Book 5, Chapter 24 : Of the Dissolution of Government

Revolt Library >> Anarchism >> An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue, Fourth Edition >> Book 00005, Chapter 00024



(1756 - 1836) ~ Respected Anarchist Philosopher and Sociologist of the Enlightenment Era : His most famous work, An Inquiry concerning Political Justice, appeared in 1793, inspired to some extent by the political turbulence and fundamental restructuring of governmental institutions underway in France. Godwin's belief is that governments are fundamentally inimical to the integrity of the human beings living under their strictures... (From : University of Pennsylvania Bio.)
• "Courts are so encumbered and hedged in with ceremony, that the members of them are always prone to imagine that the form is more essential and indispensable, than the substance." (From : "Instructions to a Statesman," by William Godwin.)
• "Fickleness and instability, your lordship will please to observe, are of the very essence of a real statesman." (From : "Instructions to a Statesman," by William Godwin.)
• "Anarchy and darkness will be the original appearance. But light shall spring out of the noon of night; harmony and order shall succeed the chaos." (From : "Instructions to a Statesman," by William Godwin.)


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Book 5, Chapter 24




     Political authority of a national assembly--
      of juries. -- Consequence from the whole.

IT remains for us to consider what is the degree of authority necessary to be vested in such a modified species of national assembly as we have admitted into our system. Are they to issue their commands to the different members of the confederacy? Or is it sufficient that they should invite them to co-operate for the cornmon advantage, and, by arguments and addresses, convince them of the reasonableness of the measures they propose? The former of these might at first be necessary. The latter would afterwards become sufficient.1 The

Amphictyonic council of Greece possessed no authority but that which flowed from its personal character. In proportion as the spirit of party was extirpated, as the restlessness of public commotion subsided, and as the political machine became simple, the voice of reason would be secure to be heard. An appeal, by the assembly, to the several districts would not fail to unite the approbation of reasonable men unless it contained in it something so evidently questionable as to make it perhaps desirable that it should prove abortive.

This remark leads us one step further. Why should not the same distinction between commands and invitations, which we have just made in the case of national assemblies, be applied to the particular assemblies or juries of the several districts? At first, we will suppose that some degree of authority and violence would be necessary. But this necessity does not appear to arise out of the nature of man, but out of the institutions by which he has been corrupted. Man is not originally vicious. He would not refuse to listen to, or to be convinced by, the expostulations that are addressed to him, had he not been accustomed to regard them as hypocritical, and to conceive that, while his neighbor, his parent, and his political governor pretended to be actuated by a pure regard to his interest or pleasure, they were, in reality, at the expense of his, promoting their own. Such are the fatal effects of mysteriousness and complexity. Simplify the social system in the manner which every motive but those of usurpation and ambition powerfully recommends; render the plain dictates of justice level to every capacity; remove the necessity of implicit faith; and we may expect the whole species to become reasonable and virtuous. It might then be sufficient for juries to recommend a certain mode of adjusting controversies, without assuming the prerogative of dictating that adjustment. It might then be sufficient for them to invite offenders to forsake their errors. If their expostulations proved, in a few instances, ineffectual, the evils arising out of this circumstance would be of less importance than those which proceed from the perpetual violation of the exercise of private judgment. But, in reality, no evils would arise: for, where the empire of reason was so universally acknowledged, the offender would either readily yield to the expostulations of authority; or, if he resisted, though suffering no personal molestation, he would feel so uneasy, under the unequivocal disapprobation, and observant eye, of public judgment, as willingly to remove to a society more congenial to his errors.

The reader has probably anticipated the ultimate conclusion from these remarks. If juries might at length cease to decide, and be contented to invite, if force might gradually be withdrawn and reason trusted alone, shall we not one day find that juries themselves and every other species of public institution may be laid aside as unnecessary? Will not the reasonings of one wise man be as effectual as those of twelve? Will not the competence of one individual to instruct his neighbors be a matter of Su fficient notoriety, without the formality of an election? Will there be many vises to correct, and,much obstinacy to conquer? This is one of the most memorable stages of human improvement. With what delight must every well informed friend of mankind look forward to the auspicious period, the dissolution of political government, of that brute engine which has been the only perennial cause of the vises of mankind, and which, as has abundantly appeared in the progress of the present work, has mischiefs of various sorts incorporated with its substance, and no otherwise removable than by its utter annihilation!


1Such is the idea of the author of Gulliver's Travles (Part IV), a man who appears to have had a more profound insight into the true principles of politcal justice than any preceding or contemporary author. It was unfortunate that a work of such inestimable wisdom failed at the period of its publication from the mere playfulness of its form, in communicating adequate instruction to mankind. Posterity only will be able to estimate it as it deserves.

From : Anarchy Archives


November 30, 1792 :
Book 5, Chapter 24 -- Publication.

January 26, 2017 19:39:58 :
Book 5, Chapter 24 -- Added to

March 19, 2019 15:09:24 :
Book 5, Chapter 24 -- Last Updated on


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