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Thomas More (1478–1535)

Utopia, continued

Utopia, continued

Utopia, continued

Summary

“Their Work-Habits”

All citizens both work on farms and learn a useful trade, such as weaving or carpentry. Boys generally apprentice with their fathers, and women work trades that do not require physical strength. The Utopians punish laziness on the job, but the workday lasts only six hours. Unlike in Europe, all members of Utopian society share the workload equally, and the Utopians are extremely productive. They take good care of the things they create and avoid luxuries. With such a short workday, all Utopians can enjoy activities such as music, sports, and gardening. The only citizens exempted from manual labor are those who show intellectual promise, and they study to become tranibors, ambassadors, and priests.

“Social and Business Relations”

Each city consists of no more than 6,000 households. If a city’s population grows too large, some citizens move to another city. If Utopia’s population grows too large, some citizens form a colony on the mainland. Households live communally, giving to and taking from large warehouses that hold everything they need. The sick stay in efficient hospitals, food is distributed fairly, and all meals are shared.

“Travel and Trade”

Citizens are free to travel throughout Utopia, though they must get the prince’s permission. Leaving without permission brings severe punishment. All cities share their surpluses with cities in need, and when all need has been met, they sell their surpluses abroad. Utopians keep a large store of money in the treasury and generally use it in wartime.

“Their Gold and Silver”

Utopians have so much gold and silver that they use it to make their bathroom fixtures, and they scorn the metals rather than covet them. This way, if gold and silver are needed, such as to pay soldiers in wartime, citizens will not hesitate to turn them over.

Analysis

Although More argues that Utopian society will never be wealthy since common ownership deprives people of the incentive to work, Hythloday maintains that strategic punishment ensures that all citizens will pull their own weight and that this system of punishment must exist for Utopia’s communal society to succeed. Though an individual in a market-based economy who works incredibly long hours to beat out his competition is certainly more productive than the average Utopian worker, Hythloday explains that for every one of the productive people, there are numerous people who make no productive contribution. While no one in Utopia is phenomenally productive, everyone is fairly productive, and laziness on the job is punished. This punishment system admits to the flawed nature of man—Utopia may be perfect, but Utopians are not. The narrator More points out the potential pitfalls of a communal society, but Hythloday maintains that these problems can be overcome by properly structuring society. Utopia is not ideal because its people are perfect but rather because its laws compel citizens to act perfectly despite their inherent human failings.

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