The Man Versus the State

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


    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 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

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 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 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 perception 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 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 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 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 inspection 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, 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 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 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 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 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 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. 

    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. 

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 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. 


    The kinship of pity to love is shown among other ways in

this, that it idealizes its object. Sympathy with one in

suffering suppresses, for the time being, remembrance of his

transgressions. The feeling which vents itself in "poor fellow!"

on seeing one in agony, excludes the thought of "bad fellow,"

which might at another time arise. Naturally, then, if the

wretched are unknown or but vaguely known, all the demerits they

may have are ignored; and thus it happens that when, as just now,

the miseries of the poor are depicted, they are thought of as the

miseries of the deserving poor, instead of being thought of, as

in large measure they should be, as the miseries of the

undeserving poor. Those whose hardships are set forth in

pamphlets and proclaimed in sermons and speeches which echo

throughout society, are assumed to be all worthy souls,

grievously wronged; and none of them are thought of as bearing

the penalties of their own misdeeds. 

    On hailing a cab in a London street, it is surprising how

frequently the door is officiously opened by one who expects to

get something for his trouble. The surprise lessens after

counting the many loungers about tavern-doors, or after observing

the quickness with which a street-performance, or procession,

draws from neighbouring slums and stable-yards a group of idlers.

Seeing how numerous they are in every small area, it becomes

manifest that tens of thousands of such swarm through London.

"They have no work," you say. Say rather that they either refuse

work or quickly turn themselves out of it. They are simply

good-for-nothings, who in one way or other live on the

good-for-somethings -- vagrants and sots, criminals and those on

the way to crime, youths who are burdens on hard-worked parents,

men who appropriate the wages of their wives, fellows who share

the gains of prostitutes; and then, less visible and less

numerous, there is a corresponding class of women. 

    Is it natural that happiness should be the lot of such? or is

it natural that they should bring unhappiness on themselves and

those connected with them? Is it not manifest that there must

exist in our midst an immense amount of misery which is a normal

result of misconduct, and ought not to be dissociated from it?

There is a notion, always more or less prevalent and just now

vociferously expressed, that all social suffering is removable,

and that it is the duty of somebody or other to remove it. Both

these beliefs are false. To separate pain from ill-doing is to

fight against the constitution of things, and will be followed by

far more pain. Saving men from the natural penalties of dissolute

living, eventually necessitates the infliction of artificial

penalties in solitary cells, on tread-wheels, and by the lash. I

suppose a dictum, on which the current creed and the creed of

science are at one, may be considered to have as high an

authority as can be found. Well, the command "if any would not

work neither should he eat," is simply a Christian enunciation of

that universal law of Nature under which life has reached its

present height -- the law that a creature not energetic enough to

maintain itself must die: the sole difference being that the law

which in the one case is to be artificially enforced, is, in the

other case, a natural necessity. And yet this particular tenet of

their religion which science so manifestly justifies, is the one

which Christians seem least inclined to accept. The current

assumption is that there should be no suffering, and that society

is to blame for that which exists. 

    "But surely we are not without responsibilities, even when

the suffering is that of the unworthy?"

    If the meaning of the word "we" be so expanded as to include

with ourselves our ancestors, and especially our ancestral

legislators, I agree. I admit that those who made, and modified,

and administered, the old Poor Law, were responsible for

producing an appalling amount of demoralization, which it will

take more than one generation to remove. I admit, too, the

partial responsibility of recent and present law-makers for

relations which have brought into being a permanent body of

tramps, who ramble from union to union; and also their

responsibility for maintaining a constant supply of felons by

sending back convicts into society under such conditions that

they are almost compelled again to commit crimes. Moreover, I

admit that the philanthropic are not without their share of

responsibility; since, that they may aid the offspring of the

unworthy, they disadvantage the offspring of the worthy through

burdening their parents by increased local rates. Nay, I even

admit that these swarms of good-for-nothings, fostered and

multiplied by public and private agencies, have, by sundry

mischievous meddlings, been made to suffer more than they would

otherwise have suffered. Are these the responsibilities meant? I

suspect not.

    But now, leaving the question of responsibilities, however

conceived, and considering only the evil itself, what shall we

say of its treatment? Let me begin with a fact. 

A late uncle of nine, the Rev Thomas Spencer, for some twenty

years incumbent of Hinton Charterhouse, near Bath, no sooner

entered on his parish duties than he proved himself anxious for

the welfare of the poor, by establishing a school, a library, a

clothing club and land-allotments, besides building some model

cottages. Moreover, up to 1833 he was a pauper's friend -- always

for the pauper against the overseer. There presently came,

however, the debates on the Poor Law, which impressed him with

the evils of the system then in force. Though an ardent

philanthropist he was not a timid sentimentalist. The result was

that, immediately the new Poor Law was passed, he proceeded to

carry out its provisions in his parish. Almost universal

opposition was encountered by him: not the poor only being his

opponents, but even the farmers on whom came the burden of heavy

poor-rates. For, strange to say, their interests had become

apparently identified with the maintenance of this system which

taxed them so largely. The explanation is that there had grown up

the practice of paying out of the rates a part of the wages of

each farm-servant -- "make-wages," as the sum was called. And

though the farmers contributed most of the fund from which

"make-wages" were paid, yet, since all other ratepayers

contributed, the farmers seemed to gain by the arrangement. My

uncle, however, not easily deterred, faced all this opposition

and enforced the law. The result was that in two years the rates

were reduced from £700 a year to £200 a year; while the condition

of the parish was greatly improved. "Those who had hitherto

loitered at the corners of the streets, or at the doors of the

beer-shops, had something else to do, and one after another they

obtained employment;" so that out of a population of 800, only 15

had to be sent as incapable paupers to the Bath Union (when that

was formed), in place of the 100 who received out-door relief a

short time before. If it be said that the £20 telescope which, a

few years after, his parishioners presented to my uncle, marked

only the gratitude of the ratepayers; then my reply is the fact

that when, some years later still, having killed himself by

overwork in pursuit of popular welfare, he was taken to Hinton to

be buried, the procession which followed him to the grave

included not the well-to-do only but the poor. 

    Several motives have prompted this brief narrative. One is

the wish to prove that sympathy with the people and

self-sacrificing efforts on their behalf, do not necessarily

imply approval of gratuitous aids. Another is the desire to show

that benefit may result, not from multiplication of artificial

appliances to mitigate distress, but, contrariwise, from

diminution of them. And a further purpose I have in view is that

of preparing the way for an analogy. 

    Under another form and in a different sphere, we are now

yearly extending a system which is identical in nature with the

system of "make-wages" under the old Poor Law. Little as

politicians recognize the fact, it is nevertheless demonstrable

that these various public appliances for working-class comfort,

which they are supplying at the cost of ratepayers, are

intrinsically of the same nature as those which, in past times,

treated the farmer's man as half-labourer and half-pauper. In

either case the worker receives in return for what he does, money

wherewith to buy certain of the things he wants; while, to

procure the rest of them for him, money is furnished out of a

common fund raised by taxes. What matters it whether the things

supplied by ratepayers for nothing, instead of by the employer in

payment, are of this kind or that kind? The principle is the

same. For sums received let us substitute the commodities and

benefits purchased; and then see how the matter stands. In old

Poor-Law times, the farmer gave for work done the equivalent, say

of house-rent, bread, clothes, and fire; while the ratepayers

practically supplied the man and his family with their shoes,

tea, sugar, candles, a little bacon, etc. The division is, of

course, arbitrary; but unquestionably the farmer and the

ratepayers furnished these things between them. At the present

time the artisan receives from his employer in wages, the

equivalent of the consumable commodities he wants; while from the

public comes satisfaction for others of his needs and desires. At

the cost of ratepayers he has in some cases, and will presently

have in more, a house at less than its commercial value; for of

course when, as in Liverpool, a municipality spends nearly

£200,000 in pulling down and reconstructing low-class dwellings,

and is about to spend as much again, the implication is that in

some way the ratepayers supply the poor with more accommodation

than the rents they pay would otherwise have brought. The artisan

further receives from them, in schooling for his children, much

more than he pays for; and there is every probability that he

will presently receive it from them gratis. The ratepayers also

satisfy what desire he may have for books and newspapers, and

comfortable places to read them in. In some cases too, as in

Manchester, gymnasia for his children of both sexes, as well as

recreation grounds, are provided. That is to say, he obtains from

a fund raised by local taxes, certain benefits beyond those which

the sum received for his labour enables him to purchase. The sole

difference, then, between this system and the old system of

"make-wages," is between the kinds of satisfactions obtained; and

this difference does not in the least affect the nature of the


    Moreover, the two are pervaded by substantially the same

illusion. In the one case, as in the other, what looks like a

gratis benefit is not a gratis benefit. The amount which, under

the old Poor Law, the half-pauperized labourer received from the

parish to eke out his weekly income, was not really, as it

appeared, a bonus; for it was accompanied by a

substantially-equivalent decrease in his wages, as was quickly

proved when the system was abolished and the wages rose. Just so

is it with these seeming boons received by working people in

towns. I do not refer only to the fact that they unawares pay in

part through the raised rents of their dwellings (when they are

not actual ratepayers); but I refer to the fact that the wages

received by them are, like the wages of the farm-labourer,

diminished by these public burdens falling on employers. Read the

accounts coming of late from Lancashire concerning the cotton

strike, containing proofs, given by artisans themselves, that the

margin of profit is so narrow that the less skilful

manufacturers, as well as those with deficient capital, fail, and

that the companies of co-operators who compete with them can

rarely hold their own; and then consider what is the implication

respecting wages. Among the costs of production have to be

reckoned taxes, general and local. If, as in our large towns, the

local rates now amount to one-third of the rental or more -- if

the employer has to pay this, not on his private dwelling only,

but on his business-premises, factories, warehouses, or the like;

it results that the interest on his capital must be diminished by

that amount, or the amount must be taken from the wages-fund, or

partly one and partly the other. And if competition among

capitalists in the same business and in other businesses, has the

effect of so keeping down interest that while some gain others

lose, and not a few are ruined -- if capital, not getting

adequate interest, flows elsewhere and leaves labour unemployed;

then it is manifest that the choice for the artisan under such

conditions, lies between diminished amount of work or diminished

rate of payment for it. Moreover, for kindred reasons these local

burdens raise the costs of the things he consumes. The charges

made by distributors are, on the average, determined by the

current rates of interest on capital used in distributing

businesses; and the extra costs of caring on such businesses have

to be paid for by extra prices. So that as in the past the rural

worker lost in one way what he gained in another, so in the

present does the urban worker: there being too, in both cases,

the loss entailed on him by the cost of administration and the

waste accompanying it. 

    "But what has all this to do with 'the coming slavery'?" will

perhaps be asked. Nothing directly, but a good deal indirectly,

as we shall see after yet another preliminary section. 

It is said that when railways were first opened in Spain,

peasants standing on the tracks were not unfrequently run over;

and that the blame fell on the engine-drivers for not stopping:

rural experiences having yielded no conception of the momentum of

a large mass moving at a high velocity. 

    The incident is recalled to me on contemplating the ideas of

the so-called "practical" politician, into whose mind there

enters no thought of such a thing as political momentum, still

less of a political momentum which, instead of diminishing or

remaining constant, increases. The theory on which he daily

proceeds is that the change caused by his measure will stop where

he intends it to stop. He contemplates intently the things his

act will achieve, but thinks little of the remoter issues of the

movement his act sets up, and still less of its collateral

issues. When, in war-time, "food for powder" was to be provided

by encouraging population -- when Mr Pitt said, "Let us make

relief in cases where there are a number of children a matter of

right and honour, instead of a ground for opprobrium and

contempt;"(1*) it was not expected that the poor-rates would be

quadrupled in fifty years, that women with many bastards would be

preferred as wives to modest women, because of their incomes from

the parish, and that hosts of ratepayers would be pulled down

into the ranks of pauperism. Legislators who in 1833 voted

£20,000 a year to aid in building school-houses, never supposed

that the step they then took would lead to forced contributions,

local and general, now amounting to £6,000,000; they did not

intend to establish the principle that A should be made

responsible for educating B's offspring; they did not dream of a

compulsion which would deprive poor widows of the help of their

elder children; and still less did they dream that their

successors, by requiring impoverished parents to apply to Boards

of Guardians to pay the fees which School Boards would not remit,

would initiate a habit of applying to Boards of Guardians and so

cause pauperization.(2*) Neither did those who in 1834 passed an

Act regulating the labour of women and children in certain

factories, imagine that the system they were beginning would end

in the restriction and inspection of labour in all kinds of

producing establishments where more than fifty people are

employed; nor did they conceive that the inspection provided

would grow to the extent of requiring that before a "young

person" is employed in a factory, authority must be given by a

certifying surgeon, who, by personal examination (to which no

limit is placed) has satisfied himself that there is no

incapacitating disease or bodily infirmity: his verdict

determining whether the "young person" shall earn wages or

not.(3*) Even less, as I say, does the politician who plumes

himself on the practicalness of his aims, conceive the indirect

results which will follow the direct results of his measures.

Thus, to take a case connected with one named above, it was not

intended through the system of "payment by results," to do

anything more than give teachers an efficient stimulus: it was

not supposed that in numerous cases their health would give way

under the stimulus; it was not expected that they would be led to

adopt a cramming system and to put undue pressure on dull and

weak children, often to their great injury; it was not foreseen

that in many cases a bodily enfeeblement would be caused which no

amount of grammar and geography can compensate for. The licensing

of public houses was simply for maintaining public order: those

who devised it never imagined that there would result an

organized interest powerfully influencing elections in an

unwholesome way. Nor did it occur to the "practical" politicians

who provided a compulsory load-line for merchant vessels, that

the pressure of shipowners' interests would habitually cause the

putting of the load-line at the very highest limit, and that from

precedent to precedent, tending ever in the same direction, the

load-line would gradually rise in the better class of ships; as

from good authority I learn that it has already done. Legislators

who, some forty years ago, by Act of Parliament compelled railway

companies to supply cheap locomotion, would have ridiculed the

belief, had it been expressed, that eventually their Act would

punish the companies which improved the supply; and yet this was

the result to compares which began to carry third-class

passengers by fast trains; since a penalty to the amount of the

passenger-duty was inflicted on them for every third-class

passenger so carried. To which instance concerning railways, add

a far more striking one disclosed by comparing the railway

policies of England and France. The lawmakers who provided for

the ultimate lapsing of French railways to the State, never

conceived the possibility that inferior travelling facilities

would result -- did not foresee that reluctance to depreciate the

value of property eventually coming to the State, would negative

the authorization of competing lines and that in the absence of

competing lines locomotion would be relatively costly, slow, and

infrequent; for, as Sir Thomas Farrer has lately shown, the

traveller in England has great advantages over the French

traveller in the economy, swiftness, and frequency with which his

journeys can be made. 

    But the "practical" politician who, in spite of such

experiences repeated generation after generation, goes on

thinking only of proximate results, naturally never thinks of

results still more remote, still more general, and still more

important than those just exemplified. To repeat the metaphor

used above -- he never asks whether the political momentum set up

by his measure, in some cases decreasing but in other cases

greatly increasing, will or will not have the same general

direction with other like momenta; and whether it may not join

them in presently producing an aggregate energy working changes

never thought of. Dwelling only on the effects of his particular

stream of legislation, and not observing how other such streams

already existing, and still other streams which will follow his

initiative, pursue the same average course, it never occurs to

him that they may presently unite into a voluminous flood utterly

changing the face of things. Or to leave figures for a more

literal statement, he is unconscious of the truth that he is

helping to form a certain type of social organization, and that

kindred measures, effecting kindred changes of organization, tend

with ever-increasing force to make that type general; until,

passing a certain point, the proclivity towards it becomes

irresistible. Just as each society, aims when possible to produce

in other societies a structure akin to its own -- just as among

the Greeks, the Spartans and the Athenians struggled to spread

their respective political institutions, or as, at the time of

the French Revolution, the European absolute monarchies aimed to

re-establish absolute monarchy in France while the Republic

encouraged the formation of other republics; so within every

society, each species of structure tends to propagate itself.

Just as the system of voluntary co-operation by companies,

associations, unions, to achieve business ends and other ends,

spreads throughout a community; so does the antagonistic system

of compulsory co-operation under State-agencies spread; and the

larger becomes its extension the more power of spreading it gets.

The question of questions for the politician should ever be --

"What type of social structure am I tending to produce?" But this

is a question he never entertains. 

    Here we will entertain it for him. Let us now observe the

general course of recent changes, with the accompanying current

of ideas, and see whither they are carrying us. 

The blank form of a question daily asked is -- "We have already

done this; why should we not do that?" And the regard for

precedent suggested by it, is ever pushing on regulative

legislation. Having had brought within their sphere of operation

more and more numerous businesses, the Acts restricting hours of

employment and dictating the treatment of workers are now to be

made applicable to shops. From inspecting lodging-houses to limit

the number of occupants and enforce sanitary conditions, we have

passed to inspecting all houses below a certain rent in which

there are members of more than one family, and are now passing to

a kindred inspection of all small houses.(4*) The buying and

working of telegraphs by the State is made a reason for urging

that the State should buy and work the railways. Supplying

children with food for their minds by public agency is being

followed in some cases by supplying food for their bodies; and

after the practice has been made gradually more general, we may

anticipate that the supply, now proposed to be made gratis in the

one case, will eventually be proposed to be made gratis in the

other: the argument that good bodies as well as good minds are

needful to make good citizens, being logically urged as a reason

for the extension.(5*) And then, avowedly proceeding on the

precedents furnished by the church, the school, and the

reading-room, all publicly provided, it is contended that

"pleasure, in the sense it is now generally admitted, needs

legislating for and organizing at least as much as work."(6*)

    Not precedent only prompts this spread, but also the

necessity which arises for supplementing ineffective measures,

and for dealing with the artificial evils continually caused.

Failure does not destroy faith in the agencies employed, but

merely suggests more stringent use of such agencies or wider

ramifications of them. Laws to check intemperance, beginning in

early times and coming down to our own times, when further

restraints on the sale of intoxicating liquors occupy nights

every session, not having done what was expected, there come

demands for more thorough-going laws, locally preventing the sale

altogether; and here, as in America, these will doubtless be

followed by demands that prevention shall be made universal. All

the many appliances for "stamping out" epidemic diseases not

having succeeded in preventing outbreaks of small-pox, fevers,

and the like, a further remedy is applied for in the shape of

police-power, to search houses for diseased persons, and

authority for medical officers to examine any one they think fit,

to see whether he or she is suffering from an infectious or

contagious malady. Habits of improvidence having for generations

been cultivated by the Poor Law, and the improvident enabled to

multiply, the evils produced by compulsory charity are now

proposed to be met by compulsory insurance. 

    The extension of this policy, causing extension of

corresponding ideas, fosters everywhere the tacit assumption that

Government should step in whenever anything is not going right.

"Surely you would not have this misery continue!" exclaims

someone, if you hint a demurrer to much that is now being said

and done. Observe what is implied by this exclamation. It takes

for granted, first, that all suffering ought to be prevented,

which is not true: much suffering is curative, and prevention of

it is prevention of a remedy. In the second place, it takes for

granted that every evil can be removed: the truth being that with

the existing defects of human nature, many evils can only be

thrust out of one place or form into another place or form often

being increased by the change. The exclamation also implies the

unhesitating belief, here especially concerning us, that evils of

all kinds should be dealt with by the State. There does not occur

the inquiry whether there are at work other agencies capable of

dealing with evils, and whether the evils in question may not be

among those which are best dealt with by these other agencies.

And obviously, the more numerous governmental interventions

become, the more confirmed does this habit of thought grow, and

the more loud and perpetual the demands for intervention. 

    Every extension of the relative policy involves an addition

to the regulative agents -- a further growth of officialism and

an increasing power of the organization formed of officials. Take

a pair of scales with many shot in the one and a few in the

other. Lift shot after shot out of the loaded scale and put it

into the unloaded scale. Presently you will produce a balance;

and if you go on, the position of the scales will be reversed.

Suppose the beam to be unequally divided, and let the lightly

loaded scale be at the end of a very long arm; then the transfer

of each shot, producing a much greater effect, will far sooner

bring about a change of position. I use the figure to illustrate

what results from transferring one individual after another from

the regulated mass of the community to the regulating structures.

The transfer weakens the one and strengthens the other in a far

greater degree than is implied by the relative change of numbers.

A comparatively small body of officials, coherent, having common

interests, and acting under central authority, has an immense

advantage over an incoherent public which has no settled policy,

and can be brought to act unitedly only under strong provocation.

Hence an organization of officials, once passing a certain stage

of growth, becomes less and less resistible; as we see in the

bureaucracies of the Continent. 

    Not only does the power of resistance of the regulated part

decrease in a geometrical ratio as the regulating part increases,

but the private interests of many in the regulated part itself,

make the change of ratio still more rapid. In every circle

conversations show that now, when the passing of competitive

examinations renders them eligible for the public service, youths

are being educated in such ways that they may pass them and get

employment under Government. One consequence is that men who

might otherwise reprobate some further growth of officialism, are

led to look on it with tolerance, if not favourably, as offering

possible careers for those dependent on them and those related to

them. Any one who remembers the numbers of upper-class and

middle-class families anxious to place their children, will see

that no small encouragement to the spread of legislative control

is now coming from those who, but for the personal interests thus

arising, would be hostile to it. 

    This pressing desire for careers is enforced by the

preference for careers which are thought respectable. "Even if

his salary is small, his occupation will be that of a gentleman,"

thinks the father, who wants to get a Government-clerkship for

his son. And this relative dignity of State-servants as compared

with those occupied in business, increases as the administrative

organization becomes a larger and more powerful element in

society, and tends more and more to fix the standard of honour.

The prevalent ambition with a young Frenchman is to get some

small official post in his locality, to rise thence to a place in

the local centre of government, and finally to reach some head

office in Paris. And in Russia, where that universality of

State-regulation which characterizes the militant type of society

has been carried furthest, we see this ambition pushed to its

extreme. Says Mr Wallace, quoting a passage from a play: -- "All

men, even shopkeepers and cobblers, aim at becoming officers, and

the man who has passed his whole life without official rank seems

to be not a human being."(7*) 

    These various influences working from above downwards meet

with an increasing response of expectations and solicitations

proceeding from below upwards. The hard-worked and over-burdened

who form the great majority, and still more the incapables

perpetually helped who are ever led to look for more help, are

ready supporters of schemes which promise them this or the other

benefit by State agency, and ready believers of those who tell

them that such benefits can be given, and ought to be given. They

listen with eager faith to all builders of political air-castles,

from Oxford graduates down to Irish irreconcilables; and every

additional tax-supported appliance for their welfare raises hopes

of further ones. Indeed the more numerous public

instrumentalities become, the more is there generated in citizens

the notion that everything is to be done for them, and nothing by

them. Each generation is made less familiar with the attainment

of desired ends by individual actions or private combinations,

and more familiar with the attainment of them by governmental

agencies; until, eventually, governmental agencies come to be

thought of as the only available agencies. This result was well

shown in the recent Trades-Unions Congress at Paris. The English

delegates, reporting to their constituents, said that between

themselves and their foreign colleagues "the point of difference

was the extent to which the State should be asked to protect

labour:" reference being thus made to the fact, conspicuous in

the reports of the proceedings, that the French delegates always

invoked governmental power as the only means of satisfying their


    The diffusion of education has worked, and will work still

more, in the same direction. "We must educate our masters," is

the well-known saying of a Liberal who opposed the last extension

of the franchise. Yes, if the education were worthy to be so

called, and were relevant to the political enlightenment needed,

much might be hoped from it. But knowing rules of syntax, being

able to add up correctly, having geographical information, and a

memory stocked with the dates of kings' accessions and generals'

victories, no more implies fitness to form political conclusions

than acquirement of skill in drawing implies expertness in

telegraphing, or than ability to play cricket implies proficiency

on the violin. "Surely," rejoins some one, "facility in reading

opens the way to political knowledge." Doubtless; but will the

way be followed? Table-talk proves that nine out of ten people

read what amuses them or interests them rather than what

instructs them; and that the last thing they read is something

which tells them disagreeable truths or dispels groundless hopes.

That popular education results in an extensive reading of

publications which foster pleasant illusions rather than of those

which insist on hard realities, is beyond question. Says "A

Mechanic," writing in the Pall Mall Gazette of December 3, 1883:


"Improved education instills the desire for culture -- culture

instills the desire for many things as yet quite beyond working

men's reach... in the furious competition to which the present

age is given up they are utterly impossible to the poorer

classes; hence they are discontented with things as they are, and

the more educated the more discontented. Hence, too, Mr Ruskin

and Mr Morris are regarded as true prophets by many of us." 

And that the connexion of cause and effect here alleged is a real

one, we may see clearly enough in the present state of Germany. 

    Being possessed of electoral power, as are now the mass of

those who are thus led to nurture sanguine anticipations of

benefits to be obtained by social reorganization, it results that

whoever seeks their votes must at least refrain from exposing

their mistaken beliefs; even if he does not yield to the

temptation to express agreement with them. Every candidate for

Parliament is prompted to propose or support some new piece of ad

captandum legislation. Nay, even the chiefs of parties -- these

anxious to retain office and those to wrest it from them --

severally aim to get adherents by outbidding one another. Each

seeks popularity by promising more than his opponent has

promised, as we have lately seen. And then, as divisions in

Parliament show us, the traditional loyalty to leaders overrides

questions concerning the intrinsic propriety of proposed

measures. Representatives are unconscientious enough to vote for

Bills which they believe to be wrong in principle, because

party-needs and regard for the net election demand it. And thus a

vicious policy is strengthened even by those who see its


    Meanwhile there goes on out-of-doors an active propaganda to

which all these influences are ancillary. Communistic theories,

partially indorsed by one Act of Parliament after another, and

tacitly if not avowedly favoured by numerous public men seeking

supporters, are being advocated more and more vociferously under

one or other form by popular leaders, and urged on by organized

societies. There is the movement for land-nationalization which,

aiming at a system of land-tenure equitable in the abstract, is,

as all the world knows, pressed by Mr George and his friends with

avowed disregard for the just claims of existing owners, and as

the basis of a scheme going more than half-way to

State-socialism. And then there is the thorough-going Democratic

Federation of Mr Hyndman and his adherents. We are told by them

that "the handful of marauders who now hold possession [of the

land] have and can have no right save brute force against the

tens of millions whom they wrong." They exclaim against "the

shareholders who have been allowed to lay hands upon (!) our

great railway communications." They condemn "above all, the

active capitalist class, the loan-mongers, the farmers, the mine

exploiters, the contractors, the middle-men, the factory lords --

these, the modern slave drivers" who exact "more and yet more

surplus value out of the wage-slaves whom they employ." And they

think it "high time" that trade should be "removed from the

control of individual greed."(8*)

    It remains to point out that the tendencies thus variously

displayed, are being strengthened by press-advocacy, daily more

pronounced. Journalists, always chary of saying that which is

distasteful to their readers, are some of them going with the

stream and adding to its force. Legislative meddlings which they

would once have condemned they now pass in silence, if they do

not advocate them; and they speak of laissez-faire as an exploded

doctrine. "People are no longer frightened at the thought of

socialism," is the statement which meets us one day. On another

day, a town which does not adopt the Free Libraries Act is

sneered at as being alarmed by a measure so moderately

communistic. And then, along with editorial assertions that this

economic evolution is coming and must be accepted, there is

prominence given to the contributions of its advocates. Meanwhile

those who regard the recent course of legislation as disastrous,

and see that its future course is likely to be still more

disastrous, are being reduced to silence by the belief that it is

useless to reason with people in a state of political


    See, then, the many concurrent causes which threaten

continually to accelerate the transformation now going on. There

is that spread of regulation caused by following precedents,

which become the more authoritative the further the policy is

carried. There is that increasing need for administrative

compulsions and restraints, which results from the unforeseen

evils and shortcomings of preceding compulsions and restraints.

Moreover, every additional State-interference strengthens the

tacit assumption that it is the duty of the State to deal with

all evils and secure all benefits. Increasing power of a growing

administrative organization is accompanied by decreasing power of

the rest of the society to resist its further growth and control.

The multiplication of careers opened by a developing bureaucracy,

tempts members of the classes regulated by it to favour its

extension, as adding to the chances of safe and respectable

places for their relatives. The people at large, led to look on

benefits received through public agencies as gratis benefits,

have their hopes continually excited by the prospects of more. A

spreading education, furthering the diffusion of pleasing errors

rather than of stern truths, renders such hopes both stronger and

more general. Worse still, such hopes are ministered to by

candidates for public choice, to augment their chances of

success; and leading statesmen, in pursuit of party ends, bid for

popular favour by countenancing them. Getting repeated

justifications from new laws harmonizing with their doctrines,

political enthusiasts and unwise philanthropists push their

agitations with growing confidence and success. Journalism, ever

responsive to popular opinion, daily strengthens it by giving it

voice; while counter-opinion, more and more discouraged, finds

little utterance. 

    Thus influences of various kinds conspire to increase

corporate action and decrease individual action. And the change

is being on all sides aided by schemers, each of whom thinks only

of his pet project and not at all of the general re-organization

which his, joined with others such, are working out. It is said

that the French Revolution devoured its own children. Here an

analogous catastrophe seems not unlikely. The numerous

socialistic changes made by Act of Parliament, joined with the

numerous others presently to be made, will by-and-by be all

merged in State-Socialism -- swallowed in the vast wave which

they have little by little raised. 

"But why is this change described as 'the coming slavery'?" is a

question which many will still ask. The reply is simple. All

socialism involves slavery. 

    What is essential to the idea of a slave? We primarily think

of him as one who is owned by another. To be more than nominal,

however, the ownership must be shown by control of the slave's

actions -- a control which is habitually for the benefit of the

controller. That which fundamentally distinguishes the slave is

that he labours under coercion to satisfy another's desires. The

relation admits of sundry gradations. Remembering that originally

the slave is a prisoner whose life is at the mercy of his captor,

it suffices here to note that there is a harsh form of slavery in

which, treated as an animal, he has to expend his entire effort

for his owner's advantage. Under a system less harsh, though

occupied chiefly in working for his owner, he is allowed a short

time in which to work for himself, and some ground on which to

grow extra food. A further amelioration gives him power to sell

the produce of his plot and keep the proceeds. Then we come to

the still more moderated form which commonly arises where, having

been a free man working on his own land, conquest turns him into

what we distinguish as a serf; and he has to give to his owner

each year a fixed amount of labour or produce, or both: retaining

the rest himself. Finally, in some cases, as in Russia until

recently, he is allowed to leave his owner's estate and work or

trade for himself elsewhere, under the condition that he shall

pay an annual sum. What is it which, in these cases, leads us to

qualify our conception of the slavery as more or less severe?

Evidently the greater or smaller extent to which effort is

compulsorily expended for the benefit of another instead of for

self-benefit. If all the slave's labour is for his owner the

slavery is heavy, and if but little it is light. Take now a

further step. Suppose an owner dies, and his estate with its

slaves comes into the hands of trustees; or suppose the estate

and everything on it to be bought by a company; is the condition

of the slave any the better if the amount of his compulsory

labour remains the same? Suppose that for a company we substitute

the community; does it make any difference to the slave if the

time he has to work for others is as great, and the time left for

himself is as small, as before? The essential question is -- How

much is he compelled to labour for other benefit than his own,

and how much can he labour for his own benefit? The degree of his

slavery varies according to the ratio between that which he is

forced to yield up and that which he is allowed to retain; and it

matters not whether his master is a single person or a society.

If, without option, he has to labour for the society, and

receives from the general stock such portion as the society

awards him, he becomes a slave to the society. Socialistic

arrangements necessitate an enslavement of this kind; and towards

such an enslavement many recent measures, and still more the

measures advocated, are carrying us. Let us observe, first, their

proximate effects, and then their ultimate effects. 

    The policy initiated by the Industrial Dwellings Acts admits

of development, and will develop. Where municipal bodies turn

housebuilders, they inevitably lower the values of houses

otherwise built, and check the supply of more. Every dictation

respecting modes of building and conveniences to be provided,

diminishes the builder's profit, and prompts him to use his

capital where the profit is not thus diminished. So, too, the

owner, already finding that small houses entail much labour and

many losses -- already subject to troubles of inspection and

interference, and to consequent costs, and having his property

daily rendered a more undesirable investment, is prompted to

sell; and as buyers are for like reasons deterred, he has to sell

at a loss. And now these still-multiplying regulations, ending,

it may be, as Lord Grey proposes, in one requiring the owner to

maintain the salubrity of his houses by evicting dirty tenants,

and thus adding to his other responsibilities that of inspector

of nuisances, must further prompt sales and further deter

purchasers: so necessitating greater depreciation. What must

happen? The multiplication of houses, and especially small

houses, being increasingly checked, there must come an increasing

demand upon the local authority to make up for the deficient

supply. More and more the municipal or kindred body will have to

build houses, or to purchase houses rendered unsaleable to

private persons in the way shown -- houses which, greatly lowered

in value as they must become, it will, in many cases, pay to buy

rather than to build new ones. Nay, this process must work in a

double way; since every entailed increase of local taxation still

further depreciates property.(9*) And then, when in towns this

process has gone so far as to make the local authority the chief

owner of houses, there will be a good precedent for publicly

providing houses for the rural population, as proposed in the

Radical programme,(10*) and as urged by the Democratic

Federation; which insists on "the compulsory construction of

healthy artisans' and agricultural labourers' dwellings in

proportion to the population." Manifestly, the tendency of that

which has been done, is being done, and is presently to be done,

is to approach the socialistic ideal in which the community is

sole house-proprietor. 

    Such, too, must be the effect of the daily-growing policy on

the tenure and utilization of the land. More numerous public

benefits, to be achieved by more numerous public agencies, at the

cost of augmented public burdens, must increasingly deduct from

the returns on land; until, as the depreciation in value becomes

greater and greater, the resistance to change of tenure becomes

less and less. Already, as every one knows, there is in many

places difficulty in obtaining tenants, even at greatly reduced

rents; and land of inferior fertility in some cases lies idle, or

when farmed by the owner is often farmed at a loss. Clearly the

profit on capital invested in land is not such that taxes, local

and general, can be greatly raised to support extended public

administrations, without an absorption of it which will prompt

owners to sell, and make the best of what reduced price they can

get by emigrating and buying land not subject to heavy burdens;

as, indeed, some are now doing. This process, carried far, must

have the result of throwing inferior land out of cultivation;

after which there will be raised more generally the demand made

by Mr Arch, who, addressing the Radical Association of Brighton

lately, and contending that existing landlords do not make their

land adequately productive for the public benefit, said "he

should like the present Government to pass a Compulsory

Cultivation Bill:" an applauded proposal which he justified by

instancing compulsory vaccination (thus frustrating the influence

of precedent). And this demand will be pressed, not only by the

need for making the land productive, but also by the need for

employing the rural population. After the Government has extended

the practice of hiring the unemployed to work on deserted lands,

or lands acquired at nominal prices, there will be reached a

stage whence there is but a small further step to that

arrangement which, in the programme of the Democratic Federation,

is to follow nationalization of the land -- the "organization of

agricultural and industrial armies under State control on

cooperative principles."

    To one who doubts whether such a revolution may be so

reached, facts may be cited showing its likelihood. In Gaul,

during the decline of the Roman Empire, "so numerous were the

receivers in comparison with the payers, and so enormous the

weight of taxation, that the labourer broke down, the plains

became deserts, and woods grew where the plough had been."(11*)

In like manner, when the French Revolution was approaching, the

public burdens had become such, that many farms remained

uncultivated and many were deserted: one-quarter of the soil was

absolutely lying waste; and in some provinces one-half was in

health.(12*) Nor have we been without incidents of a kindred

nature at home. Besides the facts that under the old Poor Law the

rates had in some parishes risen to half the rental, and that in

various places farms were lying idle, there is the fact that in

one case the rates had absorbed the whole proceeds of the soil. 

At Cholesbury, in Buckinghamshire, in 1832, the poor-rate

"suddenly ceased in consequence of the impossibility to continue

its collection, the landlords having given up their rents, the

farmers their tenancies, and the clergyman his glebe and his

tithes. The clergyman, Mr Jeston, states that in October, 1832,

the parish officers threw up their books, and the poor assembled

in a body before his door while he was in bed, asking for advice

and food. Partly from his own small means, partly from the

charity of neighbours, and partly by rates in aid, imposed on the

neighbouring parishes, they were for some time supported."(13*) 

And the Commissioners add that "the benevolent rector recommends

that the whole of the land should be divided among the

able-bodied paupers:" hoping that after help afforded for two

years, they might be able to maintain themselves. These facts,

giving colour to the prophecy made in Parliament that continuance

of the old Poor Law for another thirty years would throw the land

out of cultivation, clearly show that increase of public burdens

may end in forced cultivation under public control. 

    Then, again, comes State-ownership of railways. Already this

exists to a large extent on the Continent. Already we have had

here a few years ago loud advocacy of it. And now the cry, which

was raised by sundry politicians and publicists, is taken up

afresh by the Democratic Federation; which proposes

"State-appropriation of railways, with or without compensation."

Evidently, pressure from above joined by pressure from below, is

likely to effect this change dictated by the policy everywhere

spreading; and with it must come many attendant changes. For

railway-proprietors, at first owners and workers of railways

only, have become masters of numerous businesses directly or

indirectly connected with railways; and these will have to be

purchased by Government when the railways are purchased. Already

exclusive letter-carrier, exclusive transmitter of telegrams, and

on the way to become exclusive carrier of parcels, the State will

not only be exclusive carrier of passengers, goods, and minerals,

but will add to its present various trades many other trades.

Even now, besides erecting its naval and military establishments

and building harbours, docks, breakwaters, etc., it does the work

of shipbuilder, cannonfounder, small-arms maker, manufacturer of

ammunition, army-clothier and bootmaker; and when the railways

have been appropriated "with or without compensation," as the

Democratic Federationists say, it will have to become

locomotive-engine-builder, carriage-maker, tarpaulin and grease

manufacturer, passenger-vessel owner, coal-miner, stone-quarrier,

omnibus proprietor, etc. Meanwhile its local lieutenants, the

municipal governments, already in many places suppliers of water,

gas-makers, owners and workers of tramways, proprietors of baths,

will doubtless have undertaken various other businesses. And when

the State, directly or by proxy, has thus come into possession

of, or has established, numerous concerns for wholesale

production and for wholesale distribution, there will be good

precedents for extending its function to retail distribution:

following such an example, say, as is offered by the French

Government, which has long been a retail tobacconist. 

    Evidently then, the changes made, the changes in progress,

and the changes urged, will carry us not only towards

State-ownership of land and dwellings and means of communication,

all to be administered and worked by State-agents, but towards

State-usurpation of all industries: the private forms of which,

disadvantaged more and more in competition with the State, which

can arrange everything for its own convenience, will more and

more die away; just as many voluntary schools have, in presence

of Board-schools. And so will be brought about the desired ideal

of the Socialists. 

And now when there has been compassed this desired ideal, which

"practical" politicians are helping Socialists to reach, and

which is so tempting on that bright side which Socialists

contemplate, what must be the accompanying shady side which they

do not contemplate? It is a matter of common remark, often made

when a marriage is impending, that those possessed by strong

hopes habitually dwell on the promised pleasures and think

nothing of the accompanying pains. A further exemplification of

this truth is supplied by these political enthusiasts and

fanatical revolutionists. Impressed with the miseries existing

under our present social arrangements, and not regarding these

miseries as caused by the ill-working of a human nature but

partially adapted to the social state, they imagine them to be

forthwith curable by this or that re-arrangement. Yet, even did

their plans succeed it could only be by substituting one kind of

evil for another. A little deliberate thought would show that

under their proposed arrangements, their liberties must be

surrendered in proportion as their material welfares were cared


    For no form of co-operation, small or great, can be carried

on without regulation, and an implied submission to the

regulating agencies. Even one of their own organizations for

effecting social changes yields them proof. It is compelled to

have its councils, its local and general officers, its

authoritative leaders, who must be obeyed under penalty of

confusion and failure. And the experience of those who are

loudest in their advocacy of a new social order under the

paternal control of a Government, shows that even in private

voluntarily-formed societies, the power of the regulative

organization becomes great, if not irresistible; often, indeed,

causing grumbling and restiveness among those controlled. Trades

Unions which carry on a kind of industrial war in defence of

workers' interests versus employers' interests, find that

subordination almost military in its strictness is needful to

secure efficient action; for divided councils prove fatal to

success. And even in bodies of co-operators, formed for caring on

manufacturing or distributing businesses, and not needing that

obedience to leaders which is required where the aims are

offensive or defensive, it is still found that the administrative

agency gains such supremacy that there arise complaints about

"the tyranny of organization." Judge then what must happen when,

instead of relatively small combinations, to which men may belong

or not as they please, we have a national combination in which

each citizen finds himself incorporated, and from which he cannot

separate himself without leaving the country. Judge what must

under such conditions become the despotism of a graduated and

centralized officialism, holding in its hands the resources of

the community, and having behind it whatever amount of force it

finds requisite to carry out its decrees and maintain what it

calls order. Well may Prince Bismarck display leanings towards


    And then after recognizing, as they must if they think out

their scheme, the power possessed by the regulative agency in the

new social system so temptingly pictured, let its advocates ask

themselves to what end this power must be used. Not dwelling

exclusively, as they habitually do, on the material well-being

and the mental gratifications to be provided for them by a

beneficent administration, let them dwell a little on the price

to be paid. The officials cannot create the needful supplies:

they can but distribute among individuals that which the

individuals have joined to produce. If the public agency is

required to provide for them, it must reciprocally require them

to furnish the means. There cannot be, as under our existing

system, agreement between employer and employed -- this the

scheme excludes. There must in place of it be command by local

authorities over workers, and acceptance by the workers of that

which the authorities assign to them. And this, indeed, is the

arrangement distinctly, but as it would seem inadvertently,

pointed to by the members of the Democratic Federation. For they

propose that production should be carried on by "agricultural and

industrial armies under State-control:" apparently not

remembering that armies pre-suppose grades of officers, by whom

obedience would have to be insisted upon; since otherwise neither

order nor efficient work could be ensured. So that each would

stand toward the governing agency in the relation of slave to


    "But the governing agency would be a master which he and

others made and kept constantly in check; and one which therefore

would not control him or others more than was needful for the

benefit of each and all."

    To which reply the first rejoinder is that, even if so, each

member of the community as an individual would be a slave to the

community as a whole. Such a relation has habitually existed in

militant communities, even under quasi-popular forms of

government. In ancient Greece the accepted principle was that the

citizen belonged neither to himself nor to his family, but

belonged to his city -- the city being with the Greek equivalent

to the community. And this doctrine, proper to a state of

constant warfare, is a doctrine which socialism unawares

re-introduces into a state intended to be purely industrial. The

services of each will belong to the aggregate of all; and for

these services, such returns will be given as the authorities

think proper. So that even if the administration is of the

beneficent kind intended to be secured, slavery, however mild,

must be the outcome of the arrangement. 

    A second rejoinder is that the administration will presently

become not of the intended kind, and that the slavery will not be

mild. The socialist speculation is vitiated by an assumption like

that which vitiates the speculations of the "practical"

politician. It is assumed that officialism will work as it is

intended to work, which it never does. The machinery of

Communism, like existing social machinery, has to be framed out

of existing human nature; and the defects of existing human

nature will generate in the one the same evils as in the other.

The love of power, the selfishness, the injustice, the

untruthfulness, which often in comparatively short times bring

private organizations to disaster, will inevitably, where their

effects accumulate from generation to generation, work evils far

greater and less remediable; since, vast and complex and

possessed of all the resources, the administrative organization

once developed and consolidated, must become irresistible. And if

there needs proof that the periodic exercise of electoral power

would fail to prevent this, it suffices to instance the French

Government, which, purely popular in origin, and subject at short

intervals to popular judgment, nevertheless tramples on the

freedom of citizens to an extent which the English delegates to

the late Trades Unions Congress say "is a disgrace to, and an

anomaly in, a Republican nation."

    The final result would be a revival of despotism. A

disciplined army of civil officials, like an army of military

officials, gives supreme power to its head -- a power which has

often led to usurpation, as in medieval Europe and still more in

Japan -- nay, has thus so led among our neighbours, within our

own times. The recent confessions of M. de Maupas have shown how

readily a constitutional head, elected and trusted by the whole

people, may, with the aid of a few unscrupulous confederates,

paralyse the representative body and make himself autocrat. That

those who rose to power in a socialistic organization would not

scruple to carry out their aims at all costs, we have good reason

for concluding. When we find that shareholders who, sometimes

gaining but often losing, have made that railway system by which

national prosperity has been so greatly increased, are spoken of

by the council of the Democratic Federation as having "laid

hands" on the means of communication, we may infer that those who

directed a socialistic administration might interpret with

extreme perversity the claims of individuals and classes under

their control. And when, further, we find members of this same

council urging that the State should take possession of the

railways, "with or without compensation," we may suspect that the

heads of the ideal society desired, would be but little deterred

by considerations of equity from pursuing whatever policy they

thought needful: a policy which would always be one identified

with their own supremacy. It would need but a war with an

adjacent society, or some internal discontent demanding forcible

suppression, to at once transform a socialistic administration

into a grinding tyranny like that of ancient Peru; under which

the mass of the people, controlled by grades of officials, and

leading lives that were inspected out-of-doors and indoors,

laboured for the support of the organization which regulated

them, and were left with but a bare subsistence for themselves.

