Fear, Myth and History: The Ranters and the Historians

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Cambridge University Press, May 9, 2002 - History - 224 pages
Flourishing briefly in the aftermath of the English Revolution (1649-1650), the Ranters have been seen as the ultimate counter-cultural group or movement of seventeenth-century England. Their apparent rejection of sin, hell and all moral constraints, authorities and limitations imposed from above has drawn considerable attention to them as illustrative of an irreligious popular culture and the determination of the people to have a revolution of their own making. Acting out a plebeian permissiveness in denial of the Protestant ethic at the moment of its achievement of dominance, they have drawn the attention, in particular, of those seeking to record the history of a popular tradition rejecting the hegemony of bourgeois values. This book calls in question that framework. The author argues that there was no Ranter group or movement: that the Ranters did not exist. Rather, a myth of the Ranters was projected in a press sensation and was sustained by heresiographers and sectarian leaders. The projection of this myth in the early 1650s is explained in terms of fears aroused by a revolutionary crisis and the dilemma of authority within sectarianism. In this sense the work forms a case study in the projection of deviance consequent upon a 'moral panic'. The elements out of which the mythic identity of the Ranter was composed are examined in detail, as is the projection of the myth.

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The historians and the Ranters
Who were the Ranters?
Examining the Ranter core
The Ranter sensation
Explaining the Ranter myth
Explaining the historians

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