Freemen, Free Labor, and Republican Discourses of Liberty in Early Modern England

in Contributions to the History of Concepts
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  • 1 Durham University gkennedy@uoregon.edu
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This article examines the development of popular discourses of liberty as independence emerging from the struggles between peasants and landlords over the course of the late medieval and early modern periods. This discourse, relating to the aspirations of the dependent peasantry for free status, free tenure, and free labor, articulated a conception of independence that overlapped with the emerging republican discourse of the seventeenth century. However, whereas republicanism focuses almost exclusively on the arbitrary powers of the monarchical state, the popular tradition emphasizes freedom from the arbitrary powers of landlordism. After a brief introduction to the republican conception of liberty and a discussion of the dependent peasantry in England, the work of Gerrard Winstanley is presented as an innovative synthesis of popular and republican discourses of freedom as independence from the arbitrary powers of exploitation.

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