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Myths About Godwin

There are many common myths about Godwin. One is that he was a socialist (or even a communist). Another that he was a revolutionary (actually there is an anti-revolutions chapter in Political Justice). Another that he was an opponent of Burke (actually he praised Burke several times). Here is one of the more offensive myths:

A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell, p. 28
Thomas Paine's equally polemical reply, The Rights of Man (1791), anticipated in many ways the more systematic unfolding of the unconstrained vision by Godwin two years later [in Political Justice].
Paine's book is in favor of violence, which Godwin detested, and is fully unserious and hateful. The quality of argument is extremely low. Paine simply did not understand Burke's arguments, and so replied with insults and vague utopian grandeur. Godwin, who appreciated Burke and tradition both, and wrote serious and thoughtful arguments, was nothing like Paine.

I don't think Sowell believes this myth due to a political bias. When he says "equally polemical" the other book in question is _Reflections on the Revolution in France_ by Edmund Burke. That is a horrible libel directed at Burke, who Sowell considers a conservative like himself. In fact, Burke's book was not a polemic, and is not comparable to Paine's. Burke wrote a thoughtful, well-argued, objective, serious, and fair book.

Elliot Temple on December 29, 2008


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