Study Guide

Utopia Quotes

  • Dissatisfaction

    As a matter of fact, there are so many men soliciting favors from the great that it will be no great loss if they have to do without me and a couple of others like me. (1.13)

    But we thought Hythloday wasn't interested in "soliciting favors"? He sure has quite a bit to say about it at the Cardinal's dinner.

    Such proud, obstinate, ridiculous judgements I have encountered many times and once even in England. (1.14-15)

    It's not just a few people who are problematic—it's everywhere. Sigh... if only there were some far away island where they did things right.

    Your sheep […] that commonly are so meek and eat so little; now, as I hear, they have become so greedy and fierce that they devour men themselves. (1.18-19)

    You know things are bad when even the sheep turn into greedy man-eaters. Yikes. Things in Europe are not looking good.

    When the Cardinal had concluded, they all began praising enthusiastically ideas which they had received with contempt when I suggested them (1.25-26)

    See? If you're not important, no one listens. (It's okay, Hythloday, we're listening.)

    Now in a meeting like this one, where so much is at stake, where so many brilliant men are competing to think up schemes of conquest, what if an insignificant fellow like myself were to get up and advise going on another tack entirely?

    From the tone of Hythloday's question, we're guessing the answer isn't too optimistic.

    Either they will seduce you, or, if you remain honest and innocent, you will be made a screen for the [...] folly of others. Influencing policy indeed! You wouldn't have a chance! (1.38)

    As Hythloday laments the realities of politics, it really starts to sound like a lose/lose situation...

    [F]or I lived [in Utopia] more than five years, and would never have left, if it had not been to make that new world known to others. (1.40)

    We get it, Hythloday. Europe = bad; Utopia = good. Do you think Utopia is just the opposite of Europe? Or are there some overlapping aspects?

    In fact [the Utopians] have not discovered even one of those elaborate rules about restrictions, amplifications and suppositions which our own schoolboys study in the Small Logicals. (2.66)

    If you think Hythloday actually has something positive to say about European education, think again. He's making fun of all these various "philosophical" exercises he (and, obviously, More) think are useless.

    I have undertaken only to describe [Utopian] principles, not to defend them. But of this I am sure, that whatever you think of their ideas, there is not a more excellent people or a more flourishing commonwealth anywhere in the whole world. (2.77)

    Is it us, or is Hythloday sounding a tad defensive here?

    At this point, I'd like to see anyone venture to compare this equity of the Utopians with the so-called justice that prevails among other nations—among whom let me perish if I can discover the slightest scrap of justice or fairness. (2.107)

    We're wondering if such extreme statements like this make Hythloday more persuasive or less persuasive. What do you think?

  • Pride

    Now in a court composed of people who envy everyone else and admire only themselves, if a man should suggest something [...] the other courtiers would think their reputation for wisdom was endangered [...] unless they could find fault with his proposal. (1.14)

    Apparently pride is not one of the seven habits of highly effective people. Right off the bat, we can tell it will get in the way for everyone, all the way up to the top dogs.

    However abundant goods may be, when every man tries to get as much as he can for his own exclusive use, a handful of men end up sharing the whole pile, and the rest are left in poverty (1.39)

    Surprise, surprise. Hythloday wants to make sure to connect pride and wealth. What features do we later see on the island of Utopia that might prevent wealth from creating pride?

    For where money is the measure of everything, many vain, superfluous trades are bound to be carried on simply to satisfy luxury and licentiousness. (2.53)

    Hythloday is really upping the stakes here. Now Pride isn't just a personal flaw, it's an economic issue. Who knew?

    Fear of want, no doubt, makes every living creature greedy and avaricious, and man, besides, develops these qualities out of pride, which glories in putting down others by a superfluous display of possessions. But this sort of vice has no place in the Utopian way of life. (2.57)

    How to be pride-free in five years or less: move to Utopia! But if you can't, does Hythloday offer any pragmatic suggestions? Or is he just spouting off unattainable ideals?

    [The Utopian] elders introduce topics of conversation, which they try not to make gloomy or dull. They never monopolize the conversation with long monologues, but are ready to hear what the young men say. (2.59)

    Pride seems to be totally absent from Utopian day-to-day practices. We can't help but point out the irony, though, of Hythloday discouraging anyone to give really, really long monologues. Ahem.

    Isn't it the same kind of absurdity to be pleased by empty, ceremonial honors? What true or natural pleasure can you get from someone's bent knee or bared head? (2.72)

    Hythloday is suggesting that the problem with pride is that it only seems to be enjoyable when, in reality, it's actually just empty.

