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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.
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. It consisted of a lengthy bibliographical essays, editorials, and many shorter reviews of books and journal articles. There were 5 volumes and 20 issues. This issue contains a lengthy bibliographical essay by Eric Foner on “Radical Individualism in America: Revolution to Civil War.”
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A thorough and systematic exposition of individualist ethics. Spencer himself considered this to be his finest work. In two volumes, with an introduction by Tibor R. Machan. Hardcover $9.00 per volume, $18.00 the set. Softcover $3.00 per volume, $6.00 the set.
British political theorist Auberon Herbert (1838–1906) is without equal as a defender of liberty. His writings are eloquent, forceful-and uncompromising. This volume brings together his major and representative writings, including the title essay, “A plea for Voluntaryism,” “The Ethics of Dynamite,” and “Salvation by Force.” Edited and with an introduction by Eric Mack. Hardcover $9.00, Softcover $3.50.
A masterful study of one of America's best, but least-known, political thinkers. Included in this third edition are appendices containing several of Randolph's most important speeches and a representative selection of his letters. Dr. Kirk is author of The Conservative Mind and other books. “Never has an historian of politics done a better job of this kind”—Samuel Flagg Bemis in The Yale Review. “Kirk's scholarship is admirable”—New York Herald Tribune. “An able championship of conservative philosophy” —American Historical Review. “Will move its reader pleasantly through a chapter of American history that too commonly is told only from the dominant, the Jeffersonian, side of the record”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Hardcover $9.00, Paperback $3.50.
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George Washington Julian (1817–1899) exemplified most of the principles of nineteenth century radical individualism. Julian was strongly influenced by Jean-Baptiste Say's Treatise on Political Economy, as well as by reading Gibbon, Hume, Locke, and Godwin. To find political organizations that expressed his principles, Julian became active in five different political parties, as well as most reform movements including women's suffrage.
Although strongly committed from his earliest career to free trade, hard money, and free banking (principles favored by the Democrats), Julian supported the “Conscience Whigs” because they opposed slavery's extension by the annexation of Texas and the Mexican War. During 1848 he became active in the Free Soil party—which had absorbed the Liberty party and whose leader, Gerrit Smith, had campaigned on a “strict construction” platform against federal or state government's intervention whether to uphold slavery, build public works, or maintain public schools. This was the spirit, welcomed by Carl Schurz, “to break every authority which has its origins in the life of the state, and, as far as possible, to overturn the barriers to individual liberty.... Here in America you can see every day how slightly a people needs to be governed.”
One barrier to individual liberty that was stressed in political contests in the nineteenth century was the “Rag Money Monopoly” of government privileged banks. William Leggett demanded the separation of banking and the state and attacked the “lordlings of the Paper Dynasty.” George Henry Evans and the Jacksonian workingmen's movement had opposed “the granting of ALL PRIVILEGES, and especially the privilege of making paper money.” After the veto of the Bank of the United States, Evans hoped that “the determination of the people to put an end to the most powerful... of the Rag Money Mills, is an indication of their determination to put an end to the whole system.” Radicals, such as Julian, emphasized their hard money principles in the debate between the “Bank Men” and the “Hard Money Men” in the new Republican party.
Julian, elected as a Free Soil congressman from Indiana in 1849, became associated with Rep. Joshua R. Giddings, who had been expelled from the House earlier for saying the federal government should have nothing to do with slavery. Giddings advocated armed resistance to slave-catchers and to federal marshalls arresting citizens for attempting to free a fugitive slave from custody. In 1852, Julian became the Free Soil candidate for vice-president on the platform “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men.” Free Soilers and Jacksonian Democrats formed the Republican party on the basis of hostility to federal government powers. Disunionist sentiment among northern radicals grew in the 1850s. William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Philips had declared that “disunion is abolition.” Abolitionists, as leaders of the American peace crusade, felt that there must be no coercion to keep the south in the union. Instead of waging war against the seceded South, Philips in a major Boston address in 1861 advocated “Northern competition emptying [the South's] pockets; educated slaves awakening its fears; civilization and Christianity beckoning the South into their sisterhood.” In the face of conservative expectations that a communal blood sacrifice would smother economic individualism, radical individualists, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, hoped that peaceful southern secession would further the abandonment of the “machinery of government.” Emerson looked forward to the day when “the civil machinery that has been the religion of the world decomposes to dust and smoke before the new adult individualism.”
During the decade that Julian served in Congress following his return in 1860, he sustained the Jacksonian interest in land reform. Based upon the Lockean concept of land ownership, Julian insisted on selling public lands to private individuals rather than leasing them, which tended to encourage a feudal land system rooted in government privilege. He opposed federal land grants to railroads and to the states for schools and colleges, and criticized the substitution of the sale of public lands for taxation to pay off the public debt. However, Julian was not an agrarian idealist, but was a forward looking advocate of the working-man, especially against agrarian inflationary demands. Julian opposed paper money because its inevitable depreciation in value robbed the worker of the purchasing power of his wages; he likewise rejected tariffs and taxes because they unjustly transferred the workers' income to industrialists.
In his last political campaign (1896), Julian supported the Gold Democrats as the successors to the Jacksonian radicals, who had earlier advocated hard money. Addressing the Sound Money League, Julian attributed the recent depression to the soft money which the Civil War legal tender acts introduced.
Radical individualism, of which George Washington Julian was a leading exponent, represented the significant intellectual and political movement in nineteenth-century America. The rediscovery of America's ideological tradition, and its increasing relevance for late twentieth-century America, has renewed interest in the many radical individualists. Julian, Leggett, Garrison, Lysander Spooner, Adin Ballou, William Graham Sumner, Randolph Bourne, H. L. Mencken, and Albert Jay Nock are finding disciples among “new philosophers,” “new economists,” and spokesmen for contemporary liberalism.
Nothing is more characteristic of American society than efforts to reform it. From the earliest days of colonial settlement, virtually every generation has witnessed some endeavor to improve the institutions of American life. But even as historians remark on the persistence of radicalism and reform in the American past, they have found it difficult to account either for the roots of the radical impulse, or for its strengths and weaknesses, successes, and failings. Too often, studies of the radical tradition are cast in a “heroic” mold, in which radicals are pictured as heroes to be emulated rather than historical figures defined by their own time, even as they struggle to transcend it. Such an approach is able to provide striking portraits of individual radical figures and movements, but it is usually less successful in examining the social, cultural, and political aspects of American life which have limited the spread of radical movements. On the other hand, those who, like Louis Hartz, have dismissed radicalism altogether, positing an all-encompassing liberal ideology from which there has been virtually no dissent, have difficulty in accounting for the persistence of American radicalism in spite of an all-too-frequent lack of success.
It is only recently that ideology has come to play a central role in the study of American history. The writings of Bernard Bailyn, J. G. A. Pocock, and Eugene Genovese, to name only a few, are a salutary reaction against a period of “consensus” history during which historians argued that Americans have produced no ideas worthy of serious consideration. These writers have reopened the question of the origins and development of radical ideology in the American past.
In studying the radical tradition, it is essential to distinguish among a number of distant, although interrelated, expressions of American radical thought. One can begin with the distinction drawn by Yehoshua Arieli in his brilliant analysis of American political culture, between the Jacobin and Jeffersonian traditions: the first collectivist, unitary, and oriented toward the state, the second voluntarist, pluralist, and oriented toward the individual and his “pursuit of happiness.” A related, but not identical, distinction can be made in terms of the attitude of radical movements toward the institution of private property. The most prominent strain of American radicalism has derived from what C. B. Macpherson calls the theory of “possessive individualism,” which defines liberty as freedom from dependence upon the will of other persons, and views possession of private property as a necessary guarantee of individual autonomy. The most common strain of American radicalism has been the attempt both to expand the boundaries of individual liberty (often focusing on groups excluded from its benefits, such as blacks and women), and to create a society simultaneously possessing all the attributes of the American dream—equality and liberty, freedom and order, private property and access to personal advancement. A second element of the radical tradition begins its critique with society, rather than the individual. Such movements as communitarianism and socialism have attempted not to perfect the individualist ethos but rather to transcend it, erecting a competing vision of the good society, defined by the collective good. Whatever one's opinions of the Jacobin and Jeffersonian ideological strands, both are intrinsically American, for both can be traced back to the republicanism of the American Revolution. It is here that the analysis of nineteenth-century American radicalism must begin.
During the past decade, a series of significant works have chronicled the ideological causes and consequences of the American Revolution. Drawing on the pioneering work of Caroline Robbins, such writers as Bailyn, Pocock, and Gordon Wood have traced the republicanism of the Revolution to a group of English political theorists beginning with James Harrington, and succeeded by the coffee house radicals and opposition politicians of the eighteenth century. These publicists, variously known as Commonwealthmen, Radical Whigs, or the Country Party, developed a pervasive critique of the “corruption” overtaking English life as a result of the political and economic changes of the eighteenth century. They were especially critical of the rise of cabinet power—the creation of political stability through expanding the national bureaucracy and filling Parliament with various appointees and sinecurists. These Radical Whigs opposed the financial revolution evidenced by the creation of the Bank of England and other large moneyed corporations in order to underwrite the new national debt. They feared that the spread of market relations into all areas of English life would unsettle the foundations of traditional liberty. In contrast to the manipulation of Parliament by the Crown, they exalted the ideal of balanced government. The Commonwealthmen were inimical to the emergence of speculators, financiers, and stockjobbers in the national debt, who were all dependent on the state for their income; they looked with nostalgia to a time when men of independent means controlled the destiny of Parliament.
In England, the Country Party comprised a small and not very influential band of reformers. But their influence in America was considerable. Their writings helped shape an image of a corrupt Old World, where liberty was in retreat, and helped to shape the republicanism which emerged as the ruling ideology of revolutionary America. As Wood and Pocock describe it, American republicanism rested on a number of central concepts: “virtue”—the ability of men to sacrifice individual self-interest to the common good; “independence”—freedom from relationships except those entered into voluntarily; and “equality”—“the soul of a republic,” according to Noah Webster. History demonstrated that rulers consistently sought to usurp the rights of the people; liberty could be preserved only by basing government on popular representation and ensuring that virtue, independence, and equality characterized the republican citizenry. Liberty could not exist where men lived in the abject conditions of poverty typical of the Old World.
In the work of Pocock, republicanism emerges as a nostalgic quest for the virtues of a simpler time, a negative response to the political and economic developments of the eighteenth century. In emphasizing the concept of “virtue” as central to republican thought, Pocock implicitly rejects Louis Hartz's assumption that liberalism and competitive individualism dominated American thought from the beginning. But Joyce Appleby has charged Pocock with ignoring the individualist, liberal strand of republican thought. Within republican ideology, it appears, there existed a tension between a traditional corporate view of society, emphasizing the common interests of a homogeneous “people”—especially when set against their rulers—and a more individualist social vision. The latter strand, as Appleby emphasizes, was greatly strengthened by the Revolution itself. As reflected in the Madisonian concept of politics, republican individualism insisted that the purpose of government should be to give free rein to the competition of conflicting interests, rather than to stifle that competition in pursuit of a unitary general good.
This transition from communal harmony to competitive individualism was hastened by the influence in America of the third generation of opposition thinkers in eighteenth-century England. As Staughton Lynd has emphasized, such writers as James Burgh, Richard Price, and Joseph Priestley expanded the long-standing demand by Protestant Dissenters for religious liberty, into a call for complete freedom of conscience and a warning of the dangers posed to personal liberty by powerful governments. Therefore, side by side with the classical republican definition of liberty (as that attainable only through self-denial and active citizenship), there also emerged a newer conception of freedom as simply a collection of rights belonging to the people. In this conception the key to liberty was not “virtue” and public spiritedness, but the setting of limits to the exercise of authority. Such a view drew on traditions lying deep within English and American political culture. The heritage of the “free-born Englishman,” that sense of hostility to authoritarianism and an assertion of the right to resist arbitrary power, is not sufficiently emphasized by students of Country Party thought, but as E. P. Thompson has shown, it played an extremely important role in popular politics in the eighteenth century.
The individualist definition of freedom obviously possessed strong affinities for the view of economic life Adam Smith was proposing at precisely this time. In laissez-faire economics, as in Madisonian politics, the public good emerged from free competition and the private pursuit of gain. As the Dissenters demanded that government give up its traditional supervision of the religious realm, classical economists called for a separation of government from the economy. It is easy to forget the radical implications of this demand in the context of the eighteenth century. The call for success based on individual merit was a powerful weapon of assault against the aristocratic world. In effect, it demanded the dismantling of hereditary privilege, of government-granted favors, and of all artificial distinctions among individuals. Competitive individualism was eagerly embraced by the emerging bourgeoisie, since that class possessed the qualities presumably required for success in what came to be called “the race of life”—frugality, self-discipline, and the ability to postpone immediate gratification. The losers in the “race” would be the profligate and unproductive aristocracy, and the undisciplined lower orders. But the call for rewards to talent and an end to privilege also generated an enthusiastic response among other classes, such as artisans and yeoman farmers, to whom “aristocracy” represented a threat to the very meaning of the American Revolution.
No figure of the American Revolution is more closely associated with the history of American radicalism, or reflects more clearly its complex intellectual origins, than Thomas Paine. Born in England in 1737, the son of a staymaker, Paine emigrated to America in 1774. He won fame as the author of Common Sense, that brilliant call for American independence, and thenceforth devoted himself to promoting the national war effort. In addition, Paine became intimately involved in the complex struggle in Pennsylvania, which saw the Revolution broaden into a debate over the fruits of independence. The highly democratic Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, with its broad suffrage, unicameral legislature, and annual elections, reflected a process occuring in virtually every colony as part of the Revolution: the expansion of political participation and the decline in deferential politics. In Pennsylvania and areas like western Massachusetts, backcountry North Carolina, and the Hudson Valley of New York, “equality” became the great rallying cry of those who sought to restructure the political life of the colonies. The demand for “equality” was, as Franco Venturi has written, a “protest ideal,” a critique of a society based on hierarchy and privilege, rather than a demand for massive social levelling. While remaining firmly within the republican tradition which linked individual autonomy to the possession of productive property, some Pennsylvania radicals proposed that the state discourage large concentrations of wealth, since “an enormous Proportion of Property vested in a few Individuals is dangerous to the Rights, and destructive of the Common Happiness of Mankind.”
Paine himself, though passionately attached to “equality” as an ideal of society and the basis of republican government, did not, in the 1770s, subscribe to such proposals. But in his writings, he did touch on virtually every theme which would flow into the nineteenth-century radical tradition. First, there was his conscious effort to democratize political participation, his attack on the idea that a traditional elite should enjoy a monopoly of political power. The literary form of Common Sense reflected Paine's complete rejection of deference as thoroughly as did its political content. Written in a style designed to reach a mass audience, it was a catalyst of the massive politicization of American life during the era of the Revolution. Paine's literary style, as Harry Stout observes, was akin to Patrick Henry's mode of public speaking. Both broke the previous rules of political discourse, and both aroused consternation among traditionalists.
Common Sense not only called for American independence, but bitterly denounced the elements of inequality which characterized the Old World—monarchy, aristocracy, and hereditary privilege. Paine articulated the utopian thrust of the American Revolution, the complete rejection of the Old World and the possibility of creating a better society in the New. “We have it in our power to begin the world over again,” he wrote; “The birthday of a new world is at hand.” Paine redefined the meaning of the Revolution, transforming it from a struggle over the rights of Englishmen, into a contest with meaning for all mankind. As Arieli writes, Paine's vision of America “could only be created by a man who knew Europe well enough to hate its society and who longed desperately enough for salvation to envision in a flash of illumination the destiny of the New World as liberation from the Old.”
At times, Paine's rejection of European political forms led him to a condemnation of all government, expressed so strongly that he has sometimes been claimed as a precursor of nineteenth-century anarchism. In Common Sense, Paine drew a sharp distinction between society and government, the one natural, voluntary, and harmonious, the other coercive, artificial, and productive of evil. Like the Newtonian universe, human society was based on harmony and order; it was outside interference by the state which corrupted human nature and created, through war, oppressive taxation, and grants of artificial privilege, the inequalities of Europe. For Paine, monarchical government was the primary cause of poverty and inequality in the Old World. And yet, his view here was not altogether consistent. It has recently been argued that Paine in the 1770s and 1780s often acted as the spokesman for the artisan class, from which he himself had sprung. Artisans, beset by competition from British manufacturers, looked to a strong American government to protect their own enterprises. They, and Paine, supported the Constitution of 1787 in the hope that it would create a government actively promoting the economic development of the nation, and releasing the economic energies of its citizens. In the Paineite social outlook, society was divided between producers—artisans and farmers, and nonproducers—speculators, financiers, and rentiers. The activities of the former could be encouraged by government; the latter, in a republic, would be cut off from their sources of income—government favors and court sinecures—and destroyed.
Paine's writings thus expressed many of the central themes of early American radicalism: democracy, equality, the distinction between producers and nonproducers, the sharp contrast between the Old and New Worlds and the implied fear of the “Europeanization” of American society, and a suspicion of government as an artificial imposition on the natural workings of society.
Land was, of course, central to the variant of republican ideology associated with Thomas Jefferson. “Those who labor in the earth,” Jefferson wrote in an oft-quoted passage, “are the chosen people of God.... Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example.” Often interpreted as pure nostalgia, (the “myth of the garden” according to Henry Nash Smith) Jeffersonianism, in fact, expressed the common republican conviction that liberty sprang from the independence of the individual. Passionately averse to debt and credit for the web of dependence in which they enmeshed individuals, Jefferson perceived self-sufficient farming as the surest basis for republican independence and virtue. Like so many Americans of the era, Jefferson distrusted large cities with their population of wealthy nonproducers and dependent, impoverished laborers. Thus, Thus, as Leo Marx argues, it was simply the livelihood of the farmer but his social, moral, and political qualities which made the yeoman the basis of Jeffersonian republicanism. And, Jefferson's fear of a dependent lower class helps explain his conviction that if the slaves of the South were freed, they should be returned to Africa.
Jeffersonianism rested, therefore, on a commitment to ownership of landed property as the basis of independence. But, as Gary Wills has recently argued, Jefferson allowed that society had a responsibility to promote the widest diffusion of landed property. One way of doing this would be to grant every head of family fifty acres to stake out his own independence. Where uncultivated land and poverty coexisted, he wrote, the natural right of all men to a portion of the land had been violated.
Edmund Morgan has recently emphasized that the spectre of a large class of propertyless poor haunted the republican theorists of the Revolution. Moreover, republicanism was ambiguous, or even hostile, to capitalist development as the eighteenth century perceived it. In Country Party thought, “corruption” flowed in part from the financial revolution of the eighteenth century and from the new classes—speculators, government bondholders, placemen—which it spawned. Paine and Jefferson wished to preserve the social basis of republicanism—the wide diffusion of property among urban craftsmen and yeoman farmers.
Yet, as Madison observed at the Constitutional Convention, history seemed to present Americans with an insoluble dilemma. A republic required a citizenry possessing the independence provided by private property, yet economic development seemed destined to create an ever-increasing class of propertyless poor, congregating in large cities, and susceptible to manipulation by demagogues. Thus, Madison's Constitution rested on an elaborate structure of checks and balances, to prevent the propertyless from using political power to despoil the propertied. William Appleman Williams argues that Jeffersonians sought to resolve this dilemma through territorial expansion. America could remain a nation of industrious farmers, and avoid the corruption and political degeneracy of Europe, only by expanding into the interior. Yet, underlying even this solution lay a deep historical pessimism. For, even after the Louisiana Purchase doubled the nation's size, Jefferson had to admit that land was not infinite. Eventually it would be filled up, and then the classic historical dialectic of progress and corruption, growth and decay, evidenced in the history of all previous republics, would overtake the American experiment as well. And there was a further dilemma: territorial expansion required an aggressive foreign policy, conducted by a strong central government. Here lay the fatal flaw in the idea of the West as America's salvation. Jefferson could speak glowingly of the nation as an “empire of liberty,” but he never confronted the question: can an empire also be a republic?
