Political rhetoric has shifted dramatically, even within our lifetimes. We’re a far cry from the intricate and thoughtful speeches of “I have a dream…” when we have people like Trump standing on a stage claiming, “I have the best words.” That we have politicians who appear to understand so little of what their people want makes it all the more mind-blowing that, writing back in 1516, Thomas More was astute enough to write:
“What justice is there in this: that a nobleman, a goldsmith, a banker, or any other man, that either does nothing at all, or at best, is employed in things that are of no use to the public, should live in great luxury and splendour upon what is so ill acquired.”
Here’s a man writing five hundred years ago, whose words are still shockingly relevant, who talks succinctly about tolerance within a multi-faith community, understanding the dangers of giving a monarchy too much power and money, knowing the fallacy of war, who writes of a world in which women and men are treated equally (he advocates for women in the army, 500 years before all bans on them working across all of the armed forces in the UK was lifted).
Utopia is a fascinating work, and this quincentenary edition is an excellent package – not only including the main text, but also four essays by the incomparable Ursula K. Le Guin, and two introductory essays by China Mieville. Le Guin is the more intellectual of the two essayists, writing about the concept of utopia, totalitarianism, the I Ching, and the current fashion of dystopian literature. Mieville, as expected, takes a more political view of the text and of the two essays he presents, it’s his second, titled ‘The Limits of Utopia’ which is the most interesting. Taking one of More’s ideas – that you cannot have a utopia without creating an opposite elsewhere, and filtering it through environmentalism and ‘Big Green’. It’s an excellent and angry piece, which helps to put Utopia into a modern context.
Not that the main text needs to put it into all that much context. It’s as sharp and modern as anything else we’ve read all year. More’s book doesn’t have a story, two men sit down and listen whilst a third relays to them all of the details of a society he has come across (the titular utopia); there is no story or plot, just sections on the society’s religion(s), their outlook on marriage, their ways of war, and so on. However, it still retains an inherent readability.
In the end, whilst Le Guin and Mieville are both powerful and exciting writers, whose additional content is tremendous, it’s More’s text that shines through. It is easy to see why Utopia has endured for so long. This is a seminal work that deserves to continue to be distributed and read.
Any Cop?: It’s one of the most important books ever written, and this edition continues to keep the text thriving. Essays by two of the finest genre writers of modern fiction don’t harm the overall package either.