Lachlan Brown on Thu, 2 May 2002 01:45:01 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Love is the Law: The Passion of Revolt

Love is The Law: the passion of revolt 

textual communities in the culture of 
the press pamphlet during the English 
Lachlan Brown

”Not a full year since, being quiet at my work, my heart was filled 
with sweet thoughts, and many things were revealed to me which 
I never read in books, nor heard from the mouth of any flesh, and 
when I began to speak of them, some people could not bear my words, 
and amongst these revelations this was one: <I>The the earth shall 
be made a common treasury of livlihood to whole mankind, without 
respect to persons; </I> and I had a voice within me that bade me 
declare it all abroad, which I did obey, for I declared it by word of 
mouth wheresoever I came. Then I was made to write a little book 
called The new Law of righteousness, and therein I declared it; yet my 
mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted, and thoughts run in 
me that words and writings were nothing and must die, for action is the 
life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing. Within a little time 
I was made obedient to the word in that particular likewise; for I took my 
spade and went and broke the ground upon George Hill in Surrey, thereby 
declaring freedom to the Creation, and that the earth must be set free from 
the entanglements of Lords and Landlords; and that it shall become a 
common treasury to all….” 

Gerrard Winstanley, A Watch-word to the City of London and the Armie 
(August 26, 1649) (1) 

The radical writings of the seventeenth century English Press Pamphlet 
reside at the threshold of our modernity. They represent a navigation 
from sacred to secular, a negotiation of the source of sense from Word 
of God to Heart of Man. For the radical writers discussed below, each 
meaning was invested with and each action was apprehended as a 
reconstitution of the communicative bonds that attach us to the world. 
Briefly put, through an analysis of de-sanctified power and an understanding 
that without love there is no bond, civil or natural, they posited love as the 

For some this analysis was knowing and reflexive, intimate with the 
conditions of production, circulation and reception of their writing. Their 
analysis – a “law written in the heart” (Winstanley 1650) was concerned 
with the dispersal of power and control. As such these writings have particular 
relevance for the present re-distribution of media and communications in 
digital media, in contesting meanings applied to memory and to history as 
well as the future or foresight in a scriptural economy, and in reattaching 
them to notions of community. 

The Culture of A Distributed Press. 

Discourses on Liberty in England were first conceived as religious questions 
expressed in Biblical images and theological formulas, the common stock of 
images, allegories and meanings that all shared. When government broke 
down in the mid-seventeenth century England many looked to the Bible to 
express their everyday experiences and communal memories and to provide 
the foundations for new political and economic ideas. 

Christopher Hill has underlined the central role played by the Church in 
organizing social space: 

The Church throughout the Middle Ages, and down to the seventeenth century, 
was somewhat different from what we call a Church today…. The Church 
educated children…the sermon was the main source of information on current 
events and problems, of guidance on economic conduct. The parish itself was 
an important unit of local government…. The church controlled men’s feelings 
and told them what to believe, provided them with entertainment and shows. 
It took the place of the news and propaganda services now covered by many 
different and more efficient institutions – the Press, the B.B.C., the cinema…and 
so forth. That is why men took notes at sermons; it is also why the government 
often told preachers exactly what to preach. (Hill, 1940, 10-11) 

By the end of the 1640s a constellation of possible associations and meanings 
of community (sect, family, political coalition) contingent on a whole array of 
religious interpretation and political practices were established. Political solutions 
that were to become the revolutionary commonplaces of the future were put 
forward by groups called the Levellers, True-Levellers or Diggers, and Fifth-
Monarchists. Religious solutions were offered by sects including Baptists and 
Quakers, while others, like the Seekers and the Ranters questioned all beliefs 
and institutions. It was a period of intellectual passion. A period when, as the 
Digger Gerrard Wynstanley put it, “the old World…is running up like parchment 
in the fire.’ 

A freedom of the press was brought about by the collapse of government 
censorship as well as ecclesiastic controls in 1640 due to civil war between 
Parliament and the Crown allowed an outpouring of printed material in the 
form of pamphlets, newssheets and books. Between 1640 and 1642 in a 
propaganda war between King and Parliament the numbers of pamphlets 
published increased ninety-fold, from just twenty-two in 1640 to two thousand 
in 1642. Newspapers, which were banned in 1640, had risen to 700 in circulation 
by 1645. () Just as a relaxation of censorship had enabled Protestantism to become
 established in England one hundred years earlier, the collapse of censorship in the 
crisis preceding the English Civil War enabled the conditions for an outpouring and 
dissemination of opinion, conservative, religio-political, and radical democratic ideas. 
They were ideas in dialogue and in contest, the emergence of criticism, endless 
criticism, criticism that was the initial formation of what we call the Public. 

