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This book is concerned with the history of the idea of human rights. It offers a fresh approach that puts aside familiar questions such as 'Where do human rights come from?' and 'When did human rights begin?' for the sake of looking into connections between debates about the rights of man and developments within the history of capitalism. The focus is on England, where, at the end of the eighteenth century, a heated controversy over the rights of man coincided with the final enclosure of common lands and the momentous changes associated with early industrialisation. Tracking back still further to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writing about dispossession, resistance and rights, the book reveals a forgotten tradition of thought about central issues in human rights, with profound implications for their prospects in the world today.