He was a trusted aide of Henry VIII, but when he supposedly opposed the monarch's second marriage, he was thrown into prison and executed for treason. More than two hundred years later, he was canonized as the patron saint of statesmen and politicians by the Catholic Church. Philosopher, writer, diplomat, lawyer, Renaissance man, avid gardener, humanist thinker and statesman are only some of the words used to describe him. A lifelong opponent of Protestantism who was rumored to have had heretics imprisoned, murdered and burned at the stake, Thomas More is even today an enigmatic figure.
Published in Latin in 1516, Utopia is Sir Thomas More's best known and most debated work. It begins as an apparently real account of one of More's diplomatic missions on behalf of his king. Some of the characters mentioned in this section are contemporary historical figures. In the course of his sojourn on board a ship to Antwerp, he meets a man called Raphael Hythloday who he assumes is the ship's captain. Hythloday, a much traveled raconteur is glad to share stories of his experiences in various exotic lands. He tells of his voyages with the famous Amerigo Vespucci and one of the strange countries he visited was the Island of Utopia.
The book is divided into two parts. Sir Thomas describes in great detail the history, geography, demographics and politics of his fictional country. It is portrayed as the ideal state in all ways. A welfare state, it does not allow its citizens to own private property. Agriculture is the most highly respected job on the island and crime is almost nonexistent. Men and women do the same kind of work. They are trained in at least one trade. However, slavery does exist and is actively practiced in Utopia. Euthanasia is allowed and indeed welcomed by older people and priests are allowed to marry. Though divorce is permitted, premarital relationships are punished under the law. There is a community dining room where every citizen takes meals and travel within the island is permissible only by means of an internal passport. There are no lawyers in Utopia! Religions are many, but atheists are condemned. There are several such interesting aspects in the book.
Such is Thomas More's vision of the ideal state. Scholars have attempted to understand his motive behind writing the treatise. Ideas such as euthanasia, noncelibate priesthood, divorce etc seem to have been diametrically opposite to the teachings of the Catholic Church in which he believed so strongly. Paradoxical also is his condemnation of the law and lawyers, since he was a brilliant one himself.
In spite of these contradictions Utopia remains one of the most humane and interesting fantasies and a great addition to your repertoire.