Utopia

Summary and Analysis of Book Two (second half)

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Book Two (Second Half) Summary:

The Utopians have slaves, including prisoners of war captured in battle. The children of slaves are not held in slavery. Utopians also travel to foreign countries to purchase and enslave criminals condemned to die. Utopians who commit serious crimes are also held as slaves and they are treated most harshly. These slaves are a disgrace to the Utopians because these slaves had been given an excellent moral education but they became criminals nonetheless.

Raphael discusses a few other customs of the Utopians. They are skilled in medicine and they devote considerable time to attending to the sick. The Utopian priests also encourage euthanasia when a patient is terminally ill and suffering pain (but this can only be done of the patient consents).

Raphael discusses the marriage customs of the utopians. Women may not marry until they reach age 18 and men may not marry until they reach age 22. Because Utopians believe that sexual promiscuity makes it difficult for an individual to live a happily married life, premarital sex is illegal and severely punished. Before the marriage, the intended bride and groom are presented to one another naked, so that any "sores" or defects will be exposed and "no one is duped or deceived." The Utopian marriages last until death and divorces are rare, requiring the permission of the ruler. Adultery is grounds for divorce and is punished with harsh servitude. If an adulterer repeats the offense, the punishment is death.

The senate has no penal code and punishments are determined on a case-by-case basis. The most serious crimes are usually punished with servitude, rather than death because the society can benefit from the prisoners' labor. If these slaves are patient and if, after a long period of labor, they show that "they regret the sin more than the punishment," they are sometimes released. In adjudicating a case, the attempt to commit a crime is not distinguished from the criminal act itself‹a criminal is not redeemed by his inability to successfully complete the attempted act.

At this point, Raphael's narrative becomes somewhat rambling and he discusses a number of issues in rapid succession. The Utopians have fools and jesters to keep them entertained, but they abhor the practice of mocking people who are crippled or disfigured. It is important to be well groomed, but the Utopians consider cosmetics to be disgraceful. In the marketplaces Utopians erect statues of virtuous men who have done good things for the commonwealth. This serves as an inspiration for the citizens to live up to the standards established by their ancestors. Anyone who campaigns for public office disqualifies himself from holding any office at all, and lawyers are banned from Utopia. In court, each citizen represents himself and tells his story without legal counsel. The Utopians believe it is easier this way for the judge to determine the truth in a given case. The Utopians do not make treaties with other nations because treaties are regularly broken. Utopians consider themselves friends with a foreign people unless some harm has been done.

Regarding war, the Utopians are peaceful but they are not pacifists. When necessary, Utopians will fight to defend their interests as well as the interests of their allies. Both women and men are trained in regular military exercises so that the island is well protected. Utopians also go to war if one of their citizens is unjustly disabled or killed in a foreign nation and the guilty persons are not turned over to the Utopian authorities. Rather than fight in wars, Utopians rely upon strategy whenever possible. They often offer large rewards for the death of the enemy rulers, intending to head off a conflict before it begins‹or at the very least, sow the seeds of distrust within the enemy camp.

The Utopians often hire a nearby tribe, the Zapoletes, as mercenaries to fight in place of Utopian citizens. The Zapoletes are perversely bloodthirsty and they are eager to fight for the Utopians because the Utopians pay high wages. Often times, the Zapoletes die in war and so the Utopians do not have to pay the high rewards promised. At the same time, the Utopians regard the Zapoletes as a moral scourge and they are only too happy to "enlist these wicked men in order to use them up." Utopians will only use their own citizens as a last resort and even then, only as volunteers if it is a foreign war. But if the island should be invaded, men and women in good physical health fight to protect the commonwealth. Often times, families go to the battle lines together (only the adults, of course) for the Utopians reason that he soldiers fight harder to protect one another‹especially in hand-to-hand combat‹when family members become especially protective of one another.

The last major topic discussed concerns the religions of the Utopians. Throughout the various regions, there are a few sects devoted to ancestor worship or the worship of some celestial body. The "vast majority" of Utopians are monotheists who believe exclusively in one god as creator. The smaller sects also agree that there is one Supreme Being and they all call him Mythras, though the Utopians do not all worship Mythras in the same way.

The Utopians were very interested in what they learned of Christianity. Hythloday explains that the Utopian concept of Mythras and many of the beliefs of the Utopian religion were similar to tenets of Christianity. Hythloday also adds that the Utopians eagerly awaited the arrival of a Christian Bishop and they were debating whether they might simply appoint a bishop on their own. The Christians among the Utopians mostly remained very tolerant of the other religions and religious tolerance had long been enjoyed by the Utopians. Hythloday recounts that an overzealous Christian minister was arrested because his incendiary speech excited "riots among the people." Utopus, the conquering general, began the legacy of religious toleration. The overzealous minister was not arrested for advocating for his own religion‹he had free speech‹but when the minister began endangering the safety of others, he was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to exile. Utopus established the policy "that no one should come to any harm because of his religion" and the Utopians work hard to allow for debate and discussion. The caveat to the Utopian policy of religious toleration is that it is forbidden that anyone disbelieve in the immortality of the soul or deny that the world is ruled by providence, arguing instead that the "world is ruled by mere chance."

Analysis:

The second half of Book Two covers a range of topics including slavery, military practices, and religion. More's work gives us the opportunity to analyze the Utopian society on multiple levels.

Some would argue that the Utopian institutions reveal a lack of trust in human nature. The Utopians have multiple safeguards to protect the society against the threats of tyranny, fraud and deception. Regarding treaties, the Utopians‹unlike their Old World counterparts‹no longer trust in them or sign them. Either a treaty is broken or it is written with so many loopholes that it becomes ineffective. The Utopians argue that legal and political language is consistently used to misrepresent the truth. By eliminating many of the contexts wherein truth is profitably abused, the Utopians safeguard their values. One example is the fact that Utopians ban all lawyers as "clever practitioners and sly interpreters of the law." It well worth noting the irony here, that Thomas More, a lawyer, is in fact the patron saint of lawyers. Towards the very end of Book Two, Hythloday argues that Utopia is morally superior to European societies in which the poor citizens are defrauded and disenfranchised both through "private chicanery" and "public laws." Hythloday is convinced by the Utopians' argument that a large body of law often serves to protect the interests of the powerful sometimes running roughshod over justice.

Utopia's narrative structure relies upon multiple narrators. The reader receives commentary from Hythloday and More; various political ideas are presented from a variety of sources‹classical, biblical, religious, and Utopian. This narrative strategy highlights the tension between enjoying a free philosophical exchange (in pursuit of truth) and enforcing and defending the truth once it is known. When in court, a Utopian tells his side of the story without legal defense or expert witnesses; the Utopians believe that truth is most easily ascertained when each individual gives his own argument. Nonetheless, the Utopian elders believe that the "ordinary people" are unable to understand a full body of written law. As a consequence, there remains a wide range of decision-making wherein most Utopians have a very limited role if any. Utopians withhold legal participation from the masses even as they fear the rise of tyranny. If a Utopian makes the effort of campaigning for public office, he is immediately disqualified. Granted, Utopia's society is one in which the public good dominates the private interest, but these regulatory measures also reflect a fear that legal structures might be perverted and that truth might be distorted. Despite the rigorous moral education of Utopian citizens, these safeguards and checks remain.

The Utopian philosophy is not without counterparts in classical and early modern thought. Early political thinkers agreed with the Utopian regard for justice and happiness, but there is considerable divergence within these viewpoints. The Utopians generally believe that Œthe ends justify the means.' From the Greek word telos ("end"), the Utopian philosophy could be described as teleological. The consequences of the Utopians' logical assumption are far-reaching and many of the Utopians' most objectionable customs can be traced back to this original belief.

The Utopians purchase slaves and also use slavery as a punishment for serious crime. One justification for slavery is that the potential labor of criminals should not be wasted (in execution). The Utopians believe that war is a moral tragedy that should be avoided and they loathe a neighboring tribe of treacherous backstabbing warmongers known as the Zapoletes. The Utopians employ the Zapoletes as mercenaries and have these wild warriors do their fighting for them whenever possible. The Utopian argument is that, in the end, the Zapoletes will be "used up" and this will be to the moral improvement of the region. When the Utopians are pressed to fight, however, we see that they use deceitful strategies with the precise intention of encouraging violence and distrust within the enemy camp. Zapoletes are contemptible for some of the very same traits that the Utopians seek to inspire in their enemies.

Utopian policies often disregard ideas of family and privacy. In a defensive war, it is not uncommon to find an entire Utopian family of adults fighting together. Despite the psychological trauma or absurdity of wiping out an entire family, the Utopians reason that the end product is better fighting. Troops will fight harder if they are literally defending their own kin. The family unit can become a means of defending the state. Similarly, euthanasia is encouraged but not mandated in a case where an individual is terminally ill. Likewise, there is no horror in regards to the practice of assassinating enemy leaders as a means of preventing the greater loss of life in war. Should war begin, a troupe of Utopian sharpshooters stalks the head generals as a means of quickly routing the opposition.

The Utopians have a chimera philosophy that seems composed of diverse and awkward fitting parts: their philosophy runs the gamut from the worst human violations (slavery) to policies of compassion that are well beyond the norms of modern democratic societies. Utopians are not allowed to work as animal slaughterers or butchers‹the slaves do this work‹because it is feared that such bloody labor will harden the Utopians and cause them to lose their compassion. Oddly, slavery becomes a means of achieving an end that it compromises.

More does not present Utopia as a logically cohering state, and he admits as much in the concluding letter to Peter Giles. Utopia is a hodgepodge of legal policies, economic practices, and cultural institutions that exist so that More might present a set of issues for our contemplation. The remarks on the Utopians' religious practices reveal More's narrative strategy.

The Utopians are not described as Christians, but their religion is described as a monotheistic practice very similar to Christianity. Very early in the work, we learned that the Utopians had already begun to embrace Christianity. If the Utopians were presented as irrational or unconverted pagans, it would have been difficult for More to present Utopia as a society worthy of comparative analysis. The Utopians are fairly tolerant of diverse religious practices, but they are intolerant of atheists or those who believe that there is no eternal soul or that there is no afterlife. More was no sympathizer of heretics, and he makes a distinction between the level of toleration necessary for truth to emerge and the mandates of uniformity required once the truth has been revealed. Utopus, the old Utopian general, argued that religious war would likely disadvantage the truth, as the true believers were likely to be poor fighters. But once truth is established, uniformity in compliance is expected. The Utopians hold the existence of one God as truth, and they bar any atheist from public office. The Utopians also hold a number of truths regarding how many hours one ought to work in a day, where one ought to live, and what one's house should look like. Uniformity precludes dissent and denies the possibility of amendment.

Because the Utopians have not yet settled on the precise details of God, all of their religious services use common prayers: "no prayers are devised which everyone cannot say without offending his own denomination." In 1549, (fourteen years after More's death) the Anglican Church installs its own Book of Common Prayer in accordance with the 1st Act of Uniformity. The common-ness implies inclusiveness, but Utopian practices, like those of More's society, do not tolerate the possibility of multiple or relative truths. Moreover, truth is described as something that can be pragmatically approached and conclusively determined.