There is a telling moment early in Thomas More’s Utopia when the traveler Raphael Hythloday—who will soon claim to have visited the Island of Utopia—recounts meeting a group of foreign sailors and teaching them how to use a compass. The sailors were grateful, says Hythloday, because although they “were not unskilled in managing wind and water,” they had never before encountered modern navigational tools, with all their apparent advantages. Possession of the compass gave the sailors a kind of confidence they had lacked before. As Hythloday puts it, the sailors “had formerly sailed with great timidity, and only in summer.” These days, by contrast, “they have such trust in that loadstone that they no longer fear winter at all.”[1] Their mastery of the compass has allowed them, as it has allowed so many, to become more mobile, to travel faster and farther from home than ever before.

Up to that point, the story seems like a pretty straightforward paean to technological progress: Man acquires new tool, then ventures more boldly through the world. But Hythloday quickly complicates that picture of things, filling in that initial picture with darker detail. Now that those foreign sailors have mastered the compass, he says, they “tend to be careless rather than safe.” That the sailors have become more confident also means that the sailors have become more daring, and more reckless, in their approach to the seas. The possession of modern navigational technology has encouraged the sailors to take risks that they would not have taken in the past, risks that put their lives, their fortunes, and their families in danger. While it allows them to travel faster and farther, the compass is not an unmitigated boon. In fact, use of the compass seems to be eroding the virtues the sailors used to be known for having: the virtues of care, caution, and experience. Reflecting on this point, Hythloday soon has his interlocutors agreeing that “there is some danger that through their imprudence this device, which they thought would be so advantageous to them, may become the cause of much mischief.”[2] At best, it seems, the compass is an ambiguous gift, one that can lead people who once sailed only in fair weather to recklessly abandon all caution, common sense, and experience in order to venture through the world.[3]

This moment in Utopia is telling because, although the story of these particular sailors does not reappear or get developed any further, it introduces two connected themes which run throughout the book and are of central importance to it—and are centrally important in our own time as well. First, in this story More associates the spread of certain technologies—in particular those technologies that allow people to leave their homes more regularly and reliably—with the spread of reckless behavior. Repeatedly, he indicates that such technologies, despite their evident advantages, erode the more traditional virtues of settled human communities. Their use encourages people to disregard the wisdom of common sense, experience, memory, and tradition, which he associates with rootedness and care for home. Their use works to discount both the homegrown knowledge that is born of long, shared, communal life and the spiritual knowledge that is cultivated in stable, ancestral religions. As such, their use is inescapably dangerous. Throughout Utopia, we see that possession of mobile technologies makes people careless—not only with the world they inhabit, but also with each other’s lives (not to mention their own).

Second, it cannot escape any reader of Utopia that Hythloday, the man who pronounces so authoritatively on the “impudence” of the foreign sailors and the risks they court by using the compass, is himself not only the person who gave the foreign sailors that ambiguous gift but also a person whose own existence as a world traveler is predicated on his possession of an identical compass. If it is in the nature of a compass (or similar technological devices) to cloud human judgment in certain ways, Hythloday’s story should give us pause about him—and should give him pause about himself. But at no point in relating this story—or anytime else, for that matter—does Hythloday seem to reflect on his own role and responsibility in passing on such a dangerous possession to sailors who had been perfectly capable of navigating the waters before they met him. Nor does he seem to acknowledge that what he understands to be true of the foreign sailors might be true for himself as well; that is, if Hythloday has observed that modern navigational technologies make people reckless (in part by eroding the wisdom of common sense, experience, memory, and tradition), it is curious that he never allows for the possibility that he, as someone who has spent almost his whole adult life navigating by compass, might be imprudent by his own terms. For someone who is so concerned about the carelessness of other people (and peoples), Hythloday seems entirely, well, careless in his thinking about himself.

This is only one moment of many in Utopia where it is clear that Hythloday—a man who crows proudly about having severed his ties to family, home, place, community, tradition, and even polity—sees himself as somehow beyond the rules that he applies to other people. Throughout Utopia, Hythloday asserts that it is his right—by virtue of his living a mobile, rootless life—to be free of any government at the same time he declares that the ideal regime is one in which other people are governed by strict, nearly totalitarian authority. He claims the right to self-government only for himself (and perhaps for other wandering, homeless people like himself). That is to say, not only is More suggesting that the possession of mobile technologies makes people careless in the ways described above, but he is also associating the embrace of mobility with a certain kind of unreflective, unphilosophical, and unjust thinking. And that kind of thinking implies dangers of the highest order—the dangers of colonialism, imperialism, and tyranny. The man in Utopia who most clearly embraces and embodies the new modes of modern mobility is also the man who most clearly embraces imperial and tyrannical politics. It is clear that, for Thomas More, this fact is not a coincidence.

Half a millennium after its publication, More’s Utopia is astonishingly prescient regarding the dangers that mobile technologies pose to the values that we associate with tradition, home, place, and reverence for the divine. The modern reader may also be astonished by More’s thoughtfulness about the value of tradition, home, place, and reverence and about their importance to society, philosophy, and politics. Given More’s concern with many pressing contemporary issues, it is perhaps most astonishing of all that, despite five hundred years’ worth of attention to this book, this element of More’s writing has been relatively neglected by recent scholars. Here is More, in the early 1500s, issuing a caution about what can happen when human beings, in societies and as individuals, are enabled by certain technologies to embrace the practice and ideal of mobility. He could hardly have been more prophetic in his emphasis, given this contemporary world in which virtually all technological endeavor is aimed at increasing human mobility (on the roads, in the skies, through the web, in the cloud). In fact, mobility is so prevalent as a condition and ambition in the contemporary world, especially among people occupying positions of power, that it is tempting to call it the dominant condition and ambition of our time. As such, it is likely a fool’s errand to imagine that it could be undone anywhere but in the margins of modern life. But if one assumes that mobility is the condition and ambition of the age–if modernity is stuck with mobility, or at least stuck with a ruling class that sees mobility as a virtue–More’s thoughts on this matter can help clarify the nature, direction, and dimensions of these threats.

