There has been a tendency in some otherwise excellent criticism on Utopia to place the island and the text outside of the historical moment and place in which they were written and conceived. In his interpretation of the argument of More's Utopia, George M. Logan claims that More's book is related only tangentially to English political reality and political thought" (260). Logan turns to classical models of utopian thought for sources of Utopia's emphasis on self-sufficiency, the equitable distribution of "goods" (both material and moral), and the balancing of collective and individual tensions in the community. In "Rational Kernel, Mystical Shell: Reification and Desire in Thomas More's Utopia," Richard Halpern claims that Utopia "lacks methodological self-awareness, including an awareness of its own production in history" (138). Halpern later asserts, "England does not appear as historical or geographical or social referent" (144). To his credit, Halpern partly acknowledges the links between Utopia and England in noting how the island operates by the "destructured excrescences" of English society:
Thus if Utopia represents an attempt
to "recode" late feudalism, in another
sense it requires the complete
decoding of this formation in order to
realize itself...The Utopian polity will
thus rework, in a displaced form, the
English contradiction between
economic decoding and attempted
juridical recoding by the Tudor state.
What I wish to propose is a field theory approach to Utopia, whereby patterns of late feudalism are shown to be more than fragmentary "excrescences" or historical remnants in More's text. Indeed, the same forces working to reshape the English landscape in this volatile period are at work in shaping More's island. For example, open field arrangements govern the internal economy and social structure of Utopia, particularly in their subordinating of the individual to the larger communal enterprise. Complementing the open field's own internal ordering of the Utopian economy and social structure, another agrarian arrangement supplies an answer to Marin's provocative set of questions: "To what reality or to what absent term does it ["utopia"] finally refer? What figure--fraught with incoherencies of its own--traverses it? What discursive conclusion opens up as soon as the thesis of historical truth, from whose posture it speaks, is lacking?" (xxi). Situated quite firmly in the historical moment out of which Utopia appears is enclosure; indeed, Utopus' bold act of large-scale enclosure in forming Utopia is an historically resonant act. The transformation of the Abraxian peninsula by expropriation and enclosure is described by Raphael:
As the report goes and as the
appearance of the ground shows, the
island once was not surrounded by sea.
But Utopus, who as conqueror gave the
island its name (up to then it had been
called Abraxa) and who brought the rude
and rustic people to such a perfection of
culture and humanity as makes them
now superior to almost all mortals,
gained a victory at his very first landing.
He then ordered the excavation of fifteen
miles on the side where the land was
connected with the continent and caused
the sea to flow around the land. (l13)
The myth of Utopia's founding is not at all divorced from the problems of English history; in fact, the king's conquering of the Abraxians is simply the telling and enactment of that history over again, its characters disguised in myth. If we reexamine the account of Utopia's founding, we find that in his conquering of the Abraxians, King Utopus acts out of a myth whose plot is very much grounded in a history vexed with the problems as well as the opportunities of enclosure. The "problem" that the text of Utopia seeks to solve is that of enclosure, particularly the large-scale pastoral enclosure occurring in More's day. Lying along a fault line that represents a break in historical continuity occasioned by the irreconcilable programs of large-scale enclosers, small-scale improvers, and subsistence-level farmers, Utopia must mediate the class conflicts that arise from shifts in agrarian values. Very much grounded in the historical circumstances described in Book 1, even Book 2 must submit its vision of improvement to those circumstances. Thus, enclosure regulates the transaction of values between what is internal to Utopia and what is external. It provides the convertibility formula that determines the improvement gained through enclosing Utopia.
In the second part of this essay, I will explore Utopia's place in the larger framework of competing plans for agrarian and social change in More's day. I will show that open field and enclosure arrangements in Utopia are comparable to the "tunable" mathematical landscapes that complexity theorists use to model real world variables in evolving systems. No mere fabulation, Utopia participates fully in the agrarian and social changes of early sixteenth century England. Complexity theory will help determine Utopia's place in this evolutionary agrarianism.
. Agrarian values underwrite Utopia from the outset, not only because the original peninsula has been transformed through a process of enclosure but also because of the primary identity of its inhabitants. "Agriculture," Raphael explains, "is the one pursuit common to all, both men and women, without exception" (125). This means it is not "An Occupation...We Now Spurn and Impose on a Few Despised Souls" (125), as Erasmus notes in one of his marginalia. Citing the Manuels, Logan acknowledges the future importance of this agrarian ethos: "'More's rehabilitation of the idea of physical labor was a milestone in the history of utopian thought, and was incorporated into all socialist systems"' (127). A reflection of the English concern for the damaging effects of enclosure on the national character,[i] this restoring of threatened agrarian values makes their operations critical to the formulation of Utopian society. These values assure as well a high rate of connectivity between Utopia and the historical conditions set forth in Book I.
