Tuesday, December 23, 2008

William Cobbett's "The Emigrant's Guide"

No, we're not suggesting that anyone leave the United States to get ahead in these difficult times. We'd just like to announce that our latest publication, a new, annotated edition of The Emigrant's Guide by William Cobbett, is available for sale on Amazon, and will probably be up on Barnes and Noble within a short time. The book features an in-depth foreword by CESJ's Director of Research, which explains the context of the book and shows how Cobbett's thought fits in with the principles of the Just Third Way.

We'll be sending out some press releases in the near future, but loyal blog readers and participants in the Kelso Binary Economics Discussion Group have the opportunity to get in ahead of the crowd and get their copy before the rush starts. To purchase a copy retail, go to the link above for Amazon (or Barnes and Noble, when we get it), or put in a special order at your local bookstore. The ISBN for our edition is 0-944997-01-5 (10-digit) or 978-0944997017 (13-digit), and the cover price is $20.00. If you want to purchase quantities in bulk (e.g., ten or more copies), you can order direct from CESJ for $16.00 per copy plus shipping of $1.50 per copy within the continental United States. As the back cover of The Emigrant's Guide will inform you,
William Cobbett (1763-1835) was a British journalist, reformer, and politician. Greatly admired by Gilbert Keith Chesterton (With Hilaire Belloc the found of "distributism") and Dorothy Day of the "Catholic Worker Movement," Cobbett's continuing theme was the economic disenfranchisement of the average person. To Cobbett economic power was rooted in one thing: access to the means of acquiring and possessing private productive property, which more and more modern commentators are beginning to realize is the basis of a sound political as well as economic order. As Chesterton said of Cobbett, "The chief mark of the modern man has been that he has gone through a landscape with his eyes glued to a guidebook, and could actually deny in the one, anything that he could not find in the other. One man, however, happened to look up from the book and see things for himself; he was a man of too impatient a temper, and later he showed too hasty a disposition to tear the book up or toss the book away. But there had been granted to him a strange and high and heroic sort of faith. He could believe his eyes."
To get the most out of the book, you might want to be familiar with the work of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose Democracy in America (the first volume of which was published the year Cobbett died) gives a much broader and institutional view of the United States that fits very well with Cobbett's extremely personal approach. Although certainly not in the same class as de Tocqueville's masterpiece (considered the first great work of sociology), Cobbett's Emigrant's Guide gives a unique, personal perspective on Jacksonian America that cannot be obtained from textbooks or formal histories, that fleshes out Democracy in America better than all the learned lectures or heavy treatises on what America was "really like" in the early 19th century.

You don't need to read de Tocqueville to appreciate Cobbett, however, be a diehard Chestertonian, or even think of Cobbett as the "Apostle of Distributism," as Chesterton put it. From the first sentence you'll realize you've got hold of an extremely opinionated, often irascible, yet (in a paradox that probably delighted Chesterton) kindly man who kept the individual as well as social good of himself and others always in the forefront. He's also extremely entertaining, as a reader of any of Cobbett's other books can tell you.

Although weighing in at 200 pages or so (not counting the extended foreword of more than 40 pages), the book is a quick and enjoyable read. It is head and shoulders above other "how to" manuals and guides due to Cobbett's obvious interest in actual people, rather than in demographic classes, movements, or anything other than the essential dignity of the human person. Nor do you have to agree with Cobbett in every particular, or even most particulars to gain "instruction and amusement" from the book, any more than you have to be an English pauper in the early 19th century to derive pleasure and a little bit of learning.

Try it. I think you'll like it.

2 comments:

nail-in-the-wall said...

"From a very early age, I had imbibed the opinion, that it was every man's duty to do all that lay in his power to leave his country as good as he had found it." -- William Cobbett

More on William Cobbett by G. K. Chesterton. (HERE)

Michael D. Greaney said...

You do know, Guy, that The Emigrant's Guide is available in a wonderful CESJ edition that includes a terrific foreword explaining how Cobbett's thought and distributism fits into the Just Third Way.

Also, I think I accidentally classified one of your postings as "spam." I was sure I hit the "This ain't spam" button, but the posting completely disappeared . . . and I think the MIBs are after you now.

And you know what? Those little HTML tags really do work!