Utopia at Five Hundred: Some Reflections

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Published in 1516, Thomas More’s Utopia has come to signify attempts to reform society in a dramatic, radical, and substantial manner. Thanks to the influence of Karl Marx in the twentieth century, it has become identified as the classic precursor of the modern argument for communism as the solution to mankind’s most essential woes. This article will sketch the main themes and context of Utopia, suggesting that to modern readers More presents a highly ambiguous, even “dystopian” portrait of an “ideal society.” It then trace the contours of the development of the utopian idea across the centuries to the present, focussing on the relationship between utopianism and millenarianism in particular, and the development of euchronia and the modern idea of progress in the eighteenth century. It will then ask what relevance, if any, More’s central themes have to the modern reader, and suggest that in its warnings about the effects of machinery upon humanity and in its varied visions of global environmental catastrophe the dystopian tradition offers later modern readers a stark warning about our possible future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)402-411
Number of pages10
JournalUtopian Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2016

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