Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The True Levellers

Years ago, I came across the work of Gerrard Winstanley and the "Diggers" as a result of reading a book called Ringolevio by 'Emmett Grogan'. I was struck by the coincidence that, in 1968, I had given away some 500 books of my library to a school in Weybridge where Winstanley had set up the first Digger community (1649) during the Second Civil War. Searching for more information about this strange character from our attempt to establish 'God's republic', I came across his pamphlet The True Levellers Standard Advanced: Or, The State of Community Opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men

This extraordinary document is now online but it is its first sentences which really stuck in my head:
"In the beginning of Time, the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury, to preserve Beasts, Birds, Fishes, and Man, the lord that was to govern this Creation; for Man had Domination given to him, over the Beasts, Birds, and Fishes; but not one word was spoken in the beginning: That one branch of mankind should rule over another."

The notion that creation is a "Common Treasury" and that property 'rights' are a confidence trick practised by the powerful to oppress the powerless chimed with my understanding of reality. Indeed, although I have always been a great fan of the Enlightenment, I had been dubious about the third 'right' proclaimed by John Locke, the 'right to property'. It cannot be a coincidence that, despite the fact that the American Revolution was a revolution by property owners, Jefferson amended this to read "the pursuit of happiness". Winstanley understood that happiness is not a result of ownership because all ownership is an illusion. Even though it wasn't until 1840 that Prudhom declared that "Property is theft", the True Levellers had lived it out, one of the first communities since the Acts of the Apostles to hold everything in common.

Today, we are deeply concerned about the state of our planet, about climate change and about the ecological damage that is increasingly apparent, Winstanley's call to care for our Common Treasury resonates even more loudly.

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