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He begins by stating that "The vices and moral weakness of man are not invincible: Man is perfectible, or in other words suceptible of perpetual improvement." (Pg. 140) Noting that "justice is reciprocal," Godwin asserts that if his neighbor is in need of ten pounds which he can spare, "unless it can be shown that the money can be more beneficiently employed," the neighbor has a "right" to that money. (Pg. 175) This is because "We have in reality nothing that is strictly speaking our own." (Pg. 194)
He rejects the obligatory Locke/Rousseau Social Contract, asking, "upon what principle is that obligation founded? Surely not upon the contract into which my father entered before I was born?" (Pg. 213) If government is founded on the consent of the people, "it can have no power over any individual by whom that consent is refused." (Pg. 216) He asserts that government in reality "is a question of force, and not of consent." (Pg. 239) A monarchical government renders the people subject to the "caprice of individuals." (Pg. 436) Even a limited monarchy "raises one man... over the heads of the rest of the community... arbitrarily and by accident.Read more ›
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I must admit that I couldn't finish the whole book, the prose was so wordy and I was already in agreement with what he was saying, I thought it more painful than necessary. But it is a great work. His use of language is quite a barrier, though, and it is quite obvious that he worked backwards from what he had already decided about the matters at hand, probably using common-sense, and proceeded to construct - back engineer - an academic-type treatise to support these prior conclusions. The result is a work which often has rather lengthy, convoluted logic, and very painful grammar, yet which ends up in the right places, most of the time. Rather a strange experience to read, but useful nonetheless.
Alan Wrightson, author of "Humanity Revealed"
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As Isaac Kramnick remarks in his introduction, there are many 'schools' of political thought and one should ideally start at their beginnings. Libertarian? Locke. Communism? Marx. Anarchism? Proudhorn?....No. Godwin. This is the first book that I know of to advocate a society without a state. Unfortunately, the reasoning is too bizzarre to be practical and unfortunately for Godwin, time disproved most of this books contents. Godwin's view of human nature is wrong. His view of the determinism (the nature around us is determined, so we have to be.) is immature. He mauls the definitions of 'voluntary' and 'involuntary' action beyond recognition. The good part, honestly, was his critique on existing governments. Very astute, unless you consider that Montesquieu made identical observations several years befor Godwin was born. Still, if you've not read or don't want to read Montesquieu, Godwin's is a forcefully stated, action-packed polemic. His view of a stateless society based on a jejune faith in honesty of all people everywhere is extremely naive and one wonders why Godwin, who doesn't have faith in government or the ruled people (yes, even in democracies) could have faith in peoples capacities for honesty and the self-government that it entails. Alas, I gave this two stars because of it's originality, it's contributions to anarchism (a movement that produces an adequate thinker from time to time) and most importantly, as an historically interesting contrast to Rousseau and Montesquieu who predated this book and Proudhorn, Goldman and even Marx who followed it.