For the first time people who had been excluded from intellectual debate, including 
apprentices and women who had no university or grammar school education could 
publish their writings, reaching in many instances wide readerships. () The entry of 
uneducated laymen, apprentices and women into opinion forming debate led to a 
notion of ‘the people’ as a political body. The emergence of groups hitherto denied 
expression had profound effects on received hierarchies, orders of knowledge and 
ideological assumptions and institutions. Not only were the values of the old 
hierarchical society questioned, but the values of the successor society itself– the 
protestant ethic. In retrospect, the call of the Prestbyterian parliament of 1641-42 
for ‘the people’ to rise against abuses of the monarchy and the ruling class was, by 
1652 in the wake of the Leveller demands for manhood suffrage and the claims 
on the dissolution of propriety or class distinction and of property of groups like 
the Ranters and Diggers, qualified: “When we mention the people we do not 
mean the confused promiscuous body of the people.” () 

Thus Christopher Hill writes of two revolutions in England in the period 1645-53: 

The one that succeeded established the sacred rights of property (abolition of 
feudal tenures, no arbitrary taxation), gave political power to the propertied 
(sovereignty of Parliament and common law, abolition of prerogative courts), 
and removed all impediments to the triumph of the ideology of the men of 
property - the protestant ethic. There was, however, another revolution which 
never happened, though from time to time in the Debates of the Army Council at 
Putney Church, during the Ware Mutiny in Oxfordshire, and in the agitation of 
civilian and military Levellers it threatened. This might have established norms 
of communal property, a far wider democracy in legal and political institutions, 
might have disestablished the state church and rejected the protestant ethic. () 

The Leveller movement – part of the revolution which threatened to happen – 
arose as a second order revolt to the dispute between Monarchy and Parliament 
as well as from spontaneous local events characteristic of medieval peasant 
revolts. It was a movement that was informed by the historical awareness 
and organizational abilities of ‘masterless’ men and women in the crafts and 
trades of the growing towns and cities. At the outset of Civil War in 1642 this 
revolt consisted of rent strikes and ‘levelling’ – literally pulling down hedges, 
fences and enclosures - of land which had been commons before appropriation 
and improvement by the gentry. Such actions were perceived as a restoration, 
a leveling up, of common rights, taken away by the nobility within living memory 
and historically through communal oral memory, encapsulated in the myth of the 
Norman Yoke, a belief popular among the Lollards of the previous century, as well 
as during the Peasants Revolt in the 14th century that the ‘sin of property’ was the 
sin of the conquest by Kings which upset a natural order based on division of labour 
and equality: “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” 

More sophisticated strategies, according to Brian Manning, were attacks on the 
households of royalist landowners with an aim to destroy records of tenure and 
debt. Generally, the commoners took back the land and the rights they considered 
birthright, once they perceived that the monarchy no longer prevailed. (9) 

The reforms proposed in the Leveller programme attacked the relation between 
property, wealth and political power. The lack of executive government (i.e. the 
absence of central government beside committees elected on contingency from 
the body of parliament) in the Leveller proto-constitution, The Agreement(s) of 
the People, reflected the principle goal to decentralize government, giving local 
communities more political powers. One of the main revolutionary demands of 
the programme, as Manning has explained, was a reformation of the legal system 
directed towards a dispersal of legal powers, and hence political power. Since laws 
and legal proceedings were ‘locked up from common capacities” in Latin and French , 
which kept people in ignorance, ‘enforcing them (like slaves) to walk by their [the 
lawyers] own light” (10) the Levellers wanted the laws to be laid down in a common 
book in English so that all may understand their own proceedings and hence 
represent themselves or be represented by a commoner without recourse to lawyers.  
They had in mind a new social justice system.

A consequence of this was the decentralization of the courts to the ‘Hundreds’ 
(ancient administrative units within counties) with locally elected monthly juries 
to decide upon all controversies where they arose (11) Such decentralization 
extended to all areas in the social formation: from the universities whose monopoly 
of learning was to be abolished, to the church in which pastors were to be elected 
by the local inhabitants and not to be appointed by the Church hierarchy, and 
even to the Army in which officers were to be elected by the people of the place 
in which a regiment was raised, and removed as the local community saw fit. The 
threat to the Independents, the generals and to the professions, as well as to the 
landed gentry is apparent in the Debates at Putney Church of 1647 where the 
Generals met with ‘Agitators’, representatives elected by the soldiers from each 
regiment of the victorious New Model Army, as well as civilian Levellers including 
William Walwyn, Richard Overton and others. At Putney soldier’s grievances for 
back-pay and reluctance to embark for war against the Irish, were articulated 
together with the comprehensive political reforms proposed in the Agreements 
of The People. The Puritan, God’s Army, The New Model Army, motived by Scripture, 
bearing the cross, and organized around the sovereignty of Parliament, had become 
at war’s end the People’s Army motivated by common grievances in ‘the case of the 
Armie’ (1646) and organized around the civilian manifestos (1646-7) the 
Agreement(s) of the People, bearing the peoples flag of deep sea green, the 
colour of our earth, proposing democracy: ‘‘The poorest hee that is in England 
hath a life to live as the greatest hee.’ in having a say in chosing his government. 
(Colonel Thomas Rainborough, Putney 1647). The Generals Ireton, Fairfax and 
Cromwell were perplexed to find themselves politically and intellectually stretched 
by the sophistication of arguments against colonial adventure in America and 
the enslaving of Indians since the English poor having recently freed themselves 
from slavery by their own arms had no wish to enslave others, religious war in 
Ireland since it was not right to interfere with the religious practice of any 
professing Christianity. (Agreement 46) Arguing against these proposed reforms 
Ireton spoke for the Generals, the Puritan or Independent Party and Parliament in 
stating ‘one wonders whether the Army is free to debate such matters’, and ‘but 
we have an eye for property. Only he that has an interest [property, land, trade] 
in the country has a right to govern.’ 

The discursive complexity that accompanies decentralized authority is illustrated 
in the dialogue between Charles Stuart (the King) and the radical Cornet Joyce 
who led the troop which took it upon itself to capture the King and take him into 
the New Model Army’s custody. When challenged by the King to justify his authority 
Joyce pointed to his troop: “All did command yet were under command”. (12)  The 
dispersal of power inherent in the Leveller conception of law as a property of community 
may be situated in Ernesto Laclau’s terms as ‘the hinge of the transition to the kingdom 
of God on earth.’ (13) The main problems posed for power relations by this transition 
in the legitimacy of authority. While power in Plato’s philosopher king stems from 
pre-existing objectivity, the authority of the Hobbesian monarch is, for Laclau, based 
on a radical creation in which socio-political objectivity stems from power. The 
Hobbesian monarch, through elimination of dissention and antagonism, becomes 
an embodiment of power to the exclusion of plurality and deliberation: “If all previous 
historical actors have been limited in their inability to prevail over the powers of evil, 
the actor who has the strength of will to objectively suppress evil and to impose 
divine justice must himself be divine, or at least to have been transformed by God 
into the incarnation of his omnipotence. He must therefore be a limitless actor” (14) 
The incompatibilities between a statement attributed to Charles Stuart on the divine 
right of Kings, and Richard Overton, radical, on the right of the individual under 
natural law become understandable in this context: 

So that I (as King) instructed by God and the laws with the good both of Church and 
State, I see no reason I should give up, or weaken by any change, that power and 
influence which in right and reason I ought to have… (Charles Stuart) 

To every Individuall in nature, is given an individuall property by nature, not to be 
invaded or usurped by any: for every one as he is himselfe, so he hath self propriety,
 else could he not be himselfe, and on this no second may presume to deprive any of, 
without manifest violation and affront to the very principles of nature. (Richard Overton) 

These profound political differences were nominally resolved by the King’s execution 
(the separation of the person from the office would have sufficed for the radical cause) 
and a democratic programme founded on “common sense, the reason of Nations and 
by conscience.” (17) This programme however elided the incompatibilities between 
‘liberty’ and a political power that stemmed from property; a contradiction that became
 more apparent to the radicals as the revolution progressed. (18) The English Civil 
War and Revolution was about the right of the propertied, in particular the emerging 
bourgeoisie,  to govern through their representative body of Parliament. The problem 
of legitimacy for a representative assembly of the people was complicated by the 
fact that only those who had an estate could vote (women, servants and apprentices, 
the poor and the majority of the ‘middle-sort’ were excluded from the franchise). 
Jesus Martin-Berbero has encapsulated the circularity which inaugurates the 
Enlightenment tradition of political philosophy: “One must oppose tyranny in the 
name of ‘the people’; while at the same time one opposes ‘the people’ in the name 
of Reason. The invocation of ‘the people’ legitimizes the power of the bourgeoisie 
to the same degree that it articulates the exclusion of the people from power.” (19) 

The Presbyterian (conservative) response to the problem of legitimacy, advised 
on the submission to the possessors of de facto power. In the pamphlet ‘Considerations 
Concerning the present engagement, whether it may be lawfully entered into’ – the 
‘present engagement’ being ‘truth and faithfulness to the rule of a government of a 
free state, a Commonwealth, without a King or a House of Lords’ – John Dury argued 
that a submission to de facto power was ordained by God and that subjects, private
 men, should not dispute but obey those in supreme power. No loss of liberty was
 threatened by submission since “Christians are the only free men in the world: 
all the rest are slaves to their proper passions, lusts, opposite interests; but he 
that is subject to the law of liberty, doing all by a Rule, is truly free and none but 
he.” This ‘rule’ by which men will choose their superiors is “agreeable to sense, 
to reason and to conscience.”: 

Sense will show him who is actually in possession of all power…and by [sense] 
he will know under whom he doth stand. Reason will show what he who is over 
him pretends unto; whether…his pretenses are backed with power to maintain 
his right…and conscience will show…he whom God hath commanded with…
unconfrontable power…over the society of those to whom his administration 
doth extend itself.” (20) 

Dury’s Reason is a “Reason of Nations…of the Body in their Parliament” (21) 
which for the Leveller William Walwyn, “allowed the rich thieves to make a 
combination and call it a law… . They make themselves thieves by Act of 
Parliament” (22) and which for the Ranter Abiezer Coppe was a ‘carnal 
reason’ which pled privilege and prerogative from Scripture and which 
“shall be confounded and plagued into community…” (23) 

