Utopia [Annotated] Thomas More

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Utopia [Annotated]  by  Thomas More

Utopia [Annotated] by Thomas More
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The work of More is further distinguished by the fact that it was the first of the modern productions of the kind, and also the first to bear the familiar title of Utopia. Sir Thomas More was born in 1478. He early became a student of law and the newMoreThe work of More is further distinguished by the fact that it was the first of the modern productions of the kind, and also the first to bear the familiar title of Utopia.

Sir Thomas More was born in 1478. He early became a student of law and the new learning, and though his later years were spent in the practice of law, diplomacy, and statecraft, he remained to the end of his life devoted to learning and religion. That he was a keen observer of the social conditions of his time the Utopia proves- for it contains not only a picture of an ideal community, but a severe indictment of the disorders attending the great social and economic transformation from an agricultural to an industrial and commercial state through which England was passing.

New conditions of industry and commerce had made impossible the retention of the old manorial system- villenage was disappearing and the villeins were becoming copy-holders- agriculture was ceasing to be profitable under the old methods- money was taking the place of payments in kind- and the dispersion of the manorial tenantry was increasing vagabondage and the number of the unemployed. The old towns, too, like Norwich, Exeter, York, Winchester, and Southampton, with their narrow gild restrictions were falling into decay, and were making way for new industrial centers like Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield.

More important still was the introduction, in many of the counties, of the inclosure system. Landlords, discovering that farming was more profitable when done on a large scale, and that sheep raising brought even larger returns than agriculture, turned arable lands into pasture, thus depopulating the old villages, setting adrift large number of villeins to find work wherever they could, and bringing great distress and misery to the people. Such were the conditions that inspired More in his Utopia, the first book of which is a treatise on the evils of the time.The second book of the Utopia presents as a remedy for all ills an ideal state in which there are no drones and of which the key-note is moderation.

With the exception of the very learned, the inhabitants of the new state are all producers, who devote six hours of each day to labor and the remaining to social and intellectual pleasures- who avoid war and all luxuries- and whose king, chosen by themselves and for life, lives like a common citizen, governing not in the interest of the few, but for the happiness of the many.

In his treatment of labor, questions of criminal law, education, public health, and freedom of speech, More strikes a very modern note- but though he showed himself, like the other Oxford reformers, a lover of liberty, justice, truth, and toleration, and though he rose to be Chancellor of England, he made no effort to apply as a politician the doctrines he had advanced as a philosopher. Possibly, as Master of the Court of Requests, or Court of Poor Men’s Causes, he may have dispensed the justice of the Utopia- but in other matters, notably that of religion, he did not in practice rise to the height he had attained in his thought.

He opposed Lutheranism, and while not persecuting the Protestants, as has been charged, battled with heresy till his death. In fact, the second book of the Utopia at its best but reflects the character of a noble man, whose mind revolted against the injustice and inequalities of his age.



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