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Veronica Brooks, who recently earned her Ph.D., spoke to stu­dents and faculty about Thomas More’s political phi­losophy on April 1. Sam Coln | External Affairs

Most people don’t treat Sir Thomas More as a political thinker, but his political phi­losophy is worth studying as an insightful uni­fi­cation of the con­tem­plative life and political action, according to Veronica Brooks, who recently com­pleted the Ph.D. program at Hillsdale’s Van Andel School of States­manship.

Deliv­ering her dis­ser­tation on More’s political phi­losophy Monday afternoon — and joking that the name More gives himself in “Utopia” (“Morus,” Latin for “fool”) was fitting for the first of April — Brooks argued that More admired a repub­lican form of gov­ernment that depended on cit­izens’ consent and virtue. She pulled from four of More’s works — “Utopia,” “The History of King Richard III,” “Life of Pico della Mirandola,” and a col­lection of poetic epi­grams — to make her case.

More’s views on virtue or the human good are a “starting point” for under­standing his pol­itics, Brooks said. He derived these largely from Cicero, who rejected the Epi­curean practice of with­drawing from society to phi­los­o­phize. Instead, Cicero — and More after him — rec­og­nized that the good life takes place in com­munity.

“More cri­tiqued the ‘ivory tower’ intel­lec­tuals,” Brooks said, pointing to “Pico,” who’s apo­litical prac­tices led to trouble, as an example of this crit­icism.

More also rejected the Epi­curean idea that virtue was ulti­mately one’s own pleasure.

“An instru­mental con­ception of virtue is what More found polit­i­cally dan­gerous,” Brooks said. More’s history of Richard III par­tic­u­larly makes this case. More rec­og­nized that a monarch often feels that people exist for his use — but instead, a repub­lican gov­ernment checks the excesses of rulers and allows for consent of the gov­erned.

In “Utopia,” More endorses a real­istic approach to pol­itics, Brooks pointed out, epit­o­mized in a par­ticular quote: “What you cannot turn to good, you must at least make as little bad as pos­sible.”

More’s blending of political action and con­tem­plation in his own political life “is hard to sep­arate from his Chris­tianity and his piety,” Brooks said. “His per­spective on eternity is respon­sible for his real­istic view of pol­itics.” More rec­og­nized that heaven comes later and is impos­sible on this earth.

Stephen Smith, pro­fessor of English and one of Brooks’ dis­ser­tation readers, said Brooks “artic­u­lates a very sat­is­factory and attractive account of pru­dence and the great need for it in political and per­sonal life.”

Pro­fessor of History Paul Rahe, another of Brooks’ readers, said that while everyone writes about More’s “Utopia,” few delve into the other works that Brooks used for her dis­ser­tation. He said he hopes she will publish it as a book in the coming months.

“This is a first-rate dis­ser­tation, and it will be a great book,” Rahe said. “It’s the most com­pre­hensive thing written on the political thought of Thomas More.”