In its own right, the open field was a landscape whose highly tunable parameters could be set to the changing conditions of season and task. This system is characterized by its linear arrangements of strips worked by individuals who were integral parts of a self-contained community centered in the nucleated medieval village. As C. S. Orwin observes, the open field was divided into "a multiplicity of small strips, distributed evenly [and]... made to give each one his due proportion of the good and the less good soil, of the near and of the more remote part of the fields" (2). The strips or "furlongs" (a shortened form of "furrow-long"), often of uneven length, constituted one day's worth of ploughing and were arranged so that each individual's several holdings would be scattered over a wide area. This scattering of strips insured each individual's position within a self-sufficient community wherein communal ploughing took place.[ii] Its parameters adjusted to the change of seasons as well as to differing "holding" patterns, the open fields allowed for the orderly rotation of autumn-sown corn, spring-sown barley and the resting fallow of the third field. After the harvesting and mowing, the individual isolation of each farmer ended, with the cornfields and the meadows thrown open for all to graze their stock for a season.
With its fine attunement of individual and communal rights, the open field fulfills Logan's criteria for a utopian society without requiring us to go so far afield as classical references. For Logan, who maintains that the best-commonwealth exercise is designed "to assure that its citizens individually and collectively pursue their real interests" (141), the Utopians surpass the Greeks in that the former "have a clear hierarchy of communal goals, even as they have a clear hierarchy of individual ones" (186). Such a hierarchy is part and parcel of the open field, set up so as to maintain the communal right against the assertion of individual rights. As Carl J. Dahlman indicates in his The Open Field System and Beyond, the various field systems of England share one common element in that each functions as a mechanism for social control of individual behavior" (3). Dahlman shows that the seemingly inefficient scattering of individual strips in this system was not a "system of mingle-mangle" as described by Carew but served an indispensable function within this system. What the scattering of fields ensured was that each individual kept his place in a communal structure: "there is simply no incentive left for the individual tenant to make separate decisions when his strips are scattered. He participates naturally in the collective" (Dahlman 129). The scattering of strips thus forced compliance in the communal agricultural enterprise by preventing any individual from consolidating and closing off adjacent strips from common grazing rights.
Utopia tunes the parameters of the open field "upward" by applying its principles of scattering and rotation not so much to crops as to its own people. Like the parameters of the open field system, those defining the Utopian system are set so as to maximize the sense of community and minimize socially corrosive individuality. The judicious parceling out of near and far apart strips in the open field system that guaranteed an equality of holdings is echoed by the Utopians' exchange of homes every ten years in which each Utopian is reallocated a new home by lot (121). The possessive individualism fostered by ownership of property is forestalled by this scattering. No individual can become so "consolidated" as to place his or her own rights above those of the community. Whether in the open field or the Utopian systems, the scattering of holdings subordinates the individual to the community.
The rotating of the Utopian populace between city and country provides another instance of how Utopia works within the parameters of the open field model. To this end, we are told that twenty people from each rural household return every year to the city after having completed two years of farming duties in the country. They are replaced by twenty substitutes drawn from the city in a continual process of rotation. Their duties are "to cultivate the soil, to feed the animals, and to get wood and convey it to the city" (115). This rotation served in the open field system as a means of preventing soil exhaustion. In Utopia, what Guillaume Budé labels a "nursery of correct and useful institutions" (15), open field parameters are tuned upwards once again. Thus, the citizenry is "cultivated" in being rotated from farm to city to insure that no one individual will be forced "to continue too long in a life of rather hard work" (115). In line with Logan's view that all inhabitants of any Utopia have "the same opportunity for happiness" (177), no individual is to be "overworked" or "exhausted."[iii]
The fine-tuning of individuals both to the needs of the soil and the society lends to Utopia a sense of practicality that Logan notes is sometimes missing in the Greek ideal. The scattering and rotating of the Utopian populace fits well with D.N. McCloskey's theory of scattering propounded in "English Open Fields as Behavior Towards Risk". Here, McCloskey argues that the six or so scattered strips allotted to a typical peasant would avert the risks inherent in the agrarian enterprise. Distance kept the disaster that might befall one field from being visited on the entirety of the person's holdings. The scattering, as well as the rotating of the Utopian populace, provides a similar insurance against risk. As Raphael notes, the danger of anything going wrong with the food supply "through want of skill" (115) is minimized by making everyone expert at farming. This uniform distribution of the peasant's holdings throughout the field ensured as well that some lands would always be under cultivation, benefiting the community as a whole.[iv]
The seasonally adjusted parameters of the open field whereby individual landholding yields to communal grazing rights also find their equivalent in Utopia. There is, for instance, not only a sharing of fields in Utopia but also a policy of cooperative effort. When harvest time is near, the agricultural phylarchs simply inform the municipal authorities what number of laborers is required. Shortly thereafter, Raphael informs us "The crowd of harvesters, coming promptly at the appointed time, dispatch the whole task of harvesting in a single day of fine weather" (117). An extension of the communalism of the open field is likewise found in the Utopian distribution of the harvest.
