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Commonwealth of Oceana


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A political work by J. Harrington (1656) dedicated to Cromwell; in form it is part historical analysis, part Utopia, and part a written constitution.

Harrington analyses the events leading to the Civil War, using both historical and fictional names. Coke appears as himself, whereas Oceana is England, the Normans became the Neustrians, Henry VII becomes Panurgus, etc. He then draws up a plan for an ideal republic, under the leadership of the Archon, Olphaus Megaletor, an idealized Cromwell figure. He expresses his admiration for the republics of Greece and Rome and for the Venetian republic, and frequently invokes Machiavelli as ‘the only politician of later ages’. His own proposals include the dividing of the great estates, a two‐chamber system, indirect election by ballot, rotation in office, a popularly elected poet laureate, and a National Theatre. Overall, he proposes a carefully worked‐out system of checks and balances which Hume was to describe as ‘the only valuable model of a commonwealth that has yet been offered to the public’. Harrington's Oceana is an intended contrast to Hobbes's Leviathan.

Subjects: Literature.


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