As I get older, another year will pass by this Friday, I am finding more value in mine and our history. I remember questions such as 'what use is history?' and 'what sort of job will history qualify you for?' when I was a student. In my opinion, comments such as those are naive. If it were possible to encapsulate the value of history into one statement I would say,
history is a vast resource from which we should be brave enough to learn
I believe that it is the 'learning' that we fail at and today's blog is something of an example.
Thomas More, depending who you read, is either hero or villain but one thing he did do was to write a book in 1516, about an idealised island society. Apparently it is one of the most important works of political philosophy and gave us the word 'Utopian'. The latter I knew! What is important are the lessons it teaches us about Tudor England and I believe that we should examine those lessons more closely.
1. Private property is dangerous
Wow! In the book all property was held in common whereas in Tudor England society was built upon individual property ownership. The issue arose because of the enclosure of what was common land and More mounted a critique both of the practice of enclosure and the greed that underpinned it.
In my mind some things haven't changed in 500 years.
2. Women should know their place.
In this case I believe that More was incorrect and the actions in the support and correction of the place of women in society shows that. In a sense it shows how unequivocal the attitude was towards women all those years ago. In fact More went further and suggested that equality for women was implying anarchy. However, he did introduce in Utopia a measure that would have eventually have led to equality and that was the education of girls and boys together and in the same way.
The last point would surely have led to questioning by the people being educated about why women were treated differently to men and why opportunities weren't the same. Equality would have won out in the end.
3. Only animals wage war.
The Utopians condemned war as fit only for beasts. More's humanist friends people ought to be united by common bonds of humanity and Christianity, not torn apart by greed and self-interest. In Utopia he criticised warring kings and their ability to rule effectively.
The bottom line in this section is about greed and self-interest. If you have considered the reasons for wars going on at present it is often about the acquisition of territories and commodities at the expense of human lives.
4 Don't be a slave to trinkets.
This leads quite neatly into the commandment about not coveting thy neighbour's ass. In Utopia they devalue the things that others covet such as precious metals and gems and they did this by making their chamber pots from gold and silver and the like. They are given to children to play with and used for the chains of the slaves.
More saw the greed in Henry VIII's court as an anethema as the king sported large gems rings gold chains and in the book would have been a slave.
5. The people know best.
More's Utopia is a republic with an elected 'prince' working alongside an elected council. There is no hereditary monarch or any concept of the divine right of kings, which is almost directly opposed to how Tudor England was ruled then and to a degree nowadays.
In fact More acknowledged that real political power rested with the people but the only way he could convey that was in the creation of his fantastic island: Utopia.
There are many lessons to learn from the above.