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Themes and Colors
Travel, Discovery, and Place Theme Icon
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
Property, Labor, and Utopian Society Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
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Property, Labor, and Utopian Society Theme Icon

In Book II of Utopia, we learn that the principal foundation of Utopian law and policy, as in Plato’s ideal republic and some monastic systems, is the abolition of all private property. In other words, the citizens of Utopia own nothing individually but share the resources of their nation collectively, from land to housing to bread and wine. (The Utopians are so committed to this that, to give a more radical example, the doors to their houses are never locked or bolted, so that any citizen can, when they please, freely enter any other citizen’s house.) Without private property, Hythloday says, people don’t cultivate their pride so much as their nation, which becomes like a great and thriving household.

Hythloday gives several reasons as to why there is no private property in Utopia. For one thing, he says, in nations founded on property and money—like feudal England, where wealthy landlords profited from peasants’ work—it tends to be the case that wealth unjustly falls into the hands of the most useless, wicked, and greedy people. Only these few divide up the wealth among themselves while the rest of the citizens are afflicted by “the heavy and inevitable burden of poverty and wretchedness.” In contrast, the equality established in Utopia enables every man, woman, and child to live in plenty. By the same token, everyone in Utopia who is fit to work must earn their keep through labor. Second, “where nothing is private,” Hythloday claims, “the common affairs be earnestly looked upon.”

One earnestly looks upon the common affairs by rolling up one’s sleeves and diligently getting to work, and for no less than six hours a day. There are no idle serving men here, no idle women, no idle priests, no idle landowners, and no idle able-bodied beggars. For one thing, everyone in Utopia is educated in the theory and practice of farming, and all citizens are required to relocate to the country at some point in their lives to work the farms for a period of two years. Such a policy makes it so that Utopians never lack agricultural knowledge, which is especially important in the event of a food shortage, and many hands also make light work. In addition, every Utopian learns his or her own proper craft: clothworking, masonry, metalworking, or carpentry. To keep people diligently at their tasks is almost the only office of the Utopian magistrates known as Syphogrants or Philarchs, who are chosen by the people they live among. But not even these magistrates live idly: though exempt from labor by law, they labor anyway so that “their example [may] provoke others to work.”

There are two principal social statuses in Utopia that affect the conditions of one’s work. A person is either 1) a freeman, including the average Utopian and members of the magistracy or priesthood; or 2) a bondman, or slave, who works more than freemen and at harder work. Slavery in Utopia is a punishment for those Utopians who have committed “heinous offenses.” The nation also pays cities in other lands for their criminals, but only those already condemned to death, who are then brought back to Utopia to labor in bondage. We might be scandalized that slavery should exist in Utopia, but the institution is part and parcel of the Utopians’ program of eliminating idleness and waste: instead of hanging a thief, as England would, why not force him to contribute to the public good? Or so runs Hythloday’s argument. In Utopia, where universal labor and communal property are seen as crucial aspects of happiness, slavery is simply the practical answer to human error. Of course, this fact then only adds to the ambiguities of just how much of a “utopia” Utopia really is.

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Property, Labor, and Utopian Society Quotes in Utopia

Below you will find the important quotes in Utopia related to the theme of Property, Labor, and Utopian Society.
Book 2: Of Their Towns, Particularly of Amaurote Quotes

Every house hath two doors… These doors be made with two leaves never locked nor bolted, so easy to be opened, that they will follow the least drawing of a finger, and shut again alone. Whoso will may go in, for there is nothing within the houses that is private or any man’s own.

Related Characters: Raphael Hythloday (speaker)
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

In Utopian society, there is no private property. Instead, everything is communal, including the houses. In this passage, we learn that every house has two doors which are easy to open, and, most importantly, are never locked. As the passage goes on to say, there is no point in locking your doors when you do not own anything inside of the house.

This detail is borrowed from Plato's Republic, and reflectstheUtopians’ absolute commitment to collective ownership of all resources. The foundation of their society, and its main divergence from all European societies, is the abolition of private property. Hythloday argues that this lack of possessiveness among the Utopians leads to their general trust and neighborliness.


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They set great store by their gardens. In them they have vineyards, all manner of fruit, herbs, and flowers, so pleasant, so well furnished, and so finely kept, that I never saw thing more fruitful nor better trimmed in any place.

Related Characters: Raphael Hythloday (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Garden and the Island
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

The garden is an important symbol in Utopia, representing human work and desire imposed onto, and in harmony with, the natural world. The people of Utopia are hard workers, and they clearly put a great deal of effort into their gardens, keeping them "well furnished" and "trimmed." This symbolizes the Utopian's simultaneous mastery over and respect for the natural world.

