Utopia Theory in History The Commonwealth

About the theoretical utopian society the Commonwealth devised by Gerrard Winstanley, about the social, political, and economic structure.


Who Created: Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1652). Leader of the Diggers, possibly founder of the Quakers. In response to the enclosure movement, which was depriving more and more people of land, this small group, numbering about 20 or 30, began sowing crops on private land. They were promptly thrown off the land by the authorities and persecuted.

Described in: The Law of Freedom in a Platform (1652).

Political and Social Structure: No kings, no arbitrary controls. Law rules everything, its source being "the spirit of universal righteousness" and a sense of "common preservation," or mutual aid. The law is administered by a host of officers: peacemakers, overseers, soldiers, taskmasters (prison wardens), executioners, and judges. A parliament 1st abolishes the old monarchical laws and then enacts new "more easy laws."

Property and Distribution of Goods: No money or wages. Personal goods and houses are privately owned, but the means of production are held in common. Goods are fetched from free stores and shops according to the needs of families.

Production: Basically agricultural, but there are also many trades. Parliament gives out orders for the planting and reaping of the commonwealth's land.

Family/Marriage/Sex: Private, nuclear family headed by the father. The father trains his children and does not spare the rod. Anyone may marry whomever he or she loves, irrespective of birth. If a man gets a woman pregnant, he must marry her. Rape incurs the death penalty.

Place of Women: The men are definitely in charge.

Education and Culture: Every child is educated in a trade and in book learning by his father and by officers. There is no special group of scholars, since scholars tend to be idle. Continuing adult education takes place in church on the Sabbath, when the laws are read and there is discussion and instruction in historical and scientific subjects.

Crime and Punishment: Whipping, slavery, and death are the common penalties. The death penalty is given to anyone who espouses religion and, at the same time, seeks to possess land privately.

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