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Things From Thomas More's Utopia That Have Come True Today

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You probably think we'll never actually live in Utopia — because Utopia is a perfect society that can never be achieved in real life. But think again. Thomas More's Utopia, the book that gave us the word for a perfect society in the first place, contains a large number of somewhat wacky descriptions of how the Utopians live — and a lot of them are true of our society.

Here are a bunch of things from Thomas More's description of the "ideal" society that are already more or less true now. And before anybody else jumps in to say it, More's Utopia isn't necessarily describing a perfect society, even though that's what the word has come to mean in the past 500 years. More was concerned with satirizing European politics of his day, poking holes in Catholic theology, and creating a kind of Platonic dialogue about the nature of the state. And yet, his work is still the O.G. Utopian Vision.


So rejoice! Here are some ways you already live in Thomas More's Utopia:

Before getting married, you should see your partner naked.
That's the Utopian custom, and it's one that most people in the United States seem to observe as well — the idea being, for the Utopians, that it's important to see what you're getting into.


Divorce is allowed for a married couple who "do not well agree"
It's not quite as easy in Utopia as in, say, California — you need the approval of the Utopian Senate — but it's totally doable if you're not getting along. You can also get a divorce if your partner cheats on you, but in that case the cheating partner has to become a slave. (And not in a sexy way.)

You're under constant surveillance
Given that Utopia is sort of a Communist system, where there's no private property and everybody works for the common good when they're not farming, there's a huge incentive to make sure everybody is pulling their weight. So the social glue that holds Utopia together is a total lack of privacy, with everyone constantly being snooped on. In most present-day industrialized countries, of course, we haven't abolished private property — nor do we buy into any crazy ideas about living for pleasure in moderation — but we certainly have lots of surveillance. Lots and lots. The rise of the widespread surveillance state means that this aspect of More's vision is closer to reality than it's ever been.

Utopians eat in public.
This is really part of the same focus on eliminating the private sphere — but it basically means they eat out. All the time.

Criminals are marked for life.
In Utopia, this means wearing special clothes and a special hairstyle — but more to the point, part of one of your ears is removed, if you're a convicted thief. Meanwhile, in present-day America, convicted felons tend to have that information in their records for the rest of their lives, and may have a hard time voting in some states. They're barred from a number of jobs, as well as holding public office or serving on juries, and their civil rights may be otherwise curtailed. More than anything else, though, someone who's been convicted of a felony is labeled forever. It's not quite as radical as cutting off part of your ear, though.


Euthanasia is supported and even encouraged.
We're still struggling with this in the United States — a "Death with Dignity" law was just shot down in Massachusetts. But the popularity of "Do Not Resuscitate" orders is increasing the acceptance that in some cases, people who are struggling with a fatal, painful or mentally debilitating illness may be able to choose (at least in advance) to die.


Husbands and wives go to war together
We don't exactly have married couples fighting on the front lines side by side as a matter of course — although this sort of thing does happen — but we do have men and women serving in the Armed Forces together. More's visitor to Utopia learns that this creates more cohesion and gives the fighting forces more of a reason to fight harder. And coming home from battle without your spouse is considered a grave disgrace.

So there you have it! All we need to do is abolish private property and institute an ideology of living for managed pleasure, and we will have true Utopia, once and for all.


Sources: "St. Thomas More's Utopia" by Quentin Skinner, in The Languages of Political Theory in Early-Modern Europe, edited by Anthony Pagden
More's Utopia By Dominic Baker Smith text of More's Utopia.