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Based on the absence of a substantial political philosophy and a scandalous reputation, modern assessments of John Wilkes have tended to marginalise his role in the development of radical political ideas in England in the 1760s and 1770s. This evaluation is reassessed in the context of an analysis of Wilkes’s collaboration with Charles Churchill on the North Briton and his political writings of the period, in particular his Introduction to the History of England (1768). Furthermore, Wilkes enjoyed extensive and prolonged contact with the leading continental philosophers of the period, and in particular d’Holbach, Diderot, Suard, Helvétius, and Chastellux, which is reflected in their correspondence and political writings. Wilkes was a cosmopolitan figure whose political thought, while rooted in Lockean ideas, was convergent with that of contemporary philosophers and justify considering him as a principled defender, in his public life, of liberterian rather than libertine values.
Carruthers, S. (2003) John Wilkes and the Enlightenment. This article is a revised version of the author's MA dissertation submitted for an MA in Legal and Political Studies at University College London. All pre-1800 works were published in London unless otherwise stated. Translations in the footnotes are by the author.