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Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Modern Morals and Happiness (Dodo Press) Paperback – September 11, 2009

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About the Author

William Godwin, the famous philosopher and novelist, was born in East Anglia in 1756. The son of a Presbyterian minister, he was educated to follow in his father's footsteps, but subsequently lost his faith in God. He then devoted himself to writing, expounding his enlightenment and anarchist ideals in novels and essays. In 1797 he married Mary Wollstonecraft, the famous feminist; their daughter would grow up to be Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Godwin died in 1836. Isaac Kramnick is the Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Government at Cornell where he has taught since 1972. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 590 pages
  • Publisher: Dodo Press (September 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1409989305
  • ISBN-13: 978-1409989301
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,982,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
William Godwin (1756-1836) was an English journalist, political philosopher and novelist (as well as the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Penguin Classics)). He is considered one of the first exponents of utilitarianism, and (with the publication of this book in 1793) became the first modern proponent of anarchism. (See also The Anarchist Writings Of William Godwin.)

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.
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William Godwin was revered as the most eloquent political and social spokesmen of his day in England.
And he achieved this by his mastery of these subjects, in spite of the highly sophisticated, yet "common man-serving," political system which he embraced -- "Anarchism" -- which was universally despised by his friends, the moneyed elite.
This book was his masterpiece, and it proposed slow, deliberate, contemplative action in changing and ultimately correcting the many serious flaws in the existing systems of political order.
Unfortunately, the "Great Terrors" of the French revolution began just two years after the publication of his book. It's violence stunned and terrified the political and intellectual elite of Europe.
For various unconnected reasons and quite ironically, Godwin's name and his anarchic beliefs became immediately associated with the brutality and the chaos of the French Revolution itself.
To this day the term "anarchy" is misunderstood, especially in America, as a result of this mistaken association.
All this in spite of the fact that his work actually criticized severely the futility of sudden and violent action to achieve any political goals.
Nevertheless, in a matter of months his work was suddenly vilified by all of his former admirers (largely "fans" who had never actually bothered to read it), and his career came to an abrupt end while he was still in his early forties. Young indeed for such a highly respected intellectual!
The work speaks for itself, simple in its directness and quite eloquent.
I couldn't recommend it more highly to anyone interested in finding solutions to the vast miasma of political problems that face the world today!
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Kindle Edition
Godwin Expounds on the Stateless Society, which for me is quite a Practical thing to do under certain conditions. Throughout history many societies have done the Anarchist approach and succeeded. From the American homestead to certain societies in Central/South America. This book is a bit wordy but so was The Art of War. Godwin's book is a great inspiration though I don't "buy" the "greater good theory" but I like how he challenges Locke's Social Contract Theory(which I would challenge as well). Excellent Book to read. Comparable to Stirner and Goldman in many ways. Expand your mind, Transcend the Dogma today.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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