And then would be completely revived, under a different form,

that regime of status -- that system of compulsory co-operation,

the decaying tradition of which is represented by the old

Toryism, and towards which the new Toryism is caring us back. 

    "But we shall be on our guard against all that -- we shall

take precautions to ward off such disasters," will doubtless say

the enthusiasts. Be they "practical" politicians with their new

regulative measures, or communists with their schemes for

re-organizing labour, their reply is ever the same: -- "It is

true that plans of kindred nature have, from unforeseen causes or

adverse accidents, or the misdeeds of those concerned, been

brought to failure; but this time we shall profit by past

experiences and succeed." There seems no getting people to accept

the truth, which nevertheless is conspicuous enough, that the

welfare of a society and the justice of its arrangements are at

bottom dependent on the characters of its members; and that

improvement in neither can take place without that improvement in

character which results from caring on peaceful industry under

the restraints imposed by an orderly social life. The belief, not

only of the socialists but also of those so-called Liberals who

are diligently preparing the way for them, is that by due skill

an ill-working humanity may be framed into well-working

institutions. It is a delusion. The defective natures of citizens

will show themselves in the bad acting of whatever social

structure they are arranged into. There is no political alchemy

by which you can get golden conduct out of leaden instincts. 

NOTE -- Two replies by socialists to the foregoing article have

appeared since its publication -- Socialism and Slavery by H.M.

Hyndman and Herbert Spencer on Socialism by Frank Fairman. Notice

of them here must be limited to saying that, as usual with

antagonists, they ascribe to me opinions which I do not hold.

Disapproval of Socialism does not, as Mr Hyndman assumes,

necessitate approval of existing arrangements. Many things he

reprobates I reprobate quite as much; but I dissent from his

remedy. The gentleman who writes under the pseudonym of "Frank

Fairman," reproaches me with having receded from that sympathetic

defence of the labouring classes which he finds in Social

Statics; but I am quite unconscious of any such change as he

alleges. Looking with a lenient eye upon the irregularities of

those whose lives are hard, by no means involves tolerance of



1. Hansard's Parliamentary History, 32. p. 710.

2. Fortnightly Review, January, 1884, p. 17.

3. Factories and Workshops Act, 41 and 42 Vic., cap. 16.

4. See letter of Local Government, Times, January 2, 1884.

5. Verification comes more promptly than I expected. This article

has been standing intype since January 30, and in the interval,

namely on March 13, the London School Board resolved to apply for

authority to use local charitable funds for supplying gratis

meals and clothing to indigent children. Presently the definition

of "indigent" will be widened, more children will be included and

more funds aked for.

6. Fortnightly Review, January, 1884.

7. Russia, I. 422.

8. Socialism made Plain, Review, 185, Fleet Street.

9. If any one thinks such fears are groundless, let him

contemplate the fact that from 1867-8 to 1880-1, our annual local

expenditure for the United Kingdom has grown from £36,132,834 to

£63,276,283; and that during the same 13 years, the municipal

expenditure in England and Wales alone, has grown from 13

millions to 30 millions a year! How the increase of public

burdens will join with othe causes in bringing about public

ownership, is shown by a statement made by Mr W. Rathbone, M.P.,

to which any attention has been drawn since the above paragraph

was in type. He says, "within my own experience, local taxation

in New York has risen from 12s 6d per cent to £2 12s 6d per cent

on the capital of its citizens -- a charge which would more than

absorb the whole income of an average English landlord."

Nineteenth Century, February, 1883.

10. Fortnightly Review, November, 1883, pp. 619-20.

11. Lactant. De M. Persecut, cc. 7, 23.

12. Taine, L'Ancien Regime, pp. 337-8 (in the English


13. Report of Commissioners for Inquiry into the Admistration and

Practical Operation of the Poor Laws, p. 37. February 20, 1834.


    Be it or be it not true that Man is shapen in iniquity and

conceived in sin, it is unquestionably true that Government is

begotten of aggression and by aggression. In small undeveloped

societies where for ages complete peace has continued, there

exists nothing like what we call Government: no coercive agency,

but mere honorary headship, if any headship at all. In these

exceptional communities, unaggressive and from special causes

unaggressed upon, there is so little deviation from the virtues

of truthfulness, honesty, justice, and generosity, that nothing

beyond an occasional expression of public opinion by

informally-assembled elders is needful.(1*) Conversely, we find

proofs that, at first recognized but temporarily during

leadership in war, the authority of a chief is permanently

established by continuity of war; and grows strong where

successful aggression ends in subjection of neighbouring tribes.

And thence onwards, examples furnished by all races put beyond

doubt the truth, that the coercive power of the chief, developing

into king, and king of kings (a frequent title in the ancient

East), becomes great in proportion as conquest becomes habitual

and the union of subdued nations extensive.(2*) Comparisons

disclose a further truth which should be ever present to us --

the truth that the aggressiveness of the ruling power inside a

society increases with its aggressiveness outside the society.

As, to make an efficient army, the soldiers in their several

grades must be subordinate to the commander; so, to make an

efficient fighting community, must the citizens be subordinate to

the ruling power. They must furnish recruits to the extent

demanded, and yield up whatever property is required. 

    An obvious implication is that the ethics of Government,

originally identical with the ethics of war, must long remain

akin to them; and can diverge from them only as warlike

activities and preparations become less. Current evidence shows

this. At present on the Continent, the citizen is free only when

his services as a soldier are not demanded; and during the rest

of his life he is largely enslaved in supporting the military

organization. Even among ourselves, a serious war would, by the

necessitated conscription, suspend the liberties of large numbers

and trench on the liberties of the rest, by taking from them

through taxes whatever supplies were needed -- that is, forcing

them to labour so many days more for the State. Inevitably the

established code of conduct in the dealings of Governments with

citizens, must be allied to their code of conduct in their

dealings with one another. 

    I am not, under the title of this article, about to treat of

the trespasses and the revenges for trespasses, accounts of which

constitute the great mass of history; nor to trace the internal

inequities which have ever accompanied the eternal inequities. I

do not propose here to catalogue the crimes of irresponsible

legislators; beginning with that of King Khufu, the stones of

whose vast tomb were laid in the bloody sweat of tens of

thousands of slaves toiling through long years under the lash;

going on to those committed by conquerors, Egyptian, Assyrian,

Persian, Macedonian, Roman, and the rest; and ending with those

of Napoleon, whose ambition to set his foot on the neck of the

civilized world, cost not less than two million lives.(3*) Nor do

I propose here to enumerate those sins of responsible legislators

seen in the long list of laws made in the interests of dominant

classes -- a list coming down in our own country to those under

which there were long maintained slavery and the slave-trade,

torturing nearly 40,000 negroes annually by close packing during

a tropical voyage, and killing a large percentage of them, and

ending with that of the corn-laws, by which, says Sir Erskine

May, "to ensure high rents, it had been decreed that multitudes

should hunger."(4*) 

    Not, indeed, that a presentation of the conspicuous misdeeds

of legislators, responsible and irresponsible, would be useless.

It would have several uses -- one of them relevant to the truth

above pointed out. Such a presentation would make clear how that

identity of governmental ethics with military ethics which

necessarily exists during primitive times, when the army is

simply the mobilized society and the society is the quiescent

army, continues through long stages, and even now affects in

great degrees our law-proceedings and our daily lives. Having,

for instance, shown that in numerous savage tribes the judicial

function of the chief does not exist, or is nominal, and that

very generally during early stages of European civilization, each

man had to defend himself and rectify his private wrongs as best

he might -- having shown that in medieval times the right of

private war among members of the military order was brought to an

end, not because the head ruler thought it his duty to arbitrate,

but because private wars interfered with the efficiency of his

army in public wars having shown that the administration of

justice displayed through subsequent ages a large amount of its

primitive nature, in trial by battle carried on before the king

or his deputy as umpire, and which, among ourselves, continued

nominally to be an alternative form of trial down to 1819; it

might then be pointed out that even now there survives trial by

battle under another form: counsel being the champions and purses

the weapons. In civil cases, the ruling agency cares scarcely

more than of old about rectifying the wrongs of the injured; but,

practically, its deputy does little else than to enforce the

rules of the fight: the result being less a question of equity

than a question of pecuniary ability and forensic skill. Nay, so

little concern for the administration of justice is shown by the

ruling agency, that when, by legal conflict carried on in the

presence of its deputy, the combatants have been pecuniarily bled

even to the extent of producing prostration, and when an appeal

being made by one of them the decision is reversed, the beaten

combatant is made to pay for the blunders of the deputy, or of a

preceding deputy; and not unfrequently the wronged man, who

sought protection or restitution, is taken out of court

pecuniarily dead. 

    Adequately done, such a portrayal of governmental misdeeds of

commission and omission, proving that the partially-surviving

code of ethics arising in, and proper to, a state of war, still

vitiates governmental action, might greatly moderate the hopes of

those who are anxious to extend governmental control. After

observing that along with the still-manifest traits of that

primitive political structure which chronic militancy produces,

there goes a still-manifest survival of its primitive principles;

the reformer and the philanthropist might be less sanguine in

their anticipations of good from its all-pervading agency, and

might be more inclined to trust agencies of a non-governmental


    But leaving out the greater part of the large topic

comprehended under the title of this article, I propose here to

deal only with a comparatively small remaining part -- those sins

of legislators which are not generated by their personal

ambitions or class interests, but result from a lack of the study

by which they are morally bound to prepare themselves. 

    A druggist's assistant who, after listening to the

description of pains which he mistakes for those of colic, but

which are really caused by inflammation of the cecum, prescribes

a sharp purgative and kills the patient, is found guilty of

manslaughter. He is not allowed to excuse himself on the ground

that he did not intend harm but hoped for good. The plea that he

simply made a mistake in his diagnosis is not entertained. He is

told that he had no right to risk disastrous consequences by

meddling in a matter concerning which his knowledge was so

inadequate. The fact that he was ignorant how great was his

ignorance is not accepted in bar of judgment. It is tacitly

assumed that the experience common to all should have taught him

that even the skilled, and much more the unskilled, make mistakes

in the identification of disorders and in the appropriate

treatment; and that having disregarded the warning derivable from

common experience, he was answerable for the consequences. 

    We measure the responsibilities of legislators for mischiefs

they may do, in a much more lenient fashion. In most cases, so

far from thinking of them as deserving punishment for causing

disasters by laws ignorantly enacted, we scarcely think of them

as deserving reprobation. It is held that common experience

should have taught the druggist's assistant, untrained as he is,

not to interfere; but it is not held that common experience

should have taught the legislator not to interfere til1 he has

trained himself Though multitudinous facts are before him in the

recorded legislation of our own country and of other countries,

which should impress on him the immense evils caused by wrong

treatment, he is not condemned for disregarding these warnings

against rash meddling. Contrariwise, it is thought meritorious in

him when -- perhaps lately from college, perhaps fresh from

keeping a pack of hounds which made him popular in his county,

perhaps emerging from a provincial town where he acquired a

fortune, perhaps rising from the bar at which he has gained a

name as an advocate -- he enters Parliament; and forthwith, in

quite a light-hearted way, begins to aid or hinder this or that

means of operating on the body politic. In this case there is no

occasion even to make for him the excuse that he does not know

how little he knows; for the public at large agrees with him in

thinking it needless that he should know anything more than what

the debates on the proposed measures tell him. 

    And yet the mischiefs wrought by uninstructed law-making,

enormous in their amount as compared with those caused by

uninstructed medical treatment, are conspicuous to all who do but

glance over its history. The reader must pardon me while I recall

a few familiar instances. Century after century, statesmen went

on enacting usury laws which made worse the condition of the

debtor -- raising the rate of interest "from five to six when

intending to reduce it to four,"(5*) as under Louis XV and

indirectly producing undreamt of evils of many kinds, such as

preventing the reproductive use of spare capital, and "burdening

the small proprietors with a multitude of perpetual

services."(6*) So, too, the endeavours which in England continued

through five hundred years to stop forestalling, and which in

France, as Arthur Young witnessed, prevented any one from buying

"more than two bushels of wheat at market,"(7*) went on

generation after generation increasing the miseries and mortality

due to dearth; for, as everybody now knows, the wholesale dealer,

who was in the statute "De Pistoribus" vituperated as "an open

oppressor of poor people,"(8*) is simply one whose function it is

to equalize the supply of a commodity by checking unduly rapid

consumption. Of kindred nature was the measure which, in 1315, to

diminish the pressure of famine, prescribed the prices of foods,

but which was hastily repealed after it had caused entire

disappearance of various foods from the markets; and also such

measures, more continuously operating, as those which settled by

magisterial order "the reasonable gains" of victuallers.(9*) Of

like spirit and followed by allied mischiefs have been the many

endeavours to fix wages, which began with the Statute of

Labourers under Edward III, and ceased only sixty years ago;

when, having long galvanized in Spitalfields a decaying industry,

and fostered there a miserable population, Lords and Commons

finally gave up fixing silk-weavers' earnings by the decisions of

magistrates. Here I imagine an impatient interruption. "We know

all that; the story is stale. The mischiefs of interfering with

trade have been dinned in our ears till we are weary; and no one

needs to be taught the lesson afresh." My first reply is that by

the great majority the lesson was never properly learnt at all,

and that many of those who did learn it have forgotten it. For

just the same pleas which of old were put in for these

dictations, are again put in. In the statute 35 of Edward III,

which aimed to keep down the price of herrings (but was soon

repealed because it raised the price), it was complained that

people "coming to the fair... do bargain for herring, and every

of them, by malice and envy, increase upon other, and, if one

proffer forty shillings, another will proffer ten shillings more,

and the third sixty shillings, and so every one surmounteth other

in the bargain."(10*) And now the "higgling of the market," here

condemned and ascribed to "malice and envy," is being again

condemned. The evils of competition have all along been the stock

cry of the Socialists; and the council of the Democratic

Federation denounces the carrying on of exchange under "the

control of individual greed and profit." My second reply is that

interferences with the law of supply and demand, which a

generation ago were admitted to be habitually mischievous, are

now being daily made by Acts of Parliament in new fields; and

that, as I shall presently show, they are in these fields

increasing the evils to be cured and producing fresh ones, as of

old they did in fields no longer intruded upon. 

    Returning from this parenthesis, I go on to explain that the

above Acts are named to remind the reader that uninstructed

legislators have in past times continually increased human

suffering in their endeavours to mitigate it; and I have now to

add that if these evils, shown to be legislatively intensified or

produced, be multiplied by ten or more, a conception will be

formed of the aggregate evils caused by law-making unguided by

social science. In a paper read to the Statistical Society in

May, 1873, Mr Janson, vice-president of the Law Society, stated

that from the Statute of Merton (20 Henry III) to the end of

1872, there had been passed 18,110 public Acts; of which he

estimated that four-fifths had been wholly or partially repealed.

He also stated that the number of public Acts repealed wholly or

in part, or amended, during the three years 1870-71-72 had been

3,532, of which 2,759 had been totally repealed. To see whether

this rate of repeal has continued, I have referred to the

annually-issued volumes of "The Public General Statutes" for the

last three sessions. Saying nothing of the numerous amended Acts,

the result is that in the last three sessions there have been

totally repealed, separately or in groups, 650 Acts, belonging to

the present reign, besides many of preceding reigns. This, of

course, is greatly above the average rate; for there has of late

been an active purgation of the statute-book. But making every

allowance, we must infer that within our own times, repeals have

mounted some distance into the thousands. Doubtless a number of

them have been of laws that were obsolete; others have been

demanded by changes of circumstances (though seeing how many of

them are of quite recent Acts, this has not been a large cause);

others simply because they were inoperative; and others have been

consequent on the consolidations of numerous Acts into single

Acts. But unquestionably in multitudinous cases, repeals came

because the Acts had proved injurious. We talk glibly of such

changes -- we think of cancelled legislation with indifference.

We forget that before laws are abolished they have generally been

inflicting evils more or less serious; some for a few years, some

for tens of years, some for centuries. Change your vague idea of

a bad law into a definite idea of it as an agency operating on

people's lives, and you see that it means so much of pain, so

much of illness, so much of mortality. A vicious form of legal

procedure, for example, either enacted or tolerated, entails on

suitors, costs, or delays, or defeats. What do these imply? Loss

of money, often ill-spared; great and prolonged anxiety;

frequently consequent illness; unhappiness of family and

dependents; children stinted in food and clothing -- all of them

miseries which bring after them multiplied remoter miseries. Add

to which there are the far more numerous cases of those who,

lacking the means or the courage to enter on law-suits, and

therefore submitting to frauds, are impoverished; and have

similarly to bear the pains of body and mind which ensue. Even to

say that a law has been simply a hindrance, is to say that it has

caused needless loss of time, extra trouble, and additional

worry; and among over-burdened people extra trouble and worry

imply, here and there, break-downs in health with their entailed

direct and indirect sufferings. Seeing, then, that bad

legislation means injury to men's lives, judge what must be the

total amount of mental distress, physical pain, and raised

mortality, which these thousands of repealed Acts of Parliament

represent! Fully to bring home the truth that law-making unguided

by adequate knowledge brings immense evils, let me take a special

case which a question of the day recalls. 

    Already I have hinted that interferences with the connexion

between supply and demand, given up in certain fields after

immense mischiefs had been done during many centuries, are now

taking place in other fields. This connexion is supposed to hold

only where it has been proved to hold by the evils of

disregarding it: so feeble is men's belief in it. There seems no

suspicion that in cases where it seems to fail, natural causation

has been traversed by artificial hindrances. And yet in the case

to which I now refer -- that of the supply of houses for the poor

-- it needs but to ask what laws have been doing for a long time

past, to see that the terrible evils complained of are mostly


    A generation ago discussion was taking place concerning the

inadequacy and badness of industrial dwellings, and I had

occasion to deal with the question. Here is a passage then

written: -- 

    "An architect and surveyor describes it [the Building Act] as

having worked after the following manner. In those districts of

London consisting of inferior houses built in that unsubstantial

fashion which the New Building Act was to mend, there obtains an

average rent, sufficiently remunerative to landlords whose houses

were run up economically before the New Building Act was passed.

This existing average rent fixes the rent that must be charged in

these districts for new houses of the same accommodation -- that

is the same number of rooms, for the people they are built for do

not appreciate the extra safety of living within walls

strengthened with hoop-iron bond. Now it turns out upon trial,

that houses built in accordance with the present regulations, and

let at this established rate, bring in nothing like a reasonable

return. Builders have consequently confined themselves to

erecting houses in better districts (where the possibility of a

profitable competition with pre-existing houses shows that those

pre-existing houses were tolerably substantial), and have ceased

to erect dwellings for the masses, except in the suburbs where no

pressing sanitary evils exist. Meanwhile, in the inferior

districts above described, has resulted an increase of

overcrowding -- half-a-dozen families in a house, a score of

lodgers to a room. Nay, more than this has resulted. That state

of miserable dilapidation into which these abodes of the poor are

allowed to fall, is due to the absence of competition from new

houses. Landlords do not find their tenants tempted away by the

offer of better accommodation. Repairs, being unnecessary for

securing the largest amount of profit, are not made... In fact

for a large percentage of the very horrors which our sanitary

agitators are trying to cure by law, we have to thank previous

agitators of the same school!"

        Social Statics, p. 384 (edition of 1851) 

    These were not the only law-made causes of such evils. As

shown in the following further passage, sundry others were

recognized: -- 

    "Writing before the repeal of the brick-duty, the Builder

says: -- 'It is supposed that one-fourth of the cost of a

dwelling which lets for 2s. 6d. or 3s. a week is caused by the

expense of the title-deeds and the tax on wood and bricks used in

its construction. Of course, the owner of such property must be

remunerated, and he therefore charges 7 1/2d. or 9d. a week to

cover these burdens.' Mr C. Gatliff, secretary to the Society for

Improving the Dwellings of the Working Classes, describing the

effect of the window-tax, says: -- 'They are now paying upon

their institution in St. Pancras the sum of £162 16s. in

window-duties, or 1 per cent. per annum upon the original outlay.

The average rental paid by the Society's tenants is 5s. 6d. per

week, and the window-duty deducts from this 71/4d. per week.'"

Times, January 31, 1850.

            Social Statics, p. 385 (edition of 1851).

    Neither is this all the evidence which the press of those

days afforded. There was published in the Times of December 7,

1850 (too late to be used in the above-named work, which I issued

in the last week of 1850), a letter dated from the Reform Club,

and signed "Architect," which contained the following passages:


    "Lord Kinnaird recommends in your paper of yesterday the

construction of model lodging-houses by throwing two or three

houses into one. 

    "Allow me to suggest to his Lordship, and to his friend Lord

Ashley to whom he refers, that if, -- 

    1. The window-tax were repealed,

    2. The building Act repealed (excepting the clauses enacting

that party and eternal walls shall be fireproof),

    3. The timber duties either equalized or repealed, and,

    4. An Act passed to facilitate the transfer of property, 

     "There would be no more necessity for model lodging-houses

than there is for model ships, model cotton-mills, or model


    "The first limits the poor man's house to seven windows,

    "The second limits the size of the poor man's house to 25

feet by 18 (about the size of a gentleman's dining-room), into

which space the builder has to cram a staircase, an

entrance-passage, a parlour, and a kitchen (walls and partitions


    "The third induces the builder to erect the poor man's house

of timber unfit for building purposes, the duty on the good

material (Baltic) being fifteen times more than the duty on the

bad or injurious article (Canadian). The Government, even,

exclude the latter from all their contractors. 

    "The fourth would have considerable influence upon the

present miserable state of the dwellings of the poor. Small

freeholds might then be transferred as easily as leaseholds. The

effect of building leases has been a direct inducement to bad


    To guard against mis-statement or over-statement, I have

taken the precaution to consult a large East-end builder and

contractor of forty years' experience, Mr C. Forrest, Museum

Works, 17, Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green, who, being

churchwarden, member of the vestry, and of the board of

guardians, adds extensive knowledge of local public affairs to

his extensive knowledge of the building business. Mr Forrest, who

authorizes me to give his name, verifies the foregoing statements

with the exception of one which he strengthens. He says that

"Architect" understates the evil entailed by the definition of a

"fourth-rate house;" since the dimensions are much less than

those he gives perhaps in conformity with the provisions of a

more recent Building Act). Mr Forrest has done more than this.

