Docstoc

John Thelwall, The Rights of Man and the right to live Radical

Document Sample
John Thelwall, The Rights of Man and the right to live Radical Powered By Docstoc
					John Thelwall, The Rights of Man and the right to live: Radical politics, the
people and political economy in the 1790s.

Richard Sheldon, Department of Historical Studies, University of Bristol

In his lecture tour of 1795 Thelwall turned to one of the burning topics of the day,
debated in all forums of public life from marketplace grumbling to Pitt’s cabinet: ‘the
causes of the dearness and scarcity of provisions’. This question had been discussed
at a varying pitch of intensity from the 1760s onwards. Adam Smith and others
influenced by enlightenment political economy held that modern commercial
societies, for all their glaring inequalities, provided the best opportunities for the poor
to glean a decent subsistence through the encouragement of market-driven
agriculture. Alongside the other fundamental questions of politics debated in the
1790s, this elemental question of right was also tested. Recent scholarship has
highlighted the subsistence debates at the close of the eighteenth century as a key
forum for the reception of political economy. This was, after all, the decade that saw
Malthus refusing a place for the poor at nature’s mighty feast and Burke denying the
natural right to subsistence. An older generation of radicals including Spence argued
to the contrary that it was precisely these changes that threatened to deny the poor
their ‘right to live’. Others looked back at the natural right tradition, arguing that in
extraordinary times, such as a threatened famine, the rights to exist overrode the
positive law of private property and should lead to a reinstitution of the original
community of goods. A modern example of this was thought to be embodied in
Robespierre’s law of the maximum. Following a long discussion over three lectures
in April and May, Thelwall proposed to find the remedy in ‘A loud, a fervid, and
resolute remonstrance with our rulers’. This paper examines Thelwall’s approach in
the lectures and his later Rights of Nature, questioning the effectiveness of
radicalism’s response to economic questions.

				
DOCUMENT INFO
Shared By:
Categories:
Stats:
views:9
posted:2/23/2010
language:English
pages:1
Description: John Thelwall, The Rights of Man and the right to live Radical