POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY – A PRIMER
Thomas More, utopias, humanism etc (pp5)
Quote 1. To start with, most kings are more interested in the science of war – which I don’t know anything about, and don’t want to – than in useful peacetime techniques. They’re far more anxious, by hook or by crook, to acquire new kingdoms than to govern their existing ones properly. Besides, privy councillors are either too wise to need, or too conceited to take advice from anyone else - though they always suck up to the king's special favourites by agreeing with the silliest things they say.
So there you have a group of people who are deeply prejudiced against everyone else’s ideas… such people hang on to their professional reputation and must raise some objection to your proposals
Failing all else their last resort will be: "this was good enough for our ancestors, and who are we to question their wisdom?
And yet we’re quite
prepared to reverse the most sensible of our ancestors' decisions. It's only
the less intelligent ones that we cling onto like grim death. I've come across
this curious mixture of conceit, stupidity, and stubbornness in several
different places. On one occasion I even met it in
Quote 2. This method of dealing with thieves [hanging] is both unjust and socially undesirable. As a punishment it’s too severe, and as a deterrent it’s quite ineffective. …no penalty on earth will stop people from stealing, if it’s their only way of getting food… Instead of inflicting these horrible punishments, it would be far more to the point to provide everyone with some means of livelihood, so that nobody's under the frightful necessity of becoming first a thief and then a corpse. (p 44)
Well, first of all there are lots of noblemen who live like drones on the labour of other people, in other words, of their tenants, and keep bleeding them white by constantly raising their rents… But not content with remaining idle themselves, they take round with them vast numbers of equally idle retainers, who have never been taught any method of earning their living.
The moment their master dies, or they themselves fall ill, they’re promptly given the sack… Now a sacked retainer is apt to get violently hungry, if he doesn’t get violent.
And, of course, you’re perfectly right - thieves do make quite efficient soldiers, and soldiers make quite enterprising thieves. The two professions have a good deal in common… (p 45)
Now for the usual question – what punishment would be better?
Well, in Tallstoria a convicted thief has to return what he’s stolen to its owner… He himself is sentenced to hard labour. Except in cases of robbery with violence, he’s not put into prison or made to wear fetters, but left quite free and employed on public works. (p 51)
There are also some places where, instead of being employed on public works, convicts are hired out to private enterprise…
They all wear clothes of a special colour… (p 52)
Quote 3. Planning in Utopia.
There are fifty-four splendid towns on the island… all built on the same plan, and, so far as the sites will allow, they all look exactly alike… The distribution of land is so arranged that the territory in each town stretches for at least twenty miles in each direction… No town has the slightest wish to extend its boundaries, for they don’t regard land as property but as soil that they’ve got to cultivate. (p 70)
Quote 4. Work:
… there’s one job they all do, irrespective of sex, and that’s farming. It’s part of every child’s education…
Besides farming… each person is taught a special trade of his own. He may be trained to process wool or flax, or he may become a stonemason, a blacksmith, or a carpenter… They have no tailors or dressmakers, since everyone on the island wears the same sort of clothes – except that they may vary slightly according to sex and marital status – and the fashion never changes…
Everybody learns one of the trades I mentioned, and by everybody I mean the women as well as the men – though the weaker sex are given the lighter jobs like spinning and weaving, while the men do the heavier ones…
Most children are brought up to do the same work as their parents… But if a child fancies some other trade, he’s adopted into a family that practices it. (p 75)
They don’t wear people out, though, by keeping them hard at work from early morning till late at night, like cart-horses. That’s just slavery – and yet that’s what life is like for the working classes nearly everywhere else in the world… In Utopia they have a six-hour working day – three hours in the morning, then lunch – then a two-hour break – then three more hours in the afternoon, followed by supper. They go to bed at and sleep for eight hours. All the rest of the twenty-four they’re free to do what they like – not to waste their time in idleness or self-indulgence, but to make good use of it in some congenial activity. Most people spend these free periods on further education, for there are public lectures first thing every morning. (p 76)
They never force people to work unnecessarily, for the main purpose of their whole economy is to give each person as much time free from physical drudgery as the needs of the community will allow, so that he can cultivate his mind - which they regard as the secret of a happy life. (p 79)
Quote 5. Households and towns, warehouses for consumption: ”to each according to their needs”…
Each town consists of six thousand households… (p 79)
Each house has a front door leading into the street, and a back door onto the garden. In both cases they’re double swing doors, which open at a touch, and close automatically behind you. So anyone can go in and out – for there’s no such thing as private property. The houses themselves are allocated by lot, and changed round every ten years. (p 73)
Each household... comes under the authority of the oldest male. Wives are subordinate to their husbands, children to their parents, and younger people generally to their elders. (p 80)
Every town is divided into four districts...each with its own shopping centre in the middle. There the products of every household are collected in warehouses, and then distributed according to type among various shops. When the head of a household needs anything for himself or his family, he just goes to one of these shops and asks for it. And whatever he asks for he's allowed to take away without any sort of payment, either in money or in kind. After all, why shouldn't he? There's more than enough of everything to go round, so there's no risk of his asking for more than he needs - for why should anyone want to start hoarding, when he knows he'll never have to go short of anything? No living creature is naturally greedy, except from fear of want - or in the case of human beings, from vanity, the notion that you're better than people if you can display more superfluous property than they can, but there's no scope for that sort of thing in Utopia.
Quote 6. System of local government.
The population is divided into groups of thirty households, each of which elects an official called a Styward every year… For every ten Stywards and the households they represent there is a Bencheater, or Senior District controller.
Each town has two hundred stywards, who are responsible for electing the Mayor. They do it by secret ballot, after solemnly swearing to vote for the man they consider the best qualified… The Mayor remains in office for life, unless he’s suspected of wanting to establish a dictatorship.
… there’s a rule that no question affecting the general public may be finally decided until it has been debated for three days. It’s a capital crime to discuss such questions anywhere except in the Council or the Assembly. Apparently this is to discourage the Mayor and Bencheaters from plotting to override the people’s wishes… For the same reason any major issue is referred to the Assembly of Stywards, who explain it to all their households, talk it over among themselves, and then report their views to the Council…
There’s also a rule in the Council that no resolution can be debated on the day that it’s first proposed. All discussion is postponed until the next well-attended meeting. (p 74)
Quote 7. Wealth and happiness:
Silver and gold, the raw materials of money, get no more respect from anyone than their intrinsic value deserves - which is obviously far less than that of iron. Without iron human life is simply impossible, just as it is without fire and water, - but we could easily do without silver or gold, if it weren't for the idiotic concept of scarcity-value
Nor can they understand why a totally useless substance like gold should now, all over the world, be considered far more important than human beings, who gave it such value as it has, purely for their own convenience.
The result is that a man with about as much mental agility as a lump of lead or a block of wood, a man whose utter stupidity is paralleled only by his immorality, can have lots of good, intelligent people at his beck and call, just because he happens to possess a large pile of gold coins. And if by some freak of fortune or trick of the law - two equally effective methods of turning things upside down - the said coins were suddenly transferred to the most worthless of his domestic staff, you'd soon see the present owner trotting after his own money, like an extra piece of currency, and becoming his own servant's servant.
Utopians fail to understand why anyone should be so fascinated by the dull gleam of a tiny bit of stone, when he has all the stars in the sky to look at - fine woollen thread was once worn by a sheep: is a woollen garment a more impressive creation than a sheep?
… why do people worship the rich, when they know that the rich are too mean to let any of the wealth out of their hands?
… human happiness consists largely or wholly in pleasure.... the soul was created by a kind God, who meant it to be happy.... What's the sense in struggling to be virtuous, denying yourself the pleasant things of life, and deliberately making yourself uncomfortable, if there's nothing you hope to gain by it?
Not that they identify happiness with every type of pleasure -only with the higher ones. Nor do they identify it with virtue...According to the normal view, happiness is the summum bonum towards which we're naturally impelled by virtue - which in their definition means following one's natural impulses, as God meant us to do. But this includes obeying the instinct to be reasonable in our likes and dislikes....to get through life as comfortably and cheerfully as we can, and help all other members of our species to do so too.
Pleasure they define as any state or activity, physical or mental, which is naturally enjoyable. The operative word is naturally. According to them, we're impelled by reason as well as an instinct to enjoy ourselves in any natural way which does not hurt other people, interfere with our greater pleasures, or cause unpleasant side-effects. (pp 91 -3)
Quote 8. Law:
They have very few laws because, with their social system, very few laws are required. Indeed, one of their great complaints against other countries is that, although they’ve already got books and books of laws and interpretations of laws, they never seem to have enough. For, according to the Utopians, it’s quite unjust for anyone to be bound by a legal code which is too long for an ordinary person to read right through, or too difficult for him to understand. (p 106)
Quote 9. Travel:
If you want to visit friends in some other town, or would simply like to see the town itself, you can easily get permission to go there, unless you’re urgently needed at home, by applying to your Styward and your Bencheater. You’ll be sent with a party of people travelling on a group passport, signed by the Mayor, which says when you’ve got to be back…
You needn’t take any luggage, for wherever you go you’ll be equally at home, and able to get everything you want…
If you’re caught without a passport outside your own district, you’re brought home in disgrace, and severly punished as a deserter. For a second offence, punishment is slavery…
Everyone has his eye on you, so you’re practically forced to get on with your job, and make some proper use of your spare time. (p 84)
Quote 10. Wars of expansion:
If the town as a whole gets too full, the surplus population is transferred to a town that is comparatively empty. If the whole island becomes over-populated, they tell off a certain number from each town to go and start a colony at the nearest point on the mainland where there’s a large area that hasn’t been cultivated by the local inhabitants. Such colonies are governed by the Utopians, but the natives are allowed to join in if they want to. When this happens, natives and colonists soon combine to form a single community with a singly way of life, to the great advantage of both parties – for, under Utopian management, land which used to be thought incapable of producing anything for one lot of people produces plenty for two.
If the natives won’t do what they’re told, they’re expelled from the area marked out for annexation. If they try to resist, the Utopians declare war – for they consider war perfectly justifiable, when one country denies another its natural right to derive nourishment from any soil which the original owners are not using themselves, but are merely holding on to it as a worthless piece of property.(p 79 – 80)
Quote 11. Other wars:
… fighting is a thing they absolutely loathe. They say it’s a quite subhuman form of activity, although human beings are more addicted to it than any of the lower animals. In fact, the Utopians are practically the only people on earth who fail to see anything glorious in war. Of course, both sexes are given military training at regular intervals, so that they won’t be incapable of fighting if they ever have to. But they hardly ever go to war except in self-defence, to repel invaders from friendly territory, or to liberate victims of dictatorship – which they do in a spirit of humanity, because they feel sorry for them.