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Godwin, William (1756–1836)

William Godwin, the founder of philosophical anarchism and the author of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793)—one of the most significant political texts of its day—had a profound impact on a whole generation of writers, including the romantic poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron.

The son of a dissenting minister, Godwin briefly entered the clergy, where he became familiar with the radical politics of Richard Price, Joseph Priestley, Thomas Paine, and the French philosophers of the Enlightenment. His anarchist leanings emerged quite early in his career. A character in the first book Godwin published under his own name, Sketches of History (1784), declared, “God Himself has no right to be a tyrant.” Godwin's best-selling book, Political Justice, published during the French Revolution, established Godwin's fame ...

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