Utopian farmers produce far more than they need and "simply distribute the surplus among their neighbors". If they themselves need things not obtainable in the country, these farmers send notice to the city, obtaining whatever they need "without the bother of bargaining"(117). This practice brings to mind Raphael's scathing critique of England where, in times of famine, he "emphatically" contends "that at the end of that scarcity, if rich men's granaries had been searched, as much grain could have been found as, if it had been divided among the people killed off by starvation and disease, would have prevented anyone from feeling that meager return from soil and climate" (243).
Through its open field arrangements, Utopia seeks the "distributive justice" (210) that Logan requires for the best commonwealth exercise. Logan points out that the Greeks failed to realize "that there must always--even in the ideal polis--be some limit to resources, that conflicts therefore arise in the pursuit of valid goals, that accordingly some formula for the allocation of resources to different goals must be devised" (188). In the land of the Utopians, however, "where everything has its proper place and the general welfare is carefully regulated" (131), all individuals are placed in a communal scheme whose distributional pattern insures a maximum benefit to all its members (that is, self-sufficiency and freedom from want). There is no bargaining in Utopia, nor is there the problem of having the common good undermined or nibbled away by the private rights of the few exercised against the many. As Raphael argues, "the general welfare lies in the maintenance of equality in all respects," although he doubts that the latter can be maintained when individuals hold private property: "When every man aims at absolute ownership of all the property he can get, be there never so great an abundance of goods, it is all shared by a handful who leave the rest in poverty" (105). The wasteful employment of energies in the creation of luxuries or the litigation concerning property rights is thereby averted in Utopia.[v]
The society described in Book II takes advantage of the central management and control exercised through the open field system to enforce order and stability. Demanding "the rigid adherence of every member of the village community" (Orwin 62), the open field operations in Utopia contain and direct the socially disruptive vagrancy of "masterless men," channeling it into socially useful purposes through scattering and rotation (or at least through a dissipation of its energy). By applying open field principles in the social context, Utopia "solves" the historical problem of vagrancy by reconstituting the feudal agrarian framework whose breakdown exacerbated the problem. The utopian prohibition against travel, mirroring the unjust prohibition against vagrancy discussed in Book I, is more lightly borne because the restored agrarian order precludes the dislocating and uprooting of people in More's day. The underwriting of Utopia by open field arrangements seems to be contradicted by Utopus' initial conquest and enclosing of the peninsula. But a field theory approach not only traces the conservatism of Book II and its reinvoking of England's past; it also provides the larger framework by which the contradictions underlying Utopia may be reconciled. In regards to Utopia's conservatism, Logan himself concedes, "One way in which More's thought is characteristically English is suggested by Elton's remarks on the conservative or restorative nature of the proposals found in English social thought of the early sixteenth century" (261, n. 4). Acknowledging the radical nature of many of Raphael's proposals, Logan also notes "sometimes their object is to restore things to a previous condition" (261). He insists that this previous condition is traditional Stoic and Christian ideals, but this claim needs to be tempered by Raphael's bold admonition to restore agriculture: "Make laws that the destroyers of farmsteads and country villages should either restore them or hand them over to people who will restore them and who are ready to build... Let farming be resumed..." (7 ~). Written during a particularly virulent period of anti-enclosure sentiment, Book II seeks to reattach those dispossessed of the old feudal identity to the land, Utopian arrangements serving as a paradoxical counter-charter for an older pre-charter way of life.[vi]
The conservatism that reinstates open field principles must also restore legitimacy to the claims of those being dispossessed in sixteenth-century England. The underwriting of Utopia by feudal agrarian patterns evokes even more fundamental principles of landholding and social identity that were increasingly displaced in More's day. In his Life on the English Manor, R. H. Bennet speaks of the period of the second half of the thirteenth century as the time in which the lords systematically began to place what was until then known as "the custom of the manor" into writing. "Henceforward," Bennet notes, "the custom of the manor is on record; it no longer exists merely in the memories of the 'wiser and saner' peasants empaneled to give a 'doom', but can be (and is) constantly turned up while the Court sits, and is quoted and used on the lord's behalf" (101). As M. T. Clanchy demonstrates in his From Memory to Written Record, this shift from speech to writing would ultimately work against the poor and the illiterate. Clanchy cites V. H. Galbraith in setting out the significance of this evolution:
Early society is ordered and governed by
oral tradition... Then there is a long
twilight of transition, during which the
written record encroaches more
and more upon the sphere of custom...
