In 1515 the British politician Thomas More was dispatched to Flanders by Henry VIII. While there, he wrote the major part of his novel Utopia, published the subsequent year. In this novel More imagined himself out for a stroll in the streets of Bruges when he is introduced to a traveler; Raphael Hythloday. After a discussion of the current state of political affairs, Hythloday tell the story of Utopia – an island state he visited during his latest voyage to the ‘New Castile’ on one of Americus Vesputius’ explorations to the new world (More 2015:6). Utopia, Hythloday claimed, is superior to any known state in terms of “being better governed and living happier” (More 1901: 39). Originally, said Hythloday, the island now known as Utopia was part of a mainland populated by savages. Upon conquering it, Utopos ordered a deep channel to be dug so as to isolate it from the uncivilized mainland (More 1901: 40). One cannot get to or from Utopia without permission and instruction by its inhabitants. The shoreline is made up of steep cliffs, the only access point a harbor full of hidden and ‘treasonous’ reef (ibid.). Utopia encloses 54 towns with a population of identical make-up. “He that knows one of their towns know them all,” Hythloday said. (More 2015: 30) The inhabitants share the same language, the same laws, the same culture, and the same institutions. They live in similar houses, go to bed and get up at the same time, work a set number of hours (six), eat particular things, do certain things in their spare time, and travel by similar means. They all partake in agriculture and each practice a trade and all share the products of these pursuits (ibid: 34ff.).
Image: Illustration from Thomas More’s Utopia.