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The Majesty of the PeoplePopular Sovereignty and the Role of the Writer in the 1790s$
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Georgina Green

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199689064

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199689064.001.0001

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William Godwin and the Passive Multitude

William Godwin and the Passive Multitude

Chapter:
(p.115) 5 William Godwin and the Passive Multitude
Source:
The Majesty of the People
Author(s):

Green Georgina

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199689064.003.0006

Through a discussion of Godwin’s Political Justice and The Enquirer, this chapter argues that Godwin is concerned about the passivity of mind or of the reasoning faculty encouraged by collective identities such as ‘the People’. While he replaces the sovereignty of will with the equally monistic sovereignty of reason, his method of accomplishing the sovereignty of reason is procedurally similar to a conception of representative government as the deferral of absolute sovereignty; reason, too, is an almost endlessly deferring ideal facilitated by an almost endless ‘collision of mind with mind’. In his concern to promote individual judgement as opposed to collective passivity, Godwin reflects on his reception, and on how texts can promote active reading rather than passive consumption, helping to clearly frame the concern of this book with the role of the writer in preparation for the final part.

Keywords:   Godwin, Political Justice, The Enquirer, Reason, reading, consumption, audience, reception

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