Utopia by Thomas More
(Simon and Brown, 2011, 108 pages)
This is a bare-bones edition of Thomas More’s classic work of social criticism and political theory. Originally published in 1516, the book takes the form of a travel narrative. More recounts a fictional encounter with Raphael, a traveler who has been to the island of Utopia. On this island, there is no privately held property, all people are engaged in labor fitting their talents, and they enjoy plenty of leisure time to enjoy and educate themselves. More reflects on this ideal state where “all things are so well governed and with so few laws, where virtue hath its due reward, and yet there is such an equality that every man lives in plenty” (31).
Utopia deals with ideas about government and the nature of the common good, making it especially interesting to read in the midst of an election year. In the conclusion, Raphael condemns those governments who, in contrast to the Utopians, look after the interests of the rich while taking “no care of those of a meaner sort, such as ploughmen, colliers, and smiths, without whom it could not subsist” (104). He cynically concludes that “I can have no other notion of all the other governments that I see or know, than that they are a conspiracy of the rich, who, on pretence of managing the public, only pursue their private ends, and devise all the ways and arts they can find out” (105). In an election cycle where much of the rhetoric centers around the growing divide between rich and poor, raising the minimum wage, and the wealth of the 1%, Utopia sounds surprisingly contemporary.