One of the most compelling and radical political programmes to emerge from the English Civil war was penned by the ‘proto-communist’ and radical Gerrard Winstanley, leader of the ‘Diggers’. His Utopia is, like More’s, Christian and aimed at the moral reformation of its inhabitants, but Winstanley actually attempted to put into social practice his ideas about the common ownership of property. Though the Digger communes at St George’s hill and Little Heath ended in failure, the Diggers entered culture and literature as a precocious example of ecocritical and agrarian communism put into attempted practice. Christopher Hill’s introduction to Winstanley remains the indispensable first text to read in addition to the Law.
Food for Thought:
When Winstanley talks about what it means for a human to be ‘free’, what is he actually referring to? What actions are not, in his view, ‘true’ examples of freedom? What are some historical and biblical examples that he uses and why would Winstanley consider them good supporting evidence?
Gerrard Winstanley, The Law of Freedom in a Platform (London, 1652). First 20 pages are most important, past the dedication material.
Christopher Hill ‘Introduction’ to Gerrard Winstanley, The law of freedom, and other writings (CUP, 1983).
J.C. Davis, ‘Conquering the Conquest: The Limits of Violence in Gerrard Winstanley’s Thought’, in Davis, Alternative Worlds Imagined, 1500-1700: Essays on Radicalism, Utopianism and Reality (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).
Christopher Hill. The world turned upside down: radical ideas during the English Revolution (Penguin Classic, numerous editions)
Gary S. De Krey. Following the Levellers. English political and religious radicals from the commonwealth to the glorious revolution, 1649-1688 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018)
Nigel Smith (ed), A collection of Ranter writings: spiritual liberty and sexual freedom in the English Revolution (Pluto Press, 2014).