Utopia: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. ". they are generally more set on acquiring new kingdoms, right or wrong, than on governing well those they possess." (Book I)
    Hythloday resists More's suggestion that he offer himself as an advisor to a king, saying that monarchs are more interested in conquering new kingdoms than in governing well at home.
  2. "There are dreadful punishments enacted against thieves, but it were much better to make such good provisions by which every man might be put in a method how to live, and so be preserved from the fatal necessity of stealing and dying for it." (Book I)
    While dining with Cardinal John Morton, Hythloday replies to a lawyer who praises the severity of English justice, which hangs many men for theft. Hythloday believes that it is unfair to create a society where the inequities are such that people have to steal in order to live, and then to hang people for merely trying to survive.
  3. ". nations will be happy, when either philosophers become kings, or kings become philosophers ." (Book I)
    Using a maxim from the Greek philosopher Plato's (c. 427-c. 347 BC) work The Republic, the author tries to persuade Raphael Hythloday to become an advisor to a king and thus to share some of the good ideas about governance that he has picked up on his travels.
  4. "Nor is it so becoming the dignity of a king to reign over beggars, as over rich and happy subjects. And therefore Fabricius, a man of a noble and exalted temper, said, he would rather govern rich men, than be rich himself; since for one man to abound in wealth and pleasure, when all about him are mourning and groaning, is to be a jailer and not a king. He is an unskillful physician, that cannot cure one disease without casting his patient into another: so that he can find no other way for correcting the errors of his people, but by taking from them the conveniences of life, shows that he knows not what it is to govern a free nation." (Book I)
    Hythloday tells More and Peter Giles that a king should care more about enlarging his subjects' wealth and happiness than his own, as this creates stability in the state and adds more to his dignity than reigning over a race of beggars. This is the opposite of what he has observed in the courts of European kings, where a belief prevails that citizens are only kept obedient by being constrained by poverty and misery.
  5. "It was no ill simile by which Plato set forth the unreasonableness of a philosopher's meddling with government. If a man, says he, was to see a great company run out every day into the rain, and take delight in being wet; if he knew that it would be to no purpose for him to go and persuade them to return to their houses, in order to avoid the storm, and all that could be expected by his going to speak to them would be that he himself should be as wet as they, it would be best for him to keep within doors; and since he had not influence enough to correct other people's folly, to take care to preserve himself." (Book I)
    Hythloday, citing Plato, tells the author he will never compromise by serving the king of a corrupt state, as he will never be able to influence such a person, whose entire direction in life is opposite to the one he would recommend.
  6. ". as long as there is any property, and while money is the standard of all other things, I cannot think that a nation can be governed either justly or happily; not justly, because the best things will fall to the share of the worst men; nor happily, because all things will be divided among a few . the rest being left to be absolutely miserable." (Book I)
    Hythloday gives his view that private property and money are incompatible with justice and happiness.
  7. ". I grow more favourable to Plato, and do not wonder that he resolved not to make any laws for such as would not submit to a community of all things: for so wise a man could not but foresee that the setting all upon a level was the only way to make a nation happy, which cannot be obtained so long as there is property: for when every man draws to himself all that he can compass, by one title or another, it must needs follow, that how plentiful soever a nation may be, yet a few dividing the wealth of it among themselves, the rest fall into indigence." (Book I)
    Hythloday reflects that even the myriad laws established in Europe to protect the property of the rich do not bring security, but only lead to endless lawsuits. He says that a nation with property cannot be happy, as the few accumulate as much as possible for themselves, leaving the rest of the people in poverty.
  8. "Thus I have described to you . the constitution of that commonwealth, which I do not only think the best in the world, but indeed the only commonwealth that truly deserves that name. In all other places it is visible, that while people talk of a commonwealth, every man only seeks his own wealth; but there, where no man has any property, all men zealously pursue the good of the public: and, indeed, it is no wonder to see men act so differently; for in other commonwealths, every man knows that unless he provides for himself, how flourishing soever the commonwealth may be, he must die of hunger ." (Book II)
    Hythloday ends his description of Utopia with his conclusion about its system of government as compared with that practiced in contemporary Europe.
  9. ". I can have no other notion of all the other governments that I see or know, than that they are a conspiracy of the rich, who on pretence of managing the public only pursue their private ends, and devise all the ways and arts they can find out; first, that they may engage the poor to toil and labour for them at as low rates as possible, and oppress them as much as they please. And if they can but prevail to get these contrivances established by the show of public authority, which is considered as the representative of the whole people, then they are accounted laws." (Book II)
    Hythloday gives his view of contemporary European society as a conspiracy of the rich enabling them to pursue their own ends. They are supported by laws that they themselves established to protect their own interests.
  10. "When Raphael had thus made an end of speaking, though many things occurred to me, both concerning the manners and laws of that people, that seemed very absurd . but chiefly what seemed the foundation of all the rest, their living in common, without the use of money, by which all nobility, magnificence, splendour, and majesty, which, according to the common opinion, are the true ornaments of a nation, would be quite taken away ." (Book II)
    More reflects on Hythloday's account of Utopia and compares it to the societies with which he is familiar.

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