Delineation of Bradshaw’s Argument in “More on Utopia”
Brendan Bradshaw’s article “More on Utopia” is not so much a recitation of his own opinions on Utopia, but more a critique of the works written by scholars, especially J.H. Hexter and Dermot Fenlon, particularly how well they support their claims with textual evidence. Bradshaw’s central thesis is that “despite all the light which Hexter’s analysis throws on the text, it is founded on an unsustainable hypothesis.” (Bradshaw 2) The crux of the argument lies mainly in the competing claims of Hexter and Fenlon about Utopia that Bradshaw finds to be unsubstantiated in the text. Hexter’s problematic suggestion is that Book II simultaneously represents a realization of Erasmian humanistic ideals and a Christian commonwealth and Fenlon’s opinion is that the Christianity of Utopia is undisputed, but that More intends for it to be illusionary. However, by seeking out concrete evidence from the book itself, Bradshaw disproves their hypotheses by provided logical arguments.
Endeavoring to develop his thesis, Bradshaw begins by outlining for the reader the two faults with Hexter’s conclusions: that he “misconceived the nature of the humanist ideology of reform in its religious aspect” and “failed to take sufficient account of…the author’s intentions.” (Bradshaw 6) In order to prove without a doubt that Hexter’s claims are unsubstantiated, Bradshaw pulls evidence from historical, philosophical, and literary sources. With careful consideration, Bradshaw makes clear the logical fallacies in Hexter’s assertion that the Utopians, without established Christian rituals, are true Christians in virtue, and that this is More’s way of demonstrating the reformative ideology of the Humanists. By giving the reader detailed descriptions of Erasmus’ idea of religion—that a degree of “knowledge of revelation” (Bradshaw 8) is a prerequisite for anyone to be a Christian—and by paraphrasing the conversion passage from Utopia, Bradshaw proves that Hexter’s conclusion is incorrect because he does not take into account factual evidence from Erasmus himself or evidence from the text. Furthermore, Bradshaw takes issue with Hexter’s misinterpretation of More’s intentions regarding the Utopian’s communistic society. Bradshaw claims that, in Hexter’s fervency to place the book in a religious context, he fails to place it in the correct philosophical context.
On the matter of Fenlon’s theory that More created Utopia as an idyll, rather than an achievable system, Bradshaw, once again, argues that Utopia must be analyzed within context. He points to the multiple allusions to Plato’s Republic that occur in Utopia, and even quotes Peter Giles’ words, “Utopia not merely emulated Plato’s Republic, but excelled it.” (Bradshaw 19) Bradshaw asserts that Utopia’s clear parallelism to Plato’s Kallipolis must be taken into account when determining whether More meant for it to be idyllic or ideal. In addition, Bradshaw says that More chose to place Utopia in an imperfect world to show that it is indeed possible, and that furthermore, should be mimicked by imperfect societies. Once more, Bradshaw illuminates the importance of seeking direct evidence in the text to support claims.
While Bradshaw acknowledges the criticisms of several different scholars regarding the speculation about More’s intentions for writing Utopia, he most closely examines the positions taken by Fenlon and Hexter. Through his methodical and logical analysis of Utopia and the context in which More wrote it, Bradshaw determines where others’ writings contain unsubstantiated speculations. He then supports his thesis by providing claims that are corroborated with evidence from the text. It is in this deliberate manner that Bradshaw builds his argument.
Bradshaw, Brendan. 1981. “More on Utopia.” The Historical Jounal 1-27.