Study Guide

Utopia

Utopia Summary

In Book 1, Thomas More (not only the author, but also a main character) arrives in Antwerp on a business trip where he runs into an old friend, Peter Giles and meets a new friend, Raphael Hythloday.

Hythloday is a great traveler and has all sorts of controversial opinions, so the three of them head over to Giles's garden to have an intense chat about whether or not it's possible for philosophy to influence politics. Giles and More say it totally is, whereas Hythloday insists that politics and philosophy are irreconcilable. He ends by just randomly mentioning this place called Utopia, that he thinks rocks, and Giles and More beg him to say more.

After taking a little lunch break, our eager trio returns in Book 2 to chat about Utopia. Hythloday essentially describes, topic-by-topic, various characteristics of this new island: geography, history, cities, houses, government, farming, other jobs, down time, lack of money, outfits, families and households, lack of private property, food, dining, conversation, travel, trade, wealth, education, religion, visitors, slavery, laws, war, holidays… phew.

Once he finishes, Hythloday says that he thinks the island is the absolute best, but More and Giles seem less-than-convinced. More ends by saying that he has many remaining questions, but they can wait for Hythloday to chill out.

  • Book 1

    The Best State of the Commonwealth, A Discourse by the Extraordinary Raphael Hythloday, as recorded by the noted Thomas More, Citizen and Sheriff of the famous City of Britain, London, Book One

