Schooled in Magic: The Levellers

25 Jul

This is the first draft of an appendix. Comments welcome.

The Levellers

By the time the Void Wars broke out, the Levellers were assumed – at least by kings, princes, aristocrats and even a few magical communities – to exist at every level of society, to the point there was nothing, from crop failure to riots and revolutions, that could not be blamed on them.  Kings saw Levellers behind every tree and, jumping at shadows, often ordered purges that, unsurprisingly, made it harder for the population to stay on the sidelines.  The uprising in Alluvia appeared to prove all their suspicions – particularly the worst – and the Levellers appeared a convenient scapegoat, a menace that had to be destroyed.  Their attempts, however, only ensured that Levelism spread further, in truth, than it could probably have carried itself.

The kings blamed Lady Emily for introducing Levelism and empowering the early Levellers to the point they believed they could make their dreams a reality.  This was untrue.  The genesis of Levelism lay in the city-states, which allowed a certain degree of political discourse, and the more intellectually-minded courts that tolerated academics, as long as said academics remained steady supporters of the monarch and didn’t cross the line into open criticism of the monarchy and/or the aristocracy.  Discussing the duties as well as the rights of the nobility was acceptable, if only to provide convenient excuses for challenging dissident noblemen; any questioning of the monarchy’s right to exist, regardless of who was on the throne, was not.  It was difficult for any early movement to make much headway.  The aristocracy had no interest in paying more than lip service to it, while the lower classes rarely had the education that would have allowed them to mount legal challenges to their social superiors.  Nor did they have the time.  The early thinkers were allowed to exist because they appeared largely harmless.

This changed as a result of Lady Emily’s early innovations.  It was suddenly possible for far more people than ever before to learn to read and write, allowing even those with very basic knowledge to sound out words and spread messages far and wide.  Early Leveller writings, including many written by palace academics that had never been intended for the public eye, followed in their wake.  The result was a series of social upheavals.  The cities saw the effective collapse of the scribe and accounting guilds, while the serfs and peasants in the countryside discovered, as many of them had suspected, that the nobility was denying them their legal rights.  It rapidly became impossible to convince the peasants to accept bland platitudes from their superiors, nor to force them to continue to honour documents they could not read.  There was no way to put the demon back in the bottle without force and trying would result in the destruction of lands and farms the nobility wanted to keep.  Discontent spread rapidly, moving far in advance of any attempt to stop it.  Entire regions rapidly became ungovernable.

Lady Emily made it worse, quite by accident, by abolishing serfdom within Cockatrice and insisting on very limited taxes and tithes from her people.  (This would normally have been heavily opposed by the local nobility, but most of them were either implicated in the attempted coup against King Randor or … convinced … to flee by the suddenly empowered peasants (a number would fight beside the Noblest during the Zangarian Civil War and die during the conflict.))  Cockatrice had never been known for being a land overflowing with milk and honey, but the simple fact the peasants were suddenly allowed to keep most of their produce – and sell it as they saw fit – doubled or tripled farm yields within two years.  The outside world suddenly had something to aspire to, forcing the nobility to either make concessions of their own or risk mass unrest (or simple desertion).

Matters were slightly more restrained in the city-states, as there was already a certain level of education and political participation.  Leveller movements took part in local government, to the best of their abilities, as Levellers themselves started to spread into local institutions.  It was no longer possible for a guild to enforce a monopoly on anything and, as the Levellers flexed their muscles, the majority of the guilds agreed to limited reforms.  This drove forward a major economic boom, which boosted everything from broadsheets – it was truly said that a new broadsheet was founded every day – to steam industries and railways.  Not every new business was a success – it was also said that few broadsheets lasted long enough to make a mark – and Vesperian’s Folly nearly destroyed Beneficence, but overall the changes took root and spread rapidly.  It helped that newly-minted apprentices set out to start their own businesses, in doing so, spread Levelism.

There is no such thing as a typical Leveller.  Levellers come from all walks of society, although the majority tend to be middle-class cityfolk or peasant leaders/activists, both of whom are very aware of how society is weighted against them and ambitious enough to try to make their mark.  Women are surprisingly well represented within Leveller councils, a reflection of what the Levellers owe Lady Emily and, more practically, an awareness that – at least in the more misogynistic communities – it is easier for women to both move around without being noticed and, if they are, to evade both harsh interrogation and the death sentence.  Most Leveller cells give at least lip service to the rights of women, as well as men, although it is unclear how this will shake out in practice.  Too many communities still regard women as little more than property, with their fathers – and later husbands – having ultimate responsibility for their conduct.

Kings, being used to top-down structures, came to believe that the Levellers were a unified force.  Lady Emily, some argued, was the Chief Leveller; others pointed to other names, often their political enemies, and insisted that they had to be in charge.  This was an understandable mistake (spurred by rumour and the fact that underground societies were quite common in aristocratic communities).  The Levellers are not, and never have been, an organised group.  They are, at best, a very loosely organised collection of cells, each one having a different idea of how best to do things and often in disagreement with each other.  City Levellers are often moderate, attached to ideas such as constitutions and laws; Country Levellers, often former serfs and peasants, are much more radical in their approach. 

