Thomas More’s View on the Concept of a Utopian Society
How it works
Thomas More’s Utopia is a work of ambivalent duplicities that makes his audience question his real view on the concept of a utopian society. Yet, evidence throughout the novel suggests that Thomas More did intend on Utopia being the “best state of the commonwealth. The in-depth details provided by More of Utopia acts as his mode of expressing his humanistic views, offering insights on the basis of human nature’s principles and the significance of reason and natural law while intermingling the different aspects of a common functioning society.
With evidence of satirical and contradictory thoughts, it gives the reader a clear window to see that the idea of More’s utopian society is an unobtainable goal. Fundamentally, Utopia is a written public declaration of policy and aims of More’s humanist beliefs. A great majority of these beliefs are vicariously apparent in More’s character of Raphael Hythloday. An example of this is when Hythloday comments on the reluctance of Kings to use or take advice from others, stating that they are “drenched as they are and infected with false values from boyhood and on (More, Cambridge University Press, p. 52).
This humanist concept of “infection implies that mankind is not born naturally corrupt or sinful and is filled with purity but have the ability to be simply influenced by external factors that could cause corruption and wrongdoing. This is a common humanist concept, which suggests that human nature is malleable and inconstant, and therefore can be positively influenced to do good. Individuals may not be naturally born corrupt but his argument is invalid if individuals are corrupted at a young age and continue to wreak havoc as they age. Humans have different ways of approaching situations, humans are born into different families who raise them differently than others. This humanist concept that More argues is neither feasible nor practical in the sense that unless individuals were graded and tested on how to raise their children or themselves, the nature of people cannot possibly be malleable enough to create no percentage of bad in a society. An example of the doubt in being able to erase bad is when Raphael says, “Pride is too deeply fixed in human nature to be easily plucked out (More, Cambridge University Press, p. 11). This statement is quite contradictory to his previous statement and suggests that a humanistic approach to utopian society would not be easy. More is attempting to illustrate to his readers the hesitations he has of providing for the King through conversations between More’s fictional self and Raphael Hythloday, which serves as a depiction of More’s conflict between his own beliefs as a humanist and a servant to the King. Another significant characteristic of Renaissance humanist values includes that of reason and intellectual exploration.
Thomas More seems to thoroughly highlight this while describing his utopian society. An example of this is when More describes Utopians as individuals who like to spend their idle time participating in academic activities. However, he more clearly asserts the specific characteristic of reason when he describes Utopia’s religious views. In Utopia, each religion is, in essence, the same, all guided by nature. According to Utopians, the true way to praise God is by doing what nature intends through reason. This can be seen in accordance to humanist theories that there are higher laws created by God and must be enforced upon mankind. A question to be made though is what if you have individuals in your society who do not believe in religion, or are realists or evolutionists? In More’s utopian society, everyone has a similar belief, this an unrealistic view. There will always be curious individuals, especially in a society that preaches intellectual exploration, who will question our existence and how we were conceived. How can a perfect society exist when personality or individuality exists? With this in consideration, it is apparent that More intentionally created Utopia to represent a society of humanists, but can a society like this really exist? The existence of a humanist society would imply that no one would ever have or develop curiosity. Without curiosity, there would be no change and change drives success. We, as human beings, continue to move forward and do new things, because we’re curious and that curiosity continues to lead us down new paths.
Another example of imperfection pictured in Utopia is that More’s devout Christian background appears to reject the pagan ideas found in Utopia and the humanistic view of natural law in general. More remotely addresses this concern by plainly expressing that a religion guided by reason must be, in basic terms, the same as Christianity: “after they had heard from us the name of Christ you would not believe how they were impressed because Christianity is very like the opinion prevailing and influential among them, they were well disposed toward it from the start (More, p. 447). More seems to emphasize that in Utopia, religion is a big facet of the society, seeing as how this is the biggest section in his work. In the modern era though, it can be argued that a society based around the church is not always the best approach to government and political ideologies for establishing order. We see More ramble on about the belief of what happens in the afterlife: “Thus they believe that after this life vices are to be punished and virtue rewarded (More, p. 449). If this utopian lifestyle is so keen on producing the best citizens, why would they submit offenders to a life of punishment instead of a life of correction and public service? If renaissance humanism is as it’s defined, a positive potential of mankind, using reason to guide, then it can be seen clearly that More’s society does not truly define what humanism is.
The society does not use logical reasonability to foster a positive potential of mankind if it submits its offenders to a life of punishment rather than helping fix their bad behaviors. Coming back to More’s argument about Utopia’s motivation to engage in positive social ventures, Raphael provides a vague response: “If you had seen them, you would frankly confess that you had never seen a people well governed anywhere but there (More, Cambridge University Press, p. 41). His response emanates an impression of More’s unassertiveness and hesitance about the practicability of Utopia. However, there is reason to believe that More is quite aware of the impossibility of Utopia. More does his best to present Utopia as a truly perfect representation of his ideal “humanist society. He gives the reader an idea that a perfect state is easy to describe but realistically applying these ideals to a society in practice would be incredibly challenging. More describes the Utopian’s approach on monetary exchange saying that “they have accumulated a vast treasure, but they do not keep it like a treasure. I’m really quite ashamed to tell you how they do keep it because you probably won’t believe me (More, p. 443).
If More is embarrassed to speak on the humanist values he represents, it shows uncertainty that he would be a good source of what humanism truly represents and creates a question in the logical operations of how a humanistic society might properly function. Thomas More’s detailed and thoughtful creation of Utopia truly serves as an example of innovative and forward thinking. His humanist approach on society, including his ideas of human nature’s instability and the significance of logical reasoning, render Utopia unattainable and incredibly farfetched. The satirical and contradictory thoughts associated with More’s beliefs help in supporting the evidence that his ideals are not truly humanistic in nature and that a humanist approach to a perfect society does not work.