The Man versus the State

by Herbert Spencer






    The Westminster Review for April 1860, contained an article

entitled "Parliamentary Reform: the Dangers and the Safeguards."

In that article I ventured to predict some results of political

changes then proposed.

    Reduced to its simplest expression, the thesis maintained was

that, unless due precautions were taken, increase of freedom in

form would be followed by decrease of freedom in fact. Nothing

has occurred to alter the belief I then expressed. The drift of

legislation since that time has been of the kind anticipated.

Dictatorial measures, rapidly multiplied, have tended continually

to narrow the liberties of individuals; and have done this in a

double way. Regulations have been made in yearly-growing numbers,

restraining the citizen in directions where his actions were

previously unchecked, and compelling actions which previously he

might perform or not as he liked; and at the same time heavier

public burdens, chiefly local, have further restricted his

freedom, by lessening that portion of his earnings which he can

spend as he pleases, and augmenting the portion taken from him to

be spent as public agents please.

    The causes of these foretold effects, then in operation,

continue in operation -- are, indeed, likely to be strengthened;

and finding that the conclusions drawn respecting these causes

and effects have proved true, I have been prompted to set forth

and emphasize kindred conclusions respecting the future, and do

what little may be done towards awakening attention to threatened


    For this purpose were written the four following articles,

originally published in the Contemporary Review for February,

April, May, June and July of this year. To meet certain

criticisms and to remove some of the objections likely to be

raised, I have now added a postscript.


Bayswater, July, 1884




    [63]Most of those who now pass as Liberals, are Tories of a new

type. This is a paradox which I propose to justify. That I may

justify it, I must first point out what the two political parties

originally were; and I must then ask the reader to bear with me

while I remind him of facts he is familiar with, that I may

impress on him the intrinsic natures of Toryism and Liberalism

properly so called.

    Dating back to an earlier period than their names, the two

political parties at first stood respectively for two opposed

types of social organization, broadly distinguishable as the

militant and the industrial—types which are characterized, the

one by the regime of status, almost universal in ancient days,

and the other by the regime of contract, which has become general

in modern days, chiefly among the Western nations, and especially

among ourselves and the Americans. If, instead of using the word

"co-operation" in a limited sense, we use it in its widest sense,

as signifying the combined activities of citizens under whatever

system of regulation; then these two are definable as the system

of compulsory co-operation and the system of voluntary

co-operation. The typical structure of the one we see in an army

formed of conscripts, in which the units in their several grades

have to fulfil commands under pain of death, and receive food and

clothing and pay, arbitrarily apportioned; while the typical

structure of the other we see in a body of producers or

distributors, who severally agree to specified payments in return

for specified services, and may at will, after due notice, leave

the organization if they do not like it.

    During social evolution in England, the distinction between

these two fundamentally-opposed forms of co-operation, made its

appearance gradually; but long before the names Tory and Whig

came into use, the parties were becoming traceable, and their

connexions with militancy [64]and industrialism respectively, were

vaguely shown. The truth is familiar that, here as elsewhere, it

was habitually by town-populations, formed of workers and traders

accustomed to co-operate under contract, that resistances were

made to that coercive rule which characterizes co-operation under

status. While, conversely, cooperation under status, arising

from, and adjusted to, chronic warfare, was supported in rural

districts, originally peopled by military chiefs and their

dependents, where the primitive ideas and traditions survived.

Moreover, this contrast in political leanings, shown before Whig

and Tory principles became clearly distinguished, continued to be

shown afterwards. At the period of the Revolution, "while the

villages and smaller towns were monopolized by Tories, the larger

cities, the manufacturing districts, and the ports of commerce,

formed the strongholds of the Whigs." And that, spite of

exceptions, the like general relation still exists, needs no


    Such were the natures of the two parties as indicated by

their origins. Observe, now, how their natures were indicated by

their early doctrines and deeds. Whiggism began with resistance

to Charles II and his cabal, in their efforts to re-establish

unchecked monarchical power. The Whigs "regarded the monarchy as

a civil institution, established by the nation for the benefit of

all its members;" while with the Tories "the monarch was the

delegate of heaven." And these doctrines involved the beliefs,

the one that subjection of citizen to ruler was conditional, and

the other that it was unconditional. Describing Whig and Tory as

conceived at the end of the seventeenth century, some fifty years

before he wrote his Dissertation on Parties, Bolingbroke says:


"The power and majesty of the people, an original contract, the

authority and independency of Parliaments, liberty, resistance,

exclusion, abdication, deposition; these were ideas associated,

at that time, to the idea of a Whig, and supposed by every Whig

to be incommunicable, and inconsistent with the idea of a Tory.


