Study Guide

Utopia Power

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"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.

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