Monday, 16 November 2015

Fox's 59 Particulars

In 1659, at a critical moment in the history of the Quakers and indeed of England as a whole, George Fox issued his Fifty nine Particulars.  As Douglas Gwyn points out (The Covenant Crucified 1995), it was Fox's only programmatic political statement.

Gwyn presents the Particulars as a revolutionary document but it may equally well be presented as a reformist one, a call to the nation to embrace its true values of freedom and integrity.  The Particulars do not call for class war or the overthrow of fundamental institutions.  Instead, the Particulars are primarily a call for an end to oppression through corrupt practices.  Fox called for regulations to take away "oppressing laws, oppressors, and to ease the condition of the oppressed".  He has in mind particularly corrupt lawyers and ecclesiastical institutions and brutal civil authorities.  Gwyn says Fox's call is to 'preempt the immanent logic of capital' but this is to see the times through Marxist lenses.  I have found nothing the Particulars which is against private property.  Certainly Fox calls for tithes to be abolished and the money given to the poor but this is less anti-capitalist as
the traditional popular objection to tithes and an attack on an established church which betrays its Christian duty of philanthropy.

Although Gwyn insists that the Particulars is a further example of Quaker spirituality of desolation - an idea have discussed in my blog on Burrough - Fox's programme may equally well be seen simply as a call to the authorities to act fairly towards Quakers.  It is not about an absence of God and a state of spiritual desolation but about a commitment to the principle of justice and a call to the secular authorities to uphold universally recognised principles.  Gwyn reluctantly concedes that Fox calls for legal regulations against oppression, as if this were a passing point of the Particulars , but it is in the title of the work and goes to the heart of Fox's message. Another striking point about Fox's language, in this work and in others, is his references to the Nation, because he is concerned to get reforms at the national level and through national institutions. There is no Biblical exhortation to all the nations on earth in general nor any attempt to address other communities in the way that Margaret Fell did in her messages to the Jews.

I might say controversially there is as good a case for portraying Fox as a proto-one nation Conservative in the style of Disraeli or David Cameron as a revolutionary Marxist in the style of, for example, Fidel Castro.  Indeed, when tithes were eventually abolished in England, hundreds of years later, it was under a Conservative prime minister, Stanley Baldwin.

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