"Divine, hereditary, indefeasible right, lineal succession,

passive-obedience, prerogative, non-resistance, slavery, nay, and

[65]sometimes popery too, were associated in many minds to the idea

of a Tory, and deemed incommunicable and inconsistent, in the

same manner, with the idea of a Whig." Dissertation on Parties,

p. 5 [1735, p. 4].


And if we compare these descriptions, we see that in the one

party there was a desire to resist and decrease the coercive

power of the ruler over the subject, and in the other party to

maintain or increase his coercive power. This distinction in

their aims—a distinction which transcends in meaning and

importance all other political distinctions—was displayed in

their early doings. Whig principles were exemplified in the

Habeas Corpus Act, and in the measure by which judges were made

independent of the Crown; in defeat of the Non-Resisting Test

Bill, which proposed for legislators and officials a compulsory

oath that they would in no case resist the king by arms; and,

later, they were exemplified in the Bill of rights, framed to

secure subjects against monarchical aggressions. These Acts had

the same intrinsic nature. The principle of compulsory

co-operation throughout social life was weakened by them, and the

principle of voluntary co-operation strengthened. That at a

subsequent period the policy of the party had the same general

tendency, is well shown by a remark of Mr Green concerning the

period of Whig power after the death of Anne:


"Before the fifty years of their rule had passed, Englishmen had

forgotten that it was possible to persecute for differences of

religion, or to put down the liberty of the press, or to tamper

with the administration of justice, or to rule without a


        Short History, p. 705.

[J. R. Green, Short History of the English People, London, 1874.

The (later) editions which I have been able to consult have

'opinion' in place of 'religion'.]


    And now, passing over the war-period which closed the last

century and began this, during which that extension of individual

freedom previously gained was lost, and the retrograde movement

towards the social type proper to militancy was shown by all

kinds of coercive measures, from those which took by force the

persons and property of citizens for war-purposes to those which

suppressed public meetings and sought to gag the press, let us

recall the general characters of those changes effected by Whigs

or Liberals after the reestablishment of peace permitted [66]revival

of the industrial regime and return to its appropriate type of

structure. Under growing Whig influence there came repeal of the

laws forbidding combinations among artisans, as well as of those

which interfered with their freedom of travelling. There was the

measure by which, under Whig pressure, Dissenters were allowed to

believe as they pleased without suffering certain civil

penalties; and there was the Whig measure, carried by Tories

under compulsion, which enabled Catholics to profess their

religion without losing part of their freedom. The area of

liberty was extended by Acts which forbade the buying of negroes

and the holding of them in bondage. The East India Company's

monopoly was abolished, and trade with the East made open to all.

The political serfdom of the unrepresented was narrowed in area,

both by the Reform Bill and the Municipal Reform Bill; so that

alike generally and locally, the many were less under the

coercion of the few. Dissenters, no longer obliged to submit to

the ecclesiastical form of marriage, were made free to wed by a

purely civil rite. Later came diminution and removal of

restraints on the buying of foreign commodities and the

employment of foreign vessels and foreign sailors; and later

still the removal of those burdens on the press which were

originally imposed to hinder the diffusion of opinion. And of all

these changes it is unquestionable that, whether made or not by

Liberals themselves, they were made in conformity with principles

professed and urged by Liberals.

    But why do I enumerate facts so well known to all? Simply

because, as intimated at the outset, it seems needful to remind

everybody what Liberalism was in the past, that they may perceive

its unlikeness to the so-called Liberalism of the present. It

would be inexcusable to name these various measures for the

purpose of pointing out the character common to them, were it not

that in our day men have forgotten their common character. They

do not remember that, in one or other way, all these truly

Liberal changes diminished compulsory co-operation throughout

social life and increased voluntary cooperation. They have

forgotten that, in one direction or other, they diminished [67]the

range of governmental authority, and increased the area within

which each citizen may act unchecked. They have lost sight of the

truth that in past times Liberalism habitually stood for

individual freedom versus State-coercion.

