Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken
gozz@gozz.com

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Sir Thomas More on supply-side economics and the death penalty, Wee hour snack 

pink lady apple and orange

I never used to read forwards, notes, introductions - nothing but the meat of a book. I told myself I didn't want my understanding tainted by another's. I'm quite obsessive about digesting such things now - I think I was just lazy before - and perhaps afraid that I was more impressionable than I was comfortable with - which in itself was wise: indeed, I have read 8-9 Ayn Rand books which is 7-8 more than anyone should.

I am getting my fill of introductions and postscripts with Paul Turner's 1965 translation of Sir Thomas More's Utopia: An introduction by the translator, three fictionalized letters of introduction by More, an introductory Utopian poem and translation from the Utoptian language, the translator's notes, and appendix and a glossary. That is in addition to the meat of the book.

More's work is clever on many levels: written in 1516 and presenting such subversive ideas such as punishment other than beheading for petty theft, More disguised his ideas by narrating a conversation in which a visitor to Utopia relates the ideas as things he saw on the island of Utopia.

Sadly, along side More's criticism of the death penalty for thievery, he satirizes faults our society still suffers from. More places a jab at the Bush administration's supply side economic theories in an explanation of why he didn't ask his traveller about sea monsters,

There is never any shortage of horrible creatures who prey on human beings, snatch away their food, or devour whole populations; but examples of wise social planning are not so easy to find ...

[a few pages later] ... for every king is a sort of fountain, from which a constant shower of benefits or injuries rains down upon the whole population.

On the death penalty of the time - the important points of which still apply today,

I've seen as many as 20 on a single gallows. And that's what I find so odd. Considering how few of them get away with it, why are we still plagued by so many robbers?

And,

God said, 'Thou shall not kill' - does the theft of a little money make it quite all right for us to do so? If it's said that this commandment applies only to illegal killing, what's to prevent human beings from similarly agreeing amongst themselves to legalize certain types of rape, adultery, or perjury? ... can we really believe that purely human arrangements for the regulation of mutual slaughter are enough, without any divine authority, to exempt executioners from the sixth commandment? Isn't that rather like like saying that this particular commandment has no more validity than human laws allow it? - in which case the principle can be extended indefinitely, until in all spheres of life human beings decide just how far God's commandments my conveniently be observed.

Of course, More was beheaded in 1535 for holding such views.

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