Published Humanitas, Volume XXVI, Nos. 1 and 2, 2013
North Carolina State University
In a book that ought to be better known, Utopia: The Perennial Heresy, Thomas Molnar comments on the community of all goods among the inhabitants of the imaginary island in St. Thomas More’s Utopia:
Each family brings to this central market the products of its work, and each household head takes home whatever his family needs for sustenance. He neither pays nor barters, yet he is refused nothing, since nobody in Utopia asks for more than he needs. And, More adds with a disarming, but significantly dangerous naïveté, “Why, indeed, would a person, who knows that he will never lack anything, seek to possess more than what is necessary?”
Molnar’s otherwise acute observation is flawed in one crucial detail: it is not Thomas More who speaks with “significantly dangerous naïveté,” but rather Raphael Hythlodaeus, who is a character in More’s libellus uere aureus—his “truly golden little book”—entitled Utopia. Molnar has made a familiar error in mistaking a work of literature for a treatise or a tract. Although such a mistake may seem relatively harmless—a concern only of literature professors—utopian ideology, with its associated “terror” and “human cost,” may be seen from one perspective as a result of bad literary criticism. In fact, the book Utopia provides the earliest antidote to utopian ideology, which it disparages as an analogue to generic confusion and a fault of decorum, and which it subtly ridicules by the ironic deployment of stylistic variation. St. Thomas More’s Utopia is perhaps the first dystopia in the Western literary tradition.
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