The Relationship between Plato’s Republic and Thomas More’s Utopia
The trite cliche that no man is an island applies equally well to political philosophies. Thomas More’s Utopia was written both as a product of his time, and also as a product of a previous time–that of Greek civilization, especially around 380BC, when Plato’s Republic was written. The similarities between the two books are not limited to them both being a dialogue. Both contain a description of the perfect state, although they do this for different reasons and they arrive at different types of perfection.
To understand the relationship, the two books must be contextualized. An important part of contextualization is to understand the role of Plato in both the period of Humanism and, within that, in the life of Thomas More. On the one hand, More, like many of his counterparts of the period, “had enjoyed good humanist [education] and retained a powerful love of classical literature” (Rice 141). To further complicate matters, though, although he was a politician, he was also a devout Christian who “secretly wore a hairshirt until the day before he died” (Turner/More 14). More specifically, More was a devout Catholic who was executed because he refused to take an oath swearing loyalty to Henry VIII, after the split of the Church of England, over the pope. His religiosity makes some of the differences between the Republic and Utopia more understandable.
Plato’s Republic was a very controversial work in Europe, even though aspects of the work were popular and contemporary, such as the belief that “the growth of luxury and excess corrupts the good society and must lead to wars of aggression and ultimately to degenerati…
…of a strict sexual moral code, More developed a new blueprint for the ideal state, but one still within some semblance of the Platonic
framework. More may have felt that his Utopia was “no place,” but in actuality, it was merely a few branches down the tree of human thought from Plato’s Republic.
Ferguson, John. Utopias of the Classical World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1975.
Manuel, Frank E. and Fritzie P. Manuel. Utopian Thought in the Western World. Cambridge, MA: Belknap-Harvard Press, 1979.
More, Thomas. Utopia. Trans. Paul Turner. New York: Penguin Books, 1965.
Plato. Republic. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1974.
Rice, Eugene E. and Anthony Grafton. The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460-1559. 2nd. ed. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1994.