More, however, is at stake than the mere
volume of evidence. As documents grow
more plentiful their whole meaning
The growth of documentation causes a conflict to arise between two opposing means for determining those rights. Authorized by documentary evidence, Bookland is signified by the Latin phrase terra ex scripta. Reflective of its initial authorizing in speech and custom, Folkland bears no comparable label. Its authorizing principle of landholding lay in speech and custom, founded upon an ancient sanctioning power whose origin is often referred to as being "a custom which has been used time out of mind of man" (Kerridge 138). Acknowledging its problematic identity, I label it terra ex fabula. A fabulation--literally, the product of speech--Folkland constitutes those holdings lying ouside the written code; it is supplementary to the written code. In his The Compleate Copyholder (1641), Sir Edward Coke tries to differentiate Bookland from Folkland as they were understood in "ancient estates":
(c) Land by writing, in Saxon Bockland: in
ancient estates they had and held
either by writing or without writing,
which were called respectively Bockland,
or Folkland, of which possession by
writing was fitter to free possession and
immune from, as estates without writing
were subject to, certain dues and
servitudes; the former [Bookland] a great
part of the nobles had and held, and the
latter [Folkland], for the most part the
native rustics and peasants (section VII:
But the simple division of Folkland on the side of the peasant and Bookland on the side of the nobles is misleading. Clanchy tells of the noble Earl Warenne who, to prove his rights in a quo warranto proceeding, produced a rusty sword as more valid evidence of his rights than any written charter. Clanchy views this story "as a desperate reassertion of the primacy of oral tradition over recorded history and of non-literate forms of proof over Edward I's lawyers and their demands for charters" (22). Expressed by a noble, such a reassertion shows that the division between Folkland and Bookland was not always along class lines. Clanchy notes further that "To the Normans in particular, who were usurpers wherever they triumphed... the righteousness of conquest was part of a mythology" (23). For Clanchy, the Warenne anecdote underscores the medieval nobility's belief that warriors and their deeds of conquest had a greater claim than writers and the written character. The former espoused "the traditional ideology of the barbarians, who had conquered the Roman empire and replaced the constraining written law of Rome by flexible oral custom" (23). Clanchy cites the French baronage's claims against the clergy in 1247: "They declared that 'all of us, the king's chief men, perceive by applying our minds that the kingdom was not won by written law, nor by the arrogance of clerks, but by the sweat of war'" (Paris 593).
This insistence upon rights obtained through conquest, rights preceding those established by written documents, lies behind Utopus' own claim to Abraxa. The question "Whence Utopus?" becomes answerable in historical terms. Conquering with a double-edged sword, Utopus links England's past to its present. From one point of view, he is a figure from England's dimming feudal past boldly restoring a threatened agrarian and social scheme. From another point of view, he is the large-scale encloser, the nascent capitalist driving out one set of people and marking off their territory for his own scheme of improvement. (Notice that, despite the ambiguity, both scenarios tie him very closely to English history.) Through conquest, King Utopus turns back the clock of actual English history. The story of Utopia is no longer a mere fabulation in the fiction-making sense; it is an effort to re-institute Folkland. Folkland, as Fitzherbert tells us, was the possession of "very uncouth rustics and peasants" (162). Illiterate, they would find their rights even further delegitimized by the written acts of enclosure-by-consent that were foisted upon them. These are, of course, the uncouth rustics and peasants whom King Utopus conquers, redeeming them from history (and the encroachments of Bookland in that history) by "resettling" them in the restored Folkland of Utopia. Existing outside the chartered landholding of Bookland, these are the truly marginal, voiceless people in whose behalf Raphael speaks.
By restoring Folkland, Utopus ensures that the conflicts occurring between the landed and the landless are avoided. The portrayal of the mythic Abraxians and their conquerors is simply a representation of English history in which the historically expropriated are inscribed with a new identity in the text's efforts to mediate the conflicts arising from the faltering feudal order.[vii] Folkland had diminished with the advent of enclosures and the breakdown of the feudal system, its "certain dues and servitudes" redefined by a wage-labor economy. What reinstates these dues and servitudes is the set of obligations each individual owes to the Utopian commonwealth itself, a rigidly defined set of obligations from which no individual is exempt. This rigidity reflects the central control and management carried over from the open field; it is the price Utopians must pay as protection against the ravages of historical change. Individuality and personal freedom are likewise excluded from Utopia. Each Utopian's day is strictly regimented, with fixed hours assigned for every activity, including leisure. The feudal peasant, his social identity already rigidly prescribed, is relocated and re-inscribed with a new, equally rigid set of prescriptions in the utopian social schema.
