Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In 1793, William Godwin, the first philosopher of anarchism, published An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice. This three-volume work gives evidence of being strongly influenced by the ideas of the French Revolution and argues that the rational being, the human, must be given complete freedom to exercise pure reason. All forms of government, being founded on irrational assumptions, are tyrannical and eventually must be eliminated. Laws have been produced not by wisdom but by greed and fear, so they should be replaced by the products of reasonable people’s ability to make decisions. Accumulated property is a means of exploitation and, consequently, must be abolished. This last point was, however, modified in a later edition. With its varying degrees of indebtedness to Aristippus, Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Claude-Adrien Helvétius, and despite its equivocating alterations in the final revision, Godwin’s book gave evidence of original thinking and provided generations of revolutionary thinkers with stimulation and guidance.
Godwin asserts that the general human objective is happiness; that politics, the promotion of individual good, is humanity’s most important pursuit; and that the two traditional articles of political liberty have been, first, “security of our persons,” and, second, “security of our property.” Godwin asks, however, would not a good government “take away all restraints upon the enquiring mind”? The early...
(The entire section is 1487 words.)
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