Video: The Levellers, Falsely So Called: Libertarians of the English Revolution

Richard Carey explains how, when he encountered it as an adult, Libertarianism felt like something innate and yet unheard of, whereas in fact it is part of the deepest roots of English culture. The proto-Libertarian Levellers of the 17th century represent our heroes and forebears. Knowing that these roots exist is a useful antidote to the idea that Libertarianism is some childish newfangled import from the United States that no one has thought through.

The Levellers were slanderously named by a hostile elite after an earlier group that would flatten fences or hedges to gain access to the rightfully owned land of others to which they had lost traditional rights of access during enclosure. By the time of the 17th century the word had mutated to mean the levelling of estates – some kind of communistic or egalitarian notion that was in fact rejected by the Levellers themselves. The Levellers eventually adopted the label once it was seen that the propaganda war was over, and people had learned to whom specifically the term now applied. In this way, the label is in fact rather meaningless, but is used to refer to an intellectual movement that included John Lilburne (Freeborn John), Richard Overton, and William Walwyn, who campaigned for freedom of religion, freedom of the press and free trade, as well as property rights, the right to silence, and the rule of law.

From 34 mins Richard talks about the way the Levellers are remembered. Looking back it is easy to see that the Levellers were campaigning for policies that nowadays are rather popular and which in many cases have been achieved: the abolition of rotten boroughs (done), extension of the franchise (done) free trade and freedom of religion (getting there). The liberals of the 18th century had a remarkably similar agenda but saw the Levellers as headstrong and impractical. Richard speculates that this is because the existence and repression of this movement does not fit with the Whig theory of history in which conditions are believed to improve steadily. As such, the Levellers were before their time and went unappreciated until later Socialist historians “found them in the gutter of history” and “homesteaded them”. Richard is understanding, but makes it clear that they were exploiting the Levellers’s achievements for their own purposes.

The Levellers sought to bring about a reasonable and broadly supported  method of government at a time when the alternatives were forms of unsustainable dictatorships that – when put into practice – did not last. Scorned then, and long afterwards, they were nevertheless supportive of views similar to our own and indeed somewhat vindicated by history. The way they were regarded it not dissimilar to how Libertarians are regarded now, and so it is a source of encouragement that were continuing in this fine tradition.

 

For now, if you want to know all the gory details about what happened to the Levellers there is only the video; however, Richard is going to bring you a serialised written history of the Levellers studded with references. I’m looking forward to this immensely, and I sure you will be too, so don’t forget to follow Libertarian Home using Twitter, Facebook or RSS to avoid missing out.

UPDATE:

Some of that history is now readable in these articles:

 

 

 

Tony Benn is dead

Dan Hannan, is moved by the news, and pens a powerful obituary:

Benn saw himself as part of a continuous tradition of indigenous Leftism – a tradition that he traced back through the trade union pioneers, back through the Chartists, back through Wilkes and Paine to the radical movements that emerged from the upheavals of the seventeenth century. He and I shared a fascination with the Levellers. He admired them for their opposition to prelates and princes, for their egalitarianism and for their faith in the common man; I for their libertarianism; both of us for their commitment, remarkable in its time, to a universal franchise.

Guido has this wonderfully sharable message up today, as well as a round-up of obituaries and a reminder he was not perfect:

Benn's 5 questions

For me, in a way he was before my time, but I had the pleasure of listening to him speak at the launch of Big Brother Watch. He was a great speaker, and surprisingly sound for a lefty.

UPDATE: Perry de Havilland is less diplomatic.

Upcoming meetings

I’ve been busily organising the speaker schedule for the next few months, and am keen to share the details of an exciting programme.

Minimum Wage with Sam Bowman

Sam Bowman

Sam Bowman is a well-known figure at the Adam Smith Institute and recently appeared as the “right-leaning think tank” bogeyman on a somewhat biased BBC World Service programme to debate the minimum wage with “principal of Hertford College in Oxford” Will Hutton. Despite the anchor woman’s best efforts Sam made it clear that the empirical evidence is stronger than some believe and that imposing a minimum is also a moral problem. This will be a great opportunity to hear his arguments in full.

March 6th at the Rose and Crown

Political Marketing on Social Media with Rob Waller

Rob Waller

Rob is the social media entrepreneur who invented the “Fakers App” which embarrassed Barack Obama (and host of other well-known figures) who all seemed to have a larger twitter following than they rightly should. His particular thing is making interesting use of data to produce better business outcomes. He’ll be explaining some of the basic (and not so basic) ways to use social media marketing and how they apply to the field of politics.

Rob also founded this Meetup, obviously, so remember to buy him a drink!

April 3rd at the Rose and Crown.

The Libertarians of the English Revolution 1647-1649 with Richard Carey

Richard Carey © Brian Micklethwait

Richard Carey © Brian Micklethwait

Richard Carey is a regular at the Rose and Crown, a Libertarian Home author, a passionate historian and a very smart guy. This talk has been trialed at Brian’s Fridays and I found it to be a fascinating and detailed account of the time, it’s epistemological fancies, the political debate and a fateful regicide.

May 1st at the Rose and Crown.

Summer Social

No speaker, but an opportunity to enjoy the sunshine in the beer garden with like-minded company. If you have any unused books or other literature that you are done with and wish to pass on, then bring them along to the Rose and Crown on June 5th.

 

As usual, all the speaker events will be video recorded and made available here, where the discussion can continue. I am also working on ways to make Q&As available. These are considerably more work to edit and it may involve changes to how the Q&As are run. I don’t like to mess with a winning formula but people have made it quite clear that the Q&As are interesting to them so a bit of experimenting will be going on.