Thomas More
Utopia
The discovery of the New World not only set off an era of geographical
exploration, but also expanded the psychological and sociological perspectives of
the Old World.  Nowhere is this better seen than in
Utopia, a work published in
1516 by Thomas More.  More lets his imagination run rampant in imagining this
mythical island society, whose institutions reflect a strange combination of
progressive and reactionary attitudes.  On the one hand, Utopia has abolished
private property and employs policies -- such as free hospitals -- that today
would be associated with the welfare state.  But Utopia also relies on slaves
(two per family) and imposes severe punishments for premarital sex and
adultery.  Euthanasia is encouraged, but atheism is viewed as a dangerous,
anti-social philosophy.  Astrology is frowned upon, but moon worship and sun
worship are quite common.  

No, the practicality and consistency of the Utopian worldview are often suspect,
but More's book effectively captures the sense of excitement and inspiration that
come from re-inventing the social dimensions of our individual lives and
communities.  So much is pre-figured in this work -- everything from Marxism to
science fiction can trace its heritage back to this path-breaking book.  

But More did not fare as well as his book, and the very intellect that encouraged
him to conceive of radical alternatives to social organization may have spurred
him in his refusal to accept King Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England
-- a position which led to More's conviction for treason and subsequent
execution.