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The word Utopia was coined by Thomas More in 1516, when he published a book about a fictional island which the narrator describes as the perfect society.  Utopia means either “no place” or “good place”, indicating an ideal system which is unattainable in the real world.  More used his description of the political system of Utopia to point out flaws in the early modern European system.  In much the same way, utopian and dystopian fiction today functions to highlight problems in our current society by describing a fictional paradise or nightmare (for example, the Hunger Games).  The island of Tinggo that I’ve created also serves to critique certain aspects of our society and mankind in general, but it’s more of an adventure story than political philosophy.

According to More, Utopia is located in the New World, which had only been discovered by Europeans 24 years earlier.  He describes it as crescent-shaped and 200 miles across at its widest point.  The below map is not from the original publication, but it’s a much clearer map of the island:

Map of Utopia by Ortelius, ca. 1595

By More’s account, Utopia sounds much like communism.  The government undertakes a great deal of central planning, even mandating how many households can be in a city and how many adults can be in a household.  Population is kept even by redistributing people between households and sending people to the mainland if it starts to get crowded.  Utopia has no private ownership, and all citizens must farm for two years and then choose a profession (such as weaving or masonry).

More seemed to regard the obsession with gold as a major problem in European society, because it led to theft and war.  In Utopia, to counteract this impulse, gold is used for chains on criminals and chamber pots.  I have to admit that More was pretty creative in coming up with this solution, though it would never work in real life; men always seem to find something to kill and rob each other for.

Utopia also has no lawyers, because the law is simple enough for all to understand. Hooray!

However, it is not exactly clear that More was describing a society that he wished Europe would become, because some of the aspects of Utopia contradicted his own beliefs.  More was a devout Catholic, but Utopia has married male and female priests and allows divorce.  On the other hand, the punishment for adultery is enslavement . It is interesting to note that Utopia is tolerant of all religions (except for Atheists, although they are not forced to convert, so that’s a lot more tolerant than some European countries at that time).

Although Utopia could be considered a political criticism of England, More was an influential figure in the government, serving as Lord Chancellor.  In later life, however, he would be executed by Henry VIII for refusing to acknowledge Henry’s role as head of the Church of England.  Unfortunately, More didn’t live long enough to see the religious tolerance of Utopia catch on in the real world.

“Utopia” is free and not very long, so you should all check it out. It’s on google books here: http://bit.ly/13pxB6R

Happy Mapping!

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