1st Edition

The Political Thought of Thomas Spence Beyond Poverty and Empire

By Matilde Cazzola Copyright 2022
    282 Pages
    by Routledge

    282 Pages
    by Routledge

    The book is an intellectual analysis of the political ideas of English radical thinker Thomas Spence (1750–1814), who was renowned for his "Plan", a proposal for the abolition of private landownership and the replacement of state institutions with a decentralized parochial organization. This system would be realized by means of the revolution of the "swinish multitude", the poor labouring class despised by Edmund Burke and adopted by Spence as his privileged political interlocutor. While he has long been considered an eccentric and anachronistic figure, the book sets out to demonstrate that Spence was a deeply original, thoroughly modern thinker, who translated his themes into a popular language addressing the multitude and publicized his Plan through chapbooks, tokens, and songs. The book is therefore a history of Spence's political thought "from below", designed to decode the subtle complexity of his Plan. It also shows that the Plan featured an excoriating critique of colonialism and slavery as well as a project of global emancipation. By virtue of its transnational scope, the Plan made landfall in the British West Indies a few years after Spence's death. Indeed, Spencean ideas were intellectually implicated in the largest slave revolt in the history of Barbados.

    Introduction: "Pearls for Pigs"

    1. Spence and His Worlds

    2. The Modernity of the Plan

    3. Into the Revolution

    4. The Plan’s Atlantic Theatre

    5. Neither Public nor Private

    Conclusion: Beyond Eccentricity


    Matilde Cazzola is a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory in Frankfurt Am Main.

    "Thomas Spence, a profound but little known thinker of the revolutionary Atlantic, has long deserved a first-rate biographer and at long last he has found one.  Matilde Cazzola brilliantly reveals why Spence was a visionary political philosopher for his own time -- and why he remains one for ours."

    Marcus Rediker, co-author of The Many Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic