Daniel Defoe’s moral and political thought in its religious context
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date29/11/2020
This thesis aims to provide a comprehensive picture of the religious ideas of the famous English journalist and novelist Daniel Defoe. Today, Defoe is best remembered as a novelist, but most of his works are non-fictional works including a sizable number of didactic or supernatural writings. Even though there is a rising scholarly interest in Defoe’s thoughts on subjects such as politics or Puritanism, there is hardly a single monograph devoted to Defoe’s religious ideas. This thesis aims to fill the gap by examining Defoe’s works throughout his career. It demonstrates that Defoe’s Presbyterian upbringing was influential in his emphasis on the ideas of good work, practical godliness, and the development of good habits. Furthermore, this thesis will demonstrate that Defoe proposed solutions to the problems of alcoholism and swearing in England of his age, on the basis of a neo-Augustinian view of human nature and his ideas on how to correct corrupt passions by manipulating other passions. Thus, Defoe shows that even though self-love and pride are impossible to eradicate, it was viable for the social and political elites to design a proper mechanism for the public to satisfy their vanity and meanwhile unintentionally improve their behaviour. Furthermore, this study offers a detailed examination of Defoe’s view of luxury in its contemporary context. It demonstrates that Defoe’s neo-Augustinian ideas of original sin and self-love are crucial to his argument about the futility of prohibiting consumption. Since luxury is a necessary vice that supports the livelihood of a vast number of people, it is prudent to ponder on the delicate difference between harmful squandering and healthy consumption. This thesis uses Defoe’s discussion of the dilemma of the businessmen engaged in luxury trade to shed light on Defoe’s contribution to the contemporary luxury debate. Following this, Defoe’s political views are examined, in particular his criticism of divine right theory. There will be a particular focus on Defoe’s emphasis on original sin and the corrupted nature of political leaders. Based on Defoe’s close reading of the Old Testament, this thesis examines his explanation of Adam and the Fall, and the idea of the transition from patriarchy to monarchy. The thesis demonstrates that Defoe’s use of the biblical accounts of Saul, Rehoboam and Jeroboam was part of his debate with the High-Churchmen concerning the legitimacy of the reign of William and Mary. Based on his distinctive combination of an Augustinian understanding of sin and human nature, natural law theories and biblical exegesis, Defoe provided original interpretations of the Old Testament and used Scripture to convey political messages. The final chapter examines Defoe’s use of the past. Defoe insisted that Moses and the Hebrews were given the knowledge of letters directly from God, and this gift confirmed the status of the Hebrews as a chosen people. Moreover, Defoe had a particular interest in the Phoenicians’ achievements in navigation and trade, which were another proof of God’s favour. Defoe argued that, judging by the improvement England had achieved in his era, Britain was the genuine successor of these two ancient peoples. This thesis makes clear the central role that religion played in Defoe’s works. By probing into his Augustinian understanding of human nature and his frequent references to the Old Testament, this research sheds light on and deepens the current scholarship’s understanding of Defoe’s ideas of morals, commerce, politics, and history.