The Passion of Revolt 

’The People are becoming a Knowing and Judicious People, Affliction hat made 
them wise, now Oppression maketh wise men mad. ‘ William Walwyn, A Pearle in a
 Dunghill (June 30, 1646) 

’There comes a moment in the course of passion when laws are suspended as 
though of their own accord, when movement either stops…or is propagated, 
the action ceasing only at the climax of the paroxysm.’ Michel Foucault, 
Madness and Civilisation (1973) (24) 

Revolt belongs to the realm of madness, of the mystic, the prophet, the lover – 
he or she denied ‘voice’ until conditions emerge in which their utterances 
become a possibility. ‘Prophesy’ was the way in which the lower classes, women 
could gain an audience. As Christopher Hill remarks prior to the civil war madmen 
were considered a problem in most counties while in ‘the freer circumstances 
of the 1640s and 50s most ‘madmen’ appear to be political radicals…’ in the 
army and then in office.(25) Madness did, nevertheless, have its orders and 
its hierarchies: the Prestbyterians, who sought a settlement with the Monarchy 
(successful in the Restoration of the Monarchy of 1660) were purged from 
Parliament by the Independents who also considered the Levellers a naïve 
and dangerous extreme. The Levellers were anxious to disassociate themselves 
from the lunacies of the True Levellers or Diggers who sought to dissolve property 
and make all things common. The Diggers, in turn, distanced themselves from 
the unbridalled passions of The Family of Love, whose ‘Californian love’ (remember
this was the 1640s) permitted combinations in shared sexual relationships among
the community, and from the Ranters who rejected all moral restraint but that of 
Natural Law. (26) One should not imagine carefully thought out projects undertaken 
by Puritan Patriarchs, but rapid movement between sects and millennial experimentation 
by a youthful population that successfully organized in arms to defeat the Crown, 
questioned the wisdom of proposed colonial projects in Ireland, the West Indies 
and in America, and extended their reading from the Bible to the Koran (trans. 
English 1947) and sacred Eastern texts. 

 Degrees of madness corresponded to degrees of dispossession – the extent to 
which material and celestial boundaries were to be dissolved. A process of 
dispossession and abjection part and parcel of the process of social transformation 
of the transitory phase to ‘the kingdom of God on Earth.” Hence for Abiezer Coppe, 
Ranter, God had his being nowhere else but in all material things and creatures. 
The perverse discursive reflexivity of this insight, which doubles as incisive political 
satire and as performed revolt to propose universal love as the source of sense must 
be contrasted with both Stuart’s and Overton’s takes on the source of sense, divine 
right or individual nature. 

Oh My!… My most excellent majesty (In Me) hath strangely and variously transformed 
this forme. And behold, by my own Almightiness (In Me) I have been changed in a 
moment… . And it hath pleased my most Excellent Majesty, (who is universal love, 
and whose service is perfect freedom) to set this forme (the Writer of this Roll) as 
no small sign and wonder… . (27)
The coming of Christ’s kingdom, the millennium, should not be perceived as a 
mere rhetorical appeal. On the contrary, the Civil War was perceived as the 
beginning of the last times prophesied in Revelations. As the crisis worsened 
Christ’s kingdom seemed immanent. John Milton, writing in the 1650s spoke of 
“Christ, shortly expected King.” It was, according to Hill, a perfectly respectable 
belief, the result of the best scholarship of the time. (28) This immanence is 
exhibited in Coppes pamphlet A Fiery Flying Roll (January 4, 1649) not merely 
at the level of content but in a conscious discursive way, intimate with the 
transformation brought about by the unity of body and soul. This is what 
Foucault means when he writes of “an empirico-transcendental doublet which 
is called man.” For Foucault madness appears not simply as a possibility afforded 
by the union of body and soul but more precisely, madness insinuated by that 
union contains a reflexivity – “each being a limit imposed upon the other and the 
locus of their communication” – which interrogates the very terms of the unity (29)
 It is in this way that madness presents a radical and sometimes revolutionary 
challenge to the parameters of reason. And it is significant that Abiezer Coppe’s 
parenthetical statements about God “In me” – heightened individuation - resemble 
Charles Stuart’s divine reason. 

Coppe, for whom “God is a base thing,” attributes his Fiery Flying Roll to the 
urging  of a voice “(I within)” to “go up to London, to London, that great City, 
to write, write, write.”  The ‘voice within’ of course the internal monologue of the 

Wandring the streets of London and Southwark, Coppe ‘cursed the rich with my 
hand stretched out… Give up your houses, horses, goods, gold, Land…account 
nothing your own, have all things in common…. It’s yet but a little while, and…
propriety [property] shall be confounded into community and universality. And 
there’s a most glorious design in it; and equality community and universal love 
shall be in request to the utter confounding of…oppression.” (30) 

Only when one becomes familiar with the Biblical references Coppe is playing 
with here, and with the precise nature of the universal love he proposes does one 
understands the full humour of his satire. 

