Thomas More’s Utopia Discussion

Please respond to one of the following prompts by Monday, 9 October, in a post of at least 200 words. Please include at least one well-deployed quotation from the text in your response!

1. Utopia is, arguably, the very first completely fictional world, though it has precedents in Plato’s Republic (in which Plato presents Socrates having a dialogue with others about the ideal way to organize human society in a hypothetical republic), Augustine’s City of God (an extended meditation on what heaven must be like), and Dante’s Divine Comedy, from which we’ve read one part, the Inferno (a sort of travel narrative in which Dante explores Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise). Thomas More’s Utopia opened up an entirely new genre, from which the modern era gets virtually all fantasy and science fiction literature, the invented world. What is the value to More of creating an imaginary world? What does this genre allow him to consider that other genres of writing might not? Why would such a genre be especially valuable for a writer or More’s era?

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2. Thomas More’s Utopia is presented as a framed tale told not by More himself but related to him by a somewhat mysterious traveller, Hythlodays. More names himself in the narrative, and at the end of Hythloday’s account of Utopia – in the second to the last sentence – he says that he “cannot agree with everything [Hythlodays] said,” but that there are many features of Utopia he “would wish rather than expect to see” (269). More also leaves a lot of ambiguities about his own investment in the story he’s telling with the Greek titles and names he applies to many of the features of Utopia, suggesting that there is an element of nonsense in everything that’s being described.

Is Thomas More’s Utopia realistic? In what ways is it realistic or not? Does More seem to want to convince his readers that the ideas he presents are realistic or not? Could such a society exist or be created? What might be More’s purpose in presenting this fantasy world? Is it entirely a fantasy to him, or do you think he wants his readers to see it as not entirely fantastical? What is his tone? What do you think More hopes to achieve?

3. Keep in mind that our modern political systems and beliefs derive primarily from the aftermath of the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century and that there is no really valuable way to compare More’s renaissance culture with our own. That said, what kind of modern government seems to you to be closest to More’s Utopia? Does it have elements that are inconsistent with that government system? Is there any ideological consistency in the organization of Utopia, and if so, what seems to be the foundation of that consistency? What seems to you to be the most desireable or the most problematic feature of Utopia? (For a point of comparison or reference, you might do a quick Wikipedia review of the two governments of ancient Athens and ancient Sparta.)

4. It could be argued that Thomas More is primarily interested in responding to political challenges emerging from the Protestant Reformation, which had begun to develop in Europe at the very end of the 15th century. For example, who should be primarily in charge of the organization of society – secular leaders such as kings or government ministers or generals, or religious leaders such as a pope? If society is meant to reflect religous moral values, how should that morality be codified in government practices and laws? What should be the proper relationship between church and state, and which should be more important? To which does the individual owe a greater allegience? Find a place in Utopia where More discusses religion – either Christianity of the worship of Mithra – and offer an interpretation.

5. Would you want to live in Utopia? Why or why not? What particular passage(s) did you find most striking? At what point did you embrace or reject the Utopian program? Be specific!

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