Nov 19, 2009

Utopia, by Sir Thomas More, ed. by Robert M. Adams

I really enjoyed reading this edition of More's Utopia. This particular edition consists of two parts: the text of Utopia itself, and a series of essays and excerpts which provide a background to the text and to More himself and a look at the future of utopias and anti-utopias in the literature since More wrote his version.

First, Utopia itself. What a delightful read! It is easy to see how More got a reputation for such an intellect in his day. The work is astoundingly intelligent; he seems to have thought of everything (though Adams, in some funny little notes to the text, notes where More clearly did not), and what is presented is a surprisingly coherent and complete view of a society in around fifty pages. It is obvious that More thought such a place and such a society to be impossible, but what is more difficult to ascertain is whether he wished that were not the case. Utopia is rather...unfriendly towards individuality, whereas More must have been aware that he was allowed to express a great deal of his own individuality, and one cannot help but wonder how happy he actually would have been had he been forced into the strictures he devised for his Utopia. He spent a huge amount of time in his own life engaging in politics, and politics, in those days as well as in our own, take place nearly always away from the center stage. And yet in Utopia, any discussion of politics at all is punishable by death. In this we see an example of the ridiculous side of More's invention. It is difficult, though to only laugh at this "backwards" society, where gold is devalued tremendously and used only for the fetters of slaves. One must also admire their selflessness, their intelligence, their sophistication and organization. But are these admirable traits enough to sacrifice simple liberties over? This is, obviously, a question that has yet to be answered even today.

The essays and excerpts that Adams included in this edition are incredibly helpful. None is more than ten or twelve pages long so it is impossible to get sick of their arguments, if one is less inclined to academia. They each present important questions about More and his Utopia, some of which I've touched upon in the above paragraph. Equally interesting are the excerpts from various Utopias and anti-Utopias that have been written since More's time: Brave New World, Walden Two, and so on. They show that the idea of utopia has only grown since More's foray into the subject, and that the same questions that were presented by More's work are relevant now.

Overall, I was very happy with this particular edition of Utopia, and would definitely recommend it to anyone wishing to become acquainted with the subject.

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