Essay: Utopia Thomas More Summary: Analysis and Discussion: Facts, Information, Humanism
Thomas More was a Humanist. This essay discusses the socialism and lack of individualism in the book Utopia and compares them to the seven deadly sins.
Humanism is the potential perfectibility of the human being through social civil laws. A society in which individualism flourishes and social problems are eliminated creates a state of perfection. At the root of society's problems lay the seven deadly sins, which are pride, greed, gluttony, wrath, envy, sloven, and lust. These sins, which committed by the individual, affect society as a whole. St. Thomas Moore wrote Utopia as a means of identifying the social problems of the times in which he lived. The social problems identified in Utopia by St. Thomas More stem from the seven deadly sins. Through careful analogy, More prescribes a perfect society in which the civil laws are structured upon toleration, moderation and respect. Individualism flourishes and society is perfected. Therefore, conscious eradication of the seven deadly sins is accomplished. Humanism prevails.
The one deadly sin that causes the most trouble in human society is greed. Greed is the want of more property. This sin causes escalating problems. For example, in Utopia, St. Thomas Moore points to the problems that erupted in England from greed focusing on the sheep industry. Land that was used for growing food is turned into grazing land for sheep. Houses and whole towns are ultimately destroyed. The tenants who were the ex-farmers of the land are evicted, left homeless and unemployed. Out of desperation, these homeless resort to theft for survival. The problem with greed is that it never ends. In Utopia, the price of wool is controlled by a few. In their greed, these few raise the price of wool, which in turn causes more people to be unemployed. Unable to pay the rent, these unemployed are turned out into the streets. To survive, their only recourse is to steal.
Using valuable fertile land to graze sheep creates a shortage of land to grow food. This shortage of land produces a shortage of food. The shortage of food causes food prices to rise. The rising cost of food then produces more unemployment as people cut costs so they can afford to buy food to live. Therefore, the greed of a few has devastating consequences on the many. More's solution is a society without money and property. A communal system that does not worship property but instead shares. Land is shared and used to produce food for the community not to satisfy the wants of a few individuals. Greed is the cause of most corruption and the foremost reason problems are overlooked within a society. Overlooking the problems, create more problems. "Personal prejudice and personal greed are the two great evils that threaten courts of law they hamstring society by destroying all justice." Public officials can be bribed to overlook many potentially dangerous or morally corrupt situations. This undermines the authority of the land, creating distrust in public officials. This distrust leads to the breakdown of society as a whole, eventually leading to public unrest. If money does not have value, public officials cannot be bribed. Thus, perfecting society by eliminating corruption.
The sin of Sloven or laziness manifests itself within society causing many problems. When people do not work, they lose a sense of value or purpose in life. Loss of work produces apathy and other negative emotions. Without purpose, people tend to create more problems for themselves by gambling, drinking, thieving, and whoring. Idleness is the devil's workshop. Keeping everyone busy stops mischief. "You always have to work. There's never any excuse for idleness" (1:84). Furthermore, all society suffers from lack of productivity. Pressure from peers to do one's share of the work is an incentive to work (1:84). In Utopia, everyone is expected to work six hours a day. The work is aimed towards a common good. This gives life purpose. There is no unemployment. Everyone is expected to do his or her share of work.
No one feels bitter towards his/her neighbor because he/she is benefiting from the system and not contributing to the system. A sense of brotherhood develops when people share in the work and are working towards a common goal. Each person depends on the next to do his/her part. This dependency develops a sense of responsibility in each individual to do his/her part. A society is created where people help one another. Therefore, by eliminating the deadly sin of Sloven society moves towards perfection.
Pride evolves from property ownership. From pride, arrogance develops. Arrogance causes the property owner to think he should dress in a fashion that says "look at me, I'm better than you" (1:92). Arrogance can even developed in those who do not own property, but want to make others think they do. This arrogance is emulated in the clothes and jewelry worn in society. Clothes and jewelry are coveted. Thus, the sin pride is related to envy that is related to greed that stems from property ownership. In Utopia, More describes a society where everyone dresses the same and wears no adornment.
Utopian society places no value on gold, silver, or jewels. Items made of gold and silver are commonly found in everyone's home. Chamber pots are often made from gold (1: 86). Thereby, giving gold little or no value. When value is eliminated, there is nothing to hoard and nothing to gloat over. Another variation of pride can cause the "I'm right and everyone else is wrong" syndrome. This syndrome often manifests itself within the constraints of religion. Thus, the prophesying religious zealot is born. The problems created by this religious zealot can range from simple annoyance to war. More prescribes an antidote for this variation of pride. In More's Utopian society religious prophesying is condemned. People are free to believe, as they want as long as it does not interfere or upset the life of others. Religious zealots are removed from society thereby removing many potentially escalating problems.
Utopia is a society based upon communal living or socialism. If everyone shares everything equally, envy as well as greed can be eliminated. Envy and greed promotes thievery and even murder. No one has anymore than the next guy. Everyone remains content. If everything is common property, then thievery and many murders can be eliminated. More points out that thieves are hung in England. A thief is more likely to murder his victim because the punishment for thievery is the same for murder. By murdering his victim, the thief is most likely to eliminate the only witness to the thievery (1:50).
Lust leads to adultery, fornication, and prostitution. In Utopia, adultery and fornication is kept under control. There is no prostitution because there are "no brothels, no opportunities for seduction, no secret meeting places. Everyone has his eye on you" (1:84). More's Utopian solution is enforcement of strict laws and public disgrace. "Any boy or girl convicted of pre-marital sex is severely punished, and permanently disqualified from marrying, unless this sentence is remitted by the Mayor." Pre-marital sex causes unwed mothers and bastard children. Both the unwed mother and her bastard children are ostracized from society. Bastard children suffer for the sins of their parents. Adultery is punished more severe. "The innocent spouse is allowed to remarry whereas the guilty spouse must live a life of celibacy (1:104)." However, adultery does not happen often in Utopian society because Utopian society discourages marital discord. Before a man marries, he inspects his bride-to-be naked and vise versa. This takes care of any unpleasant surprises or future excuses for adultery. Divorce is allowed under special circumstances. No one is doomed to an unhappy marriage to use as an excuse for adultery (1:104).
