Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell Page: 28
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John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, a libertine poet in England during the Restoration period
(1660-1700), often wrote about the quandary between obeying reason and instincts. Moreover,
he took an elitist approach to this struggle in which he referred to the citizens making up the vast
majority in a commonwealth (or other form of civil government) as the "rabble." In fact, many
libertines, Rochester included, understood the necessity of social institutions for controlling the
lower socioeconomic classes, but did not see these laws perpetuated by the institutions as
applicable to themselves because of their status as upper class and affluent young men.
Disobeying these laws allowed libertines to gratify their own desires and solely obey their
instincts-and arguably live as if in the state of nature. However, these same laws did not afford
the "rabble" or members of the middle and lower classes the same luxury and rights to follow
their instincts and ignore the authority of social institutions. This less democratic view
Rochester embraces makes him anti-reason and anti-Enlightenment as well, while Hobbes's
seemingly elitist sentiments are actually more democratic than Rochester's views and
acknowledge that political equality exists for all individuals.
Though individuals are equal politically, Hobbes does not deem all individuals as capable
of fulfilling the role of sovereign in a civil government or successfully ruling themselves
individually in the state of nature. One reason Hobbes promotes commonwealths governed by
sovereigns and opposes the anarchic state of nature is that individuals rule themselves in the state
of nature. They cannot and should not self-govern themselves because they are not the best
qualified, unbiased judges of their own capabilities to do so because they cannot be as impartial
as a sovereign or other outside party. Despite how adept citizens believe themselves to be at
determining what both benefits them most and is in their best interests, individuals are ill-
equipped to determine whether or not they possess the qualities needed to govern, which is why
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Smith, Victoria. Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell, dissertation, May 2008; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc6051/m1/34/?q=rochester: accessed September 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .