Bruce Smith, “True Liberalism vs. Socialism” (1888)

Note: This extract is part of The OLL Reader: An Anthology of the Best of the OLL, the table of contents of which can be found here. It is from "Part X: The Critique of Socialism and Interventionism".

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Bruce Smith (1851–1937)


Bruce Smith, Liberty and Liberalism: A Protest against the Growing Tendency toward undue Interference by the State, with Individual Liberty, Private Enterprise and the Rights of Property (London: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1888).


The text is in the public domain.

The Text


"If individuality has no play, society does not advance. If individuality breaks out of all bounds, society perishes."—PROFESSOR HUXLEY.

"The rule of our policy is that nothing should be done by the state which can be better or as well done by voluntary effort."—W. E. GLADSTONE.—(Liberal Manifesto, 1885.)

"If political science be properly understood; if it be confined within the limits of its legitimate province; if its vocabulary be well fixed by sound definitions and a consistent usage; there is no reason why it should not possess the same degree of certainty which belongs to other sciences founded on observation."—SIR GEORGE CORNEWALL LEWIS.

I COME, now, to a branch of my subject which I have approached with not a few misgivings. It is that of the practical application of the principles which I have been endeavouring to champion.

It, unfortunately, too often happens that theoretical politicians, who have certain convictions which they wish to make known, are content to commit their doctrines to paper, without sufficiently considering themselves, or at least demonstrating to their readers, in what way those doctrines are capable of practical application to the particular questions of their day. This is an objection which can fairly be urged against a very large portion of the political literature of our time; and, having had personal experience of its drawbacks, I am the more anxious to avoid the possibility of being charged with the same shortcoming. It is often [423] believed, and not seldom publicly stated that, though a particular doctrine, whether political or otherwise, may be "very good in theory, it is useless in practice." I need not here comment upon the paradoxical nature of this statement. Every moderately accomplished student of logic will know that the two things are contradictory; that, if a doctrine is not practically sound, it cannot be so theoretically, and vice versa; and as there is no subject in which theory and practice are popularly supposed to be more frequently antagonistic, than in that of politics, there is all the more reason for my showing that the doctrines which I am advocating are capable of the most ready and successful practical application to those very questions, over which the necessity for examining principles has arisen.

If I did not thus demonstrate the practicability of my proposals, I should fairly lay myself open to a very short and summary criticism. Advocates of socialist doctrines would be able, and only too ready, to dismiss my protest, by an off-hand use of the expression "laissez faire." That would, of itself, be considered a sufficient explanation of my doctrines; and, as a result, many of those, whose enquiries into such a subject are hasty and superficial, would be content to regard my views as purely doctrinaire,and, on that ground, excuse themselves from the trouble of their perusal. I desire, however, that my theories should be guaged by their application to questions, the most practical, so long as the process of guaging is carried out in a broad and comprehensive spirit; that is to say, by taking other than a circumscribed and narrow view of the question under consideration, and by regarding the remote, as well as the immediate results of the contemplated legislative action, to which they are applied. The remote results of legislation are, in the present day, a completely neglected factor, in political discussion and deliberation; and I should certainly claim a much larger than the average amount of attention [424]for them, in the application of my principles. The hasty and off-hand use of the term laissez faire, as usually applied, is nothing more nor less than the process of reductio ad absurdum, utilised for the purpose of throwing ridicule upon the doctrine of a limitation to state functions. If such a limit is advocated, there is an extreme readiness, on the part of those who take the socialist view, to say: "Oh! of course; let everything alone! let things take their course! survival of the fittest and all that sort of thing! the weak must go to the wall, and the strong are to be allowed to crush the remainder out of existence." I need not say that I distinctly repudiate such a view of society. To the April (1885) number of the Contemporary Review, M. Emile de Laveleye contributed an article, entitled: "The State versus the Man," in which he endeavoured to combat Mr. Herbert Spencer's views, as expressed in his (then) recently published work, entitled: "The Man versus The State." M. de Laveleye's paper was an attempt to show that the state was justified in "appropriating state or communal revenues to the purpose of establishing a greater equality among men," and he applied the reductio ad absurdum method of throwing discredit upon Mr. Spencer's theory of limited functions, by contending that, if the laissez faire doctrine were applied to all sociological matters, might would become right, and the physically weak man would become the victim of the strong—that, as a consequence, society would be revolutionised. This is, of course, a very effective method of addressing careless thinkers and indifferently-read persons; but its use, as an argument, speaks badly for the merits of the cause of him who uses it. The truth is, the expression laissez faire, inasmuch as it does not properly express the theory to which it is frequently applied, is capable of being reduced to an absurdity of the most glaring character. The term is usually employed to describe that school of politics [425] which recognises a limitto the functions of government, and which contends that, when that limit has been reached, the state should not further interfere with the free play of either mind or body among the individual citizens constituting the state. The politicians of that school contend that, beyond a certain limit of interference, the state should leave the people alone. The term laissez faire, however, says nothing about the limit up to which interference is allowed. It is simply a short term for ready application; and all who use it familiarly are supposed to know what it means. M. de Laveleye's object is, perhaps, better served by ignoring the range of interference, which even advocates of laissez faire approve, and, by taking the word in its literal and unrestricted sense, reducing the theory, which it represents, to an utter absurdity, by interpreting it as synonymous with Anarchy. Could not the same method be applied to any term which is used to shortly designate some particular school of thought? Would it, for instance, be fair or honest to attempt to render a man ridiculous who called himself an Utilitarian, by representing that he disapproved of art, literature, and all the refining influences of life because they could not be rendered useful in the popular sense of the term? Would it not be better for such a critic to study Bentham, Austin, and Mill, and, first, understand that the word utility, from which the larger term is derived, was intended to comprehend every quality which was calculated to contribute to the happiness of mankind, present or remote? Yet, this is a parallel case to that of M. de Laveleye, and many others, who are simply bent upon upholding their own theories before the general or magazine-reading public. The truth is, as the Earl of Pembroke says, in his article on "Liberty and Socialism," to which I have before referred:—"There is hardly one, of what are commonly called political principles, that will not lead to ruin and absurdity, if carried to its logical end, and which must not, therefore, be met at some [426] point, and limited by its opposite." To leave society alone; that is to say, for the legislature to do nothing, would simply mean anarchy. What we have to determine is whether state functions have a limit, and, if so, where that limit should be placed. All men agree that the state must do something to preserve order and thus secure progress. The point, as yet unsettled, is—Where should its interference stop? Mill said: "When those, who have been called the laissez faire school, have attempted any definite limitation of the province of government, they have usually restricted it to the protection of person and property against fraud."1 Even this limitation would be far from leading to the brutal state of things, predicted by M. de Laveleye; but, as a fact, there is no stereotyped limit recognised among advocates of laissez faire. They differ, considerably, as to where that limit should be; and all they do agree upon is that there should be a limit.

