The character of an independent Whig : a study of the work of John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, including a comparative analysis of the social and political thought of Bernard Mandeville
Traditionally Cato's Letters have been seen as a keynote text in the construction of the civic humanist paradigm, a perspective which has come to dominate contemporary understanding of the intellectual currents at work in the shaping of eighteenth century Britain and America. Within this paradigm the Letters have been viewed as emblematic of a 'neo-Harringtonian' critique of Court corruption and the 'new economic order'. However there are significant problems with this interpretation and this thesis argues that the attitude of Trenchard and Gordon towards Walpole's ministry was more nuanced than is usually suggested; that they were prepared to lend his administration their support when occasion demanded. Against the trend to downplay the religious and ideological differences between Whigs and Tories, in order to prioritise the Court-Country division, this thesis suggests that Trenchard and Gordon's position towards Walpole can best be understood in terms of their commitment to traditional Whig principles of freedom of conscience and opposition to arbitrary rule, rather than on the basis of a preoccupation with issues of wealth and virtue. Contrary to the accepted view that Trenchard and Gordon were opposed to commerce and the financial instruments which it generated, and that they viewed a society motivated by self-interest as a threat to civic virtue and liberty, this thesis contends that their 'scientific' political and moral philosophy both naturalised self-interest and redrew it as the foundation of liberty. In the process of calling into question 'Cato's' status as a civic humanist icon, this thesis also points to similarities between Trenchard and Gordon's thought and that of Bernard Mandeville, who conventionally has been represented as Cato's antithesis. By comparing the work of all three writers, and the way in which they were viewed by contemporaries, it is argued that in terms of religious, political and moral philosophy there are major points of convergence in their ideology.