    And now comes the inquiry—How is it that Liberals have

lost sight of this? How is it that Liberalism, getting more and

more into power, has grown more and more coercive in its

legislation? How is it that, either directly through its own

majorities or indirectly through aid given in such cases to the

majorities of its opponents, Liberalism has to an increasing

extent adopted the policy of dictating the actions of citizens,

and, by consequence, diminishing the range throughout which their

actions remain free? How are we to explain this spreading

confusion of thought which has led it, in pursuit of what appears

to be public good, to invert the method by which in earlier days

it achieved public good?

    Unaccountable as at first sight this unconscious change of

policy seems, we shall find that it has arisen quite naturally.

Given the unanalytical thought ordinarily brought to bear on

political matters, and, under existing conditions, nothing else

was to be expected. To make this clear some parenthetic

explanations are needful.


    From the lowest to the highest creatures, intelligence

progresses by acts of discrimination; and it continues so to

progress among men, from the most ignorant to the most cultured.

To class rightly—to put in the same group things which are of

essentially the same natures, and in other groups things of

natures essentially different is the fundamental condition to

right guidance of actions. Beginning with rudimentary vision,

which gives warning that some large opaque body is passing near

(just as closed eyes turned to the window, perceiving the shade

caused by a hand put before them, tells us of something moving in

front), the advance is to developed vision, which, by

exactly-appreciated combinations of forms, colours, and motions,

identifies objects at great distances as prey or enemies, and so

makes it possible to improve the adjustments of conduct for

securing food or evading death. That progressing per-[68]ception of

differences and consequent greater correctness of classing,

constitutes, under one of its chief aspects, the growth of

intelligence, is equally seen when we pass from the relatively

simple physical vision to the relatively complex intellectual

vision -- the vision through the agency of which, things

previously grouped by certain eternal resemblances or by certain

extrinsic circumstances, come to be more truly grouped in

conformity with their intrinsic structures or natures.

Undeveloped intellectual vision is just as indiscriminating and

erroneous in its classings as undeveloped physical vision.

Instance the early arrangement of plants into the groups, trees,

shrubs, and herbs: size, the most conspicuous trait, being the

ground of distinction; and the assemblages formed being such as

united many plants extremely unlike in their natures, and

separated others that are near akin. Or still better, take the

popular classification which puts together under the same general

name, fish and shell-fish, and under the sub-name, shell-fish,

puts together crustaceans and molluscs; nay, which goes further,

and regards as fish the cetacean mammals. Partly because of the

likeness in their modes of life as inhabiting the water, and

partly because of some general resemblance in their flavours,

creatures that are in their essential natures far more widely

separated than a fish is from a bird, are associated in the same

class and in the same sub-class.

    Now the general truth thus exemplified, holds throughout

those higher ranges of intellectual vision concerned with things

not presentable to the senses, and, among others, such things as

political institutions and political measures. For when thinking

of these, too, the results of inadequate intellectual faculty, or

inadequate culture of it, or both, are erroneous classings and

consequent erroneous conclusions. Indeed, the liability to error

is here much greater; since the things with which the intellect

is concerned do not admit of examination in the same easy way.

You cannot touch or see a political institution: it can be known

only by an effort of constructive imagination. Neither can you

apprehend by physical perception a political measure: this no

less requires a process of mental representation by which its

elements are [69]put together in thought, and the essential nature of

the combination conceived. Here, therefore, still more than in

the cases above named, defective intellectual vision is shown in

grouping by eternal characters, or extrinsic circumstances. How

institutions are wrongly classed from this cause, we see in the

common notion that the Roman Republic was a popular form of

government. Look into the early ideas of the French

revolutionists who aimed at an ideal state of freedom, and you

find that the political forms and deeds of the Romans were their

models; and even now a historian might be named who instances the

corruptions of the Roman Republic as showing us what popular

government leads to. Yet the resemblance between the institutions

of the Romans and free institutions properly so-called, was less

than that between a shark and a porpoise—a resemblance of

general eternal form accompanying widely different internal

structures. For the Roman Government was that of a small

oligarchy within a larger oligarchy: the members of each being

unchecked autocrats. A society in which the relatively few men

who had political power, and were in a qualified sense free, were

so many petty despots, holding not only slaves and dependents but

even children in a bondage no less absolute than that in which

they held their cattle, was, by its intrinsic nature, more nearly

allied to an ordinary despotism than to a society of citizens

politically equal.