The political debates which emerged in the aftermath of independence were framed by the republican ideology of the Revolution. Central to the issue between Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans in the 1790s, according to a recent work by Richard Buel and Lance Banning, was the question of the relationship of the new national state to early capitalist development. Party differences first arose over the fiscal program proposed by Alexander Hamilton—the funding of the federal debt, establishment of a national bank, and promotion of manufacturing. These policies appeared to Jeffersonians as an attempt to recreate in America a powerful state on the English model, welding it to the interests of the business classes. The Hamiltonian program thus raised the specter of the state promoting the growth of “nonproductive” classes, dependent for their livelihood on the government. By way of contrast, Jeffersonians proposed to allow the free market to develop in its own way, confident that the result would be an equitable distribution of the nation's economic resources.
Jefferson could dismantle the state capitalist program of the Hamiltonians after his election in 1800, but he could not reverse the economic process at work in early nineteenth-century America. Between 1800 and 1850, the nation experienced a thorough economic revolution, reflected in the emergence of the factory system in textile manufacturing, the transportation revolution, the spread of market relations throughout the society, and the creation of a new urban wage-earning class. As Robert Shallope has recently observed, the old Jeffersonian paradigm was incapable of explaining, or even discussing, these new economic developments.
By the time of Jefferson's death in 1826, the profound social and economic changes American society had experienced since the Revolution were beginning to generate radical criticism. The republican heritage of the Revolution did not contain readily apparent answers to the economic problems of the Age of Jackson. America had eliminated kings and aristocrats, and had extended the right to vote to virtually the entire white male population. Yet the twin threats to republican society—dependence and inequality—more and more seemed to characterize American life, especially in the large eastern cities. Much of the radicalism of these years reflected a search for the causes. Some critics found the reasons for social dislocation and inequality in artificial privileges and monopolies created by the government. Others located the source of social problems in private control of new technology. In a study of the industrialization of the Pennsylvania village of Rockdale, Anthony Wallace terms this strand of radicalism “communal industrialism.” Demanding that social relations be guided by cooperation rather than competition, that productive property be regulated by the community, it drew on classical republicanism in its hostility to concentrated economic wealth and power.
The expression of radicalism which diverged most completely from the liberal, individualist ideology of the emerging order were the numerous communitarian experiments created in these years. Between 1800 and 1860 over one hundred such communities were founded. They varied greatly in their internal structure. At one extreme stood Oneida in New York State, whose regimen of mutual self-criticism and dictatorial direction by John Humphrey Noyes left little room for individual initiative. And at the other was the communitarian anarchism of Josiah Warren, which blended extreme individualism with labor radicalism in a unique amalgam. Warren accused most utopian socialists of reproducing on a small scale the arbitrary authority typical of the larger society. The true policy of a community, he believed, was “allowing each individual to be absolute despot or sovereign” over himself. At Modern Times community on Long Island, there were virtually no rules or laws. “A man may have two wives, or a woman, two husbands, or a dozen each, for ought I care,” said Warren. “Everybody has a perfect right to do everything.” (Warren's remark points up the central importance of the family in the history of communitarian experiments. Many utopians challenged the nuclear family and proposed alternatives ranging from the celibacy practiced by the Shakers to the polygamy of the Mormons, the “free love” advocated by some Owenites, and the system of “complex marriage” devised by Noyes at Oneida.) Warren's radicalism also extended to labor relations: he insisted Americans needed to be freed from the coercion of the marketplace as well as that of the state. In Cincinnati, Warren organized a “time store” and a currency, “labor notes,” so that goods could be exchanged for their value in human labor, and middlemen and nonproducers would be eliminated entirely, thereby allowing the worker to receive the full product of his labor.
Historians have devoted more attention to the Owenite communities of the early nineteenth century than any other variant. As Arthur Bestor shows in his classic study, Owenism embodied a plan for social reform blending communitarianism, a critique of the competitive ideology of the emerging capitalist order, and a science of society based on an environmentalist conception of human nature. J.F.C. Harrison has emphasized the millennial aspect of Robert Owen's aim—nothing less than the creation of a “new moral world” in which social harmony would reign supreme. Although Owen's famous experiment at New Harmony was short-lived and torn by dissention, Owenism exerted a powerful influence on the early labor movement. Two themes of Owen's thought, the labor theory of value and his stress on education as a means of social improvement and character-molding, were especially influential. The ideal of cooperation, moreover, remained a strong element in labor ideology well into this century, as did the conviction that men could shape a more equitable society through a conscious rebuilding of their local institutions.
Despite the colorful quality of communitarian experiments, they represented a secondary strain in the radical impulse of the 1820s and 1830s. More pervasive was the influence of the early labor movement, which drew on the tradition of republican egalitarianism to challenge the social consequences of the economic transformation of the nation. For the urban artisan (the central figure in the early labor movement) the most disturbing economic development was the decline of skill, the loss of the “dignity of labor.” The most striking example was, of course, the emergence of the early factory system in New England; more typical was the gathering of artisans into urban workshops, the subdividing of traditional crafts, and the introduction of unskilled workers into the trades. As a result, journeymen found it increasingly difficult to become independent masters and were faced with the prospect of a lifetime of wage labor. At the same time, the imposition of new forms of work discipline in factories, workshops, and even the artisans' own shops, represented a striking change from an earlier period when the craftsman generally controlled the rhythm and pace of his own labor.
Urban laborers responded to these changes by forming workingmen's political parties (the first such organizations in the world), producers' cooperatives, and labor unions. As Alan Dawley observes in a significant study of workingmen in Lynn, Massachusetts, the great rallying cry of the early labor movement was Equal Rights. The economic inequalities of the Jacksonian era infused new life into the traditional social distinction between producers and nonproducers, and encouraged the view that capitalists were growing rich by accumulating the fruits of the laborers' toil.
“You are the real producers of all the wealth of the community,” said one labor newspaper. “Without your labors no class could live. How is it then that you are so poor, while those who labor not are rich?” The quest for an answer to this question led leaders of the labor movement to a variety of political, social, and economic programs. One common demand was the removal of intermediaries between producers and consumers, the nonproducing merchant and banker. This was the rationale of Warren's time store, as well as of producers' cooperatives, which reflected a collective response to the problem of preserving the artisan's traditional independence. Cornelius Blatchley, a physician who popularized “Richardian socialist” doctrines in a series of pamphlets, insisted that the rich exploited laborers by receiving an unearned income on their property. Equality thus required the abolition of interest on money and rent on land.
Other specific demands of workingmen included the abolition of imprisonment for debt, the establishment of a free public school system, and reform of the legal system. Hostility to lawyers had long been a component of American radicalism, reflected, as Richard Ellis shows, in persistent complaints about the high fees charged by courts and lawyers, the use of the English common law in American courts, and the inaccessibility of legal procedures to the average citizen. An important recent study by Morton Horwitz reveals how court decisions during the first half of the nineteenth century transformed the legal conception of property, insulating corporations from some of the social effects of their actions, limiting their liability for damages and, in effect, transferring property from smallholders to corporate enterprises. Horwitz's study of the way in which the legal system helped subsidize the emerging capitalist order helps explain the hostility to lawyers and judges within the labor movement.
The writings of Edward Pessen and, more recently, Anthony Wallace, demonstrate the extent to which the early labor movement was the intellectual child of the Enlightenment and the American Revolution. The central tenets of labor though derived from Paineite republicanism—a belief in natural rights and social progress, the division of society into producers and nonproducers, and hostility to government actions which seemed to grant privileges to nonproducing classes. Through the influence of Paine and Owen, the early labor movement also reflected the heritage of deism and rationalism. Labor leaders in New York and Philadelphia were as hostile to the attempt of revivalists to create a “union of church and state,” as they were to the growth of inequality in the economic realm.
Probably the most original theorist of the early labor movement was Thomas Skidmore, a teacher and machinist who published The Rights of Man to Property. The title was meant to pay homage to the heritage of Paine while at the same time transcending Paineite republicanism in an attempt to solve the economic problems an earlier generation had not had to confront. A passionate devotee of the ideal of equality, Skidmore proposed the abolition of inheritance: under his plan, all property would revert to the state at death, while each individual would receive a sum of money from the state at the beginning of his adult life. Skidmore thus did not challenge the institution of private property, or the notion of a “race of life” in which accumulations of wealth would be unequal. What he objected to were concentrations of property which were not the result of the immediate labor of each individual. His was an attempt to combine the ideals of equality and individual competition.
A different solution to the problem of inequality was devised by George Henry Evans, the immigrant English radical who edited the Workingman's Advocate in New York City in the 1830s and became a leading figure in the National Reform Movement in the next decade. Along with Thomas Devyr, an Irish immigrant who had participated in the British Chartist movement, Horace Greeley, and a few others, Evans popularized the principle of land reform as the solution to urban poverty. Land monopoly was, Evans insisted, the root cause of poverty and inequality. It drove men into large cities, where their competition for employment drove wages down to subsistence levels. America could only enjoy industrial development with high wages if every worker had access to a homestead, enabling him to escape the city if working conditions were not to his liking. Evans criticized manufacturers who sought to keep the price of public land high, so as to create a low-wage working force. (Manufacturers insisted that without low wages or tariff protection, they would be unable to compete with British industry.)
Evans was also associated with the Locofoco, the radical wing of the New York Democratic party, who represented the absorption of part of the workingmen's impulse into party politics. The theme of the Locofoco was equal rights and hostility to monopoly. Whereas the Whig party viewed society as governed by a harmony of interests between capital and labor, Locofoco inherited the traditional portrait of pervasive social conflict between producer and nonproducer. They objected particularly to what they perceived as the grant of special governmental favors and privileges to capitalistic groups. William Leggett, a leading Locofoco spokesman from his editorial post on the New York Evening Post, insisted the function of government was simply to make “general laws, uniform and universal in their operation.... Governments have no right to interfere with the pursuits of individuals by offering encouragements and granting privileges to any particular class or industry or any select bodies of men.”
In the work of Walter Hugins, the Locofoco emerge as doctrinaire adherents of the principles of laissez-faire, whose views stood in sharp contrast to the Whig American Plan, under which the government would consciously promote and shape the nation's economic development. Hugins, the leading modern student of the New York workingmen's movement, stresses the Locofoco's opposition to all kinds of monopolies and privileges, including even the “medical monopoly”—the licensing of physicians by the state and the banning of certain kinds of medical practice. Medicine, like manufacturing and transportation, should be “left free to the competition of capital and enterprise.” Leggett's principle was “a perfect free trade in all things.”
The greatest monopoly of all, of course, was the Second Bank of the United States, and the Locofoco supported the administration of Andrew Jackson in its attack on the “Monster Bank.” But while many Jacksonians hoped the destruction of the Bank would clear the way for increased activities by state banks, the Locofoco were hostile to all banks of issue, demanding a currency based on specie. Paper money not only robbed the worker of a part of his wages by constantly deteriorating in value, but encouraged “intemperance, dissipation, and profligacy,” by promoting a speculative mentality in which nonproducers thrived and producers suffered. “Its direct and indirect tendency,” Leggett wrote, “is to create artificial inequalities and distinctions in society; to increase the wealth of the rich and render more abject and oppressive the poverty of the poor.” Hostility to paper money and banks of issue was a major reason for the support the Democratic party received among wage-earners, especially the immigrant Irish who arrived in the eastern cities with no money, and were dependent upon wages for their livelihood.
The Locofoco did not wish to destroy all banking activities, but they objected to banks issuing paper money and the granting of bank charters by special acts of the legislature. Instead, they demanded a general banking law, so that the “banking monopoly” would be broken, coupled with the abolition of small paper notes. They did not oppose savings banks, since savings were a crucial means by which workers escaped the wage system, a prime element of transition between the wage-earning class and independence.
The Locofoco represented the most radical expression of competitive individualism during the Jacksonian era. Blaming the granting of economic privileges by the state for the increase in inequality, they demanded a return to the natural functioning of the economic order, freed from privilege and monopoly. Yet they lacked a critique of the emerging economic order itself; their focus was on the ties between that system and the government. In this they reflected the crisis of the republican heritage itself. Geared to looking for political solutions for economic problems, republicanism was not attuned to analyzing the new capitalist economy apart from its relationship to the state.
If the early labor movement struggled with the problems resulting from massive economic change, another series of reform movements focused on freeing the individual from sin. In the 1830s and 1840s a veritable army of reform movements sprang into existence, promoting causes ranging from temperance, abolition, and peace, to spiritualism and good health. Behind the reform impulse lay a religious revolution—the evangelical revivals known as the Second Great Awakening. Preachers like the evangelist Charles G. Finney held great revivals in New England, upstate New York, and some of the urban centers, emphasizing the doctrine that men were free moral agents, with the power to choose between good and evil. In contrast to traditional predestinarian Calvinism, evil was not seen as the product of conscious choice, not innate depravity. The revivals emphasized both the ability of men to save themselves by an act of will, and the necessity on the part of the saved to attack the sins of others. The key doctrine of the reformers influenced by the revivals was perfectionism, the belief that both man and society could indeed be made free from sin. Here was a utopian vision which not only inspired the creation of new reform movements, but led to the transformation of old ones. From attempts to mitigate evils which could never be wholly eliminated from human life, reforms now became efforts to cleanse the world of sin entirely. Thus, antislavery became immediate abolitionism, temperance became total abstinence, the movement against war became pacifism and nonresistance.
Much has been written on the reform movements of the antebellum years, but historians have found it difficult to strike a balance between the liberating impulse embodied in reform, and its tendency toward social control. Perhaps the tension was inherent in the Protestant heritage itself, which stressed both the integrity of the individual, and the need for order and stability in a society in which an elect of redeemed oversee the morality of the unregenerate. Reform has been interpreted by Clifford Griffen as a form of “moral stewardship,” whereby one version of morality was imposed upon the entire society (though not without resistance from groups like Irish and German immigrants who did not share the reformers' definition of sin). Similarly, the various benevolent societies of the 1820s and 1830s—the Home Missionary Society, American Bible Society, etc.—can be seen as attempts to impose order and morality on the new urban lower classes, notorious for their intemperance and infidelity. Paul Johnson, in his studies of the revivals in Rochester, sees revivalism and reform as serving the interests of the emerging manufacturing elite. According to Johnson, the revivalists' emphasis on self-discipline, temperance, and hard work reinforced the demands of the new industrial order, and helped manufacturers assert their control over a recalcitrant work force. The evangelical drive for moral order, in this view, coincided with the need for punctuality, sobriety, and obedience in the mills and workshops.
Such interpretations have been criticized by Lois Banner who points out that there were other roots to reform movements than religious benevolence. Moreover, evangelicalism possessed a second aspect: its emphasis on individual redemption led many converts into an intense anti-institutionalism and, occasionally, all the way to anarchy. Some reformers came to challenge all existing institutions as illegitimate exercises of authority over the free will of the individual, and as interferences with his direct relationship with God. In the form of “come-outerism,” this strand of reform demanded that the redeemed sever their connection with the state, army, and organized churches, in the quest for perfect freedom. At the same time, however, as David Rothman has shown, many reformers engaged in the building of new institutions in the hope of remaking the human character. What Rothman terms the “discovery of the asylum”—the sudden outburst of construction of prisons, insane asylums, poorhouses, and schools—also reflected the perfectionist belief that human beings could become truly free. If the poor, the criminal, the insane, were removed from their accustomed environments and placed in a controlled setting, they could be instilled with the virtues of self-discipline and good order, and eventually become productive members of society. As Rothman observes, these new institutions quickly lost their reforming zeal and became places of incarceration for the poor, a transformation which helps explain the intense hostility of the lower classes (especially Irish immigrants) toward them and the reformers who created them. But this does not mitigate his point that, at the outset, these reformers embodied a truly radical vision—that human personality could be remade.
No individual reform movement reflects the dialectic of liberation and control more fully than the expansion of free public education. Traditionally viewed as a step in the progress of American democracy, the rise of the common school has recently been subjected to critiques by Michael Katz, and Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis. To these writers, the “silent curriculum” of the schools is as important as the subjects taught. The purpose of public education is to create an orderly, deferential, and disciplined population, who can become an obedient work force upon graduation. The educational system, write Bowles and Gintis, is “best understood as an institution which serves to perpetuate the social relationships of economic life... by facilitating a smooth integration of youth into the labor force.” However, other writers have pointed to the pervasive conflict surrounding the schools in these years. Rather than reflecting the views of one class, the schools were a battleground, pitting professional educators and proponents of centralization against immigrants and workingmen. Universal public education was a demand of the labor movement as well as manufacturers, although as Katz shows in his study of Beverley, Massachusetts, workingmen were often disillusioned with the schools when free public education did not seem to produce the economic equality which had been expected of it.
One other reform which merits individual attention is the early movement for women's rights. The history of American women has, in a sense, only begun to be written, but it appears that the early nineteenth century was a period of declining status for women, the majority of the population. Increasingly, society's image of women came to center around the home. At the same time, as work moved from the household to the workshop and factory, the productive function of women in the home became increasingly unimportant. Some women followed spinning and weaving out of the household and became the nation's first factory labor force. Others, especially in the middle class, found themselves with fewer and fewer responsibilities and opportunities in the home.
The early feminist movement had roots dating back at least as far as the Age of Revolution, which had produced, in Mary Wollstonecraft, the first great ideologue of women's rights. In the 1820s and 1830s, the Owenites had demanded greater rights for women and Frances Wright, the Scottish-born follower of Robert Owen, had become notorious by delivering public lectures demanding not only legal equality for women, but the right to birth control and divorce as well. The Owen-Wright brand of feminism was the child of Enlightenment rationalism and its heritage of natural rights. It was thus somewhat different from another expression of early feminism, which stemmed from the great revivals. At first, the revivals stimulated the formation of women's reform societies which did not challenge the conception of women as the guardian of household and family. Moreover, increasing numbers of women participated in the crusade against slavery. From their experiences in abolitionism, some came to challenge the status of women as well as blacks. The leading example of the way abolition fed into early feminism was that of the remarkable Grimké sisters, Sarah and Angelina. Daughters of a prominent South Carolina family, they became, in the 1830s, Quakers and advocates of emancipation. Denounced by the Massachusetts clergy for addressing mixed audiences of men and women, the Grimkés undertook to defend the right of women to a role in public affairs. The controversy aroused by their activities not only helped split the abolitionist movement but inspired those, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who organized the Seneca Falls convention of 1840 where women's suffrage was first demanded.
As Ellen DuBois has argued, the women's suffrage movement challenged the pervasive division of society into public and private spheres, with women confined to the private world. It demanded access for women to the political realm as well as to all branches of employment. On the other hand, William O'Neill has suggested that the early feminists gradually receded from a critique of the nuclear family and sexual discrimination within the home, issues which had been raised by Frances Wright but were considered too controversial by later feminists. A related question is the class basis of the feminist constituency. Gerda Lerner argues that the early women's rights movement was resolutely middle-class, and had little to offer the growing class of female factory workers. These women also organized themselves in the 1830s and 1840s, but along lines of class, not gender. The female workers of Lowell, Massachusetts, conducted a series of strikes in these years against the deterioration of working conditions and wages, but they tended to look to the male labor movement for allies, rather than the early feminists, and did not view the ballot as a panacea for their problems.
The greatest of all the antebellum reform movements was, of course, abolition. But it was not free from the conflicting tendencies of the reform impulse in general, or from the problems of class constituency reflected in the women's rights movement. Sentiment against slavery was hardly new in the 1830s. It could be traced back to the American Revolution and before. But prior to this decade, the prevailing expression of antislavery was the American Colonization Society, which proposed the gradual elimination of the South's peculiar institution and the deportation of the freedmen to Africa. (This policy was resisted by most leaders of the free black community, although a few, like the early black nationalist Paul Cuffe, did attempt to promote voluntary emigration to Africa.)
