Read 1516 book by Thomas More by Contributors to Wikimedia projects
I was inspired to reread Thomas More’s Utopia after reading Dave Eggers’ The Every. A part of me wondered if it was how I remembered it from twenty years ago. It was how I remembered it, but then I read Susan Bruce’s introduction to Three Early Modern Utopias and I discovered that there was much more to More’s text than I appreciated.

Bruce explores the many ways More’s text has been interpreted over time:

The text has generated diametrically opposed interpretations from its critics, ranging from the dubious claim that Utopia describes a real historical community to the assertion that it is only a literary game; and from readings which maintain that it is a vision of an ideal Catholic society to those which see it as a proto-Communist text.

Discusses utopian texts in general, she makes the connection between the fictional creations and the exploration of the New World. Although More’s text is sometimes construed as an ideal, it is not clear that this is what More was trying to achieve. This is something Terry Eagleton captures in his reflection on utopias:

Not all Moreโ€™s proposals would delight the heart of Jeremy Corbyn. The perfection of his utopia is not tarnished in his view by the fact that it contains slaves. On certain festive days wives would fall down at their husbandsโ€™ feet, confessing that they have performed some domestic duty negligently. Adultery would be punished by the strictest form of slavery. One should recall that More, far from being the liberal-cum-existentialist portrayed in Robert Boltโ€™s play A Man for All Seasons, showed not the slightest compunction in torturing and executing heretics. In choosing oneโ€™s mate, men should be allowed to see their prospective wives naked, since who wants goods that arenโ€™t on show? Feminists, however, should note that women would enjoy the same prerogative. Brothels would be abolished, but so would alehouses. There would be no lawyers (a generous-hearted proposal, since More was one himself), but no tolerance for those who waste time, either.

The other worldliness of the utopias served as a critique of the dominant ideology, often They often capturing what these societies are not. More’s Utopia is probably best appreciated as a provocation written to promote further debate.

For a different approach to utopians in general, Tom Hodgkinson unpacks the history of utopias before and after More’s Utopia.