Thomas More’s Utopia

Thomas More’s Utopia


Thomas More’s Utopia

Sir Thomas More was an English lawyer, author, Renaissance humanist, scholar and political leader born on February 7, 1478. During the sixteenth century, More became one of the most famous authors throughout Europe. Being a humanist of the Renaissance, More became one of the most influential reformers who advocated for transformation in political, educational and social sectors. The first edition of More’s book, Utopia, was published by Erasmus in 1516. Utopia, which is a Greek word meaning ‘nowhere,’ was the name of More’s fictional island and was presented in the book as having a perfect society. Through fictional characters and places, More expressed his view regarding war, lawlessness, poverty, inequality in land ownership, inappropriate application of the death sentence and other injustices that took place in Europe and the Catholic Church.

Several battles were taking place in Europe during this period. The war that most inspired Thomas More to write Utopia was ‘War of the League of Cambrai’ also known as ‘War of the Holy League’ (1508 – 1516). In his book, More presented Utopians as people who hated war and tried to avoid it through all possible means even though they had a strong military. Utopians only went to battle to defend themselves, protect their friends or to free people who were being oppressed (More & Turner, 1965). These unorthodox practices used by Utopians in war seemed insane and dishonorable but proved to be highly effective. In his book, More was promoting for the practice of alternative war methods to replace the typical techniques that were being used in Europe.

The second inspiration for More was the intolerance of different religious beliefs. During that period, the Roman Catholic Church had so many priests and, as a result, made decision making extremely difficult. In addition, More felt that most Catholic priests were not moral enough to fulfill their spiritual roles. According to him, corruption in the church and inadequate education for Catholic priests was completely unacceptable. In his book, the number of Utopian priests was very limited and, as a result, made decision making easy. Selection of Utopians to fill the priestly roles was also subjected to extensive scrutiny to ensure that those chosen were of high moral standards to perform their duties, and respect for the church was maintained. In addition, there was complete toleration for all religious beliefs in Utopia. Furthermore, women were allowed to become priests in Utopia. By comparing Utopian and catholic priests, More was expressing his dissatisfaction with the evils present in the church.

Slavery and racism were the third inspiration for Thomas More when he was writing his book. In Europe, slavery was based upon racial affiliation. In addition, slaves were being subjected to moral repugnance in Europe. In Utopia, every aspect of slavery was different. Slaves in Utopia were never bought. They were either prisoners captured during war or people who committed serious crimes within Utopia or other countries (Prodi, 2013). Slavery in Utopia was not based on race, ethnicity or belief as it was evident in Europe. Furthermore, they were not subjected to the prejudice that was faced by slaves in Europe.

Finally, the inefficient educational system also inspired More. Education in Europe was only accessible to the rich people. Furthermore, educational services were only offered in English as a result, non-English speaking communities were locked out. In Utopia, access to education was a right to all citizens. The education system allowed Utopians to perform their manual labor carriers and concurrently pursued their intellectual aspirations. In addition, education in Utopia was offered in several native languages making it accessible to everybody. These among other social injustice that were being practiced in Europe inspired More to write about a fictional Utopian society. He was expressing his disappointment with the practices that were happening in Europe by comparing it to the perfect Utopian society.


More, Thomas, & Turner, Paul. (1965). Utopia. London: Penguin Books.

Prodi, Paolo. (2013). Profezia vs utopia. Bologna: Il Mulino.

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