Western Civilization^2 lesson 25

Who were the Levellers, and what did they believe?

In 17th century England, the solid foundations for libertarianism were hammered out for the first time. Led primarily by John Lilburne (also known as Freeborn John),—a Lieutenant-Colonel in Parliamentarian Army, a group of free-thinkers known as the Levellers, began to blossom. John wrote and published pamphlet after pamphlet, gaining throngs of supporters for the Leveller cause: equal freedom and opportunity for all, regardless of wealth or station at birth.

The Levellers were a political movement that became the foundation of the Libertarians. Levellers were originally called Liberals, however now the term Liberal has come to mean left-leaning socialists. The original Liberals were referred to as “Classic Liberals”. These Classic Liberals hankered for private property, religious freedom for individuals, and minimal government control. According to Rothbard, a 20th century economist, the Levellers “transformed the rather vague and holistic notions of natural law into the clear cut, firmly individualistic concepts of natural rights of every individual human being.” By 1647, it had become clear that the Libertarian movement challenged control of Parliament, so when the Levellers formally presented their demands to Parliament, they were rejected and kept from making a move by the army which had eventually decided to side with Parliament. In 1646, John and a few of his accomplices were captured and locked away in the Tower of London. The horde of followers who banded together to rescue him officially formed the Leveller party in name. While still in his jail cell, in 1649, John and three others managed to write and smuggle out a paper for the constitutional reform of Britain. The paper, “Agreement of the People,” was the source of many more ideas that were implemented in the US constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The Levellers and their anti-government and equal-opportunity policies were extremely important in history. Without them, maybe Libertarians would never have managed to band together and truly fight for distinct and defined rights! The birth of the US was based on the founder’s ideas—which were originally given birth to by the Levellers.

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