Utopia, written in 1516 by Thomas More, is probably one of the most important books ever written. Why?. Simply because it influenced many people, and motivated many events: it made a difference.
Utopia means, literally, no place. The word didnt exist until More coined it in this book. He wanted to make a critic regarding the English society of his time, but needed to cloak it under a fictional mantle due to censure. Displeasing the king was very dangerous in Mores time.
What is this short novel about?. Well, More introduces us to an imaginary character, Raphael Hythloday, a traveler that has visited a distant country: Utopia. After meeting More, Raphael tells him about the country he visited, and afterwards More writes a book about what he was told.
To begin with, in that country community is more important that private aims, and that fact permeates all social and political life. There is no private propriety of the means of production, and everything belongs to everybody. Work is obligatory to all healthy men and women, and those who want to do nothing are punished with forced labor. There is no money, but everybody has what is needed to live well, although frugally. Thanks to the fact labor is well distributed, leisure time is available to all. As a result, men and women (equals in this society) can dedicate time to cultivate their minds.
Other important points that should be highlighted regarding Utopia, especially because they contrast strongly with the situation of Mores England, are that in this country all religions are allowed, and that there isnt an autocratic rule (a democratically elected assembly and different local governments are elected). All in all, equality prevails, and thanks to the above mentioned arrangements harmony is achieved.
Utopia was written a few years later that Machiavellis The Prince, but the differences between the two books are incredible. In Utopia instead of praising the power of princes More wanted to show clearly all that was wrong in English society because it was governed by a bad ruler. He didnt tell others to face reality: he asked them to criticize it, in order to improve it later. Thus, Moro established the essential traits of what was later known as the utopian method: to describe in other situation, with a prejudice of optimism, all that that we dont like in our society.
With Utopia Moro created a new way to mobilize energies, and showed options that had remained hidden from the eyes of those who werent happy with their societies. Behind the name of fiction, he gave politics new intruments of discussion, and opened to it novel ways of considering reality, in the light of what could/should be.
There is no politics without the idea that something better can be achieved, without the kind of imagination that allows us to think that something better is possible. Moro made that evident...
This book is highly recommended.