    Passing now to our special question, we may understand the

kind of confusion in which Liberalism has lost itself; and the

origin of those mistaken classings of political measures which

have misled it classings, as we shall see, by conspicuous eternal

traits instead of by internal natures. For what, in the popular

apprehension and in the apprehension of those who effected them,

were the changes made by Liberals in the past? They were

abolitions of grievances suffered by the people, or by portions

of them: this was the common trait they had which most impressed

itself on men's minds. They were mitigations of evils which had

directly or indirectly been felt by large classes of citizens, as

causes of misery or as hindrances to happiness. And since, in the

minds of most, a rectified evil is equivalent to an [70]achieved

good, these measures came to be thought of as so many positive

benefits; and the welfare of the many came to be conceived alike

by Liberal statesmen and Liberal voters as the aim of Liberalism.

Hence the confusion. The gaining of a popular good, being the

eternal conspicuous trait common to Liberal measures in earlier

days (then in each case gained by a relaxation of restraints), it

has happened that popular good has come to be sought by Liberals,

not as an end to be indirectly gained by relaxations of

restraints, but as the end to be directly gained. And seeking to

gain it directly, they have used methods intrinsically opposed to

those originally used.

    And now, having seen how this reversal of policy has arisen

(or partial reversal, I should say, for the recent Burials Act

and the efforts to remove all remaining religious inequalities,

show continuance of the original policy in certain directions),

let us proceed to contemplate the extent to which it has been

carried during recent times, and the still greater extent to

which the future will see it carried if current ideas and

feelings continue to predominate.


    Before proceeding, it may be well to say that no reflections

are intended on the motives which prompted one after another of

these various restraints and dictations. These motives were

doubtless in nearly all cases good. It must be admitted that the

restrictions placed by an Act of 1870, on the employment of women

and children in Turkey-red dyeing works, were, in intention, no

less philanthropic than those of Edward VI, which prescribed the

minimum time for which a journeyman should be retained. Without

question, the Seed Supply (Ireland) Act of 1880, which empowered

guardians to buy seed for poor tenants, and then to see it

properly planted, was moved by a desire for public welfare no

less great than that which in 1533 prescribed the number of sheep

a tenant might keep, or that of 1597, which commanded that

decayed houses of husbandry should be rebuilt. Nobody will

dispute that the various measures of late years taken for

restricting the sale of intoxicating liquors, have been taken as

much with a view to public morals as [71]were the measures taken of

old for checking the evils of luxury; as, for instance, in the

fourteenth century, when diet as well as dress was restricted.

Everyone must see that the edicts issued by Henry VIII to prevent

the lower classes from playing dice, cards, bowls, etc., were not

more prompted by desire for popular welfare than were the Acts

passed of late to check gambling.

    Further, I do not intend here to question the wisdom of these

modern interferences, which Conservatives and Liberals vie with

one another in multiplying, any more than to question the wisdom

of those ancient ones which they in many cases resemble. We will

not now consider whether the plans of late adopted for preserving

the lives of sailors, are or are not more judicious than that

sweeping Scotch measure which, in the middle of the fifteenth

century, prohibited captains from leaving harbour during the

winter. For the present, it shall remain undebated whether there

is a better warrant for giving sanitary officers powers to search

certain premises for unfit food, than there was for the law of

Edward III, under which innkeepers at seaports were sworn to

search their guests to prevent the exportation of money or plate.

We will assume that there is no less sense in that clause of the

Canal-boat Act, which forbids an owner to board gratuitously the

children of the boatmen, than there was in the Spitalfields Acts,

which, up to 1824, for the benefit of the artisans, forbade the

manufacturers to fix their factories more than ten miles from the

Royal Exchange.

    We exclude, then, these questions of philanthropic motive and

wise judgement, taking both of them for granted; and have here to

concern ourselves solely with the compulsory nature of the

measures which, for good or evil as the case may be, have been

put in force during periods of Liberal ascendancy.