The 1830s witnessed a complete transformation in the crusade against slavery. Drawing on the idea of perfectionism, abolitionists abandoned the earlier gradualist approach and demanded immediate emancipation. Essentially, as Gilbert Barnes noted many years ago, immediatism was a call for repentance by the slaveholder for the sin of slavery. Instead of a complex institution embedded in a web of social institutions, slavery came to be viewed essentially as a moral and religious question. “We believe slavery to be a sin, always, everywhere, and only, sin—sin in itself,” wrote William Lloyd Garrison. Here lay the radicalism of the immediatist approach: identifying slavery as a sin eliminated the possibility of compromise with the South.
It is not surprising, therefore, that abolitionists tended to view slavery in highly abstract and individualist terms. Slavery was an exercise of authority forbidden by God; the central wrong was the black's loss of the right of self-ownership, the transformation of a human being into a thing. From this position, some abolitionists moved to “non-resistance,” denying the legitimacy of all coercive relations in American society. Many, in addition, condemned existing institutions for their complicity in the existence of slavery. What Stanley Elkins calls the anti-institutionalism of abolitionists was, in part, a conviction that slavery was so deeply embedded in American life, that its abolition would require fundamental changes in other institutions as well. To remove slavery, said Garrison, he was willing to see every political party “torn by dissentions, every sect dashed to fragments, the national compact dissolved.” In its most extreme form, then, abolitionism's stress on the autonomy of the individual could lead, as Lewis Perry has shown, to a species of anarchism.
Garrison was the most important single abolitionist leader of the 1830s, and his inauguration of The Liberator in 1831 is usually taken to mark the emergence of a new, militant breed of abolitionist agitators (even though some of his doctrines had been anticipated by the fiery black abolitionist David Walker in the late 1820s). What set Garrison apart from previous opponents of slavery were his hostility to the idea of colonization, the doctrine of immediatism, the harsh, invective language he employed to condemn slavery and slaveholders, and his insistence that the rights of free blacks in the North must form a central part of abolitionist doctrine. It was this last concern which won him immense support among the northern free black community. In its early years, a majority of the readers of The Liberator were free blacks, and many helped raise funds for the journal. Abolition was the first integrated radical movement in American history, even though blacks sometimes resented their exclusion from important policymaking positions.
The abolitionist movement spread from a tiny handful of radicals in 1831 to a movement reaching into every corner of northern society a few years later. If Garrison was its propagandist, the man who helped mobilize its constituency was Theodore Weld. A brilliant orator in his own right, Weld organized a group of speakers who disseminated abolitionist doctrines throughout the free states. Often, the initial response to their efforts was violent hostility. The mid-1830s witnessed a series of anti-abolitionist riots, culminating in the murder of abolitionist editor Elijah P. Lovejoy, who died defending his press in Alton, Illinois. The effect of the riots was that a large group of northerners, who may not have agreed with immediate abolitionism, came to sympathize with the movement and defend its right to freedom of speech. At the same time, when Congress enacted the “gag rule” to prevent the reading of antislavery petitions, it seemed further proof that the “Slave Power” was utilizing its influence in the federal government to undermine the liberties of northerners. “The contest,” one abolitionist wrote, “is fast becoming—has become—one, not alone of freedom for the black, but of freedom for the white.
The main work of abolitionism was completed by the end of the 1830s. The movement had not, of course, accomplished its goal of emancipating the slaves. Indeed, in response to the abolitionist assault, the South at the same time suppressed internal dissent and developed the proslavery argument in its most advanced form. What the abolitionists did achieve was the destruction of the conspiracy of silence which had prevented serious debate on the slavery issue. The abolitionist legacy to the radical tradition was their mastery of the techniques of agitation in a democratic society. They understood that the reformer who stands outside the political realm and directs his efforts toward influencing public opinion, can have as great an impact on policy as the most powerful statesman.
Slavery contradicted the central ideals and values of artisan radicalism—liberty, equality, independence—and the founding fathers of the movement, Thomas Paine and Robert Owen, had both been opponents of slavery. Recent research, moreover, moving away from a definition of abolitionists as representatives of a declining elite, has underscored the central role played by artisans in the urban abolitionist constituency (although not in the leadership). Nonetheless, relations between the labor and abolitionist movements remained unfriendly throughout the 1830s. In the very first issue of The Liberator, Garrison condemned the labor radicals for setting class against class, and a few weeks later he insisted that social inequality resulted not from “wealth and aristocracy,” but from differences in talent and diligence among individuals.
Some scholars have viewed the abolitionists as complacent champions of middle-class values, who were, as a result, hostile to attempts to alter northern labor relations. There is a certain truth in this; after all, the Tappan brothers, wealthy New York merchants who helped finance the movement, were themselves representatives of the very class which was transforming labor relations to the detriment of the workingmen. Yet the abolitionists were not apologists for their society. They often criticized the spirit of competition and greed so visible in northern life, as the very antithesis of Christian brotherhood. Yet they did tend, in contrast to the labor movement, to accept the economic relations of the free states as fundamentally just. If the labor movement articulated an older ideal of freedom, stretching back to the republican tradition of the Revolution (in which freedom was equated with ownership of productive property) the abolitionists expressed a newer definition. Freedom for them meant self-ownership; that is, simply not being a slave. It was this individualist conception of personal freedom which not only cut abolitionists off from the labor movement, but, as Gilbert Osofsky argues, rendered them unable to make a meaningful response to the economic condition of Irish immigrants, despite a principled effort to overcome nativism and reach out for Irish support in the 1840s.
A few abolitionist leaders did, in the 1840s, attempt to bridge the gap separating them from the labor movement. Most prominent was Nathaniel P. Rogers, the New Hampshire editor who proposed a grand alliance of the producing classes North and South, free and slave, against all exploiters of labor. Yet most abolitionists condemned Rogers for accepting the notion of “wage slavery.” Wendell Phillips, later so prominent in labor reform circles, in 1847 insisted that the solution to the grievances of workingmen lay in individual self-improvement rather than social reform: “to economy, self-denial, temperance, education, and moral and religious character, the laboring class and every other class in this country, must owe its elevation and improvement.”
It has recently been argued by David Brion Davis, that the abolitionist movement in England helped to crystallize middle-class values and identify them with the interests of society as a whole. By isolating slavery as an unacceptable form of labor exploitation, abolition implicitly, though usually unconsciously, diverted attention from the exploitation of labor occurring in the emerging factory system. “The anti-slavery movement,” Davis writes, “reflected the needs and values of the emerging capitalist order.” A somewhat similar argument has been proposed for the United States by Alan Dawley and Anthony Wallace. Had it not been for the dominance of the slavery question in the 1850s and 1860s, Dawley suggests, an independent labor party might have emerged in American politics. Wallace sees the antislavery movement as an evangelical crusade adopted by both factory owners and their employees. This united them in accepting the ideal of a Christian, industrial republic based on free labor, in which the interests of labor and capital would be brought into harmony.
These arguments, reminiscent of Elie Halevy's proposition that the rise of Methodism prevented revolution in early nineteenth-century England, would seem, however, to ignore the strand of antislavery thought which condemned both wage-slavery in the North and chattel slavery in the South. During the 1840s and 1850s, increasing numbers of workingmen were drawn into antislavery circles, by the variant known as free soilism. The trend toward reconciling the two movements reflected the increasing prominence of the land issue in the 1840s. For labor leaders like Evans, as we have seen, a homestead policy was a way of solving the problems posed by the increasing stratification of wealth in eastern cities. The renewed emphasis on land also reflected, as David Montgomery and Bruce Laurie argue, a turn in the labor movement away from the cooperative effort of the 1830s, toward more individualist solutions. Self-help and a nativist tendency to blame immigration for the problems of the crafts shattered the multi-ethnic labor solidarity of the 1830s, according to Montgomery.
The key figures in the tendency to link antislavery and land reform were Horace Greeley and George W. Julian. Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, moved from an interest in communitarianism to the belief that “the public lands are the great regulator of the relations of Labor and Capital, the safety valve of our industrial and social engine.” The homestead policy would create harmony between capital and labor, by offering every citizen the economic alternative of “working for others or for himself.”
Emerging from a Whig economic background, Greeley viewed the state as an active agent of economic development. For him, land reform was part and parcel of a broad program of state-sponsored economic growth, including tariffs, internal improvements, and regulation of currency. Julian, the Indiana congressman who became a staunch free soiler and land reformer, reflected, by way of contrast, the vitality of the Jeffersonian tradition. For Julian, the proper role of government was to curb monopoly and speculation, rather than undertaking economic or social planning.
Julian was indeed a classic Jeffersonian, believing in free trade, a specie currency, and the virtue of the agrarian life. His land reform commitment rested heavily on the idea that the only valid title to property was labor. Thus, he opposed not only plantation slavery, but land speculation. His biographer, Patrick Riddleberger, insists that during the 1850s land reform was secondary to Julian's antislavery views. Making land readily available to settlers would create “a formidable barrier against the introduction of slavery” in the West. Later, during the Civil War and Reconstruction, land reform became his primary concern. Julian denounced the policy of large government land grants to railroads and the engrossment of the public domain by speculators, as subverting the policy inaugurated in the Homestead Act of 1862. By the end of the 1860s he had become the “leader of a little group of recalcitrants” in Congress. They opposed monopoly and land speculation and sought to protect the public domain from railroads, speculators, bounties to veterans, and grants to agricultural colleges. Moreover, with a small group of other radical Republicans, Julian endeavored to extend the principle of land reform to the postwar South. Advocating the confiscation of the property of the large planters, he warned that these lands must not “become the basis of new and frightening monopolies” with the slaveholder replaced by the “grasping monopolist of the North, whose dominion over the freedmen and poor whites would be more galling than slavery itself.” His aim was to “see to it that these teeming regions shall be studded over with small farms and tilled by free men.”
Julian, then, represented the convergence of many of the strands of antebellum radical individualism within the early Republican party. The Republicans, in effect, sought to solve the ideological debate over slave and free labor by returning to the classic Madisonian answer of expansion as the key to preserving personal freedom and republican government. Their defense of the “free labor” system of the North accepted the labor movement's definition of freedom as resting on ownership of property, and of permanent wage-earning status as virtually a form of “slavery.” But they denied that this condition would exist within the North, so long as the safety valve of westward expansion was available. By cutting off access to the West for northern farmers and laborers, the spread of slavery would be a step down the path of the “Europeanization” of American society. Thus, the Republicans did, as Dawley argues, locate the threat to republican equality outside northern life. Yet at the same time, in their homestead policy and in their refusal to countenance a permanent wage-earning class, they also represented at least a partial culmination of the radical tradition. The Republicans' concept of a society based on free labor exalted the values of personal liberty with independence, and the demand for equality of opportunity for all in a competitive social order.
The Civil War represents in part the greatest triumph, in part the death-knell, of the antebellum tradition of radical individualism. On the one hand, the abolition of slavery represented a vindication of the ideals of personal freedom and autonomy; in this sense the war represented, in Lincoln's words, a new birth of freedom. Yet it has also been argued by William Appleman Williams and George Dennison, that the Civil War separated Americans at last from their revolutionary heritage. It was not simply that the effort to coerce the South to remain in the Union was, as Williams argues, a betrayal of the ideal of self-determination, or the right of the people to determine their own form of government. Every argument utilized to support American independence in 1776 could be employed with equal effect in support of the southern cause in 1860–1861. Further, as Dennison insists, the war represented an end to the dream of America as a nation whose institutions rested on consent rather than force. Dennison finds the antecedents of this transformation in the suppression of the Dorr War in Rhode Island in the early 1840s. This set a precedent which, he believes, cast traditional ideas of popular sovereignty and the right of revolution into disrepute, and created the justification for the use of force to put down challenges to civil authority. Order and stability, he claims, had become as important to Americans as liberty itself.
Finally, as George Fredrickson points out, the Civil War led many abolitionists and reformers to abandon their previous stance as disinterested critics of society, and to identify themselves whole-heartedly with the war effort. Here, too, there was an antebellum precedent. The response of abolitionists to John Brown's raid in 1859, their endorsement of his attack on Harper's Ferry, symbolized the waning of the old pacifist, nonresistance strain of antislavery thought, and a willingness to adopt violence as a legitimate means of combatting slavery. A few reformers, such as Adin Ballou, architect of the Hopedale community in Massachusetts, remained true to their nonresistance principles during the war and refused to join in the patriotic fervor. Some of the members of Josiah Warren's Modern Times community left the country rather than participate in the war effort. But for the most part, the war appeared as the culmination of the reformers' efforts and it promoted, as Fredrickson argues, a tendency to view government, rather than voluntary associations or individual effort, as the source of future reforms. Thus, institutionalism replaced anti-institutionalism, nationalism succeeded individualism for many reformers. In addition, abolitionists found themselves in the anomalous position of defending the Lincoln administration's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, jailing of newspaper editors, and use of troops to break strikes, all in the name of the war effort.
The Civil War, moreover, required an effort of mobilization, a strengthening of the apparatus of government, unmatched in nineteenth-century American history. The war stimulated, too, the consolidation of business enterprise, the increased use of mechanization, and the rise of great fortunes. Such bonanzas were often promoted by the government itself, through aid to railroads, a high tariff, the issuance of lucrative bonds, and other wartime economic measures. The Republican party itself was transformed in the process. For during the 1850s, that party had contained a strong element derived from the Locofoco wing of the Democratic party, namely, Jacksonians hostile to the use of the state to grant economic favors and promote economic growth. Many of these Jacksonian Republicans would return to the Democratic party after the war. George W. Julian and other radical individualists were disillusioned both by the expansion of federal power and by the Republicans' adoption of the old Whig economic program of state intervention with its special privileges, tariffs, and paper money inflation.
To live freely and securely, humans need valid knowledge of their world and of themselves. In the corresponding physical and social sciences, this tendency gives rise to methodology. Cutting across disciplinary fields, methodology investigates the pathways, principles, and procedures to be followed in order to arrive at sound knowledge. So understood, methodological questions are intertwined with epistemological issues concerning the nature, origin, means, and extent of human knowledge.
Methodological concerns involve vital and perennial questions. How can we justify and validate claims to knowledge and theories in science, history, economics, and other branches of learning? What methods must we follow in concept formation within the sciences? Are scientific concepts, theories, and laws objectively grounded in reality, or are they mere subjective correlations, models, and mental constructs that allow us to make useful predictions? In scientific explanations that seek to make individual events intelligible, how do we overcome Hume's problem of induction to frame general, necessary laws from “contingent,” “brute” facts? Finally, in theory formation, how do we “prove” theories or arbitrate among rival theories, each of which may claim to explain phenomena and predict observable consequences?
Such methodological questions surface repeatedly in the following set of summaries. A focus of many of these summaries is Thomas Kuhn's influential book on intellectual history, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962, 1970). Kuhn dissents from the orthodox view of how scientific theories succeed one another and win over intellectual allegiance. Rather than a continuous, cumulative development of knowledge, the Kuhnian concept of science envisions progress by intellectual revolutions. These punctuate the longer interludes of “normal science” when intellectuals follow a dominant, orthodox “paradigm” or canonical set of methods, theories, and standards. Kuhn claims that sociological, psychological, and human “subjective” factors (as well as the purely “objective,” logical, and experimental reasons so stressed by earlier intellectual historians) account for a research community's loyalty to a paradigm. The reader may find a fuller background to Kuhn's views in the following summaries.
Kuhn's challenging ideas were soon applied to fields other than the physical science. They also provoked objections from critics such as Karl Popper, Imre Lakatos, Stephen Toulmin and others who feared Kuhn's sociological and psychological approach turned science and learning into a relativist and subjectivist enterprise bereft of a sound, normative “logic of appraisal.” Kuhn addressed such criticisms and revised certain of his positions in the second edition of his Structure, where he conceded his notion of paradigm (or “disciplinary matrix”) was ambiguous. His more recent book, The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977) supplements and restates his views. In this work, his article “Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice” addresses the charge that he rendered theory choice entirely subjective; “Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research?” contrasts his views with Sir Karl Popper's; and “Second Thoughts on Paradigms,” clarifies his rethinking on the ambiguities of one of his central terms. On the mystery of how and why individuals shift from one paradigm to another-a process that involves creativity and innovative perceptions-one can find suggestive hints in Arthur Koestler's The Sleepwalkers andThe Act of Creation.
This section's summaries acknowledge Kuhn's influence by beginning with his views on the history of science. Next follow various criticisms of Kuhn's alleged irrationalism, subjectivism, positivism, and determinism. The Losee and Campbell summaries next present evolutionist paradigms of intellectual progress. The Rasmussen summary broaches the philosophic need for an ontological basis of necessary laws and truths. And the concluding five summaries survey methodological questions in the fields of economics, history, and social science. These may be supplemented by such works as Heinrich Rickert, Science and History: A Critique of Positivist Epistemology (1962); Ludwigvon Mises, Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution (1957); and F.A. Hayek, Counter-Revolution of Science (1955).
“The Relations between the History and the Philosophy of Science.” The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977: pp. 3–20.
Philosophers of science can learn much from the history of science by discarding the warped image of history as a mere chronicle of isolated facts bereft of scientific explanatory value. History teaches philosophy how to balance its concern for static science and theory structure with a developmental and holistic approach that views theory as a nonempirical paradigm or pattern of laws and assumptions.
Philosophy and history, though distinct, are equally valid as knowledge producing enterprises. Each discipline has a distinct formal object and concentrates on different “essentials.” The philosopher tends to isolate the central generalizations of philosophical positions, independent of space and time, and to criticize them logically; the historian concerns himself with the general only to the extent that it actually guided the real scientist. Galileo, from the viewpoint of the philosopher of science, is a more consistent scientist but a less plausible seventeenth-century historical figure.
An active dialogue between the historians and the philosophers of science can benefit both. From this cross-fertilization, history could sharpen its tools of analysis and learn the structure of idea systems. Philosophy of science (with its concerns about the structure of scientific theories, the status of theoretical entities, and the proper grounds for claims of sound knowledge) would find much relevant information in the history of scientific ideas and techniques.
History need not conform to the natural sciences' “covering law” model (of lawlike generalizations and predictive ability) to earn its prestige as a true science. The explanatory force of history derives not from deterministic laws but from the way it connects the facts of human action into a plausible narrative of convincing human motives.
The history of science, as an autonomous explanatory discipline, can supply data, problems, and interpretations for a rational reconstruction of science and theories. By emphasizing global patterns and relationships, the historian enables the philosopher of science to sift through the different kinds of knowledge claimed for either empirical laws or theories. The historian's experience shows how empirical laws are net additions to knowledge and are not displaced over time. Theories, by contrast, ambitiously cover the entire range of conceivable natural phenomena and are not as empirically limited as are laws. Theories are holistic affairs. Challenge one aspect of them (say Aristotle's notion of the void) and the remaining integrated whole (the physics of space, natural motion, and finite cosmos) stands or falls. Thus new theories do not simply add to earlier theories; they displace them with new paradigms, as Newtonian physics replaced Aristotelian physics in toto.
Accordingly, the historian's viewpoint of theoretical development reveals significant differences between empirical laws and theories, and the way that each develops may be evaluated.
“Kuhn's World.” The Occasional Review 6 (Summer 1977): 119–148.
How can we explain growth and progress in science, knowledge, and truth? By social consensus or by individual reason, argument, and logic? Thomas Kuhn's 1962 book (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) discounts the role of objective knowledge in scientific progress and emphasizes both the sociology of knowledge and the subjective process by which scientific communities rally around new “paradigms” during a “crisis” or “scientific revolution.”
Kuhn rejects the image of science as an objective, open-minded, empirical search for truth wherever it leads (in order to accumulate and refine knowledge, and test theories). The history and progress of science reveals a more subjective enterprise, with radical discontinuities between rival mesmerizing paradigms.
Kuhn's scenario of scientific progress runs as follows. “Normal science” is the ordinary orthodoxy of scientists following a socially accepted “paradigm” or model of scientific research. The paradigm framework restricts and blinkers the perceptions of normal science, which seeks to improve the paradigm rather than test it objectively. This subjective view contrasts with the objective image of science as a fact, knowledge, and truth discovering process.
