements of Utopia have come to pass in the 20th and 21st Centuries - with mixed results.
Looking Backward (1888) by Edward Bellamy is the fictional utopian novel that first described the foundations of the socialist movement. In the book, main character becomes transported from the war filled nineteenth century to the peaceful utopian world of twenty-first century. After its release, it quickly became one of the biggest bestsellers of its time, and its influence shaped the works of many future philosophers, novelists, movements and utopian communities.
Samuel Butler, Erewhon. This hugely inventive 1872 satire by the author of the anti-Victorian novel The Way of All Flesh is perhaps more accurately described as ‘anti-utopian’, though it follows the utopian narrative structure. The fictional land of Erewhon – almost ‘nowhere’ backwards – is the setting for this novel. Among the things satirised by Butler in this book is the rise of the machines, which Butler argues will evolve at an ever-faster rate – along the lines of Darwinian evolution – until the machines eventually overtake humans.