Utopia by Thomas More

“Raphael, you are indeed a wise and brilliant man,
with exceptional knowledge of our Country,
it’s people and their dispositions,
the policies, the ways in which one can live harmoniously
with one’s neighbors both in the city and the country,
on the personal level as well as collectively as a whole.
You make me feel like a child by comparison!
Tell me, why do you not become an official advisor
to one of the princes, surely they would benefit greatly
from your recommendations and you would find yourself
amply rewarded, revered and esteemed!”

“My dear Thomas, thank you for the compliment
and kind words but unfortunately I do not believe
that would be a fruitful endeavor.”

“But Raphael, why not? As you know, Plato himself
says that the State will only provide happiness to its people
when its Kings are Philosophers or its Philosophers are Kings.
Surely, having yourself involved in the political affairs
of a princely court would serve to further this aim!”

“Yes, Thomas, our good friend Plato of Athens was surely right
in his statement that the greatest happiness will come to people
when their rulers are true philosophers.
However, the present situation is so different than this,
that for a philosopher to attempt to become involved in it
would not end well.
Let us remember Plato himself who stayed away from politics
after his own experiences with the tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse.”

“But our rulers could surely benefit from your advice!”

“Yes, Thomas, you are right.
But there are plenty of books out there to guide our rulers
if they would only care to read them.
But as it is now, if I were to get into the political affairs,
to enmesh myself in the prince’s courts,
if I were to try to root out the seeds of evil and corruption,
I would not be applauded for my efforts,
but surely cast out in banishment and scorn.”

“Rafael, what do you mean?”

“Well, OK. Let’s say I was sitting at the court of the King
of France, and I was present during the secret sessions
where his clever counsellors were hard at work devising
schemes and crafty machinations, trying to figure out ways
by which he might keep Milan or recover Naples,
how he might overthrow the Venetians or even subdue
all of Italy! And one of them urges him to form an alliance,
the other suggests hiring the Germans for assistance
and paying the Swiss to remain neutral.
A third proposes a gift of gold, to be given to soothe tempers,
meanwhile a settlement with the king of Aragon is offered
up, and a marriage possibly with the prince of Castille!
Perhaps the purchasing of some nobles with secret pensions,
meanwhile thoughts brew over the Scottish, kept in constant
readiness to attack the English in the event of the mildest stirrings.
A banished nobleman with some lingering desire to reclaim
the throne is encouraged subtly, keeping pressure,
always, on the Crown. Nothing is settled, never a moment
to relax, one must always be on guard, with endless schemes.”

“I suppose this is the sort of thing which goes on in a court.”

“Yes, it is! Now, Thomas, within all this plotting and scheming
this chess game, what do you think would happen if I were
to come in and start talking about virtue or moderation?
If I were to recommend perhaps that the King should leave
Italy alone and take care of France, which is already over-extended
beyond the bounds that one man can reasonably rule over?
What would they think of me if I described the trials and tribulations
of war, the way it corrupts from top to bottom, and leaves
devastation in its path?”

“Raphael, I’m not sure…”

“And indeed, if I explained to the King’s council the ways in which
this endless turmoil keeps the different nations demoralized,
exhausts their treasuries, and only leads to further warfare…
how do you think they should respond?
What do you believe they would say to me when I tell them
that a King is to be loved by his people and to love them,
to live amongst them, to govern them kindly and leave
other kingdoms alone?”

“Well, I guess it wouldn’t go over very well at all…”

“Exactly!
Just imagine, the other counsellors are concocting up various
schemes by which the King may build up his treasury,
one man suggesting increasing and decreasing the value
of money artificially to serve the King’s ends,
another suggesting they pretend there is a “war” going on
for the sake of raising money for it, meanwhile
another brings up some dusty old antiquated law
which everyone will be in violation of in order to
collect fines and fees.”

“Yes, I see.”

“Further, another counsellor tells the King that he should
do everything he can to gain the influence of the judges,
so that they will always decide in his favor.
Meanwhile, in the event that the judges are in disagreement
with each other, the King is encouraged to take it upon
himself to make a ruling in the name of justice.
The counsellors encourage him to obtain as much wealth
as possible, for as the ruler, his safety is of the greatest importance.
The King is held in the greatest esteem, despite the people
growing poorer and poorer and suffering more and more
injustice. Now, imagine if I were to come into this fray
of wild machinations and say, wait it is better for the King
to love his people, not to take advantage, to share resources
not to hoard them, to rule for the sake of their benefit not his own?
What do you think would happen to me?”

“Hmm… yes, Raphael, I believe I see what you are saying.”

“Yes, a wise King knows that the poorer his people,
the more likely they are to rebel!
The wise King knows that he must treat his people
with kindness and mercy, or else they will grow reckless
and create an uncontrollable commotion.
Certainly, this is what is meant by the statement of Fabricius
that it is better to be a ruler of rich men than to be rich oneself.
But nevertheless, this is not what they want to hear,
not at all.”

“Is this not what Cicero has said?
Warning rulers against acting like tyrants,
for they will soon find their own heads on the chopping block?”

“Most certainly, Thomas.
But if I were to speak of such things, to relay the wisdom
which has shown itself throughout all periods of history,
that when rulers act selfishly they go against their own interests,
my words would fall on deaf ears.
Not only that, but I would be persecuted for voicing
such contrarian opinions!”

“I hear what you are saying, Raphael.
Certainly such a pure philosophy would not hold sway
in any court that we know of.
But, what if you were to play the political game?
To help them change their ways gradually
rather than grabbing for the roots?”

“I’m afraid Thomas, that going that route would only
result in my own corruption, for I would have to consent
to many things that I disagree with, go along with so many
proposals that go against my very core, keep my mouth
shut when it desires to speak on so many occasions,
that to succeed in such an environment would mean
to become one of them myself.”

“Is this true?”

“Indeed. If I were to only halfheartedly support their
ambitions I would be viewed as a traitor or a spy.
The courts are no place for a man who believes otherwise,
that is why Plato declared that the wise man should keep
clear of all things related to government, when those in
power are corrupt themselves.”

“I see. Well, Rafael, if you’re advice would be unheeded
in the princely courts, what do you recommend?”

“I recommend that one strive as best as possible
to govern themselves with justice, knowledge and integrity.
For though our powers may be limited, there are still
choices to be made every day in our own lives.”