Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2

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Author: Thomas More

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MORE, Utopia. Trans. in MORLEY, Ideal Commonwealths (London, 1896), pp. 97 sqq., 162 sqq. World History

Section 109.

The War against Poverty

389.

Extracts from More’s Utopia

A six-hour working-day in Utopia

The chief and almost the only business of the magistrates is to care that no man may live idle, but that every one may follow his trade diligently; yet they do not wear themselves out with perpetual toil from morning to night, as if they were beasts of burden, which, although it is a heavy slavery, is none the less everywhere the common course of life for mechanics except in Utopia. But the Utopians, dividing the day and night into twenty-four hours, appoint six of these for work, three of which are before dinner and three after. They then sup, and at eight o’clock counting from noon, go to bed and sleep eight hours. The rest of the time besides that taken up in work, eating, and sleeping is left to every man’s discretion; yet they are not to abuse that interval in luxury and idleness, but must employ it in some proper exercise according to their various inclinations, which is, for the most part, reading. It is quite common to have public lectures every morning before daybreak, at which none are obliged to appear except those who are marked out for literature, and yet a great many, both men and women of all ranks, go to hear lectures of one sort or another, according to their inclinations.

Diversions in Utopia

But if others that are not made for contemplation choose rather to employ themselves at that time in their trades, as many of them do, they are not hindered, but rather commended as men that take care to serve their country. After supper they spend an hour in some diversion, in summer in their gardens, in winter in the halls where they eat, where they entertain one another with music or discourse. They do not so much as know dice or any such foolish and mischievous games. They have, however, two sorts of games not unlike our chess.

The number of idle person under the system then existing in England

But the time appointed for labor is to be narrowly examined, otherwise you may imagine that since there are only six hours appointed for work, the people may fall under a scarcity of the necessary provisions. But it is so far from being true that this time is not sufficient for supplying every one with plenty of all things either necessary or convenient that it is rather too much; and this you will easily apprehend if you consider how great a part of all other nations is quite idle. First, women generally do little, who are half mankind; and if some few women are diligent, their husbands are idle. Then consider the great company of idle priests and of those that are called religious men.1 Add to these all rich men, chiefly those who have estates in land, who are called noblemen and gentlemen, together with their families, made up of idle persons that are kept more for show than for use. Add to these all those strong and lusty beggars that go about pretending some disease, in excuse for their begging; and upon the whole account you will find that the number of those by whose labors mankind is supplied is much less than you perhaps imagined.

The great waste in foolish luxury

Then consider how few of those that work are employed in labors that are of real service; for we by measuring all things by money give rise to many trades that are both vain and superfluous and serve only to support riot and luxury. For if those who work were employed only in such things as the conveniences of life required, there would be such an abundance of them that the prices of them would so sink that tradesmen could not be maintained by their gains. If all those who labor about useless things were set to more profitable employments, and if all they that languish out their lives in sloth and idleness, every one of whom consumes as much as any two of the men that are at work, were forced to labor, you may easily imagine that a small proportion of the time would serve for doing all that is either necessary, profitable, or pleasant to mankind, especially while pleasure is kept within its due bounds. . . .

No poverty or misery in Utopia where communism prevails

In Utopia, where every man has a right to everything, they all know that if care is taken to keep the public stores full, no private man can want anything; for among them there is no unequal distribution, so that no man is poor, none in necessity. And though no man has anything, yet they are all rich, for what can make a man so rich as to lead a serene and cheerful life, free from anxieties, neither apprehending want himself nor vexed with the endless complaints of his wife. . . .

Existing governments mistreat and neglect the most useful persons

I would gladly hear any man compare the justice that is among them with that of all other nations, among whom, may I perish, if I see anything that looks either like justice or equity. For what justice is there in this, that a nobleman, a goldsmith, a banker, or any other man, that either does nothing at all, or at best is employed in things that are of no use to the public, should live in great luxury and splendor upon what is so ill acquired; and a mean man, a carter, a smith, or a plowman, that works harder than even the beasts themselves and is employed in labors so necessary that no commonwealth could hold out a year without them, can only earn so poor a livelihood, and must lead so miserable a life, that the condition of beasts is so much better than his? . . .

Is not that government both unjust and ungrateful that is so prodigal of its favors to those that are called gentlemen, or goldsmiths, or such others who are idle, or live by flattery or by contriving the arts of vain pleasure; and, on the other hand, take no care of those of a meaner sort, such as plowmen, colliers, and smiths, without whom it could not subsist?

1 That is, monks and friars.

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Chicago: Thomas More, "The War Against Poverty," Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2 in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, ed. James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1908), 478–481. Original Sources, accessed June 29, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DQ7JIXBEN6DYBIG.

MLA: More, Thomas. "The War Against Poverty." Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2, in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, edited by James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard, Vol. 2, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1908, pp. 478–481. Original Sources. 29 Jun. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DQ7JIXBEN6DYBIG.

Harvard: More, T, 'The War Against Poverty' in Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2. cited in 1908, Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.478–481. Original Sources, retrieved 29 June 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DQ7JIXBEN6DYBIG.