Sunday, February 22, 2009
Godwin was a English political philosopher who, while in the ministry for which he was trained, had cast off his Toryism and Calvinism and achieved a place of first importance as the interpreter to England of the French Encyclopedists. His ideal society is intensely equalitarian and a complete anarchy, although he tolerated the idea of a loosely knit democratic transition that would witness the withering of the State. Strongly antiviolence and completely rationalistic he carried his doctrine to the point of total alteration in human relations. Ignoring economics and starting from a highly individualistic psychology, he argued for education and social conditioning as the chief factors in character formation. His chief work, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, develops the thought of the prerevolutionary school, is strongly influenced by Helvetius, and is an argument for the perfectibility of the human species by way of a refutation of contradictory theories and examination of such conditions as will perfect the human community. In the philosophical debate owr whether man is governed by self-love, Godwin argued that man capable of a genuinely disinterested benevolence. The turning point in his career was the French Revolution, which spurred him to write his major work, Political Justice, completed in 1793. Though many were disillusioned after the early years of the Revolution, Godwin's liberalism remained intact. The publication of this work gained him a far-reaching contemporary fame. It was in 1796 that he renewed an acquaintance with Mary Wollstonecraft. They took up residence together and, with the approaching birth of their child and despite his attacks upon the institution of marriage, were married in 1797. Their brief marriage, ended by the death of his wife, was described as his happiest period. Although Godwin wrote indefatigably, only Politfcal Justice is still a work of enduring fame. His Caleb Williams, a novel with a social purpose, is another of his works retaining some contemporary interest. (Irving Horowitz, The Anarchists, 1964, Dell Publishing) Note: first writer to put foreward anarchist ideas.
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