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.]
For students wishing to understand fully the extent of interest in the creation of imaginary commonwealths and fascination over accounts by mariners of remote regions, certain other works of fiction not precisely utopian ought to be examined. Examples are: Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Voltaire's Candide (especially the Eldorado episode), Samuel Johnson's Rasselas, Henry David Thoreau's Walden, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance, and Herman Melville's Typee.
Other significant innovations of Utopia include: a welfare state with free hospitals, euthanasia permissible by the state, priests being allowed to marry, divorce permitted, premarital sex punished by a lifetime of enforced celibacy and adultery being punished by enslavement. Meals are taken in community dining halls and the job of feeding the population is given to a different household in turn. Although all are fed the same, Raphael explains that the old and the administrators are given the best of the food. Travel on the island is only permitted with an internal passport and any people found without a passport are, on a first occasion, returned in disgrace, but after a second offence they are placed in slavery. In addition, there are no lawyers and the law is made deliberately simple, as all should understand it and not leave people in any doubt of what is right and wrong.
In George Orwell's 1984 (1949), the society of the year 1984 which Orwell projects for us is based on the assumption that a "limited" nuclear war of the 1950s had left civilization severely crippled and that government controls were seized by well-organized opportunists employing the familiar methods of a police state to maintain power. London, the scene of the novel's action, is the capital of Oceania, one of three superpowers. The other superpowers are called Eastasia and Eurasia. The city of London contains a few enormous government buildings and a small number of fine apartment buildings, but the vast majority of the buildings are eighteenth- or nineteenth-century houses in dilapidated condition which provide shelter for the common people. There are also a good many neglected bombed-out areas. Certainly this is not a picture of somebody's dream city.
Equality for all mankind is not a realistic goal in Wells's view. That, he believes, would mean a loss of individuality, and individuality is an inherent requirement of human nature. Similarly, competition is necessary to a thriving society. Taking what he considers a practical position, he sees the new society as divided into four classes of persons which he calls poietic, kinetic, dull, and base. There is a leader caste, called Samurai, which is drawn primarily from the poietic group, though some from the kinetic class may qualify. Persons who volunteer for Samurai membership must meet stringent requirements, both physical and mental; and they must pledge to conform to the rules of the caste, which forbid eating meat, smoking, drinking, gambling, and participation in public sports or entertainments. The Samurai furnish the World State with its administrators, legislators, lawyers, doctors, and other leaders. Furthermore, they are the only voters in the commonwealth. The male members of the Samurai are encouraged to marry women of comparable qualifications, and they are encouraged to produce children with the aim of improving the quality of the population. The lower classes of citizens, the dull witted, the criminals, and the deformed are exiled from society and prevented from childbearing.
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