    • Yep, that's the title of Book 1. Off we go.
    • Our narrator, Thomas More, is on official "King's business," so he's been traveling around Northern Europe, ending up in Antwerp.
    • While he's there, he sees his good old friend Peter Giles, an incredibly smart guy, chatting with an intriguing-looking stranger.
    • This stranger, named Raphael Hythloday, has done some serious traveling. And since More loves to hear all about weird, unexplored places, Giles knows they'll want to chat.
    • Giles explains that Hythloday is not just any old traveler: he's studied ancient Greek, loves to talk about philosophy, and took his whole library with him on his voyages—not to mention he traveled with the famous Amerigo Vespucci.
    • History moment! Amerigo Vespucci. Name sound familiar? He's an Italian explorer who traveled around the same time as Columbus and gave his name to America.
    • Back to the story. More is totally impressed, and after introducing himself, they all go to More's house for a long chat in his garden.
    • Here, our narrator, More, describes Hythloday's story. Hythloday's direct narration isn't recorded until a little later (don't worry, we'll give you a heads up).
    • More explains that while Raphael was sailing with Vespucci, he and a few other men asked if they could stay behind as a garrison in some vague, far-away place. Yeah, More is often vague.
    • There, they meet the local people, make friends with an unidentified prince, and then head out to do some more exploring.
    • As they travel, they encounter various other towns and cities, as well as long stretches of desolate, unpopulated deserts.
    • Along the way, they make friends with so many various countries that they're invited to sail in all kinds of ships to all kinds of places.
    • Even though these various countries have some nifty ship technology, Hythloday really impresses them by showing off his compass.
    • Hythloday thinks that the compass has made a big difference in the traveling abilities of these countries, but he's also a bit worried that this invention might lead them into mischief.
    • Apparently, Hythloday has lots of other interesting things to say, but More explains that there just isn't time to repeat it all.
    • More acknowledges that Raphael did a great job answering many, many questions, particularly ones about how other "civilized nations" do things (12).
    • Unlike most people, More and Giles didn't ask anything about silly monsters; they're both much more interested in politics and government.
    • More thinks that the government that sounded most interesting was Utopia, so he's going to focus on what Hythloday had to say about that country, and on the particular conversation that got them started on that topic.
    • Here's how it went down:
    • After hearing about how many different experiences Hythloday had while visiting other governments and countries, Giles asks him why he doesn't go work for a prince, put all his knowledge to good use, and help out his friends and family by getting to know someone in high places (wink wink).
    • No way, says Hythloday (who we finally get to hear from directly). He's already been super generous to his family and friends and is totally not interested in being a slave to some king.
    • Whoa. Who said anything about being a slave? says Giles. He just meant Hythloday could offer advice.
    • Hythloday thinks they're the same thing.
    • Whatever, says Giles. It's still a good way to help your friends, and people in general, and have a good time.
    • Hythloday couldn't disagree more. He likes to do whatever he wants and if he worked for a king, he'd always be trying to please him and pander to people. Yuck.
    • More jumps in at this point and praises Hythloday for being so uninterested in money and influence.
    • But, More says, shouldn't someone so interested in philosophy want to do some good, even if he doesn't like it? He could help all those princes and kings be better by giving them good advice and sharing wisdom.
    • Hythloday thinks More is completely wrong for a whole bunch of reasons:
    • (1) Kings mostly like war. Hythloday doesn't.
    • (2) Advisors to kings are way too into themselves to listen to anyone else.
    • (3) Advising kings actually = flattering them
    • (4) Because being the best is so important, instead of being inspired by new ideas, advisors are afraid of looking stupid, so they'll find fault with anything you suggest.
    • (5) In fact, they don't even care about new ideas and experiences, they just like the idea that the old way is obviously the best way.
    • Hythloday ends by mentioning that he's even seen these kinds of attitudes in England, which surprises More since he didn't think Hythloday had ever been there.
    • Absolutely, Hythloday responds, and explains that he was in fact there for a number of months staying with a great guy called Cardinal Morton. He was virtuous, wise, always made sure people were honest, fair, gave great speeches, knew everything... you get the idea.
    • One night Hythloday, Cardinal Morton, and some visitors were all having dinner. One visitor, a lawyer, said how much he liked the current policy of hanging thieves (great dinner topic, buddy!). But he was a bit confused why, considering how many are killed, more and more still seem to be around.
    • And this is how the conversation continued:
    • At this point, Hythloday interrupts and explains that executing robbers is a terrible way of controlling robbery. People steal when they're desperate, not because they're cunning master criminals. If you want people to stop stealing, you need to give them the means to take care of themselves.
    • "Oh, we've taken care of that," (16) the lawyer responds, explaining, you know, they can farm or something.
    • "Oh no, you don't," (16) Hythloday replies, and gives him the real deal:
    • (1) What about veterans who've been disabled? Can they farm? (Nope.)
    • (2) And it's not like noblemen do anything all day. In fact, the only reason they get to sit around is because they have a bunch of people slaving away for them... not terribly enabling.
    • (3) And what about all those useless attendants that noblemen always seem to have waiting around? No one teaches them how to do anything useful so that one day, when they get sick and are fired, they have no way to take care of themselves. Nobody, not even farmers, wants to hire someone useless.
    • The lawyer still insists (for some reason) that these are the people who should become soldiers.
      Hythloday again points out that there is still plenty of time when there are no wars going on, and these people inevitably get up to no good when they aren't kept busy.
    • It's not just England that has this problem, Hythloday continues, France is even worse! Only idiots think that having a 24/7 army is a good idea. All you have to do is read some Roman history to see how often those armies get bored and just attack their own country. Wouldn't it be better for everyone if their time was occupied by learning some useful craft?
    • This isn't the only reason there is widespread thievery in England, Hythloday explains. Massive private farming and land-owning is also a huge problem. There isn't any land left for ploughing! Instead, it's just owned by a handful of lazy, rich people who kick out the local farmers and do whatever they want with it. Where are all these displaced people supposed to go? How are they supposed to find money to feed themselves and their families? Especially since buying all this farming land has also lead to food and wool being more expensive.
    • Moreover (Hythloday is seriously on a rant here), these noblemen who buy land for their own private benefit intentionally charge lots of money for animals and livestock. And for what? So that they can indulge in absurd amounts of luxury: new outfits, tons of food and drink, silly card games. Obviously, the rich need to be regulated. They shouldn't be allowed to do whatever they want or the problem of thievery will just get worse.
      Hythloday concludes (finally!) by saying that executing thieves just looks like justice, but it isn't and it doesn't work. He says it's just like blaming a child for being bad if his parents raised him poorly.
    • Well, the lawyer is getting all ready for a big comeback, but Cardinal Morton shuts him down and says he needs to wait until they meet up again the next day, because no one wants to hear him talk that much.
    • Instead, he does want to hear more from Hythloday about this whole punishing-thieves issue. How should they be punished then? Wouldn't a mild punishment still encourage robbery?
    • It's just completely unfair, Hythloday insists, to take someone's life because they took someone's money. "Thou shalt not kill" is one of the Ten Commandments, so why are we doing it all the time? It seems like a can of worms; if killing becomes legal, what's next: rape, adultery? God gets to make laws, not people. The laws of Moses are severe, but fair, so let's emulate that.
    • Okay, let's take a break for a quick history snack. Thomas More, as you might be aware, was later made a saint by the Catholic Church after being executed by Henry VIII. So, you can imagine, he was a pretty religious guy. And remember, when he was writing Utopia, Christianity was the accepted and standard religious code, so he would have expect his readers to all believe in the Christian God, too.
    • Back to the story. Aside from religion, Hythloday goes on to say that it's actually dangerous to make death the penalty for stealing because then murder and theft are punished in the same way. If that's true, won't that encourage robbers to kill their victims since they have nothing left to lose?
      In terms of an alternative punishment, Raphael thinks the Roman idea of putting thieves to work in chains isn't too bad, but the best one he learned from the nation of the Polylerites (don't worry if you've never heard of them before...).
    • Fun fact: More invented this name from two Greek words which, when put together, mean "The People of Much Nonsense." Clever, More. Very clever.
    • Speaking of the Polylerites...
    • Hythloday gets a little off topic and offers some quick background: they live in a country far from the sea, they aren't into invading other places, they happily eat what their land produces, they don't fight wars, they don't indulge in luxury... (hint hint).
    • Back to theft. Hythloday explains that the Polylerites punish robbers by having them repay the actual victim of the robbery—not the state—and then they have to go off and do hard labor for the rest of their lives. But this hard labor isn't in chains or anything, they just have to be involved in a project that helps the public.
    • If they don't work, they get whipped; if they do, they get fed and housed (under lock and key) by the state. This isn't an issue because the Polylerites are generous people and like to support the state.
    • Hythloday describes how Polylerite convicts have a particular physical appearance (yes, this bit is kind of wacky): they all wear clothes of the same color (no one else can wear this color...), they have short hair, and the tip of one ear is cut off. (We warned you it's wacky, if not downright creepy).
    • Friends can give them anything except money or clothing of a different color and, unsurprisingly, they don't get to carry weapons. They also have to wear a special badge indicating that they're convicts, and escape plans are punishable by death.
    • Sounds pretty rational, huh? Hythloday thinks it is because the goal of the system isn't just punishment, but to turn the criminals into better people.
    • In fact, the system works so well that travelers love chatting with Polylerite convicts because they're not dangerous and they're easy to spot.
    • What about a slave rebellion? you ask. Not a chance, says Hythloday. Criminals from different districts aren't allowed to talk to each other. And why would they rebel? If they're good, they even have a chance of being pardoned.
    • Hythloday goes on to wonder why this kind of a system isn't set up in England, but the lawyer says it would be a disaster.
    • Cardinal Morton jumps in and remarks that there's no way to know if it would work in England since no one has ever tried it. Maybe a criminal could have his death sentence temporarily suspended and that would be a way to try it out? No harm, no foul, right?
    • Suddenly, everyone at dinner seems to think this is a great idea. Hythloday is not pleased that when he suggested it they all thought it was absurd, but once mister big shot Cardinal agrees, they all love the idea.
    • After this, someone else at dinner remarks that the only social problem they haven't discussed yet is the poor.
    • A fool, who had been standing around being mostly silly but sometimes clever, replied that he was all over that since the poor never bother him because he never has anything to give them—just like priests (ouch!). He then suggests that all the poor be sent to monasteries to help out the monks there.
    • History moment! A fool, like, from a play or something? Yep, fools actually did hang around major courts annoying/entertaining noblemen, kings, etc. Check out "The Fool" in Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory for more.
    • The Cardinal gets a bit nervous since this fool just made fun of the church and one of his guests is a friar. But the friar thinks the joke is hilarious (phew!) and even makes fun of himself, saying the friars can be like beggars sometimes too.
    • And… another history moment! A friar is a religious leader somewhere between a priest and a monk (that may be why he liked the joke so much). He doesn't live shut off in a monastery, but instead lives in villages usually tending to the poor.