Thomas More and the Promise of Modern Mobility

It should not be surprising to even the most casual student of European history that Thomas More would be interested in thinking about the cultural, intellectual, political, and social effects of technologies that encourage mobility. The rapid development of mapping and marine navigational tools in Europe during the late fifteenth century seemed to be reshaping the world, in an almost literal sense, during More’s lifetime. More, as part of the generation of scholars wondering what might happen when, as Francis Bacon foresaw it, political thought might come to be dominated by the traveler and his “compass of the world,” was intent on thinking through the effects that new kinds of mobility might have on political bodies and individuals.[4] His biographers report that More reflected on this matter at length, studying all the information available to him about new modes and manners of global movement, mostly by reading everything he could find in the burgeoning genre of travel literature.[5] He also reflected at length on changes in his own career as a public servant, in which he was increasingly expected to travel internationally.[6] Indeed, although none have focused on this possibility at length, various scholars have opined that Utopia, More’s own travel story of sorts, is the extended expression of his reflections on this matter, on the effects that new mobile technologies might have on political life.[7]

That background is in the foreground in Utopia. From the beginning of the book, More describes a world in which technology has made substantial mobility possible, and in which that mobility affects the machinations of political power. The book’s main dialogue is prefaced and followed by letters in which various people discuss the relatively new opportunity of moving around the world with ease and what it might mean for governance. The dialogue itself takes place in the notoriously cosmopolitan city of Antwerp, at the home of one Peter Giles, who is playing host to two visitors. The first of these visitors is Hythloday, a wandering Portuguese explorer who claims to have accompanied Amerigo Vespucci on one of his voyages, and the second is “Thomas More,” an Englishman who has travelled to town to negotiate some commercial treaties on behalf of Henry VIII.[8] Told from the perspective of “More,” their discussion quickly launches, as it might be expected, into questions about exploration, trade, and the relationship between travelers and princes in an era of rapidly expanding mobility and new maritime technology. Eventually, the dialogue turns to Hythloday’s own report of traveling to the island of Utopia, which he holds up as a model of just governance.

It is clear that the allure of mobile technologies does not escape More. Throughout Utopia there is an air of excitement about the prospect that these new technologies–this new world of world traveling–might transform politics. Through the book, too, there is a sense that this is a time of new knowledge, of innovation and reform. For instance, when he learns where Hythloday has been, “More” thrills to talk to him about “unknown peoples and unexplored lands” because, as Giles says, he is “always greedy for such information.”[9] The trio’s discussion is eager, and their enthusiasm is palpable. They immediately consider the ways in which the knowledge of globetrotters might be used in the service of justice, as counsel to kings and princes. And everyone in Utopia–not just its three main interlocutors but also the characters who write prefatory and concluding letters–seems to agree that a world in which constant mobility is possible is a world in which new kinds of governance seem possible. “Our own age and ages to come will discover,” writes one, “a seedbed, so to speak, of elegant and useful concepts from which they will be able to borrow practices to be introduced into their own several nations and adapted for use there.” That knowledge will render standing laws useless, will topple “the immense weight of all those legal volumes, which occupy so many brilliant and solid minds for their whole lifetimes,” leaving them to be “paper food for worms or used to wrap parcels in shops.”[10] Everyone suspects that a more mobile world might change the dynamics of political life, and it seems as if everyone is inclined to think that these will be changes for the better.

Hythloday, for sure, is of that mindset. He both embodies the spirit of mobility and articulates it, telling Giles and “More” how much there is to learn from the experience of the many places he visited. He argues that his experience of traveling throughout the “new world” has taught him more than anything the other two men have learned in the course of their political studies. Even the lessons of the “long experience” of European history, he says, could be undone in a few minutes by reference to the manners and customs of people in other parts of the world. Being mobile means knowing more, he says; Hythloday’s two mottoes are “the man who has no grave is covered by the sky,” and “wherever you start from, the road to heaven is the same length.”[11] Like the angel from whom he takes his first name, Hythloday comes from something of another world, promising a life of global connectivity, the likes of which human beings have never known before.[12] He lauds a new way of thinking premised on individual mobility and freedom. “I live as I please,” he brags to “More” and Giles.[13] He claims to have been liberated from various burdensome ancestral obligations, and he discourses at length about how freeing it is to be able to disregard those educational and religious traditions that he regards as unworthy or outdated. In his discussions with “More” and Giles, he argues consistently on behalf of his freedom as an individual, on the joys of living without any public responsibilities or interpersonal burdens. He claims at once to have acquired a new kind of political wisdom and a new kind of freedom. It is no wonder that he grabs the attention of both “More” and Giles, among others.

More and the Perils of Modern Mobility

And yet even in these moments when Hythloday is celebrating himself, and in which he has the eager ears of Giles and “More,” more troubling elements of his life and thought are apparent.[14] For instance, in the same moments he is extolling the virtues of the detached and mobile lifestyle, Hythloday explains that, in order to be able to travel the world, he has abandoned his relatives and friends. (His relatives and friends have no need to be upset with him, Hythloday explains, because before he left he distributed his property among them–a curious justification coming from someone who will shortly rail against the idea of private property altogether, particularly against the idea that private property is an appropriate measure of worth or meaning.) Hythloday has quite literally abandoned his home in order to pursue the pleasures of mobility in isolation. Hythloday is simultaneously the most detached and the most mobile character in the story, a model of the idea that mobility is associated with a detachment from the most caring and close human relationships.[15] He evades his responsibilities at home in order to pursue mobility without restraint.[16]

More clearly connects Hythloday’s casual dismissal of his home and family with his casual dismissal, suggested above, of tradition and the divine. His idea that his individual experience as a modern traveler counts for more than the whole of European history and his idea that religious and educational traditions are nothing more than a burden testify to Hythloday’s intellectual hubris. He asserts; he does not argue. They also testify to his capacity for neglect and disrespect of others; if he were mindful of the fact that his interlocutors are well-educated, devout men, it is likely that he would levy his attacks on European universities and religions with a little more sophistication and nuance. But intellectual sophistication, nuance, and care for the thoughts of others are things that Hythloday visibly lacks. Just like the foreign sailors to whom he gave the compass, Hythloday is reckless both in his beliefs and in his approach to other human beings. Perhaps a man who has abandoned his family should not be expected to exercise great care for people whom he does not know nearly as well.