The date of the publication of his rolls, January 1649, is the date when for the 
first time in European history a Monarchy was to be abolished and a King was
to be executed for treason against ‘the commonwealth’. In such a context the 
urging of “(I within)” to go to London “to write…” is not only understandable 
but imperative. Coppes ‘rantings’ are not the apparently timeless verbiage of 
the lunatic, the prophet or the visionary, but the passions of the revolutionary. 

For Gerrard Winstanley and the True Levellers or Diggers, the limitations of 
the Ranters passions of revolt lay in their inability to recognize that material 
tranformation lay not internally, in endless gratuitous self-love, but externally 
in concrete historical action. Winstanley, rebuking the Ranter Lawrence 
Clarkson wrote: “Some of you have got a speech; That those [who] see two 
powers within themselves, of darkness and Light, Love and Envy…see 
everything with a single eye… . But if your eye be truly single, and full of 
Light, then the Light power wholly rules in you, and the actions of your 
outward man will be full of Light, Life, and Love, towards every single 
branch of the whole Creation.” (31) 

Hence, for Winstanley, whatever the case for the inner being regarding moral 
law, social action was the light of all. Morality for Winstanley was not a question 
decided in the heart of man, but in the intramundane world, in community: 
“The manifestation of a righteous heart shall be known, not by his words, but 
by his actions…in the strength of the Law of Love and beauty one to another.” (32) 
And the ‘Law of Love’ was to be found in community. 

The Law of Love 

If the Ranters experienced the moment of the millennium as historical, no 
longer like the medieval peasant awaiting God’s Word, they were nevertheless 
indulging in the endless play of the signifier – ranting – without concrete action. 
For Margaret Fell, ‘the true light could be distinguished from hypocritical pretence 
only if words were tested by deeds, and deeds by their effect on community – 
meetings, families, neighbours.” (33) The influence of women in forming opinion 
has yet to be fully researched. Pamphlets by women writing as for the first time, 
and petitioning Parliament rejecting the condescention of committee members 
who disdainfully replied that their petition was uneccessary as a reply had already 
been properly provided to their husbands and masters, on the grounds that: ‘we 
are to no whit satisfied with the reply you gave to our husbands and friends’. 

The Diggers or “True Levellers” – and this is the distinction between the Digger 
and Ranter milieu – took practical steps in addressing the question of property 
as the basis of all oppression by attempting to dissolve property. In a ‘Watch 
Word to the City of London and the Armie’ (1649), Gerrard Winstanley traced 
the movement from revelation to preaching, to performative writing and 
publishing, and finally, through the imperative produced by the circulation 
of his ideas in community, the textual communities of the Press Pamphlet, to 
historical action. Concerned with, as many radicals were, giving an origin to his 
ideas that would go beyond the provenance either of the old or the new order, 
he wrote proudly that he got his ideas neither from books nor from men, but 
from an inner light: ‘being quiet at my work, my heart was filled with sweet 
thoughts, <I>that the earth shall become a common treasury of livlihood to 
all mankind…(34). This insight became the repetitive core of much of 
Winstanley’s subsequent writing, and ultimately the refrain which justified 
the political action he and others undertook. 

He moved quickly, as the revolutionary circumstances demanded of him, 
through traditional forms of broadcasting revolt but found no rest ‘because 
nothing was acted and thoughts run in me that words and writings were all 
nothing and must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou 
dost nothing…Within a little time I was made obedient to the word…for I took 
my spade and went and broke the ground upon George Hill in Surrey, thereby 
declaring freedom to the Creation, and that the earth must be set free from 
the entanglements of Lords and Landlords, and that it shall become a 
common Treasury to all….(35) 

In  April 1649 a group of soldiers entered the parish church of Kingston-on 
Thames in Surrey and chasing the pastor from the pulpit declared that the 
Sabbath, tithes, ministers, magistrates and the Bible were all abolished. 
Outside Kingston a group of men and women built shelters and to dig up 
the common land and to sow crops on St George’s Hill in a more than symbolic 
action to declare ‘freedom to creation’, inviting the poor of London to join them 
and the poor of England to emulate them. (36) Here was founded a ‘Digger’ 
community, so called by their opponents. The place chosen, symbolically 
enough, St. George’s Hill, Surrey, adjacent to the King’s great estate of 
Windsor forest, land whose title was under question with the overthrow of 
monarchy and the abolition of the Crown. 

Kingston, moreover, had a radical tradition in that it had been one of the 
site’s of Marprelate’s secret press in 1588, and was in 1649 a military center 
of the New Model Army.(37) 

The Digger community on St George’s Hill was not isolated but part of a 
general movement. Other Digger communities had already appeared or would 
appear in at least eight other counties beside Surrey (Northamptonshire, Kent, 
Middlesex, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Leicestershire, Gloucestershire and 
Nottinghamshire). Significantly these communities were intimate with the terms 
of their publicty. Publicity being the process of ‘making and informing’ a public. 
They were bound in common cause by the writing, distribution and circulation 
of pamphlets and broadsides, co-signed by members of the community, carrying 
intelligently forceful and reflexive titles: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire; or a 
Discovery of the original Cause of all the Slavery in the world, but chiefly in 
England (1648), which protested against not only the whole ‘Norman’ [feudal] 
power but also the [Puritan] mercantile class who “live on other men’s labour and 
bread…and give them bran to eat”; and in 1649, ‘More Light Shining in 
Buckinghamshire”. Such tracts saw the restoration of the land to the poor as 
both a natural consequence of the overthrow of the old regime, and as the 
precursor to the reign of Christ in community. The strong humour and wit of 
the pamphlets tied to incisive political analysis illustrates the maturation of 
‘prophesy’ to the heightened degree of political programme.

