Hythloday and His Travels

On a break from negotiations between King Henry VIII of England and Prince Charles of Castille, the diplomat More goes to Antwerp, where he spends time with his friend Peter Giles. There he is introduced to Raphael Hythloday, a world traveler and philosopher who tells them about his travels to different countries and his observations on their social practices, especially those of the island of Utopia.

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On Philosophy and Counseling a King

More and Giles suggest that Hythloday work for a king to put his knowledge to use helping the common people, his family and friends, and himself. Hythloday disagrees, saying he doesn't want wealth and has already dispensed his money among family and friends. He believes a royal counselor can't benefit the public since princes are more interested in war than peace, in acquiring new kingdoms rather than governing theirs well, and they only listen to their favorites' advice.

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Conditions in England

Hythloday tells them how, at a dinner with Cardinal Morton, then chancellor to Henry VII, he discussed the punishment for theft with a lawyer. Hythloday outlined the social, political, and economic conditions that produce thieves and suggested more effective ways of punishing them than capital punishment. The other diners ridiculed his ideas, but then started praising them once the cardinal commented favorably on them.

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The Fool and the Friar

Hythloday says that, at the same dinner, answering a question about how to deal with poor people who can't work, a jester angered a friar by suggesting that beggars should become lay brothers and nuns, and that friars are vagabonds. The cardinal took it as a joke, but the others took it seriously. With these accounts, Hythloday wanted to show how his counsel would be received negatively by powerful people's associates and courtiers.

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Further Disagreements

More agrees that if Hythloday advised a king to govern well rather than try to expand his territory, or that the king's safety depends more on his subjects' wealth than on his own, his advice wouldn't be accepted. However, More suggests Hythloday could adapt his philosophy to the circumstances. Hythloday reasons this would be like lying and that, if policies that don't fit humanity's bad habits should be suppressed, even Christ's teachings would have to be.

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Common Property

Hythloday defends Plato's idea of communal property as the basis of an ideal society, but More believes the lack of private property would eliminate people's desire to work and their respect for authority, increasing conflict. Hythloday mentions Utopia as an example of a society of communal property, which excels the European model. More and Giles then ask Hythloday to tell them more about Utopia.

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Geography and History of Utopia

Hythloday starts to describe Utopia as a crescent-shaped island with an enclosed bay. It used to be called Abraxa, be connected to mainland, and have uncivilized inhabitants until General Utopus conquered it, improved its citizens with good government, and separated it from mainland with a canal. The island has 54 similar cities, all within a one day's walk from each other. Amaurot is their capital, where representatives from each city meet every year to discuss common concerns.

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Agriculture, Cities, and Government

Each city is surrounded by farmland, people work both in the city and in the country, and agricultural surplus is shared with neighbors. Their capital, Amaurot, similarly to the other cities, has convenient streets, uniform buildings, and gardens behind all houses. Their magistrates and, ultimately, their prince, are elected by the people, and matters of great importance are discussed both with the prince and the people.

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Occupations, Workload, and Productivity

In addition to farm work, everyone has a specific occupation. People can learn several trades and choose whichever they want, unless a specific one is needed by their city. Every day, they work for six hours, sleep for eight, and can do whatever they want in their free time, which most use for intellectual pursuits. Compared to Europeans, more people work, their buildings are better maintained, they need fewer things, and improving their minds is what makes them happy.

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Education, Science, Philosophy

Everyone in Utopia is taught to spend their free time reading and learning, which they do throughout life and in their own language. In science, the Utopians are as accomplished as Europeans. In philosophy, they are uninterested in abstract suppositions and focus on the nature of happiness and its relation to pleasure. They believe the soul is immortal, that there is an afterlife, and the only way to gain deeper understanding would be through divine revelation.

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Slaves, Euthanasia, Marriage, Treaties

In Utopia, slaves are some war prisoners, serious criminals, or people condemned to death abroad. The terminally ill can choose to end their lives. Women can't marry until they are 18 and men 22; premarital sex isn't allowed; divorce is allowed after adultery or abuse, or mutually consented separation. There are few laws, all clearly written, and no lawyers. Utopians don't sign treaties or enter leagues as they believe kindness and good nature unite men more effectively.

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Utopians hate war and try to avoid it. Both men and women prepare for it, but they only engage in warfare to protect themselves, their friends, or oppressed people. They prefer to use cunning, such as propaganda, instead of brute strength to win wars. They hire mercenaries and only conscript their own citizens in case Utopia should be invaded. They avoid massacre and destruction of their enemy's land.

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Several religions coexist in Utopia, all monotheists and tolerant of each other. However, atheism is not tolerated. The different religions meet in the same few temples run by the same priests, and the services emphasize their similarities. There are few priests, including women, all very pious and chosen by the people to take care of all sacred things, educate the children, and exhort and admonish.

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Hythloday concludes that Utopia is the greatest social order in the world as their people are seriously concerned about the public welfare, nobody worries about food or poverty, and everyone works and lives well. More promises Hythloday to examine and discuss Utopia more carefully with him in the future. He tells the reader he doesn't agree with all the Utopian policies but wishes some of them would be employed by our governments.

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