Front Page Titles (by Subject) VI: The Liberal Tradition - Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3
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VI: The Liberal Tradition - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, 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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The Liberal Tradition
The complex intellectual roots nourishing the liberal tradition—as traced by the contemporary liberal and Nobel laureate, F.A. Hayek—reach back to classical antiquity. Stoicism, the Ciceronian synthesis, the medieval Schoolmen, and Renaissance Spanish Jesuit philosophers transmitted a leavening and liberating body of teachings. Most notable were natural law, the concept of the rule of law, and individual ‘right reason’ as opposed to force. These teachings would be further refined and shaped into a coherent and liberating social movement by the Physiocrats, the Enlightenment thinkers, and the British and Continental classical liberals of the nineteenth century.
The modern liberal tradition crusaded to emancipate individuals from every coercive and arbitrary infringement of their human rights. These liberals contrasted the “warrior spirit” informing the feudal, governmental privileges in a society of status with the more progressive “industrial spirit” animating an individualistic society of contract. Inspired by the ideal of thoroughgoing freedom in thought and action, the modern liberals drew up a radical program of political, economic, and social rights for the individual. The creative energies unleashed by this intellectual movement for the rights of man ushered in the Industrial, American, and French Revolutions.
To unveil the underlying conflicts in human history, the classical liberals applied the powerful tool of liberal class analysis. The French historian Augustin Thierry (in L'Industrie, 1817) and Charles Dunoyer in Le Censeur européen divided mankind into two distinct classes: the one “military or governmental” was unproductive, exploitative, and lived by force; the other class, the “industriels,” were productive, cooperative, and peaceful. These antagonistic classes gave rise to two radically different conceptions of social organization.
In his 1914 work, The State, German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer defined the two opposed ways of organizing social life as the “political means” vs. the “economic means.” Under the “economic means,” social life rests on voluntary economic exchange, noncoercion, peace, and equality before the law. By contrast, under the “political means” social life is essentially violent, based on domination, hegemony, and coercion: “the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others.”
Albert J. Nock in Our Enemy the State (1935) would reformulate these opposed social principles as “state” vs. “society.” Nock, together with Thomas Paine and his predecessors in the liberal tradition, sharply contrasted the political state with the voluntary, noncoercive, and broader community or “society.” Society, so conceived, forms an intricate web of voluntary and spontaneous human relationships and activities (work and trade, education, religion, friendship). Society as a liberal order bestows upon individuals the freedom to think and live and thereby grants to civilization both peace and progress.
The polar antithesis between the voluntary and coercive principles of liberal class analysis and social organization is captured in an anecdotal quarrel in 1817 between Saint-Simon and his liberal onetime secretary, Augustin Thierry:
Thierry, who had led him (Saint-Simon) to discover first political and then economic liberalism, was disturbed to see an authoritarian conception of social organization reappearing in his conversation. One day Saint-Simon declared, “I cannot imagine association without government by someone.” Thierry answered, “And I cannot imagine association without liberty.” [Reported in Élie Halévy, The Era of Tyrannies. Translated by R.K. Webb. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1965, p. 34.]
The History of Liberalism
“Liberalism.” In New Studies in Philosophy, Politics Economics and the History of Ideas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978, pp. 119–151.
Two distinct traditions shaped liberalism in the nineteenth century. One tradition, originating in Greco-Roman antiquity, took its modern form in the political doctrines of the English Whigs of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This British tradition stressed individual liberty secured by “a government under the law.” The second and more radical tradition shaping liberalism arose on the Continent and dominated the French Enlightenment. This tradition differed from the evolutionary British approach and advocated a “rationalist or constructivist view which demanded a deliberate reconstruction of the whole of society in accordance with the principles of reason.” In policy matters, both traditions agreed in opposing conservative and authoritarian edicts, and in favoring freedom of thought, speech, and press. The British tradition emphasized the freedom of the individual and his protection by law against all arbitrary coercion. The Continental tradition tended to stress democratic participation in government.
The liberal ideals of individual liberty have their roots in ancient Greece, and particularly in the Stoic doctrine of a universal law of nature (which limited the power of all government by the rule of reason) and equality before that law. Onto these Greek roots, the Romans grafted a highly individualistic private law and a respect for private property. Aquinas and the medieval scholastics sharpened the analysis of natural law as a moral standard for judging governments. Searching for a consistent and impersonal justice, the English Common Law fitted into this rational concept of natural law. Later, the Spanish Jesuits of the sixteenth century introduced liberal policies into economic analysis and thus anticipated the work of the eighteenth-century Scottish philosophers such as Adam Smith.
