Book II More’s Utopia
More’s struggle is against an encroaching capitalism in 16th century England. He envisions a new society based on uniformity and equality, with a strong stress on the former. The very fact that the 52 towns all have the “same language, laws, customs and institutions” shows how more views equality as uniformity, how one cannot exist without the other. Even the homes are allocated on a rotating basis, to eliminate the social cleavages found in ornate or overly pretentious homes of the modern upper classes.
The same might be said of clothes, which are plain and uninteresting by design (More, 70, 72, 75). Utopia is an agrarian society, though, like England, has substantial water ports for trade. The agrarian life is not romanticized, but is accomplished on a rotating basis, so that no individual would become worn out from such labor (More, 71). Apparently, unlike many utopian writers, More believes agriculture is drudgery and all efforts to spread the labor within that particular occupation are very important here.
More is far from an anarchist, and Utopia is a highly regimented and politicized community. All is political, and the economic elements of Utopia re subsumed into the political (see below). The constitution is very explicitly drawn out and tedious. At the local level, every thirty households elects a Steward, and each town should have 200 of these officers, and it is these officers that elect a Mayor. The Mayor is himself is chosen from one of four candidates, each candidate elected by the population at large.
Hence, it is easy to envision that these towns are all quite large (More, 79), and the size of the household is regulated between 10 and 16 members, to maintain a social uniformity, since the household is not a private entity, but a constitutional and legal one. From the Stewards is elected a Council of “Bencheaters” that act as a check on the executive. The Stewards, while politicians, are generally social functionaries, for their primary job is “to see that no one sits around doing nothing. ” (More, 76)
It is the Mayor and the Bencheaters who decide law, but, in order to dispel rumors, and, presumably, a corrupted and irresponsible press, the council may only debate legislation while in session, and the population is forbidden to do so at any time. Furthermore, all legislative debate must be accomplished upon the second meeting of the council, permitting certain ideas to germinate and fester before becoming part of the debating process, thus avoiding quick decisions based on emotion. (More, 75)
More makes the powerful statement that in a situation of full employment, the working day need not be long. In Utopia, it is six hours, three in the morning and three in the afternoon, split by a long lunch. It might be speculated that at a later time, as labor saving technology continues to develop, the working day might well become shorter. If everyone is employed, and everyone is brought up trained in a specific task (except farming, which is for everyone), there are no superfluous people, no idlers.
All work, and therefore, each individual worker can never be overworked or exploited. There are no parasitic classes to support. Hence, since both sexes work, and all individuals who physically can, then the amount of work per person is far less than the modern system, the system of which More saw the beginnings. As far as the details of the system are concerned, it is difficult to move away from the idea that Utopia is based on the monastic model, a Benedictine model with which Thomas More was no doubt familiar.
Since there are public lectures, work and free time, it seems to have the balanced regimentation of the classic Benedictine institution, institutions, it should be pointed out, suppressed in the later reign of Henry VIII, and therefore very much on the public mind. Even further, like the Benedictine ideal, each section of the city contributes its goods to a central store (relative to the quadrant of the city) and from here, the male head of each household may take what is necessary. The Benedictine household is the same, and the cellararer is given the responsibility of giving each monk what is required from a central store (Benedict, 74).
This can not be a coincidence. At the same time, the fact that people must work, and that each is trained in a useful trade (and nothing else–no middlemen), greed, as modern societies know it, is nowhere to be found, since, as More says “No human being is naturally greedy–except for fear of want. . . ” (More, 80), without want, there is no greed, and, hence, the system works rather well. Among the more interesting social institutions is the common meal, the meal which is taken at the home of the Steward. Here, the population can keep and eye on him, while the Steward can keep an eye on the population.
The Steward is ultimately responsible for the people’s work efforts, and, hence, this forms an intelligent, yet informal, method of checking and balancing. In the Benedictine monastery, meals are also taken in common, with the abbot at the head of the table (Benedict, 81). Similarly, the daily Benedictine chapter is also similar to this, where individuals, of whatever rank, may air their grievances and seek redress. Again, an informal, but highly effective institution. Even further, during the meal, literature is read aloud (More, 83).
This is identical to the benedictine meal, where a reader, chosen on a rotating basis, reads from the church fathers, so that mealtime can nourish the soul as well as the body (Benedict, 79). Like a monastery, Utopia is completely public. There are no “secret meeting places,” or places of idle amusements such as bars or brothels (More, 84). In the Benedictine monastery, the life of a monk is an open book. Even confession, occasionally, is public, when it is done in chapter. The monk may not have a life of “his own,” but live as part of the community, holding all in common (Benedict, 79).
