We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

[T]his Conceit of Levelling of property and Magistracy is so ridiculous and foolish an opinion, as no man of brains, reason, or ingenuity, can be imagined such a sot as to maintain such a principle, because it would, if practiced destroy not only any industry in the world, but raze the very foundation of generation, and of subsistence or being of one man by another. For as industry and valour by which the societies of mankind are maintained and preserved, who will take the pains for that which when he hath gotten is not his own, but must be equally shared in, by every lazy, simple, dronish sot? or who will fight for that, wherein he hath no other interest, but such as must be subject to the will and pleasure of another, yea of every coward and base low spirited fellow, that in his sitting still must share in common with a valiant man in all his brave and noble achievement? The ancient encouragement to men that were to defend their Country was this: that they were to hazard their persons for that which was their own, to wit, their own wives, their own children, their own Estates. And this give me leave to say, and that in truth, that those men in England, that are most branded with the name of Levellers, are of all in that Nation, most free from any design of Levelling, in the sense we have spoken of.

- John Lilburne defends himself against the accusation that he was a “Leveller”. But, the name stuck. Last night Richard Carey gave a fascinating talk about the Levellers, and about the seventeenth century historical context within which the Levellers proclaimed their ideas, in the course of which he quoted the above piece of writing.

Carl Watner includes it in this JLS article (p. 409) about Richard Overton.

7 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Not so much a “Quote of the day” as a quote of the post-Roman era. What Lilburne wrote in the 1650′s is as true today as it was back then.

    Modern day “liberals” (they are not) would impose exactly this mentality of “You are your brothers keeper” upon us today, with the same consequential enfeeblement as he described then.

    It reminds me of the old Soviet adage,

    “So long as the bosses pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work.”

  • PersonFromPorlock

    JG, not to nitpick, but I don’t think “You are your brother’s keeper” exactly portrays the Progressive mindset. It’s more “The Elect are your brother’s keeper, and yours too.”

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    By the bowels of Christ, as they used to say in those days, that is a quote to remember. Both for its wisdom, for the vigour of its language…

    For as industry and valour by which the societies of mankind are maintained and preserved, who will take the pains for that which when he hath gotten is not his own, but must be equally shared in, by every lazy, simple, dronish sot? or who will fight for that, wherein he hath no other interest, but such as must be subject to the will and pleasure of another, yea of every coward and base low spirited fellow, that in his sitting still must share in common with a valiant man in all his brave and noble achievement?

    …and to cut out and keep ready to paste in five seconds flat next time some lazy, simple, dronish sot gushes on about the Levellers as early socialists.

  • Paul Marks

    Good post, good quote.

    And, no doubt, a good talk.

  • Richard Carey

    How happy I am to see the great John Lilburne quoted.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Richard – the “lack of a strong Executive” (for which L, and Overton are attacked) is not really needed in an island nation (the Scots could have been left to their own devices – after all it was a separate country till 1707 and will be a separate country again after next year’s “shock result” in the vote).

    Although I have some sympathy for the old Constitution as understood by Fortesque and the rest.

    After all even Charles the first never formally denied (although he cheated in various ways) that no new laws could be created without the consent of Parliament and no taxes could be collected without the consent of Parliament.

    So AS LONG AS PARLIAMENT IS NEVER CALLED one has a limited government under this system (unlike in France where the King could legislate and collect taxes without the consent of the Estates General).

    The law is a matter of the Common Law (the judgement of individual disputes) not “legislation”, and government revenue is confined to the profits of the Royal estates (plus what money the King can get by various highly irritating but small scale cheating).

    I think the real weakness in the reasoning of L. and O. is that they want Parliament to sit (rather than not sit – which I would prefer), but they hope it will not collect lots of taxes and pass lots of laws.

    Their hope is sincere (they are not being dishonest in any way) – but I think their hope is misguided.

    Experience as far back as the Greek City States shows that when you have a group of people sitting together who can spend money and pass laws – that is exactly what they do (indeed they do it lots and lots).

    Parliament as a check on government (you can not collect a tax or create a new law without the consent of Parliament) is wonderful – Parliament as part of the government is terrible.

    To be fair the Parliament of the 17th century sat only a few days a year (when it was called at all) and only for a few hours a day (think of the Texas State Legislature).

    The modern British Parliament – the rubber stamp machine of professional politicians that sits every year, and for most days in the year (a “legislation factory” – and tax approval rubber stamp) would have disgusted John Lilburne and Richard Overton.

    As for the idea of “delegated legislation”, “Statutory Instruments” – allowing the EXECUTIVE to make laws (under vague Parliamentary “enabling Acts”) – officially (publically – whatever he may have thought in private) that would have disgusted even Charles the First.

    Of course modern America does not even stop with the vague Enabling Acts – “Executive Orders” (do not bother looking for this power in the Constitution of the United States – it is not there) allow the President to LEGISLATE much like Louis XIV (the “Sun King”).

    In theory Americans can remove their King every four years – but the position of J.L. and Richard Overton (that no one who is dependent upon government should be allowed to vote) is not followed.

    As about half of all Americans (and about half of all British people) are either dependent upon government benefits or actually work for the government – the situation is not a hopeful one.

    Unless it can be shown to the people who are dependent upon government that a government of this size and scope will lead to collapse (to utter ruin) – and I think only experience will convince most people of that.

  • Paul Marks

    The two great differences between a “Feudal” monarch and a Roman Emperor are that a Feudal monarch can not “legislate” and can not tax without consent (at least the consent of the great landholders).

    The great fear with Charles the First (indeed with all the Stuarts) was that he was not content with being a Feudal Monarch – that he wanted to be an “Enlightened Prince” (a despot) instead.