    • But the fool has his own comeback, and says that friars are more like the criminals they were discussing earlier.
    • Everyone else laughs at this one, but the friar is quite insulted. He starts calling the fool all kinds of mean names.
    • Friars aren't supposed to get angry, says the fool, quoting the Bible.
      The friar insists he isn't angry at all (in a very angry way!).
    • The Cardinal steps in to cool the friar off, but the friar insists that this is something worth getting angry about.
    • Well, says the Cardinal, it's kind of lame that you're this upset about something a fool said.
    • But the friar continues to get heated, insisting it's his religious duty to show this fool just how foolish he is.
    • What do you know—the Cardinal suddenly decides to change the subject.
    • Here, Hythloday stops narrating his experience of visiting the Cardinal in England and apologizes for how long he's been talking.
    • Um, yep.
    • He explains to his two friends that he wanted to include every little detail so that More and Giles would understand just how fake and flattering advisors can be.
    • More, however, insists that he loved hearing Hythloday's story, especially since he grew up knowing the Cardinal and it brought back lovely memories.
    • But More is still not convinced that all advisors to kings have to be bad and thinks Hythloday could do some serious good. Just think about what Plato recommended, More says: that the best kind of state is one ruled by philosophers.
    • Fun factoid: More is referring to Plato's Republic, a famous work of Greek philosophy which imagined a perfect state ruled by philosopher kings. More's Utopia is actually modeled on this text, which some people consider to be proto-Utopian.
    • Hythloday insists that plenty of philosophers try to influence kings all time by writing books of advice that the kings just don't read. He says he agrees with Plato's idea, but it first requires kings to become the kind of people who even care about philosophy. Even Plato tried to influence a tyrant during his lifetime and it was a complete fail.
    • Hythloday then offers More and Giles some scenarios to prove his point:
    • Scenario 1: Hythloday at the court of France in some top-secret session about how to basically take over all of Europe.
    • Everyone has a bunch of totally different suggestions: make deals, hire mercenaries, pay off various kings, marry off some women, make an alliance with England, etc.
    • So what does Hythloday think? He thinks France is big enough and the king should just be happy with the land he's got.
    • Then (at this imaginary meeting) Hythloday starts talking about the Achorians, a people he encountered during his travels, who live near Utopia.
    • The name "Achorian" comes from two Greek words and means "The People without a Country." Hopefully you're getting the picture by now that More really likes playing word games with Greek.
    • Anyway, they waged war on a nearby kingdom and found out it was nothing but trouble. They were dealing with rebellions, taxes, corruption, etc.
    • The king couldn't focus on either his own kingdom or this new one so he finally gave up and handed the new kingdom over to a friend.
    • So Hythloday tells the council that the best kind of king just minds his own business and doesn't invade other places. And what kind of outcome does More expect this advice to have?
    • More admits: not a good one.
    • Scenario 2: Hythloday at a secret royal session about making lots of money.
    • There are the usual bunch of sneaky recommendations from other advisors: increase the value of money when the king pays his debts and devalue it when he collects, invent a war (those always make money), invent some laws that everyone is breaking and collect a bunch of fines, make new laws preventing certain activities unless you pay up big time, pay off the judges so that they always rule in the interest of the king....
    • All these (imaginary) advisors agree anyway that kings always need more money and kings can't really do wrong anyway, right? He's king! In fact, he shouldn't be too nice to his subjects at all, because he needs them to be timid and obedient.
    • Cue Hythloday who—guess what?—doesn't agree. He thinks the security of the king relies upon the security his subjects feel and believes that a king's duty is to take care of his people, not exploit them for his own comfort.
    • Poverty does not equal security (says Hythloday). Just think about beggars. They're always getting into fights. And what better reason do people have to start a revolution than starvation? If you have nothing to lose, you'll do all kinds of reckless stuff. If a king is only king because he's horrible to his subject, he doesn't deserve to be king because he doesn't embody real authority. He's more like a jailer or an incompetent doctor than a king.
    • Here's what needs to happen, says Hythloday: the king should only live off his own income, he should train his subjects to be obedient, not mistreat them and then punish them, he shouldn't invent or revive totally antiquated laws, and he shouldn't impose unfair fines.
    • Instead, he should imitate the Macarians, another people who live near Utopia (we're sensing a pattern...).
    • Macarian isn't quite as fun as More's usual names. It just means "blessed" or "happy."
    • So the Macarians have this law saying that the treasury can only have a certain amount of gold in it at one time. That way, the king can never just spend all his time trying to gain lots of money. The amount is just enough to run the kingdom, but not enough for any outlandish silliness, so the subjects are the ones who benefit. If the treasury does go over, he has to give the extra money to his subjects, so he's really nice to them and he's feared by other kings for having such a strong kingdom.
    • End of scenario 2.
    • Hythloday again asks More how he thinks the other advisors would respond to such a suggestion.
    • And More again admits that they wouldn't listen at all. He agrees that it would probably be a complete waste of time since such philosophical idealism is totally unhelpful in the political context of the court.
    • Hythloday says that this is exactly what he's been trying to prove all along.
    • But More thinks the problem is actually with how Hythloday was trying to incorporate philosophy, not just philosophy period.
    • More insists that philosophy can be adaptable, you just need to be able to communicate it in way that political (not philosophical) people will understand.
    • Say you're watching a comedy. Would you get up in the middle and give a speech from a tragedy? No. You'd want to stick with the comedic vibe. Otherwise, you'd just look dumb.
    • This is just how it is during a political council. You need to know the lingo and not just give up when you fail once. Be tactful be subtle and don't expect everyone to be suddenly good all at once.
    • Nope, says Hythloday. The problem with that idea is that he'd just turn into to those pandering councilors he's been trying to avoid. The only way to speak truthfully is to speak in the way he's been describing. Maybe philosophers do lie, but he won't.
    • He doesn't even understand why his ideas would be considered so crazy! Think about what Plato describes in the Republic or how the Utopians actually run things? European political leaders are just too obsessed with the idea that private property is the best so they would never understand these countries where things are shared.
    • Plus, no one likes to listen to advice that points out problems with something that's well established, so you'd listen to his radical ideas? It's too bad because an unusual idea isn't necessarily a bad one. Seriously, Jesus said lots of things that were considered weird back in the day, but that didn't stop him. But people still don't want to actually follow what Jesus says, so priests just offer interpretations of what Jesus says that fit current lifestyles. All they do, then, is make people feel justified for leading immoral lives.
    • So that's the problem. If Hythloday were advising a king, he'd rather disagree with everyone and not be listened to than agree with them and then justify their immorality.
    • More says that he should try to be "subtle" and "indirect," but Hythloday doesn't think those things exist in political councils—everyone is always saying things that are over the top and exaggerated. If you hold back, wham!, people start thinking you're a spy or a traitor.
    • How can one person do good when he is surrounded by people who don't care about improving themselves? They either win you over or ignore you. Indirect influence? Puh-lease!
    • Plato is totally right when he says that wise men can't make a difference for the public. They couldn't even convince a crowd to get out of the rain while they were all getting soaked. So instead, the wise just chill inside, keeping themselves dry at least since they can't convince anyone else. 
    • But you know what Hythloday really thinks? He thinks that anywhere private property and money are valued, it's really hard for a country to be happy or just. How can it, when all the worst people get all the best stuff? Where the few have the most and are always worried about holding on to what they have? And, of course, everyone else is totally miserable.
    • This is why the Utopians are so brilliant! They have a very successful government but only a few laws. Good deeds are rewarded, but they share everything and everyone has what they need.
    • Every other country is always struggling to keep itself ordered. Private property is a total disaster because laws don't actually protect that property—people steal it, ruin it, etc.—and so there are endless new laws produced and new lawsuits brought forward. Total nightmare.
    • Thinking about all this really does make him sympathetic to Plato and his anti-private property stance. He was so right when he realized that the only way to be happy is to make property equal. How can equality exist when individuals own property? Even if there are lots of good things to do around, people become greedy and so just a few super-greedy people end up with way more stuff than everyone else. You end up with two groups: greedy rich people and modest, hardworking poor people trying to benefit the public.
    • Hythloday is totally convinced that we need to get rid of private property in order for equality to exist and for people to be happy. As long as there is private property, most people will be oppressed, miserable, and poor.
    • It's true that we could still make improvement under the current political system: restrict the amount of property owned, prevent the prince from being too powerful, keep people from being too crazy, not allow public offices to be bought. This last one is important because if public positions can be paid for, then only the rich can hold these positions (total vicious cycle).
    • So yes, some of these laws could make a difference, but really, it would just be like helping a sick person feel better. It doesn't actually cure the real issue; that requires getting rid of private property. And in fact, by temporarily alleviating the "symptoms" of private property, you might make the whole thing worse in the long run. (Hythloday isn't very clear here about how or why...)
    • More just doesn't agree. How can people be happy if everything is shared? People would just stop working and then there wouldn't be any property at all. All he sees that leading to is total chaos with people fighting each other for this "common" stuff.
    • And who would be in charge? More can't imagine anyone being able to stay in control.
    • Of course More would say that, Hythloday responds, because he doesn't have a real vision of how a country could be like this. If only More had been with Hythloday in Utopia and seen how they do things. He lived there for five years and was so happy, he only left to tell the rest of the world about what a great country it is.
    • Giles jumps in here (first time in a while), skeptical that anywhere could be better governed than the European world they know. Europeans are just as smart as Utopians are and, he insists, European governments have been around way longer so they've had time to figure out what works and what doesn't.
    • Around longer? Hythloday asks. Giles needs to read some Utopian history before he says that. They had built cities before Europe was even populated. So they've had plenty of time to come up with all sorts of nifty ideas. And maybe Europeans are smarter, but the Utopians are super enthusiastic and self-disciplined.
    • In their history books, it seems that they've never encountered "men-from-beyond-the-equator" except once a long, long time ago, when some Romans and Egyptians turned up. But because of how enthusiastic and careful they are, the Utopians learned tons from these castaways. Every significant idea the Romans and Egyptians had the Utopians learned. Imagine how well they did when Hythloday and some Europeans landed there.
    • What Hythloday thinks is sad is that if the reverse happens, and some Utopians show up in Europe, it would take ages for any of their wonderful ideas to catch on. In fact, if Hythloday had to boil their success down to one quality, it would be this: they love learning.
    • Do tell! Do tell! More requests (pretty excited). He and Giles want to hear every little detail about this amazing island.
    • Absolutely, Hythloday offers, but since there's a lot to discuss, they all agree it would be better to wait until lunch. So they all have lunch and then return to the very same spot and listen to Hythloday's description of Utopia. 
    • Took 'em long enough to get there.
  • Book 2, Introduction

