1. Yes the position of the SO CALLED “Levellers” on anti private property compulsory equality types (such as the “Diggers” who had a commune about eight miles away from where I am sitting) was that the anti private property people should be HANGED (for trying to take property by the threat of violence).

    Their opponents (and historians) have absurdly distorted the actual policy position of people Simon is going to talk about – who in no way were motivated by envy for those who had more land or other wealth than they did.

    In reality they were in favour of strictly limited government (more limited than either the government of Charles I – or that of Cromwell) and religious toleration.



    1. You’re over-egging the pudding there Paul. The Diggers didn’t take anything by threat of violence, they set themselves up on common land, and the so-called ‘levellers’ opposed the death penalty except in cases of murder or other very serious crimes.



  2. The leader of the “Diggers” (G.W.) made it clear that he wanted to take over ALL landed property Richard. Rather ironic as he ended his life as a rent collector.

    As for the so called “Levellers” – Overton (their leading writer) said that anyone who tried to put such a policy into practice should be hanged by the neck till they were dead.



    1. I’m sure Winstanley did want to make the land ‘a common treasury’, but he was not a violent man, and it didn’t take too much trouble to clear him and his followers off. As for his later profession, Wikipedia has him down as a corn chandler

      As for Overton, he may have said something along those lines, although I’ve not come across it. If he did, I would suppose it was to emphasise that he wasn’t in favour of any such thing, despite much hostile propaganda alleging the contrary. I am sure he would not have called for Winstanley’s execution, whose only crime was to set up a voluntary commune on some common land and grow spuds, which he gave away for free.



  3. By the way – of course putting the G.W. policy into practice would have included “murder”. Obviously all land owners (and any non landowner who tried to defend them – on the principle of “henchman of the Kulaks” which how the Soviets excused themselves for killing people who did not own anything at all) would have had to be killed.

    That is obvious – Overton did not need to explain that point (not to a population used to violence – as mid 17th century people were).

    He was not dealing with people in 2013 – where the reaction to a confiscation (or “distribution”) order might be “oh dear I had better hand over my land then”.



    1. Winstanley was a peaceful, idealistic, tree-hugging type of character. It’s absurd to try to link him to the Bolsheviks. Overton spent his time attacking the King, the bishops, the lords and the grandees. His only worry vis à vis communism was that he would be labelled as one. All that said, the view that the land had been stolen at the time of the Norman Conquest was widely held, and enclosure of common lands was very often resisted through direct action.



  4. Rousseau was a peaceful. idealistic, tree-hugging type of character (well perhaps not peaceful) – but the people who followed his ideas were not, and they interpreted the ideas quite correctly (hence hundreds of thousands of murders – mostly of quite ordinary people in the Provinces of France). Just as the people who interpreted the ideas of G.W. interpreted them correctly.

    As did Overton (who opposed such ideas). – hence his view that those who tried to put such ideas into practice should be hanged.

    Sorry – but if one is opposed to all landed property that means mass murder (hence Overton saying that such people should be hanged). And not just the murder of the landowners and their families (that goes without saying) – but also the murder of all who get in the way (and their families) no matter how poor they are (hence Henchman of the Kulaks).

    G.W. saying down with private property in land – but I do not want murders, is like Thomas Paine saying he supported the French Revolution but not The Terror (the French Revolution is The Terror – human blood is what it is about, it is not just a means to an end, it is the objective). Although at first he tried to laugh it off “your concern is for the plumage – not the dying bird” (turning the first victims into feathers), but then the deaths got too much…..

    As for the Norman Conquest – largely B.S. by the 1640s (much land had been sold and resold). And even if one produced a Saxon landowner (like the family in Staffordshire that lost their land only a couple of years ago) , the followers of G.W. would not have given them a break (well other than to break their limbs). So the talk of the “Norman Yoke” was just an excuse (in France the excuse was the invasion of the Franks in the 5th century – as if most French nobles were really descended from Clovis and co).