    And in fact I have no doubt that every man's perception of where his true interest lies [...] would long ago have brought the whole world to adopt Utopian laws, were it not for one single monster, the prime plague and begetter of all others—I mean Pride. (2.109)

    Can we really boil down all of Europe's problems to this one quality? Hythloday seems to think so. Is that realistic?

    Pride is a serpent from hell that twines itself around the hearts of men […] to hold them back from choosing a better way of life. (2.110)

    What's the effect of making pride a force outside of human control? Why might Hythloday use this kind of language?

    Pride is too deeply fixed in human nature to be easily plucked out. (2.110)

    Hythloday has now switched from pride being external to pride being internal. Why would he change? Which does he believe?

    But I saw Raphael was tired with talking, and I was not sure he could take contradiction in these matters, particularly when I recalled what he has said about certain counsellors who were afraid they might not appear knowing enough unless they found something to criticize in other men's ideas. (2.110)

    It sounds a little bit like More suspects of Hythloday of being a touch proud himself. Are we supposed to feel the same way as readers?

  • Society and Class

    What's more, these gentry drag around with them a great train of idle servants, who have never learned any trade by which they could make a living. (1.17)

    Hythloday is not a fan of these "gentry" (i.e., aristocrats). But his problem with them isn't only that they themselves are lazy, but that they make the people around them lazy and useless, too. Double whammy.

    Among [the Utopians] virtue has its reward, yet everything is shared equally, and all men live in plenty. (1.38)

    We're definitely picking up a connection between no wealth and equality. This Utopian characteristic seems to be challenging the idea that inequality can be a helpful motivator.

    But no one [in Utopia] has to exhaust himself with endless toil […] as if he were a beast of burden. (1.51)

    Be on the lookout for these animal-people comparisons; they turn up often when Hythloday is describing what he considers to be economic injustice. Why do you think he chose this kind of metaphor?

    The limit on adults [in a Utopian household] is easily observed by transferring individuals from a household with too many into a household with not enough. (2.55)

    Wow, these Utopians do take social equality very seriously—and very literally. What purpose does having an equal number of people per household serve?

    At the middle of the first table in the highest part of the dining hall sits the syphogrant with his wife. This is the place of greatest honor... (2.59)

    Does this scene of Utopian dinning count as hierarchical? We're a little confused. Can you find any other possibly contradictory moments like this in the text?

    The phantom of false pleasure is illustrated by other men who run mad with delight over their own blue blood, flatter themselves on their nobility, and gloat over all their rich ancestors... (2.72)

    We love this image of the phantom, which nicely adds to the mysteriousness of Hythloday's character. The unspoken contrast to this "false phantom" would be the very real pleasure they get in Utopia from honoring actual virtuous behavior.

    The Utopians keep as slaves only prisoners taken in wars fought by the Utopians themselves. (2.80)

    Slaves? In an equal society? Don't ask us, we're confused too. Notice how Hythloday has presented it using positive language: "they only have these kinds of slaves..." Does he have good reasoning for this aspect of the system?

    [The Utopians] do allow divorce for adultery or for intolerably offensive behavior (2.82)

    Do you think divorce and social equality have any connection? Hythloday seems to think so.

    What kind of justice is it when a nobleman, a goldsmith, a moneylender, or someone else who makes his living by doing either nothing at all or something completely useless to the commonwealth gets to live a life of luxury and grandeur, while in the meantime a laborer, carter, or a farmer works so hard and so constantly that even beasts of burden would scarcely endure it? (2.107-108)

    Just another example of how Hythloday likes to gauge social problems using comparisons to animals (remember the man-eating, mutant sheep?).

    My chief objection [to the Utopian way of life] was to the basis of their whole system, that is, their communal living and their moneyless economy. This one thing alone utterly subverts all the nobility, magnificence, splendor, and majesty which [...] are the true ornaments and glory of a commonwealth. (2.110)

    This passage comes at the end of Utopia, as More narrates his response to what Hythloday has been describing. For some reason, More doesn't elaborate on why he sees the communal living in Utopia as so problematic. Might he secretly agree with Hythloday? Or does he think the answer is just so obvious?

  • Wealth

    Then I said, "It is clear, my dear Raphael, that you seek neither wealth nor power" (1.13)

    This is one of the first things More says to Hythloday as their debate gets going. Right off the bat, we know that Hythloday isn't interested in wealth. Is this some sort of foreshadowing for the descriptions of Utopia?

    To make this hideous poverty worse, it exists side by side with wanton luxury. (1.20)

    The only thing that Hythloday thinks is worse than wealth? Wealth that doesn't even help the poor. Might as well put a nasty thing to use, right?