    The Discourse of Raphael Hythloday on the best state of a Commonwealth, Book Two: As Recounted by Thomas More, Citizen and Sheriff of London

    • The island of Utopia is kind of shaped like a crescent moon with two horns at the end that opens onto a large, peaceful bay. There's a big harbor on one side, so lots of ships sail from one end of the island to the other. There's one big rock right in the middle of the bay with a watchtower on top.
    • The entrance to the bay is a bit tricky, what with super shallow water on one side and super sharp rocks on the other. That means strange ships can't really come in unless they have some help from a Utopian pilot who knows the various landmarks.
    • In fact, if the Utopians wanted to totally destroy an enemy fleet, all they'd have to do is rearrange those landmarks. Sneaky.
    • On the other side of the island, it's mostly incredibly rocky, making it a natural defense against enemies.
    • Apparently, the island of Utopia wasn't always an island. Utopus, who conquered the country and made it into a beacon of intellect and culture, decided to also change how it looked. After conquering the locals, he formed a man-made channel to separate one area from the rest of the continent, transforming it into an island.
    • Utopus ordered not just the native people to help with this project, but had his own soldiers pitch in too; he actually didn't want to make the people he conquered feel any more put down.
    • With so many helpers, the work went pretty quickly and the neighboring countries were pretty intimidated.
    • Utopia has fifty-four cities and each one is pretty much exactly the same: all nice, same language, same habits, same laws—you get the idea. In fact, they're practically identical since they're all built on the same plan and they're spaced apart so that it's never any longer than a day's walk between each city.
    • Once every year, each city sends three of its best residents to the capital, Amaurot, to chat about official island business.
      Every city isn't just a city, but also includes a nice amount of farm land, which stays intact because Utopian city-dwellers aren't greedy for more land. Instead, they sprinkle the country with a small number of well-placed country-houses (no suburban developments on this island!).
    • Every country-house has at least forty workers, plus two slaves (yep, you read that right—slaves) as well as a master and mistress. There's also a kind of "community leader" who is in charge of thirty households.
    • The country and the city have a little exchange program going on, where twenty country-dwellers swap with twenty city-dwellers and each learn new skills. It's a good system because everyone gets exposure to different ways of living, but no one is stuck doing one thing unless they really like it.
    • Farm jobs include the usual farm stuff... except people are in charge of hatching chickens so the chicks get attached to their humans and follow them around (aww!). They raise just a few horses and some oxen, too. 
    • They don't make beer (unlike England!), only wine. And they always have a surplus of food. With the surplus, they make sure everyone gets what they need.
  • Book 2, Section 1

