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MonkeyNotes-Utopia by Sir Thomas More
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Notes

Surprisingly enough, More allows slaves in Utopia. This could be because slavery is a form of punishment. Another reason could be that slaves relieve the ordinary citizen of heavy physical labor. The Utopia can then spend their time purposefully. Slavery, at the time More wrote Utopia, was condoned in most European countries and the objection to it did not take place until the 19th century. In Utopia, slaves do most of the difficult and lowly chores yet they have a chance to be rehabilitated and gain freedom.

In the treatment of the sick, More resorts to an ideal concept of health care. The hospitals of England in general, and London in particular, were overcrowded and filthy; the patients were often cruelly treated. In Utopia, on the other hand, patients are given the best food and treatment. There is kindliness and orderliness in the hospitals.

For incurable cases More advocates euthanasia, a practice that is still very controversial today. The way More sanctions this practice is by making a great many number of people give their consent before the patient can end his life. This approval, as it were, of euthanasia, has shocked critics from the time the book was published. However, More has made it so difficult that it may exist only in name. Still it reveals the great emphasis on freedom that More gave to humans and the faith in their ability to reason.

Marriage and divorce in Utopia are understandable. The protection given to couples agrees with the importance of family as the foundational unit in society, but More adds a controversial twist by allowing a bride and groom to view each other naked. It is statements like these that have made critics wonder how serious More was in writing Utopia. At the same time, it shows the emphasis on bodily pleasure and attraction that should take place between people when they decide to marry. Not simply a marriage of economics, Utopian marriages are meant to last forever and be solid and supportive.


The positive approach of the Utopian towards making their people good is very admirable. Examples of nobility and goodness should foster virtues in a population. Punishment is not such a deterrent to crime as inspiring examples are to goodness. More is very humane when he says that fools and foolishness are enjoyed in Utopia. Humor is an important ingredient of a healthy and just society.

More was a lawyer who believed fully in law and justice yet he also realized how cumbersome the law could be and so in Utopia there are very few laws and those that exist are clear and straightforward. Every citizen of Utopia knows these laws and can plead his case for himself. This makes lawyers unnecessary. More's great respect for law makes him radically reform the system in Utopia. The laws of England and Europe had grown complicated and unclear by the 16th century. This gave lawyers ample room to interpret them to suit their own interests. This made lawsuits long and expensive. Also, there was no guarantee that the innocent party would always win. So, More makes every man in Utopia a cunning lawyer who can plead his own case. This emphasis on individual's right reveals how the law often overlooked justice and instead was interpreted to serve the needs of a particular party or interest.

Although this segment of the book is about secular law, Utopia was written by More the saint, as well as by More the scholar and statesman so to him it seemed clear that some laws were above the laws of a country. These were laws of nature, the laws of God, the laws of common sense -- call them what you will. When the secular laws and natural laws clash, the natural laws are more important.

This attitude seems radical. But More firmly believed in it and his very death reveals his adherence to the moral law that God dictates. More refused to sign the oath of allegiance that Henry demanded of him, which would have, among other things, replaced Henry as the head of the church in England. His refusal to do this resulted in his death.

The comments on pacts and treaties reveal a particular irony. During the two years the book was written (1515-1516), international relations were particularly unstable. Europe was in a state of turmoil and often courts prescribed to Machiavelli's rules as expounded in The Prince, which promoted a ruthless form of rule that promulgated shady politicking as a way to succeed. Lying, cheating and stealing were all condoned in order to achieve success in political life.

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