Besides illustrating the bad effects of great increase in

ground-rents (in sixty years from £1 to £8 10s. for a fourth-rate

house) which, joined with other causes, had obliged him to

abandon plans for industrial dwellings he had intended to build

-- besides agreeing with "Architect" that this evil has been

greatly increased by the difficulties of land-transfer due to the

law-established system of trusts and entails; he pointed out that

a further penalty on the building of small houses is inflicted by

additions to local burdens ("prohibitory imposts" he called

them): one of the instances he named being that to the cost of

each new house has to be added the cost of pavement, roadway and

sewerage, which is charged according to length of frontage, and

which, consequently, bears a far larger ratio to the value of a

small house than to the value of a large one. 

    From these law-produced mischiefs, which were great a

generation ago and have since been increasing, let us pass to

more recent law-produced mischiefs. The misery, the disease, the

mortality in "rookeries," made continually worse by artificial

impediments to the increase of fourth-rate houses, and by the

necessitated greater crowding of those which existed, having

become a scandal, Government was invoked to remove the evil. It

responded by Artisans' Dwellings Acts; giving to local

authorities powers to pull down bad houses and provide for the

building of good ones. What have been the results? A summary of

the operations of the Metropolitan Board of Works, dated December

21, 1883, shows that up to last September it had, at a cost of a

million and a quarter to ratepayers, unhoused 21,000 persons and

provided houses for 12,000 -- the remaining 9,000 to be hereafter

provided for, being, meanwhile, left houseless. This is not all.

Another local lieutenant of the Government, the Commission of

Sewers for the City, working on the same lines, has, under

legislative compulsion, pulled down in Golden Lane and Petticoat

Square, masses of condemned small houses, which, together,

accommodated 1,734 poor people; and of the spaces thus cleared

five years ago, one has, by State-authority, been sold for a

railway station, and the other is only now being covered with

industrial dwellings which will eventually accommodate one-half

of the expelled population: the result up to the present time

being that, added to those displaced by the Metropolitan Board of

Works, these 1,734 displaced five years ago, form a total of

nearly 11,000 artificially made homeless, who have had to find

corners for themselves in miserable places that were already


    See then what legislation has done. By ill-imposed taxes,

raising the prices of bricks and timber, it added to the costs of

houses; and prompted, for economy's sake, the use of bad

materials in scanty quantities. To check the consequent

production of wretched dwellings, it established regulations

which, in medieval fashion, dictated the quality of the commodity

produced: there being no perception that by insisting on a higher

quality and therefore higher price, it would limit the demand and

eventually diminish the supply. By additional local burdens,

legislation has of late still further hindered the building of

small houses. Finally, having, by successive measures, produced

first bad houses and then a deficiency of better ones, it has at

length provided for the artificially-increased overflow of poor

people by diminishing the house-capacity which already could not

contain them! 

    Where then lies the blame for the miseries of the East-end?

Against whom should be raised "the bitter cry of outcast London?"

    The German anthropologist Bastian, tells us that a sick

native of Guinea who causes the fetish to lie by not recovering,

is strangled;(11*) and we may reasonably suppose that among the

Guinea people, any one audacious enough to call in question the

power of the fetish would be promptly sacrificed. In days when

governmental authority was enforced by strong measures, there was

a kindred danger in saying anything disrespectful of the

political fetish. Nowadays, however, the worst punishment to be

looked for by one who questions its omnipotence, is that he will

be reviled as a reactionary who talks laissez-faire. That any

facts he may bring forward will appreciably decrease the

established faith is not to be expected; for we are daily shown

that this faith is proof against all adverse evidence. Let us

contemplate a small part of that vast mass of it which passes


    "A Government-office is like an inverted filter: you send in

accounts clear and they come out muddy." Such was the comparison

I heard made many years ago by the late Sir Charles Fox, who, in

the conduct of his business, had considerable experience of

public departments. That his opinion was not a singular one,

though his comparison was, all men know. Exposures by the press

and criticisms in Parliament, leave no one in ignorance of the

vices of red-tape routine. Its delays, perpetually complained of,

and which in the time of Mr Fox Maule went to the extent that

"the commissions of officers in the army" were generally "about

two years in arrear," is afresh illustrated by the issue of the

first volume of the detailed census of 1881, more than two years

after the information was collected. If we seek explanations of

such delays, we find one origin to be a scarcely credible

confusion. In the case of the census returns, the

Registrar-General tells us that "the difficulty consists not

merely in the vast multitude of different areas that have to be

taken into account, but still more in the bewildering complexity

of their boundaries:" there being 39,000 administrative areas of

twenty-two different kinds which overlap one another -- hundreds,

parishes, boroughs, wards, petty sessional divisions, lieutenancy

divisions, urban and rural sanitary districts, dioceses,

registration districts, etc. And then, as Mr Rathbone, M.P.,

points out,(12*) these many superposed sets of areas with

intersecting boundaries, have their respective governing bodies

with authorities running into one another's districts. Does any

one ask why for each additional administration Parliament has

established a fresh set of divisions? The reply which suggests

itself is -- To preserve consistency of method. For this

organized confusion corresponds completely with that organized

confusion which Parliament each year increases by throwing on to

the heap of its old Acts a hundred new Acts, the provisions of

which traverse and qualify in all kinds of ways the provisions of

multitudinous Acts on to which they are thrown: the onus of

settling what is the law being left to private persons, who lose

their property in getting judges' interpretations. And again,

this system of putting networks of districts over other networks,

with their conflicting authorities, is quite consistent with the

method under which the reader of the Public Health Act of 1872,

who wishes to know what are the powers exercised over him, is

referred to 26 preceding Acts of several classes and numerous

dates.(13*) So, too, with administrative inertia. Continually

there occur cases showing the resistance of officialism to

improvements; as by the Admiralty when use of the electric

telegraph was proposed, and the reply was -- "We have a very good

semaphore system;" or as by the Post Office, which the late Sir

Charles Siemens years ago said had obstructed the employment of

improved methods of telegraphing, and which since then has

impeded the use of the telephone. Other cases akin to the case of

industrial dwellings, now and then show how the State with one

hand increases evils which with the other hand it tries to

diminish; as when it puts a duty on fire-insurances and then

makes regulations for the better putting out of fires: dictating,

too, certain modes of construction, which, as Captain Shaw shows,

entail additional dangers.(14*) Again, the absurdities of

official routine, rigid where it need not be and lax where it

should be rigid, occasionally become glaring enough to cause

scandals; as when a secret State-document of importance, put into

the hands of an ill-paid copying clerk who was not even in

permanent Government employ, was made public by him; or as when

the mode of making the Moorsom fuse, which was kept secret even

from our highest artillery officers, was taught to them by the

Russians, who had been allowed to learn it; or as when a diagram

showing the "distances at which British and foreign iron-clads

could be perforated by our large guns," communicated by an

enterprising attache to his own Government, then became known "to

all the Governments of Europe," while English officers remained

ignorant of the facts.(15*) So, too, with State-supervision.

Guaranteeing of quality by inspection has been shown, in the

hall-marking of silver, to be superfluous, while the silver trade

has been decreased by it;(16*) and in other cases it has lowered

the quality by establishing a standard which it is useless to

exceed: instance the case of the Cork butter-market, where the

higher kinds are disadvantaged in not adequately profiting by

their better repute;(17*) or, instance the case of

herring-branding (now optional) the effect of which is to put the

many inferior curers who just reach the level of official

approval, on a par with the few better ones who rise above it,

and so to discourage these. But such lessons pass unlearned. Even

where the failure of inspection is most glaring, no notice is

taken of it; as instance the terrible catastrophe by which a

train full of people was destroyed along with the Tay bridge.

Countless denunciations, loud and unsparing, were vented against

engineer and contractor; but little, if anything, was said about

the Government officer from whom the bridge received

State-approval. So, too, with prevention of disease. It matters

not that under the management or dictation of State-agents some

of the worst evils occur; as when the lives of 87 wives and

children of soldiers are sacrificed in the ship Accrington,(18*)

or as when typhoid fever and diphtheria are diffused by a

State-ordered drainage system, as in Edinburgh;(19*) or as when

officially-enforced sanitary appliances, ever getting out of

order, increase the evils they were to decrease.(20*) Masses of

such evidence leave unabated the confidence with which sanitary

inspection is invoked -- invoked, indeed, more than ever; as is

shown in the recent suggestion that all public schools should be

under the supervision of health-officers. Nay, even when the

State has manifestly caused the mischief complained of, faith in

its beneficent agency is not at all diminished; as we see in the

fact that, having a generation ago authorized, or rather

required, towns to establish drainage systems which delivered

sewage into the rivers, and having thus polluted the sources of

water-supply, an outcry was raised against the water-companies

for the impurities of their water -- an outcry which continued

after these towns had been compelled, at vast extra cost, to

revolutionize their drainage systems. And now, as the only

remedy, there follows the demand that the State, by its local

proxies, shall undertake the whole business. The State's

misdoings become, as in the case of industrial dwellings, reasons

for praying it to do more. 

    This worship of the legislature is, in one respect, indeed,

less excusable than the fetish-worship to which I have tacitly

compared it. The savage has the defence that his fetish is silent

-- does not confess its inability. But the civilized man persists

in ascribing to this idol made with his own hands, powers which

in one way or other it confesses it has not got. I do not mean

merely that the debates daily tell us of legislative measures

which have done evil instead of good; nor do I mean merely that

the thousands of Acts of Parliament which repeal preceding Acts,

are so many tacit admissions of failure. Neither do I refer only

to such quasi-governmental confessions as that contained in the

report of the Poor Law Commissioners, who said that -- "We find,

on the one hand, that there is scarcely one statute connected

with the administration of public relief which has produced the

effect designed by the legislature, and that the majority of them

have created new evils, and aggravated those which they were

intended to prevent."(21*) I refer rather to confessions made by

statesmen, and by State-departments. Here, for example, in a

memorial addressed to Mr Gladstone, and adopted by a highly

influential meeting held under the chairmanship of the late Lord

Lyttelton, I read: -- 

"We, the undersigned, Peers, Members of the House of Commons,

Ratepayers, and Inhabitants of the Metropolis, feeling strongly

the truth and force of your statement made in the House of

Commons, in 1866, that, 'there is still a lamentable and

deplorable state of our whole arrangements, with regard to public

works -- vacillation, uncertainty, costliness, extravagance,

meanness, and all the conflicting vices that could be enumerated,

are united in our present system,'" etc., etc.(22*) 

Here, again, is an example furnished by a recent minute of the

Board of Trade (November, 1883), in which it is said that since

"the Shipwreck Committee of 1836 scarcely a session has passed

without some Act being passed or some step being taken by the

legislature or the Government with this object" [prevention of

ship-wrecks]; and that "the multiplicity of statutes, which were

all consolidated into one Act in 1854, has again become a scandal

and a reproach:" each measure being passed because previous ones

had failed. And then comes presently the confession that "the

loss of life and of ships has been greater since 1876 than it

ever was before." Meanwhile, the cost of administration has been

raised from £17,000 a year to £73,000 a year.(23*) 

    It is surprising how, spite of better knowledge, the

imagination is excited by artificial appliances used in

particular ways. We see it all through human history, from the

war-paint with which the savage frightens his adversary, down

through religious ceremonies and regal processions, to the robes

of a Speaker and the wand of an officially dressed usher. I

remember a child who, able to look with tolerable composure on a

horrible cadaverous mask while it was held in the hand, ran away

shrieking when his father put it on. A kindred change of feeling

comes over constituencies when, from boroughs and counties, their

members pass to the Legislative Chamber. While before them as

candidates, they are, by one or other party, jeered at,

lampooned, "heckled," and in all ways treated with utter

disrespect. But as soon as they assemble at Westminster, those

against whom taunts and invectives, charges of incompetence and

folly, had been showered from press and platform, excite

unlimited faith. Judging from the prayers made to them, there is

nothing which their wisdom and their power cannot compass. 

The reply to all this will doubtless be that nothing better than

guidance by "collective wisdom" can be had -- that the select men

of the nation, led by a re-selected few, bring their best powers,

enlightened by all the knowledge of the time, to bear on the

matters before them. "What more would you have?" will be the

question asked by most.

    My answer is that this best knowledge of the time with which

legislators are said to come prepared for their duties, is a

knowledge of which the greater part is obviously irrelevant, and

that they are blameworthy for not seeing what is the relevant

knowledge. No amount of the linguistic acquirements by which many

of them are distinguished will help their judgments in the least;

nor will they be appreciably helped by the literatures these

acquirements open to them. Political experiences and speculations

coming from small ancient societies, through philosophers who

assume that war is the normal state, that slavery is alike

needful and just, and that women must remain in perpetual

tutelage, can yield them but small aid in judging how Acts of

Parliament will work in great nations of modern types. They may

ponder on the doings of all the great men by whom, according to

the Carlylean theory, society is framed, and they may spend years

over those accounts of international conflicts, and treacheries,

and intrigues, and treaties, which fill historical works, without

being much nearer understanding the how and the why of social

structures and actions, and the ways in which laws affect them.

Nor does such information as is picked up at the factory, on

'Change, or in the justice room, go far towards the required


    That which is really needed is a systematic study of natural

causation as displayed among human beings socially aggregated.

Though a distinct consciousness of causation is the last trait

which intellectual progress brings -- though with the savage a

simple mechanical cause is not conceived as such -- though even

among the Greeks the flight of a spear was thought of as guided

by a god -- though from their times down almost to our own,

epidemics have been habitually regarded as of supernatural origin

-- and though among social phenomena, the most complex of all,

causal relations may be expected to continue longest

unrecognized; yet in our days, the existence of such causal

relations has become clear enough to force on all who think, the

inference that before meddling with them they should be

diligently studied. The mere facts, now familiar, that there is a

connexion between the numbers of births, deaths, and marriages,

and the price of corn, and that in the same society during the

same generation, the ratio of crime to population varies within

narrow limits, should be sufficient to make all see that human

desires, using as guide such intellect as is joined with them,

act with approximate uniformity. It should be inferred that among

social causes, those initiated by legislation, similarly

operating with an average regularity, must not only change men's

actions, but, by consequence, change their natures probably in

ways not intended. There should be recognition of the fact that

social causation, more than all other causation, is a fructifying

causation; and it should be seen that indirect and remote effects

are no less inevitable than proximate effects. I do not mean that

there is denial of these statements and inferences. But there are

beliefs and beliefs -- some which are held nominally, some which

influence conduct in small degrees, some which sway it

irresistibly under all circumstances; and unhappily the beliefs

of lawmakers respecting causation in social affairs, are of the

superficial sort. Let us look at some of the truths which all

tacitly admit, but which scarcely any take deliberate account of

in legislation. 

    There is the indisputable fact that each human being is in a

certain degree modifiable both physically and mentally. Every

theory of education, every discipline, from that of the

arithmetician to that of the prize-fighter, every proposed reward

for virtue or punishment for vice, implies the belief, embodied

in sundry proverbs, that the use or disuse of each faculty,

bodily or mental, is followed by an adaptive change in it -- loss

of power or gain of power, according to demand. 

    There is the fact, also in its broader manifestations

universally recognized, that modifications of Nature in one way

or other produced, are inheritable. No one denies that by the

accumulation of small changes, generation after generation,

constitution fits itself to conditions; so that a climate which

is fatal to other races is innocuous to the adapted race. No one

denies that peoples who belong to the same original stock but

have spread into different habitats where they have led different

lives, have acquired in course of time different aptitudes and

different tendencies. No one denies that under new conditions new

national characters are even now being moulded; as witness the

Americans. And if no one denies a process of adaptation

everywhere and always going on, it is a manifest implication that

adaptive modifications must be set up by every change of social


    To which there comes the undeniable corollary that every law

which serves to alter men's modes of action -- compelling, or

restraining, or aiding, in new ways -- so affects them as to

cause in course of time adjustments of their natures. Beyond any

mediate effect wrought, there is the remote effect, wholly

ignored by most a re-moulding of the average character: a

re-moulding which may be of a desirable kind or of an undesirable

kind, but which in any case is the most important of the results

to be considered. 

    Other general truths which the citizen, and still more the

legislator, ought to contemplate until they become wrought into

his intellectual fabric, are disclosed when we ask how social

activities are produced; and when we recognize the obvious answer

that they are the aggregate results of the desires of individuals

who are severally seeking satisfactions, and ordinarily pursuing

the ways which, with their pre-existing habits and thoughts, seem

the easiest -- following the lines of least resistance: the

truths of political economy being so many sequences. It needs no

proving that social structures and social actions must in some

way or other be the outcome of human emotions guided by ideas --

either those of ancestors or those of living men. And that the

right interpretation of social phenomena is to be found in the

co-operation of these factors from generation to generation,

follows inevitably. 

    Such an interpretation soon brings us to the inference that

of the aggregate results of men's desires seeking their

gratifications, those which have prompted their private

activities and their spontaneous co-operations, have done much

more towards social development than those which have worked

through governmental agencies. That abundant crops now grow where

once only wild berries could be gathered, is due to the pursuit

of individual satisfactions through many centuries. The progress

from wigwams to good houses has resulted from wishes to increase

personal welfare; and towns have arisen under the like

promptings. Beginning with traffic at gatherings on occasions of

religious festivals, the trading organization, now so extensive

and complex, has been produced entirely by men's efforts to

achieve their private ends. Perpetually Governments have thwarted

and deranged the growth, but have in no way furthered it; save by

partially discharging their proper function and maintaining

social order. So, too, with those advances of knowledge and those

improvements of appliances, by which these structural changes and

these increasing activities have been made possible. It is not to

the State that we owe the multitudinous useful inventions from

the spade to the telephone; it was not the State which made

possible extended navigation by a developed astronomy; it was not

the State which made the discoveries in physics, chemistry, and

the rest, which guide modern manufacturers; it was not the State

which devised the machinery for producing fabrics of every kind,

for transferring men and things from place to place, and for

ministering in a thousand ways to our comforts. The world-wide

transactions conducted in merchants' offices, the rush of traffic

filling our streets, the retail distributing system which brings

everything within easy reach and delivers the necessaries of life

daily at our doors, are not of governmental origin. All these are

results of the spontaneous activities of citizens, separate or

grouped. Nay, to these spontaneous activities Governments owe the

very means of performing their duties. Divest the political

machinery of all those aids which Science and Art have yielded it

-- leave it with those only which State-officials have invented;

and its functions would cease. The very language in which its

laws are registered and the orders of its agents daily given, is

an instrument not in the remotest degree due to the legislator;

but is one which has unawares grown up during men's intercourse

while pursuing their personal satisfactions. 

    And then a truth to which the foregoing one introduces us, is

that this spontaneously-formed social organization is so bound

together that you cannot act on one part without acting more or

less on all parts. We see this unmistakably when a cotton-famine,

first paralysing certain manufacturing districts and then

affecting the doings of wholesale and retail distributors

throughout the kingdom, as well as the people they supply, goes

on to affect the makers and distributors, as well as the wearers,

of other fabrics -- woollen, linen, etc. Or we see it when a rise

in the price of coal, besides influencing domestic life

everywhere, hinders the greater part of our industries, raises

the prices of the commodities produced, alters the consumption of

them, and changes the habits of consumers. What we see clearly in

these marked cases happens in every case, in sensible or in

insensible ways. And manifestly, Acts of Parliament are among

those factors which, beyond the effects directly produced, have

countless other effects of multitudinous kinds. As I heard

remarked by a distinguished professor, whose studies give ample

means of judging -- "When once you begin to interfere with the

order of Nature there is no knowing where the results will end."

And if this is true of that sub-human order of Nature to which he

referred, still more is it true of that order of Nature existing

in the social arrangements produced by aggregated human beings. 

    And now to carry home the conclusion that the legislator

should bring to his business a vivid consciousness of these and

other such broad truths concerning the human society with which

he proposes to deal, let me present somewhat more fully one of

them not yet mentioned. 

The continuance of every higher species of creature depends on

conformity, now to one, now to the other, of two

radically-opposed principles. The early lives of its members, and

the adult lives of its members, have to be dealt with in contrary

ways. We will contemplate them in their natural order. 

    One of the most familiar facts is that animals of superior

types, comparatively slow in reaching maturity, are enabled when

they have reached it, to give more aid to their offspring than

animals of inferior types. The adults foster their young during

periods more or less prolonged, while yet the young are unable to

provide for themselves; and it is obvious that maintenance of the

species can be secured only by a parental care adjusted to the

need consequent on imperfection. It requires no proving that the

blind unfledged hedge-bird, or the young puppy even after it has

acquired sight, would forthwith die if it had to keep itself warm

and obtain its own food. The gratuitous parental aid must be

great in proportion as the young one is of little worth, either

to itself or to others; and it may diminish as fast as, by

increasing development, the young one acquires worth, at first

for self-sustentation, and by-and-by for sustentation of others.

That is to say, during immaturity, benefits received must be

inversely as the power or ability of the receiver. Clearly if

during this first part of life benefits were proportioned to

merits, or rewards to deserts, the species would disappear in a


    From this regime of the family-group, let us turn to the

regime of that larger group formed by the adult members of the

species. Ask what happens when the new individual, acquiring

complete use of its powers and ceasing to have parental aid, is

left to itself. Now there comes into play a principle just the

reverse of that above described. Throughout the rest of its life,

each adult gets benefit in proportion to merit -- reward in

proportion to desert: merit and desert in each case being

understood as ability to fulfil all the requirements of life to

get food, to secure shelter, to escape enemies. Placed in

competition with members of its own species and in antagonism

with members of other species, it dwindles and gets killed off,

or thrives and propagates, according as it is ill-endowed or

well-endowed. Manifestly an opposite regime, could it be

maintained, would, in course of time, be fatal to the species. If

the benefits received by each individual were proportionate to

its inferiority -- if, as a consequence, multiplication of the

inferior was furthered and multiplication of the superior

hindered, progressive degradation would result; and eventually

the degenerate species would fail to hold its ground in presence

of antagonistic species and competing species. 

    The broad fact then, here to be noted, is that Nature's modes

of treatment inside the family-group and outside the

family-group, are diametrically opposed to one another; and that

the intrusion of either mode into the sphere of the other, would

be fatal to the species either mediately or remotely. 

