However, there are many things in the commonwealth of Utopia that I rather wish, than hope, to see followed in our governments.
This is the final sentence of Utopia. It mirrors my sentiments as well. I found several things that were quite admirable, however improbable they seem to be to me, and other things that turned my stomach in their no personal sovereignty and no free will kind of way.
Previously I shared my thoughts on the Introduction and section titled “Discourses of Raphael Hythloday.” What follows this in the book are specific descriptions given by Raphael of different aspects of Utopian life. For Part 1 I’m going to list a few things from the first 3 of 8 sections. The titles I use are the titles that Sir Thomas More gave in the book.
Of their Towns, Particularly of Amaurot
“He that know one of their towns knows them all — they are so like one another…” The idea of this is a real turn-off to me. I do appreciate originality and the freedom to have individual tastes. Raphael chooses to speak in particular of the town of Amaurot which is their chief city being the seat of their supreme council. Some of the negatives to me of the uniformity of their housing is that whole sides of streets are described as looking like one house. He also says that every man may enter any house. No, thank you.
But what I did like is how protected the island is. Obstacles to approaching its shores are described. Their water supply is also well protected. I would like my own property to be so protected one day. And I like the description of beautiful gardens that are in each yard. Here there seems to be some sense of the individual because the Utopians vie with each other to have the most beautiful garden.
Of their Magistrates
Here I found little to nothing that I did not like. The families choose the leaders, including the Prince. They vote by secret ballots and vow to choose who they think is the best qualified. They have what I’ve heard called “The Sunshine Law.”
“It is death for any to meet and consult concerning the State, unless it be either in their ordinary council, or in the assembly of the whole body of the people.”
Wonder if that would change things in some towns in which I’ve resided?
Here’s another wise and good legislating rule of the Utopians:
“One rule observed in their council is, never to debate a thing on the same day in which it is first proposed; for that is always referred to the next meeting, that so men may not rashly and in the heat of discourse engage themselves too soon, which might bias them so much that, instead of consulting the good of the public, they might rather study to support their first opinions, and by a perverse and preposterous sort of shame hazard their country rather than endanger their own reputation, or venture the being suspected to have wanted foresight in the expedients that they at first proposed; and therefore, to prevent this, they take care that they may rather be deliberate than sudden in their motions.”
Of their Trades and Manner of Life
Two big dislikes here — 1) They wear the same clothes. I’m not a fancy-schmancy dresser, but I sure like having the choice of what to wear. As much as I would like not having to look at some items in which people choose to come out in public, I still appreciate the variety out there. 2) If someone does not share the inclination to the family trade, he is switched to another family in whose trade he is so inclined. How families are worked out is explained more in another section.
But much of their work ethic is greatly to be admired. Everyone in Utopia is taught agriculture from their childhood. They all spend time in the country as well as in town. They also must learn a trade. Six hours a day of labor is what is required. They spend much of their off time reading and going to lectures, which is right up my alley. “After supper they spend an hour in some diversion, in summer in their gardens, and in winter in the halls where they eat, where they entertain each other either with music or discourse.” Sounds like the good life to me.
He goes on to explain why 6 hours a day of labor amply supplies their way of life.
“you may imagine that since there are only six hours appointed for work, they may fall under a scarcity of necessary provisions: but it is so far from being true that this time is not sufficient for supplying them with plenty of all things, either necessary or convenient, that it is rather too much; and this you will easily apprehend if you consider how great a part of all other nations is quite idle.”
He mentions idle women and idle men with diligent wives and idle clergy and other religious men and “add to these all rich men, chiefly those that have estates in land, who are called noblemen and gentlemen, together with their families, made up of idle persons, that are kept more for show than use; add to these all those strong and lusty beggars that go about pretending some disease in excuse for their begging; and upon the whole account you will find that the number of those by whose labours mankind is supplied is much less than you perhaps imagined…”
And here’s another excellent point —
“consider how few of those that work are employed in labours that are of real service, for we, who measure all things by money, give rise to many trades that are both vain and superfluous, and serve only to support riot and luxury”
“Even the Syphogrants [council members], though excused by the law, yet do not excuse themselves, but work, that by their examples they may excite the industry of the rest of the people”
“And thus from the great numbers among them that are neither suffered to be idle nor to be employed in any fruitless labour, you may easily make the estimate how much may be done in those few hours in which they are obliged to labour.”
“The magistrates never engage the people in unnecessary labour, since the chief end of the constitution is to regulate labour by the necessities of the public, and to allow the people as much time as is necessary for the improvement of their minds, in which they think the happiness of life consists.”
Also concerning useless labor, the Utopians have such a high standard of upkeep, that seldom are they needed to completely rebuild anything. This is an excellent time-saver that we’d all do well to imitate.
This talk of unnecessary labor reminds me of my reading of Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. He discusses the waste of certain public works that were created simply to provide jobs. But since there’s a lot to be said about that, I’ll save it for another post(s).
I’m very taken with their working (and reading and learning — yum yum) way of life. My question is, can this ever be possible in a free society? With the freedom to choose, could there ever be a community of people where all who could labor would be self-motivated to labor and to labor at useful work with all their heart? Could it work in a small town? In an entire state? Or with freedom, will there always be those who choose not to work at useful labor?