Utopia Thomas More's Utopia Is Essay

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While this ensures that there will be no plotting against the state, it also means that dissidents must fear for their lives if they disagree with the dictates of their rulers and desire to talk about it. This is essentially censorship and control of speech coded in the language of open deliberation, and it reveals another problem inherent in Utopian society.

Here, More is not attempting to present an ideal alternative to European society, but rather demonstrate how any society that sits at the extreme end of an ideological spectrum, as Utopia and Europe both did, will have problems which stem from the actions necessary to maintain that social order. In Europe, kings fought seemingly pointless wars in order to maintain their power and legitimacy, and in Utopia, the state executed anybody who talked about it outside the officially recognized channels. In both instances, human life becomes subordinate to the perpetuation of the state, revealing how seemingly disparate societies can nevertheless create and perpetuate the same problems, albeit flavored differently depending on the specific society. This same phenomenon is true when one considers the religions of Utopia.

In Utopia, "there are several sorts of religions," and they are, in general, treated equally, but atheists are roundly condemned, based largely on a faulty assumption about what motivates or demotivates religious and non-religious people. More notes that atheists are viewed:

As scarce fit to be counted men, since they degrade so noble a being as the soul, and reckon it no better than a beat's: thus they are far from looking on such men as fit for human society, or to be citizens of a well-ordered commonwealth; since a man of such principles must needs, as oft as he dares do it, despise all their laws and customs: for there is no doubt to be made that a man who is afraid of nothing but the law, and apprehends nothing after death, will not scruple to break through all the laws of his country, either by fraud or force, when by this means he may satisfy his appetites. (More 121)

While this passage is undoubtedly influenced by More's own religious belief, and thus may be read as essentially a piece of pro-religion propaganda, it is worth noting because it demonstrates how once again Utopia does not represent a true utopia, but rather a problematic society just like any other, albeit problematic in ways not previously imagined. Where sixteenth-century England was ripe with religious persecution, Utopia allows for the practice of religion freely, without conflict. However, not believing in any religion is still considered anathema to society, and thus atheists are held in contempt and disgust. This is because some of the state's power actually comes from granting the right to practice religion freely; by making the freedom of religion a law, the state is implicitly arguing that it has the authority and legitimacy to dictate what people feel and think. Atheism contradicts this assumption, because it recognizes that the state is effectively legislating imaginary things, and as such has no authority except for what it granted to it by the people. Thus, the fear that atheists will break the law is in actuality a fear that atheists realize that the law itself is not divine, but rather man-made and thus subject to all the same errors and problems inherent in anything produced by humanity.

Thomas More's Utopia is particularly interesting for the way it fails to represent an actual Utopia; there are slaves and criminals, citizens can be put to death for talking about the state in private, and atheists are condemned and harassed because they do not subscribe to superstition. Rather than attempt to parse More's particular position on these aspects of society, it is more productive to examine how their inclusion in Utopia reveals the problems inherent in human society as such. In the end, it becomes clear that in Utopia and elsewhere, the dominant problems of human society stem from the state's need to constantly assert its power and legitimacy, both by murdering dissidents and creating social outcasts of those who might point out that the state is dependent on the people, and not any divine intervention.

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More, Thomas.…[continue]

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