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William Godwin, anarchist
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WILLIAM GODWIN, (1756-1836)
English philosopher, anarchist.

The first mordern anarchist writer, friend of William Blake & Paine, spouse of Mary Wollstonecraft & father of Mary Shelley.

Works include: Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, & a social justice novel, Caleb Williams.

Godwin was the inspiring intelligence behind the humanist attitudes of the English Romantic poets & Utopian societies his spiritual anarchism is still a relevant concept.

       Vancouver Sun

William Godwin was a English political philosopher who, while in the ministry for which he was trained, had cast off his Toryism & Calvinism & achieved a place of first importance as the interpreter to England of the French Encyclopedists.

Godwin's ideal society is intensely equalitarian & a complete anarchy, although he tolerated the idea of a loosely knit democratic transition that would witness the withering of the State. Strongly antiviolence & completely rationalistic he carried his doctrine to the point of total alteration in human relations. Ignoring economics & starting from a highly individualistic psychology, he argued for education & social conditioning as the chief factors in character formation.

Enquiry Concerning Political Justice ? develops the thought of the prerevolutionary school, is strongly influenced by Helvetius, & is an argument for the perfectibility of the human species by way of a refutation of contradictory theories & examination of such conditions as will perfect the human community. In the philosophical debate over 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.

In 1796 he renewed an acquaintance with Mary Wollstonecraft. They took up residence together &, with the approaching birth of their child & 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 Political 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)

William Godwin, by Clifford Harper

  • See Kropotkin's Encyclopaedia Britannica for context,

  • See Burn anarchist author index at

  • Bright Lights Anarchist Archives, at

  • Black Rose Books,

  • Godwin's Place in the Anarchist Tradition by Kenneth C. Wenzer (Social Anarchism, Number 20, 1995)

  • In French,

    Writings online, see:

    Spunk press, The Authority of Government, from 'An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice' (1793).

  • ?

    William Godwin lampooned ?

    Page last updated March 2003

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