Utopia & Utopian Literature By Sir Thomas More Summary and Analysis Book I: The Dialogue of Counsel: Hypothetical Meeting of the French Council

Summary

More thanked Hythloday for the account of the Morton episode, which, he said, brings back pleasant memories for him, but he persists in his opinion that Hythloday could perform valuable service in the government. To reinforce his argument, he cites Plato's belief that "nations will be happy, when either philosophers become kings, or kings become philosophers . . ." Hythloday replies by quoting Plato to the effect that unless kings become philosophers they will never abide by the counsels of philosophers.

To make his point, Hythloday presents a hypothetical situation in which he imagines he is present at a meeting of the council of the French king. Each council member commends some tactic calculated to achieve the conquest of territory, the formation of an advantageous alliance, or the bargaining for a royal wedding — every one of which is aimed at the expansion of the king's territory or in some way gaining an advantage over another nation through ruthless and unprincipled actions. Then Hythloday imagines himself rising to recommend the abandonment of all attempts to enlarge the kingdom, affirming that the realm is already large enough for one man to govern well. Suppose he were to support his argument by citing the case of the Achorians — a people he once visited — who conquered a neighboring country but found it so much trouble that they gave it back to the natives.

"How," he asks, "do you imagine such a speech would be received?"

"Not very well," More admits.

Analysis

Hythloday's projection of the French council of state shows him (and More) to be well acquainted with the prevailing doctrines and practices in international politics. The simplest way to describe the vicious schemes proposed by the council members is to call them "Machiavellian." Actually the list of those policies, including ruthless acquisition of territory or governmental control, the cynical breaking of treaties, and the suborning of officers in the opposing government, gives a fine capsule picture of the methods for successful rulers according to Machiavelli in The Prince. This is not to suggest that More was influenced by the Italian author; rather, both men were describing what they had witnessed in practical politics. Although Machiavelli's Prince was written a few years earlier (1513) than Utopia, it was not published until 1532, and it is not likely that More had seen a copy of the work in manuscript.

Hythloday's story about the conquest by the Achorians is fictitious and is really a concomitant feature with his later account of Utopia, which, incidentally, he mentions here casually for the first time in the book. The Achorians were neighbors of the Utopians.

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