August 2016        


The discovery of Utopia

Jenny Farrell

Thomas Metscher, Thomas More, or the Discovery of Utopia (Dublin: Connolly Books, 2016)

Thomas More’s book Utopia was written five hundred years ago, in 1516. It is the first modern envisaging of a democratic communist society. More’s Utopia is in the public domain and can easily be found on line.
     This landmark book is the topic of Thomas Metscher’s newly published pamphlet, Thomas More, or the Discovery of Utopia, available from Connolly Books.
     Thomas More, one of the foremost Renaissance humanists, lived from 1478 to 1535. He was a counsellor to King Henry VIII, lord high chancellor of England from 1529 to 1532, and was then beheaded for high treason. He stood for a politics of peace and challenged the politics of power.
     Metscher brilliantly outlines the way in which More criticises the condition of England, and Europe, in the Renaissance. He was perceptive like none other in the literature of his day in grasping the nature of early modern capitalist society, and fearless in penning it. It is shocking to read and understand just how little has changed in the essence of class relations over the past five centuries. “I can perceive nothing but a certain conspiracy of rich men procuring their own commodities under the name and title of the common wealth. They invent and devise all means and crafts, first how to keep safely without fear of losing that they have unjustly gathered together; and next how to hire and abuse the work and labour of the poor for as little money as may be.”
     Against this, as Metscher illustrates in detail, More pitches positive, utopian examples of how societies can find a better way. Crucial factors in achieving this, as Metscher points out, are the sovereignty of the people and a republican state. It is astonishing how much this still applies as we observe these core principles being undermined by the EU today.
     Metscher also shows how More uses irony as “a safeguard and a disguise of what was certainly a subversive, if not a revolutionary content.”
     In his pamphlet Thomas Metscher does more than guide us through and enhance our enjoyment of More’s significant book. He outlines the history of a second (oppositional) culture, of radical thinking from antiquity to the present day, giving specific examples that encourage further reading and exploration and conveying a sense of excitement that we are part of this tradition, of which Thomas More’s Utopia is such a landmark.
     This is the third recent Connolly Books publication by Thomas Metscher. The other two are The Marxism of James Connolly (2015) and The Radicalism of Swift (2016).

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