The British and Continental liberals reached their apogee of influence during the nineteenth century with such landmarks of British liberal reform as the Reform Act of 1832, the repeal of the corn laws (under the leadership of the radical liberals Richard Cobden and John Bright), and the establishment of international free trade. These laissez-faire champions wedded a Smithian free trade position to strong anti-imperialist, anti-interventionist, and anti-militarist attitudes. Under the liberals' moral watchword of “Peace, Retrenchment and Reform,” Bright and the liberal Prime Minister W.E. Gladstone pursued a peaceful foreign policy. What eventually weakened classical liberalism was a creeping utilitarianisn which, in the name of equality adopted a positive attitude to state intervention. The growth of socialism, imperialism, and centralizing impulses of the First World War further eclipsed the liberal spirit.
Consistent liberalism has seen political and economic liberalism as inseparable. The basic principle of freedom under the law “implies economic freedom, while economic control, as the control of the means for all purposes, makes a restriction of all freedom possible.”
Freedom and Progress
“Gibbon and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” The Journal of Law & Economics 19 (1976): 489–505.
Why do civilizations decline and grow sterile rather than flourish? This is the question that engaged Edward Gibbon (1737–1794) in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon's answer was lost on his contemporaries, who either admired his prose style or were shocked by his alleged infidelity to Christianity.
Gibbon's question was part of the research problem for the eighteenth century intellectual community: to understand progress. How did the moderns achieve progress (in the arts, sciences, and commerce), and how had the ancient world lost it? Mankind needs to discern the conditions assuring progress. This need explains both Gibbon's and his model Montesquieu's fascination with the reasons for the decline and end of Roman progress (see Montesquieu's Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline).
In answering this research problem of progress, Gibbon employed the new sociological method derived from Montesquieu, whose Spirit of the Laws fired the Englishman's intelligence in 1753. The new sociological approach transformed the old narrative history by a new emphasis on social context with its relative ideas and values. The sociological method viewed society, institutions, and ideas as interdependent. Particular value systems (ideas and ideology) were seen as mirrored in and corresponding to political systems and social structures. In turn, great religious transformations reflected and consecrated social changes; religion was, thus, intimately connected with social decline or progress.
From this sociological approach, what is the form of society that promotes progress and what is the value system or “spirit” needed to animate that form? Progress, Gibbon believed, required free trade in goods and ideas; this, in turn, required an open society of liberty, which depends upon and nourishes independent minds. But, from its birth, the Roman Empire stifled this spirit of civic individualism. Hence, its inevitable decline.
Progress flourishes not from great political systems whose history “is that of the miseries of mankind,” but from free individuals cultivating the arts and sciences that promote human life. The healthy form of political system capable of liberating such vital, humane progress was urban freedom and self-government, which avoided the life-sapping centralized power of the Roman Empire. That Empire's bureaucratic centralization atrophied the vitality and progressive impulses of society until finally “the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressures of its own weight.”
Viewed as a temporal sociological institution, the Christian Church gradually aped and mirrored the form and organization of the bureaucratized later Empire. Thus, the Church becoming centralized, monopolistic, and parasitic; lent its weight to sapping individualism, freedom, and progress.
Gibbon's achievement was a liberal historical philosophy: historical progress or decline flowed from social structure and its underlying ideology or spirit.
Reason and Progress
“H.T. Buckle: The Liberal Faith and the Science of History.” The British Journal of Sociology 27 (September 1976): 370–386.
The nineteenth century British historian H.T. Buckle pioneered in historical sociology. His reputation has undeservedly declined because of his adherence to free trade and his classical liberal belief in an individualism of the kind espoused in J.S. Mill's Liberty. Among his contributions were his combining the statistical method and findings of the social sciences with history, and his insistence on the paramount role of ideas, knowledge, and freedom in explaining human progress.
A key interdisciplinary conflict which has dominated the social sciences for at least 130 years is the controversy of whether man is a mover or is moved. Encompassing such issues as free will versus determinism, behavioral psychology versus humanistic psychology, micro versus macro economics, and methodological collectivism, this debate still lives and rages. Buckle is of interest because of his grandiose attempt to straddle both sides of these dichotomies—to fuse historical idealism with historical materialism.
