The Law of Freedom in a Platform
I have been reading up on the diggers and levellers lately what with all of this land-grabbing that is going on around the world. Living in an apartment I always have my eye on any bit of land that looks fertile or even just neglected. Gerrard Winstanley was one of the original land-redistribution activists in the Western tradition. He wrote many pamphlets, this is his most extensive one which gives his ideas of the basic problem in our world (buying and selling) and how we can create a better world for ourselves and our children. It is quite extensive and the whole thing can be viewed here. I have taken some of my favorite passages for you below:
by Gerrard Winstanley – 1652
Although the writing style is old fashioned it is clear that the issues he is struggling against are the very same as they are today:
The burden of tithes remains still upon our estates, which was taken from us by the kings and given to the clergy to maintain them by our labours; so that though their preaching fill the minds of many with madness, contention and unsatisfied doubting, because their imaginary and ungrounded doctrines cannot be understood by them, yet we must pay them large tithes for so doing. This is oppression.
On Paying Tolls:
There is another grievance which the people are much troubled at, and that is this: country people cannot sell any corn or other fruits of the earth in a market town but they must either pay toll or be turned out of town. Now say they, ‘This is a most shameful thing, that we must part with our estates in taxes and free-quarter to purchase the freedom of the land and the freedom of the towns, and yet this freedom must be still given from us into the hands of a covetous Norman toll-taker, according to the kings’ old burdensome laws, and contrary to the liberty of a free commonwealth.’
On The Cost of Wars:
‘Now,’ saith the whisperings of the people, ‘the inferior tenants and labourers bears all the burdens, in labouring the earth, in paying taxes and free-quarter beyond their strength, and in furnishing the armies with soldiers, who bear the greatest burden of the war; and yet the gentry, who oppress them and that live idle upon their labours, carry away all the comfortable livelihood of the earth.’
‘And is not this a slavery,’ say the people, ‘that though there be land enough in [England] to maintain ten times as many people as are in it, yet some must beg of their brethren, or work in hard drudgery for day wages for them, or starve or steal and so be hanged out of the way, as men not fit to live in the earth, before they must be suffered to plant the waste land for their livelihood, unless they will pay rent to their brethren for it?’ Well, this is a burden the creation groans under; and the subjects (so called) have not their birthright freedoms granted them from their brethren, who hold it from them by dub law, but not by righteousness.
On Tyranny and Freedom:
You will say, ‘We must be subject to the ruler’. It is true, but not to suffer the rulers to call the earth theirs and not ours, for by so doing they betray their trust and run into the line of tyranny; and we lose our freedom and from thence enmity and wars arise.
On Buying and Selling the Earth:
When the earth was first bought and sold, many gave no consent: as when our crown lands and bishops’ lands were sold, some foolish soldiers yielded, and covetous officers were active in it, to advance themselves above their brethren; but many who paid taxes and free-quarter for the purchase of it gave no consent but declared against it as an unrighteous thing, depriving posterity of their birthrights and freedoms.
Therefore this buying and selling did bring in, and still doth bring in, discontent and wars, which have plagued mankind sufficiently for so doing. And the nations of the world will never learn to beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and leave off warring, until this cheating device of buying and selling be cast out among the rubbish of kingly power.
On the Labours of Other Men:
All rich men live at ease, feeding and clothing themselves by the labours of other men, not by their own; which is their shame, and not their nobility; for it is a more blessed thing to give than to receive. But rich men receive all they have from the labourer’s hand, and what they give, they give away other men’s labours, not their own. Therefore they are not righteous actors in the earth.
If we go to the lawyer, we find him to sit in the conqueror’s chair though the kings be removed, maintaining the kings’ power to the height; for in many courts and cases of law the will of a judge and lawyer rules above the letter of the law, and many cases and suits are lengthened to the great vexation of the clients and to the lodging of their estates in the purse of the unbounded lawyer. So that we see, though other men be under a sharp law, yet many of the great lawyers are not, but still do act their will as the conqueror did; as I have heard some belonging to the law say, ‘What cannot we do?’
‘Shall we have no lawyers?’
There is no need of them, for there is to be no buying and selling; neither any need to expound laws, for the bare letter of the law shall be both judge and lawyer, trying every man’s actions.
On Creating Peace:
[This] will turn swords into ploughshares, and settle such a peace in the earth, as nations shall learn war no more. Indeed the government of kings is a breeder of wars, because men being put into the straits of poverty are moved to fight for liberty, and to take one another’s estates from them, and to obtain mastery. Look into all armies, and see what they do more, but make some poor, some rich; put some into freedom, and others into bondage. And is not this a plague among mankind?
On Educating Yourself:
If the eyes of the people begin to open, and they seek to find knowledge in their own hearts and to question the ministers’ doctrine, and become like unto wise-hearted Thomas, to believe nothing but what they see reason for:
Then do the minsters prepare war against that man or men, and will make no covenant of peace with him till they consent to have their right eyes put out, that is, to have their reason blinded, so as to believe every doctrine they preach and never question any thing, saying, ‘The doctrine of faith must not be tried by reason.’ No, for if it be, their mystery of iniquity will be discovered, and they would lose their tithes.
On The Industrial-Military Complex:
This kingly government is he who beats pruning hooks and ploughs into spears, guns, swords and instruments of war, that he might take his younger brother’s creation birthright from him, calling the earth his and not his brother’s, unless his brother will hire the earth of him, so that he may live idle and at ease by his brother’s labours.
Indeed this government may well be called the government of highwaymen, who hath stolen the earth from the younger brethren by force, and holds it from them by force. He sheds blood not to free the people from oppression, but that he may be king and ruler over an oppressed people.
For where oppression lies upon brethren by brethren, that is no commonwealth’s government, but the kingly government still; and the mystery of iniquity hath taken that peace-maker’s name to be a cloak to hide his subtle covetousness, pride and oppression under.