    To bring the illustrations within compass, let us commence

with 1860, under the second administration of Lord Palmerston. In

that year, the restrictions of the Factories Act were extended to

bleaching and dyeing works; authority was given to provide

analysts of food and drink, to be paid out of local rates; there

was an Act providing for in-[72]spection of gas-works, as well as for

fixing quality of gas and limiting price; there was the Act

which, in addition to further mine inspection, made it penal to

employ boys under twelve not attending school and unable to read

and write. In 1861 occurred an extension of the compulsory

provisions of the Factories Act to lace-works; power was given to

poor-law guardians, etc., to enforce vaccination; local boards

were authorized to fix rates of hire for horses, ponies, mules,

asses, and boats; and certain locally-formed bodies had given to

them powers of taxing the locality for rural drainage and

irrigation works, and for supplying water to cattle. In 1862 an

Act was passed for restricting the employment of women and

children in open-air bleaching; and an Act for making illegal a

coal-mine with a single shaft, or with shafts separated by less

than a specified space; as well as an Act giving the Council of

Medical Education the exclusive right to publish a Pharmacopoeia,

the price of which is to be fixed by the Treasury. In 1863 came

the extension of compulsory vaccination to Scotland, and also to

Ireland; there came the empowering of certain boards to borrow

money repayable from the local rates, to employ and pay those out

of work; there came the authorizing of town authorities to take

possession of neglected ornamental spaces, and rate the

inhabitants for their support; there came the Bakehouses

Regulation Act, which, besides specifying minimum age of

employees occupied between certain hours, prescribed periodical

lime-washing, three coats of paint when painted, and cleaning

with hot water and soap at least once in six months; and there

came also an Act giving a magistrate authority to decide on the

wholesomeness or unwholesomeness of food brought before him by an

inspector. Of compulsory legislation dating from 1864, may be

named an extension of the Factories Act to various additional

trades, including regulations for cleansing and ventilation, and

specifying of certain employees in match-works, that they might

not take meals on the premises except in the wood-cutting places.

Also there were passed a Chimney-Sweepers Act, an Act for further

regulating the sale of beer in Ireland, an Act for compulsory

testing of cables and anchors, [73]an Act extending the Public Works

Act of 1863, and the Contagious Diseases Act: which last gave the

police, in specified places, powers which, in respect of certain

classes of women, abolished sundry of those safeguards to

individual freedom established in past times. The year 1865

witnessed further provision for the reception and temporary

relief of wanderers at the cost of ratepayers; another

public-house closing Act; and an Act making compulsory

regulations for extinguishing fires in London. Then, under the

Ministry of Lord John Russell, in 1866, have to be named an Act

to regulate cattle-sheds, etc., in Scotland, giving local

authorities powers to inspect sanitary conditions and fix the

numbers of cattle; an Act forcing hop-growers to label their bags

with the year and place of growth and the true weight, and giving

police powers of search; an Act to facilitate the building of

lodging-houses in Ireland, and providing for regulation of the

inmates; a Public Health Act, under which there is registration

of lodging-houses and Station of occupants, with inspection and

directions for lime-washing, etc.; and a Public Libraries Act,

giving local powers by which a majority can tax a minority for

their books.

    Passing now to the legislation under the first Ministry of Mr

Gladstone, we have, in 1869, the establishment of

State-telegraphy, with the accompanying interdict on telegraphing

through any other agency; we have the empowering a Secretary of

State to regulate hired conveyances in London; we have further

and more stringent regulations to prevent cattle-diseases from

spreading, another Beerhouse Regulation Act, and a Sea-birds

Preservation Act (ensuring greater mortality of fish). In 1870 we

have a law authorizing the Board of Public Works to make advances

for landlords' improvements and for purchase by tenants; we have

the Act which enables the Education Department to form

school-boards which shall purchase sites for schools, and may

provide free schools supported by local rates, and enabling

school-boards to pay a child's fees, to compel parents to send

their children, etc., etc.; we have a further Factories and

Workshops Act, making, among other restrictions, some on [74]the

employment of women and children in fruit-preserving and

fishcuring works. In 1871 we meet with an amended Merchant

Shipping Act, directing officers of the Board of Trade to record

the draught of sea-going vessels leaving port; there is another

Factory and Workshops Act, making further restrictions; there is

a Pedlar's Act, inflicting penalties for hawking without a

certificate, and limiting the district within which the

certificate holds, as well as giving the police power to search

pedlars' packs; and there are further measures for enforcing

vaccination. The year 1872 had, among other Acts, one which makes

it illegal to take for hire more than one child to nurse, unless

in a house registered by the authorities, who prescribe the

number of infants to be received; it had a Licensing Act,

interdicting sale of spirits to those apparently under sixteen;

and it had another Merchant Shipping Act, establishing an annual

survey of passenger steamers. Then in 1873 was passed the

Agricultural Children's Act, which makes it penal for a farmer to

employ a child who has neither certificate of elementary

education nor of certain prescribed school attendances; and there

was passed a Merchant Shipping Act, requiring on each vessel a

scale showing draught and giving the Board of Trade power to fix

the numbers of boats and life-saving appliances to be carried.

