Property, Liberty and Self-Ownership in the English Revolution.
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This thesis seeks to develop our understanding of ideas about political liberty in the English Revolution by way of focusing on the issue of property, a topic unduly neglected in the secondary literature. Most writers of the period conceived of liberty as absence of dependence, but what has been little examined is the extent to which it was believed that the attainment of this condition required not only a particular kind of constitution but a particular distribution of property as well. Here the central ideal became that of self-ownership, and the thesis is largely devoted to tracing the rise, eclipse and re-emergence of this way of thinking about the connections between property and liberty. Chapter 1 considers the emergence, in the ‘paper war’ of the early 1640s, of the radical Parliamentarian view that all property ultimately resided in Parliament. It was to oppose this stance, Chapter 2 argues, that the Levellers began to speak of ‘selfe propriety’, transforming the Parliamentarian notion of popular sovereignty into an individualist doctrine designed to protect subjects and their property from not only the king but also Parliament. Elements of both the Parliamentarian and Leveller discussions of property were taken up by John Milton and Marchamont Nedham (Chapter 3), while James Harrington offered an alternative theory that eschewed the notion of self-ownership (Chapter 4). After a chapter considering the relationship between property and freedom in Henry Neville and Algernon Sidney, the final chapter focuses on John Locke’s revival of self-ownership in his attempt to ground property rights in the individual’s ownership of his ‘person’. Although Locke is shown to offer a theory of private property, the Locke that emerges is not a proto-liberal defender of individual rights but a theorist of neo-Roman freedom whose aim was to explain the connection between property and non-dependence.
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