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How Far Can The Failure of The Levellers Be Attributed to the Anachronistic nature of their Political Ideas?

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Introduction

How Far Can The Failure of The Levellers Be Attributed to the Anachronistic nature of their Political Ideas? For a radical change to occur certain conditions are necessary. The Leveller movement seems to have relied on the turbulence of the English civil war for its existence. It is common for potential revolutionaries to need time, to become established and a weak apposing establishment before any change can occur. Neither of these conditions applied to 1640's England. By 1649 the civil war was over, and what had begun as a supported radical movement had been reduced to very little. This was due to the anachronistic nature of their political ideas, the weakness of their support base, a failure of leadership and the strength of the opposition they faced. The Levellers were the first democratic movement in the world and remained unique until the end of the 18th century. It was the unique circumstances of the mid 1640's, which allowed them to flourish so readily amongst the chaos of civil war. Although radical for the 17th century the Levellers were never revolutionary, as many held strong views against the redistribution of land and were strong believers in the ownership of private property. To be revolutionary both of these views would need to be reversed. If the Levellers had been more revolutionary and been able to give the Army what they wanted, as the Army believed Cromwell could, it is possible that support for them would have been increased and they would have been more successful. ...read more.

Middle

This provided the basis of discussion at the Putney debates. This document seems greatly concerned with the situation and need for the army. This could possibly have been used to win support for the Leveller cause amongst the army. It must be understood that the Levellers faired well amongst the enormous exploitation of technology of the time, where pamphlet literature was widely available. The Levellers accounted for only a small part of this. The support base of the Levellers was mainly in the army, although they flourished amongst civilians in London, near to the centre of power. It was towards the end of the second civil war that the Levellers ideas changed, for the worst, and thus excluding a large part of their original support base. They gained their support in the army by playing on the lack of pay the rank and file received, and by causing a rift between the rank and file and Grandees in the army, questioning the motives of the Grandees. These men were "not a mere mercenary army" (Representation of The Army, June 1647), they believed in a cause and after the first civil war they wanted what they had fought for to be recognised, and so took a political stand to assure this. If it had not been for the Long Parliament of 1640 there would not have been a New Model Army. Rainsborough had stated that all should logically have the right to vote, although children, lunatics, convicted criminals and royalist still caused confusion as to what rights they should be given. ...read more.

Conclusion

He ordered them to disband, when he could have easily been shot, this reasserted courage and bravery throughout the army. This was a turning point for Leveller support, or lack of it. The Putney debates are also an example of Leveller opposition with Cromwell and Ireton fighting strongly against the first Agreement of the People. It was not just leading military and Parliamentary figures attacking the Levellers by 1649. The writings of more radical groups started appearing, the Ranters and the Diggers. The leader of the Diggers or "True Levellers" was Gerrard Winstanley. This status of "True Levellers" gave Winstanley plenty of ways to attack the Levellers. He had gone just that bit further, and his ideas were truly revolutionary, as by 1649 he was expressing communist ideas. Something the Levellers were strongly against. Although the Levellers were flawed some of their ideas were eventually taken on by the government, for example the use of English in the legal system, Cromwell was a strongly in favour of religious toleration, an idea promoted by the Levellers, and the redistribution of parliamentary seats amongst constituencies. The Levellers were never prepared for a violent revolution, which is what would be necessary for a full effect of their ideas to be felt. It was also unfortunate that the civil war ended and much of their support base was dispatched to the bloodshed of Ireland by 1649. In the long term ideas have been developed and much of what they wanted has been achieved. With any similar groups not being seen until the late 18th century. ?? ?? ?? ?? Hannah Lacey 17:49 11/9/2001 ...read more.

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