What accounts for new research paradigms or traditions that oust the old normal science? The discovery and awareness of anomalies not covered by the ruling paradigm ushers in a “crisis” period with no social consensus about rival paradigms. A scientific revolution occurs when we meet a transition to a new paradigm. Kuhn holds that this paradigm shift is a noncumulative development like a conversion or gestalt switch. The crucial point is that successive paradigms are logically incompatible and incommensurable. Thus, for Kuhn, the issues of paradigm choice can never be settled by logic or experiment alone. Paradigm debates involve noncomparable world views concerning such nonfactual, value-laden questions as which problems are more important to solve. Einstein's world of space, time, and mass is alien to and incommensurable with that of Newton (e.g., Einstein regards mass not as conserved but as convertible into energy).
Because paradigms are incommensurable, it is not objective or logical criteria which decide paradigm choice but rather personal and aesthetic considerations (such as theoretic simplicity). The reasons that convert individual scientists are not as important as “the sort of community” that endorses a successful paradigm. It is not the problem-solving ability of the new paradigm that serves as the unequivocal criterion of paradigm choice; rather, it is the decision of the scientific group itself.
Several objections weaken Kuhn's theory: (1) Kuhn's account of paradigms applies to his own thesis. By what criterion could we judge Kuhn's paradigm as true? Problematically, by the approval of the relevant scientific community. (2) How objective has Kuhn been in citing historical examples to bolster his case if his own paradigm subtly determines which phenomena he notices as relevant? (3) If scientific change is revolutionary and knowledge is noncumulative, can we rightly call this process “progress”? (4) Is the scientific choice between paradigms a sociological problem? Is the group rather than the individual scientist the fundamental unit of analysis? It seems more plausible to see scientific progress as an evolutionary process whereby individuals gradually accept a new paradigm based on objective criteria (the data given by nature, perception, and reason that is stable intersubjective knowledge and hence commensurable).
By decreeing that paradigm debates cannot be settled by logic, experiments, and objective evidence, Kuhn reduces science to an irrational and subjective enterprise. Without commensurable standards, we can never hope to prove one paradigm better than another. Reason exercised by individuals seems a better paradigm to account for scientific progress.
“Kuhn, Paradigm Choice and the Arbitrariness of Aesthetic Criteria in Science.” Theory and Decision 8 (1977): 361–362.
Thomas Kuhn's followers wrongly assume that to the extent that a choice among paradigms depends upon aesthetic criteria (such as simplicity, symmetry, or elegance) the particular choice must be irrational or incapable of rational demonstration.
There is no reason given by Kuhn, however, to call aesthetic judgments irrational in principle. This is true whichever such judgments arise, whether in science or in art. Nevertheless, it should be remarked that aesthetic notions (such as simplicity) are often systematically vague; it is no easy matter to judge which of two theories or paradigms is the simpler. Still, it is possible to base rational justification and objectivity on refined aesthetic notions.
“Is Observation Theory-Laden? A Problem in Naturalistic Epistemology.” Logic, Laws, and Life: Some Philosophical Complications. Edited by Robert G. Colodny. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1977: 188–208.
Kuhn, Feyerabend, and Hanson have made much methodological capital from the theory that observation is theory-laden. They have defended this thesis largely from a selective use of experiments in Gestalt psychology. A broader sampling of the psychological literature does not unequivocally support the notion of theory-laden observation.
The argument is fairly simple. Although some Gestalt experiments demonstrate that what a human subject sees depends upon his mental “set” or expectation, other experiments tell against mental conceptions distorting perceptions. In fact, in some of these experiments, informing the subject that a certain figure may be perceived proves unhelpful. Even given such information, the subject not only does not alter his observation but seems resistant to altering it.
It is unlikely that we can carry out earlier epistemological programs that relied on a firm distinction between theory and observation. Nevertheless, we can salvage something from the popular attacks on observation as a test of theory. In particular, it is now clear that observations do not invariably confirm the pet theory of the observe. In clear-cut cases this has always been conceded to be false, but many have questioned the possibility of crucial, decisive experiments that would put opposing theories or paradigms to the test of observation. Now there is room for crucial experiments even in principle, and even given the strict constraints insisted upon by Kuhn, Feyerabend, and Hanson.
“Kuhn versus Lakatos, or Paradigms versus Research Programmes in the History of Economics.” History of Political Economy 7 (1975): 399–433.
The methodology of science has recently been the field of battle among methods, a Methodenstreit, waged by the late Imre Lakatos, who pitted his “scientific research programmes” against Kuhnian paradigms. At issue is the conflict in view-points between a descriptive and a normative methodology for scientists.
Normative methodology prescribes what sound practice should be in science, even if scientists historically have failed to obey its precepts; descriptive methodology tends more to chronicle the actual, positive history of science. This poses a baffling dilemma. On the one hand, it seems impossible for a descriptive historiography of science to be value free. How can we write positive history without revealing our concept of value-laden “good” vs. “bad” science? On the other hand, it seems arbitrary to preach the value of the normative “proper” scientific method and ignore whether scientists ever followed such norms. This dilemma raises serious problems for an adequate methodology of economics.
Economists generally imbibe methodological discussions through secondary sources. Thus, during the 1950s and 1960s they absorbed the methodology of Karl Popper through Milton Friedman's “Essay on the Methodology of Positive Economics.” Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) likewise filtered through to economics via indirect sources. Now Imre Lakatos and others have indirectly alerted economists to question Kuhn's scientific “paradigm” and “normal science.”
Karl Popper's aim in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1935) was to distinguish science from nonscience. He replaced the verifiability principle with the falsifiability principle: theories were never finally “verified” as true; they were true so long as they survived efforts to refute them when they formulated falsifiable predictions. Popper's methodology was thus anti-inductionist and normative in that it prescribed correct behavior for scientists.
Kuhn preferred descriptive history over normative methodology. Contrary to Popper, Kuhn believed that doctrinaire adherence to established theories was the rule among “best-practice” science. Kuhn's positive history centered on the tenacity of scientists adhering to orthodox “normal science” and outmoded paradigms. Scientists were reluctant to bow to the pressures of mounting anomalies and shift to a new paradigm. In general, Kuhn stressed the subjective role of values in choosing between rival paradigms; he was suspicious of normative methodology as well as epistemological rationality; and he underlined the determining role of such sociological factors as authority, hierarchy, and reference communities in science.
Lakatos rebelled against Kuhn's relativism and sought to rehabilitate Popper's normative methodology. Unlike Popper, Lakatos welcomed others to scrutinize his own normative methodology of falsifiability as a historical theory of the way science has always progressed. He saw methodology's role as a normative “logic of appraisal” providing the criteria of scientific progress. The units of appraisal are not isolated theories but clusters of interconnected theories or “scientific research programmes” (SRP). He distinguished between “progressive” and “degenerating” research strategies (or SRPs) by asking whether reformulations of any SRP (in response to anomalies) can predict something novel. An SRP is degenerating if it simply patches up a flimsy SRP with ad hoc adjustments to accommodate anomalies.
Elements of Lakatos's SRP consist of a rigid “hard core” of ideas (resembling Kuhn's paradigm) surrounded by a “protective belt of auxiliary hypotheses which has to bear the brunt of tests” and be reformulated to survive empirical objections and crises. A “positive heuristic” in any SRP supplies hints how to rehabilitate the refutable or flexible protective belt.
Lakatos believed his SRP went beyond Kuhn and unraveled the mystery of why paradigms are replaced: “Can there be any objective (as opposed to socio-psychological) reason to reject a programme, that is, to eliminate its hard core and its programme for constucting protective belts?” His answer was “yes”—if the new SRP both explains the previous success of its rival and surpasses it by a superior display of heuristic power, as Einstein's general theory of relativity surpassed Newton's more limited theory of gravitation.
Lakatos also made the startling claim that all the history of science followed this normative “inner history” of objective justification, fundamentally free from the “external history” of social, psychological, or other irrelevant reasons.
In short, Lakatos offered his Progressive Scientific Research Programme as a substitute for naive falsificationism as well as for Kuhn's descriptive paradigms and scientific revolutions.
“T.S. Kuhn's Theory of Science and Its Implications for History.” American Historical Review 78 (1973): 370–393.
Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions and his description of how scientific research communities pursue truth pose searching questions for history. How is history as a knowledge seeking-discipline affected by the normative implications of Kuhn's philosophy of science (i.e., his sociological interpretation of validity as the evolving consensus of any particular research community)?
Kuhn's critics, such as Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos, fear that a social consensus standard of truth ignores an ideal logic of scientific justification—and its access to an objective natural order—that should serve as a firm standard of truth. Kuhn's champions demur and see the transition from a transcendent objectivity to a socially grounded objectivity as neither capricious nor irrational. Kuhn's view of progress in knowledge resembles Holmes's view that law (science) is what judges (scientists) say it is. This historicization of knowledge need not be irrational since law (science) as a part of culture partakes in culture's rational and moral standards. Kuhn does account for the validity of knowledge within a developmental and relativist perspective. But a partial truce to the warring sides in this debate might ensue if we carefully distinguish the historical sociology of scientific knowledge from the philosophy of scientific justification.
Can history, as a discipline, profit from Kuhn's concern for the relation of tradition to change and from his notions of “normal science,” “anomaly,” “crisis,” rival research “paradigms” and paradigm-shifts? What complicates this question is history's status (in Kuhn's terms) as an immature “proto-science.” Such an immature “science” is constantly in “crisis” without any solid consensus around a recognized paradigmatic research tradition. Aside from the obligation to be “reasonable,” there is little agreement in the historical community as to the nature of “good” history. But Kuhn would neither urge historians to ape such mature “hard sciences” as physics, nor replace narrative history with the “covering-law model” of hypothetico-deductive explanation.
How then is validity in historical explanation achieved? “Who should decide what to the relative satisfaction of whom” within the research community of history? Kuhn's reliance on community consensus for developing and validating knowledge resembles a Darwinian natural selection of theories, or a free market in ideas that produces a spontaneous order and emergence of truth. Would Kuhn admit, however, that professional research communities can make mistakes? Has he successfully avoided the need for a normative, objective standard of validity by concentrating on rival social constituencies? However these questions are resolved, it remains true that no work of historical scholarship will be regarded as “successful” unless it wins a consensus; that is, unless it persuades professional readers that (1) its questions are valid and comprehensible; (2) its sources are relevant to the inquiry; and (3) its analysis of sources is “rational” in the sense that the author's beliefs about human nature and historical causality are shared by his colleagues.
Many more issues are raised concerning valid historical knowledge, historical methodology, and the behavior of the professional community of historians in the light of Kuhn's ideas. These issues may be investigated in the extensive bibliographical footnotes of this article. Criticisms of Kuhn may be found in Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (Cambridge 1970); differences between Kuhn and Popper appear in David Bloor, “Two Paradigms in Scientific Knowledge?” Science Studies 1 (1971): 101–115. Other important studies include: J.G.A. Pocock, Politics, Language and Time (New York 1971); Hayden V. White, “The Tasks of Intellectual History,” Monist 53 (1969): 619; and Stephen Toulmin, “Rediscovering History: New Directions in Philosophy of Science,” Encounter (January 1971): 53–64.
“The Basis For An Alliance Between Social and Intellectual History.” (Delivered at the University of California, Irvine; revised version in a forthcoming book edited by John Higham and Paul Conklin.)
How free are we as laymen or scientists to change our minds and learn from experience? The deterministic implications of intellectual and social history tend to make men the prisoners of paradigms or ultimate presuppositions that arise not from rational, conscious choices but rather from unconscious causes.
Intellectual history shares with social history a comparatively deterministic outlook on human action. Unlike political historians, who focus on the deliberate and free choices of individual human agents, intellectual and social historians have tended to see human affairs in less voluntaristic terms. These latter historians view history as the deterministic product of unconscious mental beliefs or institutional structures.
A recent illustration of the deterministic premise underlying intellectual history is Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn's book “assumes” that mankind's basic assumptions—the “paradigmatic” ones—are normally immune to the objective, experiential evidence that might modify or falsify them. Kuhn described how orthodox or normal scientific research tenaciously followed a paradigm tradition even when confronted by contrary evidence. If the accumulation of these anomalies became too disturbing, a “crisis” or even a scientific revolution might result: a wholesale shift of legitimacy and community loyalty from one paradigm tradition to another.
Kuhn's major innuendo reflects intellectual history's belief that men, even scrupulous scientists, are normally the slaves of unexamined assumptions. The deepest layers of assumption in belief systems, Kuhn claimed, are so tenacious and mind-numbing that they shape experience more often than are shaped by it. The overarching paradigm that generates theory and experiments normally remains impervious to experience. Presuppositional paradigms determine what the scientist will construe as falsifying evidence, yet these paradigms remain and so are immune to falsification. Except in unforseen revolutionary moments (whose births seem fathered by irrational causes rather than purposeful reasons), paradigms are not tested.
Stephen Toulmin in Human Understanding, vol. I (Princeton, 1972) objected that the very method of intellectual history, in quarrying for influential presuppositions, itself presupposes a deterministic interpretation of human thought and conceptual change. R.G. Collingwood, in his 1940 work An Essay on Metaphysics, had anticipated Kuhn in highlighting the unreasoned and nonobjective process by which people, under the sway of “absolute” presuppositions or “paradigms,” transfer their loyalties from one to another. Toulmin has criticized the determinism of both Collingwood and Kuhn, and has sharpened the issue to an alternative between rational free will and determinism: “Do we make the change from one constellation of absolute presuppositions to another because we have reasons for doing so; or do we do so only because certain causes compel us to?”
Toulmin has also indicted Kuhn's analysis for failing to be a true theory of conceptual change. Kuhn's analysis explains tenacity and tradition rather than the mysterious way that paradigmatic assumptions either withstand anomalies so long or (just as mysteriously) collapse and lose community allegiance.
“J.B. Bury's Philosophy of History: A Reappraisal.” The American Historical Review 82 (1977): 896–919.
J.B. Bury, British classicist and Lord Acton's successor as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge (1903), eludes facile stereotypes. In his theories of historical explanation and cognition, he resembles neither a positivist enamored of “covering laws” nor an idealist repelled by historical generalizations. Bury personifies the “crisis” of paradigms in early twentieth century historiography in his historical ambivalence, eclecticism, and “groping toward new formulations.” Caught between the rival paradigms of nineteenth-century German “scientific” historiography and the older native tradition of British “literary” historiography, Bury displays the tension of allegiances in his “working faith” as a historian. Bury's faith transcended his own value-free scientific notion of historical “development” by embracing the value-laden notion of human “progress” as the march of reason and liberty.
Historical explanation poses hermeneutic and nomological alternatives: Do unique events and human volition in history mean that causal explanations are impossible (the hermeneutic paradigm)? Does historical understanding, on the other hand, require a positivist search for covering laws that describe and predict causal patterns (the nomological paradigm)? Bury chose an intermediate position. Although his 1903 inaugural address celebrated “The Science of History” and praised the German-inspired critical method, Bury disavowed that valid historical generalizations were predictive or deductive laws. But causal patterns are discernable in aggregate human behavior and serve a heuristic value. The historian seeks to weave individual facts into a connected tapestry of meaning and systematic theory.
To what extent did Bury believe that the historian's methods provide “objective knowledge”? On this question of the nature of historical cognition Bury again took an intermediate position. He acknowledged the seemingly insuperable impediments to understanding alien cultures. The historian's present subjective feelings may distort the past. Bury balanced this appreciation of the role of how subjective paradigms limit perception with his hope for the emergence of “a new method of historical psychology” that could overcome such limitations. The historian's imprisonment in his own mental and emotional paradigms need not permanently obscure historical knowledge.
Bury perplexes us by vacillating between his credo of historical impartiality and his occasional praise for a partisan point of view. The key to this enigma is his fitful accommodation to the British historiographical tradition which assumed that superb literary style was wedded to a parti pris, such as Gibbon's or Macaulay's. In a similar manner, the tug of a rival value-laden paradigm impelled him to interpret “development” to mean “progress” in the direction of reason and individual liberty. History, Bury advocated in “The Science of History,” should become “a more and more powerful force for stripping the bandages of error from the eyes of men, for shaping public opinion and advancing the cause of intellectual and political liberty....” Bury, however, did not regard such liberal progress as a historical necessity. Human volition and contingencies undermine deterministic inevitability.
“Limitations of An Evolutionist Philosophy of Science.” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 8 (1977): 349–352
Recently, philosophy of science has been preoccupied with the “rational reconstruction of scientific progress.” One influential type of rational reconstruction is Stephen Toulmin's controversial analogy that reads scientific progress in terms of Darwinian categories borrowed from organic evolution. This epistemological theory looks to natural selection for a model of how scientists acquire and develop knowledge.
In Foresight and Understanding (1961), Toulmin claimed that in science, as in the evolution of biological species, change in concepts results from the selective perpetuation of idea variants. His later book, Human Understanding (1972) constructed an evolutionist model for the development of scientific progress. Just as species evolve through adaptive mutations of individual organisms in response to environmental pressures, so scientific disciplines evolve through changes in paradigms (or concepts, methods, and aims) in response to disciplinary pressures for deeper understanding.
Toulmin's evolutionist epistemology has been challenged by L. Jonathan Cohen in “Is the Progress of Science Evolutionary?” [British Journal of the Philosophy of Science 24 (1973): 41–61]. Cohen exposes weaknesses in the supposed analogy between scientific growth and organic evolution. Firstly, conceptual variants are not “mutations” that arise spontaneously, since scientists deliberately invent conceptual variants to solve problems. Secondly, a biological species differs markedly from a “Population of concepts,” none of whose members needs to be in “competition” with another. Thirdly, the identity-through-change of a biological species differs from the identity-through-change of a scientific discipline. To solve conceptual problems within a discipline requires a set of interrelated concepts, not a population of concepts with similar characteristics.
“Comment on ‘The Natural Selection Model of Conceptual Evolution.’” Philosophy of Science 44 (1977): 502–507.
Natural evolution may be the best model to described the intellectual process of scientific discovery and conceptual innovation. By contrast, another model posits an extreme rationalist “logic of discovery” which claims that intelligent solutions to problems must entail intelligent generation and a clairvoyant, unerring march to the truth. A better paradigm seems to be “fumbling in the dark” after the manner of biological evolution through natural selection. Poincaré and other classic narrators of the creative insight process confirm that we usually approach discoveries through intelligent errors and stumbling indirection. Problem solvers “naturally” generate a “wasteful” welter of idea variations; the selective retention of the best hypothesis proceeds through a groping process toward an “increasing fit” into the selective system.
Creative heuristics follow a natural-selectionist epistemology. The generating stage of discovery does not proceed by way of prescient, logically entailed truth but by “blind” variants, vague hunches, and conjectures; the editing, selecting stage of creativity does, however, employ logical consistency. Innovation involves the vital interplay of both “blind,” “subjective” hunches and rational, “objective” logic.
“Logical Possibility, Iron Bars, and Necessary Truth.” The New Scholasticism 51 (Winter 1977): 117–122.
Some academic disciplines such as economics and political philosophy suffer acute methodological embarrassment when they claim their arguments (e.g., about human nature) are simultaneously necessary truths and factual. This embarrassment arises from the debatable dichotomy which asserts that any necessary truth must be non-factual and merely formal.
Necessary truths, in this view, say nothing about the real, factual world and are necessary only for formalistic reasons of definition and stipulation. Conversely, factual matters (e.g., an iron bar sinks in water) are viewed as non-necessary or contingent: they happen to be so, but, without definitional contradiction, we can conceive of the essence of iron bar and not include the property of sinking in water. Apparently, it is “logically possible” for any given factual state of affairs to be otherwise. Such ontological facts would seem too contingent to firmly support necessary truths.
We can challenge this dichotomy that separates the real world of fact from the necessary world of certain knowledge and necessary truths. We can argue against the supposition that factual matters must be contingent. Statements can, in fact, be both necessary and ontological or factual truths simultaneously.
