Thomas More/ Utopia
from Book Two:
The chief business of the Stywards – in fact, practically their only business – is to see that nobody sits around doing nothing, but that everyone gets on with his job. They don’t wear people out, though, by keeping them hard at work from early morning till late at night, like cart-horses. That’s just slavery – and yet that’s what life is for the working classes nearly everywhere else in the world. In Utopia they have a six-hour working day – three hoirs in the morning, then lunch – then a two hour break – then three more hours in the afternoon, followed by supper. They go to bed at 8pm, and sleep for eight hours. All the rest of the twenty-four they’re free to do what they like – not to waste their time in idleness or self-indulgence, but to make good use of it in some congenial activity. Most people spend these free periods on further education, for these are public lectures first thing every morning. Attendance is quite voluntary, except for those picked out for academic training, but men and women of all classes go crowding in to hear them – I mean, different people go to different lectures, just as the spirit moves them. However there’s nothing to stop you from spending this extra time on your trade, if you want to. Lots of people do, if they haven’t the capacity for intellectual work, and are much admired for such public-spirited behaviour.
(Penguin Classics, 1965, 1972)
Sir Thomas More’s entertaining description of Utopia, an island supporting a perfectly organized and happy people, was a best-seller when it first appeared in Latin in 1516.
“Utopia” revolutionized Plato’s classical blueprint of the perfect republic, mainly by its realism. Locating his island in the (then) New World, More endowed it with a language and poetry, and detailed the length of the working day and even the divorce laws.
A few weeks ago I found this little book on one of my remote bookshelves, being reminded about its existence there by the ongoing, all-encompassing Thomas More event in nearby Leuven (Belgium).
More’s utopian society does have some touches of Orwell’s 1984.
Many opposing concepts appear to be able to exist together, like f.i. the death penalty is abolished but a form of slavery is still accepted.
Actually, the book first appeared in 1516, which makes it into a remarkable, at times stunning, essay on contemporary human society anyway.