    Enclosure – much like the debate around Stolypin’s reforms in Russia (I thought you said linking this this stuff to the Bolsheviks was absurd, officially they were NOT in favour of “state” ownership of farms they were in favour of ultra Mirs [the new collective farms were supposed to be like the old Mirs – only more so) and spreading them to the whole world, the people would own everything).

    Although I do write from the only county in England where a majority of land was enclosed by Act of Parliament. Of course (in case anyone does not know and is reading this) “enclosure” means a change in land use (not a change in land ownership). The argument was over whether land use (land access) was itself a form of ownership. If something was actually owned by an association (such as a Town Corporation) that was a different legal situation.

    This held good even if it was an association of “peasants” (although the term is not often used in England) that actually OWNED the land – like the bit of land in Leicestershire that still uses the share land system to this day.



    1. I understand you hate communism and some communists are/were murderers, but it does not follow that everyone who ever questioned the ownership of land is a murderer, just waiting for an opportunity. Winstanley’s community was on common land, it was not on private property. In his letter to Lord Fairfax he said:

      “We understand, that our digging upon that Common, is the talk of the whole Land; some approving, some disowning, some are friends, filled with love, and sees the worke intends good to the Nation, the peace whereof is that which we seeke after; others are enemies filled with fury, and falsely report of us, that we have intent to fortifie our selves, and afterwards to fight against others, and take away their goods from them, which is a thing we abhor: and many other slanders we rejoyce over, because we know ourselves cleare, our endeavour being not otherwise, but to improve the Commons, and to cast off that oppression and outward bondage which the Creation groans under, as much as in us lies, and to lift up and preserve the purity thereof. ”


      You wrote:

      “As did Overton (who opposed such ideas). – hence his view that those who tried to put such ideas into practice should be hanged.”

      Can you produce a reference for this quote, as you seem to be misrepresenting Overton, as some kind of proto-cold warrior, and as I’ve said above, his incredibly sharp pen was always aimed at the Lords, the Bishops and other such people.

      “G.W. saying down with private property in land – but I do not want murders, is like Thomas Paine saying he supported the French Revolution but not The Terror”

      That’s not the case. Winstanley did not advocate violence, and can hardly be held accountable for crimes that happened centuries later. Paine supported the Revolution, and was imprisoned during the Terror, and would most likely have been guillotined had Robespierre fallen at the moment he did. There is no contradiction in his position, which was shared with the more moderate revolutionaries, i.e. those liquidated in the Terror.

      “the talk of the “Norman Yoke” was just an excuse”

      It was a widely held view, whether fact or fancy. It was not merely about the ownership of land, but the rights and liberties of Englishmen, which, in the view of many, had been partially – and only partially – restored by Magna Carta and the many statutes which reaffirmed it.



  5. I think the basic problem is a refusal to accept that for most people in most of history life is unavoidably terrible. Unavoidably being the key word – as the saying has it “life is shit – and then you die”.

    There is the recurring belief that if only one could get rid of the small minority of people who have a nice life (well who seem to have a nice life – at least if one does not look too closely, then one sees their own private Hell) – then life would not be terrible for most people.

    Actually it would be even more terrible (it is actually made worse by plundering and killing the minority who have a nice life) – but by the time that is obvious, the people who are doing the killing (for what they tell themselves are noble motives) have a got a taste for it.

    I can understand that. I understand only too well.

    By the way – getting rid of the state (in most places in most of history) would NOT have meant that life was not terrible for most people (although it might well have been a bit less terrible – but still terrible).

    Hat tip to David Friedman for pointing that out (some decades ago).

    Perhaps with the development of technology and the accumulation of capital this is no longer true.

    Perhaps now, if the state was radically smaller, and at least the economic reasons for human misery could be removed.

    But in the 1640s – not an chance.

    And not in 1917 either.

    So anyone who went around promising people a happy life was either a fool or a liar. That game always leads to nothing but ashes and dried blood – and I prefer the ones who admit that (up front) than the peace-and-love talking types.



