The Imperfection Of Thomas More's Utopia

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A man named Speaker of Nonsense will clearly be disadvantaged in any debate. What kind of information or argument can be expected of such an individual? Can he explain a rational idea or form a logical conclusion? Is the authority of his discourse trustworthy? Or is he just a man with name and nature in perfect harmony? These are all questions that Thomas More leaves us asking of Raphael Hythloday, the garrulous sailor-philosopher who describes and extols the society of Utopia.

From his memories of a five-year stay on the island, Raphael conjures up a thorough depiction of the sociopolitical practices of the Utopian way of life, which he proclaims "the happiest basis for a civilized community, which will last forever." He vividly describes everything from their wardrobes to their war tactics. And still, at the end of his speech, More confesses to having "various objections." Surely, More acknowledges Raphael's "undoubted learning and experience" while still insisting that Utopia seemed "in many cases perfectly ridiculous." Could it really be nonsense, nonetheless clever nonsense, after all?

The first glimpse we get of Raphael is of a stranger and probably (More guesses) a sailor. Giles soon joins More, presenting Raphael as a friend and confirming that he is a sailor, but a rather extraordinary one at that. He is, according to Giles, "really more like Ulysses or even Plato." While these comparisons with identifiable figures are helpful, the main way Hythloday’s character comes to be revealed is through the contrast between him and More. They each hold a fundamentally different philosophy on politics. We see this when Giles urges Hythloday to hold a court position, putting his wisdom and experience to a good use. He d...

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...ety in isolation, he struggles to come up with a sense of how it functions in the context of other, non-Utopian nations. His inability to articulate a plausible Utopian foreign policy ultimately shows that his true-life account is most likely a mix of fact and fiction.

Hythloday may have an active imagination, but his account of Utopia still contains some valuable truths. More himself says, "I freely admit that there are many features of the Utopian Republic which I should like ­ though I hardly expect ­ to see adopted in Europe." In a clever way, More ends Utopia with this statement, which is really a kind of challenge to the Europeans to outdo what was attempted by the Utopians, or just sloppily imagined by Hythloday. For More, the goal is not to copy a Utopia into the real world, but to move past its deceptive guidelines and work to make realistic improvement.

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