Notably, Hythloday is not the only person in Utopia who seems willing to give up familial obligations and relationships–to abandon home, tradition, and experience–in order to pursue the promise of global mobility. Later, another character echoes Hythloday’s behavior, admitting that he got so excited about the island of Utopia that he started neglecting his everyday duties. “I was so fascinated with learning about and reflecting on the customs of the Utopians,” he explains, “that I almost forgot and even dismissed entirely the management of my household affairs.” Even “Thomas More” says at one point that thinking about his conversation with Hythloday has threatened to distract him from spending time with his wife and children.[17] In other words, More offers many cautions that becoming too enthusiastic about the possibilities attendant to global mobility can cause people to overlook or neglect those people and relationships that are right in front of them.

This theme is repeated throughout Utopia. Time and again, More indicates that the new kinds of mobility offered by technological development are exciting, but that they can also make people careless–not only with the world they inhabit, but also with each other’s lives. That kind of carelessness is inseparable from the initial enthusiasm about mobility that More describes; in fact, it may be an excessive enthusiasm for the novelties of global mobility that makes people careless in the first place. More hints at this in Utopia’s opening pages, when the reader first learns that “More” was so excited to hear about the island of Utopia that he forgot to ask Hythloday where it is. “I would give a sizeable sum of money to remedy this oversight,” he admits, “for I’m rather ashamed not to know the ocean where this island lies about which I’ve written so much.” In his fervor to throw his mind into the possibilities of a new world, “More” skipped the basic questions and fundamental facts. (For his part, Giles, who shares in the mistake, is less willing to admit error. He claims that while Hythloday was describing where the island was, “one of the company, who I suppose had caught cold on shipboard, coughed so loudly that some of Raphael’s words escaped me.”)[18] Of course, this “small” bit of carelessness–actually a substantial oversight–accompanies an even more fundamental failure: neither “More,” nor Giles, nor any of the other characters who weigh in on the story of Utopia, think to ask how trustworthy Hythloday, or his story, is.[19] The significance of this failure is hard to miss, since it creates the well-known instability at the heart of the book, one that More clearly intended.[20] By crafting that instability, he makes it almost impossible to ignore the link he draws between global mobility, carelessness, and a more general intellectual dislocation (that last term being a polite way to say stupidity).[21]

Modern Mobility and the Imperial Impulse

If the temptations of easy mobility can cause people to be careless about their most intimate relationships, it causes greater havoc in exchanges with people and peoples who are foreign or “other.” More first makes this clear when he has Hythloday laud the Utopian system of forced relocation, a program which marshals mobility to “solve” a public problem, but which does so without regard for the feelings or experiences of the people the program affects, particularly the non-Utopian people it affects.

The first part of the policy, as Hythloday explains it, is that whenever a Utopian household acquires “too many” residents, some individuals within that household are transferred into a household with “too few.” Likewise, “if a city has too many people,” the “extra persons” are moved “to make up the shortage of population in other cities.”[22] Hythloday extols this system, and it is no surprise that he does; clearly, it appeals to the faith he puts in mobility as a political tool. But as he discusses the merits of this policy, he makes no mention of the trauma that such compulsory movement might inflict on people who actually live in those families or neighborhoods. He does not even seem to think that rootedness or home might matter to people, might be sites of particular virtues, might matter for cultivating a healthy society. He only lauds the vision of the Utopian leaders, leaders who he says have seen the ways in which mobility–moving people–can be used in the service of perfecting the city.[23] Hythloday ignores the evident harms attendant to removing children from the care of their parents or uprooting entire segments of a community, not to mention that he ignores the more pedestrian questions about who in particular would be forced to leave a home or town and how those people would be chosen. (To be fair, the particulars of the process might be irrelevant, since even a “fair” or “impartial” process of forced removal can devastate the members of a community.)[24] In any case, Hythloday’s support of this program suggests that his love affair with mobility has blinded him to the particular human relationships that are at the heart of any community. Hythloday, the embodiment of unrestrained global mobility and the defender of the Utopian system, has closed his eyes to the costs that unrestrained mobility in practice might impose on real communities, real homes.[25]

This is even more apparent in his support for the second part of the policy, which is what the Utopians do when the island as a whole gets crowded: They embark on a project of compulsory, often violent, colonization. “If the population throughout the entire island exceeds the quota,” explains Hythloday, “they enroll citizens out of every city and plant a colony under their own laws on the mainland near them, wherever the natives have plenty of unoccupied and uncultivated land.” But “unoccupied” seems to be a relative term in this formulation, since Hythloday immediately has to explain how the Utopians deal with the natives who already live in the lands that they are colonizing. “Those natives who want to live with the Utopians are adopted by them,” he explains. “But those who refuse to live under their laws they drive out of the land they claim for themselves; and against those who resist them, they wage war.” Such violence is justified, Hythloday says, because the Utopians know they will use the land more effectively than will the natives. It is ultimately in the interest of the natives to have the Utopians cultivate the land, even though they might not realize it at first.[26]

There are a number of things to notice about Hythloday’s description of the Utopian colonial project. First, although Hythloday justifies that project by describing the lands they conquer as “unoccupied and uncultivated,” his elaboration of the Utopian policy belies the truth of these descriptors. “Obviously, if the natives ‘have’ the land, it cannot be unoccupied,” as Peter Herman explains:

And even if the natives are not properly “usin”’ the land (a phrase that also raises the important question of who defines proper “use”), noncultivation does not necessarily equal non-ownership, as anyone caught poaching in the King’s forests would quickly discover. Therefore, the Utopians have no title to it other than one granted by the sword.[27]

Ultimately, as Hythloday describes it, the Utopians colonize because they can. They can because they have technology that enables them to be highly mobile: the ability to travel far and free. And they wield that mobility like a sword (and in combination with the sword), recklessly and without regard for foreign populations. They are oblivious to the rights and claims of other peoples, having become enmeshed as they are in a project of moral and material empire.[28] But Hythloday seems to see none of this, enchanted as he is with the idea that mobility could be used to “solve” the problem of overpopulation, and so his paean to Utopian colonization begins to reveal what is a recurring theme of Utopia: the spirit that would choose mobility above all else is tied closely to, and is to some degree inseparable from, imperial ambition.