    Does any one think that the like does not hold of the human

species? He cannot deny that within the human family, as within

any inferior family, it would be fatal to proportion benefits to

merits. Can he assert that outside the family, among adults,

there should not be a proportioning of benefits to merits? Will

he contend that no mischief will result if the lowly endowed are

enabled to thrive and multiply as much as, or more than, the

highly endowed? A society of men, standing towards other

societies in relations of either antagonism or competition, may

be considered as a species, or, more literally, as a variety of a

species; and it must be true of it as of other species or

varieties, that it will be unable to hold its own in the struggle

with other societies, if it disadvantages its superior units that

it may advantage its inferior units. Surely none can fail to see

that were the principle of family life to be adopted and fully

carried out in social life were reward always great in proportion

as desert was small, fatal results to the society would quickly

follow; and if so, then even a partial intrusion of the family

regime into the regime of the State, will be slowly followed by

fatal results. Society in its corporate capacity, cannot without

mediate or remoter disaster interfere with the play of these

opposed principles under which every species has reached such

fitness for its mode of life as it possesses, and under which it

maintains that fitness. 

    I say advisedly -- society in its corporate capacity: not

intending to exclude or condemn aid given to the inferior by the

superior in their individual capacities. Though when given so

indiscriminately as to enable the inferior to multiply, such aid

entails mischief; yet in the absence of aid given by society,

individual aid, more generally demanded than now, and associated

with a greater sense of responsibility, would, on the average, be

given with the effect of fostering the unfortunate worthy rather

than the innately unworthy: there being always, too, the

concomitant social benefit arising from culture of the

sympathies. But all this may be admitted while asserting that the

radical distinction between family-ethics and State-ethics must

be maintained; and that while generosity must be the essential

principle of the one, justice must be the essential principle of

the other -- a rigorous maintenance of those normal relations

among citizens under which each gets in return for his labour,

skilled or unskilled, bodily or mental, as much as is proved to

be its value by the demand for it: such return, therefore, as

will enable him to thrive and rear offspring in proportion to the

superiorities which make him valuable to himself and others. 

    And yet, notwithstanding the conspicuousness of these truths,

which should strike every one who leaves his lexicons, and his

law deeds, and his ledgers, and looks abroad into that natural

order of things under which we exist, and to which we must

conform, there is continual advocacy of paternal government. The

intrusion of family-ethics into the ethics of the State, instead

of being regarded as socially injurious, is more and more

demanded as the only efficient means to social benefit. So far

has this delusion now gone, that it vitiates the beliefs of those

who might, more than all others, be thought safe from it. In the

essay to which the Cobden Club awarded its prize in 1880, there

occurs the assertion that "the truth of Free Trade is clouded

over by the laissez-faire fallacy;" and we are told that "we need

a great deal more of paternal government -- that bugbear of the

old economists."(24*)

Vitally important as is the truth above insisted upon, since

acceptance or rejection of it affects the entire fabric of

political conclusions formed, I may be excused if I emphasize it

by here quoting certain passages contained in a work I published

in 1851: premising, only, that the reader must not hold me

committed to such teleological implications as they contain.

After describing "that state of universal warfare maintained

throughout the lower creation," and showing that an average of

benefit results from it, I have continued thus: -- 

"Note further, that their carnivorous enemies not only remove

from herbivorous herds individuals past their prime, but also

weed out the sickly, the malformed, and the least fleet or

powerful. By the aid of which purifying process, as well as by

the fighting so universal in the pairing season, all vitiation of

the race through the multiplication of its inferior samples is

prevented; and the maintenance of a constitution completely

adapted to surrounding conditions, and therefore most productive

of happiness, is ensured. 

    "The development of the higher creation is a progress towards

a form of being capable of a happiness undiminished by these

drawbacks. It is in the human race that the consummation is to be

accomplished. Civilization is the last stage of its

accomplishment. And the ideal man is the man in whom all the

conditions of that accomplishment are fulfilled. Meanwhile, the

well-being of existing humanity, and the unfolding of it into

this ultimate perfection, are both secured by that same

beneficent, though severe discipline, to which the animate

creation at large is subject: a discipline which is pitiless in

the working out of good: a felicity pursuing law which never

swerves for the avoidance of partial and temporary suffering. The

poverty of the incapable, the distresses that came upon the

imprudent, the starvation of the idle, and those shoulderings

aside of the weak by the strong, which leave so many 'in shallows

and in miseries,' are the decrees of a large, far-seeing



"To become fit for the social state, man has not only to lose his

savageness, but he has to acquire the capacities needful for

civilized life. Power of application must be developed; such

modification of the intellect as shall qualify it for its new

tasks must take place; and, above all, there must be gained the

ability to sacrifice a small mediate gratification for a future

great one. The state of transition will of course be an unhappy

state. Misery inevitably results from incongruity between

constitutions and conditions. All these evils which afflict us,

and seem to the uninitiated the obvious consequences of this or

that removable cause, are unavoidable attendants on the

adaptation now in progress. Humanity is being pressed against the

inexorable necessities of its new position -- is being moulded

into harmony with them, and has to bear the resulting unhappiness

as best it can. The process must be undergone, and the sufferings

must be endured. No power on earth, no cunningly-devised laws of

statesmen, no world-rectifying schemes of the humane, no

communist panaceas, no reforms that men ever did broach or ever

will broach, can diminish them one jot. Intensified they may be,

and are; and in preventing their intensification, the

philanthropic will find ample scope for exertion. But there is

bound up with the changes a normal amount of suffering, which

cannot be lessened without altering the very laws of life." 


    "Of course, in so far as the severity of this process is

mitigated by the spontaneous sympathy of men for each other, it

is proper that it should be mitigated: albeit there is

unquestionably harm done when sympathy is shown, without any

regard to ultimate results. But the drawbacks hence arising are

nothing like commensurate with the benefits otherwise conferred.

Only when this sympathy prompts to a breach of equity -- only

when it originates an interference forbidden by the law of equal

freedom -- only when, by so doing, it suspends in some particular

department of life the relationship between constitution and

conditions, does it work pure evil. Then, however, it defeats its

own end. Instead of diminishing suffering, it eventually

increases it. It favours the multiplication of those worst fitted

for existence, and, by consequence, hinders the multiplication of

those best fitted for existence -- leaving, as it does, less room

for them. It tends to fill the world with those to whom life will

bring most pain, and tends to keep out of it those to whom life

will bring most pleasure. It inflicts positive misery, and

prevents positive happiness."

        Social Statics, pp. 322-5 and pp. 380-1 (edition of


    The lapse of a third of a century since these passages were

published, has brought me no reasons for retreating from the

position taken up in them. Contrariwise, it has brought a vast

amount of evidence strengthening that position. The beneficial

results of the survival of the fittest, prove to be immeasurably

greater than those above indicated. The process of "natural

selection," as Mr Darwin called it, co-operating with a tendency

to variation and to inheritance of variations, he has shown to be

a chief cause (though not, I believe, the sole cause) of that

evolution through which all living things, beginning with the

lowest and diverging and re-diverging as they evolved, have

reached their present degrees of organization and adaptation to

their modes of life. So familiar has this truth become that some

apology seems needed for naming it. And yet, strange to say, now

that this truth is recognized by most cultivated people now that

the beneficent working of the survival of the fittest has been so

impressed on them that, much more than people in past times, they

might be expected to hesitate before neutralizing its action now

more than ever before in the history of the world, are they doing

all they can to further survival of the unfittest! 

    But the postulate that men are rational beings, continually

leads one to draw inferences which prove to be extremely wide of

the mark.(25*) 

    "Yes truly; your principle is derived from the lives of

brutes, and is a brutal principle. You will not persuade me that

men are to be under the discipline which animals are under. I

care nothing for your natural-history arguments. My conscience

shows me that the feeble and the suffering must be helped; and if

selfish people won't help them, they must be forced by law to

help them. Don't tell me that the milk of human kindness is to be

reserved for the relations between individuals, and that

Governments must be the administrators of nothing but hard

justice. Every man with sympathy in him must feel that hunger and

pain and squalor must be prevented; and that if private agencies

do not suffice, then public agencies must be established."

    Such is the kind of response which I expect to be made by

nine out of ten. In some of them it will doubtless result from a

fellow-feeling so acute that they cannot contemplate human misery

without an impatience which excludes all thoughts of remote

results. Concerning the susceptibilities of the rest, we may,

however, be somewhat sceptical. Persons who, now in this case and

now in that, are angry if, to maintain our supposed national

"interests" or national "prestige," those in authority do not

promptly send out some thousands of men to be partially destroyed

while destroying other thousands of men whose intentions we

suspect, or whose institutions we think dangerous to us, or whose

territory our colonists want, cannot after all be so tender in

feeling that contemplating the hardships of the poor is

intolerable to them. Little admiration need be felt for the

professed sympathies of people who urge on a policy which breaks

up progressing societies; and who then look on with Cynical

indifference at the weltering confusion left behind, with all its

entailed suffering and death. Those who, when Boers asserting

their independence successfully resisted us, were angry because

British "honour" was not maintained by fighting to avenge a

defeat, at the cost of more mortality and misery to our own

soldiers and their antagonists, cannot have so much "enthusiasm

of humanity" as protests like that indicated above would lead one

to expect. Indeed, along with this sensitiveness which they

profess will not let them look with patience on the pains of "the

battle of life" as it quietly goes on around, they appear to have

a callousness which not only tolerates but enjoys contemplating

the pains of battles of the literal kind; as one sees in the

demand for frustrated papers containing scenes of carnage, and in

the greediness with which detailed accounts of bloody engagements

are read. We may reasonably have our doubts about men whose

feelings are such that they cannot bear the thought of hardships

borne, mostly by the idle and the improvident, and who,

nevertheless, have demanded thirty-one editions of The Fifteen

Decisive Battles of the World, in which they may revel in

accounts of slaughter. Nay, even still more remarkable is the

contrast between the professed tender-heartedness and the actual

hard-heartedness of those who would reverse the normal course of

things that mediate miseries may be prevented, even at the cost

of greater miseries hereafter produced. For on other occasions

you may hear them, with utter disregard of bloodshed and death,

contend that in the interests of humanity at large it is well

that the inferior races should be exterminated and their places

occupied by the superior races. So that, marvellous to relate,

though they cannot think with calmness of the evils accompanying

the struggle for existence as it is carried on without violence

among individuals in their own society, they contemplate with

contented equanimity such evils in their intense and wholesale

forms, when inflicted by fire and sword on entire communities.

Not worthy of much respect then, as it seems to me, is this

generous consideration of the inferior at home which is

accompanied by unscrupulous sacrifice of the inferior abroad. 

    Still less respectable appears this extreme concern for those

of our own blood which goes along with utter unconcern for those

of other blood, when we observe its methods. Did it prompt

personal effort to relieve the suffering, it would rightly

receive approving recognition. Were the many who express this

cheap pity like the few who patiently, week after week and year

after year, devote large parts of their time to helping and

encouraging, and occasionally amusing, those who, in some cases

by ill-fortune and in other cases by incapacity or misconduct,

are brought to lives of hardship, they would be worthy of

unqualified admiration. The more there are of men and women who

help the poor to help themselves -- the more there are of those

whose sympathy is exhibited directly and not by proxy, the more

we may rejoice. But the mense majority of the persons who wish to

mitigate by law the miseries of the unsuccessful and the

reckless, propose to do this in small measure at their own cost

and mainly at the cost of others -- sometimes with their assent

but mostly without. More than this is true; for those who are to

be forced to do so much for the distressed, often equally or more

require something doing for them. The deserving poor are among

those who are burdened to pay the costs of caring for the

undeserving poor. As, under the old Poor Law, the diligent and

provident labourer had to pay that the good-for-nothings might

not suffer, until frequently under this extra burden he broke

down and himself took refuge in the workhouse -- as, at present,

it is admitted that the total rates levied in large towns for all

public purposes, have now reached such a height that they "cannot

be exceeded without inflicting great hardship on the small

shopkeepers and artisans, who already find it difficult enough to

keep themselves free from the pauper taint;"(26*) so in all

cases, the policy is one which intensifies the pains of those

most deserving of pity, that the pains of those least deserving

of pity may be mitigated. In short, men who are so sympathetic

that they cannot allow the struggle for existence to bring on the

unworthy the sufferings consequent on their incapacity or

misconduct, are so unsympathetic that they can, without

hesitation, make the struggle for existence harder for the

worthy, and inflict on them and their children artificial evils

in addition to the natural evils they have to bear! 

And here we are brought round to our original topic -- the sins

of legislators. Here there comes clearly before us the commonest

of the transgressions which rulers commit -- a transgression so

common, and so sanctified by custom, that no one imagines it to

be a transgression. Here we see that, as indicated at the outset,

Government, begotten of aggression and by aggression, ever

continues to betray its original nature by its aggressiveness;

and that even what on its nearer face seems beneficence only,

shows, on its remoter face, not a little maleficence -- kindness

at the cost of cruelty. For is it not cruel to increase the

sufferings of the better that the sufferings of the worse may be


    It is, indeed, marvellous how readily we let ourselves be

deceived by words and phrases which suggest one aspect of the

facts while leaving the opposite aspect unsuggested. A good

frustration of this, and one germane to the mediate question, is

seen in the use of the words "protection" and "protectionist" by

the antagonists of free trade, and in the tacit admission of its

propriety by free-traders. While the one party has habitually

ignored, the other party has habitually failed to emphasize, the

truth that this so-called protection always involves aggression;

and that the name aggressionist ought to be substituted for the

name protectionist. For nothing can be more certain than that if,

to maintain A's profit, B is forbidden to buy of C, or is fined

to the extent of the duty if he buys of C, B is aggressed upon

that A may be "protected." Nay, "aggressionists" is a title

doubly more applicable to the anti-free-traders than is the

euphemistic title "protectionists;" since, that one producer may

gain, ten consumers are fleeced. 

    Now just the like confusion of ideas, caused by looking at

one face only of the transaction, may be traced throughout all

the legislation which forcibly takes the property of this man for

the purpose of giving gratis benefits to that man. Habitually

when one of the numerous measures thus characterized is

discussed, the dominant thought is concerning the pitiable Jones

who is to be protected against some evil; while no thought is

given to the hard-working Brown who is aggressed upon, often much

more to be pitied. Money is exacted (either directly or through

raised rent) from the huckster who only by extreme pinching can

pay her way, from the mason thrown out of work by a strike, from

the mechanic whose savings are melting away during an illness,

from the widow who washes or sews from dawn to dark to feed her

fatherless little ones; and all that the dissolute may be saved

from hunger, that the children of less impoverished neighbours

may have cheap lessons, and that various people, mostly better

off, may read newspapers and novels for nothing! The error of

nomenclature is, in one respect, more misleading than that which

allows aggressionists to be called protectionists; for, as just

shown, protection of the vicious poor involves aggression on the

virtuous poor. Doubtless it is true that the greater part of the

money exacted comes from those who are relatively well-off. But

this is no consolation to the ill-off from whom the rest is

exacted. Nay, if the comparison be made between the pressures

borne by the two classes respectively, it becomes manifest that

the case is even worse than at first appears; for while to the

well-off the exaction means loss of luxuries, to the ill-off it

means loss of necessaries. 

    And now see the Nemesis which is threatening to follow this

chronic sin of legislators. They and their class, in common with

all owners of property, are in danger of suffering from a

sweeping application of that general principle practically

asserted by each of these confiscating Acts of Parliament. For

what is the tacit assumption on which such Acts proceed? It is

the assumption that no man has any claim to his property, not

even to that which he has earned by the sweat of his brow, save

by permission of the community; and that the community may cancel

the claim to any extent it thinks fit. No defence can be made for

this appropriation of A's possessions for the benefit of B, save

one which sets out with the postulate that society as a whole has

an absolute right over the possessions of each member. And now

this doctrine, which has been tacitly assumed, is being openly

proclaimed. Mr George and his friends, Mr Hyndman and his

supporters, are pushing the theory to its logical issue. They

have been instructed by examples, yearly increasing in number,

that the individual has no rights but what the community may

equitably override; and they are now saying -- "It shall go hard

but we will better the instruction," and over-ride individual

rights altogether. 

Legislative misdeeds of the classes above indicated are in large

measure explained, and reprobation of them mitigated, when we

look at the matter from afar off. They have their root in the

error that society is a manufacture; whereas it is a growth.

Neither the culture of past times nor the culture of the present

time, has given to any considerable number of people a scientific

conception of a society -- a conception of it as having a natural

structure in which all its institutions, governmental, religious,

industrial, commercial, etc., etc., are interdependently bound --

a structure which is in a sense organic. Or if such a conception

is nominally entertained, it is not entertained in such way as to

be operative on conduct. Contrariwise, incorporated humanity is

very commonly thought of as though it were like so much dough

which the cook can mould as she pleases into pie-crust, or puff,

or tartlet. The communist shows us unmistakably that he thinks of

the body politic as admitting of being shaped thus or thus at

will; and the tacit implication of many Acts of Parliament is

that aggregated men, twisted into this or that arrangement, will

remain as intended. 

    It may indeed be said that even irrespective of this

erroneous conception of a society as a plastic mass instead of as

an organized body, facts forced on his attention hour by hour

should make every one sceptical as to the success of this or that

proposed way of changing a people's actions. Alike to the citizen

and to the legislator, home experiences daily supply proofs that

the conduct of human beings baulks calculation. He has given up

the thought of managing his wife and lets her manage him.

Children on whom he has tried now reprimand, now punishment, now

suasion, now reward, do not respond satisfactorily to any method;

and no expostulation prevents their mother from treating them in

ways he thinks mischievous. So, too, his dealings with his

servants, whether by reasoning or by scolding, rarely succeed for

long: the falling short of attention, or punctuality, or

cleanliness, or sobriety, leads to constant changes. Yet,

difficult as he finds it to deal with humanity in detail, he is

confident of his ability to deal with embodied humanity.

Citizens, not one-thousandth of whom he knows, not one-hundredth

of whom he ever saw, and the great mass of whom belong to classes

having habits and modes of thought of which he has but dim

notions, he feels sure will act in certain ways he foresees, and

fulfil ends he wishes. Is there not a marvellous incongruity

between premises and conclusion? 

    One might have expected that whether they observed the

implications of these domestic failures, or whether they

contemplated in every newspaper the indications of a social life

too vast, too varied, too involved, to be even vaguely pictured

in thought, men would have entered on the business of law-making

with the greatest hesitation. Yet in this more than in anything

else do they show a confident readiness. Nowhere is there so

astounding a contrast between the difficulty of the task and the

unpreparedness of those who undertake it. Unquestionably among

monstrous beliefs one of the most monstrous is that while for a

simple handicraft, such as shoe-making, a long apprenticeship is

needful, the sole thing which needs no apprenticeship is making a

nation's laws! 

Summing up the results of the discussion, may we not reasonably

say that there lie before the legislator several open secrets,

which yet are so open that they ought not to remain secrets to

one who undertakes the vast and terrible responsibility of

dealing with millions upon millions of human beings by measures

which, if they do not conduce to their happiness, will increase

their miseries and accelerate their deaths? 

    There is first of all the undeniable truth, conspicuous and

yet absolutely ignored, that there are no phenomena which a

society presents but what have their origins in the phenomena of

individual human life, which again have their roots in vital

phenomena at large. And there is the inevitable implication that

unless these vital phenomena, bodily and mental, are chaotic in

their relations (a supposition excluded by the very maintenance

of life) the resulting phenomena cannot be wholly chaotic: there

must be some kind of order in the phenomena which grow out of

them when associated human beings have to co-operate. Evidently,

then, when one who has not studied such resulting phenomena of

social order, undertakes to regulate society, he is pretty

certain to work mischiefs. 

    In the second place, apart from a priori reasoning, this

conclusion should be forced on the legislator by comparisons of

societies. It ought to be sufficiently manifest that before

meddling with the details of social organization, inquiry should

be made whether social organization has a natural history; and

that to answer this inquiry, it would be well, setting out with

the simplest societies, to see in what respects social structures

agree. Such comparative sociology, pursued to a very small

extent, shows a substantial uniformity of genesis. The habitual

existence of chieftainship, and the establishment of chiefly

authority by war; the rise everywhere of the medicine man and

priest; the presence of a cult having in all places the same

fundamental traits; the traces of division of labour, early

displayed, which gradually become more marked; and the various

complications, political, ecclesiastical, industrial, which arise

as groups are compounded and recompounded by war; quickly prove

to any who compares them that, apart from all their special

differences, societies have general resemblances in their modes

of origin and development. They present traits of structure

showing that social organization has laws which over-ride

individual wills; and laws the disregard of which must be fraught

with disaster. 

    And then, in the third place, there is that mass of guiding

information yielded by the records of legislation in our own

country and in other countries, which still more obviously

demands attention. Here and elsewhere, attempts of multitudinous

kinds, made by kings and statesmen, have failed to do the good

intended and have worked unexpected evils. Century after century

new measures like the old ones, and other measures akin in

principle, have again disappointed hopes and again brought

disaster. And yet it is thought neither by electors nor by those

they elect, that there is any need for systematic study of that

law-making which in bygone ages went on working the ill-being of

the people when it tried to achieve their well-being. Surely

there can be no fitness for legislative functions without the

wide knowledge of those legislative experiences which the past

has bequeathed. 

    Reverting, then, to the analogy drawn at the outset, we must

say that the legislator is morally blameless or morally

blameworthy, according as he has or has not acquainted himself

with these several classes of facts. A physician who, after years

of study, has gained a competent knowledge of physiology,

pathology and therapeutics, is not held criminally responsible if

a man dies under his treatment: he has prepared himself as well

as he can, and has acted to the best of his judgment. Similarly

the legislator whose measures produce evil instead of good,

notwithstanding the extensive and methodic inquiries which helped

him to decide, cannot be held to have committed more than an

error of reasoning. Contrariwise, the legislator who is wholly or

in great part uninformed concerning these masses of facts which

he must examine before his opinion on a proposed law can be of

any value, and who nevertheless helps to pass that law, can no

more be absolved if misery and mortality result, than the

journeyman druggist can be absolved when death is caused by the

medicine he ignorantly prescribes. 


1. Political Institution, sections 437, 573.

2. Ibid., sections 471-3.

3. Lanfrey. See also Study of Sociology, p. 42, and Appendix.

4. Constitutional History of England, ii. p. 617.

5. Lecky, Rationalism, ii. 293-4.

6. De Tocqueville, The State of Society in France before the

Revolution, p. 421.