Like open field arrangements in Utopia, enclosure plays a critical role in regulating Utopian society. The historical value of enclosure as improvement is recaptured by Utopus in his bold conversion of Abraxa into an ideal polity. In More's day, the rate of enclosure was dictated by a convertibility formula that weighed the cost of enclosure (that is, the costs of hedging and ditching as well as the commutation of the tithe owed to the church) against the expected increase in the value of the enclosed land (that is, the improvement in the yield, the eventual gain to be made in freeing the land from tithe obligations). As Turner suggests, not only did the enclosing of land hold forth the prospect of increased productivity and profitability, but it also served as a "tax shelter" for those wishing to be quit once and for all of the customary ten percent tithe. Upon enclosing, a commutation (or lump sum payment of tithe obligations would be agreed upon. According to Gonner, this would reflect the difference between the current value of the land as shown by the existing rents and by the valuation; this difference would reflect the improvement of the field and the sum of the advantages to be expected from enclosure (78). As one commentator of the day noted in observing the growing numbers of enclosures within the "vast sea" of open field farms, these enclosures appeared physically as "islands of improvement," self-enclosed enclaves from which new concepts of social structure, economic ordering and agricultural experimentation could arise (cited in Turner 29).
The enclosing of Utopia allows the same protection and freeing from external factors as that afforded to contemporary enclosures. Utopia employs a similar convertibility formula in transforming English values into ones more conducive to its own vision of improvement. Gold, for instance, becomes a form of negative capital in the internal Utopian economy. Its exchange value is completely externalized (to be used only as an instrument of foreign policy in arranging bribes or assassinations). Vagrancy, as we have seen, is internalized in Utopia, converted into the socially useful scattering and rotation of the Utopian populace. The problem of depopulation is avoided through a strict formula requiring that any loss of population in Utopia proper be made up by recalling Utopians from the outlying settlements. It is even possible to see in Utopia's more liberal stance on issues of divorce and euthanasia the effects of enclosure's symbolic freeing of the land from "tithe obligations."
Enclosure implies experimentation and freedom from outside obligations. Recognizing the prevalence of agrarian field systems in and about Utopia underscores the real world orientation of More's text. Utopia taps into the same basic set of rules that drive the dynamics of real world systems, a set of rules that complexity theorists apply to widely divergent systems, from the behavior of individuals in social systems to the bonding of proteins in molecular biology.[viii] Through their parallel processing and integrating of the English and Utopian domains, the two books of Utopia provide what complexity theorists would describe as "a vital bridge between abstract theory of dynamical systems and the real world of nature" (Lewin 87). Like the "tunable" mathematical landscapes of complexity theory, open field and enclosure arrangements set parameters for defining individuals in agrarian and social schema. They determine, for example, parameters for individual versus group landholding, fertility of soil versus soil exhaustion, risk avoidance versus risk acceptance, and the production and allocation of the harvest. Because such landscapes pattern the operations governing actual agrarian and social systems, they establish England and Utopia as coevolving systems whose differently tuned parameters result in each society attaining different evolutionary levels (represented by bands, tribes, chiefdoms, or states). As the dynamics of a system change, phase transitions representing different patterns of social organization can be charted in determining that system's potential evolution or devolution from one state to another. Through the complexity of its agrarian arrangements, Utopia makes us aware of the larger framework of agrarian and social evolution in More's day, not only in terms of what was realized but also in terms of what was potential but unrealized.
What is realized at any point in history is never more than a partial filling in of what complexity theorists label "the space of morphological possibilities" (Lewin 74). Those who view More's Utopia as removed from actual historical circumstances fail to take into account this larger framework. Offering a competing plan of agrarian and social improvement, Utopia participates in the historical change transforming More's England at least as much as other plans that were proposed but not realized. Utopia's ideal of improvement is utopian not because it is removed from English conditions but because it was not realized. Other plans met the same fate.
As a proponent of privatization through enclosure, Anthony Fitzherbert argued in his Book of Husbandry for the individual's rights of enclosure in escaping both the inefficiency of the open field system and in recapturing the spillover benefits of enclosing. What Fitzherbert proposed was a form of enclosure that would have consolidated the holdings of individuals by exchanging scattered, piecemeal strips of land between landholders so that each could then enclose a compact area of land equal in size to what had been held before. While Fitzherbert's scheme would have had farms in individual ownership and would have meant an end to the commons, its equitability would have soon been evident to all. As the editor of Social England notes:
To do this, of course, meant to put an
end once and for all to the old communal
tillage, and to the scattering of holdings
into a number of acre and half-acre
strips, dispersed up and down the arable.
It would also require the suppression of
the common right of pasture, enjoyed
equally by all on land from which the
crops had been removed. When once,
however, this had been effected and the
land equitably redistributed, every one
would be the gainer, so that townships
that had formerly been worth twenty
marks yearly would instead be worth
twenty pounds. For under the new
system every one would have compact
holdings to do what he liked with, free
from the interference of his neighbors...(l1)
According to John Addy, "Had his [Fitzherbert's] advice been adopted between 1480 and 1640 much of the misery caused by converting arable farms to sheep walks would have been mitigated" (11). As a response to a similar set of problems and as a likeminded effort to stave off suffering, Book II of Utopia also sought to reset the parameters defining the English landscape. Fitzherbert and More's unrealized plans verify complexity theorists' view "that the world out there is populated by a range of ghost species, dynamical attractors, only some of which may be occupied at any given time" (Lewin 73). As a specific response to historical conditions, Utopia is populated by many such ghost species: Utopus, the inversion of the large-scale encloser and the evocation of the conquering Norman chief; one part of the conquered Abraxians as a ghost species for those evicted by enclosure and the other part offered as those improved by such enclosure.
Such transpositions are hardly surprising, for Book I has supplied readers with contemporary instances of how the alterations of agrarian parameters led to strange mutations being let loose upon the English countryside. The transformation of the English landscape by "mercenary" sheep is a good case in point. As Raphael asserts, "'Your sheep which are usually so tame and so cheaply fed, begin now, according to report, to be so greedy and wild that they devour human beings and devastate and depopulate fields, houses, and towns"' (67). If commercialism has caused this "golden hoof" to overrun the land, it has also stripped away the value of the English yeomanry, causing them to wander as vagrants across the land. In the space of morphological possibilities, the wage-laboring mercenaries and the vagrants mentioned in Book I show up again in Utopia as "ghost species," transformed by the inverse functions of the Utopian system. As Hexter points out, "Utopia is hedged around with a system of political and moral sanctions designed expressly to prevent the reintroduction of private property" (xxiii). The restorative nature of Utopia is reflected in Richard Marius' depiction of the island as an idyllic commons, a pastureland of myth: "In some respects Utopia resembles a vast herd in which all the members move as one over a green and spacious pasture" (167).
Hexter and Marius' observations call attention to differences between Utopia and England--differences that reflect coevolving, coupled landscapes. What More has written is a double text that drives the evolving English agrarian and social systems to what Lewin would describe as the edge of chaos, where "you traverse maximum computational capacity, maximum information manipulation" (50). The generative power of juxtaposing text and real world is reflected in the utopian and dystopic variants that have followed in Utopia's wake. These variants even reiterate programs similar to Utopia's: The Time Machine's division of a society into Eloi and Morlocks reflects the conflict between "sheep" and "wolves" in Book I; 1984's portrayal of the enclosing and deprivatizing of the individual's personal space reflects a similar, larger-scale concern in Utopia. This forward-looking mode of Utopia's complexity demonstrates how the retuning of parameters evidenced in Book II can result in "a virtual infinity of worlds" (Lewin 72).
In its backward-looking mode, Utopia allows for what Lewin describes as "the possibility of reviving a vanished design" (71). Like the deserted villages that Raphael laments and the earthwork inscriptions of open field designs still detectable on the English landscape from the air, the Utopia of Book II represents the fossilized record of England's failure to evolve along the particular line dictated by Raphael's attempt to re-invoke England's past. Tracing the phase transitions of Utopia's development reveals that the island approaches but stops short of the state-formation of its counterpart in Book I. Raphael's description of Utopia's founding and consolidation places Utopia somewhere between the chiefdom and the state, what Timothy Earle describes as "an archaic form of state organization, a genuine phase on the road to full-fledged states" (18). In "Chiefdoms, States, and Systems of Social Evolution," Kristian Kristiansen notes "a fundamental organizational divide between tribal societies, of which the chiefdom is a variant, and state societies" (17). The chiefdom did not require the organizational integration and social stratification of the state form.
In the context of Book II alone, the appearance of Utopus and his wandering band invokes the beginning of social history, offering a chance to reconstitute that history, to redirect the forces determining social evolution. Karl Kautsky's view of Utopia as a forerunner to socialism can be complemented by a Darwinian view of Utopia as an effort to trace social evolution to its origins. Darwin himself felt that an island offered the best laboratory for the study of evolution. Utopus, literally "Man of No Land," seems free to redefine history. No mention is made anywhere in Book II of his previous circumstances. If he and his band had a settled existence elsewhere, it is not at all clear why they would have traded it for the poor conditions afforded by Abraxa. Their nomadic nature is a deliberate mystification, allowing the Utopians to have a free-floating value that is filled in only when we recognize their mercenary nature as enclosers and foreign occupiers, values supplied by the more historically oriented Book I. Once again, the enigmatic figure of Utopus links England's past and present in this "originary" moment of founding Utopia.
Utopus' conquest of the Abraxians also seems to foreshadow Engel's theory that the state emerged through the "chiefdom type," a "'military democracy'": "Pastoral peoples especially, who combined organizational abilities with mobility and effective striking-power, were able to defeat and subject the more sluggish agriculturalists" (Claessen 10). Utopus not only conquers the Abraxians--"sluggish agriculturalists," indeed--but he also assimilates them into the Utopian polity through a monumental engineering project that puts his own soldiers to work along with those natives willing to comply.[ix] Utopus' management of the Abraxians and his own band fits Claessen's definition of the state as "the organization designed for the regulation of social relations in a society divided into at least two main social groups" (19). Martin Sicker speculates that the early state rose from just such a mix of conquest and consent, large-scale public works giving to the polity the cohesion necessary for state-formation (7). Quite literally, Utopus "engineers the consent" of the governed with his project by involving them in this collaborative, egalitarian project of cutting off Abraxa from the mainland.
