Thomas More's Utopia has spurred debate, reflection, and critical thinking since its original publication in the 16th Century. More's fictional island of Utopia provides an exploration of issues that shook him and his contemporaries and continue to be problematic in the modern day; the details of More's utopian society, such as the permissibility of euthanasia and comments on chastity in the priesthood, combine with proposals of coexisting varied religions to put forth a work that incorporates the totality of More's religious, sociological, and philosophical talents.
“ [A] permanent possibility of selfishness arises from the mere fact of having a self, and not from any accidents of education or ill-treatment. And the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones. They first assume that no man will want more than his share, and then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be delivered by motor-car or balloon. ”
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.
The importance of More's Utopia in the history of utopian literature begins to be clear as we examine the documents published in the century following its publication. Patterns of uniformity and occasional divergences have been displayed. The utopian societies described — without exception — develop systems aiming toward equality and justice. Equality is attained in nearly every instance through community of property and the elimination of money, also through equitable sharing of labor, community rearing of children, and often community dining. Plain, uniform clothing is usually prescribed, and any kind of luxury or ostentation is discouraged, Bacon's New Atlantis excepted. The governments are made up of carefully selected elders of demonstrated character and competence. Variations appear in connection with the question of community of women, proposed by Plato but rejected by More. Campanella and some later writers follow Plato but most follow More. The acceptance of slavery in the community, approved by both Plato and More, is not adopted by their followers.
Denis Diderot's Supplement to Bougainville's "Voyage" (1772) is a prime example of the eighteenth-century vogue of primitivism which was spurred by Rousseau's thesis of the "noble savage" and which generated such novels as St. Pierre's Paul and Virginia and Chateaubriand's Atala. Diderot's book makes a case for the simple, natural ways of a South Sea Island culture as reported by Bougainville, a French explorer. The central portion of the story presents an imaginary dialogue between a French chaplain and a native of Tahiti (Orou) in which a comparison is made between the customs and institutions of Europe and those of Tahiti. The way of life of the islanders is eloquently defended, and that of the Europeans discredited. According to the Tahitian, man's natural instincts, which are equated with the laws of nature, are interpreted as justifying complete freedom in sexual relations. Their observance of community property is defended as minimizing personal conflicts and legal entanglements and promoting a general concern for the welfare of the community as a whole.