1 In class, I remarked that Book I may be more significant in certain respects than Book II, both a menetekel of More's own later life-choices ( if they were choices ), and a more general statement of the dilemmas confronted by honest people in despotic regimes. Hythlodaye puts this dilemma more acutely when he asks:
How can one individual do any good when he is surrounded by colleagues who would sooner corrupt the best rather than do any reforming of themselves? either they will seduce you, or, if you keep yourself honest and innocent, you will be made a screen for the knavery and madness of others. Influencing policy indirectly! You wouldn't have a chance. (p. 30)
More ( I suggested ) may well have concluded some years later that he had, indeed, come to embody something of both forks of Hythloday's bitter dilemma, as the reluctant but industrious servant to "our liege lord King Henry, the Eight of that name".
Does this conjecture seem to you plausible? Or are its apparent implications too bleak, 'romantic,' or simply purist, as the "More" of Book I ( and some of More's most recent conservative biographers and critics ) seem to suggest?
In particular, might Hythlodaye / More's argument in the passage quoted above be essentially right, but only in the worst and most oppressive regimes -- absolute monarchies, say ( remember that the young Henry the Eighth was one of the more promising and 'enlightened' despots of his time ), or fascist / stalinist dictatorships?
Or might a form of it also hold in relatively 'good' ones -- the cabinets of Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon, say, during the Vietnam war; or even the Breshnev-era CPSU ( if you accept that this was "relatively 'good'"), when Michael Gorbachev was working his way up through the ranks? As a partial corollary, perhaps, of the (much later ) dictum that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely"?
What do you think?
2 Which aspects of the Utopian social order seem to you most attractive, and which most unattractive, even repressive and grotesque?
Might some of its more obviously bizarre provisions be best understood, perhaps. as "modest proposals" -- ironic exaggerations and deliberate hyperbole -- the suggestion, for example, that backroom political dealers be treated as capital criminals (p. 39; cf. Shakespeare's remark in Henry IV part II, available on wry little engraved plaques for display on lawyers' desks, that "(t)he first thing we do, we kill all the lawyers" )?
3 If the aim of Utopia is advocacy of some kind of egalitarianism, where does it succeed best, in your view, and where does it fall most conspicuously short?
( To me, for examples, its sternly paternalist treatment of the behavior of young people and its sexist presuppositions about the social role of women seem obvious instances of the latter. Fortunately, this seems to have been one respect in which More's personal behavior in later life transcended some of the prescriptions he wrote down when he was thirty-seven ).
4 In the ruins of "Communism" (or state-capitalism, or corporatism, or corporate feudalism, or whatever it was ), what role do you see ( if any ) for More's egalitarianism ( or socialism, or 'communitarianism', or sympathy with heretical practitioners of the simple contemplative life --recall my comparisons between Utopians and the Amish and Amana colonists ).
What role, that is, beyond the one(s) played by parliamentary-democratic institutions in 'good' countries ( with decent social-welfare systems, and relatively enlightened, if ineffectual foreign policies ), such as Canada (say )?
What about Hythloday's stinging indictment on p. 89, at the end of his narration in Book II?
When I run over in my mind the various commonwealths flourishing today, so help me God, I can see nothing in them but a conspiracy of the rich, who are fattening up their own interests under the name and title of commonwealth.
Or of "the new world order"--in which brokers and 'arbitragers' skim massive fluctuations in 'virtual' currency- and stock-'values', and two-year lags in 'development' and information technology threaten entire economies?
Might not honest thoughtful people in what used to be called 'the third world' see just such a "conspiracy of the rich" in such ( often quite bizarre ) manipulations of its domestic, industrial and farm-workers by rich people and organizations in what used to be called 'the first world', and those who emulated them?
A large button I used to pin on my book, until it fell off for good, read:
If the world were a global village of 100 people, one third would be rich, or of moderate income, and two thirds would be poor. Of the 100 residents, 47 would be unable to read, and one would have a college education. About 35 would be suffering from hunger and malnutrition; at least half would be homeless or living in subtandard housing. Of the 100 people, 6 would be Americans. These 6 would have over a third of the village's entire income, and the other 94 would subsist on the other two thirds. Howe could the wealthy 6 live in peace with their neighbors? Ssurely they would be driven to arm themselves against the other 94 . . . perhaps even to spend, as Americans do, about twice as much per person on military defense as the total income [ per person ] of two thirds of the villagers.
Is 'utopia' on a global scale really much closer now, in this 'village', than it ws in 1516?