Beginning with the same evolutionary, materialist, and rationalist premises as Marx, Buckle developed his own thought in a radically different direction. Under August Comte's influence, Buckle rejected Marx's view of history as a class war of conflicting interests, preferring to consider it as an intellectual clash between “the priest and the rational sceptic, between theology and science.” In Buckle's multi-volume History of Civilization in England (whose first volume appeared in 1857), the hero was the spirit of intellectual scepticism, the villain was the spirit of government protection. His History's dominant theme was the parallel liberation of the economy from government and intellectual life from the Church.
Traditional historians labored to assimilate the sociological laws that Marx and Comte claimed to have discovered. What of the autonomous individual if science had discovered laws governing the behavior of societies and groups? Here Buckle advanced historical sociology by asserting that ideas were both nurtured in material factors and yet continued as the determining historical causes. Buckle's wedding of historical idealism and historical materialism won his popularity with nineteenth century liberals who simultaneously admired Mill's Liberty and the evolutionary “science” of history.
The physical circumstances of climate, food, and soil determined the original accumulation of wealth and thus the materials chances for intellectual development. But intelligence itself was the decisive factor in mankind's progress. Intellectual progress nurtured the power of the pacifist middle classes and sapped the authority of the military classes. Progress waxed or waned with the amount of knowledge possessed and developed by individuals and the freedom allowed in disseminating and applying that knowledge. Buckle's insistence on freedom as a safeguard for intellectual progress made him a strong opponent of government protectionism which he judged a primitive roadblock to progress.
Individualism, Property, and Revolt
“Physiocracy and the Overthrow of the Ancient Regime.” Paper delivered at the Western Society for French History, December 4–6, 1975.
Scholars have displayed a renewed interest in tracing the intellectual roots of the French Revolution back to the Enlightenment with its rational criticism and attention to individualism. Daniel Roche and Robert Darnton have done studies in this ideological kinship. But to better understand the ideological origins of the French Revolution we need to reexamine the Enlightenment armed with the methodology proposed by J.G.A. Pocock in Politics, Language, and Time (1971) and The Machiavellian Moment (1975). Pocock's approach illuminates the subtle interplay between immediate human experience and the creation of language to express the experience. Materialist historiography has long obscured this cognitive-linguistic dimension in history.
Physiocracy's intellectual structure is—the school of French economists who opposed mercantilism and originated the term ‘laissez-faire’—an important example of Enlightenment liberal ideology. Divergent scholars have acknowledged physiocracy's role in overthrowing the ancien regime and begetting the liberal ideas of property as well as the content of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.
One example of physiocracy's revolutionary ferment is François Quesnay's economic analysis, which posited the circular flow of economic life. The Physiocrats, avoiding the role of narrow economists, considered themselves exponents of the comprehensive science of man in society and espoused enlightened justice in all forms [cf. letter of du Pont de Nemours to J.B. Say, April 22, 1815]. Seeking a foundation in natural law, they wished a natural and spontaneous economy achieved by the destruction of the state's financiers and tax-farmers.
The radical thrust of the Physiocrats' insistence on the sanctity and inviolability of private property spurred on the individualism of the French Revolution. Reasoning that property predated political society and that the preservation of property was the only rationale for any kind of government, physiocracy was a most subversive theoretical or practical position: its property principles required abolition of the entire feudal apparatus. For the Physiocrats, individual proprietorships brooked no interference of any kind. Justice was produced by the free workings of the market.
Through the influence of Victor Riqueti (Marquis de Mirabeau père) Physiocracy, as a science of man grounded in economics, concluded that the pursuit of political self-interest creates only antisocial privilege. On the other hand, the establishment of the natural order of absolute private property and economic pursuits would create social harmony.
The Physiocrats' new language of discourse, economics, established absolute property, economic production, and the free market as the standard. However, economics did not explain that it might require revolution to implement absolute private property. Physiocracy caused, in effect, a major theoretic revolution by locating individual decision makers as the center of the economic process.
The French agricultural societies, applying physiocratic concepts, studied peasant attitudes and economic calculations. Peasants, they discovered, left their fields uncultivated because government price controls prevented the profits that they would have reaped from absolutely private property. There was an intersection between physiocracy and peasant desire for absolute ownership of their land. Research in documents of administrative and agricultural organizations reveals wide use of the emerging economic vocabulary.
The new individualist assertion of self carried a revolutionary potential so basic that study of material self-interest becomes trivial. To carry out the dawning revolutionary implications of absolute property led to political organization and resulting self-interest of political individualism in assemblies. However, essentially un-market and un-liberal attitudes, opposed by physiocracy, flourished in the French Revolution. These attitudes led to the politicization of nineteenth-century French society by the pursuit of anti-economic or political self-interest.
