The Literature of Liberation
Ridpath, John, New Statesman (1996)
Agreements of the People
The Levellers (1647-49)
In this revolutionary series of pamphlets, the Levellers-a parliamentarian faction during the English Civil War -argued for religious tolerance, criminal justice reforms and universal male suffrage. In the end, more modest proposals were adopted by the Commonwealth, and it was not until 1918 that men from all social backgrounds were given the vote.
Rousseau began working on this treatise in 1743, while private secretary to a French ambassador. He was unchallenged and ill-paid, and it was perhaps here that he first felt the injustice conveyed in that famed opening sentence: "Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains."
Rights of Man
Responding to Edmund Burke's sensational attack on the French Revolution, Paine recast the storming of the Bastille as an assault upon despotism. "Hereditary governments are verging to their decline," cheered this veteran of America's struggle for independence, "revolutions ... are making their way in Europe."
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
In savaging the social construction of gender, Wollstonecraft challenged the compliance of her "weak and wretched" sex just as much as male dominance. Though well-respected among intellectuals at the time, The Rights of Woman lost favour when details of the author's unconventional private life emerged.
William Godwin (1793)
Godwin, the founding father of anarchism, predicted the end of government, proposed that education replace criminal punishment and denounced marriage as "the worst of monopolies". But after his affair with Mary Wollstonecraft led to a pregnancy, the couple married in 1797, much to the surprise of their acquaintances. …