    Their Cities, Especially Amaurot

    • Okay, so as we know, all the Utopian cities are pretty much identical. Except Amaurot is the best and Hythloday lived there so he's going to talk about that one.
    • It's on a lovely hill right near the river Anyder, which brings fresh water to the city through a small stream that runs through the middle.
    • Quick break: This would have sounded very familiar to More's readers, since it's pretty much exactly the same as London's geographic relationship to the river Thames. Ah, geographical context.
    • Okay, back to the story. Amaurot has a nifty wall surrounding it and has accessible, usable streets.
    • Plus, it's easy on the eyes with some lovely houses and big gardens. These houses are also all the same (this should start to sound familiar) and don't even have locks. And get this—every ten years, everyone exchanges houses.
    • They're also very serious about their gardens and have competitions for who has the nicest one.
    • Apparently, King Utopus was responsible for planning the city and its inhabitants have been improving it ever since. 
    • So far, so good.
  • Book 2, Section 2

    Their Officials

    • Remember how every thirty households has a "community leader"? This person is called the phylarch, or in their ancient language, the syphogrant. 
    • These leaders are in charge of electing a prince using a secret ballot. The prince rules for his whole life, but can be removed if people think he's a tyrant.
    • They have all kinds of open and democratic processes by which the prince deals with day-to-day business, and everything is conducted in the open so that the prince and his advisors don't do anything sneaky or oppressive.
    • Oh, and of course, the senate isn't allowed to debate something the same day it's brought up, since it's always better to have time to think things over. 
    • Doesn't sound too bad, huh?
  • Book 2, Section 3