    But as a matter of fact, my dear More, to tell you what I really think, wherever you have private property, and money is the measure of all things, it is hardly ever possible for a commonwealth to be governed justly or happily (1.38)

    Here, Hythloday really breaks it down for More. We think this one really speaks for itself. Private property = unhappiness.

    It seems to me that men cannot possibly live well where all things are in common [...] If the hope of gain does not spur him on, won't he rely on others, and become lazy? (1.40)

    More is voicing a pretty direct objection to Hythloday's picture of human life. How do the Utopians avoid being lazy? Do you buy Hythloday's explanation?

    The doors [in Utopian houses] open easily and swing shut automatically—and so there is nothing private or exclusive. Every ten years they exchange the houses themselves by lot. (2.47)

    Nope, Hythloday wasn't kidding about the whole no-private-property thing. Too extreme?

    Since [the Utopians] share everything equally, it follows that no one can ever be reduced to poverty or forced to beg. (2.61)

    Even if you aren't sold on the whole no-wealth thing, it's hard not be sold on the no-poverty thing. But do wealth and poverty necessarily go together as Hythloday describes? Would this system work in the real world?

    While they eat from earthenware dishes and drink from glass cups […] their chamber pots and all their humblest vessel […] are made of gold and silver. (2.63)

    Yep, that's right. The Utopians are pooping in gold toilets. Need any more proof that they don't care about wealth?

    The Utopians are appalled at those people who practically worship a rich man. (2.65)

    This passage isn't part of the religion section, so why are we talking about worship? We're guessing that Hythloday is also thinking that wealth should not equal religion.

    Speaking of false pleasure, what about those who pile up money, not for any real purpose, but just to sit and look at it? Is that true pleasure, or aren't they simply cheated by a show of pleasure? (2.72)

    Call on us! We know the answer! Hythloday sure knows how to ask a leading question. We dare you to find 'em all.

    When I run over in my mind the various commonwealths flourishing today, so help me God, I can see in them nothing but a conspiracy of the rich, who are fattening up their own interests under the name and title of the commonwealth. (2.108)

    We're noticing a switch here in Hythloday's tone. Earlier, his attacks on Europe were more indirect, but now, he's directly calling countries out. Which tactic is more effective?

  • Religion

    [A] certain friar [...] found such pleasure in this jest at the expense of priests and monks that he too began to make merry [...] (1.26)

    Hey, should a friar really be making fun of monks and priests? Aren't they all on the same side? Why does More cast this character in this particular position?

    But preachers, like the crafty fellows they are, have found that men would rather not change their lives to fit Christ's rule, and so [...] they have adjusted [Christ's] teaching to the way men live (1.37)

    Hmmm, this sounds familiar. Is Hythloday depicting religion as facing some of the same challenges as politics?

    [In Europe] there is a great lazy gang of priests and so-called religious men. (2.52)

    Ouch. Laziness isn't just a wealth issue, it's also a religious issue. Hythloday is suggesting that religion is responsible for some of the economic problems Europe is facing.

    [The Utopians] never discuss happiness without joining to their philosophical rationalism certain principles of religion. Without these religious principles, they think that reason is bound to prove weak and defective in its efforts to investigate true happiness. (2.68)

    Aha. So in Utopia, religion and philosophy think about the same questions. We're wondering if Hythloday sees this as a model for Europe as well.

    The religious principles [the Utopians] invoke are of this nature: that the soul of man is immortal, and by God's goodness born for happiness; and that after this life, rewards are appointed for our virtues and good deeds, punishments for our sins. (2.68)

    This religion does sounds a bit familiar. How much does it overlap with Christianity, the religion of More's time? In what ways is it different?

    But after [the Utopians] heard from us the name of Christ, and learned of his teachings, his life, his miracles, and the no less marvelous devotion of the many martyrs whose blood, freely shed, had drawn nations far and near into the Christian fellowship, you would not believe how they were impressed. (2.97)

    This moment in Hythloday's story would have sounded very familiar. After all, religious conversion was a huge reality of New World encounters. Of course, most real life encounters were less successful than the Utopian reception of Christianity depicted here.

    As soon as he had gained the victory [... King Utopus] decreed that every man might cultivate the religion of his choice (2.97)

    Considering people were being killed for their religious beliefs when More wrote Utopia, it's a pretty astounding statement. Go King Utopus.

    In [matters of religion], [King Utopus...] suspected that God perhaps likes various forms of worship and has therefore deliberately inspired different men with different views. (2.97-8)

    Another pretty radical take on religion for the time, c/o Thomas More. Does this idea that everyone can be right in their own way exist today?