A valid notion of “logical possibility” requires us to consider all the known data of a certain state of affairs (including the actual specific gravity of iron). We must also look at actual possibility rather than postulate a “possibility” that deliberately ignores known facts (e.g., iron sinks in water). Thus, valid logical possibility considers all the known data. By contrast, the invalid notion of logical possibility (which holds that factual statements about the world must be non-necessary) can exist only when we consider something (say, iron) in isolation from all that we do know about it. The full, known reality of anything forbids us to consider it other than it is.
Next, the valid sense of logical possibility may be joined with Henry Veatch's view of “what-statements” as necessary truths in Two Logics: The Conflict between Classical and Neo-Analytic Philosophy (1969). What-statements (or essential definitions of things) can be necessary truths about the world without claiming absolute, dogmatic infallibility and irreformable omniscience. The possibility that future events may make us revise our essential definitions does not entail that we can pronounce only contingent truths about the world.
Further discussion of natural necessity may be found in Fr. Wallace's book on Causality and Scientific Explanation and in Henry Veatch's review article of R. Harré and E.H. Madden, Causal Powers: A Theory of Natural Necessity [The New Scholasticism 50 (Autumn 1976): 537–541].
Chapter 8, “Conclusions and Applications.” Microeconomic Laws: A Philosophical Analysis. Pittsburgh, Pa., University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976: 181–215.
Microeconomic statements share features common to nomological or lawlike general statements in the natural sciences. Microeconomic statements can thus explain and predict economic events provided that certain antecedent conditions are satisfied. It follows that microeconomic principles qualify as laws in much the same way as do their counterparts in the natural sciences. For a proposition to be a law it must be (a) a lawlike statement, and (b) true.
Methodological problems faced by microeconomics resemble those in the natural sciences. Predictive failure does not brand a theory as false or useless. Natural sciences, in fact, betray similar problems without shame. Examples such as Newton's first law (“In the absence of forces acting upon it, a body remains at rest or in uniform rectilinear motion”) exhibit antecedent conditions (the absence of forces) that cannot be realized in the real world; still, no law could serve more usefully.
What about the relation between macro and micro economics? The aggregation problem is not unique to economics, since it appears also in the natural sciences. The development of adequate correspondence rules linking micro and macro economics would solve the problem. Until Blotmann, physics could not relate thermodynamics and mechanics. We should not prematurely reject microeconomics for lack of its correspondence with macroeconomics.
The motives of the developers of microeconomics need not affect the truth of those laws. Thus, accusations that microeconomics is simply the academic expression of capitalist vested interests, even if true, need not affect the conceptual status of that discipline. Braybrooke's similar accusations to the manner in which motives might corrupt methodology apply equally well to the natural sciences.
“Problems in the Economist's Conceptualization of Technological Innovation.” History of Political Economy 7 (1975): 456–481.
Technological innovation is the primary cause of long-term economic development, the crucial, life-sustaining process in human history. But economists share a misconception about such innovation. They tend to overemphasize “pure” forms of knowledge (i.e., scientific knowledge) and discount “mere” technological or engineering knowledge. In this they have been misled by Schumpeter's focus on the charismatic entrepreneur who, by a bold stroke, “innovates.” Schumpeter dismisses subsequent improvements as trivial.
Empirical studies, however, display how such improvements are the major source of more efficient use of resources. Two thirds of all research and development expenditures promote development rather than basic research. Schumpeter's disinterest in the “grubby” technical process misled later economists. As a result, economists overlook economically important knowledge in favor of scientifically interesting knowledge.
The importance of specialized and localized knowledge complements F.A. Hayek's defense of such knowledge in “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” By focusing on economics as a process, Rosenberg implicitly supports the Austrian School's view of dynamic competition as opposed to static perfect equilibrium models.
“How People Change Themselves: The Relationship between Critical Theory and its Audience.” Political Theory and Praxis: New Perspectives. Edited by Terence Hall. Minneapolis: Minnesota, 1977, pp. 200–231.
Can theoretical thinking about man and society guide social action without theorists manipulating persons? Yes, if we reject instrumentalism.
The instrumentalist paradigm assimilates the natural sciences with the social sciences. Social events are thus assumed to be part of a determined lawful process. To achieve social change, external events must be altered. This theory implies that only coercive, manipulative means can create a free society. Endorsers of instrumentalism include Skinner, Keynes, Robert Owen, and August Comte.
An alternative paradigm to the instrumentalist threat of “behavior modification” and social engineering is the educative model, which centers around changing people's self-conceptions. People intensify their social oppression because they perceive themselves and their roles in society in ways that perpetuate the oppressive system. To avoid exchanging one form of oppression for another, the educative paradigm encourages people to voluntarily change their self-conception through a method of rational persuasion and discourse.
People should not be coerced into freedom. But equally fallacious is the idealist view that social structures change simply by a shift of ideas. Structural impediments must be overcome as well as intellectual ones. A middle way would steer between mass coercion and intellectualism. The en masse approach is deficient from the viewpoint of the educative paradigm, which is rooted in a critical theory demanding more than a shift in external conditions. The educative paradigm requires the removal of personal misconceptions. The woman's movement exemplifies how a change in self-conception can generate a massive social change towards freedom.
As a manifesto of political dissent, the Declaration of Independence voices the “self-evident” truth that government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.” Arguing from this consensual basis of political obligation, the Declaration draws the radical conclusion that citizens possess the right of rebellion to throw off political obedience. If government loses popular consent: “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.” This revolutionary document weaves together the themes of social consensus, voluntary obedience, and dissent—the unifying conceptual threads that run through the following summaries.
The opening and closing summaries of this section distinguish between the voluntary, consensual, harmonious nature of society and the coercive, dissenting, conflictprone nature of the state as an enforced association. This classic antinomy between the voluntary and coercive principles of human interaction—implicit in the Declaration and expressed in Thomas Paine's opposition of “society” and “government” in Common Sense (1776)—appears in many of these summaries.
What constitutes legitimate political authority, on the one hand, and virtuous civil disobedience on the other? Should a valid consensus be determined by majoritarian decisions or should it require universal, unanimous, individual assent? How do we morally deal with dissent in democracy? Can consensus be achieved only by voluntary “society” rather than by “government?” The following summaries offer dissenting perspectives on all these questions.
State and Society. Menlo Park, California: Institute for Humane Studies (1978) 27 pp.
Since Aristotle, political thinkers have blurred and confused the distinctions between State and Society. The etymology of society in the Latin word socius (meaning companion) suggests the gulf that separates society as a voluntary association, from the state as an externally enforced association. The institutions of society—family, church, press, school, businesses, unions, and other cooperatives—are characterized by free contract and individual liberty; the state, conversely, creates a status and hierarchical differentiation among individuals by coercion. The contrasts between state and society appear in such paired antitheses as coercive power vs. voluntarism, morality vs. Machiavellianism, love vs. hostility, pluralism vs. conformity, and liberty vs. servitude.
The twentieth century's major political developments flow from the coercive nature of the state: the state has sought to aggrandize its power at the expense of individuals and their voluntary organizations or societies. Increasingly, the state has controlled, disciplined, and subordinated man and society. The American Constitution, through its checks and balances, aimed to curb the growth of state power. Its Ninth and Tenth Amendments, reserving rights and powers “to the people,” marked off the boundaries between the state and society. These constitutional barriers to state growth have become largely dead letters with the emergence of the welfare-warfare nation-state.
The state also poses three inherent dangers for individuals and society because of its amoral quest for power. It tends to monopolize and usurp any rival power. Its ambitions lure it into conflict with other states and entice it to wage war. Its third danger is its tendency to usurp moral authority. Assuming itself to be permanent and immortal, the state lacks conscience and consistently aspires to aggrandize material power. Practicing a “Machiavellian” policy, the state divorces intellectual ability and power from moral considerations. To sustain its survival, the state demands conformity and regulation; it suspects all unregimented thought and suppresses dissent.
The state also stands opposed to the forces of religion and democracy. Religious sentiments such as love and brotherhood are universal and cannot be nationalized; they stand opposed to power, hostility, and parochialism. Similarly, democratic theory values social solidarity among humans as more important than political differentiation and conflict.
In sum, the state subjects persons, whereas society associates them voluntarily. The disciplinary power of social organizations is always limited and not physically punitive. Unlike the state, society's penalties do not effectively constrain individual liberty. In cost-benefit terms, members of society judge that the “income” derived from their voluntary cooperation and association exceeds the “outlay” entailed by such interaction. The state, by forcing men to involuntarily interact, confesses that individuals thereby lose more than they gain.
A number of works have significantly analyzed these contrasts between state and society: Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State; Randolph Bourne, The State; Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State; Edward S. Corwin, Liberty Against Government; Bertrand De Jouvenel, Power; Peter Kropotkin, The State; Albert J. Nock, Our Enemy the State; Franz Oppenheimer, The State; Vilfredo Pareto, The Mind and Society; and Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State.
“The Idea of Authority in the West.” American Historical Review 82 (April 1977): 531–562.
Today the decline and crisis of authority is evident in the West. How can we account for the present tendency either to revolution or totalitarianism as solutions to social problems?
Synthesizing events and ideas from Roman times to the present, our initial conclusion is most important. The historical pattern discloses two persistent ideas of authority: moral authority and authoritative power. Generally, authoritative power usurps moral authority: e.g., the concept of divine right was initially a check on state power exercised by the church, but later was used as a justification by the monarchists.
Unless one understands that authority did not mean the same things to all men, the question would be a historical riddle. If we place things in context, we will then discover that “each creative burst of our culture has been accompanied by the elevation of authorities whose superiority is freely accepted by dint of their rationality and legality, but that our modern idea of authority as a title to domination however exercised is a teleological idea derived from the use of force, the hostility to reason, the superiority to law, and the opposition to liberalization which these authorities have cumulatively appropriated.”
What does the future hold? We can project three probabilities.
Since, historically, social authority has produced authoritarian personalities mirroring the coercive society, we might reverse the process. We can hope that self-integrated and actualized persons might produce a rational social authority that mirrors such persons.
“Civil Disobedience and the Opinion of the Many: Plato's Crito.” The Modern Schoolman 54 (January 1977): 123–136.
Civil disobedience (as the deliberate defiance of an unjust law) has its classic philosophic discussion in Plato's Crito. The dramatic highlight of this dialogue involves a simulated conversation between Socrates and the Laws (Crito 50a6–54d1). The Laws, with apparent success, state the case against Socrates' contemplated disobedience of Athen's laws—the laws that have sentenced the gadfly philosopher to death.
Interpreters have disputed the validity of the Laws' arguments against civil disobedience because such arguments would disallow morally justifiable disobedience to unjust laws. These dissenting interpretations are insightful but require refinement.
The Laws address their speech neither to a philosopher alone (who could detect flaws in the Laws' reasoning) nor to Crito the nonphilosopher, but to Crito the friend of a philosopher and so a potential philosopher. The speech of the Laws functions as an introduction to philosophy for persons like Crito. He is exhorted to use his independent reason rather than succumbing to the uninformed opinion of the many.
The purpose of the dialogue is less to formulate a positive answer to the question of civil disobedience than to introduce the potential civil disobedient (such as Crito) to the rational self-examination of reason and philosophy.
Of course, on rational or philosophic grounds, civil disobedience remains an arguable possibility despite the Laws' circular logic. If Socrates the philosopher follows only the best reasoning, then he is obliged to obey the Laws only insofar as they follow reason.
Philosophy and civil disobedience both share a willingness to destroy those laws that are unreasonable. Thus, it is noteworthy that Socrates, in introducing philosophy, seeks to invoke the potential “civility” and principled restraint of the civil disobedient. In this way philosophy resembles more a lawful civility rather than a disobedience conjured up by the unreflective opinions of the many (whose influence over Crito is so powerful).
The purpose of the Crito, then, is to bring philosophy into the “city,” that is, to introduce philosophy to civilized men. But if it is the philosopher who judges what are reasonable laws, we are left with the disturbing and potentially rebellious question posed by the Laws themselves: “whom would a city satisfy without laws?” (Crito 53a4–5).
“Political Philosophy and the Right to Rebellion.” Interpretation 5 (1976): 309–315.
Political philosophy asks fundamental, embarrassing, and radical questions about politics, such as the purpose of government. To speculate about the principles justifying government is to raise the possibility of altering or abolishing any government that does not measure up to these principles. Political philosophy can, then, lead to the doctrine of the right to rebellion.
However, both the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Aquinas distinguish between possessing a right and exercising it. A just person, to avoid a greater evil, does not exercise his right. The survival of any right or any freedom rests upon the ability of its possessors to use it well.
One can challenge those who believe that liberty is the supreme political value with the question: “Can political institutions predicated upon equality in certain unalienable rights survive if they and the liberty they provide are not used for the cultivation of human excellence, which is the ultimate justification of any good government?” This question presents two challenges:
In sum, are there certain institutional and personal developments necessary to maintain liberty itself?
“Underdevelopment and Political Rights: A Revisionist Challenge.” Government and Opposition 21 (Summer 1977): 276–292.
Do less developed countries need authoritarian regimes?
No. A dissenting criticism attacks the growing body of literature that attempts to explain and justify the drift toward authoritarianism. Too many have uncritically accepted the rationale for the emergence of single-party regimes headed by charismatic leaders.
Three major themes arise from such “apologist” literature. First, some argue that opposition parties endanger national unity in heterogenous, underdeveloped states. But unity cannot be artificially imposed by a single party government. Giving each element in the population a share of power would probably have a more stabilizing effect than would authoritarian rule.
Secondly, others argue that single party states can achieve adequate representation in the interim for all elements in the population; such states may actually serve as training grounds to prepare the country for democracy at some future time. The counterargument to this is that a political system cannot remain essentially democratic on an intraparty basis. The party will eventually lose its internal pluralism (and democracy) as it moves to silence the opposition and degenerates into an organization run from the top. Single parties, moreover, are not equipped to serve as a democratic device for dissent among elites or as a useful channel of expression for the masses. Nor does such a state show much prospect for evolving into a more democratic system in the future under the “tutelary” guidance of elites.
To summarize the “revisionist” challenge to tutelary democracy, we suggest that conflict should not be a reason for delaying democracy; it should serve as a reason to accept opposition and dissent so that the short-term gains of suppression can give way to the long-term formative effects of democracy.
Thirdly, the “apologists” for single party regimes tend to adopt an elitist or “Hamiltonian view” of society: the common folk in these essentially peasant societies are too immature to participate in government and elections. This “guided democracy” concept is condescending and paternal, assuming that people are not ready to make their own decisions. However, considerable field evidence shows that peasants have a very good instinct for what should be done and how democracy can work for them.
The UN could play a more determined role in defining political rights in specific, meaningful terms. It could then work for the enforcement of political rights in less developed countries—at least to the extent of conducting investigations, hearing reports of violations, and making recommendations for remedies. This approach narrowly defines political rights as simply the right to participate in government.
“The Contradictions of Hannah Arendt's Political Thought.” Political Theory 6 (February 1978): 5–26.
Hannah Arendt's political thought is riven by a deep, insoluble, and profound contradiction. On the one hand, she is a great admirer of the political ideal of ancient Athens, participatory democracy; on the other hand, she betrays an elitist streak of almost Nietzschean proportions.
Thus, within her thought one can sense a contempt for the growth of “mass society” as the progenitor of totalitarianism, coupled paradoxically with a utopian vision of self-federating councils. These popular councils would seem to depend upon the political activism of precisely the class which she condemns. Hence, two conspicuous contradictions mar Arendt's thought: (1) her oscillations between democratic and elitist attitudes, and (2) an uncertainty about the relation between her political thought and practice (i.e., how is her utopian dream to be realized, or is it actually meant to be effected?).
This unresolved tension in Arendt's thought has led to some rather jarring ironies in her works. For example, she condemns the Marxians and Nazis for their materialistic explanations of history. But in The Human Condition she argues that man is conditioned by his labor. Also, under the exigencies of the modern world, resulting from technological changes, the working class has prospered. Technological changes which have isolated man and fostered “uprootedness and superfluousness” have also nurtured the loneliness that makes support for totalitarian movements possible. Arendt's inconsistency is apparent, however, when this contempt for the laboring class is contrasted with her repeated emphasis upon the capacity of men to act freely and decisively, and, most obviously, when contrasted with her admiration for the heroism of the working class in the Hungarian uprising of 1956.
For Arendt the ideal resolution of the totalitarian potentialities of mass society seems to be a decentralized model of spontaneously generated workers' councils or neighborhood councils. Political freedom can only be meaningful if it includes the idea of political participation. Action and freedom, then, are indissoluble. The council system represents a partial resolution of the two elements in Arendt's thought: everyone can participate, but in actuality the elite will exercise predominant authority.
It is important to illuminate the paradoxical strain in Arendt's thought between her loathing of totalitarianism and her quest for freedom as the political activity of a political elite.
“Majority Tyranny and the Extended Republic Theory of James Madison.” Modern Age 20 (Winter 1976): 40–53.
In the Federalist 10, Madison argued that an extended republic can control the effects of majority factions without violating basic republican principles. Madison believed that little can or should be done to eliminate factions, because they will always be with us. He placed little reliance on appeals to a higher morality or religion in staying the hand of a majority faction. By the same token, he had little faith that written constitutional limitations can block factions.
Madisonian theory presupposes relatively passive government. The theory's main supports are essentially the following: (1) multiplicity and diversity of interests to reduce the possibility of a union of interests through common motives; (2) an independent force, free of the interest bias, that is more likely to reflect the accepted norms of the community in its decision making; (3) representation that will temper deliberations.
Of these, only the first—multiplicity and diversity of interests—is sound.
Since the New Deal, a dramatic shift in our thinking about the legitimate role of government has rendered inoperative Madison's view of the role of government. Equally important in disintegrating the independent forces produced by positive government is “secular liberalism,” which has justified and propelled positive government.
This ideology is poles apart from Madison's theoretical presumptions which were plainly not relativist. Secular liberalism's attachments to pure democracy promise to reduce even further the possibilities of Madison's independent force.
“On Frustration of the Majority by Fulfillment of the Majority's Will.” Analysis 36 (June 1976): 161–168.
Is democracy nonsensical and unfair in its quest for majority decision making? Paradoxically, majority voting may allow the majority to get what they do not want in most cases.
Where matters are decided, yes or no, by a majority vote, the decision on each matter is the will of the majority. But it is also possible that the majority of individual voters may find themselves voting in the minority, and thus defeated, on a majority of political issues. This may be graphically shown by a table in which there are eleven voters voting on eleven questions; seven of them vote in the losing minority in a majority of the decisions.
The argument for the superiority of deciding according to the majority's will is not evident. The rationale for majority voting is that it seems best and fairest. In effect, it seems fair that where all cannot have their way, the greater number should not be frustrated. But this rationale is weakened when we realize that though the majority may be satisfied on every issue, it may nevertheless be frustrated over a majority of issues. Also a majority by its own subsequent admission, may vote foolishly.
Majority decision also involves a questionable assumption: that a decision has to be made for people collectively, or that some should decide what everybody does on any issue. But why not let each individual choose his own activity?
Finally, certain techniques of tyranny are possible even though every voted measure wins the support and desire of a majority. Thus separate measures may hurt only a minority, but in aggregate these measures may violate the will of a majority of citizens. Such tyranny will be able to claim “democratic support” for its measures, though the majority of the population are made worse off by the measures carried out.
“The Limits of Consensual Decision.” American Political Science Review 64 (December 1975): 1270–1298.
Presently, in the social sciences, the concept of unanimity provides our only method of determining the “best” state of affairs other than subjectively declaring that we know what's best for other people.
The idea that government decisions should reflect some approximate consensus—unanimous agreement as a condition to action—has deep intuitive and analytic roots in liberal thought. Unanimity or consensus appears in the myth of the social contract, in the doctrine of consent, in the structure of markets, and in the utilitarian ethic of the greatest good for the greatest number (which survives economic theory under the title of efficiency).
