Justice in a World Turned Upside Down: Utopian Visions in the English Civil War and Revolution

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Abstract:

Gerrard Winstanley and James Harrington, two utopian writers living during the English Commonwealth (1649–1660), offered intriguing interpretations of both distributive and retributive justice. Winstanley's 1652 The Law of Freedom advanced the notion that the English monarchy had for centuries unjustly oppressed the commoners by denying them land, which was their birthright. Seeking a utopia centered on righteousness, Winstanley advocated a commonwealth philosophy of government and the abolition of commerce. Harrington, in his 1656 essay Oceana, proposed a mixed government centered on a bicameral assembly that would cooperate for the good of England. He believed that balance and virtue should be the goals of commonwealth government and that having land in too few hands creates political problems. Both Winstanley and Harrington ascertained that retributive justice in their commonwealth utopias should be based on good laws which help guarantee against political and economic oppression.
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