In caring for their gardens so attentively, the Utopians follow the traditions of their country's founder, Utopus, who dedicated himself to gardening.

The focus on the importance of the garden in Utopian society also suggests Paradise, where people live in perfection and happiness, just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Utopians are, More is suggesting, closer to Paradise than their proud, warlike counterparts in Europe. The connection between the garden and Paradise is finally strengthened by the fact that Utopia is located off the coast of the New World, that is, the Americas, which Europeans optimistically imagined to be the site of the Garden of Eden.

Book 2: Of Their Trades, and Manner of Life Quotes

Husbandry is a science common to them all [the Utopians] in general, both men and women, where they be all expert and cunning. In this they be all instructed even from their youth, partly in their schools with traditions and precepts, and partly in the country nigh the city, brought up, as it were in playing, not only beholding the use of it, but by occasion of exercising their bodies practising it also.

Related Characters: Raphael Hythloday (speaker)
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

Equality in labor is necessary for an equal society, and many hands make light work. As such, all Utopians learn how to farm and tend to animals, in addition to their individual trades. This ensures that everyone in the society has work to fall back on. Additionally, in the case of an emergency like a famine, theoretical and practical knowledge of husbandry would come in handy.

Learning to farm is not only necessary, but it alsohas an enjoyable, social component - Utopian children are "brought up" farming "as it were in playing," and in addition to the obvious practicality of the lessons, they treat it like wholesome "exercise."

Book 2: Of the Travelling of the Utopians Quotes

Gold and silver, whereof money is made, they [the Utopians] do so use as none of them doth more esteem it than the very nature of the thing deserveth. And then who doth not plainly see how far it is under iron, as without the which men can no better live than without fire and water?

Related Characters: Raphael Hythloday (speaker)
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

In these lines, we learn about one of the most striking details of Utopian society: their disdain for gold and other precious metals and gems that European society so cherishes. Hythloday explains that their disdain is born out of practicality: you cannot do much with gold and silver other than make coins and jewelry. Both metals are seen as being infinitely inferior to "iron," which is as essential as "fire and water" to the Utopians.

The Utopians are attracted to gold, much like Europeans, but they fight their attraction by making only loathsome things out of the metal: chamber pots, fetters for slaves, and jewelry meant to shame wrong-doers. Similarly, Utopians gives precious stones and jewels to their children to play withso that the children will come to think of these things as immature and embarrassing when they are grown. These efforts on the part of the Utopians reveal that they have the same instinctual interest in gold and preciousstones, but unlike the Europeans who give into that instinct, the Utopians fight it in the name of a healthy society.

They [the Utopians] marvel also that gold, which of its own nature is a thing so unprofitable, is now among all people in so high estimation, that man himself, by whom, yea, and for the use of whom, it is so much set by, is in much less estimation than the gold itself.

Related Characters: Raphael Hythloday (speaker)
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

The Utopians are well-aware of the status that gold holds in other areas of the world, and they are confounded and disturbed by the fact that a man's life is considered less valuable than gold by many people in other countries. It is imminentlypractical, as well as humane, for the Utopians to value human life over gold.

Utopians are also disturbed by the fact that, in many societies, money seems to be a stand-in for virtue and intelligence. In Europe, an idiot will be well-respected if he is rich. This is a perversion of the Utopians' most cherished values of hard work and self-improvement. Instead of working hard and enriching their society, rich men and women are free to be idle and live off the work of others. Thus, introducing gold and money into a society is a poisonous practice as it enables people to avoid work and public service.

Book 2: Conclusion Quotes

When I consider and weigh in my mind all these commonwealths which nowadays anywhere do flourish, so God help me, I can perceive nothing but a certain conspiracy of rich men procuring their own commodities under the name and title of commonwealth.

Related Characters: Raphael Hythloday (speaker)
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

In the concluding section of the text, Hythloday begins explicitlycomparing Utopia to European society. Here, he claims that Utopia is the best commonwealth in the world, and also the only one worthy of the name "commonwealth," as all things are equal in Utopia.

He then goes on to consider other "flourish[ing]" commonwealths, which he feels are ironically named - after all, they are really just conspiracies "of rich men" who exploit the poor "under the name and title of commonwealth."

The main difference between these sham commonwealths and Utopia is private property and the use of money. By getting rid of money, Hythloday argues, Utopians have pulled up evil by its root. Hythloday relates this to Christ's teachings against private property, which he says that European societies are too prideful to follow.