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 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.
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The new plan of society does not conform to many of the familiar features of classical utopias. Money is used in much the way it was used in the 20th century — for wages, for the purchase of goods and property, and for amusements and travel. Most radical of the anti-utopian features is the denial of equality. Mankind is classified in a caste system that is achieved through controlled genetics and that insures the society a supply of dull-witted, underdeveloped individuals to perform the less agreeable jobs and those demanding lesser skills.
Brophy has written extensively on race and property law in colonial, antebellum and early 20th Century America. He is the author or co-author/editor of six books on race reparations, property law and American legal history. In addition, he has published extensively in law reviews. Currently, Brophy is completing a book on antebellum jurisprudence, tentatively titled "University, Court, and Slave," which will be published by Oxford University Press.
The first lesson West learns is that all industry and all institutions are under the control of the national government, a system which, he is informed, has proved to be far more effective than the earlier one of free, private enterprise because of the elimination of wasteful competition. These enormous nationwide political and industrial institutions are structured on the plan of a military organization.
On becoming Lord Chancellor after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey he was zealous in the persecution and burning of reformers and Protestant. More opposed the English translation of the Bible by William Tyndale. He could be cruel and was a bitter enemy of anyone who opposed the Church. Like most people of the age he was superstitious believing firmly in ghosts, omens in dreams and the literal interpretation of the Bible. More called for reform in the existing church but believed everyone should obey the Pope in Rome as a father is obeyed in the well ordered home. He would not brook breaking away from Roman Catholicism.
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.