Front Page Titles (by Subject) British Anti-socialism: 1870–1914 - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1981, vol. 4, No. 3
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British Anti-socialism: 1870–1914 - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1981, vol. 4, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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British Anti-socialism: 1870–1914
“Political Economy and the Response to Socialism in Britain, 1870–1914.” The Historical Journal 23(September 1980):565–587.
Political economy suffered a sharp decline in prestige and influence in Great Britain after 1870. Eager to respond to the sudden appearance of the “social problem” in politics, a young generation of economists including Jevons, Cairnes, Sidgwick, Toynbee, and Marshall led an assault on the methods, doctrines, and policies of the classical school. Unfortunately, the very success of their attack has conditioned historians to assume that they spoke for their whole generation. This was not the case. Prof. Mason shows that there was a strong anti-socialist current of opinion during the period, even though academic economists and liberal social reformers rejected it.
The myth of a golden age of laissez faire in the mid-nineteenth century exercised a powerful influence on anti-socialists later in the century. The battle against socialism was seen as a reenactment of the earlier fight against protectionist policies. Despite the general disrepute of political economy among academics and reformers, the arguments of the orthodox school held a prominent place in the works of numerous anti-socialist writers of the 1880s and 90s. Authors such as Goschen, J.S. Nicholson, J.H. Levy, and the publicists of the Liberty and Property Defence League all drew their inspiration from this tradition.
Most prominent anti-socialists at the end of the nineteenth century were born before 1850. They had been able, therefore, to imbibe the teachings of the classical school before its period of crisis after 1870. This accounts for their limited use of Social Darwinian arguments to defend laissez faire. Self-interest, competition, and the right to private property were rarely presented as the economic form of the struggle for existence. Herbert Spencer was an exception in this respect, but he was a relatively isolated figure whose greatest influence was in America.
The passage of time, however, brought its inevitable changes, and the late nineteenth century anti-socialists presented a reconstructed version of political economy, singularly different from the school of the early 1800s. The orthodox school was pessimistic, emphasizing the iron laws of economics. Later antisocialists, on the other hand, were optimistic and stressed the voluntarist aspects of economic behavior.
Similarly, the late 1800s was an era when socialists were leaving utopias behind. They even went so far as to adopt some of the traditional materialist arguments of political economy as “scientific” justification for their moral ideals. At the very same time, anti-socialists like the Duke of Argyll were beginning to stress the non-materialist origins of wealth and progress. Against the claims of “labor” as the sole wealth producing agent, they emphasized the significance of the “right” to property and highlighted the “mind” and “ability” of the entrepreneur in the creation of wealth.
The late nineteenth-century antisocialists never achieved the practical political success of the free traders in the 1840s. They were a fringe group far from the corridors of power and alienated from the mainstream of contemporary economic thought. Their frequent defense of the Malthusian theory of population and the Ricardian theories of wages, rent, and value were a reflection of their relatively isolated position. In their quest for the ideal antidote to socialism, the antisocialists vacated the middle ground and were ignored by the academic establishment. Nonetheless, through journals such as the Liberal Unionist, the Spectator, and the Quarterly Review, their views were widely disseminated among the public. These views doubtless played a larger role in the British debate on socialism than has yet been recognized.