Hythloday, as one writer has said, is “both uprooted himself and an uprooter of others.”[29] Put another way, Hythloday, who values the lack of restraint and mobility in his own life, believes that a government that values the same things would be a good government–the best government, in fact. But he fails to see the ways in which the detachment that has brought him so much happiness as an individual does not look so liberating when extended to the level of public policy. Given Hythloday’s isolation from the rest of humanity, and his attendant refusal to abide laws, is he really a visionary worth following? More’s answer seems to be no: Hythloday’s proposals tend to ignore real people’s attachments and needs–and the truth that what is unrestrained mobility for some means the silencing and oppression of others.[30] He fails to see that, as a matter of policy, he advocates not a politics of liberating mobility but a politics of colonization, one in which he expects other people to assimilate to his terms and his way of living without any opportunity to determine the terms of their own existence.[31] More pointedly, he fails to see how modern modes of mobility are invariably modes of domination and oppression. (This helps to explain why some scholars have said that Utopia anticipates postcolonialist criticism.)[32] Hythloday’s image of good governance is an image of how he wants to live his own life, dominated as it is by the idea that a good government is one that is mobile, unrestrained, detached from others, and uninterested in cultivating stable human relationships.

There is a monumental irony to Hythloday’s support of the Utopian relocation and colonization programs, since Hythloday begins his conversation with Giles and “More” by decrying the English system of enclosure–a system which he deems unjust because it forces certain people to relocate so that others may use the land in what is deemed a more profitable way. Enclosure is awful and inhumane, says Hythloday; it allows “one greedy, insatiable glutton” to “enclose thousands of acres within a single fence” after the “tenants are ejected.” He elaborates on the plight of the evicted. Those “wretched” people–“men, women, husbands, wives, orphans, widows, parents with little children and entire families (poor but numerous, since farming requires many hands)–are forced to move out.” They must “leave the only homes familiar to them,” destitute and without work, since the value of their labor has been displaced by a more lucrative land-tending system.[33] In other words, Hythloday objects to enclosure in large measure because it does precisely the kinds of things to people and communities that the Utopian relocation and colonization systems do! Notably, the enclosure system is justified by reference to the same principle–more profitable cultivation of the land–that the Utopians use to justify their imperial violence. More even uses the then-obscure word “colony” to describe the Utopian venture, a word with an etymology that connotes settlement for the sake of agriculture.[34] Indeed, some scholars have drawn links between the instantiation of the English enclosure movement and the mindset that justified the often violent occupation of other people’s lands.[35] In both cases, a new concept of technological efficiency as it relates to land use justifies the expulsion and relocation of residents from their homes.[36] But Hythloday decries the English system and declaims on behalf of the Utopian. How do we explain this disjunction in his thought?[37]

I would argue that More is suggesting that global mobility is so attractive that it causes people to overlook the exploitations, especially of foreigners or “others,” that may accompany it. Some critics have suggested as such, that the mismatch between Hythloday’s critique of enclosure–not to mention his critique of expansionism, which he also issues against the European kings–and his own advocacy of Utopian colonialism can best be explained in those terms. Hythloday simply is too swept up in the idea of what can be gained from global mobility–new knowledge, “excellent institutions,” and so forth–to realize that he is promoting a “new and far balder kind of land grabbing.”[38] Hythloday is able to resist the temptation to applaud an exploitative system when its scale is limited and not bound up in his dream of global mobility; he is able to mount a thoughtful criticism of the enclosure system. But he is unable to resist the same temptation when it is tied up with the excitement and possibility of living, as he longs to do, with fewer restraints or boundaries.

More clearly reinforces here the idea that there is something reckless about Hythloday and the global mobility he represents. Hythloday’s argument is careless and internally contradictory in advancing two mutually exclusive claims about justice.[39] This carelessness is not just in the details but is extended to the most fundamental level of political inquiry: arguments about what constitutes just arrangements among human beings in the world. That Hythloday plays fast and loose with his notions of justice is a serious problem, given the fact that he claims to seek a universal standard of good governance. His definitions of right and wrong seem as fluid as his own movement, anchored in no particular ground and tied to no particular tradition and moored in no particular place. He is hard to pin down in both the literal and intellectual senses; his thinking is itinerant, with principles trotted out one minute and abandoned the next. He talks in order to gain advantage rather than to achieve justice; he is politically ambitious but careless with other human beings, a paragon of moral irresponsibility.[40] Although he claims to be something of a philosopher, as Eric Voegelin says, Hythloday is not possessed of a philosophic spirit.[41]

Rather, like the Utopians he lauds, Hythloday’s way of thinking is imperial in its nature and trajectory. This is clear from the nature of his mission in the first place; he seeks to recraft the world according to his own terms, on the Utopian model he so admires. “I wish all mankind would imitate” the Utopian model, he says.[42] He claims an exceptional degree of authority, arguing that his own particular vision should be instantiated in global practice.[43] Hythloday’s imperial spirit is also evidenced not just in the nature of his mission as we see it in Utopia but also in the way he presents himself to “More” and Giles. In their conversation he is prideful, “quick to anger at what he perceives as slights to himself and his indignation at what he perceives as the injustice of society approaches at times self-righteousness.”[44] Even the form of Utopia reinforces this point about Hythloday’s character: throughout their interaction, it is Hythloday who seeks to dominate the conversation–and does so successfully–from the get-go.[45] He not only wants his vision to be realized, but he wants to impose his vision by a kind of argumentative force; dialogically, he is a Thrasymachus rather than a Socrates.[46] If we understand Hythloday to represent the ideal of unrestrained global mobility in More’s Utopia, then More is clearly suggesting a connection between that ideal and the justification of imperial, almost tyrannical, political projects.

It is impossible to miss the extent to which Hythloday tries to cultivate a position beyond the reach of any set of laws. In rejecting the idea that he should settle down in one place, he says that nothing will make him as happy as his current life, in which he never has to abide another’s rules. He equates public service with enslavement, and he says that working for a king would be “repellant” to him, a form of “servitude.”[47] It would take away, he says, his personal freedom.[48] Despite his advocacy of the Utopian system, he makes it clear that while in Utopia, he did not submit to the laws as a citizen would; he maintained his distance outside the circle of Utopian regulation. He did not like the Utopian laws enough, it appears, to turn himself over to their care. For Hythloday, the only idea of governance that appeals is one in which his own sovereign and absolute remedies hold sway.[49] He demonstrates a consistent unwillingness to compromise; he seems bothered even by the idea, for instance, that only some and not all of his designs might be put into practice.[50] He is unsatisfied with any vision of politics that does not accord entirely with his own.