More is clearly opposed to the developing of the wool-based trade in England, partially because it is the very root of English capital development, but also because it created cleavages in society, cleavages that lead to social distortions. Like Rousseau later, More, is opposed to the general worship of rich people. He writes, What puzzles and disgusts Utopians even more is the idiotic way some people have of practically worshiping a rich man. , not because they owe him money or are otherwise in his power, but simply because he’s rich. . .
” (More, 89). Both More and Rousseau oppose this sort of pomp because it is this poor example that produces greed and social division. The rich man became so on the backs of his employees, all of whom work as hard as he does. For one to be pompous and others poor, while all working, is irrational and is productive of poor behavior in all classes. Without it, such examples could not promote rapacity among the population. Hence, clothes, jobs, reading and education are all regulated. Reading is regulated because of the pernicious ideas of philosophy.
In reality, the nature of true philosophy is available to all people, on the basis of simple common sense reflection. Basic ideas on the soul and happiness (More, 91) are not the result of abstruse speculation, but are an inborn part of any healthy individual who does not have his mind manipulated by modern society and its sanctioning of radical inequality. The same is the case within the Benedictine rule. Reading is to derive solely from the monastic library and should reflect the ideals of the Christian community (Benedict, 87).
Here, Benedict also says that if a brother cannot or will not read, “work shall be assigned hum so he will be idle. ” (Benedict, 87) Both in More and Benedict, idleness is a great evil, and elected officials, abbots in St. Benedict and the mayor in More, are to over see this all important postulate of social life. Even in More’s discussion of pleasure, simple common sense prevails. It is considered natural that human beings seek pleasure, and they will seek greater and more lasting pleasures at the expense of poorer ones.
If pleasure is at the basis of human action, then no real moral legislation is necessary, since people will naturally accept greater pleasures over lesser, solely based on the fact that it is greater, longer lasting and more substantial. But even here, the basic (and harmless) pleasure seeking drive is twisted in modern society, where the spending of huge amounts of money on clothes or carriages is considered the highest of pleasures, while, by this reckoning, the poor may not have pleasure at all. How is losing millions gambling (increasingly common among the upper classes) pleasurable?
Yet, in the development of capitalism, it shows itself as yet another studied “pleasurable activity. ” Modernity distorts everything, it takes natural action and feelings and rips them out of context, forcing them to serve the new order of moneyed inequality and oligarchy. More uses yet another Rousseauian argument for pleasure using the example of jewels (More, 94). An artificial–costume–version of a ruby is, by all intents and purposes, identical to a real one, then why would not everyone simply obtain the fake? The only reason is social manipulation.
Though the fake one is cheaper and identical to the sight, there is social pressure to spend the money on the real one, regardless of its appearance. Hence, an arbitrary distinction is made to force the unnecessary spending of money. It is a simple matter of greed and arbitrary rule making by those with the money. Even in terms of scientific research (More, 101), the Utopians are motivated not by greed (which rules science in modern times), but mere common sense. Nature is considered God’s habitat and design, and hence should be studied for that reason alone. Nevertheless, research is guided solely by the basic needs of the population.
In other words, they would not spend millions creating robotic technology and nano-technology while people starved, lived in poverty and were still afflicted by disease. Science is a basic bottom-up institution existing to serve, not be served. Science is yet another institution destroyed and manipulated by modern ideology and inequality. In general, the points made here are that Thomas More is demanding a radical remake of society based on equality, sameness and a certain rational degree of regimentation. It partakes, rather blatantly, of the characteristics of western monasticism on the Benedictine model.
It also anticipates arguments for social equality profoundly promoted by J. J. Rousseau 200 years later. As capitalism develops, and the older, family based organizations of the feudal era are eliminated, the individual is considered the be all and end al of society. Therefore, any kind of capital accumulation is justified, leading to severe cleavages in society, cleavages that create two or three different societies, the wealthy controlling the lower orders, and living by a different set of rules, even to the point where the wealthy do not work at all.
Hence, Utopia is a conservative and medievalist protest against the development of capitalism and individualism. Works Cited More, Thomas. Utopia. Trans. Paul Turner. Penguin Classics, 1965. Benedict, St. Rule of St. Benedict. Trans. Anthony Meisel and ML del Mastro. Image, 1975. Rousseau, JJ. Discourse on the Origins of Inequality. Trans. GDH Cole. JD Dent. 1913. (pp. 155-247)Sample Essay of BuyEssay.org