Liberal Class Analysis
“Pierre-Louis Roederer, Jean Baptiste Say, and the concept of industrie.” History of Political Economy 9 (Winter 1977): 455–475.
In the late eighteenth century, the French term industrie acquired revolutionary connotations in classical liberalism's vocabulary of economic and class analysis. Industrie came to mean the honest and creative productivity of the class of industrieux (intellectuals, workers, and capitalists) in contrast to the parasitism and conquest of the class of feudal landholders.
In 1795, Jean-Jacques Lenoir-Larouche attempted to extend to nonagricultural production the Physiocrats' favorable attitude toward agriculture. Yet it was Pierre-Louis Roederer who had already, in 1793, described agricultural prosperity as dependent on the industrial sector. In the same year, Joseph Barnave claimed that the centuries' long development of “industrial property” was morally superior to landed (i.e., feudal) property since it was based on labor rather than conquest.
Unfortunately, Roederer's Mémoires sur quelque points déconomie publique, read at the Lycéee in 1800 and 1801, has gone virtually unnoticed. The fullest commentary on Roederer's economic theory appears in one of Edgard Allix's several neglected essays on the history of economic thought, (1913). Roederer set out to refute the physiocratic doctrine that land was the only productive factor and the only legitimate source of political power. Roederer's Lockean position maintains that property was founded in the natural liberty of each person to apply his faculties. Mobile property (or capital) preexisted civil society, and as the fruit of one's applied faculties, gave rise to all other property, including land. Accordingly, agriculture required prior savings (i.e., capital) and investment before cultivation could be productive. For Roederer, the propriétaire d'industrie invested his capital by gaining a skill or by training for a profession as a scientist or a lawyer.
In developing the nuances of industrie, Jean-Baptiste Say's Traité (1803) emphasized that wealth should be understood in terms of utility based on subjective, rather than objective, evaluation. For Say, industrie indicated labor or “execution,” “theory” or the knowledge of laws and course of nature, and their “application.” Thus, those persons identified as industrieux were the savants, entrepreneurs, and workers. The savant derived most of his income from interest on his capital of knowledge.
Roederer had held that “capitalists who exert their industrie on their capital” earned profits as indemnity for risk and wages, and earned a further indemnity for risk and rent for their capital. Say made no distinction, however, between profits and wages of industrie. The entrepreneur earned wages determined by the skill required for the job.
Say sought to justify a profit to the entrepreneur that was distinct from profit to capital. He claimed it was difficult to distinguish between the profits of capital and of the entrepreneur's industrie. However, Say judged that the entreprenur's industrie might be the difference between profits of individual concerns in the same business, adjusted for differences in capital employed. He also attributed the sources of the profits of the entrepreneur to risk-taking, financial prudence, perseverance, judgement, and knowledge of the world and of business. Say's A Catechism of Political Economy suggests, in Joseph Schumpeter's estimate, the influence of Richard Cantillon's Essai sur la nature du commerce général (1755).
After the second edition of the Traité (1814), Say provided a class analysis of society to the liberal intellectuals. He wrote of his suspicions of feudal landholdings;
The least challengeable property is that of the personal faculties, as it has been granted to no-one else. The next is the property of capital, since it was originally acquired through thrift, and whoever saved a product could, by consuming it, destroy anyone else's right to the same product. The least honorable of all is immobile property, since it is rarely that it does not derive from a fraudulent or violent spoliation.
Say further emphasized the role of the worker in productive activity.
Say's liberal disciples (Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer) in their publication, Le Censeur européen, saw in the emergence of the industrieux the victory of commercial civilization over warrior barbarism. They considered the possessors of the largest sums of capital as the natural leaders of industry. These liberals attributed unemployment to the continued existence of anti-industrial institutions and values. Full employment would emerge only when feudal and mercantilist laws were expunged.
Saint-Simon, associated at first with Say's disciples, broke with liberalism and sought to recreate the authority of medieval society. Saint-Simonian positivism concluded that if the industrieux were the productive people, the bankers and the workers deserved special legislation to give them political power. [On Say, Dunoyer, Chas. Comte, and Saint-Simon, cf. Elie Halevy, “Saint-Simonian Economic Doctrine,” The Era of Tyrannies (1965) pp. 21–104.]
Nature and Liberty
“Political Philosophy and the Issues of Politics.” A Harry Girvetz Memorial Lecture on the Bicentennial of The Wealth of Nations, 19 February 1976, University of California, Santa Barbara.
