Home/Daniel Larison/Thomas More and Utopia

Thomas More and Utopia

Matthew Cantirino reviews Mark Levin’s Ameritopia, and discovers that Levin still has no idea what he’s talking about:

On other authors, he doesn’t fare too much better, classing, for instance, the great Saint Thomas More as an enemy because he once wrote a book titled Utopia. That’s about the extent of the argument—the irony and humor of that work receives no mention.

It’s not surprising that Levin wouldn’t understand one of the great early modern defenders of Christianity and Christian humanism. Lumping in More with those that Voegelin called gnostics is as absurd as it is insulting. More certainly did not possess what he called the “gnostic personality,” which Gene Callahan recently explained:

What Voegelin called “the Gnostic personality” has great difficulty accepting that the impermanence of temporal existence is inherent in its nature. Therefore, as he wrote, the Gnostic seeks to freeze “history into an everlasting final realm on this earth.”

More would have taken for granted the impermanence of our existence here on earth, as well as the transitory nature of the things of this world. Few things would have been more abhorrent to him than to attempt to realize some form of political salvation in lieu of God’s Kingdom. This is as good an opportunity as any to cite from James Monti’s well-known study of More, The King’s Good Servant but God’s First, in which Monti discusses Utopia:

What sort of a society could be constructed using reason alone, unaided by the light of Divine Revelation? This is the fundamental question that More addresses in the second book of Utopia. It is only a theoretical question, but one that More felt needed to be raised in a society that had grown lax in pursuit of its ideals. More’s point was that even reasonable pagans could do better in many respects than sixteenth-century Christian Europe was doing in matters of government and social justice. That reason alone was not enough More makes sufficiently clear by incorporating into the values of his Utopians certain fallacious concepts, such as euthanasia and divorce, practices that More most certainly did not condone, as is obvious from his other writings. (p.92-93)

Then again, Levin might not like More even if he understood what More was trying to do. After all, More would not have endorsed perpetual war, as Monti explained:

As to the Utopian policy on war, it would be a great mistake to equate it with the concept of pacifism in our own day. Yes, the Utopians were against war waged needlessly or for self-aggrandizement, as were More and his fellow humanists, who had seen too much of this kind of warfare in their own age. But Utopia did go to war when it was attacked by another or when an allied country needed the Utopians’ assistance in defending itself or was suffering under the oppression of a tyrant. (p.93)

Perhaps even more scandalously for Levin, More was concerned to alleviate social injustice:

In both books of Utopia, policies to redress social injustices and improve the status of the poor are advocated, revealing a genuine concern for the disadvantaged that is consonant with Mores own record in public office, where he earned a reputation as a friend of the poor. (p.93)

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment