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iprefact The principal antecedents of this study are a number of works that identify Utopia as a product of Renaissance humanism and undertake to interpret it by specifying as precisely as possible its position in the development of that tradition. Above all, I am indebted to the studies of J. H. Hexter and the late Edward Surtz, S.J., debts that I hope are not obscured by my criticism of someof their views. Like these scholarsand theother exponents of what Father Surtz called the "humanistic interpretation" of Utopia, I am convinced that More's book is, despite the wit and indirection of its manner, a serious work of political philosophy, and that it embodies More's profound sympathy with the ideals of Erasmian Christian humanism. I do not, however, share with this school the view that Utopia is essentially a recapitulation, partly direct and partly disguised, of the normative suggestions of Christian humanists, a view that in effect consigns More's book to a backwater of political theory, where most historians of that discipline have been content to leave it. Quentin Skinner, who is the most recent and authoritative historian of Renaissance political thought, and whose work pro­ vides indispensable background and interpretive perspectives for this study, alters the usual judgment somewhat. According to Skinner, More, though largely recapitulating humanist views, also questions the comfortable conservatism of humanist political thought by following out the implications of some of its themes. I endorse the notion that Utopia embodies a critique of other works of political theory, but Skinner's view of the means and the extent of that critique seems to me too narrow. Skinner usefully distinguishes two traditions in early Renais­ sance political theory, a humanist tradition affiliated with Roman Stoic thought and a scholastic tradition that represents a revival of Aristotelian theory. He defines the significance of the brilliant X PREFACE Italian theory of More's own time largely in terms of its attempt to fuse these traditions. I argue that More is engaged in a parallel, though substantively very different, attempt. Utopia is, first, an object lesson in the methodology of Greek theory (Platonic as well as Aristotelian), a methodology that it significantly refines, and, second, an attempt to bring this methodology to bear in a critique of the substantive conclusions of both the Stoic and the Greek traditions. In particular, Utopia not only suggests the preconditions for the implementation of Stoic norms and the mutual incompatibility of some of them, but also questions some realpolitisch conclusions of theorists in the Greek tradition. A profound rumination on central themes of classical and Renais­ sance political thought, Utopia deserves a place among the most advanced and creative political writings of its era. Most interpretive failures in the criticism of Utopia stem from taking parts of it out of context—both the context of the book itself and that of the history of political theory. This seems a particularly grave and ironic failing in the case of a humanist work, since the humanists' own critical method, which forms the origin of our most common approaches to literary texts, has at its heart the principle that works must be regarded as wholes and in all their relevant contexts. To avoid this failing, I have treated the three sections of Utopia—the Letter to Giles, Book I, and Book II—consecutively and, I believe, comprehensively, and I have also attempted to replace the book in its context in the history of political thought. Thisattempt necessitates drawing back some­ times from the text. My rule has been to incorporate the resulting sections at what seem to me theearliest points where the reflections they embody can be fully clear to the reader. The study begins with brief prolegomena, which identify the traditional deficiencies in criticism of Utopia and show why we are in a better position than earlier readers to supply them. I pay particular attention to findings of the humanistic interpreters that serve to establish fundamental critical guidelines and, in Hexter's reconstruction of the composition of Utopia, to provide vital clues PREFACE X l to More's intentions—and to raise a serious question about the unity of his book. The following chapter, on the Letter to Giles, shows that this letter indicates not only that Utopia is a product of Renaissance humanism but also that it is directed primarily to a humanist audience. The latter fact undermines previous interpretations, which have either ignored the indications of intended audience or misconstrued their...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781400855872
MARC Record
OCLC
889254643
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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