Mark Stahlman (via RadioMail) on Fri, 8 Aug 1997 18:53:10 +0200 (MET DST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> The Ranters: Ejaculating with Prayer


Perhaps the first time that all effective controls were abandoned for
publishing one's world-shaping opinions was during the English Civil War
when often clandestine printing presses disgorged a dazzling array of
screeds.  A remarkable gaggle of pamphleteers emerged to propose the
marvelous forms of the revolutionary utopia presumed to lie just at hand. 
Largely forgotten by official British historiography in the 18th and 19th
centuries, aspects of these popular utopias were revived by Friedrich
Engles in his history of communist thought.

Often grouped together (frequently by their opponents) under such labels as
the Levelers, the Diggers and the Ranters, it was, as befits such a
situation, truly every man for himself.  But, of all these, the Ranters may
provide some particularly fruitful material for pondering the current state
of affairs on the Net and, indeed, for living in nettime.

Here's how Frank and Fritzie Manuel described the Ranters situation in
their monumental work, "Utopian Thought in the Western World" --

"During the Civil War there were individual preachers who boasted that they
were emancipated from any sense of sin and who proclaimed that everything
was "from nature" -- a kind of popular pantheism that saw Godliness in each
act of their fellow creatures, drinking, smoking, fornicating, making
merry.  The term Ranter was loosely applied to this attitude toward God and
men.  The Ranters were not a proper sect, nor did they adhere to any formal
manner of worship.  Some among them not only felt God within themselves and
in all living things and 'ejaculated with prayers' when moved by Him, but
believed themselves to be gods.  One gathers -- from their enemies and
their own dubious recantations when apprehended by the authorities -- that
they had assembled small, self-contained groups around leaders who engaged
in promiscuous discourse with 'she-disciples.'

"The ideal of liberation from guilt and the utopia without repression had
never died in the West.  The tenets of certain Gnostic sects had survived
through the Middle Ages to reappear among the Taborite millenarians and the
members of the Family of Love.  In the mid-seventeenth century there were
Continential sects both Christian and Judaic who believed that the Messiah
would come when men were all good or all evil, and since the prospect of
the former seemed remote there was a tendency among them to accept freedom
of the will, without the restraints that traditional Christians and
Renaissance humanists had imposed upon themselves.  Many of these ideas
crossed the Channel to England,

"When societies are cut adrift from their morrings, instinctive drives
break loose from the repressive psychic forces implanted in individuals by
their upbringing.  Groups arise among the ordinary people to demand public
sanction for instinctual gratification that the upper classes have long
enjoyed.  In scriptural religious societies the demand for gratification
presupposes total emancipation from written prohibitions in the
commandments of God the Father.  One Father Laurence Clarkson, or Claxton,
told about his Ranter beliefs after he had abandoned them in favor of
Muggletonianism. 'No man could be free'd from sin, till he had acted that
so called sin, as no sin . . . till you can lie with all women as one
woman, and not judge it sin, you can do nothing but sin . . . no man could
attain perfection but this way.'  Those who were moved by the Ranters
wanted not only to sin, but to sin with the approval of the Father.  Rarely
is such rebelliousness authentic liberty; usually it is an inadequate way
of flouting paternal authority, for the internalized censor cannot be
overthrown as readily as a king can be beheaded or a prelate ousted." 
(pages 355-356)

Mark Stahlman
New Media Associates
New York City
#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime" in the msg body
#  URL:  contact: