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Utopia

Sir Thomas More

Common Property

Further Disagreements

Geography and History of Utopia

Summary

Having made his point, Hythloday presents his view that his proposals, which are just and will create prosperity, will never be accepted until the idea of private property is abolished and communal property is established. Private property, Hythloday argues, makes the many far more wretched than the few, and even puts the few ill at ease for fear of the dissatisfied masses. He invokes the name of Plato, who in The Republic calls for communal property as the basis for the ideal city.

More disagrees, claiming a country with communal property will have no prosperity. The people will have no incentive to work, since they will be fed by the labor of others. In More's eyes, the lack of private property will also eliminate all respect for authority, and with this loss the chance at bloodshed and conflict will increase.

Hythloday retorts that More thinks this way because he has no living model on which to base his understanding. Hythloday, however, has been to Utopia and seen a society of communal property in operation. Hythloday describes the effort this country has put into curing social ills. He also describes their technical capabilities, explaining how a ship carrying Egyptian and Roman sailors once shipwrecked on the island; from these men, the Utopians gleaned virtually all of the technical skills of those two great empires. Hythloday notes that he believes it will likely be a great time before Europe adopts any Utopian practices, even though they are superior to Europe's own.

More and Giles ask Hythloday to tell them as much as he can about the island of Utopia, and he agrees. Before they begin, though, the three agree to take a rest and have some lunch.

Commentary

Being one of the central arguments of Utopia, it is unsurprising that the dispute over communal versus private property should provide a segue way between the two books of Utopia. More's negative response to Hythloday's call for communal property, with its emphasis on the irreconcilability of human nature with such a social arrangement, is classically Aristotelian, and is still used today to criticize socialist and communist social models. Utopia quite clearly agrees with Hythloday, however, and for this reason Utopia has long been a favorite text of Marxist critics. However, Hythloday's (and Thomas More's) reasons for advocating communal property are religious at heart, and therefore quite different from the atheist, economic foundations of Marxist beliefs. This is not to say that the two conceptions of common property do not in any way overlap; both are looking to annihilate exploitation, but the basis behind them spring from very different sources. Holding property communally is the way of life Jesus instructed his apostles to follow, and Hythloday sees flowing from that commandment a number of corresponding virtues, such as the reduction of pride, greed, poverty, irrationality, and exploitation of the poor by the wealthy. The ways in which communal property is the basis for such a social transformation is developed later in the book.

In the Utopians' mastery of the technology brought to them by the fortuitous shipwreck of ancient Egyptians and Romans rests a secondary theme of Utopia: the belief in technology and technological innovation as a means toward progress. Such a concept is part of the bedrock of modernity, but it was quite foreign in a world that was just beginning to produce technological innovations beyond those of the Romans. The society of More's time was unsure of technology, and did not quite believe that the progress it brought would be permanent. Utopians have no such doubts. Whenever they come across new technology, they do not simply use it, they master the techniques behind it. Technology, for them, is a means to a better life.

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