Gerrard Winstanley’s words in A Letter to Lord Fairfax, General of the English 
forces’ summarize the aims of the movements better than any commentator: 

Our digging and ploughing upon George Hill in Surrey is not unknown to you. 
Now we desire your public preachers…to consider these questions…that we 
that are the common people born in England ought to improve the Commons, 
as we have declared for a public treasury and livlihood, and those that hinder 
us are the …enemies of creation… I affirm, (and I challenge you to disprove) 
that the earth was made a common Treasury of livlihood for all, <I> without 
respect of persons </I> and was not made to be bought and sold…. This question 
is not to be answered by any text of Scripture [but] in the light of itself…that 
Word of God…which [now] dwells in man’s heart… I desire you all seriously, in 
love and humility, to consider this business of public community, which I am 
carried forth in the power of love…to advance as much as I can [for] I can do 
no other, the Law of Love in my heart does so constrain me, be reason whereof 
I am called fool, mad man… I hate none, I love all, I delight to see everyone live 
comfortably…if you find anything destructive to Creation in this work, open you 
hearts and declare my weakness to me. If you see righteousness in it…then 
own it, and let the power of love have…freedom and glory. (38) 

At the heart of this movement was a notion of community which goes some 
way beyond the limited definition normally accorded the word by the scriptural 
economy – community as the residue, ‘loyalties’ and ‘solidarities’, or internal 
ambiguities which became provinces of the bourgeois public sphere. The 
Diggers’ notion of community arose from an awareness of the internal 
contradictions of abstract inclusion and concrete exclusion bound up in the 
conception of ‘the people’. It was informed by the communicative bonds –
‘the power of love” – woven both within sects (i.e. the Digger ‘trance’: “Eat 
together, break bread together, declare this abroad”) and between communities 
(i.e. in the circulation of pamphlets). Moreover, it found a new law in community 
not only because of the assumed redundancy of ‘kingly power’ but because, at 
the margins of modernity new forms of systemic exclusion had to be negotiated. 
“Reason” for Winstanley (‘by reason’ called ‘fool, mad man’), “knits every creature 
together in a oneness…and so everyone is an assistant to preserve the whole.” 
Reason was God, but God, as the Ranters made clear had his being nowhere 
else but in all material things, and Christ (the material manifestation of God) 
preached secularism. 

These communities were produced not through internal revelation of imagination 
alone but through shared reception and interpretation; they came into being as a 
consequence of shared oppression, but were not yet bound by the terms of such 
oppression, the requirements of effective reason. Thus Winstanley writes in Fire 
in the Bush (February 1649): 

Oh, say men, if this power of universal love be advanced; this will destroy all 
property, and all trading, and bring everything into confusion. it is true, [it] shall 
be advanced for that end…. Oh, saith Imaginary, covetous, proud, selfe-seeking 
flesh; If I take not the sword, to restraine the unruliness of mankinde; we shall 
not live one by another’ But his intent in not in Love to peace, but that he may 
rule over himselfe, and beat downe… others under him…. if this murdering selfe-
honouring power were once cast out; Love would live in peace, and know warre, 
division and sorrow no more. (39) 

Our difficulties with reading such tracts lie not merely with Biblical references 
and an often obdurate language, but with our notion of reading. The culture 
that received these writings was literate in a sense which differs profoundly 
from our normative and quantitative definitions of literacy. A familiarity with, 
and access to, the means of production and circulation (a familiarity and an 
access that occurs rarely in the history of media and the public), combined 
with the assumption of a particular communal form of reception. John Thompson 
has emphasized that intimate knowledge of the allegories and imagery of the 
Bible provided a stock of allusions and beliefs from which all, including those 
who could not read, drew shared meanings. (40) Thus, such writings reached 
not only the learned, and not only the literate. Reading matter was no longer 
dominated by those with a shared Classical education who assumed discussion 
must follow formal rules. What was written was to be read aloud, performatively 
and discussed in alehouses, sectaries meeting places, marketplaces, among 
friends, in the Army, and within families. 

Memories, histories and foresight. 

