The island nation of Utopia is depicted by More as an idyllic—if sometimes contradictory – paradise. Private property is not allowed (although every family is allotted two slaves) and all food is drawn from community warehouses as needed. Everyone eats the same food in community dinning halls and meals are prepared by "families," each composed of from ten to sixteen individuals, taking turns at the task.
Everyone wears the same simple clothing. There are no tailors or dressmakers and all clothing is homemade. Jewels are worn only by children and gold is used for such base objects as slave chains and chamber pots in order to imbue the people with the uselessness of wealth.
The only industry on the island is agriculture, and everyone is required to work for two years at a time on the community farms. In addition, every citizen must learn a trade, such as carpentry. metalsmithing, masonry, or weaving (mostly for the women) and all able-bodied citizens are required to work at least six hours a day.
Utopia is a welfare state, with free medical care (although More does not explain where the doctors come from) and free housing, which is rotated between families every ten years. There are no laws on the island, as everyone knows what is right and what is wrong.
In September 1620, one hundred and four years after More published Utopia, a small ship named the Mayflower left Plymouth England with 102 passengers on board bound for the new world. Two months later, the ship dropped anchor in Plymouth Harbor in Massachusetts Bay and 100 settlers (two had died on the trip) debarked upon a great adventure.
The colony was organized along the lines of More's Utopia, with community farms, a common warehouse, and community ownership of houses and barns. All game killed was community property, and all men were required to work equally in the fields. Children were considered community property, frequently being placed in foster homes after the age of eight. The colonists were fundamentalist separatists from the Church of England and lived simple, devout lives, eschewing all but the simplest attire and condemning any form of overt recreational enjoyment. Although murder and adultery were capital crimes, most infractions were handled through the congregation, of which every colonist was a member.
But all was not Eden in Eden. There was continual dissension in the ranks. Single men felt it was unfair that they had to work the same hours as married men, who took more of the food from the common store. There were accusations of malingering and indolence. And some families were suspected of holding back game for their own consumption.
By the Spring of 1622, the colony was in shambles. The warehouse was empty, over half the colonists were dead, and those that were left were consumed with eternal bickering. Governor Bradford made a momentous decision. He declared that, henceforth each man would build and own his own house and barns, would clear and farm his own land, and would hunt his own game, keeping the fruits of his labor for his own use or for sale to others. From that point on, the colony flourished.
This scenario has been played out again and again, from New Harmony Indiana to Cuba and North Korea. Thomas More's "Utopia" always ends up as a dystopia.
Yet there are still those who would persist in trying to change basic human nature.