Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 16.: The Right to Free Industry - The Principles of Ethics, vol. 2
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CHAPTER 16.: The Right to Free Industry - Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Ethics, vol. 2 
The Principles of Ethics, introduction by Tibor R. Machan (Indianapolis: LibertyClassics, 1978). Vol. 2.
Part of: The Principles of Ethics, 2 vols.
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The Right to Free Industry
317. Though, under one of its aspects, industrial freedom is implied by the rights to free motion and locomotion; and though, under another of its aspects, it is implied by the rights to free exchange and free contract; yet it has a further aspect, not clearly included in these, which must be specifically stated. Though demonstration of it is scarcely called for, yet it is needful to indicate it for the purpose of showing how little it was once recognized and how fully it is recognized now.
By the right to free industry is here meant the right of each man to carry on his occupation, whatever it may be, after whatever manner he prefers or thinks best, so long as he does not trespass against his neighbors: taking the benefits or the evils of his way, as the case may be. Self-evident as this right now seems, it seemed by no means self-evident to people in past times. Naturally, indeed, it could not well be self-evident while more obvious rights were unrecognized.
Just noting that, in the far past, industry was under regulations having a religious authority, as among the Hebrews, who, in Deuteronomy XXII. 8 &c., were directed concerning methods of building and agriculture, it will suffice to observe how great and persistent were the restraints on industrial liberty among European peoples during the supremacy of that militant organization which in all ways subordinates individual wills. In Old English days, the lord of the manor in Court-leet inspected industrial products; and, after the establishment of kingship, there came directions for cropping of lands, times of shearing, mode of ploughing. After the Conquest regulations for dyeing were enacted. From Edward III onwards to the time of James 1, official searchers had to see that various wares were properly made. Certain traders were told how many assistants they should have; the growing of particular plants was made compulsory; tanners had to keep their hides in the pits for specified periods; and there were officers for the assize of bread and ale. With the development of institutions characterizing the industrial type, these restrictions on industrial freedom diminished; and, at the time George III began to reign, five-sixths of them had disappeared. Increasing though they did during the war period brought on by the French revolution, they again diminished subsequently; until there had been abolished nearly all state interferences with modes of production. Significantly enough, however, the recent revival of militancy here, consequent on the immense redevelopment of it on the Continent (set going, for the second time, by that greatest of all modern curses, the Bonaparte family), has been accompanied by a reaction towards industrial regulations; so that during the last thirty years there have been numerous acts saying how businesses shall be carried on: ranging from the interdict on taking meals in match factories except in certain parts, to directions for the building and cleaning of artisans' dwellings–from orders for the painting of bakehouses to acts punishing farmers if they employ uneducated children.
Meanwhile it is to be observed that in France, where the militant activities entailed by surroundings have developed more highly the militant type of structure, industrial regulations have been more elaborate and more rigorous: having been carried, during the latter days of the monarchy, to a scarcely credible extent. “Swarms of public functionaries” enforced rules continually complicated by new ones to remedy the insufficiency of the old: directing, for example, “the lengths pieces of cloth are to be woven, the pattern to be chosen, the method to be followed, and the defects to be avoided.” Even after the revolution, when greater industrial freedom was temporarily achieved, interferences again multiplied; so that in 1806, according to Levasseur, public administrations fixed the length of the day's labor, the hours of meals, and the beginning and end of the day at the various seasons. Indeed, it is instructive to observe how, in France, where the idea of equality has always subordinated the idea of liberty; and where, under the guise of a free form of government, citizens have all along submitted without protest to a bureaucracy which has been as despotic under the republican form of government as under the monarchical; and where reversions to the completely militant type of structure have more than once occurred, and have more than once almost occurred; the industrial freedom of the individual, in common with other freedoms, has never been established so fully as here; where la gloire has not been so predominant an aim and militant organization has never been so pronounced.
But details apart, a general survey of the facts proves that during the advance from those early stages in which small respect was paid to life, liberty. and property, to those later stages in which these are held sacred, there has been an advance from a regime under which modes of production were authoritatively prescribed, to a regime under which they are left to the will of the producer; and in places where legislation most recognizes individual freedom in other respects, it most recognizes individual freedom in this respect.