Two Slaves per House! by Josh Roche
The first English Utopia within a nation state was Thomas More’s book of 1510, which took Plato’s idea as its title and is probably the best known reference for the word. More’s bookis the story of a young seaman named Raphael who is keen on adventure and exploration. Raphael discovers the Island of Utopia while travelling with Amerigo Vespucci beyond the Americas. There, on a small Island, a truly benevolent society has been founded and run by King Utopos. The island of Utopia was once a Peninsula, but King Utopos wisely dug a channel through the peninsula and therefore isolated the island away from troublesome neighbours. It’s not hard to see that More might have had England and France in mind…
The island is an amazing microcosm of different political and cultural ideas, some of which unwittingly mimic state socialism. The island allows no private ownership and all citizens are obliged to dress the same. However slavery is a common reality, two slaves per house in fact. Overcrowding is combated by constant relocations of families and communities, meaning all citizens are virtually devoid of personal freedoms. However every position of influence is elected, from Stewards right up to the Prince himself. There are four main religions, which all tolerate one another, however atheists are despised and seen to be a great threat to the state. Priests may marry, but premarital sex is forbidden…good luck trying to spot any continuity.
It’s hard to decide whether More’s book was satire, ambitious fiction or intellectual exercise. It seems that More intended people to believe in the idea, either as an aspiration or a reality, as the plausibility of the island of Utopia is suggested throughout the book - (though handily someone coughed when the longitude and latitude of the island was mentioned. However the gulf between the real world of 1510 and the imagined paradise of Utopia is so large that More cannot help but smirk throughout the book. From the outset scepticism is Utopia’s twin. The failures of human society even in 1510 mean that even Thomas More’s Utopia is instinctively tongue in cheek.
Nationalistic dreams of Utopia have driven politicians on to great and gruesome things for centuries. Arguably national utopias are the most damaging of any utopian vision. It’s easy to see why, Utopia is a fanatic idea whose benefits are so great that they legitimise atrocity; Utopia becomes the ultimate end which justifies despicable means. It’s a pattern that was as prevalent in Hitler’s Germany as it was in Lenin’s Russia.