Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Diggers

Out of the Leveller movement [mentioned in previous post] came, for a brief time, an even more radical experiment. The Diggers would be a good role model for many Jeff Street Salty Saints--especially those who are committed to some form of communal living and life close to the soil.

Gerrard Winstanley was a General Baptist and part of the Leveller movement. During the English Civil War, he came to believe that the Levellers were compromising too much with the violent revolutionaries and launched a new movement. He called it the "True Levellers," but it has come to be known as the Digger Movement. Winstanley was responding to the huge number of common people who had been made into homeless refugees by (a) land grabs by the aristocracy, (b) mechanization that would lead in another generation or two to the Industrial Revolution, and (c) the war.

Winstanley believed that private ownership of land was immoral. Everyone had the "creation birthright" to earn a living from the land. So, he organized homeless farmers and created an agrarian utopian society. They occupied one of the many unused pieces of land ("The commons" which were supposed to be for common people but were being bought up by the aristocracy) near St. George's Hill. They dug up the sod, built small homes, and planted vegetables--giving them their name, "the Diggers." From this location, Winstanley wrote numerous tracts outlining a religious vision of a utopian, agrarian society. Eventually, the army destroyed the Digger Community. Most Historians think Winstanley left Baptist life to become a Quaker. But the Digger vision lived on in other communal experiments through the ages.

I never liked working on my grandfather's farm. I am not, by nature, an agrarian person. But I believe in small farms over agri-business. I believe in coops and buying food from farmer's markets instead of large grocery chains whenver possible. An ecologically sustainable society has to be closer to an agrarian ideal than today. And compared to the vision of imperialism and plutocracy that is promulgated by today's ruling elite, the Digger vision is compelling. We need to remember people like Winstanley--and we need bold experiments like the Diggers today. They may not be all the answer, but they can be models for alternatives.

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by Michael, who, while not a Digger himself, digs them nonetheless

1 Comments:

At 4/22/05, 2:55 AM, Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I forgot to mention that one can learn more about the Diggers, especially Gerrard Winstanley, in For the Healing of the Nations: Baptist Peacemakers by Paul Dekar. Follow his footnotes for original sources.

 

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