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The song, "World Turned Upside Down" by Leon Rosselson, says:

The sin of property
We do disdain
No one has any right to buy and sell
The earth for private gain

Does this mean that the Diggers viewed property as sinful? If so, did they base this view at all upon the bible?

  • From what I've read they were anarchists, and possibly socialists, but not really communists. – CGCampbell Mar 31 '16 at 2:25
  • Emphasize the word earth in the last line. The diggers faught the enclosures that would turn commons into private property. I would guess they saw property of land as sin. Interesting question. – mart Mar 31 '16 at 10:50
  • "the sin of property we do disdain" - why is there any controversy? – Mark C. Wallace Mar 31 '16 at 11:42
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    Christopher Hill's book "The World Turned Upside Down" is a more reliable source than a song. – TheMathemagician Mar 31 '16 at 13:11
  • In the old days people lived in mud huts and the only real property was land. – D J Sims Apr 1 '16 at 7:04
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It wasn't that they were against private property because they thought it was sinful, but rather that they thought it was sinful because they were against it*.

To understand this, its probably best to start by talking about common land and enclosures.

Under traditional English Common Law, tenants had certain usage rights on common land, even though technically they did not own the land. These included fishing, grazing, farming, mining. All within strict limits, of course, but they did have a right to use the land to support themselves and their families. This was a pretty useful setup in an era where all land was technically owned (because Feudalism), but England had a lot of untended land laying around.

However, as the population grew, that problem went away, and land in the commons started to become really valuable. As a result, landowners started using the Enclosure process to take their land out of the commons and reserve it for their own exclusive use. While personally lucrative, this turned all the former tenants into the era's equivalent of homeless migrant laborers. As you can imagine, these people were not pleased with their change in status. There were also way more of them than there were landowners, so this led to a lot of social unrest.

This is where the Diggers came in. Simply put, they wanted to undo the enclosures. They were essentially a social reactionary movement. They wanted to find a way to extend the old system of Common Land into the new era. That they searched through the Bible for religious justification should surprise no one. Being a rather large diverse book, the fact that they found passages backing them up should also surprise no one. But chiefly they were just about going back to the old ways of doing things.

* - This kind of situational morality happens far more in history than one might naively think.

  • Interesting that we have a sort of inverse parallel to enclosure in the US today, with protest groups wanting to take public lands for their own profit. See e.g. Malheur NWR occupation... – jamesqf Mar 31 '16 at 17:23
  • What parts of the Bible did they cite for reasoning? – tox123 Mar 31 '16 at 17:29
  • @tox123 The movement's intellectual leader was Gerrard Winstanly. Part of his Wikipedia entry covers this well: "Winstanley took as his basic texts the Biblical sacred history, with its affirmation that all men were descended from a common stock, and with its scepticism about the rulership of kings, voiced in the Books of Samuel; and the New Testament's affirmations that God was no respecter of persons, that there were no masters or slaves under the New Covenant. From these and similar texts, he interpreted Christian teaching as calling for the abolition of property [in land] and aristocracy." – T.E.D. Mar 31 '16 at 17:48
  • ...now the Samuel bit is immediately familiar to me as 1 Samuel 8, particularly 11-18, which is where Samuel (or God depending on your perspective) tries in vain to warn his people of the danger of having Kings. Earlier on it is implied that they should serve no ruler but God Himself. – T.E.D. Mar 31 '16 at 17:56
  • I think they were more radical than just wanting the pre enclosure system. This is not directed at yourself, but in history protest movements are often portrayed as anti-progress rubes, when in fact on any rational calculation they would have been insane not to revolt. – Ne Mo Apr 3 '16 at 10:06

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