    [The Utopians] think that dead persons are actually present among us, and hear what we say about them, though through the dullness of human sight they remain invisible. (2.99)

    The Utopians... see dead people.

    Their priests are of great holiness and therefore very few. (2.101)

    This quick remark sounds obviously different from what we've been hearing about European priests. Is More setting Utopia up to be the opposite of Europe? Whatever Utopia has, Europe doesn't, and vice versa? Or are Europeans supposed to see enough of themselves in the Utopians that they feel Utopia is an attainable goal?

  • Power

    "As it is now, I live as I please, and I fancy very few courtiers, however splendid, can say that." (1.13)

    Hythloday explains why being under someone else's authority is an automatic downer, not to mention a total power depleter. But wait a second, is that pride we hear in his voice? Uh oh.

    [Cardinal Morton] was a man, my dear Peter. [...] as much respected for his wisdom and virtue as for his authority. (1.15)

    Cardinal Morton, you're a solid guy. Notice how Hythloday goes out of his way to mention not only Morton's authority, but also his wisdom and virtue. This might be a kind of philosophical trinity for our speaker.

    Perhaps it will be argued that God's law against killing does not apply where human laws allow it. (1.22)

    The plot thickens as Hythloday continues his attack on the European legal system. Now we're not only thinking in terms of human power, but in terms of divine power, too.

    This is why, I would say, it is the king's duty to take more care of his people's welfare than of his own, just as it is the duty of a shepherd who cares about his job to feed the sheep rather than himself. (1.34)

    [B]y secret ballot [Utopian officials] elect the prince from among four men nominated by the people of the four sections of the city. The prince holds office for life, unless he is suspected of aiming at tyranny. (1.49)

    While it's clear that Hythloday really wants to emphasize the fairness of the Utopian political system, it's not so clear what "aiming at tyranny" exactly looks like. Why doesn't Hythloday give us the deets? Because it has never happened? Or maybe because the European readers already know what it looks like?

    The oldest of every [Utopian] household […] is the ruler. (2.56)

    Even on a small scale, there are power dynamics. Do you see any relationship between the broader social power dynamics and those of the household?

    [The Utopians] do not understand why a dunderhead with no more brains than a post, and who is about as lewd as he is foolish, should command a great many wise and good people, simply because he happens to have a big pile of gold (2.65)

    Moral of the story: rich people are dunderheads. Oh wait, no. Actual moral of the story: wealth shouldn't be the basis of power.

    Any such laws, when properly promulgated by a good king, or ratified by a people free of force and fraud, should be observed. (2.70)

    Mark your calendars! Hythloday is saying something positive about a legal system! He argues that when power comes from a legitimate source, it can actually regulate things to our benefit.

    Not even the [Utopian] prince is distinguished from his fellow citizens by a robe or crown (2.84)

    Yeah, who needs all those silly props? Power isn't actually about that... right?

    The institutions [the Utopians] have adopted have made their community most happy and, as far as anyone can tell, capable of lasting forever [...] As long as they preserve harmony at home, and keep their institutions healthy, the Utopians can never be overcome or even shaken by their envious neighbors (2.110)

    In a stirring conclusion, Hythloday links a country's power to the happiness of its subjects. Even in political philosophy, that's not always something people connect.

  • Exploration

    The most invincible King of England, Henry the Eighth...had recently some differences of no slight import with Charles, the most serene Prince of Castile, and sent me into Flanders as his spokesman to discuss and settle them. (1.8)

    Not the most riveting opening lines in literary history, but Utopia's opening lines do place the theme of exploration and travel—of all kinds—front and center.

    Being marooned in this way was altogether agreeable to [Hythloday], as he was more eager to pursue his travels than afraid of death. He would often say "The man who has no grave is covered by the sky" and "The road to heaven is equally short from all places." (1.10)

    People took exploration very seriously in the 16th century. Back in the day, travel really was a life or death matter.

    But of all the alternatives, I prefer the method [of punishment] I observed in my Persian travels among the people commonly called the Polylerites. (1.23)

    Hythloday is using himself as an example of how exposure to different cultures is another kind of education.

    Anyone who wants to visit friends in another city [in Utopia], or simply to see the place itself, can easily obtain permissions from his syphogrant and tranibor (2.60)

    You need permission to travel in Utopia? That's not so adventurous. How does Hythloday reconcile how much he's learned from free travel with this Utopian policy?

