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On The Idea of Utopia: Thomas More

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The definition of Utopia in the Merriam Webster Internet Dictionary is as follows: it is a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions; it is an impractical scheme for social improvement; also it is an imaginary and indefinitely remote place. We now know the textbook definition of Utopia, but what is the concept in real life? What does it have to do with history? Does a perfect society even work? What does the idea have to do with decisions and mistakes made in the present? Utopia is a complicated theory that was thought of by Thomas Moore and many other Philosophers and statesmen before him, continuing even today with ideas ranging from pure democracy to communism.

In 1516, Thomas More an english lawyer and eventual advisor to King Henry the XII, published a book in Latin, “Libellus… optimo reipublicae statu, deque nova insula Utopia”. The Translation into English means “Concerning the Highest State of the Republic and the new island Utopia”. The word “Utopia” in its current meaning was first used by More, but its original meaning was “No Place”. In the book, More seems to talk about a communal society that prides itself in detesting the excesses of wealth. The people are separated into large family groups of forty to fifty people, and families move residency every few years. There are senators and magistrates that are elected, and then a prince that rules for life but can be easily deposed if the citizens want it. His ideas have been used and debate over for many years, but he was not the only person to have ideas about a Utopia. Greek poets and thinkers such as Plato and Hesiod wrote of perfect societies in poems and books. The writers of Genesis wrote of Eden, a fictional paradise that was the original home of humankind until they ate of the forbidden tree in the garden. Virgil, a Roman, wrote of what might be with future innovations and societal changes. Plato’s Republic talks of a society ruled by stoic philosophers both male and female who are not bound by familial lineage. There were even women like Christine de Pizan in 1405 and much later Charlotte Gilman in 1915 who imagined men free Utopias. In short, many have thought of Utopian societies where everything is perfect according to them and what they think is perfect for the human race to succeed.

Is a Utopian society functional today? Has there ever been an instance of a perfect society? Humans by nature are the opposite of perfect, some even detest the mere idea of perfection. So it is hard to wonder what all of those ideas would look like in real life. After Thomas More wrote “Utopia” it seems like there were many people who tried those ideas in reality. Almost all of them failed, at least the more fundamentally communal ones did. Most of the Utopian settlements were in America, where there was more freedom of religion and beliefs.   

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