The bicentennial of The Wealth of Nations (1776) prompts us to reflect upon the basic moral objections to a commercial liberal society. Related issues are the nature of liberty, determinism, self-interest, and nature vs. forms of convention, all of which arise from moral reflections on “capitalism.”
To begin with, Marx's pejorative label of “capitalism” ought to be replaced by Adam Smith's own description, “a system of natural liberty.” Next, this system of natural liberty proves to be either a tautology or a paradox. It may be a tautology since persons in the state of nature simply are at liberty; it may be a paradox since natural liberty can mean a movement toward liberty or nature from the present society and thus imply the dissolution of society itself.
We may strive to extricate Smith from the grips of this dilemma. To achieve this, it is well to contrast “doing what one desires” with the notion of “self-legislation.” These two concepts are actually incompatible. The latter concept, taken in its Kantian sense, would imply that one is a slave to one's passions and thus not at liberty at all.
Moreover, Smith mirrors modern man's peculiar moral predicament, namely, that since nature is a deterministic mechanism, whatever is natural must be determined. A social system which is natural (and thus deterministic) would therefore not seem to be a system of liberty at all. Smith does seem to interpret nature in this mechanistic fashion: man is a passive object moved by the forces of nature.
Smith's project was to find a way to extricate man from this slavery. He does so by viewing nature in an expanded sense, that is, not man's nature but nature as a whole. From this perspective nature appears as an ordered system; thus if men are left to nature's hand, they are moved, as if by an invisible hand to order as well. Man's natural egoism generates social harmony, for egoism is coupled with what Smith termed “sympathy.” Smith understands sympathy in its technical sense of “com-passion” rather than mere kindliness. Sympathy applies to all sentiments whether they be gentle or angry, and is linked to man's powerful need of approbation.
Man's concern for his own survival as well as his need of approbation gives birth to morality and virtue. Nature thus prods us in the direction of harmony, sociability, and other values applicable to all men. Accordingly, Smith is the fountainhead of modern moral naturalism. Smith speaks as the advocate of the natural as against the conventional; however, it is modern natural science that determines the natural.
In Adam Smith's usage, the term “liberty” is restricted to social and political contexts. The more cosmic issue of freedom in mechanistic nature is not an issue for Smith. He reasoned that if nature is all there is then there cannot be anything else to which man is in bondage. Man is neither free nor unfree with respect to nature as a whole. Liberty and bondage are terms appropriate only in political contexts.
Free Trade and Development
“Adam Smith's Theory of International Trade in the Perspective of Economic Development.” Economica (U K) 44 (August 1977): 231–248.
Adam Smith's trade theory is highly relevant to underdeveloped countries, although they tend to view capitalism with deep suspicion. Smith is erroneously discounted as a good international trade theorist because he did not discover the law of comparative costs. (This law, later formulated by David Ricardo, holds that it is advantageous to everyone to have those persons or nations who are relatively more productive in some economic field specialize in what they most efficiently produce. This leads to an international division of labor and specialized markets.) However, Smith's trade theory, in the context of his views on economic development, contains many sound ideas.
Smith's trade theory is not a static analysis of trade based on given resources and given productivity. It attempts rather to study how foreign trade and domestic economic development interact and lead to increases in resources. Smith's theory realistically deals with the impact of trade on economic development and so anticipates the Heckscher-Olin analysis of the differences in relative factor supplies and prices in different countries.
His “vent (sale)-for-surplus” doctrine together with his dictum that “the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market” present an “open-ended” model of the domestic economy which enables him to investigate the effects of foreign trade on economic development.
By widening the extent of the market, international trade ignores the division of labor (the productivity theory) and provides an outlet “for whatever part of the produce of their labour may exceed the home consumption” (the “vent-for-surplus” theory).
Smith's ideas are quite serviceable to underdeveloped countries. Smith believed that the educative effect of the open economy would be greater than protectionism because of “that mutual communication of knowledge of all sorts of improvements which an extensive commerce to all countries naturally, or rather necessarily, carries along with it.” His analysis offers underdeveloped countries a superior strategy for economic development because Smith saw that (1) the expansion of foreign trade and the promotion of domestic “balanced growth” are complementary and not competitive; (2) domestic balanced growth should be based on the extension and improvement of agriculture and not on industrial protection; and (3) agricultural development is best promoted by allowing resources to be allocated via the market, and by a property system that permits the most effective utilization of the land.