    Wherever [Utopians] go [in Utopia], though they take nothing with them, they never lack for anything because they are at home everywhere. If they stay more than a day in one place, each man practices his trade there, and is kindly received by the local artisan (2.60)

    While the idea of being always at home is comforting, it takes some of the adventure out of traveling. Are Utopians anti-adventure? Are the Europeans supposed to emulate that?

    Before leaving on the fourth voyage, I placed on board, instead of merchandise, a good-sized packet of books; for I had resolved not to return at all rather than come home soon (2.78)

    A man after Shmoop's own heart.

    I have a feeling they picked up Greek more easily because it was somewhat related to their own tongue. Though their language resembles Persian in most respects, I suspect them of deriving from Greece because, in the names of cities and in official titles, they retain quite a few vestiges of the Greek tongue. (2.78)

    More is having a little fun with us here. Not only is he making a joke about all those Greek word-games we keep seeing, he's also inserting Utopia into the cultural history of a European world. Where are we again? Is Utopia similar to Europe, or really different?

    Any sightseer coming to [Utopia] who has some special intellectual gift, or who has travelled widely and seen many countries, is sure of a warm welcome, for they love to hear what is happening throughout the world (2.79)

    Does this make the Utopians stationary explorers? Is that even possible?

    But in that New World [the area including Utopia], which is distanced from ours not so much by geography as by customs and manners, nobody trusts treaties (2.86)

    Hythloday is doing something nifty here with the image of exploration. He's shifting it from being something purely literal to something metaphorical as well. The "newness" isn't so much a quality of physical discovery but of intellectual discovery.

    Though there are various religions in Utopia, as I've said, all of them, even the most diverse, agree in the main point, which is worship of the divine nature; they are like travelers going to a single destination by different roads (2.104)

    Religion as exploration. Can you suss out the metaphor here?

  • Philosophical Viewpoints: Political Philosophy

    We made no inquiries, however, about monsters, which are the routine of traveler's tales. Scyllas, ravenous Celaenos, man-eating Lastrygonians and that sort of monstrosity you can hardly avoid, but to find governments wisely established and sensibly ruled is not so easy. (1.12)

    More is describing a pretty bleak political landscape here. You know you're in a political crisis when finding a well-governed country is more exciting and rare than a monster.

    Peter replied, "[...] I do not mean that you should be in servitude to any king, only in his service."

    "The difference is only a matter of one syllable," Raphael replied. (1.13)

    As the More, Giles, and Hythloday debate gets going, we get a nice illustration of the divergent points of view on what it means to be involved in politics. Giles and More tend to agree, while Hythloday (surprise surprise) is the resident pessimist.

    Your learning is so full, that even if it weren't combined with experience [...] you would be an extraordinary counsellor to any king in the world. (1.14)

    More and Giles might be a tad frustrated with Hythloday's lack of interest in involving himself politically. Come on, Hythloday. Smart people should be out there advising kings—let's go!

    At the same time [counsellors] endorse and flatter the most absurd statements of the prince's special favorites, through whose influence they hope to stand well with the prince. (1.14)

    This sound-bite is pretty representative of Hythloday's general attitude toward political life: courts are places for flattery, not philosophical honesty.

    When I had finished this account, I added that I saw no reason why this policy could not be adopted even in England [...] but the lawyer replied that such a system could never be practiced [...] without putting the commonwealth in danger (1.25)

    Idealism, meet realism. Hythloday uses this as an example of why his voice would not be welcome in a Renaissance court.

    No wonder we are so far from happiness when philosophers do not condescend even to assist kings with their counsel (1.28)

    We hear you, More. But does Hythloday? How can politics improve philosophically if there are no, um, philosophers?

    "...I would advise the king to look after his ancestral kingdom [...] he should love his people and be loved by them; he should live among them, govern them kindly, and let other governments alone, since his own is big enough, if not too big, for him. How do you think, my dear More, the other councillors would take this speech of mine?"

    "Not very well, I'm sure," said I (1.31)

    Hythloday is very fond of these kind of "thought experiments," in which he imagines a situation in order to prove his point. (In fact, we might even think of Utopia as one, long thought-experiment.)

    There is another philosophy, better suited for the political arena […] this is the philosophy for you to use (1.36)

    In disagreement with Hythloday, More suggests that philosophy can be realistic; you just need to know how to communicate it.

    From this class of scholars [in Utopia] are chosen ambassadors, priests [...] and the prince himself[...] (2.53)

    We're pretty down with the idea the scholars should be running things. We think. On second thought, let us sleep on it.

    In matters of moral philosophy, [the Utopians] carry on the same arguments as we do. (2.67)

    Can't say we're so surprised to hear that philosophy is an important part of Utopian society. Are we surprised at how similar their arguments are, too?