For Mary Carruthers. medieval culture is fundamentally memorial to the same 
profound degree that modern Occidental culture is documentary: “This distinction 
certainly involves technologies – mnemotechnique and printing – but it is not 
confined to them. For the valuing of memoria persisted long after book technology 
itself had changed” (41) Memoria is a social institution, according to Carruthers, 
a modality of medieval culture in which particular texts, whether in oral or written 
form, provide the source of the community’s memory. (42) Such communities 
are, in Brian Stock’s phrase ‘textual communities’ (43) Social and intellectual 
experience in societies acquiring literate sensibilities, Stock maintains, can be 
regarded as ‘text;. The text itself, whether demanding a programme of reform, 
or a few simple aphorisms, was repeated and performed orally. What was 
integral to a textual community, then, was not a written version of a text, ‘but 
an individual who having mastered it then utilized it for reforming a group’s 
thought and action.”(44) 

It is in terms of reading, of reception and interpretation, that community is to 
be understood here. Textual communities may be thought of as religious sects 
with particular takes on scripture. The New Model Army and the Digger 
communities may, arguably, also be thought of as textual communities, just 
as the Open University in England (emerging from the WW2 adult education 
push within the army and in industry) and Trance, Rave, Jungle or Hip Hop 
might be considered as other instances. Such communities are, in the form 
discussed by bell hooks and Cornel West in Breaking Bread, necessarily 
radical in that the normative relationship between author and reader, between 
writing as a transitive activity and reading as a passive reception, are 
transformed within a communal dialogue shaped by a common oppression. (45) 
For Stock, an understanding of heresy and reform involves the transitive force 
of such writings and their interpretation. “Behavioural norms…are part of the 
movement which binds the text, the speech-act and the deed.” (46) In this 
way community grows by the discovery of common meanings and common 
means of communication, since as Williams emphasized communication is in 
fact the process of community: ‘the system of common life’. (47) 

Mary Carruthers has pointed out: “The Latin word textus comes from the verb 
meaning ‘to weave’…literary works become institutions as they weave a 
community together by providing it with a shared experience and a certain 
kind of language….Their meaning is thought to be implicit, hidden, polysemous 
and complex, requiring continual interpretation and adaptation.” (48) 

In the radical writings of the culture of the English press pamphlet, the 
political and religious coalitions these writings responded to and informed, 
and in the actions of the Diggers, the source of sense – that is of social 
meaning – becomes embodied in the demands and the desires of community. 
<I> Love is the communicative bond. </I> This bond becomes for the 
radicals a productive process linking both the political reality of the world – 
in terms of systems of property, in intellect, labour and land – with the 
ecological reality of the earth. This interrelationship is precisely what 
Michel Serres finds denied in the subsequent trajectory of Reason within 
the History of Ideas. The vector Reason relies on what is repressed and 
what is oppressed. It is this relationship between ‘human community’ 
and ‘community of the earth’ that Winstanley calls <I>Creation</I>.

Common Treasury 

Love is the Word. The Creation is the House or Garden, in which this one 
Spirit hath taken up his seat…. For if ever Love be seen or known he 
appears either in the inward feeling in your hearts…or else appears 
toward you, from outward objects, as from other men or other creatures. 
– Gerrard Winstanley A New Yeers Gift (January 1, 1650) (50) 

Love is the bond that links your earth and the Earth, and that makes the 
familiar and the foreign, the near and the far, resemble each other. 
–	Michel Serres “The Natural Contract” (1992) (51) 

In “The Natural Contract” Michel Serres does not refer to Winstanley’s writings. 
Yet his consideration of the relationship between humankind and the physical 
earth has profound resonances with Winstanley’s Law of Love. As such the 
two writers echo each other across more than three centuries of modernity. 
In Winstanley’s usage love has two related forms, or powers, which must 
be integrated: “Community of Mankinde, or the Law written in the heart, 
leading ‘mankinde’…to be of one heart and one mind; and Community of 
the Earth,’ in which ‘the spirit of Love appears to preserve creation by 
uniting all creatures into sweet harmony.” Each are “one in two branches 
of the Creation ruled by the Spirit of Universal Love, which unites not only 
mankinde, but mankinde with all other living things.” (52) Similarly for 
Serres love is the fundamental law: “There is nothing real but love, and no 
law other than this.” (53) Through this law of love, Serres is concerned to 
renew ‘the relationship that we once held with the world” by way of a natural 
contract: “We must change course and move away from the direction set by 
the philosophy of Descartes…mastery lasts only a short time, and turns into 
servitude, and in the same way ownership remains a short-lived expropriation.” (54)
A return to nature! This would mean drawing up and appending to our 
exclusively social contract a natural contract of symbiosis and reciprocity; a 
contract in which our relationship to things would no longer involve mastery 
and possession, but an admiring stewardship, reciprocity, contemplation, and 
respect, in which knowledge would no longer imply ownership, nor action 
mastery, and in which neither ownership nor mastery would imply 
stercoraceous conditions or results. (55) 

According to Serres the passage from the local to the global erases the world. 
The social contract – The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen –
 becomes deadly to the symbiosis between human society and ‘nature’, as 
from ‘the epistemological point of view” wherein all things are “willed to 
destruction” through “mastery and possession”. (56) Once mastered and 
possessed ‘the enormous collection of things reduced to the status of passive 
objects of appropriation’ become for Serres ‘minors in a pact pronounced by 
the law’. Since nature is the ‘hostel’ and ‘the enormous collection of things’ 
nurtures humanity ‘without them we would die tomorrow’. What is essential 
is that: ’Nature conditions human nature that, then, conditions it in its turn.’ 
It is in this sense that nature ‘behaves like a subject.’ (57) 