Liberalism in Transition
“The Law of the Constitution: Dicey's Polemic against Parnell.” Studies (Fall 1976): 210–224.
A. V. Dicey (1835–1922) provided late Victorian conservatism with a rallying standard in his Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1885). This work was a puzzling about-face in Dicey's political thought and requires explanation. Authored by a previous Radical Whig or Liberal, Dicey's The Law of the Constitution voiced a collectivist aim with a bias for Irish Unionism.
Dicey endorsed liberal John Bright's goal of replacing class representation in Parliament with personal representation to maintain a pluralist society. Dicey applied this to Irish and Scotch representation. He felt that Parliament's ignoring Irish economic and social ills turned patriots into victims of English despotism. This secret British executive government which emerged in Tudor times he saw expanding from Ireland to England's ‘New Imperialism’ in the last third of the nineteenth century (cf. Dicey's The Privy Council.)
During a visit to America with James Bryce, Dicey became a contributor to E.L. Godkin's The Nation, and in 1873 replaced Leslie Stephen as its London correspondent.
He reported critically on England's new imperial role which the historian J.A. Froude sought to justify. Dicey was appalled by Liberal acquiescence in this new imperialism. The ‘Russian menace’ against the Ottoman Empire was the pretext for British executive interventionism in the Balkans, Egypt, and Sudan as well as in Afghanistan. Dicey opposed aggression against the Boer Republics in South Africa. To break the hold of bureaucracy on the people, he was an advocate of Indian nationalism.
Dicey strongly supported the Irish Nationalists led by Charles Stewart Parnell, the advocate both of extending Home Rule (i.e., the Irish Parliament, which was abolished in the Union of 1801) and of terminating feudal landholdings. Supporting Parnell's resistance campaign, Dicey interpreted the Phoenix Park assassinations (1882) in principled terms. The deaths of British Chief Secretary Lord Cavendish and Under-Secretary Burke were provoked as the necessary consequence of the jailings of Parnell and leaders of the Irish Land League.
Henry Villard, American owner of The Nation, arranged for Dicey to organize a party of English liberals in 1883, to show that the Irish Americans had demonstrated themselves adept at self-government. The Nation's editor, Godkin, brought Dicey together with Patrick Ford, editor of the Irish World, who republished Dicey's pro-Irish writings.
However, mounting violence over Ireland disturbed Dicey, who had become Vinerian Professor of English Law at Oxford (1882–1909). And his lectures in 1884, from which he wrote his Law of the Constitution, reversed and revised his earlier liberalism. Praising monarchy, he attacked republicanism and federalism as inefficient; he especially criticized America for its course of laissez-faire. In England, he demanded that Parliament should reject Parnell's Home Rule Bill of 1886, and should restrict the right of public meeting. In case of unity between Liberals and Parnell's Nationalists, Dicey advocated use of executive authority to restrict the power of the Commons.
Instead of focusing on Irish affairs, Dicey called on Parliament to deal with housing for the poor, reform of charities and education, recognition of rights of mothers, and collectivist goals in general.
“Louis Wolowski ou le Liberalisme Positif” (“Louis Wolowski: Positive Liberalism”). Revue d'histoire économique et sociale (France) 54 (1976): 169–184.
Louis Wolowski represents one current of nineteenth-century French economic liberalism which anticipated the historical development of later liberalism. He attacked a variety of false solutions to social-economic questions from a moral viewpoint. As a liberal, he assailed the ancien regime for its protectionism and corporatism, and he castigated socialist theories which required an oppressive use of state interventionism. But finding fault with “negative” liberalism, he advocated an interventionist and stimulating role for the state in public education and banking.
A Polish born émigré, whose life spanned the years 1810 to 1876, Louis Wolowski was an important member of the so-called Paris Group and a founder of the Société d'économie politique. In 1839, he was appointed to the chair of industrial legislation at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers. In 1860, this chair was joined to that of industrial economy, which had been held by J.A. Blanqui from 1833 to 1854. (The chair had remained vacant from 1854 to 1860. It had, prior to Blanqui's tenure, been held by J.B. Say.) The combined chair was launched as a course in statistics and administration. In 1864 it was transformed again into a course in political economy and industrial legislation.
Wolowski, in his work, attempted to strike a balance between what he perceived as the historical and the theoretical methods. He was a proponent of the work of W. Roscher, whose Principles he translated into French as Principles d'économie politique (1856).