  6. Oh – by the way. G.W. ended up collecting rents for an aristocratic lady.

    I have no problem with him doing that. Or dealing in corn – if he had a mind to do that.

    “But it means you do not get to hang him”.

    True enough.



  7. It is not contested (at least not till now) that G.W. was against all (not just some) private landed estates.

    If he was too dumb to understand that this means (in practice) mass murder – that is not my fault.

    As for the hanging thing and Overton – the “if they try and put these ideas into practice” is from me (not Overton), but I think that is a fair summing up of what he actually meant. I do not think he really meant that as soon as a someone wrote a book saying X, they should be hanged. It is a piece of rhetoric. The word “hanged” is from Overton – see your own historian (the man who is as bald as I am) for this point.

    Like Edmund Burke’s the-only-answer-this-deserves-is-from-the-common-hangman does NOT mean that Thomas Paine and co should be hanged for writing a book, They should only be hanged if they try and actually do this stuff.



    1. “It is not contested (at least not till now) that G.W. was against all (not just some) private landed estates.”

      Yes I believe so, but only through voluntary means.

      “If he was too dumb to understand that this means (in practice) mass murder – that is not my fault.”

      Hyperbole and misrepresentation. I do not share Winstanley’s views, but to portray him as a murderous Jacobin or Bolshevik is gross distortion, and not borne out in the actions of him or any of his followers.

      “The word “hanged” is from Overton – see your own historian (the man who is as bald as I am) for this point.”

      Right, so I need to pore through every pamphlet the man wrote to substantiate your assertion?



  8. “There is no contradiction in Thomas Paine’s position”.

    That is hopeless – utterly hopeless.

    It is like blowing up a dam and saying (honestly saying) “where is all this water crushing people from?”

    The wall of water is from the dam you just exploded.

    “But I did not advocate the wall of water – just blowing up the dam”.

    I repeat – hopeless, utterly hopeless.

    Like G.W.



  9. And for those who did not read what I actually wrote…..

    Most landowners in the 1640s did not really come from people who come over with William the Bastard in 1066 (so much for the “Norman Yoke” as regards LAND).

    It is almost as absurd as the pretence that the French aristocracy in 1789 were the people of Clovis back in the 5th and 6th centuries.

    Not that the aristocracy actually owned most land in France in 1789 anyway – that is another myth.



  10. You also forgot that Thomas Paine originally dodged – the “plumage” dodge (turning the first victims of the Revolution into feathers).



  11. Yes Richard – I am aware that the “Norman Yoke” talk stuff was about all sorts of things (I agree with you), but I can not cover everything in a few comments.

    I hope the talk went well.

    The historian was S.D. by the way – so no need to do the reading (he has already done it).

    There is not a single work by Overton in this house (although there is quite a lot of other 17th century writing here) so I would not be able to track it down.



  12. By the way I did not portray G.W. as “murderious”

    But those who open the door for the destruction of civilisation – by stirring up the poor against the rich, do not get a pass by being nonviolent.

    Others may do the killing – but the pen pushers open the door.

    Kant (with his everything moral on motivation) over egged the pudding.

    A “reasonable man” should know the obvious consequences of his actions. And he carries liability for the obvious consequences of his actions.

    It is like the “moderates” of the French Revolution – they (mostly) praised Rousseau just as much a the “extremists” did. So they carry the responsibility (whatever their whining about peaceful intentions). One might as well as well give the Liberation Theology people a pass – they go on about peace and love as well.

    How could it be otherwise?

    Who would fight for a Revolution to just create more jobs for administrators and politicians? An elected National Assembly and lots and lots of new government officials? Not very inspiring – not one is going to fight for that. But if one promises the poor that they will no longer by so poor……..

    “The various factions of the Revolution dispute which of them resembles Rousseau – in truth they all resemble him”.

    Just as they all resembled Plato.

    The idea that Karl Marx started this is false.

    The war is as old as history.



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