After having detailed a thousand years of failures in centralization, our author surveys the rise of modern nation-states in Europe.
Though plagued by their own illiberal aspects, the early Protestant churches succeeded in breaking the Roman monopoly on European spiritual life.
Following the Reformation’s successful division of spiritual authority, the English Civil Wars opened space for civil society to sharply disrupt absolutism.
Our author concludes with a sobering analysis of the French Revolution, and the declaration that all power is dangerous and demanding of limitation.
“Can our condition be any worse? Can it be more mean and abject?…They cannot treat us worse; for they well know the day they do it they are gone.”
“Should tyrants take it into their heads to emancipate any of you, remember that your freedom is your natural right…God will dash tyrants…into atoms.”
“Man is a godlike being. We launch ourselves in conceit into illimitable space, and take up our rest beyond the fixed stars.”
“I am inclined to believe, that…every human creature is endowed with talents which…shew him to be apt, adroit, intelligent and acute.”
No class holds a monopoly on talent. Rather, “Every human creature…is endowed with talents, which…shew him to be apt, adroit, intelligent and acute.”
“There [is a contest] between the face of the earth…and the ingenuity of man…We cover immense regions of the globe with the tokens of human cultivation.”
“Man is in truth a miracle. The human mind is a creature of celestial origin, shut up and confined in a wall of flesh.”
“When we look at human society…we [can] imagine that men might subsist very well in clusters and congregated bodies without the coercion of law…”
“What an empire does the man of leisure possess in each single day of his life! He disposes of his hours much…as the commander [does his soldiers].”
“The mind is in a state of turbulence and tempest in one instant, and in another subsides into the deepest imbecility.”
Godwin compares the rather charmed life of a school boy with the difficult, tedious, taxing drudgery experienced by average Britons.
Godwin believed that most human beings are brute and imitative, making those precious few liberated individual minds all the more important.
If methodological individualists in the social sciences say literally every action is motivated by self-interest, is there no room for self-sacrifice?
If we don’t have free will, could we know it? William Godwin offers some speculative answers and discusses the implications of free will.