Hythloday claims that he seeks freedom above all else, that freedom is what “excellent men should want.” He does not say that what excellent men should want is “empire.”[51] But in his own life he has come to see unrestrained global mobility as the key to his freedom, and as a result he has come to understand “freedom” in terms that are of dubious political merit. His is a brand of freedom that is detached rather than dedicated, that favors escaping over engaging. For him, freedom means the lack of restraint. Just as the technology on which his journeys rely frees sailors from traditional restraint and prudence in the most technical sense, Hythloday wants to be freed from traditional restraint and prudence in a more theoretical sense.[52] For his own freedom to be realized in the way that he desires, Hythloday has to stand beyond the laws. And he believes that he has to stand beyond the laws not just spiritually or intellectually (as the philosopher might claim to do) but also as a matter of everyday life. Like the tyrant described by Socrates in book 9 of the Republic, Hythloday seeks a life beyond the law, and he embraces those means of living–the detachment of global mobility–that put him beyond the law.[53] He claims a kind of special privilege, and he is not willing to compromise that privilege, or that way of living, in order to be of service to others.

When Hythloday applies that attitude to the project of lawmaking, he winds up advocating for a society that is internally tyrannical and externally imperial. Utopia, as the best commonwealth that More thinks could be conceived by someone like Hythloday, echoes the character.[54] The island “enshrines his ideals and virtues, but it also–and he himself is completely unaware of this–hints at the defects in his thinking and at the moral flaws in his character.”[55] The Utopians, like Hythloday, believe that man is a self-interested pleasure-seeker who should seek personal happiness above all else. Like him, they are highly mobile; “they are at home anywhere,” Hythloday says.[56] Like him, they are excited about new technology. But they, too, pursue their own mobility without restraint, a habit that leads them to discard and disregard other people in the pursuit of their own society’s pleasure and “freedom.” They conquer and colonize; they sow dissension among foreign societies in order to gain their own advantage; what is freedom for them means servitude and bloodshed for foreigners. The Utopians, like Hythloday, operate on the premise that they have a kind of “special privilege” and therefore do not need to regard others on the same terms by which they regard themselves.[57] The understanding that animates Hythloday’s freedom– that it is right to live a globally fluid life–also animates an imperial politics. His vision of individual freedom, almost paradoxically, results in political unfreedom.

Encountering Modern Mobility

But Utopia is not just about Raphael Hythloday. Its two other characters, “More” and Giles, have an important role to play in the story. Specifically, More invites asking the question of why “More” and Giles–both well-trained in argument and attuned to the nuances of political policies–do not respond to Hythloday at more length, with a bit more skepticism or wariness. Although “More” in particular does raise some doubts about Hythloday’s philosophy at first, he ends up being more or less enthusiastic about the story of Utopia. Why doesn’t he check his facts? Why doesn’t “More” push back a little harder on Hythloday’s more problematic arguments, especially given the fact that he will eventually publish a more-or-less verbatim report of the conversation? It is hard to miss what some scholars have deemed his “patent inadequacy” at responding to Hythloday; he and Giles seem to resist obvious opportunities to question their interlocutor’s judgment.[58] For instance, in speaking of the gift of the compass to sailors who then start sailing recklessly, the character “More” readily assents to blaming the sailors’ imprudence; he, too, does not wonder whether or not Raphael was imprudent for giving them the compass in the first place, or for providing the gift without sticking around long enough to counsel the sailors on how to use it wisely (if indeed he knew how to use it wisely himself).[59] “More” and Giles defer to Hythloday from the beginning of the story; they are eager to defer to him and resist questioning him even when there are obvious questions to ask.[60] The only time they do argue with him, Hythloday responds by turning to the “empirical” example of Utopia to support his point, and yet neither “More” nor Giles thinks to question whether or not Hythloday’s story on those terms is trustworthy.[61] By this count, they seem almost foolish–a judgment reinforced in the name of the more prominent of these characters. As More the author well knew, “More” sounds a lot like moros (μωρός), the Greek word for “fool.”[62] “More” embodies a certain kind of folly, so much so that the character even jokes about it. “I wish my judgment and learning were up to my memory” of the conversation with Hythloday, he writes to Giles.[63]

The failure of “More” and Giles to respond to some of Hythloday’s more apparent argumentative errors, it seems, goes back to Hythloday’s initial appeal. “More” and Giles are reluctant to call his argument into question because they are so awed by what he represents. Hythloday seems to have transcended the travels of Ulysses, Giles says, adding that his travels include “so many wonders that I don’t know what to marvel at first or most.”[64] Like Hythloday, and like the Utopians themselves, “More” and Giles hunger for technological progress–or at least hunger to believe in the highest promises of that progress.[65] They, too, are caught up to some degree in a futuristic swoon, in the idea of being liberated from certain enduring political concerns. More makes clear that Hythloday’s seductive power–more precisely, the seductive power of what Hythloday represents–is hard to resist. That makes Hythloday’s brand of imperial thinking all the more contagious, and all the more dangerous. In Utopia, More suggests the possibility that “the futuristic romance becomes inverted into a tyrannical idealism, one that is ambitious and totalizing,” or at least imperial in type.[66]

Utopia is famous for its resistance to closure, for the instability that makes it an interpretive challenge. But there is one thing we can say about that instability for sure: the kind of story Thomas More writes in Utopia is very different from the kind of story that Raphael Hythloday tells about the Island of Utopia. Thomas More’s story resists closure and completion; Hythloday’s story seeks closure and completion. Hythloday’s narrative is one in which a kind of mastery over political problems is achieved through mobility, technology, order, and domination. But the “certainty” of that narrative–it “appears entirely concrete”–is subverted and called into question by the broader storyline of the book.[67] Utopia as a whole involves persuasive ambivalence and uncertainty so as to render closure almost impossible.[68] While More makes Hythloday so appealing that the other characters in the book fall largely under his sway, he unsettles Hythloday’s certainty at every turn. At the very least, it is clear that More wants people to regard Hythloday and what he represents with some measure of caution. Because the book resists easy interpretation, it is difficult if not impossible to regard Hythloday with the blind allegiance that the other characters in the book afford him.

Thomas More was a humanist, and humanists were anxious about or even hostile to colonial projects.[69] In Utopia that nervousness and anxiety find form in the dubious character of Hythloday, a man who embodies a connection between advancements in mobile technology and colonial ambitions. The book as a whole invites us to engage in the kind of moral reflection that More worries might lose out to the fantasies of individual freedom that are especially pronounced in moments of development in mobile technologies.

