Thomas More's Utopia, a book that will be 500 years old next year, is astonishingly radical stuff. Not many lord chancellors of England have denounced private property, advocated a form of communism and described the current social order as a “conspiracy of the rich.” Such men, the book announces, are “greedy, unscrupulous and useless.” There are a great number of noblemen, More complains, who live like drones on the labour of others. Tenants are evicted so that “one insatiable glutton and accursed plague of his native land” may consolidate his fields. Monarchs, he argues, would do well to swear at their inauguration never to have more than 1,000lbs of gold in their coffers. Perhaps this is one reason why Utopia is not bedside reading in Buckingham Palace. Instead of being worshipped, gold and silver should, he suggests, be used to make chamber pots. War is fit only for beasts, and standing armies should be disbanded. Labour should be reduced to a minimum, though the TUC might balk at the suggestion that workers would use some of their leisure time to attend public lectures before daybreak.

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