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Land and Sea

What makes the linking element of the intersubjective triplet if the individual stands at one end and his or her environment (land or water) at the other? That which mediates between the two is not ownership, but access. Access implies movement through the space, and it is thus that most references to 'the land' imply rurality, and why folk tends to be rural, rather than urban. A rural environment tends to be one in which there is room, and the desire for liberty is expressed as a clash with those figures of authority which seek to curtail mobility and access: enclosure, poaching laws, the movement for open access. Space, and the ability to move unhindered through it, is a symbol of liberty.

Those who embody free movement, particularly if in asserting their movement they come into conflict with authority, encapsulate romantic freedom: pirates, highwaymen, itinerants, poachers, sailors, 'ramblers'.


Example 1 - Georgism

Henry George (1839-1897) is associated with a belief system which, adopting a Lockean interpretation of natural law, that personal property is the consequence and 'reward' for labour and creativity, holds that which surrounds us and is natural bounty common to all. The principal common asset is land. Anything which might accrue therefore - the 'economic rent' or unearned income from land or sea - should be held by the community, and should not be the cause of burdensome taxation or other economic regulation. The Georgists, therefore, came to be at the forefront of a movement to impose a single (and in practice, high) land value tax (LVT). The following song-lyrics, to be sung to the tune of Marching through Georgia, illustrate the emotive connection between the collective and the land, and use the metaphors of access to and across land, both through physical space and through the exercise of the franchise, to connect individuals within a collective of performers and a wider sense of folk.

Sound the call for freedom boys, and sound it far and wide,
March along to victory, for God is on our side,
While the voice of nature thunders o'er the rising tide:
"God gave the land to the people."

The land, the land,
'Twas God who made the land,
The land, the land,
The ground on which we stand,
Why should we be beggars
With a ballot in our hand?
God gave the land to the people.

Hark! The sound is spreading from the east and from the west!
Why should we work hard and let the landlords take the best?
Make them pay their taxes on the land just like the rest!
The land was meant for the people.


Clear the way for liberty, the land must all be free,
None of us shall falter from the fight tho' stern shall be.
'Til the flag we love so well shall fly from sea to sea,
O'er the land that is free for the people.


The army now is marching on, the battle to begin,
The standard now is raised on high to face the battle din,
We'll never cease from fighting 'til the victory we win,
And the land is free for the people.


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Example 2 - The Putney Debates

PutneydebatesTowards the end of 1647, the General Council of the New Model Army, augmented by elected regimental representatives and politically-aware civilians generally associated with the Levellers, met in Putney to discuss England's post-war settlement. Characterised as a 'debate', historians have split the participants into opposing camps, with the grandees basing their argument on the Heads of the Proposals on one side, and the agitators/Levellers, with their radical manifestos, The Case of the Armie truly Stated and the Agreement of the People, on the other. Becoming embroiled in a debate about the franchise, the grandees (and Cromwell, in the chair) interpreting the Agreement to imply popular representative republican government, countered that only those who had an 'interest' in a government, because, as landowners, they controlled the resource on which power was founded, were entitled to a say in the form or exercise of governance. One interpretation is that this point tripped up the radicals (through their speaker, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough), who argued first that the franchise should be open to all, as any person who was governed had a right to place themselves under that government, and then stepped back from universal suffrage to claim that soldiers, having fought for the parliamentarian cause, had consequently earned the right to claim an interest in the government. If, however, we remove the focus from ownership and replace it with access, we have an argument for a system which is more fluid and allows for movement within it. Must access to the political system or to government mean or solely mean the franchise, and whilst arguing that the criteria for rich or poor, landowner or tenant, were the subject of inequitable historical accident or conquest, at no time did the radicals argue that people should be economically levelled, only that all should be entitled to access to power, land and its fruits. This argument could be said to have been continued - and enacted - by Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers.

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Example 3 - Gerrard Winstanley

There are several pamphlets by Winstanley which outline the philosophy of 'Digging', and the 'Diggers' Song' is often performed by folk musicians, whilst a modernised version, '1649' by Leon Rosselson, is also popular. For example, expressions of the Diggers' Movement can be found in A Declaration from the Poor oppressed People of England directed To all that call themselves, or are called Lords of the Manors (n.p., 1649), dated by George Thomason, 1 June, [BL TT E557(9)]; A Letter to the Lord Fairfax and his Councell of War (London, 1649) 9 June, [BL TT E560(1)], '[p]roving it an undeniable Equity, That the common people ought to Dig, Plow, plant and dwell upon the Commons, without hiring them, or paying Rent to any'; An Appeal to the House of Commons (n.p., 1649) Thomason dated 11 July, [BL TT E564(5)]; A New-yeers Gift for the Parliament (London, 1650), Thomason dated 1 Jan., [BL TT E587(6)]; An Appeale to all Englishmen to judge between Bondage and Freedome, sent from those that began to digge upon George Hill in Surrey; but are now carrying on that publick work, in the Little Heath in the Parish of Cobham (n.p., 1650), dated 26 March, [BL TT 669.f.15(23)].

Gerrard Winstanley, A Declaration from the Poor oppressed People of England directed To all that call themselves, or are called Lords of the Manors.

[T]he main thing we aym at ... is this, To lay hold upon, and as we stand in need, to cut and sell, and make the best advantage we can of the Woods and Trees, that grow upon the Commons, To be a stock for our selves and our poor Brethren , through the land of England, to plant the Commons withal; and to provide us bread to eat, till the Fruit of our labors in the Earth bring forth increase; and we shall meddle with none of your Proprieties (but what is called Commonage) till the Spirit in you, make you cast up your Land and Goods, which were got, and still is kept in your hands by murder, and theft; and then we shall take it from the Spairit that hath conquered you, and not from our Swords, which is an abominable, and unrighteous power, and a destroyer of the Creation.



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