Enlightened conservatism: John Galt on law, morality and human nature
History of European Ideas
183 - 196
Item Usage Stats
MetadataShow full item record
The Scottish historical novelist, John Galt assumed that the origins of law rested on the anarchistic and primitive nature of human beings, who formed a society on a contractual basis out of the need for security. Although generally agreeing with enlightenment thinkers on the formation of society, law and human nature a divergence in Galt's thought appeared in the secular treatment of crimes. Adhering to prevalent Christian notions about sin and crime, Galt rejected a clear distinction between the two, and between morality and law, such as were upheld by such enlightenment figures as Cesare Beccaria. Such a clear distinction failed in its analysis of the phenomena. He was at one with Enlightenment-influenced thought in its criticism of cruel punishments and advocated a humanitarian approach to the criminal, but he also emphasised education in Christian morality as the most appropriate means of deterrence. This divergence from more radical enlightenment views sprang from his lack of confidence in the capacities of human reason. Nevertheless, a fundamentally humanist philosophy and a belief in the importance of learning linked his conservatism with an enlightenment belief in human progress. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.