The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Godwin, William (1756–1836)

  • Peter Marshall
Reference work entry


The first and greatest exponent of philosophical anarchism, Godwin was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire in 1756. He was brought up in the Dissenting tradition in Norfolk, attended Hoxton Academy, and became a candidate minister. He gradually lost his faith, and in his late twenties turned to political journalism for the Whig cause. Inspired by the French Revolution, he wrote An Enquiry concerning Political Justice (1793). It earned him immediate recognition: ‘no work in our time’, Hazlitt wrote, ‘gave such a blow to the philosophic mind of the country’. His novel Caleb Williams (1794) was considered no less of a masterpiece. But as the reaction to the French Revolution grew, so Godwin’s reputation waned. Despite a long series of grew, so Godwin’s reputation waned. Despite a long series of novels, histories, plays, essays and children’s books, he was unable to recapture the public imagination. He died in 1836, and was buried beside the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who had died in childbirth. Their daughter Mary eloped with Godwin’s greatest disciple, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Marshall
    • 1
  1. 1.