Although a critic of the economic protectionism of the ancien regime, Wolowski remained a gradualist concerning the abolition of his own epoch's socialism and commercial barriers. He attacked the labor theory of value from the vantage point of Say's analysis of utility value and his theory of the entrepreneur. Nevertheless, he praised the Saint Simonians for resurrecting the concept of authority and for their notion of a just recompense. He also valued Fourier's development of ideas asserting the power of association. He was uniformly critical of the statism of Louis Blanc.
Wolowski's praise for the Saint Simonians was related to his disdain of what he characterized as negative liberalism. He was by no means a proponent of the extreme antistatism of many of his colleagues in the Paris Group. He regarded the state as a positive “lever” as well as a negative shield, and he asserted that authority was the complement of industry. Defining the role of the state as the defense of collective interests and the advancement of economic progress, he supported public education, state development of the means of communication and transport, and state expansion of credit. He advocated a role for the state in the emission of bank money and he criticized the free banking notions of Michel Chevalier.
“Bentham's Chrestomathia: Utilitarian Legacy to British Education.” Journal of the History of Ideas 39 (April-June 1978): 303–316.
The utility principle or “Greatest Happiness” principle espoused by Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) has been traditionally interpreted as innovative and leading to liberal, social reform policies. This, however, is an inaccurately flattering portrait of Benthamite utilitarianism, particularly in the area of education. Bentham's 1816 Chrestomathia project—his book-length plan of a new day school for the middle class—was largely derivative from other reformist educational schemes of his day. In addition, Bentham's Chrestomathic (“conducive to useful knowledge”) school idea was illiberal in the sense that the values it inculcated (e.g., control, uniformity, and utility) were hardly conducive to developing free, creative individuals. The Chrestomathic School, with its one omnipotent instructor capable of covert surveillance over all his students for every moment of the day, is far removed from the liberal notion of an individualistic educational system.
The illiberal and authoritarian tenor of Bentham's Chrestomathic School proposal is reflected in its architectural design. The School was to be modelled on Bentham's earlier “Panopticon” scheme for an administratively efficient prison. The “Panopticon,” meaning “all-seeing,” was a circular building whose central hub afforded the administrator constant supervision, undetected by the occupants along the circumference. Although a “useful” design for a prison, the Panopticon is an incongruous structure for the education of middle class youth. Bentham remained untroubled by the authoritarian strain in his plan, since his common sense convinced him that pupils would achieve the “greatest happiness” by his device.
As an innovator in educational theory, Bentham also fails. Granted that early nineteenth-century British education in general was unresponsive to middle class needs, and anachronistic because of its overemphasis on the classics. Nevertheless, Bentham's own educational curriculum omits such vital and “modern” subjects as literature, history, political economy, logic, and music. Furthermore, Bentham borrowed his major ideas in associationist psychology and his pedagogical theories. These ideas can be traced to others, particularly Helvetius, Locke, and Hartley (in learning theory). On Bell and Lancaster he leaned heavily for pedagogical techniques of teaching assistants and monitorial systems.
In brief, a critical examination of the Chrestomathia project weakens Bentham's reputation as an innovator and liberal reformer.
Spencer and Laissez-Faire
“Herbert Spencer and the Myth of Laissez-Faire.” Journal of the History of Ideas 39 (April-June 1978); 317–328.
History debunks the “myth” that nineteenth-century Britain was dominated by a pure laissez-faire ideology that uncompromisingly restricted government intervention to a minimum and championed the individual. History also corrects the misidentification of Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) as a life-long extreme archetype of the laissez-faire movement.
Noninterventionism was not the regnant governmental principle during the mid-nineteenth century. In actuality, it came into prominence only at the close of the century. In mid-century laissez-faire “was not a theory opposed to government intervention; it was a mild catch phrase, expressing approval of free trade which was quite compatible with approval of government direction of most social functions.” Spencer, it is argued, mirrored this general evolution regarding laissez-faire. His thinking on this issue was not static or monolithic but shifted over time and falls into three distinct stages: (1) During the late 1840s and early 1850s Spencer's thought was essentially anarchist and is best reflected in Social Statics (1851); (2) During the 1850s Spencer's political thought became more orthodox and he drifted toward accepting government activity, until by 1860 his essay “Social Organism” argued for centralized government to direct the complexities of industrial society; (3) Spencer's political thought underwent a final major change in the 1880s, and he eventually did become an advocate of laissez-faire in his book The Man Versus the State (1884). Only in his last stage can Spencer accurately be described as a laissez-faire theorist. His reason for embracing this doctrine seems to be a direct reaction to the inroads of socialism. Spencer then, for the first time, linked laissez-faire with the social Darwinism of “survival of the fittest” and “natural selection” through unfettered competition.