Since the earth ‘speaks to us in terms of force, bonds and interactions’ this 
suffices, insists Serres, ‘to make a new contract. A ‘new law’. (58) Opposed 
to an exclusive <I> social </I> contract which refers to Man while meaning 
merely men and to a <I>natural law</I> which reduces nature to human 
nature, Serres posits a ‘natural contract’ which recognizes the new equality 
between ‘the force of our global interventions and the globality of the world.’ 
His argument is that nature has grown, through technological developments, 
to the dimensions of the world, or is ‘defined by a set of relationships whose 
network unifies the entire Earth.’ (59) The natural contract connects our 
global interventions and the globality of the world in another network. A 
network that, like the twin meanings inherent in the French expression 
<I>le temps</I> - which refers both to time and the weather – would 
recognize and connect the temporal (historical) and spatial aspects of global 

Serres recognizes ‘ the power of love’, and like Winstanley his natural contract 
is governed by two laws which themselves are doubled: ‘Love one another, that 
is our first law” since no other law has allowed us to escape our ‘hell on earth’. 
This law is divided into a local and universal law which requires us to ‘love our 
neighbour’ and, to avoid the tribal and nationalistic consequences of such love, 
to ‘love humanity, if we do not believe in a God’. The second law asks us to 
‘love the world’, an obligation divided between old local law ‘that attaches us 
to the land in which our ancestors are buried’ and a new global law which is 
‘not yet written’ that requires of us a universal love of the physical earth.’(60) 

Clearly, the apocalyptic foresight in such language is of a particular Judeo-Christian 
tradition that fails to appreciate how going global from the local is cultural in 
a particular sense, the vectored trajectory of Western culture, which becomes 
more clearly defined by what is repressed, mastered, dominated. The insistence upon 
mere representation over mediation or the social geographical inequalities of distribution, 
uneven and unequal, characterizes the trajectory of the West.  Mediation and distribution, 
clearly about ownership of the language itself and specifically about the nature of 
property must become articulated through a discourse that denies that the master 
narratives of mediation and distribution have never been so secure – war assures that, 
endless war – nor so contested in a reflux of the West’s ‘Nature’ and the Wests ‘Others’.
Interruptions and renversements of the master discourse. ‘Slaves never sleep for 
long. This interval ends on the day when the reference to things serves as a 
violent reminder.’ (Serres) 

These laws and the divisions within them – love similarity and difference, 
humanity, community and the physical earth – raise incompatibilities which require 
negotiations and translations. These micro- and macro historical processes must be 
analyzed as David Morley has put it, “in relation to the simultaneous processes of 
homogenization and fragmentation,globalization and localization in contemporary 

The reflux to this vectoring, in Appadurain terms the ‘scapes’ of globality: 
financescapes, ethnoscpaes, infoscapes, mediascpaes, technoscapes is composed in 
what was repressed, dominated and mastered returning more familiar than we 
with the power relations that construct these subalternships, and more familiar 
than we in the West with our own means of making history.  Hence the distinction 
between loving ones neighbour in the local sense and loving humanity writ large
 through a rewriting of the category ‘humanity’ carried out performatively in 
the mass migrations and recombinations of media and communications 
becomes less problematic or difficult to imagine. ‘The pilot governs. Following 
his designated route, depending on the direction and force of the swell, he
 tilts the rudder.’ (Serres) Inflections, refusals, breaking down and making up 
the language of and course of governance. Governmentality is cybernetic. The 
cybercultural, the art of inflecting change by subtle inflection or by profound 
refusal, merely cultural. 

The new global law which, according to Serres, is ‘not yet written’ will not be 
<I>written</I>. The point Winstanley and the Diggers made was that such a 
law is to be performed, enacted, carried out. Gerrard Winstanley emphaised 
the particular and practical action he perceived necessary to preserve Creation -
the common bonds which unite “community of mankinde” and “community of  
the earth”.

These navigations and negotiations are being performed within the discourses, 
languages, gestures and physical displacements of migrations producing new 
subjects who retain links with the traditions and places of their origin. Whatever 
the case, since the global world is under systems of property over peoples, 
knowledges and land, such a ‘law’ cannot but have consequences both for our 
received written notions of property and the written emphatic stresses which 
deny communities their common bonds and hence their potential shapes, their 
familiarities. The social contract and natural contract, through the cultural laws 
and natural laws that govern these processes will be an outcome of this worldly 
dialogue. This passionate process is written, enacted performed in the endless 
navigations of and negotiations between hybrid cultures that, despite hate, 
deny the possibility of the failure of love. 

‘Those who would turn the world upside down are here also, no wonder they hath enemies.’

Love is the Law.

Lachlan Brown 
Montreal 1994 [revised 2002]



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