Utopia & Utopian Literature By Sir Thomas More Summary and Analysis Book I: The Dialogue of Counsel: The Council for Financial Affairs

Summary

Another council meeting is imagined by Hythloday, this time a group of financial advisers to the king. Each speaker advocates a program for enriching the king's treasure — one through the manipulation of currency values, one through increasing taxes on the pretext of an impending threat of war, one through concocting new penalties for bleeding the public, and so on. All are ingeniously planned to conceal the fact that they are solely for the benefit of the sovereign at the expense of the citizens.

Further proposals by the ministers for the advantage of the king over the people have to do with manipulations in legal matters, insuring that all judgments handed down are in the crown's favor. The ministers are unanimous in their agreement that increasing the royal treasury is of prime concern, one reason being the need for large funds to maintain the army. Their chicaneries for siphoning money from the public into the king's pocket they justify on the theory that the king can do nothing that is wrong and that, furthermore, everything in the kingdom belongs to him, all property and all persons.

Hythloday would be obliged to contradict all of their advice, maintaining that the people choose a king for their good, not for his, and that the king ought to direct all his efforts toward the welfare of his subjects, not his own. It would be well for everyone if a king understood how much better it is to rule people who are prosperous than to be enormously rich himself in a nation of paupers. The Macarians, neighbors of the Utopians, are wise in this respect. They have a law limiting their king's personal wealth to one thousand pounds.

Again Hythloday asks, "How agreeable do you think these ideas would be to statesmen already committed to the opposite views?"

Analysis

Hythloday is touching on a vital point in political philosophy when he draws the contrast between the doctrine of the infallibility of kings and the royal rights to the kingdom, as opposed by the claim that rulers obtain their right to reign with the consent of the governed. The concept of the "divine right of kings" and the claim that "royalty is answerable only to God" were promulgated by monarchists for centuries without much debate. It is impressive to find More, through his character Hythloday, voicing the contrary doctrine, a doctrine which was not to gain wider acceptance until the eighteenth century. Rousseau was then its most eloquent advocate. Its disciples planted the seeds for the major revolutions and overthrow of monarchies of the late eighteenth century, the American and French, and a good many others in the nineteenth.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

An example of a group of people who came to America to establish a Utopian society is




Quiz