7. Young's Travels, i. 128-9.

8. Craik's History of British Commerce, i. 134.

9. Ibid., 136-7.

10. Ibid., 137.

11. Mensch, iii, p. 225.

12. The Nineteenth Century, February, 1883.

13. "The Statistics of Legislation" By F.H. Jansen, Esq., F.L.S.,

Vice-President ofthe Incorporated Law Society.

14. Fire Surveys; or, a Summary of the Principles to be observed

in Estimating the Risk of Buildings.

15. See Times, October 6, 1874, where other instances are given.

16. The State in its Relation to Trade, by Sir Thomas Farrer, p.


17. Ibid., p. 149.

18. Hansard, vol. clvi., p. 718, and vol. clvii., p. 4464.

19. Letter of an Ediburgh M.D. in Times of 17th January, 1876,

verifying other testimonies; one of which I had previously cited

concerning Windsor, where, as in Edinburgh, there was absolutely

no typhoid in the undrained parts, while it was very fatal in the

drained parts. Study in Sociology, chap. i., notes.

20. I say this partly from personal knowledge; having now before

me memoranada made 25 years ago, concerning such results produced

under my own observation. Verifying facts have recently been

given by Sir Richard Cross in the Nineteenth Century for January,

1884, p. 155.

21. Nicholl's History of English Poor Law, ii. p. 252.

22. See Times, March 31, 1863.

23. In these paragraphs are contained just a few additional

examples. Numbers which I have before given in books and essays,

will be found in Social Statics (1851): "Over-Legislation"

(1853); "Representative Government" (1857); "Specialized

Administration" (1871); Study of Sociology (1873), and Postscript

to ditto (1880); besides cases in smaller essays.

24. On the Value of Political Economy to Mankind. by A.N.

Cummings; pp. 47, 48.

25. The saying of Emerson that most people can understand a

principle only when its light falls on a fact, induces me here to

cite a fact which may carry home the above principle to those on

whom, in its abstract form, it will produce no effect. It rarely

happens that the amount of evil caused by fostering the vicious

and good-for-nothing can be estimated. But in America, at a

meeting of the States Charities Aid Association, held on December

18, 1874, a startling instance was given in detail by Dr Harris.

It was furnished by a county on the Upper Hudson, remarkable for

the ratio of crime and poverty to population. Generations ago

there had existed a certain "gutter-child," as she would be here

called, known as "Margaret," who proved to be the prolific mother

of a prolific race. Besides great numbers of idiots, imbeciles,

drunkards, lunatics, paupers, and prostitutes, "the county

records show two hundred of her descendants who have been

criminals." Was it kindness or cruelty which, generation after

generation, enabled these to multiply and become an increasing

curse to the society around them? (For particulars see the Jukes:

a Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity, by R.L.

Dugdale, New York; Putnams.)

26. Mr Chamberlain in Fortnightly Review, December, 1883, p. 772.


    The great political superstition of the past was the divine

right of kings. The great political superstition of the present

is the divine right of parliaments. The oil of anointing seems

unawares to have dripped from the head of the one on to the heads

of the many, and given sacredness to them also and to their


    However irrational we may think the earlier of these beliefs,

we must admit that it was more consistent than is the latter.

Whether we go back to times when the king was a god, or to times

when he was a descendant of a god, or to times when he was

god-appointed, we see good reason for passive obedience to his

will. When, as under Louis XIV, theologians like Bossuet taught

that kings "are gods, and share in a manner the Divine

independence," or when it was thought, as by our own Tory party

in old days, that "the monarch was the delegate of heaven;" it is

clear that, given the premise, the inevitable conclusion was that

no bounds could be set to governmental commands. But for the

modern belief such a warrant does not exist. Making no pretension

to divine descent or divine appointment, a legislative body can

show no supernatural justification for its claim to unlimited

authority; and no natural justification has ever been attempted.

Hence, belief in its unlimited authority is without that

consistency which of old characterized belief in a king's

unlimited authority. 

    It is curious how commonly men continue to hold in fact,

doctrines which they have rejected in name -- retaining the

substance after they have abandoned the form. In Theology an

illustration is supplied by Carlyle, who, in his student days,

giving up, as he thought, the creed of his fathers, rejected its

shell only, keeping the contents; and was proved by his

conceptions of the world, and man, and conduct, to be still among

the sternest of Scotch Calvinists. Similarly, Science furnishes

an instance in one who united naturalism in Geology with

supernaturalism in Biology -- Sir Charles Lyell. While, as the

leading expositor of the uniformitarian theory in Geology, he

ignored wholly the Mosaic cosmogony, he long defended that belief

in special creations of organic types, for which no other source

than the Mosaic cosmogony could be assigned; and only in the

latter part of his life surrendered to the arguments of Mr

Darwin. In Politics, as above implied, we have an analogous case.

The tacitly-asserted doctrine, common to Tories, Whigs, and

Radicals, that governmental authority is unlimited, dates back to

times when the law-giver was supposed to have a warrant from God;

and it survives still, though the belief that the law-giver has

God's warrant has died out. "Oh, an Act of Parliament can do

anything," is the reply made to a citizen who questions the

legitimacy of some arbitrary State-interference; and the citizen

stands paralysed. It does not occur to him to ask the how, and

the when, and the whence, of this asserted omnipotence bounded

only by physical impossibilities. 

    Here we will take leave to question it. In default of the

justification, once logically valid, that the ruler on Earth

being a deputy of the ruler in Heaven, submission to him in all

things is a duty, let us ask what reason there is for asserting

the duty of submission in all things to a ruling power,

constitutional or republican, which has no Heaven-derived

supremacy. Evidently this inquiry commits us to a criticism of

past and present theories concerning political authority. To

revive questions supposed to be long since settled, may be

thought to need some apology. but there is a sufficient apology

in the implication above made clear, that the theory commonly

accepted is ill-based or unbased. 

The notion of sovereignty is that which first presents itself;

and a critical examination of this notion, as entertained by

those who do not postulate the supernatural origin of

sovereignty, carries us back to the arguments of Hobbes. 

    Let us grant Hobbes's postulate that, "during the time men

live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in

that condition which is called war... of every man against every

man;"(1*) though this is not true, since there are some small

uncivilized societies in which, without any "common power to keep

them all in awe," men maintain peace and harmony better than it

is maintained in societies where such a power exists. Let us

suppose him to be right, too, in assuming that the rise of a

ruling power over associated men, results from their desires to

preserve order among themselves; though, in fact, it habitually

arises from the need for subordination to a leader in war,

defensive or offensive, and has originally no necessary, and

often no actual, relation to the preservation of order among the

combined individuals. Once more, let us admit the indefensible

assumption that to escape the evils of chronic conflicts, which

must otherwise continue among them, the members of a community

enter into a "pact or covenant," by which they all bind

themselves to surrender their primitive freedom of action, and

subordinate themselves to the will of a ruling power agreed

upon:(2*) accepting, also, the implication that their descendants

for ever are bound by the covenant which remote ancestors made

for them. Let us, I say, not object to these data, but pass to

the conclusions Hobbes draws. He says: -- 

"For where no covenant hath preceded, there hath no right been

transferred, and every man has right to every thing; and

consequently, no action can be unjust. But when a covenant is

made, then to break it is unjust: and the definition of

INJUSTICE, is no other than the not performance of covenant...

Therefore before the names of just and unjust can have place,

there must be some coercive power, to compel men equally to the

performance of their covenants, by the terror of some punishment,

greater than the benefit they expect by the breach of their


    Were people's characters in Hobbes's day really so bad as to

war rant his assumption that none would perform their covenants

in the absence of a coercive power and threatened penalties? In

our day "the names of just and unjust can have place" quite apart

from recognition of any coercive power. Among my friends I could

name half a dozen whom I would implicitly trust to perform their

covenants without any "terror of some punishment" and over whom

the requirements of justice would be as imperative in the absence

of a coercive power as in its presence. Merely noting, however,

that this unwarranted assumption vitiates Hobbes's argument for

State-authority, and accepting both his premises and conclusion,

we have to observe two significant implications. One is that

State-authority as thus derived, is a means to an end, and has no

validity save as subserving that end: if the end is not

subserved, the authority, by the hypothesis, does not exist. The

other is that the end for which the authority exists, as thus

specified, is the enforcement of justice -- the maintenance of

equitable relations. The reasoning yields no warrant for other

coercion over citizens than that which is required for preventing

direct aggressions, and those indirect aggressions constituted by

breaches of contract; to which, if we add protection against

eternal enemies, the entire function implied by Hobbes's

derivation of sovereign authority is comprehended. 

    Hobbes argued in the interests of absolute monarchy. His

modern admirer, Austin, had for his aim to derive the authority

of law from the unlimited sovereignty of one man, or of a number

of men, small or large compared with the whole community. Austin

was originally in the army; and it has been truly remarked that

"the permanent traces left" may be seen in his Province of

Jurisprudence. When, undeterred by the exasperating pedantries --

the endless distinctions and definitions and repetitions -- which

serve but to hide his essential doctrines, we ascertain what

these are, it becomes manifest that he assimilates civil

authority to military authority: taking for granted that the one,

as the other, is above question in respect of both origin and

range. To get justification for positive law, he takes us back to

the absolute sovereignty of the power imposing it -- a monarch,

an aristocracy, or that larger body of men who have votes in a

democracy; for such a body also, he styles the sovereign, in

contrast with the remaining portion of the community which, from

incapacity or other cause, remains subject. And having affirmed,

or, rather, taken for granted, the unlimited authority of the

body, simple or compound, small or large, which he styles

sovereign, he, of course, has no difficulty in deducing the legal

validity of its edicts, which he calls positive law. But the

problem is simply moved a step further back and there left

unsolved. The true question is -- Whence the sovereignty? What is

the assignable warrant for this unqualified supremacy assumed by

one, or by a small number, or by a large number, over the rest? A

critic might fitly say -- "We will dispense with your process of

deriving positive law from unlimited sovereignty: the sequence is

obvious enough. But first prove your unlimited sovereignty."

    To this demand there is no response. Analyse his assumption,

and the doctrine of Austin proves to have no better basis than

that of Hobbes. In the absence of admitted divine descent or

appointment, neither single-headed ruler nor many-headed ruler

can produce such credentials as the claim to unlimited

sovereignty implies. 

"But surely," will come in deafening chorus the reply, "there is

the unquestionable right of the majority, which gives

unquestionable rights to the parliament it elects."

    Yes, now we are coming down to the root of the matter. The

divine right of parliaments means the divine right of majorities.

The fundamental assumption made by legislators and people alike,

is that a majority has powers to which no limits can be put. This

is the current theory which all accept without proof as a

self-evident truth. Nevertheless, criticism will, I think, show

that this current theory requires a radical modification. 

    In an essay on "Railway Morals and Railway Policy," published

in the Edinburgh Review for October, 1854, I had occasion to deal

with the question of a majority's powers as exemplified in the

conduct of public companies; and I cannot better prepare the way

for conclusions presently to be drawn, than by quoting a passage

from it: -- 

 "Under whatever circumstances, or for whatever ends, a number of

men co-operate, it is held that if difference of opinion arises

among them, justice requires that the will of the seater number

shall be executed rather than that of the smaller number; and

this rule is supposed to be uniformly applicable, be the question

at issue what it may. So confirmed is this conviction and so

little have the ethics of the matter been considered, that to

most this mere suggestion of a doubt will cause some

astonishment. Yet it needs but a brief analysis to show that the

opinion is little better than a political superstition. Instances

may readily be selected which prove, by reductio ad absurdum,

that the right of a majority is a purely conditional right, valid

only within specific limits. Let us take a few. Suppose that at

the general meeting of some philanthropic association, it was

resolved that in addition to relieving distress the association

should employ home-missionaries to preach down popery. Might the

subscriptions of Catholics, who had joined the body with

charitable views, be rightfully used for this end? Suppose that

of the members of a bookclub, the seater number, thinking that

under existing circumstances rifle-practice was more important

than reading, should decide to change the purpose of their union,

and to apply the funds in hand for the purchase of powder, ball,

and targets. Would the rest be bound by this decision? Suppose

that under the excitement of news from Australia, the majority of

a Freehold Land Society should determine, not simply to start in

a body for the gold-diggings, but to use their accumulated

capital to provide outfits. Would this appropriation of property

be just to the minority? and must these join the expedition?

Scarcely anyone would venture an affirmative answer even to the

first of these questions; much less to the others. And why?

Because everyone must perceive that by uniting himself with

others, no man can equitably be betrayed into acts utterly

foreign to the purpose for which he joined them. Each of these

supposed minorities would properly reply to those seeking to

coerce them: -- 'We combined with you for a defined object; we

gave money and time for the furtherance of that object; on all

questions thence arising we tacitly agreed to conform to the will

of the greater number; but we did not agree to conform on any

other questions. If you induce us to join you by professing a

certain end, and then undertake some other end of which we were

not apprised, you obtain our support under false pretences; you

exceed the expressed or understood compact to which we committed

ourselves; and we are no longer bound by your decisions.' Clearly

this is the only rational interpretation of the matter. The

general principle underlying the right government of every

incorporated body, is, that its members contact with each other

severally to submit to the will of the majority in all matters

concerning the fulfilment of the objects for which they are

incorporated; but in no others. To this extent only can the

contact hold. For as it is implied in the very nature of a

contact, that those entering into it must know what they contact

to do; and as those who unite with others for a specified object,

cannot contemplate all the unspecified objects which it is

hypothetically possible for the union to undertake; it follows

that the contact entered into cannot extend to such unspecified

objects. And if there exists no expressed or understood contact

between the union and its members respecting unspecified objects,

then for the majority to coerce the minority into undertaking

them, is nothing less than gross tyranny." 

    Naturally, if such a confusion of ideas exists in respect of

the powers of a majority where the deed of incorporation tacitly

limits these powers, still more must there exist such a confusion

where there has been no deed of incorporation. Nevertheless the

same principle holds. I again emphasize the proposition that the

members of an incorporated body are bound "severally to submit to

the will of the majority in all matters concerning the fulfilment

of the objects for which they are incorporated; but in no

others." And I contend that this holds of an incorporated nation

as much as of an incorporated company. 

    "Yes, but," comes the obvious rejoinder, "as there is no deed

by which the members of a nation are incorporated -- as there

neither is, nor ever was, a specification of purposes for which

the union was formed, there exist no limits; and, consequently,

the power of the majority is unlimited."

    Evidently it must be admitted that the hypothesis of a social

contract, either under the shape assumed by Hobbes or under the

shape assumed by Rousseau, is baseless. Nay more, it must be

admitted that even had such a contract once been formed, it could

not be binding on the posterity of those who formed it. Moreover,

if any say that in the absence of those Stations to its powers

which a deed of incorporation might imply, there is nothing to

prevent a majority from imposing its will on a minority by force,

assent must be given an assent, however, joined with the comment

that if the superior force of the majority is its justification,

then the superior force of a despot backed by an adequate army,

is also justified: the problem lapses. What we here seek is some

higher warrant for the subordination of minority to majority than

that arising from inability to resist physical coercion. Even

Austin, anxious as he is to establish the unquestionable

authority of positive law, and assuming, as he does, an absolute

sovereignty of some kind, monarchic, aristocratic,

constitutional, or popular, as the source of its unquestionable

authority, is obliged, in the last resort, to admit a moral limit

to its action over the community. While insisting, in pursuance

of his rigid theory of sovereignty, that a sovereign body

originating from the people "is legally free to abridge their

political liberty, at its own pleasure or discretion," he allows

that "a government may be hindered by positive morality from

abridging the political liberty which it leaves or grants to its

subjects."(4*) Hence, we have to find, not a physical

justification, but a moral justification, for the supposed

absolute power of the majority. 

    This will at once draw forth the rejoinder -- "Of course, in

the absence of any agreement, with its implied limitations, the

rule of the majority is unlimited; because it is more just that

the majority should have its way than that the minority should

have its way." A very reasonable rejoinder this seems until there

comes the re-rejoinder. We may oppose to it the equally tenable

proposition that, in the absence of an agreement, the supremacy

of a majority over a minority does not exist at all. It is

co-operation of some kind, from which there arise these powers

and obligations of majority and minority; and in the absence of

any agreement to co-operate, such powers and obligations are also


    Here the argument apparently ends in a dead lock. Under the

existing condition of things, no moral origin seems assignable

either for the sovereignty of the majority or for the limitation

of its sovereignty. But further consideration reveals a solution

of the difficulty. For if, dismissing all thought of any

hypothetical agreement to cooperate heretofore made, we ask what

would be the agreement into which citizens would now enter with

practical unanimity, we get a sufficiently clear answer; and with

it a sufficiently clear justification for the rule of the

majority inside a certain sphere, but not outside that sphere.

Let us first observe a few of the limitations which at once

become apparent. 

    Were all Englishmen now asked if they would agree to

co-operate for the teaching of religion, and would give the

majority power to fix the creed and the forms of worship, there

would come a very emphatic "No" from a large part of them. If, in

pursuance of a proposal to revive sumptuary laws, the inquiry

were made whether they would bind themselves to abide by the will

of the majority in respect of the fashions and qualities of their

clothes, nearly all of them would refuse. In like manner if (to

take an actual question of the day) people were polled to

ascertain whether, in respect of the beverages they drank, they

would accept the decision of the greater number, certainly half,

and probably more than half, would be unwilling. Similarly with

respect to many other actions which most men now-a-days regard as

of purely private concern. Whatever desire there might be to

co-operate for carrying on, or regulating, such actions, would be

far from a unanimous desire. Manifestly, then, had social

co-operation to be commenced by ourselves, and had its purposes

to be specified before consent to co-operate could be obtained,

there would be large parts of human conduct in respect of which

co-operation would be declined; and in respect of which,

consequently, no authority by the majority over the minority

could be rightfully exercised. 

    Turn now to the converse question -- For what ends would all

men agree to co-operate? None will deny that for resisting

invasion the agreement would be practically unanimous. Excepting

only the Quakers, who, having done highly useful work in their

time, are now dying out, all would unite for defensive war (not,

however, for offensive war); and they would, by so doing, tacitly

bind themselves to conform to the will of the majority in respect

of measures directed to that end. There would be practical

unanimity, also, in the agreement to co-operate for defence

against internal enemies as against eternal enemies. Omitting

criminals, all must wish to have person and property adequately

protected. In short, each citizen desires to preserve his life,

to preserve those things which conduce to maintenance of his life

and enjoyment of it, and to preserve intact his liberties both of

using these things and getting further such. It is obvious to him

that he cannot do all this if he acts alone. Against foreign

invaders he is powerless unless he combines with his fellows; and

the business of protecting himself against domestic invaders, if

he did not similarly combine, would be alike onerous, dangerous,

and inefficient. In one other co-operation all are interested --

use of the territory they inhabit. Did the primitive communal

ownership survive, there would survive the primitive communal

control of the uses to be made of land by individuals or by

groups of them; and decisions of the majority would rightly

prevail respecting the terms on which portions of it might be

employed for raising food, for making means of communication, and

for other purposes. Even at present, though the matter has been

complicated by the growth of private landownership, yet, since

the State is still supreme owner (every landowner being in law a

tenant of the Crown) able to resume possession, or authorize

compulsory purchase, at a fair price; the implication is that the

will of the majority is valid respecting the modes in which, and

conditions under which, parts of the surface or sub-surface, may

be utilized: involving certain agreements made on behalf of the

public with private persons and companies. 

    Details are not needful here; nor is it needful to discuss

that border region lying between these classes of cases, and to

say how much is included in the last and how much is excluded

with the first. For present purposes, it is sufficient to

recognize the undeniable truth that there are numerous kinds of

actions in respect of which men would not, if they were asked,

agree with anything like unanimity to be bound by the will of the

majority; while there are some kinds of actions in respect of

which they would almost unanimously agree to be thus bound. Here,

then, we find a definite warrant for enforcing the will of the

majority within certain limits, and a definite warrant for

denying the authority of its will beyond those limits. 

    But evidently, when analysed, the question resolves itself

into the further question -- What are the relative claims of the

aggregate and of its units? Are the rights of the community

universally valid against the individual? or has the individual

some rights which are valid against the community? The judgment

given on this point underlies the entire fabric of political

convictions formed, and more especially those convictions which

concern the proper sphere of government. Here, then, I propose to

revive a dormant controversy, with the expectation of reaching a

different conclusion from that which is fashionable. 

Says Professor Jevons, in his work, The State in Relation to

Labour "The first step must be to rid our minds of the idea that

there are any such things in social matters as abstract rights."

Of like character is the belief expressed by Mr Matthew Arnold,

in his article on copyright: -- "An author has no natural right

to a property in his production. But then neither has he a

natural right to anything whatever which he may produce or

acquire."(5*) So, too, I recently read in a weekly journal of

high repute, that "to explain once more that there is no such

thing as 'natural right' would be a waste of philosophy." And the

view expressed in these extracts is commonly uttered by statesmen

and lawyers in a way implying that only the unthinking masses

hold any other. 

    One might have expected that utterances to this effect would

have been rendered less dogmatic by the knowledge that a whole

school of legalists on the Continent, maintains a belief

diametrically opposed to that maintained by the English school.

The idea of Natur-recht is the root-idea of German jurisprudence.

Now whatever may be the opinion held respecting German philosophy

at large, it cannot be characterized as shallow. A doctrine

current among a people distinguished above all others as

laborious inquirers, and certainly not to be classed with

superficial thinkers, should not be dismissed as though it were

nothing more than a popular delusion. This, however, by the way.

Along with the proposition denied in the above quotations, there

goes a counter-proposition affirmed. Let us see what it is; and

what results when we go behind it and seek its warrant. 

    On reverting to Bentham, we find this counter-proposition

overtly expressed. He tells us that government fulfils its office

"by creating rights which it confers upon individuals: rights of

personal security; rights of protection for honour; rights of

property;" etc.(6*) Were this doctrine asserted as following from

the divine right of kings, there would be nothing in it

manifestly incongruous. Did it come to us from ancient Peru,

where the Ynca "was the source from which evening flowed";(7*) or

from Shoa (Abyssinia), where "of their persons and worldly

substance he [the king] is absolute master";(8*) or from Dahome,

where "all men are slaves to the king";(9*) it would be

consistent enough. But Bentham, far from being an absolutist like

Hobbes, wrote in the interests of popular rule. In his

Constitutional Code(10*) he fixes the sovereignty in the whole

people; arguing that it is best "to give the sovereign power to

the largest possible portion of those whose greatest happiness is

the proper and chosen object," because "this proportion is more

apt than any other that can be proposed" for achievement of that


    Mark, now, what happens when we put these two doctrines

together. The sovereign people jointly appoint representatives,

and so create a government; the government thus created, creates

rights; and then, having created rights, it confers them on the

separate members of the sovereign people by which it was itself

created. Here is a marvellous piece of political legerdemain! Mr

Matthew Arnold, contending, in the article above quoted, that

"property is the creation of law," tells us to beware of the

"metaphysical phantom of property in itself." Surely, among

metaphysical phantoms the most shadowy is this which supposes a

thing to be obtained by creating an agent, which creates the

thing, and then confers the thing on its own creator.! 