    Turn now to Liberal law-making under the present Ministry. We

have, in 1880, a law which forbids conditional advance-notes in

payment of sailors' wages; also a law which dictates certain

arrangements for the safe carriage of grain-cargoes; also a law

increasing local coercion over parents to send their children to

school. In 1881 comes legislation to prevent trawling over

clam-beds and bait-beds, and an interdict making it impossible to

buy a glass of beer on Sunday in Wales. In 1882 the Board of

Trade was authorized to grant licences to generate and sell

electricity, and municipal bodies were enabled to levy rates for

electric-lighting; further exactions from ratepayers were

authorized for facilitating more accessible baths and washhouses;

and local authorities were empowered to make bye-laws for

securing the decent lodging of persons engaged in picking fruit

and [75]vegetables. Of such legislation during 1883 may be named the

Cheap Trains Act, which, partly by taxing the nation to the

extent of £400,000 a year (in the shape of relinquished passenger

duty), and partly at the cost of railway-proprietors, still

further cheapens travelling for workmen: the Board of Trade,

through the Railway Commissioners, being empowered to ensure

sufficiently good and frequent accommodation. Again, there is the

Act which, under penalty of £10 for disobedience, forbids the

payment of wages to workmen at or within public-houses; there is

another Factory and Workshops Act, commanding inspection of white

lead works (to see that there are provided overalls, respirators,

baths, acidulated drinks, etc.) and of bake-houses, regulating

times of employment in both, and prescribing in detail some

constructions for the last, which are to be kept in a condition

satisfactory to the inspectors.

    But we are far from forming an adequate conception if we look

only at the compulsory legislation which has actually been

established of late years. We must look also at that which is

advocated, and which threatens to be far more sweeping in range

and stringent in character. We have lately had a Cabinet

Minister, one of the most advanced Liberals, so-called, who

pooh-poohs the plans of the late Government for improving

industrial dwellings as so much "tinkering;" and contends for

effectual coercion to be exercised over owners of small houses,

over land-owners, and over rate-payers. Here is another Cabinet

Minister who, addressing his constituents, speaks slightingly of

the doings of philanthropic societies and religious bodies to

help the poor, and says that "the whole of the people of this

country ought to look upon this work as being their own work:"

that is to say, some extensive Government measure is called for.

Again, we have a Radical member of Parliament who leads a large

and powerful body, aiming with annually-increasing promise of

success, to enforce sobriety by giving to local majorities powers

to prevent freedom of exchange in respect of certain commodities.

Regulation of the hours of labour for certain classes, which has

been made more and more general by successive extensions of the

Factories Acts, is [76]likely now to be made still more general: a

measure is to be proposed bringing the employees in all shops

under such regulation. There is a rising demand, too, that

education shall be made gratis for all. The payment of

school-fees is beginning to be denounced as a wrong: the State

must take the whole burden. Moreover, it is proposed by many that

the State, regarded as an undoubtedly competent judge of what

constitutes good education for the poor, shall undertake also to

prescribe good education for the middle classes—shall stamp

the children of these, too, after a State pattern, concerning the

goodness of which they have no more doubt than the Chinese had

when they fixed theirs. Then there is the "endowment of

research," of late energetically urged. Already the Government

gives every year the sum of £4,000 for this purpose, to be

distributed through the Royal Society; and in the absence of

those who have strong motives for resisting the pressure of the

interested backed by those they easily persuade, it may by-and-by

establish that paid "priesthood of science" long ago advocated by

Sir David Brewster. Once more, plausible proposals are made that

there should be organized a system of compulsory insurance, by

which men during their early lives shall be forced to provide for

the time when they will be incapacitated.

    Nor does enumeration of these further measures of coercive

rule, looming on us near at hand or in the distance, complete the

account. Nothing more than cursory allusion has yet been made to

that accompanying compulsion which takes the form of increased

taxation, general and local. Partly for defraying the costs of

caring out these ever-multiplying coercive measures, each of

which requires an additional staff of officers, and partly to

meet the outlay for new public institutions, such as

board-schools, free libraries, public museums, baths and

wash-houses, recreation grounds, etc., etc., local rates are year

after year increased; as the general taxation is increased by

grants for education and to the departments of science and art,

etc. Every one of these involves further coercion—restricts

still more the freedom of the citizen. For the implied address

accompanying every [77]additional exaction is—"Hitherto you have

been free to spend this portion of your earnings in any way which

pleased you; hereafter you shall not be free so to spend it, but

we will spend it for the general benefit." Thus, either directly

or indirectly, and in most cases both at once, the citizen is at

each further stage in the growth of this compulsory legislation,

deprived of some liberty which he previously had.