But this merging of the Utopians and the Abraxians also marks the point where Utopia departs from the classic model of state-formation. It downplays the class distinctions necessary for full state development. It allows Utopus to sidestep what Rodney Hilton views as the "crisis" of feudalism by dissolving the tension between "a landowning military aristocracy" and a vast class of peasant producers who were "in effective possession of their own means of subsistence" (123). The noble "drones" and their idle attendants that Raphael sees as a plague upon England never evolve in Utopian society (63). Claessen's view of social stratification in the formation and development of the state, whereby there is "unequal access to the means of production" (20), is also not characteristic of Utopia. The differing access to strategic resources, privileged and unimpeded versus impaired, that for Kristiansen marks state formation is also lacking (18).
Indeed, the more closely one examines Utopia, the more it appears that it is set up to work against the evolution into a modern state represented by its historical counterpart, England. Private property and luxuries are banned. Gold is scrupulously devalued in the internal economy. Even in Utopus' conquering of Abraxia, demarcating of territory, and administering of power, there seems a decided tilt toward the chiefdom organization. Utopian society, for instance, retains elements of the band or chiefdom; specifically, the scattering and rotating of the Utopians keep them "nomadic", while also preventing the evolution of full social stratification and hierarchical patterns. Utopia has the markings of what Kristiansen describes as "autonomous" chiefdoms and tribes, "devolved societies, temporarily cut off from the larger system of which they had historically been a part" (25).
Occurring at a critical point in England's evolution into the modern state, Book II offers an alternative construct--albeit not a viable, workable model--to England's history as it is represented in Book I. Utopia, which lacks a warrior caste, never evolves into full statehood. The problems catalogued in Book I, many of them linked to the consolidation of the state and its attendant dislocations, can be read against the "withering away of the state" that seems to be the order of business in Book II. One way that Raphael can achieve this withering away of the state is to retell history, to offer an account different from that found in the historical record. This retelling of history is reflected in Utopia's downplaying of written codes in favor of speech in its efforts to re-institute Folkland.
The subject of an account, of speech itself, the island of Utopia lies safely beyond the written codes of law so disadvantageous to the poor. As Raphael tells us, lawyers "who cleverly manipulate cases and cunningly argue legal points" (195) are absolutely banned from Utopia, for such chicanery is counter to the natural state in which the Utopians live and conduct their daily affairs. Each person pleads his or her own case in Utopia, and what few laws they have are kept perfectly simple so that there will be no subtle or recondite interpretations to tease out of them and to use unfairly against others (the unlettered of history). We are further informed by Raphael that in this land "as far removed from ours by the equator as their life and character are different from ours, there is no trust in treaties" (197). Trusting that "the fellowship created by nature takes the place of a treaty", the Utopians believe that "men are better and more firmly joined together by good will than by pacts, by spirit than by words (Ratius valentiasque animo quam verhis connecti, 198-9).
The Utopians are not exclusively an oral culture, for they have writing and Annals that go back 1,760 years. Still, Raphael's account of their preference for oral testimony and unwritten understandings marks yet another instance where Utopian society resists the next transition into full state-formation.
As a terra ex fabula conserving elements of Folkland in its open field arrangements, Utopia becomes the object of contradictory testimony, as when More, in writing to Peter Giles, claims "We forgot to ask, and he forgot to say, in what part of the new world Utopia lies" (43). This same Giles writes to Busleyden concerning "More's difficulty about the geographical position of the island" (23). It was, Giles explains, "an unlucky accident" that prevented them from hearing the whereabouts of the island, for one of the company, having caught cold on shipboard, "coughed so loudly that I lost some phrases of what Raphael said." Giles promises Busleyden to reveal "not only the location of the island but also the longitude and latitude" if he can find Raphael alive and safe again. Like the land he has spoken for, however, Raphael is currently unlocatable.
The truth behind this jest is that the location of Utopia cannot be written down. The mere mention of its location immediately falls prey to a disarticulation inscribed in Utopia's very name. Superficially, this jest implies that Utopia is merely a fiction made up by Thomas More. But Utopia is also a fabulation insofar as it is a terra ex fabula, an oral account that seeks to preserve one form of landholding rights beginning to disappear in More's own day. The disappearance of these rights, the increasing difficulty in invoking them, makes their disarticulation as puzzling as Utopia's own.
