Summary and Analysis Book II: The Discourse on Utopia: Laws



Punishments are not specified for most crimes or misdemeanors, and the sentence is determined by the magistrate. For the most heinous crimes, the penalty is slavery.

Within families, husbands have the authority to correct wives, and parents to chastise children.

As punishment is meted out for crimes, so, too, good deeds are recognized and rewarded with honors, often in the form of statues erected in public places, as incentives to virtue.

They make as few laws as possible, and they criticize other nations that accumulate volume upon volume of legal literature, their reasoning being that a common man should not be tried under a body of laws so complicated that he cannot be acquainted with all of them or couched in such obscure legal parlance that he cannot understand them. They have no lawyers. Their policy is to have an accused person speak in his own defense. This saves time and the judge ordinarily arrives at the truth through questioning the defendant without the tricks of crafty prosecutors.

Their officials conduct themselves in a manner that is never haughty but entirely friendly toward their constituents. If a man were to seek office by soliciting votes, he would surely fail. The magistrates wear no distinguishing attire or insignia. Even the Prince wears plain clothes, his only show of distinction being that a sheaf of grain is carried before him.

Those magistrates in Utopia have gained such a reputation for probity and judgment that they are much sought after by neighboring nations where they may serve in official capacities for terms of one to five years. They are valued in this capacity not only for their reputed wisdom but also because they have no family or party ties in that country and because they are known to be incorruptible.


In describing the legal system of the Utopians, More is indirectly leveling a critical attack against the English system with which he was familiar and of which he was a part as a lawyer and a judge. By showing what the one system was, he was exposing to his alert readers what the other system was not. It is clear that he was here voicing the sympathy he had felt for simple people caught in the vast web of legal complications and was also venting some of his pent-up indignation over the injustices he had seen perpetrated through the clever manipulations of unscrupulous lawyers.

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