    Their Occupations

    • At some point, everyone farms. Yep—you, too.
    • Each person also learns a special skill that contributes to the country.
    • Their clothing is also the same (we told you this would keep coming up...) except that men and women wear different outfits, as do people who are married versus unmarried.
    • Women do "easier" crafts. [Insert snarky comment here.]
    • Crafts usually stay in the family, but you can change your craft is you don't like it.
    • The syphogrants make sure people aren't being lazy, but this isn't much of an issue since Utopians only work six hours a day and can spend the rest of the day doing whatever they want. Um… yes, please.
    • Although, to be fair, most Utopians choose to do something educational with their free time. (Reality TV is educational, right?)
    • After dinner, they chill out. They don't gamble and only have two (un)fun games: a game of numbers and a game about virtues and vices.
    • Sound like the Utopians are kind of lazy? Think again. Because everyone does their share, a lot gets done in six hours. Unlike most places (in More's time), women work, too, and there aren't any non-working priests, rich people, or beggars. Not to mention that the work they do in Utopia is actually useful.
    • In fact, even though syphogrants don't need to work, they usually do. Scholars are also exempt from work, but if their research isn't good, they have to start working again. (We're kind of glad that policy doesn't apply to students here…)
    • However, it is from this group of scholars that all public officials are chosen (including the prince). Here, we also learn that the title of prince in Utopian is Ademos.
    • Word game!: Ademos means "Peopleless" in Greek. Weird pun.
    • Buildings in Utopia last a long time because everyone is conscientious about their construction and upkeep.
    • Clothing is also easy since it's all pretty much the same and Utopians only have a few pieces each.
    • Sometimes, there is so little to do because things run so smoothly that the government shortens the work day. Utopians like this because they care most about learning and self-improvement. We like this because we're lazy—and because we care most about learning and self-improvement.
    • Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • Book 2, Section 4

    Social and Business Relations

    • Every city in Utopia has families basically along the lines we're used to. Um, except for almost everything that follows.
    • When women grow up, they move in with their husband's family. To keep everything balanced, they make sure family sizes stay at a certain number. That means sometimes someone has to move from their family to another, smaller one.
    • In fact, they are so obsessed with this whole number-balance thing that they make people move to different cities that are too small and will even send them out of the country to make a new colony if the total population of Utopia gets too big.
    • Utopians will declare war on another country if they aren't making good use of their land. They think that this is totally justifiable because otherwise the land goes to waste.
    • If the whole population of Utopia gets too small, they call back people from colonies.
    • But back to family life. The oldest male gets to be in charge, and women and children help out.
    • Families share everything they produce in a big, common storehouse of the city and take whatever they need. It's this system that prevents greed from being a problem in Utopia. After all, if no one owns anything, no one fears losing anything.
    • Food works the same way, though they have one distinct practice: someone called a bondsmen kills all the animals they eat, because they don't think it's ethical for their actual citizens to kill anything. (These "bondsmen" are confusing. More doesn't mention them again, and they seem quite similar to the slaves he quickly mentions earlier, but he gives them a different name.)
    • Everyone has dinner at various town halls run by a syphogrant (kind of like the eating hall in a college dorm).
    • Sick people have first dibs on food, and they rest in public hospitals located in every city. They're built well to take the best care of the sick.
    • After that, everyone has an equal amount food—except the syphogrants, prince, and any foreign visitors, who have more. People can take extra food home after dinner if they want to, but no one does because it's considered kind of rude.
    • Slaves have to do the hard cooking labor, while women do the skillful preparation.
    • Nurses take care of children in a separate dining hall, and there are plenty nurses who love to take care of the children.
    • Young children all eat together.
    • Seating is arranged by prestige of position but young and old are mixed so that the young have good examples to follow and the eldest are served first.
    • Meals begin with a reading about some moral topic which then everyone discusses. And, of course, there is always music and dessert.
    • In the country, people eat in their own home.
    • We're starting to wonder how Hythloday is remembering all these details.
  • Book 2, Section 5

    The Travels of the Utopians

    • To travel in the country, you need permission, although it's usually granted without any problems.
    • You don't even need to bring anything, because you'll be provided for wherever you end up. Not having to pack for vacation? Sounds good to us.
    • Traveling without permission is a big no-no; second time you do it, you become a slave.
    • If you don't want to stay at home, you have to work wherever you are in order to be fed.
    • People don't avoid work because there aren't many places to avoid it. No bars, no brothels, no Dance Dance Revolution arcades.
    • When all the leaders get together annually in the capital, they assess how many goods they have, save a lot, distribute some, and then trade whatever is left over. They've gained a lot of gold and silver, so they don't mind lending to other cities on credit.
    • They only really use money to hire soldiers, so that they don't have to fight in wars.
    • They actually keep their gold and silver for totally wacky stuff, because they don't think it's very valuable. Yep, they use it for chamber pots (primitive toilets), chains for prisoners, and gold chains that criminals are forced to wear.
    • Only children, before they become more mature, enjoy playing with diamonds and pearls.
    • Funny story: some Anemolian visitors came to Utopia and thought they would look impressive by dressing up. But instead, the Utopians thought they looked ridiculous and they were totally embarrassed. Hilarious, we know.
    • How about some more word games? Anemolian is another made-up place, coming from the Greek word for windy.
    • The Utopians just don't get the appeal of jewels and fancy stuff—they think it's all completely useless. Naturally, they also don't understand the concept of wealth and why rich people hold positions of prominence.
    • They learn about the foolishness of wealth not only from their whole community, but also from reading good books (yes!) which every child does during their education.
    • They haven't heard of any of our famous philosophers, but have still come up with most inventions and discoveries in learning on their own. In fact, they are probably better off without some of our philosophy, which is confusing instead of helpful.
    • They study the stars, but only to observe, not to engage in astrology which they think is hooey (no horoscopes for the Utopians).
    • They like to debate all kinds of philosophical topics, and believe happiness is the greatest goal in life. Hythloday, by the way, doesn't seem very impressed with this part.
    • Their religion is based on this principle, too, but teaches them that the truest kind of happiness is honorable and good pleasure, not just greedy and self-interested pleasure.
    • For them, virtue means following Nature as closely as possible, which means being good to yourself and to others.
    • This is why it's good to follow laws that help you to be virtuous and not to do anything that will harm another person.
    • They believe that God will ultimately reward those who act virtuously.
    • Good pleasure, Hythloday repeats, is following what Nature lays out for us.
    • For example, following bad pleasure is caring too much about (1) fancy clothes, (2) big honors, (3) jewels, (4) money for its own sake, (5) gambling, (6) hunting. These kinds of things have nothing to do with Nature and lead people to be way too into themselves.
    • Good pleasures are (1) functioning body and health (despite the fact that some people don't think health counts), (2) sensory experiences like music (eating and drinking should only be pleasurable if they're healthy), (3) beauty, strength, and agility.
    • Hythloday then stops his narrative briefly for a little caveat: this is all just the facts, ma'am. He's not saying Utopians are better, just reporting what they do. And, you know, they happen to be incredibly happy all the time...
    • Anyway, back to the facts. Utopians are super healthy and athletic because they take care of themselves.
    • They're also very chill and friendly and love thinking about important things. For example, when they were introduced to ancient Greek learning, they were all over it. They learned the language super quickly (Hythloday suspects Greek and Utopian are somehow distantly related).
    • Hythloday, who you might remember was himself a huge Greek-buff, brought a bunch of Greek books with him to Utopia. Well what would know, but while he was reading one, some darn monkey came and ripped a bunch of pages out! That's why one of his books isn't in tip-top condition, but the rest were perfect.
    • He did also give them two nifty inventions: the printing press and the ability to make paper.
    • Utopians love meeting travelers, learning from them, and hearing their stories, but not many merchants come to Utopia since they don't trade much.
  • Book 2, Section 6