In his earlier two stages, Spencer adopted a belief in a natural harmony of interests in society, but not one that excluded a large measure of either social or (eventually) government action regarding individuals. In his first, or anarchist, stage Spencer expressed the radical desire of “a society which was naturally harmonious.” Written during this anarchist period when Spencer was 30, Social Statics contrasted “evil” government with “good” society. Despite his approval of the abstract principle of equal freedom (i.e., the stipulation that each man should have the greatest freedom compatible with the like freedom of others) Social Statics militates against individualism in favor of social unity. Furthermore, Spencer in the same work opposed hereditary rights to property and advocated nationalization of all private property, a policy that is anathema to laissez-faire individualism.
By the time of his second stage in 1871 Spencer could agree with Thomas Huxley that his “Social Organism” essay controverted the whole theory of laissez-faire and “administrative nihilism.” He further argued that the State should exercise its restraining power even more stringently against individuals than it had in the past.
Whatever the merits of the author's contention that the natural harmony of social interests is incompatible with laissez-faire political theory, he has provided a valuable reassessment of the watered-down version of laissez-faire advocated by many nineteenth-century “radical theorists.” For a searching study of the early Spencer's anarchist political and economic position, the reader can read Élie Halévy's Thomas Hodgskin, translated by A.J. Taylor (1956).
Mill: Liberal or Socialist?
“John Stuart Mill and the Future of Liberalism.” Contemporary Review (September 1976): 138–145.
John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) in On Liberty (1859) and in his Principles of Political Economy (1848) presents a mixture of humane and radical liberalism that is still relevant to reformers of the present age. His argument for an open and free society, opposed to collectivist and totalitarian systems, has never been decisively refuted. Never an adherent of pure laissez-faire capitalism, he nonetheless avoided doctrinaire socialism and sought to reform industrial capitalism by respecting individual autonomy, competition, and human diversity.
Mill's On Liberty, while defending liberal freedoms of thought, expression, and association, found its vital center in the ideal of a liberal and progressive society that promotes the development of autonomous agents. This “principle of liberty” expresses the maximum of individual freedom of action with the minimum of social control. Society should restrict only those individual actions that are, or threaten to be, injurious to others. Mill's principle of liberty rejects state paternalism and legal moralism. Liberty should not be restricted simply to save individuals from harming themselves or to make them conform with the community's moral consensus.
Mill's allowance of some state activity in the economy was always qualified by a concern to promote diversity, variety, and autonomy in all spheres of human life. In these individualistic concerns, Mill differed from the collectivism of orthodox socialism. For example, he was ever the enemy of any state system of education or welfare that would make the poor dependent on a bureaucracy of social workers and planners. He saw that innovation in education was “unlikely to flourish in a monopolistic state education system dominated by conservative bureaucracies and politically vulnerable local authorities.” Mill desired to uproot social injustice while disturbing personal liberty to the minimum practicable extent.
The two major targets of Mill's social criticism of industrial society were the maldistribution of property and the oppressive system of industrial organization. First, to remedy the inequitable system of rewards, Mill favored a reform of inheritance taxes that would diffuse wealth. His radical social justice, however, was not egalitarian; he condemned the inheritance of large fortunes for its undeservedness and for the threat to liberty posed by huge concentrations of wealth. Secondly, Mill opposed the type of industrial organization in which few owners of capital stand in an authoritarian relationship to voiceless wage-earners. This system, he believed, could only stultify the wage-earners' growth into responsible, autonomous individuals and institutionalize a conflict of class interests. He therefore advocated competitive syndicalism, an association of workers who collectively owned, managed, and profited from capital. Avoiding socialism, Mill encouraged the private property transfer rights of such workers' shares in industry, and he welcomed competition as a spur to innovation and efficiency.
Mill's liberalism was radically decentralist and anti-statist. He feared the growth of the state for the same reasons he feared the accumulation of private power. Unlike orthodox socialism, he insisted on the “need for political devolution and the diffusion of power and initiative within the great entrenched institutions of our society.” Although advocating the redistribution of property, he shied away from a levelling egalitarianism built upon bureaucratic centralism. Finally, in his favoring of a no-growth economy, he differed from both capitalists and socialists since he did not project an everlasting technological abundance. Whatever the merits of his reform proposals, Mill was not seduced into welcoming a democratic tyranny of the majority or sacrificing his devotion to individual diversity.