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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

The Levellers were the radical individualist wing of the republican movement which unseated Charles I and helped institute a republic in England. Belying the name they were given by their enemies, the Levellers believed strongly individual property rights as the foundation of individual liberty. Overton’s pamphlet is an excellent example of this. In many ways Overton sounds like a precursor to Lysander Spooner with his uncompromising and consistent logic from first principles, his stress on “mine and thine”, and his strict notion of consent theory.

Other quotes from this week:

Other quotes about Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots:

13 August, 2009

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Richard Overton shoots An Arrow against all Tyrants from the prison of Newgate into the prerogative bowels of the arbitrary House of Lords and all other usurpers and tyrants whatsoever (1646):

Read the full quote in context here.

While in prison the Leveller Richard Overton “shoots an arrow” (ideological not literal) at the arbitrary government which imprisoned him. He begins with a solid defense of individual property rights and goes from there:

To every individual in nature is given an individual property by nature not to be invaded or usurped by any. For every one, as he is himself, so he has a self-propriety, else could he not be himself; and of this no second may presume to deprive any of without manifest violation and affront to the very principles of nature and of the rules of equity and justice between man and man. Mine and thine cannot be, except this be. No man has power over my rights and liberties, and I over no man’s. I may be but an individual, enjoy my self and my self-propriety and may right myself no more than my self, or presume any further; if I do, I am an encroacher and an invader upon another man’s right — to which I have no right. For by natural birth all men are equally and alike born to like propriety, liberty and freedom; and as we are delivered of God by the hand of nature into this world, every one with a natural, innate freedom and propriety — as it were writ in the table of every man’s heart, never to be obliterated — even so are we to live, everyone equally and alike to enjoy his birthright and privilege; even all whereof God by nature has made him free.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

To every individual in nature is given an individual property by nature not to be invaded or usurped by any. For every one, as he is himself, so he has a self-propriety, else could he not be himself; and of this no second may presume to deprive any of without manifest violation and affront to the very principles of nature and of the rules of equity and justice between man and man. Mine and thine cannot be, except this be. No man has power over my rights and liberties, and I over no man’s. I may be but an individual, enjoy my self and my self-propriety and may right myself no more than my self, or presume any further; if I do, I am an encroacher and an invader upon another man’s right — to which I have no right. For by natural birth all men are equally and alike born to like propriety, liberty and freedom; and as we are delivered of God by the hand of nature into this world, every one with a natural, innate freedom and propriety — as it were writ in the table of every man’s heart, never to be obliterated — even so are we to live, everyone equally and alike to enjoy his birthright and privilege; even all whereof God by nature has made him free.

And this by nature everyone’s desire aims at and requires; for no man naturally would be befooled of his liberty by his neighbour’s craft or enslaved by his neighbour’s might. For it is nature’s instinct to preserve itself from all things hurtful and obnoxious; and this in nature is granted of all to be most reasonable, equal and just: not to be rooted out of the kind, even of equal duration with the creature. And from this fountain or root all just human powers take their original — not immediately from God (as kings usually plead their prerogative) but mediately by the hand of nature, as from the represented to the representers. For originally God has implanted them in the creature, and from the creature those powers immediately proceed and no further. And no more may be communicated than stands for the better being, weal, or safety thereof. And this is man’s prerogative and no further; so much and no more may be given or received thereof: even so much as is conducent to a better being, more safety and freedom, and no more. He that gives more, sins against his own flesh; and he that takes more is thief and robber to his kind — every man by nature being a king, priest and prophet in his own natural circuit and compass, whereof no second may partake but by deputation, commission, and free consent from him whose natural right and freedom it is.

And thus sir and no otherwise are you instated into your sovereign capacity for the free people of this nation. For their better being, discipline, government, propriety and safety have each of them communicated so much unto you (their chosen ones) of their natural rights and powers, that you might thereby become their absolute commissioners and lawful deputies. But no more: that by contraction of those their several individual communications conferred upon and united in you, you alone might become their own natural, proper, sovereign power, therewith singly and only empowered for their several weals, safeties and freedoms, and no otherwise. For as by nature no man may abuse, beat, torment, or afflict himself, so by nature no man may give that power to another, seeing he may not do it himself; for no more can be communicated from the general than is included in the particulars whereof the general is compounded.

[More works by Richard Overton (1631 – 1664)]