The Utopian belief in education as a right and a necessity is surprisingly familiar to modern readers but a far cry from the policies of Europe in which only the rich and powerful could hope to be educated. Utopian education, moreover, is systematized and uniform, unlike the European system that often involved independent private tutors and certainly differed from school to school. Through this rational educational system, Utopians felt they could shape the morality and values of their children, to instill in their children the ability to be good Utopians.
Education, then, in Utopia is not just a means of intellectual enlightenment; it is a program of moral and cultural development designed to make sure that Utopia will always replenish itself through its children.
The reference to science is once again an effort to show the irrationality of Europe. Thomas More’s Europe was a society rapidly expanding its scientific knowledge. Yet despite its scientific achievements Europe was filled with believers in astrology, which had no rational or scientific basis whatsoever.
This contrast displays that while Europe has the means to think and act rationally, it often does not seem to have the commitment. Utopia, on the other hand, exists at almost exactly the same level of scientific understanding as Europe, but is committed to rational thought, and so astrology and other similar superstitions do not exist. Similarly, the discussion of Utopian philosophy, which pays no heed to the suppositions of the new European philosophers, is meant to be a biting criticism of the state of European thought.
Thomas More’s displeasure with the state of European philosophy was not unique to Utopia. During the period in which he wrote Book 2 of Utopia, Thomas More wrote a long letter disparaging the new European philosophers and logicians.
In the matter of the Utopian investigation into the nature of happiness, Utopian reason comes to the conclusion that it is ill-equipped to handle such an inquiry on its own. This seems a strange outcome for reason to come to, and this strangeness underlines a tension between reason and religion that became more evident as the Renaissance led eventually into the Enlightenment and beyond. However, for Thomas More and the Humanists, reason and religion went hand in hand. There simply was no question of the eternal truth of Christ and Christianity. The Utopian investigation of happiness, which begins by categorizing types of happiness and ends with the conclusion that happiness lies in acting virtuously because virtue will be rewarded in the afterlife, comes to much the same conclusion as Christianity. Also, Utopians believe that the only thing better than their philosophical investigation into the nature of things would be a divine revelation, which is exactly what Christianity conceives itself to be. By setting up this situation in which his ideal society, Utopia, venerates the religion of the European society he is trying to criticize, Thomas More manages to endorse the tenets of Christianity itself as the only outcome of rational thought while at the same time forcefully using the model of Utopia to criticize Europe. If the Utopians, with their inferior understanding of the nature of things, can act rationally and justly, then why can’t the Europeans, who have the divine revelations of Christ, act similarly? The question is a damning one for Europe as a whole.
Slaves, in Utopia, are never bought. Utopian slaves are either people captured by the Utopians in battle, people who have committed a horrible crime within Utopia, or people who have committed crimes in other countries and been condemned to death, and saved from their fates by the Utopians. The children of slaves are not born into slavery. Slaves work constantly, and are always chained.
Sick Utopians receive tremendous care, but there are still people who become terminally ill and suffer greatly. In such instances, the doctors, priests, and government leaders urge the patient to recognize that they are no longer able to fulfill the duties of life, that they are a burden to both others and themselves, and that they should put their hope in the afterlife and choose to let themselves die. Those who agree are let from life during sleep, without pain. Those who do not agree are treated as kindly and tenderly as before.
Women cannot marry until they reach the age of 18; men must be 22. No premarital sex is allowed; if anyone is caught they are forbidden to marry for life. This policy exists because Utopians think that if promiscuity were allowed, no one would choose to marry. Before any marriage takes place, the bride and groom are, in the presence of a chaperone, shown to each other naked, so that neither is surprised by what they find come wedding day. It is a policy that seemed ridiculous to Hythloday, but he soon saw that their was some wisdom in it, as it allowed the man and woman to know exactly what they were committing to. Divorce is allowed only in cases of adultery or extraordinary abuse. Adulterers are condemned to become slaves. Utopians believe that people should make the most of their physical attributes, but the use of cosmetics or tools of enhancement are disdained.
No one is allowed to campaign for public office. Public officials are not meant to be overbearing or awe-inspiring; rather they should be seen as fathers who the people voluntarily treat with respect. There are very few laws, all clearly written. Utopia has no lawyers. Utopian leaders and judges are immune to bribery because money does not exist. Utopia never signs treaties with other countries because they believe a country’s word should be good enough. They believe the very idea of a treaty implies that countries are naturally enemies rather than friends, and Utopians do not accept that interpretation of the world. Also, few countries in their immediate vicinity ever actually adhere to the treaties that they sign. Hythloday compares this lack of forthrightness with Europeans, sarcastically claiming that of course all Europeans abide by the treaties they sign.
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