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Political Thought in England from Locke to Bentham
written by "Laski, Harold Joseph, 1893-1950"
...he last, to be founded upon an arithmetical fallacy which did not sit well upon a fellow of the Royal Society. His sermon on the French Revolution provoked the Reflections of Burke; and, though much of the right was on the side of Price, it can hardly be said that he survived Burke's onslaught. Yet he was a considerable figure in his day, and he shows, like Priestley, how deep-rooted was the English revolutionary temper. He has not, indeed, Priestley's superb optimism; for the rigid a priori morality of which he was the somewhat muddled defender was less favorable to a confidence in reason. He had a good deal of John Brown's fear that luxury was the seed of English degeneration; the proof of which he saw in the decline of the population. His figures, in fact, were false; but they were unessential to the general thesis he had to make. Price, like Priestley a leading Nonconformist, was stirred to print by the American Revolution; and if his views were not widely popular, his Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty (1776) attained its eighth edition within a decade. This, with its supplement Additional Observations (1777), presents a perfectly coherent theory. Nor is their ancestry concealed. They represent the tradition of Locke, modified by the importations of Rousseau. Price owes much to Priestley and to Hume, and he takes sentences from Montesquieu where they aid him. But he has little or nothing of Priestley's utilitarianism and the whole argument is upon the abstract basis of right. Liberty means self-government, and self-government means the right of every man to be his own legislator. Price, with strict logic, follows out this doctrine to its last consequence. Taxes become "free gifts for public services"; laws are "particular provisions or regulations established by Common Consent for gaining protection and safety"; magistrates are "trustees or deputies for carrying these regulations into execution." And almost in the words o...

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