    Slaves

    • So yeah, there are slaves. What's that all about?
    • Slaves are prisoners from Utopian wars, but the children of slaves are not born into slavery. Most are Utopian citizens being punished.
    • A few slaves are actually volunteers, who were being treated really badly in their own country. These guys get the nicest treatment (but they're still slaves...)
    • Sick people are taken very good care of and the Utopians believe in euthanasia (the killing of someone terminally ill, with their consent, to spare them from chronic pain).
    • Women can't marry until they are 18, men until they are 22. Oh, and pre-marital sex is absolutely not allowed. They enforce this quite harshly because they believe that no one would agree to marry otherwise. (Hythloday doesn't seem to have a very happy view of marriage in general).
    • So, how do they marry? This part is pretty weird. After two Utopians are engaged, they see each other naked once before they have to marry. This way, the Utopians claim, each partner can get an accurate sense of their fiancé/fiancée's physical appearance before they commit 100%. (Possibly helpful to remember here how much more clothing they would have been wearing back in the day compared to the present).
    • Utopia is the only country in that area where they practice monogamy (only being married to one person) and they do allow for divorce if there's any cheating going on or things are really, really miserable. However, this can't just be some natural flaw in the person or old age, because that is just not cool; you need to stick marriage out if that's the case.
    • Cheaters are forced into slavery and if they are caught again, they are executed.
    • Speaking of punishing, there aren't actually fixed punishments in Utopia. Every particular situation is considered by the senate. They find slavery a useful punishment because everyone can see them and be like "nope, that is not for me!"
    • Seduction, even attempting to seduce someone, is also punished harshly.
    • Fools (remember them? We encountered them earlier in a story Raphael was telling. See "Symbols, Images, and Allegory" for more) are very popular in Utopia. Utopians like everyone to have a sense of humor and not take themselves too seriously. Shmoop would fit in quite nicely.
    • However, making fun of people with disabilities is hugely looked down on.
    • Everyone is expected to take care of their appearance, but they don't believe in make-up.
    • To encourage good behavior, they advertise honors in the main square so everyone can be impressed.
    • You can't campaign for political office and officials aren't arrogant and don't go around wearing special clothing or badges.
    • There are only a few laws in Utopia to avoid any legal confusion or the need for lawyers. Everyone can be a legal expert and defend themselves when the legal system is nice and simple.
    • Some of the surrounding countries admire the Utopian government so much, they have their own leaders and officials sent over from Utopia. These Utopian officials are all much more honest than your average official since they don't care about money and as result can't be bribed.
    • They also don't have any use for treaties; everyone just breaks them anyway. Although treaties are popular in Europe for both political and religious reasons, Utopians think that they don't actually secure an agreement well.
    • Also, they think treaties assume that people will cheat each other. They'd rather assume people are trustworthy until proven wrong. That's optimistic.
  • Book 2, Section 7