Throughout Thomas More’s Utopia, particularly in and through the character of Raphael, Hythloday, the reader returns again and again to the idea that increasing mobility–and the underlying technologies that allow for that mobility–are not without great and grave perils. The idea of global mobility–and the technology that sustains it in practice–makes it seem more possible and desirable than ever to live without many traditional restraints.[70] Undoubtedly, there is something exciting about that vision. But that way of thinking, More argues, leads to a kind of negligence and ambition that are morally dubious at best. For More, although moments of great advancement in mobile technologies are exciting and energizing, they are also politically perilous because they nurture imperial ambitious and thus threaten communal freedom and self-governance around the world.[71] They overshadow and discount the virtues associated with home, tradition, and rootedness in place and worship–virtues such as care for others, care for experience, care for common sense, and care for community.

At the heart of his argument is More’s contention that global mobility may encourage personal and social detachment–detachment from home, tradition, and reverence for the divine. He worries that this kind of detachment, when taken to excess or enshrined at the level of principle, leads to dangerous kinds of political thinking. In Utopia Hythloday’s habits of excessive detachment–from his family and friends, from particular regimes–go along with his insistence on being detached from laws, or at least from laws not of his own making. Moreover, by valuing detachment as a good above all others, Hythloday views freedom in a way that is careless, if not morally negligent; when applied to political rule, his view of freedom leads to a set of laws and customs in which colonialism and exploitation are readily justified. To the extent that Hythloday has imperial tendencies, it seems to have something to do with the fact that he values detachment to excess.

More makes the case that advances in global mobility enable and encourage people to cast off old restraints, separate from traditional communities, and pursue individual pleasures. In doing so, those technological advances also encourage moral negligence, particularly toward people and places perceived as foreign or “other.” This is because such technologies enable individuals to develop a careless view of freedom, one which justifies laws and customs that support colonial political projects, where exploitation is the norm. Thus, almost paradoxically, the kinds of freedom that mobile technologies engender–perhaps more importantly, the ways of thinking about freedom that they engender–foster the political unfreedom of imperialism in the long term. So More’s Utopia is not just skeptical about the potential of global mobility to solve political problems in discrete places but is convinced that increases in mobility are likely to create political problems of a size and scale unknown before.[72]


The present day, of course, is a highly mobile era, one in which people regularly celebrate the increased speed and scale of movement that technology makes possible. Even though modern technological changes differ from those of More’s time in evident ways, the argument in Utopia is one that evidently speaks to the nature of this era’s present circumstances, in many ways which are only roughly sketched out here.

For one thing, More’s multifaceted connection between modern mobility – that kind of mobility that is largely enabled by technology – and political unfreedom is one that has not been developed or even recognized by most contemporary thinkers. Given the many ways in which More is able to draw linkages of this sort – he both connects the practices of modern mobility with a radical detachment that leads to the negligence of others, the dismissal of tradition, and the abandonment of home; and shows how the thinking that accompanies modern mobility has a tyrannical and imperial bent – it is worth following up on More’s argument in our own day. Too often, I think, we casually accept the notion that modern mobile technologies make the world “more democratic” or serve as “democratizing agents.” But the strength and rationality of More’s analysis should compel us to question that conventional wisdom. And more than question it, More’s analysis should compel us to provide an alternative account of the politics that are encouraged by modern mobility. Even if there is only some small chance – and I would argue that there is more than a small chance – that further advances in mobile technology might further corrode self-government, home, and tradition throughout the world, it is important for arguments saying such to find a place in the public consciousness.

It’s also worth noting that the fact that More, 500 years ago, could write such a prescient piece of analysis is a fact that confounds much of the exceptionalist thinking of this historical moment. Our own technologies seem to us so unprecedented that often we talk in ways that suggest that they have sprung out of thin air, or out of very recent scientific developments. More’s argument in Utopia allows us to see, though, that even if the particular manifestations of the modern mobile impulse might be new to our time, the dynamics underlying them are not. To the extent that is the case, reading More’s Utopia reminds us that blaming particular technologies for various social ills – for threats to home and tradition and the like – is seeing things only in part. To think seriously about the threats to home, tradition, common sense, and experience that exist in our day requires us to think about a whole modern epoch of thinking, which has long been setting terms of thinking – and appealing terms of thinking, at that – which are hostile to those values. If there is any chance of making it back home, we first have to recognize first how far away from home, and how long away from home, we have been.


Susan McWilliams is Associate Professor of Politics at Pomona College in Claremont, California. She is the author of Traveling Back: Toward a Global Political Theory (Oxford, 2014) and the co-editor of  The Best Kind of College: An Insiders’ Guide to America’s Small Liberal Arts Colleges (SUNY, 2015).


*Published November 20th, 2015

[1] Thomas More, Utopia, edited by George M. Logan and Robert M. Adams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 12.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Marina Leslie, Renaissance Utopias and the Problem of History (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 38.

[4] Julie Robin Solomon, Objectivity in the Making: Francis Bacon and the Politics of Inquiry (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 46‒55. See also Lesley B. Cormack, “‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbors’: Geography as Self-Definition in Early Modern England,” Isis 82, no. 4 (December 1991): 661; Peter Ackroyd, The Life of Thomas More (New York: Anchor Books, 1998), 91.

[5] David Wootton, “Utopia: An Introduction,” Utopia (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1999), 1.

[6] J. H. Hexter, More’s “Utopia”: The Biography of an Idea (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952), 15.

[7] See, for example: Antonis Balasopoulos, “‘Suffer a Sea Change’: Spatial Crisis, Maritime Modernity, and the Politics of Utopia,” Cultural Critique 63 (Spring 2006): 122‒56; Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), 11ff; Ursula Niklas, “Utopia and Modern Times: Thomas More, Hannah Arendt, and the Suppression of the Political,” History of Philosophy Quarterly 18, no. 2 (April 2001): 207‒26.

[8] The fictional “Thomas More” and the actual Thomas More should not be confused. See David Wootton’s introduction to his edition of Utopia (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1999), 10. Scholars have used various devices to distinguish between the character and the author—for instance, by referring to the character by the name Morus, from the book’s original Latin edition. I have chosen to follow the lead of J. C. Davis, who distinguishes Thomas More, the author, from “Thomas More,” the fictional character, by putting the name of the latter in quotation marks. See J. C. Davis, “More, Morton, and the Politics of Accommodation,” The Journal of British Studies 9, no. 2 (May 1970): 27.