It is everywhere understood that consensus has serious practical limits, but these hardly disqualify it from service as a normative criterion to be approximated in experience. Yet we should not say merely that consensus cannot be duplicated in practice, we should say that it should not be approximated in practice.
Consensual decision displays structural defects. For any society requiring politics, these defects spoil its normative promise. Within the context of a political society neither consensual decision nor any other device can conceivably grant an unconditional right of consent to persons. Thus, some outcome to any political decision must portend a violation of consent. The new political economy—Knut Wicksell or James Buchanan, and Gordon Tullock in The Calculus of Consent, 1962—is wrong in claiming that consensual decision leads toward social efficiency. They would be right only for a society requiring no politics.
Thus we reach a key, but disturbing, conclusion: “Consensual decision will cash its guarantee—assure utilitarian efficiency—precisely where politics itself seems unnecessary—i.e., in a perfect private sector. This last, however improbable, would make politics a risky luxury: If no harm can befall me under static policy, yet losses can be inflicted by governmental action, why should I not choose to end political history?”
“Locke on ‘Voluntary Agreement’ and Political Power.” Western Political Quarterly 29 (March 1976): 136–145.
At its best, Locke's theory of will allows us to reasonably interpret his claim that “voluntary agreement...gives political power to governors for the benefit of their subjects”—a claim that is a vital component of his concept of right.
In his political writings, John Locke sought an equilibrium between consent, natural law, and natural rights. In Lockean politics, voluntary consent and contract set up an impartial and standing judge to enforce natural law and safeguard the natural rights flowing from natural law.
Locke's system, however, is open to numerous interpretations. For example, if it is “voluntary agreement” that bestows political power on governors for the benefit of their subjects, “does Locke in fact provide an adequate concept of will and of “voluntary agreement” as one foundation of what is right?”
To answer this question we can consult Book II, Chapter 21 of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding. It is argued that the coherence of the voluntarist strand of Locke's political thought is important. This voluntarism leads “to Locke's claim that men are free of political obligation” until they are put under such political order as they willingly and of choice consent to.
Locke's notion of “voluntariness” involves more than the psychological facts of restless desire. Voluntariness refers to a kind of moral causality that produces political power “by right,” thereby producing political obligations as distinguished from natural obligations. Will must be creative of (political) right. As Locke says in his Essay, political laws and rights depend “upon men's wills, or agreement in society,” and are therefore “instituted, or voluntary and may be distinguished from the natural.”
“On Locke's Argument for Government.” Journal of Libertarian Studies 1 (1977): 195–203.
In his Second Treatise of Government (1690), John Locke seeks to justify the existence of civil government and ignores the possibilities for social organization without government. Locke claims that certain “inconveniences” of a State of Nature can find their remedy only in a state-governed society. Locke's arguments are not persuasive. Autonomy, freedom, and political justice (as they exist in a State of Nature or stateless society) are in fact violated by the injustice, coercion, and vagaries of majoritarianism that characterize civil government.
For Locke, the State of Nature is the condition of complete individual freedom and autonomy:
a State of perfect Freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions, and Persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the Law of Nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other Man (II,4).
Reason and the avoidance of initiating coercion define the meaning of the “Law of Nature.” Such an idyllic stateless society suffers, in Locke's judgment, however, from three failings: (1) the lack of an established and known law, (2) the lack of an impartial and known judge, and (3) the lack of power to execute sentences on wrongdoers. These three inconveniences of the State of Nature, supposedly remedied by government, center around the possibility of Hobbes's war of “all against all,” that is, the implausibility of lasting peaceful coexistence among stateless individuals.
Fearing that a State of Nature may allow men to use force without right (this initiation of coercion may be termed a violation of the Rule of Political Justice), Lockean political organization seeks to compensate for these “inconveniences” by three powers of government: the legislative, judicial, and executive.
People in a State of Nature might dissent, judging that the governmental cure is more harmful and unjust than other stateless alternatives. They could first question pragmatically whether political organization is the most efficient means to achieve the goal of an orderly society. Secondly, they could also raise the moral question of justice and argue that government might intrinsically involve unjustified coercion. This would entail a violation of the Law of Nature and its standard, the Rule of Political Justice.
Even if Locke's political organization originally arose through popular consent, it inevitably threatens coercion against dissenters because of its principle of majoritarian decision making. Since governmental acts cannot elicit unanimous consensus, the state allows majority rule to coerce minority dissenters to act against their own judgment and interests. By contrast, the State of Nature could allow competitive private legal, judicial, and defense systems to offer their services noncoercively and avoid any alleged inconveniences from lawless force.
Majority rule involves other problems for states. Majorities can lose their own power through delegating it to usurping governmental elites who then define what the law means to their own advantage.
Prudence suggests that people in a State of Nature would desire a flexible and revocable stateless system rather than lock themselves into an irrevocable government. They might well prefer an “easily discontinued arrangement for private law making and law enforcement” rather than the unpredictable consequences of governmental majority rule and its possible abuses of the Rule of Political Justice.
Liberty, intimately related to the antinomy between consent and coercion, is frequently defined as either the condition of not being subject to external coercion or the right to act voluntarily by our own consent.
This concept of liberty and its relation to consent and coercion involves ambiguities and contested notions, as the first three summaries demonstrate. The first summary urges us to understand liberty as the “negative” right to noncoercion or nonaggression and derives all other “positive” rights from contractual consent. The following two summaries challenge this view of negative liberty as advocated in Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) and argue for a “positive” liberty that would “balance” nonabsolute rights, approve of coercion, and waive the requirement of consent to secure an egalitarian redistribution of property.
The next four summaries examine various distinctions surrounding the notions of coercion, compulsion, and control. Do offers differ substantially from threats or do they also curtail liberty? How is the Skinnerian behavioral condition in A Clockwork Orange as a form of coercive control different from other forms of noncoercive control? Next, does weakness of will differ from psychological compulsion? Finally, does “using people” or treating them like objects—even though in voluntary and noncoercive transactions—involve immorality?
The last two summaries of this set bring the issues of liberty, coercion, and consent home by applying them to judge American history and the modern world respectively. Different views of human nature determine whether we practice social engineering to regulate depersonalized “behavior” or whether we establish an open society and “public space” to encourage free “human action” and diversity.
“Natural and Contractual Rights.” Ethics 87 (January 1977): 153–159
If there are any contractual rights (i.e., rights to the fulfillment of promises or contracts) then there exists at least one natural right: the natural right against being coerced. To avoid being coercive, all valid obligations must derive from consent, as in a voluntary contract.
The meaning of coercion invoked is: to render a person's action involuntary by constraint or deceit. Threats and offers that result in a person's doing something are distinct from this narrow meaning of coercion. Threats, in turn, differ from offers by “derivatively” coercing a person; that is, by creating the prospect that one will suffer “primary” coercion unless one performs an action.
The specific wrong of breaking contracts or promises is that of violating a natural right against inflicting coercion on a person. Furthermore, if there is the natural right protecting one against coercion, then strictly speaking there are no “positive” natural rights. “Positive” rights mean enforceable claims to have others perform certain actions. “Negative” rights, on the other hand, are claims that prevent others from performing certain coercive actions. If Virginia were to have a “positive” natural right requiring John to provide her with a minimum standard of living, then supposedly John could violate this right noncoercively by simply doing nothing (with regard to Virginia's income). This reasoning entails the inconsistency of simultaneously justifying and forbidding coercion against John.
This account of contractual rights thus denies that there are any positive natural rights or unchosen obligations. In the absence of special relationships persons have only negative obligations of noncoercion to others. Positive obligations arise only from voluntarily entering into contracts which agree upon such obligations.
Thus, contractual rights and obligations arise from the moral demand not to violate the natural right against coercion. These obligations are voluntarily chosen by the persons entering into the contract. Within this contractual, voluntary context omissions to carry out any provision are coercive. Contractual rights, however, flow from natural rights as specific exemplifications. Just as natural rights forbid coercion, so in the special case of a mutually agreed upon contract, a violation of such a contract involves coercion.
“Yours, Mine and Ours: Property Rights and Individual Liberty.” Ethics 87 (1977): 126–141.
Does individual liberty call for endorsing extensive private property rights or for restricting them? Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) believes that private property rights are required by the values of personal liberty or autonomy. In Lockean fashion, Nozick defends individuals in “a State of perfect Freedom to order their actions and persons as they think fit,” and argues that welfare state schemes of egalitarian, distributive justice coercively limit human liberty by abridging an individual's right to dispose of property. But, contra Nozick's position, private property may involve continuous coercive interference with the freedom of the majority. Furthermore, since the debate between “capitalist” and “socialist” notions of justice turns around the justification of private property rights, Nozick's unargued commitment to private property seems to beg many questions.
Nozick rejects many of the traditional justifications of private property such as the utilitarian, Lockean, and social contract arguments. He seems to base his case for private property on the individual's freedom to act. But property “entitlements” may actually restrict freedom and so undermine the supposed link between private property and individual liberty. A historical example of the coercive, liberty-limiting role of private property is the enclosure movement in England. Here the extension of private property rights diminished other citizens' previous rights and freedom to use large tracts of “commons” land. This reading of history recalls the famous Lockean proviso, wherein Locke limited the right to appropriate property with the proviso that there be “enough and as good left in common for others.”
Nozick, paradoxically, recognizes that the extension of private property may restrict certain liberties. His only escape seems to be trading off the loss of such liberties against the material gain for society as a whole. But why is liberty accorded primary importance in some cases and not in others? Nozick's concept of liberty in rejecting egalitarian redistribution appeals to the freedom of an owner to sell his property; the argument against private property appeals to “liberty” also, in the sense of “the freedoms to (nonexclusive) use of, and benefit from, a set of holdings.... “
“Nozick on Rights, Liberty, and Property.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (Fall 1976): 3–25.
Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) expounds a questionable understanding of liberty, rights, autonomy, and coercion. Nozick updates the nineteenth-century classical liberal defense of the minimal state, one whose scope is restricted to protecting individual persons, property, and contracts. In this framework of individual rights, only those obligations are valid which derive from voluntary consent. Hence, Nozick rejects egalitarian redistribution laws regulating wages and inheritance that would limit both voluntary consent and control over objects that affect persons.
But a different understanding of liberty, rights, and coercion flows from a humanitarian version of egalitarianism that seeks to improve the lot of those worse off. In this view, we need to “balance” the exercise of various rights and liberties with concern for how that exercise may exert an unacceptable degree of control over other persons' lives and autonomy. For example, low wages, even if voluntarily consented to by workers, may be unjust and reflect an “unacceptable degree of power over others.”
Nozick's belief that individual liberty demands voluntary consent to any political obligation may be fallacious for the same reasons that invalidate subjective preferences as the basis of ethical judgments. We abandon solid, objective ethical standards if we treat all preferences as equally respectable regardless of their origins, content, or consequences. We do not adequately protect everyone's individual liberty simply by making consent the basis of obligation. What will count as valid liberty, coercion, or property depends on which of two interpretations we give to liberty. One interpretation, the individual consent view of liberty, leads to asserting absolute rights of individuals to control property without reckoning social consequences or the poverty of others. A more socially conscious interpretation of liberty might weigh and balance property rights with the basic needs of others to a “normal life.” Even the “Lockean Proviso” restricts the limits of property acquisition by considering the needs of other humans besides the owners.
Nozick sees liberty threatened by the restriction of the scope of voluntary individual consent (as in property exchanges). For Nozick, consent entails the right of nonaggression to preserve people's right to control their lives. But he cannot interpret this right of nonaggression in isolation from others' rights. Others may have a “natural right of noninterference” in the sense that their requirements for an autonomous normal life (i.e., the goods and money needed for decent living) must be respected by property owners. Autonomy, to be even-handed, must be universally guaranteed even if this requires coercively restricting the rights of property. Justice and liberty call for “the balancing of individual benefits and burdens.”
“Threats, Offers, Law, Opinion and Liberty.” American Philosophical Quarterly 14 (October 1977): 257–272.
Do either threats or offers curtail liberty? We may conclude that threats do, but offers do not.
Threats curtail an individual's liberty “by making him unable to do something which he can unconditionally now do.” Offers, on the other hand, do not similarly deprive the individual. The threat “Your money or your life” informs a person that he will not be able to retain both the prosperity and the vitality that he presently enjoys. It curtails liberty because it makes a person, by anticipation, unable to do something which he now can do, namely, possess both his money and his life. Contrariwise, an offer presents an alternative to a present enjoyment, not a forced deprivation of it.
When is an individual deprived of freedom? We might define such deprivation by one party (Peter) of another (Paul) as: “Peter making Paul irretrievably unable to do X by doing Y to Paul,” as when Peter makes Paul unable to travel to London by imprisoning him. An offer, however, does not render an individual irretrievably unable to retain his current status; consequently, an offer does not curtail liberty. Liberty, then, should not be confused with volition or ability.
Neither the absence of human volition because of brain damage nor the absence of the ability to walk because of paralysis diminish liberty, which is essentially diminished only through interpersonal causes.
The reason why threats curtail liberty is now clear. A threat, typically made to induce a recalcitrant victim to behave in a certain way, will (a) very probably be carried out and, therefore, (b) makes the person threatened (about to be) unable to keep what had been conditionally his before the threat. Threats thereby limit a person's freedom of action.
The delineation of liberty significantly excludes varieties of “positive freedom” (ability) as authentic types of liberty. Furthermore, this notion of liberty includes within the definition of coercion threats of physical compulsion as well as actual physical compulsion.
“Behavioral Control and Freedom of Action.” Philosophical Review 87 (April 1978): 225–240.
What sort of unfreedom afflicts a person who undergoes psychological conditioning and Skinnerian behavioral control, such as the character Alex experiences in Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange (1962)? This question is relevant to understanding liberty. Those who feel that coercion involves some special evil must distinguish coercive control from other forms of control (such as offers and manipulation) that do not entail “unfreedom.”
Alex, a violence-prone individual, is subjected to aversive conditioning and “reprogramming” to quell his violence. Scientists compel him to view repeated violent images that they link with nauseous discomfort to wean Alex away from violence. What makes Alex unfree in this process? Alex has no choice but to abhor violence if he wants to avoid unreasonable discomfort.
In effect, this Skinnerian conditioning confronts Alex with a threat. Just as a man held at gunpoint is coerced since his only alternative to compliance is extreme discomfort or death, so Alex is similarly coerced. Thus Alex's actions to avoid images of violence are reasonable, given an unreasonable coercive threat as the alternative. Alex is unfree not because he is literally unable to act otherwise, but because he has no real or reasonable choice.
We can distinguish Alex's case from other cases of control which leave a person fundamentally free. The aversive control of a threat involves unfreedom; any offer or “positive” control does not usurp freedom because the person has a reasonable option to do otherwise. Similarly, manipulation is not equivalent to unfreedom or coercion. In the case of manipulation, one still retains a reasonable option to do otherwise.
“Skepticism About Weakness of Will.” Philosophical Review 86 (1977): 316–339.
Weakness of will bedevils those who remain in bed after the alarm has rung as well as those who desire another drink that will impair their sobriety. However common these situations, scepticism about their existence (Socratism) or moral status continues. At stake is the issue of psychological compulsion or freedom.
In Plato's Protagoras, Socrates denied the possibility of weakness of will (akrasia) and of men knowingly failing to do what they believe best in a situation because of temptation. He believed that humans always most desire and hence pursue what they think to be best. In effect, ignorance (or evaluation illusion) accounted for akrasia; knowledge, by contrast, was the precondition of true virtue or vice.
The Socratic view that individuals cannot knowingly violate their better judgment is inadequate. But the popular alternative account is also weak since it fails to plausibly distinguish weakness of will from psychological compulsion. Persons with weak wills resemble those under compulsion and are literally unable to do what their “better judgment” commands. But they differ from sufferers of psychological compulsion in that they are morally blameworthy. They are to be blamed not for doing the wrong thing in a certain case, but for failing to develop certain “normal” capacities of self-control.
These issues cast light on the problematic notion of “psychological compulsion,” “better judgment,” and “revealed” or “demonstrated preference.”
“Using People.” Mind 87 (January 1978): 98–104.
Does a free society allow using people? Using people may go beyond coercion and occur even in the voluntary relationships of a free society.
It is argued that using people is not limited to the paradigm cases of physical compulsion and deception, which involve the notion of a person not sharing in the purpose for which he is used. One can share purposes with an individual and still use him or her. For example, in “pure bargains” one can consider other persons of merely instrumental value without caring for them beyond their utility. The partners to such a voluntary bargain may care for the goal itself without personal caring or concern for the human having the goal.
Caring is also what characterizes true, as opposed to false, friendship. We label someone a false friend (that is, one who uses us) when we discover that he shared our purposes and goals not because they were our goals, but because they solely served his ends. Just as in the case of a pure bargain, the voluntary sharing of purposes can involve using others.
What unites pure bargains, false friends, and cases of coercion or deceit is that someone intentionally causes another to satisfy a purpose while not caring enough for the other person's desires. However, not all cases of not caring (or using) are immoral; only those cases are immoral that harm a person in some way.
“Freedom From Coercion.” In Freedom and Its Limitations in American Life. Edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976, pp. 1–19.
Americans have consistently believed themselves the “freest people on earth.” Alexis de Tocqueville, representing the European attitude, challenged this and indicted Americans for subordinating freedom or liberty of opinion to equality and the “tyranny of the majority.” In the American tradition freedom, ever balanced by the claims of social equality, has meant opposition to the inequality of authority, coercion, and deference. The American slogan “free and equal” implies that the heart of freedom is not Emersonian nonconformity so much as political, economic, spiritual, and social equality.
The best Americans in each generation subscribe in theory to individualism and freedom of dissent, but most Americans do not consistently demonstrate this liberality in practice. They have repeatedly violated John Stuart Mill's notion of liberty as the individual's freedom from conforming to the community in the name of his own or the common good. They have repressed by law dissenting individual conduct that violated community standards of morality—no matter how private such conduct was. Liquor prohibition and statutes regulating sex and marriage (e.g., those forbidding Mormon polygamy) illustrate this ambivalent notion of freedom.
Hierarchy or “pulling one's rank” has been the unforgiveable sin among Americans committed to equality. This sense of equality has led to the distrust of power and authority as well as to the constitutional attempts to place limits on government and prevent the coercive authority of a ruling class. Americans have also been noticeably reluctant to martial authority and force. They shun naked power and authority in preference to at least the show of voluntary cooperation. Consequently, in the period since World War I, Americans have shied away from acknowledging their own world power and authority.
Americans glory in being “masterless.” But freedom from overt authority is illusory since it generates social tensions and psychological needs that call for group action. What substitute for noncoercive social order has arisen in America? It is plausible to suggest that instead of abolishing coercion, Americans have forged more subtle and impersonal chains.
“Hannah Arendt: The Ambiguities of Theory and Practice.” In Political Theory and Praxis: New Perspectives. Edited by Terence Ball. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1977, pp. 141–158.
Hannah Arendt's efforts to resurrect the concept of free human action in the modern world are laudable contributions to political philosophy. Arendt's distinction between human action and behavior reflects a radical split in ways of dealing with men. Behavior denotes predictable regularity in human activity, which is therefore suitable for analysis by social scientists. Human action, on the other hand, is essentially free. It bespeaks the unpredictable, purposeful, and autonomous realm. Indeed, human action creates a “new beginning” unanticipated by any behavioral analysis. For Arendt, behavior is the best study for social science, whereas political theory is best suited to examine human action. Political theory can thrive only in an atmosphere where human action is possible.
Arendt's critique of modernity is that it is characterized by the closing off of action. The impetus of contemporary social systems is to mold people into behavioral patterns that are more easily manipulated and measured by the tools of the social scientist. As a result, human action as political praxis is weakened—together with political theory itself.