An added truth is that Utopia will be more likely found (or "found") by a land surveyor's measure than by a ship's compass. The field theory approach suggests that this lost land evokes "the world we have lost."[x] Printing a document from a court proceeding in which the principals of an enclosure riot were sentenced, John Addy restores for us some sense of what people displaced by enclosure must have experienced in seeking justice within a changed order. The introduction to the document speaks of "a vicious sentence passed upon one person who dared to speak up in Court for the rights of the poor." What follows are the particulars:
Wm Mason, Thomas Brook, Edmund
Chilley and Ann Rush were indicted for
willfully and maliciously damaging a fence
the property of Charles Green, made
under the Lopham Inclosure Act which
offence is made felony by Act of
Parliament. The prisoner Mason addressed
the Court as champion of the rights of the
poor, whose property he said the
Commons were. The Judge stated
distinctly to the prisoners and the Jury
that the poor had no such right as it was
asserted by the prisoner Mason. In the
present case it appeared that the 200
acres of land had been alloted for the use
of the poor. Mason was sentenced to
twelve and the others to three months
Here, the memory of a prior right had not yet vanished, and one can only wonder what sense of awkwardness vexed courts charged with upholding a new order. The severity of the sentence indicates that at least one court felt the need to react strongly to such attempts to restore the poor's rights of common. Mason's protest, his oral testimony to past rights, was overruled by the written act of Parliament.
Writing during a period when the most damaging enclosures were occurring, Thomas More would have borne witness to the crying abuses of his age. The voice of social conscience, Raphael speaks for the rights of Folkland in a voice that resonates through centuries more of debate. Clanchy notes of the period characterizing Folkland that "When historical information [about landholding rights] was needed, local communities resorted not to books and charters but to the oral wisdom of their elders and remembrancers" (2-3). A remembrancer of England's dimming feudal past, Raphael conserves an arrested and transformed version of that past as the very foundation of the Utopian ideal.
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[i] The fear activating anti-enclosure measures was that of depopulation, a weakening of England's defensive capabilities, particularly in the outlying territories. A related concern was that enclosure would remove people from their connection with the land and lead to their eventual "unmanning". The stout yeomanry that Raphael praises as England's great national resource was felt to be in danger of disappearing. As Francis Bacon notes, Henry VII sought "to keep the plough in the hands of the owners and not mere hirelings" (cited in Marx 880). Marx views enclosure as an instrument of emerging capitalism, causing "a degraded and almost servile condition of the mass of the people, their transformation into mercenaries, and the transformation of their means of labour into capital" (880). Raphael's description of mercenary sheep overrunning the land and Utopia's devaluation of gold seem to be presentiments of the Marxist view.
[ii] As Orwin notes, the arrangements of holdings in dispersed strips assured that no individual would have to wait an immoderately long time for the other individuals' ploughing to be done, as would have been the case had land been apportioned in large blocks (8).
[iii] In fact, some individuals are even taken out of cultivation and allowed to lie "fallow." These are given "perpetual freedom from labor" so that they "may learn thoroughly the various branches of knowledge" (131). However, if any of these scholars "falsify" the hopes entertained for him, he is summarily reduced to the rank of workingman (133).
[iv] By this continual exchanging of roles between the two populations, Utopia avoids the historical conflicts between the rural and urban domains. Even potential conflicts between cities are avoided, for we are told by Raphael that "the lands are so well assigned to the cities that each has at least twelve miles of country on every side" (113). Consequently, no city has any desire to extend its territory: "Yet Today", as Erasmus laments in a side note, "the Desire for Expansion Is the Curse of All Commonwealths" (113).
[v] This efficiency in transaction costs is an important savings Utopia gains by its open field arrangements. Historically, a great deal of efficiency had to be sacrificed in order to keep the territorial integrity between neighbors intact. Gilbert Slater tells us of two neighbors who "kept a plough each continually, and as one ploughed certain furrows into his land, the other ploughed them back into his" (15). As D. N. McCloskey demonstrates, there is nothing wasteful or fortuitous in the open field. Even the seemingly random angles at which these individual strips intersect are purposeful, for their particular arrangement in these patterns indicates their service as a drainage scheme for preventing flooding.
[vi] As J. J. Scarisbrick points out, Thomas More himself had to appear before the barons in 1527 to swear that lands he had been granted, reported in 1517 as having been enclosed, had been restored to arable (61).
[vii] Utopia thus solves a central problem vexing More's England: where to relocate the dispossessed. Because their rights of landholding were being extinguished by the formation of pastoral enclosures and parks, the "wastes" of the New World were all that remained. Indeed, More is forward-looking in relocating the historically dispossessed in the wastes, a relocation that does not occur until the less chaotic transfers in the later sixteenth century.
[viii] James Gleick provides an excellent discussion of chaos theory, a precursor of complexity theory. For a discussion of mathematical landscapes, refer to Chapter Three of Complexity, "Edge of Chaos Discovered."
[ix] If current practice is any indicator of past actions, the Utopians must have considered the Abraxians sluggish agriculturists: "They consider it a most just cause for war when a people which does not use its soil but keeps it idle and waste nevertheless forbids the use and possession of it to others who by the rule of nature ought to be maintained by it" (137).
[x] A borrowing from Peter Laslett's The World We Have Lost.