POLS 1000 Lecture Notes - Putney Debates, Classical Liberalism, Toleration
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The Formation of Liberalism: Tuesday, 1 November, 2011
from Putney to Thomas Hobbes and John Locke
•Basic Premise: the sovereignty of the individual who have natural rights
•the purpose of the state is to guarantee life. liberty and property
•Natural and equal rights, minority protection
•Individual Liberties: freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, economic pursuits
•Ideal of representative and limited government; constitutionalism; rule of law
The Meaning of Liberalism:
The political philosophy of Liberalism emerges out of "the attempt to uphold the values of freedom of choice, reason, and toleration in the face of tyranny, the absolutist system and religious intolerance" (Held, 59)
-Historical Contest: Emergence of capitalist economy and society in England, with wealth creation dependant on private control over large landed estates.
•The emergence of capitalism gave rise to the idea of a 'civil society'; property holders began to consider their interests as 'private', referring to a realm outside the state, in which their values and preferences
•King was required to protect landowners against threats to their property from below, but should not be allowed to become strong enough to threaten their "life, liberty and estate" from above.
Held: Liberalism's dilemma:
•"while the state must have a monopoly of coercive power to provide a secure basis upon which 'free trade'. business. private property and the family can prosper, its coercive and regulatory capability must be
contained so that its agents do not interfere with the political and social freedoms of individual citizens, with their pursuit of their particular interests in competitive relations with one another" (Held, p. 59)
Liberalisms 'other' dilemma:
•Liberalism proclaims the primacy of the property and rights of individuals, which the state is to enable and protect
•But what to do with all those who have no property and who might use their right to participate in the state (if they have it) to take away the property of others. especially when the latter are seen to have come by
their property illegitimately ( conquest, enclosures) and when many regarded their property rights as anything s but natural
•Problem: balancing property vs liberty
Liberalism 'Exceptions': Slavery
•While classical liberals railed against the 'slavery' of absolute monarchy which deprived individuals of their rights and liberties. most liberals defended the enslavement of Africans.
•Slaves were 'property'
•Attempts by parliamentary majorities to deprive slave-owners of their property were illegitimate. minorities such as slave-owners required protection from the arbitrary power of majorities
•John Locke: defence of slaver
•Carolina Constitution: "every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority of his Negro slaves"
•John Calhoun: Slavery is a positive good that civilization can not possibly renounce. Abolitionists are blind fanatics who use every effort to destroy slavery, a form of property legitimized and guaranteed by the
Liberal exceptions: Wealth
•Classical liberals argued strongly against equality in political participation
•John Jay (US founding father)
•"Those who own the country ought to govern it"
•The right to property must limit the liberties of those who might challenge property
•Participation on the basis of property qualification
•Property is a natural right
Putney Debates: Context
•King Charles 1 (1600-49) is suspected of pursuing a program of absolutist aggrandizement. threatening Protestantism and the rights of land-owning aristocrats (property rights, taxes, etc)
•1642-45 and 1648-51: Civil War
⁃1647: Putney Debates
•1649: King Charles 1 beheaded
⁃1651: Thomas Hobbes publishes Leviathan
•1649-60: The commonwealth of England
•1660: Return to Monarchy
Putney Debates: 1647
•Who is the sovereign: king, parliament, the people?
•What to do with the King?
•What does it mean to give consent?
•Who is to elect parliament?
•Two proposals preceding the Putney Debates:
⁃Heads of the proposals (Grandees): liberal position, property qualification
⁃Agreement of the people (Rank and file soldiers, Levellers): democratic position
The Democratic Position:
The Agreement of the people
•People enter into a Social Contract
•We the free people of England
⁃Agree to ascertain our government
⁃to abolish all arbitrary power,
⁃and to set bounds and limits bother to our Supreme, and all Subordinate Authority,
⁃Agree that the Supreme…….
The influence of the Levellers
•The levellers: mostly small and middling proprietors, craftsmen, traders and yeomen farmers (i.e the same class of people that manned the NMA)
•Levellers were spokesmen for smaller independent proprietors as against large landowners and wealthy merchants
•opposed practices such as enclosures and other attacks on customary property rights which accelerated the concentration of property
•Opposed to the association of political rights with large property
⁃extend the franchise further
⁃shift burden of taxation of large proprietors
⁃defend customary rights
⁃emphasis on local self-government
⁃concern with political equality
The Levellers: John Lilburne
•Insistence on the power of the people as opposed to the power of kinds or parliaments
•imprisoned 7 times between 1645-52
•took for granted the rights of private property
•insisted that voting rights could not be tied to property
•Strong influence by Liburne and levellers on the NMA: demand for political equality, though not for the 'levelling of property', as Ireton wrongly charges
The Putney Debates:
Rainborough: every man should have the right to vote for the government that is supposed to represent him:
"I think that the poorest he that is in England has a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it's clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put
himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he has not had a voice to put himself under…"
"But that by a man's being born here he shall have a share in that power that shall dispose of the lands here, and of all things here, I do not think it a sufficient ground."
Property-less people can just leave, like foreigners
"For my part, I think it is no right at all. I think that no person has a right to an interest or share in the disposing or determining of the affairs of the kingdom, and in choosing those that shall determine what laws we
shall be ruled by here — no person has a right to this that has not a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom"
Ireton's position: fixed interests and foreigners
•Distinction between inhabitants and citizens
•Representation is the right of the person in whom all and lies, and those
"I will be bound to say that many a man whose zeal and affection to God and this kingdom has carried him forth in this cause, has so spent his estate that, in the way the state and the Army are going, he shall not
hold up his head, if, when his estate is lost and not worth forty shillings a year, a man shall not have any 'interest'. And there are many other ways by which the estates men have — if that be the rule which God in his
providence does use — do fall to decay. A man, when he has an estate, has an interest in making laws; but when he has none, he has no power in it; so that a man cannot lose that which he has for the maintenance
of his family but he must also lose that which God and nature has given him!"
This is civil constitution, not natural rights.
" the consequence of this rule tends to anarchy, must end in anarchy. For where is there any bound or limit set if you take away this limit: that men that have no interest but the interest of breathing shall have no
voice in elections? "
-using political powers to take away property from those that have it.
•the notion of natural rights proved to be powerful challenge to the unequal distribution of the franchise and property itself
•it became the rallying cry of the multitude, as it challenged oligarchic political privileges ( the Levellers) and ultimately property itself (the Diggers)
England was re-organized
Hobbes published Leviathan
The challenge of Natural Rights
•Hobbes: starting rom radical premises: the natural rights of all humans to live in safety
•Resolving the problems of the state of nature in which people are free and equal, but also violently pursue their interest, requires them to surrender this capacity of forceful self-aggrandizement and authorize a
single sovereign ruler to enforce the law by whatever means.
•initial act of consent created all-powerful government, but not a right to influence this government through voting, parliament, etc.
•2 Alternative interpretation:
⁃Hobbes was writing in the midst of the English Ciivil War. but he was not disinterested observer, so traumatized by what was going on that he came to the conclusions that only an autocratic ruler could
guarantee life and property.
⁃Rather, Hobbes sought to find a way of making a case for the form of government he supported by making it appealing to the forces opposing the King in the name of liberty, property and constitutional
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