    Warfare

    • Utopians hate war. The end.
    • They don't think it bestows any glory, and they only go to war to protect their own land, their friend's land, or to free people being oppressed.
    • For example, when Hythloday's ship was there, they fought a war on behalf of the Nephelogetes against the Alaopolitans since the A Nephelogetes had been wronged.
    • In general, the Utopians react much more harshly to harm done to their friends than to harm done to themselves. Talk about selflessness.
    • They don't celebrate their accomplishments in war because they think don't consider them particularly impressive. They never try to win more than they had before the war started, only to return everything to the way it was.
    • Once war begins, they send in secret agents who try to execute the big officials before any fighting starts; they either do it themselves or try to turn their own people against them. This way, those actually in power are punished, and innocent lives lost in fighting can be spared.
    • They'll also try to stir up conflict within the enemy's own forces to make them less unified.
    • When they offer to help another nation, they are very generous with money, but not with soldiers.
    • In general, they prefer to hire other people to fight for them, especially a neighboring people called the Zapoletes. These guys are rough, mountain-dwellers and, if the price is right, they fight loyally for anyone who needs them. They love money so much that they will engage in the most intense and dangerous fighting if the price is right.
    • Utopia contributes its own men to fight only as a last resort, and when they do, their wives are allowed to go with them to make the whole thing easier.
    • Even though Utopians don't like to fight, when they do, they're awesome: brave and devoted.
    • Once they win, they certainly don't massacre the enemy, but instead take prisoners.
    • They are very sneaky about ambushing the enemy, and pretty great at avoiding ambushes themselves.
    • Because they're all completely willing to work together, fighting and defending goes quickly and efficiently.
    • They have great armor that both protects and easily allows for moving around—even swimming!
    • If there is a truce, the Utopians take it very seriously and don't ruin enemy land or people. They do collect a certain amount of money and land to make up for what the war cost them.
    • If another nation tries to invade Utopia, they immediately stop them and never let another army set foot on their island.
  • Book 2, Section 8

    Religions of the Utopians

  • Utopia has a bunch of different religions and different people worship different things: sun, moon, planets, a virtuous man of the past. Most, however, believe in a great, unknowable power that was the origin of the world and they call this power Mithra.
  • Factoid! Mithra is actually the name of a god in the Persian religion. In fact, there are a good number of similarities Hythloday mentions between Utopia and Persia.
  • Anyway, once the Utopians were told about Jesus and Christianity, they were very impressed, particularly by the important role community plays in Jesus's teachings. Some were even baptized.
  • While Hythloday was in Utopia, two of his crew died and were not able to be buried according to Christian ritual.
  • When King Utopus first conquered Utopia, he saw what damage was being done by all this fighting about religion, so he made it a law that everyone could practice whatever they wanted. He thought it was likely that God was present in all kinds of different beliefs and that true faith would be revealed by its own qualities, so fighting is never necessary.
  • The only belief they really look down upon is the idea that there is no justice in the afterlife. Still, people who think this aren't punished, they just can't hold public office.
  • Since they think of death as having lots of rewards after it, they don't really mourn those who die unless it was way before their time. After someone dies, they also think it's important to recognize all their good qualities.
  • They don't believe in fortune-telling, but do believe in miracles.
  • Most Utopians show their respect for God by studying science and literature. Others, however, devote themselves to helping the needy. Some of these people are celibate and live together while others still choose to be married.
  • They only have a small number of priests, who are considered very holy. They are responsible for leading religious services and monitor who's being naughty or nice. If someone is extra bad, they can be turned away from religious services, which is a big disgrace. They also teach children.
  • Women can also be priests (!), usually older widows.
  • Priests are considered to be the most honorable position in the whole country. Even if a priest does something wrong, he isn't punished, just left to God's justice.
  • Priests accompany soldiers to war and spend the battle praying for peace. Once the battle is over, they are responsible for making sure the Utopian soldiers are merciful.
  • Every first and last day of the month is a holiday. We like this idea.
  • They have beautiful churches, big and dark to keep people focused on the service going on.
  • Although the details of various services are different, they essentially all worship this unknown, powerful force. Churches don't have any images of God; that way, people can imagine him/her as they wish.
  • On one of their holidays, they all make sure to go home and tell everyone in their family things they've done wrong or things they're angry about. That way, family life runs smoothly. Hmmm… this doesn't go over well at Shmoop's Thanksgiving dinners.
  • Men and women sit on separate sides during church and children never sit with each other, only with other grown-ups. Keeps the noise level down, we guess.
  • They don't believe in any animal sacrifices, they just burn incense and wear white clothing to services.
  • They all bow when the priest enters the services and then sing beautiful hymns in which the topic of the song always matches the feeling of the music.
  • While praying, they thank God for what he gives and hope that everyone will be inspired by him. They also pray that for an easy death and a good afterlife.
  • After church, they either play games or engage in military training.
  • Whew! That's pretty much what there is to know about Utopia, the country Hythloday thinks is the best in the whole world. It's also actually a commonwealth (unlike places in Europe that just call themselves that), because the wealth is literally shared in common.
  • And really, life is better in Utopia because people aren't worrying about money and property all the time, says Hythloday. In other countries, the predominance of money creates all these useless jobs, like noblemen and goldsmiths that make lots of money, whereas useful jobs like carpentry make nothing. Utopia is way better.
  • Way. Better.
  • In Europe, the rich not only get richer, but also spend their time trying to get more money out of people who are already poor.
  • And what's worse? All this is completely legal. If you got rid of money, everyone would be so much better off. People would finally understand that it's better to have just enough in this life than to have too much. It would also prevent people from becoming conceited and proud, the biggest obstacle to Utopian laws becoming common in Europe.
  • Why is Pride so awful? Because, as Hythloday describes, "Pride measures her advantages not by what she has but by what other people lack" (2.109) and he goes on to list a whole bunch of destructive aspects of Pride. He ends, however, by worrying that Pride is a difficult failing to get rid of.
  • Book 2, Conclusion

    • The narrative now returns to More's first person experience, and he thinks that many aspects of Utopia sound completely absurd, especially the fact that they all live communally.
    • However, he sees that Raphael is exhausted and doesn't seem very good at taking criticism anyway, so he drops the issue for now.
    • More ends by saying that there are some good things about the Utopian way of life, but is skeptical they'll ever appear in Europe. 
    • How's that for an ambiguous ending?