Friday, February 25, 2011
So much for the Commonwealth
So, there I was, teaching Thomas More's Utopia today in my BritLit Survey--probably the longest work of the semester and a pretty tough sell to college students, unfortunately. But it's really a fascinating book in a lot of ways.
But anyhow, there I am wrapping up class, asking them all to think about how More claims that there can be no justice as long as there is private property, and how Utopia takes literally the notion that the best path to a true commonwealth is to make all the wealth common.
And I tie it all together by saying something like this: "More wants us to ask ourselves whether our self interest, our desire to own our own things, comes at the cost of impoverishing our fellow men, and at the cost of justice. He wants us to think about what we do for our own gain, and what we do for the good of us all. And I find that kind of philanthropic thought really wonderful--but I still like the things I own, and I don't want to have to switch houses every ten years by lottery. So I work for a salary--but I work cheap, and I try to do good work for the world by being a teacher."
I told them to go, packed up my bag, and headed for the door. In front of the door to the very next classroom, I saw a dollar lying on the ground. I picked it up, waved it around for a few seconds to see if anyone would claim it, and no one did. So I looked around one more time, shrugged my shoulders, and stuffed it in my pocket.
So much for the commonwealth.