The solution to the waning of human action is to recognize the value of a “public space”; that is, human action can flourish only in an environment where diversity and plurality are supported and where men are equal and distinct. Wherever a public space arises, speech is the predominant mode of activity. Since action occurs between free and equal men, persuasion must be employed rather than manipulation, domination, or coercion.
Arendt's notion of the relation between theory and practice is also significant. The theorist is one who seeks meaning in human action. He is also one who revivifies the past by showing its vital connection to the present. Since human action is, by its very nature, free and open-ended, the actors themselves often cannot discern its full meaning. The meaning of action is often found only retrospectively. Yet since free action is rare in the modern world, the theorist is reduced to one who simply reconstructs the past as a reminder to the present. In Aristotle's understanding the theoretical life is self-justified. But until the necessary and liberating public space is created, the theorist must content himself with focusing on the past.
Government regulation casts a wide net, covering the diverse areas of business, agriculture, land use, scientific research, stocks, and banking. Although government justifies regulation with the claim that it promotes the common good and protects individuals from the deficiencies of the market, regulation frequently produces economic dislocations, shortages, gluts, political centralization, vested interests, and bureaucracy.
Historically, the inequities of regulation, by causing class conflict, give rise to criticism and revolutionary ferment in the classes adversely regulated.
The study of regulation embraces its origins, history, justifications, motivations, bureaucratic personnel, and varied consequences. Studies of government planning and regulation may often transcend institutional analyses of the stated goals and techniques to scrutinize the political, economic, and social dimensions.
“Regulation, Social Policy and Class Conflict.” Public Interest 50 (Winter 1978): 45–63.
The politics of regulatory agencies, as one widely discussed theme in social science asserts, is dominated by an “iron triangle” consisting of the regulated industry, the regulatory agency, and the congressional subcommittees with jurisdiction over the agency. The domination arises, according to this theme, because the interest of these parties in regulation is intense and direct, whereas that of the public is weak and diffuse, and therefore generally unrepresented in policy-making. A competing argument developed by such scholars as Louis Jaffe and James Q. Wilson holds that the real bias of regulatory agencies is not that they favor the regulated industry, but that they have an enormous stake in regulating per se, and that the “special interests” the agencies really serve are those involved in the regulatory process itself.
We can challenge the validity of the “iron triangle” theme by contrasting the older regulatory agencies (ICC, CAB, or FCC) with some of the newer regulatory agencies such as OSHA and the EPA. Since 1974 there has been a movement to reform and sometimes even to abolish the older regulatory agencies, and this reform movement has consequently severely weakened the “iron triangle.” Much of the literature on the “iron triangle” is misleading because it tends to focus exclusively on these older regulatory agencies. It ignores the more recent emergence of a fundamentally different type of regulatory agency, reflecting a major expansion of the field of regulation into such areas as health, safety, and the environment.
These new agencies are fundamentally different from the older variety and they now far exceed the importance of the older variety in terms of their scope of power, expenditures, and personnel. Most significantly, these new agencies are deliberately organized along functional lines, transcending individual industries, and therefore resistant to cooptation by regulated companies.
The new agencies are controlled by a new “iron triangle” consisting of public interest groups, the press, and the federal government as a whole (but especially the courts and Congress). In the view of this new “iron triangle,” government regulation of business is not primarily an instrument of economic policy, allegedly correcting the deficiencies of the market, but rather it is social policy seeking to transcend markets altogether.
Government regulation of this new type asserts a world view. Policy of this large sort is never created by mere interest groups but by classes—groups that possess a distinctive culture and relationship to the means of production and that intend to dominate and “define” societies, that is, to rule. The real animus of the new class is not so much against business or technology but against the liberal values served by corporate capitalism, and the benefits that these institutions provide to the broad mass of American people: economic growth, widespread prosperity, material satisfaction, and a belief in an open and self-determined future. We should be concerned over the fate of the traditional private sector, which has failed to aggressively defend itself against this new challenge to its values.
“The Social Composition of the Mau Mau Movement in the White Highlands.” Journal of Peasant Studies (UK) 1 (July 1974): 486–505.
Does state regulation spawn its own destroyers?
To answer this question we need to ask another, drawing on a recent example from Africa of the late 1940s and the 1950s: what social strata in Kenya's White Highlands supported the native revolutionary and independence movement known as the Mau Mau? This question highlights the key conflicts between the native peoples and the British colonial state.
Citing existing historical-sociological literature, including government surveys and reports, we can sketch out the policies of the white European settler regime which bore hard on the natives. A pattern of state intervention becomes transparent—measures gradually drive native entrepreneurs, peasant farmers, and artisans to the margin, as the whites reduce them to wage laborers by state coercion.
One implicit lesson is that peasants, when allowed to compete, rapidly develop “market rationality” and produce a surplus. The major conclusion is that in this agrarian struggle it was precisely from the discontented, talented, native Kikuyu strata—petty bourgeiosie, or the natural capitalists, artisans and petty traders (especially the latter two groups)—that the revolutionary cadres recruited themselves. These cadres gave leadership and coherence to the efforts of hard-pressed squatters, the dispossessed peasants, against the mercantilism of the British rulers.
This example illustrates the natural capitalism of peoples once introduced to world markets and their ability to compete unless suppressed by law.
“Mozambican Nationalist Resistance: 1920–1949.” Civilisations (Belgium) 3 (1977): 332–344.
Mozambique, one of Portugal's former African colonies, illustrates how foreign state imperialism intertwined with the indigenous state ruling elite, to economically subjugate a native population.
In Mozambique, nationalist resistance had a long history before the founding of FRELIMO in 1960. Particularly revealing is the period of Mozambican nationalist struggle from 1920 through the 1940s. During these years the ruling class of European settlers suppressed all nationalist challenges to the colonial system. The ruling class promoted dissension within the movement and censored the nationalist press. To control natives, the state achieved a pattern of oppression that linked a politics of native disenfranchisement with economic regulation and land expropriation.
For many years prior to 1935, the colonial government in Mozambique enjoyed virtual self-rule without interference from the Portuguese metropolitan government. The colonial government, however, was a government by and for the European settler population which deprived virtually the entire native population of their political rights.
This governmental political oppression rapidly translated itself into economic exploitation. One example is the “shibalo”—essentially a system of slave labor—a system which conscripted blacks, officially classified as idle, to work as the government directed for six months of the year with little or no compensation. This system was a major source of the cheap labor which was necessary to maintain the profitability of the European-owned plantations.
Another aspect of the economic exploitation of the native population derived from Mozambique's relationship with South Africa. Southern Mozambique was a major source of cheap labor for the mining industry of the Transvaal, and was the major transit route connecting Transvaal to the sea. The Rand Mines paid the Mozambican government in gold for its laborers. On returning to Mozambique, native laborers were paid in less valuable Portuguese escudos from which their hut tax had been subtracted. This hut tax and other revenues derived from the Transvaal trade were the major economic resources of the colonial government. Compulsory payment of the hut tax thus subsidized the European settlers' expropriation of native lands. The process, in turn, had created the class dependent upon migrant labor in the Transvaal by destroying their economic position in their own native land.
After 1935, the metropolitan government exercised tighter control over colonial affairs, but this served only to reinforce the policies that promoted the settler interests. From 1920 to 1949, native opposition to these policies was expressed in legal channels: demands for political rights for blacks and for equality before the law. Increasingly fierce repression of these movements forced them to disband or to stifle their political demands. By the late forties all overt expressions of opposition had been restricted to artistic and cultural channels.
“How Practical is National Economic Planning?” Harvard Business Review 56 (1978): 131–145.
Economists of nearly every persuasion are dissatisfied with the chaotic outcomes of U.S. government fiscal and monetary policies. Despite this prevalent agreement, no harmony exists regarding alternatives. Free-marketers contend that Keynesian-inspired manipulations (or any public economic intervention scheme, for that matter) must produce irrational systemic economic performance. An opposing view, however, insists that the ultimate fault lies not with the theory of macroeconomic policy, but with its inconsistent forms.
The latter viewpoint has spearheaded recent drives for alleged “consistency,” known as national economic planning (NEP). The Humphrey-Javits bill proposal embodies such ideology. Advocates claim that NEP would be as rational as managing a business.
However attractive such a businesslike analogy may be, it fails to be persuasive. Whereas a business is legally responsible only to stockholders, government is answerable to a much broader range of interest groups. And although corporate plans can be confidential, government is, at least in theory, a public servant.
The federal government currently has access to most of the information it needs to implement NEP. In addition, the Council of Economic Advisors provides a convenient skeleton structure for NEP. However, several radical economic changes would accompany national economic planning. Not surprisingly, they are viewed with disdain by free-market advocates.
Four broad approaches could be embodied by NEP. “Coherence planning” would attempt to centrally plan supply and demand by industry. This would require forecasting demand by a planning agency, followed by various degrees of economic interference. “Structural planning” would utilize the efforts of federal, state, and local regulatory agencies to restructure industries to achieve some previously-determined level of better social performance. An “incomes policy” would institute explicit guidelines of wage regulation designed to link wages more clearly to productivity increases. Finally, the “indirect approach” would generate changes to produce specific and inevitable corporate adaptations.
National economic planning, in any of its potential forms, would be a political instrument readily manipulated by national leaders for public relations purposes. The European experience illustrates how, once in place, NEP tends to remain intact despite changing economic conditions. It is questionable whether the proper prescription for current economic maladies should utilize such ingredients.
“Hoover's Agricultural Policies, 1921–1928.” Agricultural History 51 (April 1977): 335–361.
Was Herbert Hoover an exponent of laissez-faire or an arch-regulator of the market?
Judged by standard works and recent monographs, historians have not given Hoover his due as an advanced regulator and liberal-corporatist in farm matters. Hoover's policies as Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge were part of the general “search for order” (i.e., cartelization) and central planning of the economy characteristic of Progressivism. Viewing Hoover as a Progressive, we can discern the underlying ideological unity and continuity of Hoover and the New Deal in farm policy.
Unlike the narrow farm bloc spokesmen, including Henry C. Wallace, Hoover understood that simply propping up domestic prices and “dumping” (so-called) surpluses abroad could lead to complications. The disputes between Hoover and Wallace, and Hoover's criticism of the McNary-Haugen bill, reflected Hoover's relative sophistication on the limitations of simple government price supports, resulting from his wartime frustrations as Food Administrator under Woodrow Wilson.
Hence, Hoover tried to build up piecemeal a sort of decentralized corporatism based on government licensed marketing boards—the Federal Farm Board—to cartelize agriculture at the lowest level and avoid creating large bureaucratic entities. Another clash with Wallace reflected Hoover's belief that the Department of Commerce, and not the Agriculture Department, had the duty of promoting farm exports. Hoover's farm policies were designed to cut so-called “overproduction,” just as were his proposals in other sectors of the economy. Believing in U.S. self-sufficiency, Hoover—unlike some farm advocates—sought to rig the domestic market, rather than have U.S. farmers dependent on ever-expanding foreign markets.
This interpretation supports revisionist economic history by showing that the same basic impulse united Hoover and his opponents: the desire to sidestep markets and somehow circumvent Say's Law (by postponing consequences) through farm cartels as part of an overall system of government sponsored corporatism. Hence the 1920s were not laissez-faire or isolationist, and those policies were not tested and discredited by the Depression. This interpretation also shows why Hoover did not become so full-blown a corporatist imperialist in pursuit of foreign markets—because of his belief in domestic statist solutions and U.S. self-sufficiency.
“The National Science Foundation and the Debate over Postwar Research Policy, 1942–1945: A Political Interpretation of Science—The Endless Frontier.” Isis 68 (May 1977): 5–26.
What role, if any, should the federal government exercise in advancing science for the general welfare?
This major policy issue, still hotly debated, becomes clearer when we consider the highly political context that begot America's National Science Foundation (NSF). It was Vannevar Bush's famous report, Science—The Endless Frontier (1945) that primarily influenced and shaped the subsequent National Science Foundation. The politicized nature of this report is intimated by Bush's government post as the director of the wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). He also voiced his concern to President Roosevelt that science, lacking government involvement, might languish in the postwar United States.
Through a survey of the documentary record (congressional hearings, correspondence, and publications), we can appreciate the political developments leading up to Bush's 1945 report and the ultimate political form of the NSF.
The political emphasis coloring Bush's report sprang from the headiness of success with the federal mobilization of research efforts during World War II. Other political factors included: allegations of big industry monopolistically controlling patents and research, to the detriment of small business and universities; concern over the justice of industries' obtaining patents for products produced under federal contract and at taxpayers' expense; and national security concerns over corporate patent arrangements with foreign corporations.
The debate behind the Bush report centered around the belief of a necessary disparity between research dictated by market forces as opposed to that dictated by “national needs,” social, economic, and military. In this vein, Waldemaer Kaempffert, liberal science editor of The New York Times, testified that American research had “grown up, like Topsy,” without “concentrated social purpose in planning..., direction..., organization.” Kaempffert advocated abandoning laissezfaire in scientific research as well as in economics.
The series of bills that culminated in establishing the NSF began with one to centralize various wartime production efforts. The focus, however, gradually shifted to the peacetime coordination of science “to serve the public interest.”
“Peirce and the Economy of Research.” Philosophy of Science 43 (1977): 71–98.
Economic “costs” of research are important considerations in estimating the value of potential research.
It is worthwhile to resurrect the neglected idea of Charles S. Peirce that the economics of research plays a crucial role in the methodology of science. Peirce observed that perhaps an infinite number of alternative hypotheses or theories might account for a given set of data. He therefore proposed the following economics of research. In deciding among rival hypotheses during the inductive process of hypothesis testing, we should weigh cost considerations (time, effort, energy, and money) along with the traditionally valued scientific approach of benefit considerations (closeness of data fit, explanatory scope, and simplicity).
In the light of the economics of research, we can detect a shortcoming in the decision theory approach. Although the decision theory focuses on the expected cognitive value of the results of scientific inquiry and research, it fails to consider the practical and important factor of the cost of the inquiry.
Peirce's economics of research is relevant so long as science policy and research depends on political determination and largesse rather than on free market signals in allocating limited research funds.
“For Whom the Antitrust Bell Tolls.” Harvard Business Review 56 (1978): 125–130.
Some economists content that “concentrated” industries (defined as those composed of a few dominant firms) are undesirable because they lead to socially harmful noncompetitive pricing and shared monopoly profits. These critics challenge any market structure which departs from the theoretical economic state of purity known as perfect competition.
Numerous economists recognize that perfect competition (where large numbers of buyers and sellers preclude control over price by any single economic participant) can exist only in theory. Apparently, however, the U.S. government disagrees. For its most recent antitrust crusade to stimulate “competition” is being sponsored by Attorney General Griffin Bell in the belief that concentration is inherently evil.
Specifically, the government's Antitrust Division is investigating whether it should be unlawful (and thus subject to civil suit or criminal prosecution) for those individual companies belonging to concentrated industries (such as steelmakers) to publicly announce proposed price changes. This represents the latest government attempt to extend the scope of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Companies, of course, may choose either to fight or to cooperate with civil investigations. If they elect to resist, they could seek to sway court opinion with the assistance of economists who are antagonistic to government economic interference.
Those who cherish liberty detect a danger inherent in government encroachments on the freedom of producers to maintain control over deciding and announcing prices. An unhindered pricing mechanism is thus viewed as a central component of the capitalist system.
As with other examples of government behavior, a ludicrous degree of inconsistency prevails. If Washington sincerely strives to promote competition, why does it continue to burden small businesses with a myriad of regulations? Perhaps the government, the nation's largest monopoly, is suffering from schizophrenia.
“The Efficient Capital Market Hypothesis, Economic Theory and the Regulation of the Securities Industry.” Stanford Law Review 29 (May 1977): 1031–1076.
The American Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is a government regulatory agency which distrusts the free market's ability to protect investors and achieve optimal resource allocation. With its goal to protect investors, the SEC wants to make certain that all investors trade on the basis of equal market information. The means it has chosen to implement this goal is intervening in the market by mandating the disclosure of comprehensible securities information and by regulating “insider” trading.
In evaluating the primary means of SEC regulation—disclosure requirements and insider trading regulation—we have to measure these against the goal: protecting investors through “egalitarian” distribution of market information. Evidence derived from the Efficient Capital Market Hypothesis (ECMH) questions the wisdom of both the goal and the means of state regulated securities. This evidence suggests that state regulation harms the important social and economic purpose of capital markets in efficiently allocating capital.
The Efficient Market Hypothesis contends that the prices of securities do, infact, fully reflect information about those securities and that the prices quickly adjust to new available information. The most widely discussed variant of the Efficient Market Hypothesis—the semistrong form—contends that security prices fully reflect all publicly available information regarding the securities. This implies that the average investor, by analyzing publicly available information, cannot hope to consistently identify and profit from undervalued or overvalued securities (since the prices are already accurate mirrors of security values).
Recognition of the ECMH in SEC policies would radically alter traditional securities regulation. The SEC's view of the function of information in the securities market and their understanding of its role in investor protection are inconsistent with the ECMH. For example, the SEC does not recognize that disclosure regulations may actually decrease the information available to investors in making their investment decisions, and it neglects the fact that an efficient market may itself provide the best possible protection for investors.
If the SEC recognized the implications of ECMH, it would encourage the use of all sources of information by those who are in the best position to do so; it would abandon trying to ensure that all information pass through its tightly drawn disclosure mechanism before reaching the public. SEC must reject the unattainable model of investor protection through egalitarian information disclosure; it should also reappraise its traditional role in the securities market in light of a goal that more realistically protects investors: ensuring maximum information flow in the securities market. More specifically, we can hope for the relaxation of disclosure regulation and an increasing reliance on market mechanisms. Also questionable is whether the regulation of “insider” trading is desirable. Such trading serves to increase the information flow to the market and thereby improves market efficiency.
The market can provide more effective protection to investors than the SEC can. Evidence suggests that SEC regulation merely serves to hinder the efficiency of the market.
“The False Dawn of the Sunset Laws.” Public Interest 49 (Fall 1977): 103–118.
Washington's “latest fad,” the so-called sunset laws provide that every government program should periodically end and continue only after an evaluation and legislative vote to reestablish it. Sunset laws do not promise a bright dawn in politics.
Legitimate concerns do underlie the growing support for sunset laws. Most notable is the concern and protest over the expansion of existing government programs required by the practice of automatic incremental budgeting. Next, many desire an opportunity to eliminate duplication and to encourage rationalization. Finally some desire to provide an incentive for government officials to improve performance. It is questionable, however, whether sunset laws are appropriate or effective remedies for those concerns.
More specifically, we may question whether sunset laws will create more meaningful program evaluation. Will they, in fact, represent a credible threat to terminate many, if not most, government programs? A fundamental paradox plagues sunset laws: the more programs that are subject to formal periodic review, the more superficial each individual evaluation will be because of the limited time and resources available to perform such evaluations. Thus, the more extensive the scope of the program, the less successful will be its results.
Most programs are instituted without a clear statement of objectives. They thereby fail to provide explicit criteria by which the success of the program may later be judged. Even if objectives are explicitly set forth, it is difficult to establish a cause and effect relationship between the existence of the program and subsequent trends or events. An example may be cited of the contention that: even when a periodic renewal requirement is combined with evaluations documenting that a program has no impact, there is no serious threat of termination. This appears in the record of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. The LEAA has been renewed several times by Congress despite official findings about its corruption and waste as well as its ineffectiveness. Would such long established government agencies as the FBI, IRS, and Postal Service ever seriously believe that they might be terminated?
People tend to fight harder to retain programs that directly benefit them than to terminate those that irritate them. Given this tendency, coalition politics in Congress will guarantee that the only programs threatened with termination will be those that have failed to cultivate a strong clientele.
Such observations reveal the enormous difficulties inherent in any gradualist approach to the removal of government intervention. There is a growing awareness that efforts like the sunset laws to “rationalize” the existing framework of government intervention will not even succeed in achieving their own limited objectives, much less provide a viable base from which to expand our opposition to government intervention.
