George Orwell, in his famous essay, “Why Socialists Don’t Believe in Fun,” aptly described the problem of any Utopian ideal. “It would seem that human beings are not able to describe, nor perhaps to imagine, happiness except in terms of contrast… Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has (a) toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having a toothache. They wanted to produce a perfect society by an endless continuation of something that had only been valuable because it was temporary” (Orwell). In Thomas More’s Utopia, Raphael Hythloday is used as a conduit through which More expresses his distaste with private property. It is striking how true Orwell’s words can be applied to More’s Utopia. More’s criticism of private property is structurally fallible, and his description of an alternative is deeply implausible.
Raphael is used to lay out the Utopian alternative economic and civic system, from the common-place “peasant subsistence economy” of More’s England through his description of the idealist island of Utopia (Overton 4). Raphael’s case against private property is built upon two principle supports; the perceived fallacies and failures in a peasant subsistence capitalistic economy, and how seemingly intuitive the socialistic alternatives of the island of Utopia are in solving the tribulations which so perplex the world’s peasantry. If we analyze Raphael’s argument, we find that it is grossly mis-calculated. The assumptions made in both the construction of Utopia and the deconstruction of England’s economic system are both contradictory and completely over-simplified. With our advantage of economic and historical hindsight we can see that Raphael lays blame without knowledge, and we can see that he ineffectively creates an island as doomed to fail as Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, leading to oppression on the scale of Orwell’s 1984.
Raphael’s tearing down of the idea of private property begins with attacking wealth in the hands of a monarch. He talks of advisers presenting their theory of how the king should handle monetary policy in his kingdom. The advisers suggest a multitude of black-hat revenue increasing measures, including; currency manipulation, increased taxation under the guise of war, arbitrary fines for superfluous laws, and bribery of judges; all of the advisers agreeing that “a king can never have too much gold” (More 31). Raphael tells us how he would advise the king, saying that he instead would advocate for empowering the people and their finances. He describes a model for his monetary policy based on the “Macarians,” who placed a finite limit on the wealth of their king to “keep him in check” (More 33).
In his initial pitch against property rights, Raphael lauds the benefit of a central institution making monetary and fiscal policy. Raphael’s view of strengthening the working class is valuable, and a major way to increase their virility is through “bottom up” fiscal and monetary policy....