[9] Thomas More, Utopia, ed. George M. Logan and Robert M. Adams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 9.

[10] Ibid., 117; 115.

[11] Ibid., 39; 10.

[12] Raphael was one of three archangels particularly beloved at the dawn of the sixteenth century. Raphael’s basic duty, like that of the other archangels, was to support the governance of cities. His Hebraic name means “the healing of God,” and so Raphael “became a symbolic physician who cures souls as well as bodies and illuminates darkened minds.” In addition, Raphael was the patron saint of travelers, “a type of the pilgrim and a guardian who guides men on their journeys both in this life and through it.” True to his first name, Hythloday claims to be primarily concerned with the best state of a commonwealth. He takes on the role, in Utopia, of a political messenger. He also claims to want to be a healer—to heal the European states, which, he implies, are more diseased than they know. Moreover, of course, Hythloday is a traveler. In typically witty form, More makes the shift from Raphael, patron saint of travelers, to Raphael, world traveler and explorer, former companion of Amerigo Vespucci. See Elizabeth McCutcheon, “Thomas More, Raphael Hythlodaeus, and the Angel Raphael,” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 9, no. 1 (Winter 1969): 22‒23; 33.

[13] More, Utopia, 13.

[14] The name Hythloday itself provides a clue to More’s intention. Against the angelic appearances of the first name Raphael, Hythloday has a more shadowy derivation. The first half of the name clearly comes from the Greek word hythlos (υθλος), which means “nonsense.” Interestingly, the world hythlos appears in Plato’s Theatetus, describing the chatter of old wives in a long discussion of what it means to be a true philosopher. Within that discussion, Socrates observes that the false philosopher does not know how to wear his cloak as a freeman should, draped over both shoulders—an interesting detail, since one of the few things we know about Hythloday is that his cloak hangs carelessly about him. See W. K. Thomas, “The Underside of Utopias,” College English 38, no. 4 (December 1976): 369. The second half either comes from the Greek world daios (δήιος), meaning “cunning” or “destructive,” or the word hodaios (ὁδαίως), a word used in The Odyssey to mean “merchandise.” N. G. Wilson, “The Name Hythlodaeus,” Moreana 29 (June 1992): 33. So the name Hythloday means either “cunning nonsense,” “destructive nonsense,” or “merchant of nonsense.”

[15] Dominic Baker-Smith, More’s Utopia (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000), 90; 83.

[16] Jenny Mezciems, “’Tis Not to Divert the Reader: Moral and Literary Determinants in Some Travel Narratives,” in The Art of Travel: Essays on Travel Writing, ed. Phillip Dodd (London: Frank Cass, 1982), 10. Mezciems argues that this behavior makes Hythloday a “perpetual archetype of fascinating untrustworthiness.”

[17] More, Utopia, 112; 4.

[18] More, Utopia, 5; 121.

[19] More gives his readers lots of reasons to doubt Hythloday’s trustworthiness, many of which have been explored and explained by other commentators. A full elaboration of those reasons is beyond the scope of this essay. Still, it is worth noting that both “More” and Giles knew enough to realize that the voyage Hythloday claims to have taken with Vespucci never happened:

Giles mentions a book which “everyone is reading,” a reference to the Mundus Novus or The Four Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci. This book, a forgery published in Vienna in 1507, became a best-seller throughout Europe. Like most preposterous tales, Mundus Novus was based on some fact: Vespucci wrote three letters about his two voyages, yet Raphael claims to have been with Vespucci on his fourth, a voyage which never took place. (See Gerard B. Wegemer, Thomas More on Statesmanship [Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1998], 101)

[20] Dominic Baker-Smith, “The Location of Utopia: Narrative Devices in a Renaissance Fiction,” in Addressing Frank Kermode: Essays in Criticism and Interpretation, ed. Margaret Trudeau-Clayton and Martin Warner (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 122.

[21] Anthony Pagden, European Encounters with the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994), 65.

[22] Ibid., 54.

[23] Dohra Ahmad describes this passage in terms of the “enduring shock of the disjunction between its matter-of-fact tone and the extreme measures it conveys.” See Landscapes of Hope: Anti-Colonial Utopianism in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 53.

[24] Consider Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery,” in The Lottery and Other Short Stories (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1949), 291‒302.

[25] Donald Cheney, “Narrative, Romance, and Epic,” in The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1500‒1600, ed. Arthur F. Kinney (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 203.

[26] More, Utopia, 54.

[27] Peter C. Herman, “Who’s That in the Mirror?: Thomas More’s Utopia and the Problematic of the New World,” in Opening the Borders: Inclusivity in Early Modern Political Thought, ed. James V. Mirollo and Peter C. Herman (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1999), 121.

[28] Thomas S. Engeman, “Hythloday’s Utopia and More’s England: An Interpretation of Thomas More’s Utopia,” The Journal of Politics 44, no. 1 (February 1982): 141.

[29] R. S. Sylvester, “Si Hythlodaeo Credimus,” in Essential Articles for the Study of Thomas More, ed. Richard Sylvester and Germaine Marc’Hadour (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1977), 297.

[30] Warren W. Wooden, “Anti-Scholastic Satire in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 8, no. 2 (July 1977): 38.

[31] Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 21.

[32] Herman, “Who’s That in the Mirror?” 110; 126.

[33] More, Utopia, 19.

[34] Stephen Howe, Ireland and Empire: Colonial Legacies in Irish History and Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 11.

[35] Eric Cheyfitz, The Poetics of Imperialism: Translation and Colonization from “The Tempest” to “Tarzan” (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), 56.

[36] Lucy Sargisson, Utopian Bodies and the Politics of Transgression (New York: Routledge, 2000), 93.

[37] There is another important disjunction in Hythloday’s thought that mirrors this one. He decries the expansionism of European kings, as I mention below, but he supports the Utopians in their very aggressive foreign policy. Utopia is located “in what appears to be a very crowded corner of the New World,” jokes Robert Shepherd. “When Hythloday describes the Utopians’ relations with other countries, it becomes clear that their international involvements extend far beyond those necessary merely for trade and self-defense.” What he found unjust in Europe he finds admirable in Utopia. See Shepherd, “Utopia, Utopia’s Neighbors, Utopia, and Europe,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 26, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 846. Moreover, although Hythloday issues a seething condemnation of the use of mercenaries when he talks about European politics, he seems to laud the fact that the Utopians only use mercenaries to fight their wars. See George M. Logan, “The Argument of Utopia,” in Interpreting Thomas More’s “Utopia,” ed. John C. Olin (New York: Fordham University Press, 1989), 10.