Treatments on Dying
Lust is not only a sin of the flesh, but can be a longing for something such as the lust for life. A terminally ill patient who is suffering tremendously is being selfish but it is a natural reflex to deny death. By hanging on to life, the terminally ill patient is prolonging his/her own suffering. This suffering is not just limited to the afflicted patient. Others who take care of the patient suffer from witnessing the disintegration of life and dignity. In addition, the terminally ill patient is no longer productive and takes others away from productive jobs. A dying patient has no purpose in life. In Utopia, euthanasia is advocated to end this unnecessary suffering. More was a strict Catholic, and some may argue that euthanasia being a form of suicide contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church. More explicitly distinguishes between suicide and sanctioned euthanasia. Suicide is not acceptable within Utopian society. More is suggesting that euthanasia is a humanitarian act that ends unnecessary suffering. In addition, it must be noted that Utopian euthanasia is only practiced after the terminally ill patient gives permission and the local priests sand government officials have sanctioned it (1:102). This is similar to the Catholic Pope giving his permission for a divorce. Lust causes much trouble within society. More recognizes lust to be a natural sin, however More is prescribing methods to control this sin. If lust is under control then the problems created by lust are in control. Society is moving towards perfection.
The sin of Gluttony causes ill health. This state of health causes lack of energy thus causing the gluttonous sinner to be non-productive or guilty of the sin of Sloven. The Glutton takes away from others by eating more than his/her share of food. In addition, someone has to take time away from his/her duties to care for the glutton when he/she falls ill. In Utopia, food is distributed equally. The people enjoy good health. Food and drink are enjoyed but not in excess. Excessive eating and drinking is unpleasant and revolting. Gluttony is regarded as an addition to food and therefore Gluttony is avoided. "The pleasure of eating is invariably diluted with the pain of hunger. They don't think much of pleasure like that, except in so far as they are necessary" (1:98). The communal social structure helps prevent the sin of gluttony. The society More prescribes is less centered on the individual and more centered on the community. The sin of Gluttony is controlled by social pressure.
Wrath or anger can develop from any the other deadly sins. Lack of respect is a major cause of anger. In Utopian society, everyone treats one another with respect. The sick and old are cared for. Corruption is stopped at the source. Selfishness does not exist. People live by the Christian golden rule; "Do unto others as you would have done unto you." People are less likely to move towards anger if everyone is treated equally and with respect. Utopian society puts pressure on the individual to end his/her grudges. Church is a social event in which everyone attends. However, no one enters a church with anger in his heart. Feelings of anger are considered blasphemy and are scorned by Utopian society. "Anyone who's conscious of the feeling of anger or resentment stays away from church until he's made it up, and purged himself of these unpleasant emotions, for fear of being promptly and severely punished otherwise." When wrath is under control society can function in perfect harmony.
Toleration and Moderation
A society structured on toleration and moderation emerges after the seven deadly sins are eliminated. Toleration and moderation create a society where people are respectful of one another. Everyone knows that his ideas will be respected because he respects the other person's ideas. This is toleration. Communal living ensures that no one has more that the next person therefore everyone is forced to use moderation. Communal living is not centered on the individual wants and needs but rather it centers on the wants and needs of the community. Selfishness does not exist. However, individualism can thrive.
Humanism celebrates the individual. More being a humanist recognizes the need for individualism and addresses individualism within the context of Utopia. To encourage individualism, a society must be tolerant of others beliefs. Religious toleration allows each individual the freedom to express his/her beliefs. Creativity thrives. In Utopia, freedom of expression is revealed within the religious music. The music is reflective of the mood of the individual musician. "All their music, both vocal and instrumental, is wonderfully expressive of natural feeling." Recognizing individualism adds variety and enrichment to society, thereby encouraging thought. Progress is limited to the ideas that generate from the individual. Thus, religious toleration enriches society. As mentioned above under the heading of Pride, clothing in Utopia is uniform. This does not limit individualism. On the contrary, clothing is materialistic and does not necessarily express individuality nor should it. Clothing is subject to conformity. This can be seen today, where people dress as fashion dictates. True individualism comes from the heart and is expressed through ideas. Clothes do not make the person. Utopian society does not hamper the flow of ideas.
Art is essential to the humanist movement as a form of expression. More makes no reference to art in Utopia. The absence of art in Utopia may have been an oversight. More does not suggest a society without art. The people within the society are free to do as they please after the required six hours of work for the community are completed. However, the absence of art in Utopia may have been deliberate. More may have been making a conscious or unconscious statement that art is not the foundation on which society is built. Neither art essential to life or society. Art is a bi-product of society. By stimulating the senses and the mind, art enhances life and enriches society. Furthermore, art is a means of safely expressing political discord. In a perfect society such as Utopia, there is no political discord. Thus the expression of political discord does not exist.
Humanism is the potential perfectibility of the human being through social civil laws. The seven deadly sins, which are greed, sloven, pride, envy, lust, gluttony and wrath, lay at the root of society's problems. The consequences of these sins affect society with devastating results. More's prescription for society's ills is a perfect society in which the civil laws are structured upon toleration, moderation, and respect. Therefore, the seven deadly sins are eliminated. Society is perfected and individualism flourishes. In essence, Utopia is humanism.
1. More, Tomas, Utopia, New York, New York, Penguin Books, 1965.