(K. Brent Tomer),
IT WAS meant as a joke, of sorts. Even the title of Thomas More’s “Utopia”, which was published 500 years ago this month, was composed with the author’s tongue in his cheek: a Greek pun on “ou topos” (“no place”) and “eu topos” (“good place”). The book recounts a conversation between More and one Raphael Hythloday, a sailor whose surname means “a pedlar of nonsense”, and who brings news of an eccentric, egalitarian civilisation on a faraway island.
If More could see into the future, he might be puzzled by his work’s far-reaching legacy. “Utopia” was not the first scholarly attempt to imagine a perfect society—More frequently acknowledged Plato’s “Republic”—but it has become the name that we use to describe such visions (with “dystopia”, its opposite, appearing in the 1950s). Perhaps most bewildering to its author would be the extent to which developed nations have achieved many of his Utopian ideals, once so laughably remote.
Not all of the text is in jest. It opens with Hythloday’s critique of sixteenth-century England, as he laments the death penalty for petty thieves, the displacement of peasants by…Continue reading