    Such, then, are the doings of the party which claims the name

of Liberal; and which calls itself Liberal as being the advocate

of extended freedom.


I doubt not that many a member of the party has read the

preceding section with impatience; wanting, as he does, to point

out an immense oversight which he thinks destroys the validity of

the argument. "You forget," he wishes to say, "the fundamental

difference between the power which, in the past, established

those restraints that Liberalism abolished, and the power which,

in the present, establishes the restraints you call anti-Liberal.

You forget that the one was an irresponsible power, while the

other is a responsible power. You forget that if by the recent

legislation of Liberals, people are variously regulated, the body

which regulates them is of their own creating, and has their

warrant for its acts."

    My answer is, that I have not forgotten this difference, but

am prepared to contend that the difference is in large measure

irrelevant to the issue.

    In the first place, the real issue is whether the lives of

citizens are more interfered with than they were; not the nature

of the agency which interferes with them. Take a simpler case. A

member of a trades' union has joined others in establishing an

organization of a purely representative character. By it he is

compelled to strike if a majority so decide; he is forbidden to

accept work save under the conditions they dictate; he is

prevented from profiting by his superior ability or energy to the

extent he might do were it not for their interdict. He cannot

disobey without abandoning those pecuniary benefits of the

organization for which [78]he has subscribed, and bringing on himself

the persecution, and perhaps violence, of his fellows. Is he any

the less coerced because the body coercing him is one which he

had an equal voice with the rest in forming?

    In the second place, if it be objected that the analogy is

faulty, since the governing body of a nation, to which, as

protector of the national life and interests, all must submit

under penalty of social disorganization, has a far higher

authority over citizens than the government of any private

organization can have over its members; then the reply is that,

granting the difference, the answer made continues valid. If men

use their liberty in such a way as to surrender their liberty,

are they thereafter any the less slaves? If people by a

plebiscite elect a man despot over them, do they remain free

because the despotism was of their own making? Are the coercive

edicts issued by him to be regarded as legitimate because they

are the ultimate outcome of their own votes? As well might it be

argued that the East African, who breaks a spear in another's

presence that he may so become bondsman to him, still retains his

liberty because he freely chose his master.

    Finally if any, not without marks of irritation as I can

imagine, repudiate this reasoning, and say that there is no true

parallelism between the relation of people to government where an

Responsible single ruler has been permanently elected, and the

relation where a responsible representative body is maintained,

and from time to time re-elected; then there comes the ultimate

reply—an altogether heterodox reply—by which most will be

greatly astonished. This reply is, that these multitudinous

restraining acts are not defensible on the ground that they

proceed from a popularly-chosen body; for that the authority of a

popularly-chosen body is no more to be regarded as an unlimited

authority than the authority of a monarch; and that as true

Liberalism in the past disputed the assumption of a monarch's

unlimited authority, so true Liberalism in the present will

dispute the assumption of unlimited parliamentary authority. Of

this, however, more anon. Here I merely indicate it as an

ultimate answer.

    [79]Meanwhile it suffices to point out that until recently, just

as of old, true Liberalism was shown by its acts to be moving

towards the theory of a limited parliamentary authority. All

these abolitions of restraints over religious beliefs and

observances, over exchange and transit, over trade-combinations

and the traveling of artisans, over the publication of opinions,

theological or political, etc., etc., were tacit assertions of

the desirableness of limitation. In the same way that the

abandonment of sumptuary laws, of laws forbidding this or that

kind of amusement, of laws dictating modes of farming, and many

others of like meddling nature, which took place in early days,

was an implied admission that the State ought not to interfere in

such matters; so those removals of hindrances to individual

activities of one or other kind, which the Liberalism of the last

generation effected, were practical confessions that in these

directions, too, the sphere of governmental action should be

narrowed. And this recognition of the propriety of restricting

governmental action was a preparation for restricting it in

theory. One of the most familiar political truths is that, in the

course of social evolution, usage precedes law; and that when

usage has been well established it becomes law by receiving

authoritative endorsement and defined form. Manifestly then,

Liberalism in the past, by its practice of limitation, was

preparing the way for the principle of limitation.

