Thomas More (1478–1535) was an English lawyer, humanist and statesman. His friendship with the Dutch scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam was crucial to the development of his own ideas on literary studies, in particular the revival of Greek, and on the social possibilities of education.
In his most famous book, Utopia, Thomas More imagines a perfect island nation where thousands live in peace and harmony, men and women are both educated, and all property is communal. Utopia is a Greek name of More’s coining, from ou-topos (“no place”); a pun on eu-topos (“good place”) is suggested in a prefatory poem. This vision of an ideal world is also a scathing satire of Europe in the sixteenth century and has been hugely influential since publication, shaping utopian fiction even today.
Through dialogue and correspondence between the protagonist Raphael Hythloday and his friends and contemporaries, More explores the theories behind war, political disagreements, social quarrels, and wealth distribution and imagines the day-to-day lives of those citizens enjoying freedom from fear, oppression, violence, and suffering.
The opening of Utopia at once raises a fundamental issue: the relationship between imagination and experience. This merging of worlds, real and imaginary, prepares the reader for the Platonic tension between two cities—that of the philosopher’s birth and the one which he creates with words. In each of the illustrative episodes which More includes in Book I, Raphael appeals to some imaginary land which can provide an alternative to the established order. In a sense, these episodes prepare us for his account of Utopia.
The central principle underlying the Utopians’ way of life is that as much time as possible should be reserved for the cultivation of the mind, as it is in this that they consider true happiness can be found. This requirement is met by their extraordinary system of work in which all citizens must labour at some essential trade, but only for six hours a day; this more than meets their needs, but still leaves ample leisure for intellectual pursuits.
In this ideal world, More denounced in its Book II the existence of war as follows:
“They (utopians) detest war as a very brutal thing, and which, to the reproach of human nature, is more practiced by men than by any sort of beasts. They, in opposition to the sentiments of almost all other nations, think that there is nothing more inglorious than that glory that is gained by war…”
In accordance with this famous humanist, the problem of this world is that “for most princes apply themselves more to affairs of war than to the useful arts of peace”. In this vein, Thomas More outlined that “it is better to avoid war through money or artifice, than to wage war with an abundance of human blood spilled”.