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The political ideas of William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

Garnett, Mark Alan (1990) The political ideas of William Hazlitt (1778-1830). Masters thesis, Durham University.



The purpose of the thesis was to examine William Hazlitt's political thought from the viewpoint of the history of ideas. Such a study should lead to a greater appreciation of his value as a political critic. The received notion that he was a radical provided a starting-point for investigation. Hazlitt's theoretical work in philosophy and politics was found to be of interest, but his views on contemporary personalities and events are more revealing. He opposed hereditary despotism, but not all forms of monarchy, and he was ambivalent about the possibility and propriety of constitutional reform. His criticism of "progressive" thinkers such as Robert Owen was more destructive than his critique of the conservative Edmund Burke, despite the superficial hostility of the latter work. Emotionally, he sided with Whigs and reformers, but this was a half-hearted commitment, and his analysis reveals some sympathy for their opponents. In order to properly judge Hazlitt's political position, a framework was devised by which ideological evidence may be appraised with maximum objectivity. Ideologies, it is argued, are ethical understandings of the world which arise from varying views of human nature. It was found that Hazlitt’s view that human nature is a mixture of passion and reason was more pessimistic than that held by most contemporary liberals. His position is best described as conservative liberalism. It was not radicalism, which implies a rigid notion of the best form of human society. This interpretation helps to explain some of Hazlitt's views which have puzzled previous commentators, such as his admiration for Napoleon. His ambivalence permitted him to respond to characters and events with unusual flexibility when his volatile temper allowed, although it made systematic work unlikely. He is a perceptive and often objective critic who deserves greater recognition outside literary studies.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:1990
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:18 Dec 2012 12:07

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