    But returning from these more general considerations to the

special question, I emphasize the reply that the liberty which a

citizen enjoys is to be measured, not by the nature of the

governmental machinery he lives under, whether representative or

other, but by the relative paucity of the restraints it imposes

on him; and that, whether this machinery is or is not one that he

has shared in making, its actions are not of the kind proper to

Liberalism if they increase such restraints beyond those which

are needful for preventing him from directly or indirectly

aggressing on his fellows -- needful, that is, for maintaining

the liberties of his fellows against his invasions of them:

restraints which are, therefore, to be distinguished as

negatively coercive, not positively coercive.


[80]Probably, however, the Liberal, and still more the sub-species

Radical, who more than any other in these latter days seems under

the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is

warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able,

will continue to protest; knowing that his aim is popular benefit

of some kind, to be achieved in some way, and believing that the

Tory is, contrariwise, prompted by class-interest and the desire

to maintain class-power, he will regard it as palpably absurd to

group him as one of the same genus, and will scorn the reasoning

used to prove that he belongs to it.

    Perhaps an analogy will help him to see its validity. If,

away in the far East, where personal government is the only form

of government known, he heard from the inhabitants an account of

a struggle by which they had deposed a cruel and vicious despot,

and put in his place one whose acts proved his desire for their

welfare—if, after listening to their self-gratulations, he

told them that they had not essentially changed the nature of

their government, he would greatly astonish them; and probably he

would have difficulty in making them understand that the

substitution of a benevolent despot for a malevolent despot,

still left the government a despotism. Similarly with Toryism as

rightly conceived. Standing as it does for coercion by the State

versus the freedom of the individual, Toryism remains Toryism,

whether it extends this coercion for selfish or unselfish

reasons. As certainly as the despot is still a despot, whether

his motives for arbitrary rule are good or bad; so certainly is

the Tory still a Tory, whether he has egoistic or altruistic

motives for using State-power to restrict the liberty of the

citizen, beyond the degree required for maintaining the liberties

of other citizens. The altruistic Tory as well as the egoistic

Tory belongs to the genus Tory; though he forms a new species of

the genus. And both stand in distinct contrast with the Liberal

as defined in the days when Liberals were rightly so called, and

when the definition was—"one who advocates greater freedom

from restraint, especially in political institutions."

    Thus, then, is justified the paradox I set out with. As we [81]have seen,

Toryism and Liberalism originally emerged, the one from militancy

and the other from industrialism. The one stood for the regime of

status and the other for the regime of contract—the one for

that system of compulsory co-operation which accompanies the

legal inequality of classes, and the other for that voluntary

co-operation which accompanies their legal equality; and beyond

all question the early acts of the two parties were respectively

for the maintenance of agencies which effect this compulsory

co-operation, and for the weakening or curbing of them.

Manifestly the implication is that, in so far as it has been

extending the system of compulsion, what is now called Liberalism

is a new form of Toryism.

    How truly this is so, we shall see still more clearly on

looking at the facts the other side upwards, which we will

presently do.


NOTE -- By sundry newspapers which noticed this article when it

was originally published, the meaning of the above paragraphs was

supposed to be that Liberals and Tories have changed places.

This, however, is by no means the implication. A new species of

Tory may arise without disappearance of the original species.

When saying, as on page 70, that in our days "Conservatives and

Liberals vie with one another in multiplying" interferences, I

clearly implied the belief that while Liberals have taken to

coercive legislation, Conservatives have not abandoned it.

Nevertheless, it is true that the laws made by Liberals are so

greatly increasing the compulsions and restraints exercised over

citizens, that among Conservatives who suffer from this

aggressiveness there is growing up a tendency to resist it. Proof

is furnished by the fact that the "Liberty and Property Defence

League," largely consisting of Conservatives, has taken for its

motto "Individualism versus Socialism." So that if the present

drift of things continues, it may by and by really happen that

the Tories will be defenders of liberties which the Liberals, in

pursuit of what they think popular welfare, trample under foot.


[Page numbers from the 1969 Pelican paperback edition of

Spencer’s 1892 edition are added for convenience. Text

from the 1884 edition posted by McMaster University. WSM]