Thursday, March 06, 2014

Occupy London: Thomas More's Utopia

Reading Thomas More's Utopia, it is cold comfort that as screwed up as we think things are now...well, they were screwed up in almost exactly the same ways 500 years ago.
I must freely own that as long as there is any property, and while money is the standard of all other things, I cannot think that a nation can be governed either justly or happily: not justly, because the best things will fall to the share of the worst men; nor happily, because all things will be divided among a few (and even these are not in all respects happy), the rest being left to be absolutely miserable.

That's a sentiment that could come from Occupy camps in any city. And as to the folly of politicians, More's narrator explains how the citizens of Utopia do not allow any debate to be had on the same day a bill is proposed in order to head off "rash" talk.
...And in the heat of discourse engage themselves too soon, which might bias them so much that, instead of consulting the good of the public, they might rather study to support their first opinions, and by a perverse and preposterous sort of shame hazard their country rather than endanger their own reputation, or venture the being suspected to have wanted foresight in the expedients that they at first proposed.

I will have More know that the delay of only one day does not hinder any politician from "perverse and preposterous" stands on the issues. More wrote  Utopia in Latin around 1516 but it was not translated into English and published in his home country until 1551, well after Henry VIII had him beheaded in 1535 for refusing to recognize the King as Head of the Church (Act of Supremacy).

More was an intriguing character in Hilary Mantel's novel, Wolf Hall, but treated much less sympathetically than in the movie, A Man for All Seasons. I will have to look into a good, balanced biography of More.

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