    From whatever point of view we consider it, Bentham's

proposition proves to be unthinkable. Government, he says,

fulfils its office "by creating rights." Two meanings may be

given to the word "creating." It may be supposed to mean the

production of something out of nothing; or it may be supposed to

mean the giving form and structure to something which already

exists. There are many who think that the production of something

out of nothing cannot be conceived as effected even by

omnipotence; and probably none will assert that the production of

something out of nothing is within the competence of a human

government. The alternative conception is that a human government

creates only in the sense that it shapes something pre-existing.

In that case, the question arises -- "What is the something

pre-existing which it shapes?" Clearly the word "creating" begs

the whole question -- passes off an illusion on the unwary

reader. Bentham was a stickler for definiteness of expression,

and in his Book of Fallacies has a chapter on "Impostor-terms."

It is curious that he should have furnished so striking an

illustration of the perverted belief which an impostor-term may


    But now let us overlook these various impossibilities of

thought, and seek the most defensible interpretation of Bentham's


    It may be said that the totality of all powers and rights,

originally existed as an undivided whole in the sovereign people;

and that this undivided whole is given in trust (as Austin would

say) to a ruling power, appointed by the sovereign people, for

the purpose of distribution. If, as we have seen, the proposition

that rights are created is simply a figure of speech; then the

only intelligible construction of Bentham's view is that a

multitude of individuals, who severally wish to satisfy their

desires, and have, as an aggregate, possession of all the sources

of satisfaction, as well as power over all individual actions,

appoint a government, which declares the ways in which, and the

conditions under which, individual actions may be carried on and

the satisfactions obtained. Let us observe the implications. Each

man exists in two capacities. In his private capacity he is

subject to the government. In his public capacity he is one of

the sovereign people who appoint the government. That is to say,

in his private capacity he is one of those to whom rights are

given; and in his public capacity he is one of those who, through

the government they appoint, give the rights. Turn this abstract

statement into a concrete statement, and see what it means. Let

the community consist of a million men, who, by the hypothesis,

are not only joint possessors of the inhabited region, but joint

possessors of all liberties of action and appropriation: the only

right recognized being that of the aggregate to everything. What

follows? Each person, while not owning any product of his own

labour, has, as a unit in the sovereign body, a millionth part of

the ownership of the products of all others' labour. This is an

unavoidable implication. As the government, in Bentham's view, is

but an agent; the rights it confers are rights given to it in

trust by the sovereign people. If so, such rights must be

possessed en bloc by the sovereign people before the government,

in fulfilment of its trust, confers them on individuals; and, if

so, each individual has a millionth portion of these rights in

his public capacity, while he has no rights in his private

capacity. These he gets only when all the rest of the million

join to endow him with them; while he joins to endow with them

every other member of the million! 

    Thus, in whatever way we interpret it, Bentham's proposition

leaves us in a plexus of absurdities. 

Even though ignoring the opposite opinion of German writers on

jurisprudence, and even without an analysis which proves their

own opinion to be untenable, Bentham's disciples might have been

led to treat less cavalierly the doctrine of natural rights. For

sundry groups of social phenomena unite to prove that this

doctrine is well warranted, and the doctrine they set against it


    Tribes in various parts of the world show us that before

definite government arises, conduct is regulated by customs. The

Bechuanas are controlled by "long-acknowledged customs."(11*)

Among the Koranna Hottentots, who only "tolerate their chiefs

rather than obey them,"(12*) "when ancient usages are not in the

way, every man seems to act as is right in his own eyes."(13*)

The Araucanians are guided by "nothing more than primordial

usages or tacit conventions."(14*) Among the Kirghizes the

judgments of the elders are based on "universally recognized

customs."(15*) So, too, of the Dyaks, Rajah Brooke tells us that

"custom seems simply to have become the law; and breaking custom

leads to a fine."(16*) So sacred are memorial customs with the

primitive man, that he never dreams of questioning their

authority; and when government arises, its power is limited by

them. In Madagascar the king's word suffices only "where there is

no law, custom, or precedent."(17*) Raffles tells us that in Java

"the customs of the country"(18*) restrain the will of the ruler.

In Sumatra, too, the people do not allow their chiefs to "alter

their ancient usages."(19*) Nay, occasionally, as in Ashantee,

"the attempt to change some customs" has caused a king's

dethronement."(20*) Now, among the customs which we thus find to

be pre-governmental, and which subordinate governmental power

when it is established, are those which recognize certain

individual rights -- rights to act in certain ways and possess

certain things. Even where the recognition of property is least

developed, there is proprietorship of weapons, tools, and

personal ornaments; and, generally, the recognition goes far

beyond this. Among such North-American Indians as the Snakes, who

are without government, there is private ownership of horses. By

the Chippewayans, "who have no regular government," game taken in

private traps "is considered as private property."(21*) Kindred

facts concerning huts, utensils, and other personal belongings,

might be brought in evidence from accounts of the Ahts, the

Comanches, the Esquimaux, and the Brazilian Indians. Among

various uncivilized peoples, custom has established the claim to

the crop grown on a cleared plot of ground, though not to the

ground itself; and the Todas, who are wholly without political

organization, make a like distinction between ownership of cattle

and of land. Kolff's statement respecting "the peaceful Arafuras"

well sums up the evidence. They "recognize the right of property,

in the fullest sense of the word, without there being any [other]

authority among them than the decisions of their elders,

according to the customs of their forefathers."(22*) But even

without seeking proofs among the uncivilized, sufficient proofs

are furnished by early stages of the civilized. Bentham and his

followers seem to have forgotten that our own common law is

mainly an embodiment of "the customs of the realm." It did but

give definite shape to that which it found existing. Thus, the

fact and the fiction are exactly opposite to what they allege.

The fact is that property was well recognized before law existed;

the fiction is that "property is the creation of law."

    Considerations of another class might alone have led them to

pause had they duly considered their meanings. Were it true, as

alleged by Bentham, that Government fulfils its office "by

creating rights which it confers on individuals;" then, the

implication would be, that there should be nothing approaching to

uniformity in the rights conferred by different governments. In

the absence of a determining cause over-ruling their decisions,

the probabilities would be many to one against considerable

correspondence among their decisions. But there is very great

correspondence. Look where we may, we find that governments

interdict the same kinds of aggressions; and, by implication,

recognize the same kinds of claims. They habitually forbid

homicide, theft, adultery: thus asserting that citizens may not

be trespassed against in certain ways. And as society advances,

minor individual claims are protected by giving remedies for

breach of contract, libel, false witness, etc. In a word,

comparisons show that though codes of law differ in their details

as they become elaborated, they agree in their fundamentals. What

does this prove? It cannot be by chance that they thus agree.

They agree because the alleged creating of rights was nothing

else than giving formal sanction and better definition to those

assertions of claims and recognitions of claims which naturally

originate from the individual desires of men who have to live in

presence of one another. 

    Comparative Sociology discloses another group of facts having

the same implication. Along with social progress it becomes in an

increasing degree the business of the State, not only to give

formal sanction to men's rights, but also to defend them against

aggressors. Before permanent government exists, and in many cases

after it is considerably developed, the rights of each individual

are asserted and maintained by himself, or by his family. Alike

among savage tribes at present, among civilized peoples in the

past, and even now in unsettled parts of Europe, the punishment

for murder is a matter of private concern: "the sacred duty of

blood revenge" devolves on some one of a cluster of relatives.

Similarly, compensations for aggressions on property and for

injuries of other kinds, are in early states of society

independently sought by each man or family. But as social

organization advances, the central ruling power undertakes more

and more to secure to individuals their personal safety, the

safety of their possessions, and, to some extent, the enforcement

of their claims established by contract. Originally concerned

almost exclusively with defence of the society as a whole against

other societies, or with conducting its attack on other

societies, Government has come more and more to discharge the

function of defending individuals against one another. It needs

but to recall the days when men habitually carried weapons, or to

bear in mind the greater safety to person and property achieved

by improved police-administration during our own time, or to note

the increased facilities now given for recovering small debts, to

see that the insuring to each individual the unhindered pursuit

of the objects of life, within limits set by others' like

pursuits, is more and more recognized as a duty of the State. In

other words, along with social progress, there goes not only a

fuller recognition of these which we call natural rights, but

also a better enforcement of them by Government: Government

becomes more and more the servant to these essential

pre-requisites for individual welfare. 

    An allied and still more significant change has accompanied

this. In early stages, at the same time that the State failed to

protect the individual against aggression, it was itself an

aggressor in multitudinous ways. Those ancient societies which

progressed enough to leave records, having all been conquering

societies, show us everywhere the traits of the militant regime.

As, for the effectual organization of fighting bodies, the

soldiers, absolutely obedient, must act independently only when

commanded to do it; so, for the effectual organization of

fighting societies, citizens must have their individualities

subordinated. Private claims are over-ridden by public claims;

and the subject loses much of his freedom of action. One result

is that the system of regimentation, pervading the society as

well as the army, causes detailed regulation of conduct. The

dictates of the ruler, sanctified by ascription of them to his

divine ancestor, are unrestrained by any conception of individual

liberty; and they specify men's actions to an unlimited extent --

down to kinds of food eaten, modes of preparing them, shaping of

beards, fringing of dresses, sowing of grain, etc. This

omnipresent control, which the ancient Eastern nations in general

exhibited, was exhibited also in large measure by the Greeks; and

was carried to its greatest pitch in the most militant city,

Sparta. Similarly during medieval days throughout Europe,

characterized by chronic warfare with its appropriate political

forms and ideas, there were scarcely any bounds to Governmental

interference: agriculture, manufactures, trade, were regulated in

detail; religious beliefs and observances were imposed; and

rulers said by whom alone furs might be worn, silver used, books

issued, pigeons kept, etc. etc. But along with increase of

industrial activities, and implied substitution of the regime of

contract for the regime of status, and growth of associated

sentiments, there went (until the recent reaction accompanying

reversion to militant activity) a decrease of meddling with

people's doings. Legislation gradually ceased to regulate the

cropping of fields, or dictate the ratio of cattle to acreage, or

specify modes of manufacture and materials to be used, or fix

wages and prices, or interfere with dresses and games (except

where there was gambling), or put bounties and penalties on

imports or exports, or prescribe men's beliefs, religious or

political, or prevent them from combining as they pleased, or

travelling where they liked. That is to say, throughout a large

range of conduct, the right of the citizen to uncontrolled action

has been made good against the pretensions of the State to

control him. While the ruling agency has increasingly helped him

to exclude intruders from that private sphere in which he pursues

the objects of life, it has itself retreated from that sphere;

or, in other words -- decreased its intrusions. 

    Not even yet have we noted all the classes of facts which

tell the same story. It is told afresh in the improvements and

reforms of law itself; as well as in the admissions and

assertions of those who have effected them. "So early as the

fifteenth century," says Professor Pollock, "we find a common-law

judge declaring that, as in a case unprovided for by known rules

the civilians and canonists devise a new rule according to 'the

law of nature which is the ground of all laws,' the Courts of

Westminster can and will do the like."(23*) Again, our system of

Equity, introduced and developed as it was to make up for the

shortcomings of Common-law, or rectify its inequities, proceeded

throughout on a recognition of men's claims considered as

existing apart from legal warrant. And the changes of law now

from time to time made after resistance, are similarly made in

pursuance of current ideas concerning the requirements of

justice: ideas which, instead of being derived from the law, are

opposed to the law. For example, that recent Act which gives to a

married woman a right of property in her own earnings, evidently

originated in the consciousness that the natural connexion

between labour expended and benefit enjoyed, is one which should

be maintained in all cases. The reformed law did not create the

right, but recognition of the right created the reformed law. 

    Thus, historical evidences of five different kinds unite in

teaching that, confused as are the popular notions concerning

rights, and including, as they do, a great deal which should be

excluded, yet they shadow forth a truth. 

    It remains now to consider the original source of this truth.

In a previous paper I have spoken of the open secret, that there

can be no social phenomena but what, if we analyse them to the

bottom, bring us down to the laws of life; and that there can be

no true understanding of them without reference to the laws of

life. Let us, then, transfer this question of natural rights from

the court of politics to the court of science -- the science of

life. The reader need feel no alarm: its simplest and most

obvious facts will suffice. We will contemplate first the general

conditions to individual life; and then the general conditions to

social life. We shall find that both yield the same verdict. 

Animal life involves waste; waste must be met by repair; repair

implies nutrition. Again, nutrition presupposes obtainment of

food; food cannot be got without powers of prehension, and,

usually, of locomotion; and that these powers may achieve their

ends, there must be freedom to move about. If you shut up a

mammal in a small space, or tie its limbs together, or take from

it the food it has procured, you eventually, by persistence in

one or other of these courses, cause its death. Passing a certain

point, hindrance to the fulfilment of these requirements is

fatal. And all this, which holds of the higher animals at large,

of course holds of man. 

    If we adopt pessimism as a creed, and with it accept the

implication that life in general being an evil should be put an

end to, then there is no ethical warrant for these actions by

which life is maintained: the whole question drops. But if we

adopt either the optimist view or the meliorist view -- if we say

that life on the whole brings more pleasure than pain; or that it

is on the way to become such that it will yield more pleasure

than pain; then these actions by which life is maintained are

justified, and there results a warrant for the freedom to perform

them. Those who hold that life is valuable, hold, by implication,

that men ought not to be prevented from caring on life-sustaining

activities. In other words, if it is said to be "right" that they

should carry them on, then, by permutation, we get the assertion

that they "have a right" to carry them on. Clearly the conception

of "natural rights" originates in recognition of the truth that

if life is justifiable, there must be a justification for the

performance of acts essential to its preservation; and,

therefore, a justification for those liberties and claims which

make such acts possible. 

    But being true of other creatures as of man, this is a

proposition lacking ethical character. Ethical character arises

only with the distinction between what the individual may do in

caring on his life-sustaining activities, and what he may not do.

This distinction obviously results from the presence of his

fellows. Among those who are in close proximity, or even at some

distance apart, the doings of each are apt to interfere with the

doings of others; and in the absence of proof that some may do

what they will without limit, while others may not, mutual

limitation is necessitated. The non-ethical form of the right to

pursue ends, passes into the ethical form, when there is

recognized the difference between acts which can be performed

without transgressing the limits, and others which cannot be so


    This, which is the a priori conclusion, is the conclusion

yielded a posteriori, when we study the doings of the

uncivilized. In its vaguest form, mutual limitation of spheres of

action, and the ideas and sentiments associated with it, are seen

in the relations of groups to one another. Habitually there come

to be established, certain bounds to the territories within which

each tribe obtains its livelihood; and these bounds, when not

respected, are defended. Among the Wood-Veddahs, who have no

political organization, the small clans have their respective

portions of forest; and "these conventional allotments are always

honourably recognized."(24*) Of the ungoverned tribes of

Tasmania, we are told that "their hunting grounds were all

determined, and trespassers were liable to attack."(25*) And,

manifestly, the quarrels caused among tribes by intrusions on one

another's territories, tend, in the long run, to fix bounds and

to give a certain sanction to them. As with each inhabited area,

so with each inhabiting group. A death in one, rightly or wrongly

ascribed to somebody in another, prompts "the sacred duty of

blood-revenge;" and though retaliations are thus made chronic,

some restraint is put on new aggressions. Like causes worked like

effects in those early stages of civilized societies, during

which families or clans, rather than individuals, were the

political units; and during which each family or clan had to

maintain itself and its possessions against others such. This

mutual restraint, which in the nature of things arises between

small communities, similarly arises between individuals in each

community; and the ideas and usages appropriate to the one are

more or less appropriate to the other. Though within each group

there is ever a tendency for the stronger to aggress on the

weaker; yet, in most cases, consciousness of the evils resulting

from aggressive conduct serves to restrain. Everywhere among

primitive peoples, trespasses are followed by counter-trespasses.

Says Turner of the Tannese, "adultery and some other crimes are

kept in check by the fear of club-law."(26*) Fitzroy tells us

that the Patagonian, "if he does not injure or offend his

neighbour, is not interfered with by others:"(27*) personal

vengeance being the penalty for injury. We read of the Uaupes

that "they have very little law of any kind; but what they have

is of strict retaliation, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a

tooth."(28*) And that the lex talionis tends to establish a

distinction between what each member of the community may safely

do and what he may not safely do, and consequently to give

sanctions to actions within a certain range but not beyond that

range, is obvious. Though, says Schoolcraft of the Chippewayans,

they "have no regular government, as every man is lord in his own

family, they are influenced more or less by certain principles

which conduce to their general benefit:"(29*) one of the

principles named being recognition of private property. 

    How mutual limitation of activities originates the ideas and

sentiments implied by the phrase "natural rights," we are shown

most distinctly by the few peaceful tribes which have either

nominal governments or none at all. Beyond those facts which

illustrate scrupulous regard for one another's claims among the

Todas, Santals, Lepchas, Bodo, Chakmas, Jakuns, Arafuras, etc.,

we have the fact that the utterly uncivilized Wood-Veddahs,

without any social organization at all, "think it perfectly

inconceivable that any person should ever take that which does

not belong to him, or strike his fellow, or say anything that is

untrue."(30*) Thus it becomes clear, alike from analysis of

causes and observation of facts, that while the positive element

in the right to carry on life-sustaining activities, originates

from the laws of life, that negative element which gives ethical

character to it, originates from the conditions produced by

social aggregation. 

    So alien to the truth, indeed, is the alleged creation of

rights by government, that, contrariwise, rights having been

established more or less clearly before government arises, become

obscured as government develops along with that militant activity

which, both by the taking of slaves and the establishment of

ranks, produces status; and the recognition of rights begins

again to get definiteness only as fast as militancy ceases to be

chronic and governmental power declines. 

When we turn from the life of the individual to the life of the

society, the same lesson is taught us. 

    Though mere love of companionship prompts primitive men to

live in groups, yet the chief prompter is experience of the

advantages to be derived from co-operation. On what condition

only can co-operation arise? Evidently on condition that those

who join their efforts severally gain by doing so. If, as in the

simplest cases, they unite to achieve something which each by

himself cannot achieve, or can achieve less readily, it must be

on the tacit understanding, either that they shall share the

benefit (as when game is caught by a party of them) or that if

one reaps all the benefit now (as in building a hut or clearing a

plot) the others shall severally reap equivalent benefits in

their turns. When, instead of efforts joined in doing the same

thing, different things are effected by them -- when division of

labour arises, with accompanying barter of products, the

arrangement implies that each, in return for something which he

has in superfluous quantity, gets an approximate equivalent of

something which he wants. If he hands over the one and does not

get the other, future proposals to exchange will meet with no

response. There will be a reversion to that rudest condition in

which each makes everything for himself. Hence the possibility of

co-operation depends on fulfilment of contract, tacit or overt. 

    Now this which we see must hold of the very first step

towards that industrial organization by which the life of a

society is maintained, must hold more or less fully throughout

its development. Though the militant type of organization, with

its system of status produced by chronic war, greatly obscures

these relations of contract, yet they remain partially in force.

They still hold between freemen, and between the heads of those

small groups which form the units of early societies; and, in a

measure, they still hold within these small groups themselves;

since survival of them as groups, implies such recognition of the

claims of their members, even when slaves, that in return for

their labours they get sufficiencies of food, clothing, and

protection. And when, with diminution of warfare and growth of

trade, voluntary co-operation more and more replaces compulsory

co-operation, and the carrying on of social life by exchange

under agreement, partially suspended for a time, gradually

re-establishes itself; its re-establishment makes possible that

vast elaborate industrial organization by which a great nation is


    For in proportion as contracts are unhindered and the

performance of them certain, the growth is great and the social

life active. It is not now by one or other of two individuals who

contract, that the evil effects of breach of contract are

experienced. In an advanced society, they are experienced by

entire classes of producers and distributors, which have arisen

through division of labour; and, eventually, they are experienced

by everybody. Ask on what condition it is that Birmingham devotes

itself to manufacturing hardware, or part of Staffordshire to

making pottery, or Lancashire to weaving cotton. Ask how the

rural people who here grow wheat and there pasture cattle, find

it possible to occupy themselves in their special businesses.

These groups can severally thus act only if each gets from the

others in exchange for its own surplus product, due shares of

their surplus products. No longer directly effected by barter,

this obtainment of their respective shares of one another's

products is indirectly effected by money; and if we ask how each

division of producers gets its due amount of the required money,

the answer is -- by fulfilment of contract. If Leeds makes

woollens and does not, by fulfilment of contract, receive the

means of obtaining from agricultural districts the needful

quantity of food, it must starve, and stop producing woollens. If

South Wales smelts iron and there comes no equivalent agreed

upon, enabling it to get fabrics for clothing, its industry must

cease. And so throughout, in general and in detail. That mutual

dependence of parts which we see in social organization, as in

individual organization, is possible only on condition that while

each part does the particular kind of work it has become adjusted

to, it receives its proportion of those materials required for

repair and growth, which all the other parts have joined to

produce: such proportion being settled by bargaining. Moreover,

it is by fulfilment of contract that there is effected a

balancing of all the various products to the various needs -- the

large manufacture of knives and the small manufacture of lancets;

the great growth of wheat and the little growth of mustard-seed.

The check on undue production of each commodity, results from

finding that after a certain quantity, no one will agree to take

any further quantity on terms that yield an adequate money

equivalent. And so there is prevented a useless expenditure of

labour in producing that which society does not want. 