There is, therefore, very little codification of Leveller thinking, let alone dogma.  However, nearly all Levellers adhere to three tenants:

First, all men (the term is generally taken to mean ‘mankind’) are equal before the law.

Second, all men have the right to bear arms.

Third, all men have the right to grant and withdraw their labour, and move around the world, at will.

These tenants were utterly unacceptable to the aristocracy and monarchs (and even to some magical communities).  The first tenant would undermine all the rights and privileges the aristocrats had claimed for themselves.  The second would threaten their ability to keep the commoners in line with naked force.  The third would make it impossible for them to keep peasants and serfs in the field (serfdom itself would be abolished by the third) unless they paid much better wages.  Their protests, however, did not stop the tenants from spreading and becoming, at least in part, something for the Levellers to work towards. 

It should be clear that there is little consensus beyond those three points.  The Levellers are deeply divided on a multitude of issues, from reform – moderates want an end to serfdom; radicals want the land divided amongst those who work it – to how mankind should be governed and the precise legal status of men, women and children.  Worst of all, perhaps., there is no clear blueprint for how the servants of the old order, still less the masters themselves, should be handled by the new world order.  The minor issues that may damage, perhaps even destroy, Leveller cells have often been allowed to fester.  The major issues have often made it impossible for the new world order to get off the ground and muster its power to defeat the reactionaries before they counterattack.

The future of the Leveller movement, in the wake of the end of the Necromantic Wars, is unclear.  The collapse of the Allied Lands has brought opportunities, but also threats.  The kings, no longer needing to pay lip service to unity (and afraid of the Alluvian Revolution spreading to their lands), have cracked down hard.  The international messenger system, created and maintained by the White Council, has been effectively ruined.  Old certainties are collapsing everywhere.  At the same time, the kings and princes – and the rules they created – have been discredited and there is a glimmer, at least, of hope for the future.

11 Responses to “Schooled in Magic: The Levellers”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard July 25, 2021 at 4:49 pm #

    The first tenant is interesting due to the religious background of the Nameless World.

    In our Europe, there is Christian Scripture that could be seen to support that idea.

    However, some of our world’s religions seem to support the idea that some people (nobles/kings) are superior to other people. Of course, the idea that kings were descended from gods (or are gods on Earth) is part of that.

    So I’m wondering if there are religions in the Nameless World that could be seen as supporting the first tenant.

    • George Phillies July 25, 2021 at 10:55 pm #

      tenant –> tenet

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard July 25, 2021 at 11:03 pm #

        Grumble Grumble

        And I repeated Chris’ error. [Embarrassed]

  2. Fahnir July 25, 2021 at 6:50 pm #

    I enjoyed this piece very much–and the SIM series is one of my favorite series–the only unreal part of the author’s development of the nameless world was the speed at which new reading, writing, arithmetic, and political ideas spread–what took centuries in Europe took 2 years to spread in Zangaria and ?9? to fundamentally change the Allied Lands–not realistic. By contrast, Chis had Emily’s personal development and sorcererous training occur at a slow crawl…it was like watching paint dry–only at the end of the series do we see Emily as a mature, ruthless sorcerer, for example…

  3. Jared July 25, 2021 at 9:02 pm #

    I enjoyed this! Are there any updates?

  4. Fred Mora July 26, 2021 at 2:04 am #

    This is the kind of deep world building at which few authors excel. That’s one of the reasons why I like Chris Nuttall’s writing, and the SIM series in particular.

    George Phillies is another author that builds great worlds and he reads this blog. Coincidence? I think not.

    • George Phillies July 28, 2021 at 3:31 pm #

      Chris and I occasionally correspond. I claim no credit for anything found in his work.

  5. filipboa0637 July 26, 2021 at 4:41 am #

    Levellers Tenet show more of Nuttall modern political leaning. a movement named “Levellers” and have large peasant members not discussing about landed property ??? Property, especially Land, and who owned them, and obligations entitled to them would become big issue in any reform movement. People more likely to seize Nobles-owned land (or any land regardless of owner) than move elsewhere.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard July 26, 2021 at 4:57 am #

      First, Chris is asking for suggestions.

      Second, the Levelers started (in his world) in the City-States of the Nameless World.

      Third, Chris is somewhat basing his Levelers on an actual English political movement that existed during the English Civil War.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levellers

  6. drake July 26, 2021 at 9:29 pm #

    Are there any plans for a completely new fantasy series?

  7. Tom Shanley July 29, 2021 at 6:22 pm #

    Those three things would be “tenets” (principle, doctrine), not “tenants” (renter, occupier).

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