This year marks the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia. Despite its advanced age, More’s compelling vision of a perfect society remains a quintessentially modern aspiration. Utopia is hailed as ‘astonishingly radical’ by contemporary political thinkers, and the text continues to offer inspiration and renewal for writers, artists, and filmmakers.
The perfect island of Utopia is a dream of societal harmony and order, not unlike the Biblical garden paradise or Plato’s Republic. More’s early modern work is considered a canonical text of Western literature and culture, providing a template to which we might one day aspire. But Utopia is also a perplexing and troubling text. More’s explorer protagonist, Raphael Hythloday, is presented as a companion of Vespucci on his voyage to the New World, which binds the utopian dream to the European invasion and colonization of America. It is no coincidence that there are slaves on the island of Utopia. Despite its associations with liberal thought and communal happiness, the island of Utopia has a rigid societal hierarchy and strictly-regulated communal laws. (more…)