In his book Utopia, Thomas More examines a society that seems to be the ideal living situation for human beings. The main thesis of Utopia is his solution to many of the problems that are being faced in English society in the early 16th century.
In forming his ideas for the country of Utopia, More points out many of the problems that he sees in English society. One of the most striking examples of English social problems that More points out is the punishment of thieves. In England, thieves are punished with death. There is no distinction between the severity of crimes in the justice system and a man who steals a loaf of bread is given the same sentence as a man who kills. According to More, "this method of dealing with thieves is both unjust and socially undesirable." (More, 44) More sees the system of capital punishment to be unfair to the perpetrator and by no means an effective deterrent to the crime of theft.
In order to prevent theft, More feels that the people need to be given a way to exist that alleviates the need to steal. He says " ...no penalty on earth will stop people from stealing, if it's their only way of getting food." (More, 44) This argument seems to be a direct attack on the English class system. Because English society is made up of mainly two classes, the wealthy and the peasantry, it seems next to impossible to make a society in which all people are able to exist comfortably. More points out that people are compelled to steal because of their environment. In England in the 16th century, many peasant farmers were being driven from their land because wealthy land owners were turning cultivated land into pastures in order to raise more sheep, which in return ...
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...ate provisions and spend the rest of their time expanding their minds and maintaining their health, for without a healthy body how can one truly experience pleasure? Unlike England, everyone in Utopia is allowed to feel pleasure, not just the wealthy. (More, 95-98)
Thomas More seems to have a good idea of what the perfect society would be like, however whether it would really work is another matter. Whether greed is a product of capitalism or not is still a question, but it does exist and people are driven to accumulate wealth. England may have been a society that strictly enforced a class system and was driven by capitalism, but could a society really survive under More's model?
More, Thomas. 1995. Utopia: Latin Text and English Translation, edited by George M. Logan, Robert M. Adams and Clarence Miller. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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