The Pathos of Politics (37) William Godwin

William Godwin

Above all we should not forget that government is an evil, a usurpation upon the private judgment and individual conscience of mankind. ~ William Godwin

Seeds of anarchy and communism were sown by English social philosopher, novelist, and religious dissenter William Godwin (1756–1836). Godwin was an idealistic libertarian: an intellectual product of the Enlightenment who believed in the rationality of man, and hence the prospect of his perfection.

One of the prerogatives by which man is eminently distinguished from all other living beings inhabiting this globe of Earth, consists in the gift of reason. Perfectibility is one of the most unequivocal characteristics of the human species. ~ William Godwin

In 1793, with the French Revolution in full swing, Godwin published Enquiry Concerning Political Justice. The first part of the book was an anarchist critique of the state, under the acknowledged sway of Burke. The rest of the book provides Godwin’s vision of how a society with minimal government might work, revealing Godwin’s utilitarian streak as well as his taste for anarchy.

Godwin advocated neither the abolition nor “communalization” of property. He considered property a sacred trust that should be at the disposal of those who need it.

The doctrine of the injustice of accumulated property has been the foundation of all religious morality. Its most energetic teachers have taught the rich that they hold their wealth only as a trust. ~ William Godwin

This was his communistic concession. Yet Godwin was no socialist. He was instead very much an individualist.

Everything understood by the term cooperation is in some sense an evil. ~ William Godwin

Godwin rejected conventional government as inherently tyrannical. He argued that social institutions fail because they impose norms which make it impossible to see things as they are.

Whenever government assumes to deliver us from the trouble of thinking for ourselves, the only consequences it produces are those of torpor and imbecility. ~ William Godwin