Thomas More’s Utopia, new edition

This video from Britain says about itself:

22 September 2011

This is the story of Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII‘ s chancellor, who was imprisoned at the Tower of London in 1534 for refusing to accept the King as Head of the Church.

By Andy Hedgecock in Britain:

Utopian visions that illuminate dark times

Wednesday 16th November 2016

by Thomas More
(Verso, £8.99)

THIS new edition of Utopia celebrates the 500th anniversary of the original Latin publication of Thomas More’s vision of an ideal society.

A classic dissertation on transcending the social and political ills of 16th-century Europe, it is a demanding but rewarding read which retains much of its relevance. Its blend of fiction and political philosophy employs a framing narrative to contrast ideal and existing society and sets out an array of sociopolitical ideals that contemporary socialists are still struggling to achieve.

On More’s fantasy island of Utopia private property has been abolished, there is collective farming and housing is nationalised. People work a six-hour day, education and healthcare are free at the point of use and there is no king or aristocracy.

Citizens, even atheists, enjoy complete freedom of thought and religion and civic life centres on an accessible legal system with laws written in plain language.

Given his role as councillor and fixer to Henry VIII, More’s preoccupation with improving the lot of his fellow citizens is surprising — he is, after all, alleged to have commissioned the torture and execution of heretics.

That’s not the only reason why we shouldn’t be surprised to find a heart of darkness in Utopia. More has occasionally been portrayed as a proto-socialist visionary but his ideal society is based on slavery. They are fettered with golden chains, a symbol More hopes will ensure wealth is associated with the shameful aspects of life.

While women are given greater freedom than their counterparts in 16th-century Europe, their roles are restricted. Privacy is limited to protect the virtue of citizens and there are strict guidelines on freedom of movement.

In his introduction, fantasy writer and academic China Miéville suggests we are all Thomas More’s children in our yearnings for a logical route to a better world. But there is a dangerous side of utopian thought and Miéville highlights the tendency of utopian blueprints, from More onwards, to plan paradise for “us” while consigning “them” to the inferno.

Having made that point, we still need to hit the road to somewhere better as a matter of urgency.

We must, says Miéville, shift our focus from capital accumulation to environmental sustainability.

The book closes with four essays by Ursula K Le Guin, who deals with anarchist pacifism, Taoism, utopias built on oppression and the importance of accepting sociopolitical impermanence.

She argues that literary imagination is central to the search for better ways of relating to the world and each other. And, she says, the media must take responsibility for fostering “community of the imagination.”

This is a challenging book, with its authors presenting complex ideas in rich and concentrated prose. But, given the struggles ahead in these troubled times, it is certainly a publication that merits serious attention.

2 thoughts on “Thomas More’s Utopia, new edition

  1. Pingback: William Shakespeare, new book | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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