Studies in a Literary Genre
CHAPTER 2 The Shape of Utopia
More’s Utopians are a peace-loving people, but their land was born to con- troversy. Many claim it: Catholics and Protestants, medievalists and mod- erns, socialists and communists; and a well-known historian has recently turned it over to the Nazis. Methods of legitimating claims vary widely, although most are necessarily based upon ideological interpretations of More’s book. Over the past generation, however, in all the welter of claim and counter-claim, one single interpretation has emerged to dominate the field. H.W. Donner calls it “the Roman Catholic interpretation” of Utopia.xxxvi Its most trenchant, certainly most inf luential, statement is by R.W. Chambers; the interpretation, in brief, amounts to this: “When a Sixteenth-Century Catholic depicts a pagan state founded on Reason and Philosophy, he is not depicting his ultimate ideal … The underlying thought of Utopia always is, With nothing save Reason to guide them, the Utopians do this; and yet we Christian Englishmen, we Christian Europeans …! ”xxxvii This statement cuts cleanly through murky tangles of critical debate. It is founded upon awareness of the relation between reason and revelation in Catholic doctrine, and the importance of that relation in making judgments about Utopia; it is consonant with everything we know of More and his life. Most recently this interpretation has received powerful support from Edward L. Surtz, S.J., in a number of articles and in two books he has written on More’s Utopia: The Praise of Pleasure (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957) and The Praise of Wisdom (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1957). Father...
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