In a narrow pass

Derek Hirst

  • A Spark in the Ashes: The Pamphlets of John Warr edited by Stephen Sedley and Lawrence Kaplan
    Verso, 116 pp, £9.95, October 1992, ISBN 0 86091 599 9

Stephen Sedley and Lawrence Kaplan seek to map a new course for the post-socialist Left, and to turn attention away from that beguiling but now exploded theme, egalitarianism. The long fixation with egalitarianism has, they complain, allowed the Right today to ‘appropriate the word liberty and equate it with the acquisition of power’; and the phenomenon of Thatcherism would certainly bear them out. To enable a redirected Left to know itself, they have edited the eloquent works of a pre-socialist exponent of liberty, John Warr, who in the months around the execution of Charles I in January 1649 urged sweeping legal and political reforms. In Warr’s eyes, ‘liberty was the antithesis of power,’ not of property as Winstanley the Digger might have maintained: ‘it represented both the restraint of the mighty by the law and a people’s right to overthrow rulers who abused their power.’

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