[38] Jeffrey Knapp, An Empire Nowhere: England, America, and Literature from “Utopia” toThe Tempest” (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 23‒24.

[39] Although I do not explore them here, there are many other moments at which Hythloday’s argument is internally contradictory. As Ralph Lerner writes, “the contradictions and tensions embedded in Raphael’s character and life story are there for all to see,” and “so too are those in his account of Utopian practices and beliefs. A multitude of patient scholars have long since documented these incongruities.” See Playing the Fool: Subversive Laughter in Troubled Times (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009), 22.

[40] George M. Logan, The Meaning of More’s “Utopia” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 123; 240.

[41] Eric Voegelin, “More’s Utopia,” in Published Essays, 1940‒1952, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 204.

[42] More, Utopia, 106.

[43] Mezciems, “’Tis Not to Divert the Reader,” 10.

[44] James Nendza, “Political Idealism in More’s Utopia,” The Review of Politics 46, no. 3 (July 1984): 430.

[45] Engeman, “Hythloday’s Utopia and More’s England,” 143.

[46] Although some critics have compared Hythloday to Socrates, that comparison is unconvincing. At the heart of Socrates’s teaching is the profession of ignorance—the knowledge of knowing nothing—whereas Hythloday claims not just to know something, but to know everything, about politics. Martin Fleisher does an excellent job of articulating the differences between the respective approaches of Hythloday and Socrates. See his Radical Reform and Political Persuasion in the Life and Writings of Thomas More (Geneva: Droz, 1973), 130‒31.

[47] More, Utopia, 13.

[48] J. C. Davis, Utopia and the Ideal Society: A Study of English Utopian Writing, 1516‒1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 48.

[49] John Traugott, “A Voyage to Nowhere with Thomas More and Jonathan Swift: Utopia and ‘The Voyage to the Houyhnhnms,’” The Sewanee Review 69 no. 4 (October–December 1961): 538.

[50] David Weil Baker, Divulging Utopia: Radical Humanism in Sixteenth-Century England (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), 61.

[51] Knapp, An Empire Nowhere, 22.

[52] Engeman, “Hythloday’s Utopia and More’s England,” 143.

[53] Plato, The Republic, ed. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1991), 252 [571c‒d]. As Allan Bloom says, the tyrant and the philosopher do share certain things in common. They both depreciate law or convention, but the philosopher is willing only to think about certain things, while “the tyrant is willing both to think about them and to do them while wide awake.” (See Bloom’s interpretive essay in the same volume, 424).

[54] “Raphael is the only person in the dialogue who has seen, professes to understand, and seeks to teach about the Utopians. In every sense, Utopia is his country.” See Engeman, “Hythloday’s Utopia and More’s England,” 134. This is true whether or not the island really exists, a matter which cannot be discerned for sure, despite many scholarly attempts to do so. What is more telling, and what we can be sure of, is Hythloday’s proselytizing on its behalf.

[55] Sylvester, “Si Hythlodaeo Credimus,” 298‒99.

[56] More, Utopia, 65; 58.

[57] See Logan, “The Argument of Utopia,” 27‒28.

[58] Christopher Kendrick, Utopia, Carnival, and Commonwealth in Renaissance England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 39.

[59] Nicholas Opanasets, “More Platonism,” The Review of Politics 51, no. 3 (Summer 1989): 416.

[60] More, Utopia, 40.

[61] David Colcough, Freedom of Speech in Early Stuart England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 70.

[62] McCutcheon, “Thomas More, Raphael Hythlodaeus, and the Angel Raphael,” 37. As McCutcheon points out, Desiderius Erasmus had already immortalized the pun, and More had commented on it in one letter: “I may say you wot well (Non sum Oedipus, sed Morus) which name of mine what signifieth in Greek, I need not tell you.”

[63] More, Utopia, 4.

[64] Ibid., 120.

[65] David Wootton, “Friendship Portrayed: A New Account of Utopia,” History Workshop Journal 45 (Spring 1998): 29.

[66] Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 116.

[67] Herman, “Who’s That in the Mirror?” 123.

[68] Barbara Goodwin, editor’s introduction to The Philosophy of Utopia (Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 2001), 19.

[69] Andrew Fitzmaurice, Humanism and America: An Intellectual History of English Colonisation, 1500‒1625 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 3.

[70] J. C. Davis has speculated more broadly that scientific or technological faith and utopian political conviction share their very structures of thought and mental aspirations. See “Science and Utopia: The History of a Dilemma,” in Nineteen Eighty-Four: Science between Utopia and Dystopia, ed. Everett Mendelsohn and Helga Nowotny (Dordrect: D. Reidel, 1984), 24.

[71] In the extensive secondary literature about Thomas More’s Utopia, at least a few writers have noticed that the book considers questions of empire, although not in terms of the emphasis I make here. The classicist Peter Garnsey claims that More was the first author to anticipate what would become pervasive justifications for imperialism. See Thinking about Property: From Antiquity to the Age of Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 57. See also David Armitage, The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 49. The literary scholar Christopher Hodgkins sees Utopia as “bitingly prescient about the costs of empire, both to the conquered and to the conquerors.” Reforming Empire: Protestant Colonialism and Conscience in British Literature (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 141‒42. Ernst Bloch says that it is impossible to understand Utopia without understanding that it was written during a period of emerging imperialism. Ernst Bloch and Theodore Adorno, “Something’s Missing: A Discussion between Ernst Bloch and Theodore W. Adorno on the Contradictions of Utopian Longing (1964),” in The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays, trans. Jack Zipes and Frank Meklenburg (Boston: MIT Press, 1988), 3. At least some critics have argued that whether or not More intended it, parts of Utopia provide a blueprint for empire. This interpretation is associated in particular with a group of German historians writing after World War I. See Donald R. Kelley, Frontiers of History: Historical Inquiry in the Twentieth Century (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 155; and Voegelin, “More’s Utopia,” 197.

[72] Chloë Houston, “Traveling Nowhere: Global Utopias in the Early Modern Period,” in A Companion to the Global Renaissance: English Literature and Culture in the Age of Expansion, ed. Jyotsna G. Singh (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 90.