Governments and those in power have wielded a panoply of manipulative techniques to control and mold citizens. The aim of such social control has been masterfully diagnosed by La Boétie as “voluntary servitude,” eliciting from the governed proper deference and conformity to the governors' prescriptions for social good.
Whatever the form of manipulation, all social control limits personal choice and autonomy. Sometimes control takes the form of such overt displays of state power as armies and court systems that serve vested interests. However, as both La Boétie and his classical model Tacitus suggested, more subtle and lasting control can be exercised by the molding of minds. In the modern era, this subtle control may be insinuated through compulsory public education which instills a politicized ideology. However, by limiting our analysis and devising scapegoats (such as the truant officer, teacher, bureaucrat, or judge), we confuse the personnel and symbols of control with the wider sociological and political nature of social control.
“Tacitus: On Power.” In Empire Without End. Translated by Joan McConnell and Mario Pei. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1976, pp. 143–208.
The tragedies and corrupting social controls wrought by political power were the melancholy themes in the works of the Roman historian Tacitus (c. 55–120 A.D.): Annals, Histories, Germania, Agricola, and Dialogue Concerning Oratory. His Dialogue, for example, attributed the decline in rhetoric and the arts under the empire to the inhibiting self-censorship which power imposed on culture and the individual conscience.
In all his works Tacitus chronicled how power and autocratic emperors led to ever-degenerating stages of individual and national subjection: patientia, adulatio, and servitium. “Patience” meant enduring the vicious aspects of autocracy to enjoy peace and order. “Flattery” to power encouraged hypocritical worship of matricidal, incestuous, and mad rulers. “Servitude” harnessed the free man's spirit to acquiescence and pusillanimity. The Tacitean drama of power portrays somber tableaux of individual consciences making choices when confronted by force. In lurid colors, Tacitus paints the Roman imperial system as successive scenes of violence, intrigue, corruption, greed, and sycophancy.
In his Agricola (a digest of his major themes) Tacitus outlines the choices open to nations and individuals under a regime of total power. Rebel nations, such as Britain, had the cruel alternatives of open war or slavery. Individuals could choose withdrawal, a vainglorious martyr's death for twitting power, or an ambitious servility. Tacitus's father-in-law, and pacifier of Britain, the Roman general Agricola, endeavored to escape the emperor's displeasure by a moderate and deferential attitude. His moderation failed to assuage the dissimulating Domitian. Agricola's untimely death, Tacitus insinuates, was brought about by the tyrant's poison. In this sorrowful meditation on absent liberty, Tacitus sought vestiges of liberty among the noble savages of Germany and Britain. He opposed Roman colonialism for importing Roman luxury and vice to the simple, virtuous peoples of the conquered lands. Through the rebel British chieftain Calgacus, Tacitus projected his own protest to the evils perpetrated against both truth and humanity by Roman imperialism: “Auferre, trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant” (Agricola 30: “They misname plundering, butchery, stealing as empire: they create a wilderness and they label it peace.”) Even the imported cultural refinements of Roman imperialism (e.g., the baths and cuisine) could control and debilitate the colonized Britons: “The unsophisticated natives called it ‘culture’, whereas it was a part of their servility.” (Agricola 21).
“Education and the Political Community.” Menlo Park, California: Institute for Humane Studies, Center for Independent Education paper, 1977.
Since the early republic, America's educational ideology has been politicized: public schools have served government, molding citizens to conform with the social good as leaders define it. State-controlled education, however, contradicts America's tradition of freedom, pluralism, individualism, and self-rule. Despite its shifting goals (cultural homogeneity or social betterment), the state has used public education to condition individuals to live and work for its interests.
Exposés of American public schooling have proliferated during the past decade:
Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society (1970);
William Rickenbacker, ed., The Twelve Year Sentence: Radical Views of Compulsory Education (1974);
Joel Spring, Education and the Rise of the Corporate State (1972); and A Primer of Libertarian Education (1975); and
E.G. West, Education and the State (1970).
Besides attacking rising costs and inferior instruction, the current critics have studied public education as a sociopolitical institution. They have historically traced the role of the public school as a political tool of social, cultural, and moral conformity. This educational brainwashing originated with Plato and appeared in the Prussian state schools and in the inconsistent position of the utilitarian classical economists.
Politicized education was promulgated by such influential Founding Fathers as Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and Thomas Jefferson. Influenced by Rousseau, the French Encyclopedists, and the Physiocrats, all three desired the unifying cultural force of state education. They distrusted non-English immigrants and anticipated the nineteenth-century nativist hysteria over aliens who might pollute the approved moral and political values. A strong republic needed an “educated” citizenry who would surrender their diversity in the “melting pot” of state education.
Three approaches summarize the role of the state in education: (1) to use public education as a tool of social, political, and cultural control; (2) to limit public education to a minimum standard of literacy; and (3) to achieve a total separation of state and education. This last position was endorsed, among others, by William Godwin in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793). Godwin disparaged authority and centralism as a threat to truth, virtue, and diversity. The classical liberals and classical economists (including Smith, Say, J.S. Mill, and Humbolt) allowed their utilitarian concern for social uplift of the poor to erode their opposition to state intervention in schooling. The result has been a gradual decline of private education.
The Political Economy of Public School Legislation. Menlo Park, California: Institute for Humane Studies (1977) 38 pp.
Was public schooling needed or rationally justified? The case study of “universal” and “free” public education in New York state undermines the arguments for a government monopoly through compulsory schooling.
Was there any need for “universal” public education? The rationalizations behind public schooling—to supply poor and rural students with education, to prevent crime, and to alleviate the community need for informed citizens through schooling's positive “neighborhood effects”—ignored whether the private sector was already providing such services. Shying away from empirical cost-benefit comparisons between private vs. public provision of education, public school proponents avoided a rigorous investigation of the need for public education. Teachers, administrators, and legislators cloaked behind the rhetoric of “optimal welfare criteria” their less public-spirited motives of self-interest.
Of course, public education was never “free” since it was originally free-funded and later funded from compulsory tax levies. The recently developed economic theory of politics exposes how politicizing education (e.g., in the drive for public school legislation in New York state) served the vested interests of privileged state groups and in turn led to social conflict.
New York state's march toward universal public education never seriously grappled with the alternative of private, voluntary education. Two laws required, in turn, compulsory payment and compulsory consumption that strengthened the monopoly of public schooling at the expense of parental choice and private education. The Free School Act of 1867 replaced parental fee-payments for public schooling with general and compulsory tax levies. Next, the 1874 Compulsory Education Act guaranteed a stable student market for public educators.
Before such political interventions, private education was providing adequate education for most students in New York state. Rather than set up its own schools, the state could have restricted its interventions to only subsidizing the truly needy and allowing them to freely choose which schools to attend. The more efficient and choice-maximizing course would have been to avoid public education in toto.
“Values Education and the Right to Privacy.” Journal of Moral Education (UK), 7 (October 1977): 9–26.
Public schools have increasingly introduced formal moral education courses into the compulsory curriculum. Such courses, which require the student to disclose sensitive information, strongly disturb parents and civil libertarians. They contend that such disclosures violate the right to privacy of the student and his family. Is such opposition well grounded?
The right of privacy rests on the underlying values of personal autonomy, liberty, and fairness. This right, it is argued, is not absolute since the pragmatic needs of the state may require mandatory violation of privacy (e.g., to compel witnesses to testify in courts). In the school setting, three areas of information-gathering do not seem to violate privacy (understood as the right to withhold personal information): data on family demographics, on career choice, and on the ideas that are normally discussed in teaching literature and the sciences. These types of elicited information are legitimate because of an implicit contract between the school and the students which necessitates exchange of data for administrative or instructional purposes.
Four other areas of information-gathering in school, however, would violate the right to privacy: data on personal relationships within the family, and within peer groups, data on personal behavior and emotions, and beliefs on general philosophic or religious views.
On the basis of these different kinds of information-gathering we can distinguish between two methods of teaching values. The “values clarification” method violates a student's right to privacy by intrusively seeking information in the four banned areas. To overcome a student's tendency toward apathy or “overdissension” this first and illegitimate method demands disclosing personal values to clarify the content of the student's value choices. Such personal information should be sacrosanct. The second method of moral education, Lawrence Kohlberg's “moral development” technique neither violates privacy nor intrudes into the four areas of privileged information. Through discussing moral dilemmas and difficult choices moral reasoning is emphasized rather than content or conclusions. The aim of this licit technique is to ascend toward the upper levels of Kohlberg's six stages of moral reasoning.
“The Man Nobody Liked: Toward A Social History of the Truant Officer, 1840–1940.” American Quarterly 29 (Spring 1977): 31–58.
Never able to shed his “hooky-cop stereotype,” the truant officer has perennially served as a scapegoat for the injustices of the existing social order whose authority he supported. Over the years the truant officer's image has varied from policeman to minister, salesman, psychologist, social worker, and executive of “child accounting.” He has, nonetheless, never escaped the ignominy of subjecting to compulsory education harmless Huck Finns who generally preferred gainful jobs to the dull routine of classrooms. Although he came into daily contact with family poverty, social decay, and dispirited children, his remedy was stabilizing social order through obligatory schooling rather than major social changes.
In pre-nineteenth century America, “truant” was synonymous with “rogue.” Victorian America continued these connotations. Even before compulsory education, “truant officers” were charged with removing “dirty, ragged” children from mischievous idleness to school (often a reform school).
Truant officers were caught in the middle of complex social forces and became scapegoats: to parents who scorned compulsory education, to employers who disliked meddlers curtailing their labor force, and to teachers who resented incorrigible students being thrust into their classroom. Furthermore, they were ridiculed as the butt of jokes and cartoons. To euphemize their connection with compulsory education, truancy departments in Pennsylvania changed their name from “compulsory attendance” to “child helping and child accounting.”
Truant officers strove to upgrade the image of their discredited group. During the Victorian era, truant officers were viewed as quasi-policemen who dealt with quasi-delinquents and disorderly youth. Truancy was a moral flaw of character, and punishment was the appropriate remedy. Beginning with the Progressive era, the truancy rhetoric shifted to include environmental factors such as poverty and cultural differences. By the 1940s, bureaucratic experts appeared who institutionalized the new ideology of child accounting. In all eras, however, truant officers were “street-level bureaucrats” who were “empowered to regulate the poor” to accommodate them to the prevailing social order.
“Professionals, Progressives and Bureaucratization: A Reassessment.” Historian 39 (August 1977): 639–658.
The “organizational synthesis” model —advanced by Samuel Hays and Robert Wiebe as well as by Jerry Israel's Building the Organizational Society (1972)—seeks to explain the motivations behind the middle class political reforms of the Progressive era. The Hays-Wiebe approach views professionals in the progressive period as “elitist technocrats” who automatically identified with their occupational, professional role rather than with nonoccupational affiliations (status, ethnic, or political roles). Supposedly, this professional orientation in the rise of middle class experts led to emphasizing efficiency and bureaucratization. In fact, however, professionals were more selective and less determined in judging between bureaucratic or nonbureaucratic solutions.
The weakness of this organizational synthesis (and its equation of professionalism with bureaucratic reforms) is its technological determinism. It also ignores such factors as various cultural backgrounds and social roles. Professions differed from one another in the extent to which “the power of businessmen or bureaucrats impinged on the autonomous exercise of the professional role.” For analysis, it is better to break up the motivating ideologies of professionals in the Progressive era into three orientations: a purely professional, a bureaucratic, and a business orientation.
To begin with the business orientation, debates within the business community over progressive political reforms divided big business from small businessmen. But besides the corporate or business divisions over reform, the influences of the bureaucratic ideal and the professional ideal fragmented the unity within “professional” ranks. Bureaucrats generally desired centralization, while professionals tended toward individual autonomy. Among professionals, some had more leverage to press for autonomy (e.g., doctors, service-professionals), while engineers and lawyers often became mouthpieces for the businessmen they represented.
These degrees of autonomy create different-sounding responses from “professionals.” Engineers will stress efficiency, while social workers will speak out for their clients. At other times, professionals from different fields may incidentally converge in their political goals and interests to form shifting coalitions.
A key question is provoked by those professionals who supported Progressive era bureaucratic and social reforms. Did professionals support these political policies because of class consciousness (as espoused by Kolko, Weinstein, and Domhoff) or because of their technocratic infatuation with bureaucratic means in themselves (as urged by proponents of the organizational synthesis). This question of motivation cannot be simply answered because the professionals responded to different motives. However, most early twentieth century professionals, enjoying its taste, allied themselves with political power for their share in social control.
“Labor and the Courts: The Common-Law Doctrine of Criminal Conspiracy and Its Application in the Buck's Stove Case.” Labor History 18 (Winter 1977): 91–114.
American courts exploited the common law doctrine of criminal conspiracy to cripple labor unions. Despite the decision of Commonwealth v. Hunt (1842) which ruled that trade unions were not criminal conspiracies, the common-law doctrine of conspiracy continued to haunt unions in cases after the Civil War. In the 1880s, the courts combined the conspiracy doctrine with the injunction and varying interpretations of the legality of boycotts to forge effective weapons against unions.
The Buck's Stove Case (1908) pitted The Buck's Stove and Range Company president James W. Van Cleave (also president of the National Association of Manufacturers) against Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor. This and other conspiracy cases turned on the doctrine that “conspiracy depends upon the lawfulness of object or means used to attain it.” This case involved public policy interpretations of union boycotts and the demise of the AFL's “We Don't Patronize” boycott list.
The Buck's Stove Case showed that the courts were biased against labor activity in the matter of boycotts, and that the judiciary shared a common socioeconomic philosophy with business about the rights of labor unions. Gompers and two other labor leaders narrowly escaped imprisonment in this affair.
In order to protect their boycott, the AFL pleaded their case on the basis of constitutional first amendment rights to free press and speech. The courts, however, brushed aside the Constitution and accepted the common law doctrine of conspiracy. They held that the union was involved in a criminal conspiracy to destroy a firm through the use of boycotting, which was interpreted as a threat to the civil rights of the firm.
It appears that the boycott has been unfairly condemned, since it involves only peaceful social ostracism. The boycott displayed no coercive violence nor libel. The state showed itself partial to aiding one side in the litigation.
“The Army As Strikebreaker—The Railroad Strikes of 1877 and 1894.” Labor History 18 (1977): 179–190.
Was the United States Army merely a nonpartisan force to restore order or was it, in effect, a strikebreaker siding with management against organized labor in the late nineteenth century?
This question is difficult to answer since the army's actions during the two periods of greatest labor disorder (the railroad strikes of 1877 and 1894) point in both directions. For example, in the Pullman strike organized by Eugene Debs's American Railway Union in 1894, it could be argued that the army was merely following the lawful orders of President Cleveland, but a great deal of partisan communication also occurred between army officers and the railway officials. Military leaders were more deferential to railroad managers, even to the point of maintaining intimidating troops in strike areas after civil order was restored. Also, Cleveland's Attorney General Richard Olney's background as a railroad attorney may have prejudiced his treatment of labor.
The army's job was to restore order, but in restoring order it often decisively favored the corporate side. It thus became unwittingly enmeshed in larger economic, political, and social issues that it did not comprehend. Labor's perception of army partiality is significant: “Army officers openly and frequently collaborating with railroad officials could hardly appear as disinterested restorers of order....”
The attitude of the army officer class was also highly partial to management. Imbued with middle class respect for the sanctity of property, it tended both to identify social order with the hegemony of men of property and to fear social decay from the “radical” ideas of the labor unions.
Overall, the men in the army, even the officers, interpreted their functions as following the orders of the President, and if that included strikebreaking, so be it. As Lieutenant William Wallace phrased this sentiment in 1895: “... the army is on the side of constituted authority, and is in all things merely a reflection of that power, which is essential to its existence....” It seems the men who held greater sway with constituted authorities in 1877 and 1894 were corporate interests.
Other People's Property. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Health and Co., 1976.
A major problem for organized society is how best to resolve controversies between competing interests. Over the past decades, government's share in the control and decision-making of land use has substantially increased, and with disastrous results. For greater social harmony we should minimize government regulation of land use. We should instead rely upon the restraints inherent in individual competition and freedom to control the use of land. Private market forces offer superior remedies to the question of land use than do government zoning and planning.
Behind the push for national land use legislation is the dubious belief that new urban planning can solve some of the major problems. Government planning, however, presents a false panacea. We witness the counterproductiveness of such planning in urban sprawl, land misuse, high rents, curtailed competition, bribery, and corruption.
Zoning, in particular, must be judged a “colossal flop” because it is incapable of solving its assigned problems. Zoning encourages moral and legal corruption. Less governmental control would mean less corruption. In effect, zoning helps only a favored few, while it harms many.
Public officials are engaged in the contradictory enterprise of wishing to assist the poor while also curbing growth. All public land use regulations—rent controls, building codes, minimum housing laws, density restrictions, housing quotas, and exclusionary zoning—throttle economic growth and sufficient housing for the poor.
The author fuels his earlier indictment against zoning (Land Use Without Zoning, 1972) with further evidence. Zoning creates both social and economic problems by restricting housing and excluding people, by artificially raising the price of property, by curtailing development, and by damping competition. Zoning restrictions favor the rich and penalize the poor.
Private market forces insure a more promising remedy for the evils that government planning both addresses and creates. The conflict of zoning vs. market development raises the intertwined issues of individual freedom, housing, employment, business, taxes, environmental protection, growth, energy, food, and conservation. A telling case can be made against the efficacy of government land use planning. Consumer sovereignty in the marketplace and the individual right to property can secure orderly land development and avoid the potential for dictatorial social control inherent in government regulation of property.
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.]
“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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.]
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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).
“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.
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This new collection of Fetter's essays systematically treats the fundamental problems raised by the Cambridgeneoclassical debate over distribution theory. Fetter had argued against capital as “produced means of production” and for an accounting concept of capital. Fetter replaced Ricardian differential rent with a “marginal productivity” concept of rent. In addition, he argued that time preference rather than the marginal productivity of capital determines the interest rate. In contrast to Fetter's incisive treatment, neoclassical theory has confused the determination of the rate of discount (interest rate) with the determination of that which is discounted (rents). Although the Cambridge-neoclassical debate on distributton theory has raised many important issues, neither approach has successfully resolved the fundamental problems.
Capital, Interest, and Rent now provides the missing systematic treatment.
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Generally, economists have treated capital as a homogeneous aggregate “stock” or “fund,” whose componentparts are merely units of money value, Ludwig Lachmann provides an impressive exception to this traditional treatment. He provides an exacting and penetrating examination of capital resources as heterogeneous factors, intricately interrelated to form an economy's capital structure, and continually being reshuffled in response to the dynamic productive process. Lachmann approaches his subject by combining the work of Carl Menger, Frank Knight, and Friedrich Hayek. Capital and Its Structure details capital formation and adjustment as a continuous transformation immensely complex in its combinations and heterogeneous flow, and capable of coordinating the ever-changing plans of individual participants.
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1776 was a year of momentous events, including publication of The Wealth of Nations —the book that launched the movement for economic liberty.
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Adam Smith may have been the first great economist, but he was no dismal scientist. He was instead a man of great philosophical and historical learning, and his literary style was widely admired. The Wisdom of Adam Smith brings together his most incisive and eloquent observations on subjects ranging from political and economic history to morals, philosophy, art, education, war and the American colonies. Compiled by British scriptwriter and playwright John Haggarty, edited and with an introduction by Benjamin A. Rogge. Hardcover $7.95, Paperback $1.95.
Adam Smith's first book will startle those who think capitalists are purely selfish, for Smith fully understood that liberty must be based in a moral order. Dr. E. G. West, who writes the introduction, asserts that “if The Wealth of Nations had never been written, this previous work would have earned for him a prominent place in intellectual history.” The Theory of Moral Sentiments was greeted with rapturous praise in its own day. Smith's friend David Hume wrote to him from London soon after the publication, telling him that “the public seem disposed to .applaud it extremely.” The “mob of literati,” Hume added, “are beginning to be very loud in its praise.” Hardcover $9.95, Softcover $2.95.
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