    Lastly, we have to note the still more significant fact that

the condition under which only any specialized group of workers

can grow when the community needs more of its particular kind of

work, is that contracts shall be free and fulfilment of them

enforced. If when, from lack of material, Lancashire failed to

supply the usual quantity of cotton-goods, there had been such

interference with contracts as prevented Yorkshire from asking a

greater price for its woollens, which it was enabled to do by the

greater demand for them, there would have been no temptation to

put more capital into the woollen manufacture, no increase in the

amount of machinery and number of artizans employed, and no

increase of woollens: the consequence being that the whole

community would have suffered from not having deficient cottons

replaced by extra woollens. What serious injury may result to a

nation if its members are hindered from contracting with one

another, was well shown in the contrast between England and

France in respect of railways. Here, though obstacles were at

first raised by classes predominant in the legislature, the

obstacles were not such as prevented capitalists from investing,

engineers from furnishing directive skill, or contractors from

undertaking works; and the high interest originally obtained on

investments, the great profits made by contractors, and the large

payments received by engineers, led to that drafting of money,

energy, and ability, into railway-making, which rapidly developed

our railway-system, to the enormous increase of our national

prosperity. But when M. Thiers, then Minister of Public Works,

came over to inspect, and having been taken about by Mr Vignoles,

said to him when leaving: "I do not think railways are suited to

France,"(31*) there resulted, from the consequent policy of

hindering free contract, a delay of "eight or ten years" in that

material progress which France experienced when railways were


    What do all these facts mean? They mean that for the

healthful activity and due proportioning of those industries,

occupations, professions, which maintain and aid the life of a

society, there must, in the first place, be few restrictions on

men's liberties to make agreements with one another, and there

must, in the second place, be an enforcement of the agreements

which they do make. As we have seen, the checks naturally arising

to each man's actions when men become associated, are those only

which result from mutual limitation; and there consequently can

be no resulting check to the contracts they voluntarily make:

interference with these is interference with those rights to free

action which remain to each when the rights of others are fully

recognized. And then, as we have seen, enforcement of their

rights implies enforcement of contracts made; since breach of

contract is indirect aggression. If, when a customer on one side

of the counter asks a shopkeeper on the other for a shilling's

worth of his goods, and, while the shopkeeper's back is turned,

walks off with the goods without leaving the shilling he tacitly

contracted to give, his act differs in no essential way from

robbery. In each such case the individual injured is deprived of

something he possessed, without receiving the equivalent

something bargained for; and is in the state of having expended

his labour without getting benefit -- has had an essential

condition to the maintenance of life infringed. 

    Thus, then, it results that to recognize and enforce the

rights of individuals, is at the same time to recognize and

enforce the conditions to a normal social life. There is one

vital requirement for both. 

Before turning to those corollaries which have practical

applications, let us observe how the special conclusions drawn

converge to the one general conclusion originally foreshadowed --

glancing at them in reversed order. 

    We have just found that the pre-requisite to individual life

is in a double sense the pre-requisite to social life. The life

of a society, in whichever of two senses conceived, depends on

maintenance of individual rights. If it is nothing more than the

sum of the lives of citizens, this implication is obvious. If it

consists of those many unlike activities which citizens carry on

in mutual dependence, still this aggregate impersonal life rises

or falls according as the rights of individuals are enforced or


    Study of men's politico-ethical ideas and sentiments, leads

to allied conclusions. Primitive peoples of various types show us

that before governments exist, memorial customs recognize private

claims and justify maintenance of them. Codes of law

independently evolved by different nations, agree in forbidding

certain trespasses on the persons, properties, and liberties of

citizens; and their correspondences imply, not an artificial

source for individual rights, but a natural source. Along with

social development, the formulating in law of the rights

pre-established by custom, becomes more definite and elaborate.

At the same time, Government undertakes to an increasing extent

the business of enforcing them. While it has been becoming a

better protector, Government has been becoming less aggressive

has more and more diminished its intrusions on men's spheres of

private action. And, lastly, as in past times laws were avowedly

modified to fit better with current ideas of equity; so now,

law-reformers are guided by ideas of equity which are not derived

from law but to which law has to conform. 

    Here, then, we have a politico-ethical theory justified alike

by analysis and by history. What have we against it? A

fashionable counter-theory which proves to be unjustifiable. On

the one hand, while we find that individual life and social life

both imply maintenance of the natural relation between efforts

and benefits; we also find that this natural relation, recognized

before Government existed, has been all along asserting and

re-asserting itself, and obtaining better recognition in codes of

law and systems of ethics. On the other hand, those who, denying

natural rights, commit themselves to the assertion that rights

are artificially created by law, are not only flatly contradicted

by facts, but their assertion is self-destructive: the endeavour

to substantiate it, when challenged, involves them in manifold


    Nor is this all. The re-institution of a vague popular

conception in a definite form on a scientific basis, leads us to

a rational view of the relation between the wills of majorities

and minorities. It turns out that those co-operations in which

all can voluntarily unite, and in the caring on of which the will

of the majority is rightly supreme, are co-operations for

maintaining the conditions requisite to individual and social

life. Defence of the society as a whole against eternal invaders,

has for its remote end to preserve each citizen in possession of

such means as he has for satisfying his desires, and in

possession of such liberty as he has for getting further means.

And defence of each citizen against internal invaders, from

murderers down to those who inflict nuisances on their

neighbours, has obviously the like end -- an end desired by every

one save the canal and disorderly. Hence it follows that for

maintenance of this vital principle, alike of individual life and

social life, subordination of minority to majority is legitimate;

as implying only such a trenching on the freedom and property of

each, as is requisite for the better protecting of his freedom

and property. At the same time it follows that such subordination

is not legitimate beyond this; since, implying as it does a

greater aggression upon the individual than is requisite for

protecting him, it involves a breach of the vital principle which

is to be maintained. 

Thus we come round again to the proposition that the assumed

divine right of parliaments, and the implied divine right of

majorities, are superstitions. While men have abandoned the old

theory respecting the source of State-authority, they have

retained a belief in that unlimited extent of State-authority

which rightly accompanied the old theory, but does not rightly

accompany the new one. Unrestricted power over subjects,

rationally ascribed to the ruling man when he was held to be a

deputy-god, is now ascribed to the ruling body, the

deputy-godhood of which nobody asserts. 

    Opponents will, possibly, contend that discussions about the

origin and limits of governmental authority are mere pedantries.

"Government," they may perhaps say, "is bound to use all the

means it has, or can get, for furthering the general happiness.

Its aim must be utility; and it is warranted in employing

whatever measures are needful for achieving useful ends. The

welfare of the people is the supreme law; and legislators are not

to be deterred from obeying that law by questions concerning the

source and range of their power." Is there really an escape here?

or may this opening be effectually closed? 

    The essential question raised is the truth of the utilitarian

theory as commonly held; and the answer here to be given is that,

as commonly held, it is not true. Alike by the statements of

utilitarian moralists, and by the acts of politicians knowingly

or unknowingly following their lead, it is implied that utility

is to be directly determined by simple inspection of the mediate

facts and estimation of probable results. Whereas, utilitarianism

as rightly understood, implies guidance by the general

conclusions which analysis of experience yields. "Good and bad

results cannot be accidental, but must be necessary consequences

of the constitution of things;" and it is "the business of Moral

Science to deduce, from the laws of life and the conditions of

existence, what kinds of action necessarily tend to produce

happiness, and what kinds to produce unhappiness."(32*) Current

utilitarian speculation, like current practical politics, shows

inadequate consciousness of natural causation. The habitual

thought is that, in the absence of some obvious impediment,

things can be done this way or that way; and no question is put

whether there is either agreement or conflict with the normal

working of things. 

    The foregoing discussions have, I think, shown that the

dictates of utility, and, consequently, the proper actions of

governments, are not to be settled by inspection of facts on the

surface, and acceptance of their prima facie meanings; but are to

be settled by reference to, and deduction from, fundamental

facts. The fundamental facts to which all rational judgments of

utility must go back, are the facts that life consists in, and is

maintained by, certain activities; and that among men in a

society, these activities, necessarily becoming mutually limited,

are to be carried on by each within the limits thence arising,

and not carried on beyond those limits: the maintenance of the

limits becoming, by consequence, the function of the agency which

regulates society. If each, having freedom to use his powers up

to the bounds fixed by the like freedom of others, obtains from

his fellow-men as much for his services as they find them worth

in comparison with the services of others -- if contracts

uniformly fulfilled bring to each the share thus determined, and

he is left secure in person and possessions to satisfy his wants

with the proceeds; then there is maintained the vital principle

alike of individual life and of social life. Further, there is

maintained the vital principle of social progress; inasmuch as,

under such conditions, the individuals of most worth will prosper

and multiply more than those of less worth. So that utility, not

as empirically estimated but as rationally determined, enjoins

this maintenance of individual rights; and, by implication,

negatives any course which traverses them. 

    Here, then, we reach the ultimate interdict against meddling

legislation. Reduced to its lowest terms, every proposal to

interfere with citizens' activities further than by enforcing

their mutual limitations, is a proposal to improve life by

breaking through the fundamental conditions to life. When some

are prevented from buying beer that others may be prevented from

getting drunk, those who make the law assume that more good than

evil will result from interference with the normal relation

between conduct and consequences, alike in the few ill-regulated

and the many well-regulated. A government which takes fractions

of the incomes of multitudinous people, for the purpose of

sending to the colonies some who have not prospered here, or for

building better industrial dwellings, or for making public

libraries and public museums, etc., takes for granted that, not

only proximately but ultimately, increased general happiness will

result from transgressing the essential requirement to general

happiness the requirement that each shall enjoy all those means

to happiness which his actions, carried on without aggression,

have brought him. In other cases we do not thus let the mediate

blind us to the remote. When asserting the sacredness of property

against private transgressors, we do not ask whether the benefit

to a hungry man who takes bread from a baker's shop, is or is not

greater than the injury inflicted on the baker: we consider, not

the special effects, but the general effects which arise if

property is insecure. But when the State exacts further amounts

from citizens, or further restrains their liberties, we consider

only the direct and proximate effects, and ignore the indirect

and distant effects which are caused when these invasions of

individual rights are continually multiplied. We do not see that

by accumulated small infractions of them, the vital conditions of

life, individual and social, come to be so imperfectly fulfilled

that the life decays. 

    Yet the decay thus caused becomes manifest where the policy

is pushed to an extreme. Any one who studies, in the writings of

MM. Taine and de Tocqueville, the state of things which preceded

the French Revolution, will see that the tremendous catastrophe

came about from so excessive a regulation of men's actions in all

their details, and such an enormous drafting away of the products

of their actions to maintain the regulating organization, that

life was fast becoming impracticable. The empirical

utilitarianism of that day, like the empirical utilitarianism of

our day, differed from rational utilitarianism in this, that in

each successive case it contemplated only the effects of

particular interferences on the actions of particular classes of

men, and ignored the effects produced by a multiplicity of such

interferences on the lives of men at large. And if we ask what

then made, and what now makes, this error possible, we find it to

be the political superstition that governmental power is subject

to no restraints. 

    When that "divinity" which "doth hedge a king," and which has

left a glamour around the body inheriting his power, has quite

died away -- when it begins to be seen clearly that, in a

popularly-governed nation, the government is simply a committee

of management; it will also be seen that this committee of

management has no intrinsic authority. The inevitable conclusion

will be that its authority is given by those appointing it; and

has just such bounds as they choose to impose. Along with this

will go the further conclusion that the laws it passes are not in

themselves sacred; but that whatever sacredness they have, it is

entirely due to the ethical sanction -- an ethical sanction

which, as we find, is derivable from the laws of human life as

carried on under social conditions. And there will come the

corollary that when they have not this ethical sanction they have

no sacredness, and may rightly be challenged. 

    The function of Liberalism in the past was that of putting a

limit to the powers of kings. The function of true Liberalism in

the future will be that of putting a limit to the powers of



1. Hobbes, Collected Works, Vol. iii, pp. 112-3.

2. Ibid., p. 159.

3. Ibid., p. 130-1.

4. The Province of Jurisprudence Determined (second edition), p.


5. Fortnightly Review in 1880, vol. xxvii, p. 322.

6. Bentham's Works, vol. 1, p. 301.

7. Prescott, Conquest of Peru, bk. i., ch. i.

8. Harris, Highland of Aethiopia, ii. 94.

9. Burton, Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome, i. p. 226.

10. Bentham's Works, vol. ix, p. 97.

11. Burchell, W.J., Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa,

vol. i, p. 544.

12. Arbousset and Daumas, Voyage of Exploration, p. 27.

13. Thompson, G., Travels and Adventures in Southern Africa, vol.

ii, p. 30.

14. Thompson, G.A., Alcedo's Geographical and Historical

Dictionary of America, vol. i, p. 405.

15. Mitchell, Alex., Siberian Overland Route, p. 248.

16. Brooke, C., Ten Years in Sardwak, vol. i, p. 129.

17. Ellis, History of Madagascar, vol. i, 377.

18. Raffles, Sir T.S., History of Java, vol. i, 274.

19. Marsden, W., History of Sumatra, p. 217.

20. Beecham, J., Ashante and the Gold Coast, p. 90.

21. Schoolcraft, H.R., Expedition to the Sources of the

Mississippi River, v., 177.

22. Earl's Kolff's Voyage of the Domga, p. 161.

23. "The Methods of Jurisprudence: an Introductory Lecture at

University College, London," October 31, 1882.

24. Tennant, Ceylon: an Account of the Island, etc., ii, 440.

25. Bonwick, J., Daily Life and the Origin of the Tasmanians, 83.

26. Polynesia, p. 86.

27. Voyages of the Adventure and Beagle, 3 vols.

28. Wallace, A.R., Travels on Amazon and Rio Negro, p. 499.

29. Schoolcraft, Expedition to the Source of the Mississippi, v.,


30. B.F. Hartshorne, Fortnightly Review, March, 1876. See also

H.C. Sirr, Ceylon and the Ceyonese, ii. 219.

31. Address of C.B. Vignoles, Esq., F.R.S., on his Election as

President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Session,

1869-70, p. 53.

32. Data of Ethics, section 21. See also sections 56-62.


    "Do I expect this doctrine to meet with any considerable

acceptance?" I wish I could say, yes; but unhappily various

reasons oblige me to conclude that only here and there a solitary

citizen may have his political creed modified. Of these reasons

there is one from which all the others originate. 

    This essential reason is that the restriction of governmental

power within the limits assigned, is appropriate to the

industrial type of society only; and, while wholly incongruous

with the militant type of society, is partially incongruous with

that semi-militant semi-industrial type, which now characterizes

advanced nations. At every stage of social evolution there must

exist substantial agreement between practices and beliefs -- real

beliefs I mean, not nominal ones. Life can be carried on only by

the harmonizing of thoughts and acts. Either the conduct required

by circumstances must modify the beliefs to fit it; or else the

changed beliefs must eventually modify the conduct. 

    Hence if the maintenance of social life under one set of

conditions, necessitates extreme subordination to a ruler and

entire faith in him, there will be established a theory that the

subordination and the faith are proper -- nay imperative.

Conversely if, under other conditions, great subjection of

citizens to government is no longer needful for preservation of

the national life -- if, contrariwise, the national life becomes

larger in amount and higher in quality as fast as citizens gain

increased freedom of action; there comes a progressive

modification of their political theory, having the result of

diminishing their faith in governmental action, increasing their

tendency to question governmental authority, and leading them in

more numerous cases to resist governmental power: involving,

eventually, an established doctrine of limitation. 

    Thus it is not to be expected that current opinion respecting

governmental authority, can at present be modified to any great

extent. But let us look at the necessities of the case more


Manifestly the success of an army depends very much on the faith

of the soldiers in their general: disbelief in his ability will

go far towards paralysing them in battle; while absolute

confidence in him will make them fulfil their respective parts

with courage and energy. If, as in the normally-developed

militant type of society, the ruler in peace and the leader in

war are one and the same, this confidence in him extends from

military action to civil action; and the society, in large

measure identical with the army, willingly accepts his judgments

as law-giver. Even where the civil head, ceasing to be the

military head, does his generalship by deputy, there still clings

to him the traditional faith. 

    Similarly with the willingness to obey. Other things equal an

army of insubordinate soldiers fails before an army of

subordinate soldiers. Those whose obedience to their leader is

perfect and prompt, are obviously more likely to succeed in

battle than are those who disregard the commands issued to them.

And as with the army so with the society as a whole; success in

war must largely depend on that conformity to the ruler's will

which brings men and money when wanted, and adjusts all conduct

to his needs. 

    Thus by survival of the fittest, the militant type of society

becomes characterized by profound faith in the governing power,

joined with a loyalty causing submission to it in all matters

whatever. And there must tend to be established among those who

speculate about political affairs in a militant society, a theory

giving form to the needful ideas and feelings; accompanied by

assertions that the law-giver if not divine in nature is divinely

directed, and that unlimited obedience to him is divinely

ordered.     Change in the ideas and feelings which thus become

characteristic of the militant form of organization, can take

place only where circumstances favour development of the

industrial form of organization. Being carried on by voluntary

co-operation instead of by compulsory co-operation, industrial

life as we now know it, habituates men to independent activities,

leads them to enforce their own claims while respecting the

claims of others, strengthens the consciousness of personal

rights, and prompts them to resist excesses of governmental

control. But since the circumstances which render war less

frequent arise but slowly, and since the modifications of nature

caused by the transition from a life predominantly militant to a

life predominantly industrial can therefore go on only little by

little, it happens that the old sentiments and ideas give place

to new ones, by small degrees only. And there are several reasons

why the transition not only is, but ought to be, gradual. Here

are some of them. 

In the primitive man and in man but little civilized, there does

not exist the nature required for extensive voluntary

co-operations. Efforts willingly united with those of others for

a common advantage, imply, if the undertaking is large, a

perseverance he does not possess. Moreover, where the benefits to

be achieved are distant and unfamiliar, as are many for which men

now-a-days combine, there needs a strength of constructive

imagination not to be found in the minds of the uncivilized. And

yet again, great combinations of a private kind for wholesale

production, for large enterprises, and for other purposes,

require a graduated subordination of the united workers -- a

graduated subordination such as that which militancy produces. In

other words, the way to the developed industrial type as we now

know it, is through the militant type; which, by discipline

generates in long ages the power of continuous application, the

willingness to act under direction (now no longer coercive but

agreed to under contract) and the habit of achieving large

results by organizations. 

    Consequently, during long stages of social evolution there

needs, for the management of all matters but the simplest, a

governmental power great in degree and wide in range, with a

correlative faith in it and obedience to it. Hence the fact that,

as the records of early civilizations show us, and as we are

shown in the East at present, large undertakings can be achieved

only by State-action. And hence the fact that only little by

little can voluntary co-operation replace compulsory

co-operation, and rightly bring about a correlative decrease of

faith in governmental ability and authority. 

    Chiefly, however, the maintenance of this faith is

necessitated by the maintenance of fitness for war. This involves

continuance of such confidence in the ruling agency, and such

subordination to it, as may enable it to wield all the forces of

the society on occasions of attack or defence; and there must

survive a political theory justifying the faith and the

obedience. While their sentiments and ideas are of kinds which

perpetually endanger peace, it is requisite that men should have

such belief in the authority of government as shall give it

adequate coercive power over them for war purposes -- a belief in

its authority which inevitably, at the same time, gives it

coercive power over them for other purposes. 

Thus, as said at first, the fundamental reason for not expecting

much acceptance of the doctrine set forth, is that we have at

present but partially emerged from the militant regime and have

but partially entered on that industrial regime to which this

doctrine is proper. 

    So long as the religion of enmity predominates over the

religion of amity, the current political superstition must hold

its ground. While throughout Europe, the early culture of the

ruling classes is one which every day of the week holds up for

admiration those who in ancient times achieved the greatest feats

in battle, and only on Sunday repeats the injunction to put up

the sword -- while these ruling classes are subject to a moral

discipline consisting of six-sevenths pagan example and

one-seventh Christian precept; there is no likelihood that there

will arise such international relations as may make a decline in

governmental power practicable, and a corresponding modification

of political theory acceptable. While among ourselves the

administration of colonial affairs is such that native tribes who

retaliate on Englishmen by whom they have been injured, are

punished, not on their own savage principle of life for life, but

on the improved civilized principle of wholesale massacre in

return for single murder, there is little chance that a political

doctrine consistent only with unaggressive conduct will gain

currency. While the creed men profess is so interpreted that one

of them who at home addresses missionary meetings, seeks, when

abroad, to foment a quarrel with an adjacent people whom he

wishes to subjugate, and then receives public honours after his

death, it is not likely that the relations of our society to

other societies will become such that there can spread to any

extent that doctrine of limited governmental functions

accompanying the diminished governmental authority proper to a

peaceful state. A nation which, interested in ecclesiastical

squabbles about the ceremonies of its humane cult, cares so

little about the essence of that cult that fillibustering in its

colonies receives applause rather than reprobation, and is not

denounced even by the priests of its religion of love, is a

nation which must continue to suffer from internal aggressions,

alike of individuals on one another and of the State on

individuals. It is impossible to unite the blessings of equity at

home with the commission of inequities abroad. 

Of course, there will arise the question -- Why, then, enunciate

and emphasize a theory at variance with the theory adapted to our

present state? 

    Beyond the general reply that it is the duty of every one who

regards a doctrine as true and important, to do what he can

towards diffusing it, leaving the result to be what it may be,

there are several more special replies, each of which is


    In the first place an ideal, far in advance of practicability

though it may be, is always needful for rightful guidance. If,

amid all those compromises which the circumstances of the times

necessitate, or are thought to necessitate, there exist no true

conceptions of better and worse in social organization -- if

nothing beyond the exigencies of the moment are attended to, and

the proximately best is habitually identified with the ultimately

best; there cannot be any true progress. However distant may be

the goal, and however often intervening obstacles may necessitate

deviation in our course towards it, it is obviously requisite to

know whereabouts it lies. 

    Again, while something like the present degree of subjection

of the individual to the State, and something like the current

political theory adapted to it, may remain needful in presence of

existing international relations; it is by no means needful that

this subjection should be made greater and the adapted theory

strengthened. In our days of active philanthropy, hosts of people

eager to achieve benefits for their less fortunate fellows by the

shortest methods, are busily occupied in developing

administrative arrangements of a kind proper to a lower type of

society -- are bringing about retrogression while aiming at

progression. The normal difficulties in the way of advance are

sufficiently great, and it is lamentable that they should be made

greater. Hence, something well worth doing may be done, if

philanthropists can be shown that they are in many cases insuring

the future ill-being of men while eagerly pursuing their present


    Chiefly, however, it is important to impress on all the great

truth, at present but little recognized, that a society's

internal and eternal policies are so bound together, that there

cannot be an essential improvement of the one without an

essential improvement of the other. A higher standard of

international justice must be habitually acted upon, before there

can be conformity to a higher standard of justice in our national

arrangements. The conviction that a dependence of this kind

exists, could it be diffused among civilized peoples, would

greatly check aggressive behaviour towards one another; and, by

doing this, would diminish the coerciveness of their governmental

systems while appropriately changing their political theories. 

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