Utopian Society Thinkers James Harrington Part 2

About the famous utopian thinker James Harrington and history of his planned utopia Oceana.



Cromwell read it and laughed. Oceana was criticized but popular. Harrington, who gloried in controversy, was in his element. He was then, as a contemporary described him, "of a middling stature, a well trussed man, strong and thick, well sett, sanguine, quick--hott--fiery hazel eie, thick moyst curled hair."

When the Commonwealth fell and King Charles II ascended the throne, Harrington, known as a republican, was thrown into the Tower of London for treason. He was tortured and given one too many doses of guiacum, a powerful drug, either to prevent scurvy or to prevent him from writing (depending on who's telling the story). Whatever the reason, he became insane; he had delusions--thought, for example, that he sweated the spirits of flies and bees. He died at the age of 66.

His Utopia: OCEANA

Centering on the idea of the sovereignty of the people, the constitution of Oceana created an aristocracy of limited, balanced powers and included advanced ideas like the secret ballot, indirect election, rotation of offices, and the referendum. (Many of these ideas were incorporated into the constitutions of the American colonies, especially the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.)

The country was divided into 50 equal tribes, each with 2,000 members; in turn, each tribe was divided into parishes. Annual elections were held to elect representatives, but only freemen (property owners) could vote.

The government consisted of two chambers, a Senate of 300 aristocrats and intellectuals whose function it was to guide and debate issues but not to vote, and a Prerogative Tribe of about 1,050 members who voted on the issues brought up by the Senate. All were elected for staggered three-year terms.

For males, there were compulsory free schools, but Harrington said nothing about the education of women. Women are mentioned only once in Oceana--as makers of the linen pellets inscribed with "aye" and "no" used by males to vote at tribal elections.

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