As Mill says:2 "Whatever theory we adopt respecting the foundation of the social union; and under whatever political institutions we live, there is a circle around every individual human being, which no government, be it that of one, of a few, or of the many, ought to be permitted to overstep. There is a part of the life of every person who has come to years of discretion, within which the individuality of that person ought to reign uncontrolled, either by any other individual, or by the public collectively. That there is, or ought to be, some space in human existence, thus entrenched around and held sacred from authoritative intrusion, no one, who professes the smallest regard to human freedom or dignity, will call in question: The point to be determined is, where the limit should be placed; how large a province of human life this reserved territory should include."

The recognition of a limit of some kind is, too, just now, rendered more than ever essential, since every movement, in [427] the political world of the present day, points to a complete disregard for its existence, and threatens to invade the most inner circle of our individual and private activities. The whole tendency in modern politics in Great Britain, as also in many of her colonies, where responsible government exists, is to use the state as a means of interfering with the most personal of our civil liberties, as also of intruding upon the regulation and management of our private and legally acquired property, and, in some cases even conniving at its partial confiscation. The effect of such a policy, if persistently pursued, must inevitably prove disastrous to the progress of any community in which it is thus attempted. Capital, which really constitutes the "tools of commerce," is timid to a degree, and will invariably be found removing itself from such a community to others in which its security is regarded in a more sacred light. The withdrawal of capital, no matter how unpopularly that commodity may be viewed by those who do not possess it, is a calamity which no country and no government can regard with indifference. If capital can be properly regarded as I have ventured to suggest, viz., as constituting "the tools of commerce," then its partial removal from a community represents the deprivation of a corresponding proportion of the tools by which the labour of that community is enabled to find occupation. In the present age of the division of labour, the cultivation of the soil represents a very small proportion of the work which society requires to be carried on. Land itself cannot certainly be removed, but the capital by means of which those who cultivate it are supported during production can be too easily diverted to a freer political atmosphere. And as to other industries in which machinery, fuel, plant, buildings, raw material, means of locomotion and other primary necessities of production are requisite—all of which come under the much condemned category of "capital," interference by the state in the shape of "regulation" will [428] very soon prevent those who own it from continuing to employ it in any particular community in which, as a result of such interference its "return" is rendered less abundant than elsewhere. Upon the presence of capital in a community really depends the progress of that community. Hence, as M. Léon Say, the eminent French economist and statesman, has said, "If governments are allowed to over-leap the bounds of their normal functions, the first principles of civilisation will be in danger."3 But any such abuse of functions has another undesirable result—it weakens the organism of government itself, and renders it less competent to fulfil such of its activities as are really legitimate. "Political theorisers and statesmen, who, from an ignorance of the true limits to the practical powers of a government, extend its action beyond its proper province, not only waste its resources in vain efforts, but withdraw its effective powers from the subjects to which they are properly applicable, and thus diminish its activity in its own field."4 It was said by a prominent English politician at the centenary of the publication of "The Wealth of Nations," that "there never was an age or a country in which the tendency to undue extension of the functions of government required so much to be enforced upon the minds and hearts of the people."

It has been shown by Sir George Cornewall Lewis that in the earliest governments which have existed, everything was organised upon the principle of individual action,* and the indispensibility, to human progress, of the free play of individual effort, has been testified to by the very highest authorities in philosophy and practical politics. Mill, himself, who took anything but a closely restricted view of state functions, nevertheless recognised, very vividly, the necessity for offering the greatest possible encouragement to [429] individual effort. "There never was," he says, "more necessity for surrounding individual independence of thought, speech, and conduct, with the most powerful defences, in order to maintain that originality of mind and individuality of character, which are the only source of any real progress, and of most of the qualities which make the human race much superior to any herd of animals."5 "There is," says Mr. Bright, "a danger of people coming to the idea that they can pull or drive the government along; that a government can do anything that is wanted—that, in fact, it is only necessary to pass an act of parliament, to make any one well off. There is no more serious mistake than that.... I recommend the influencing of the opinions, and the actions of private persons, rather than dwelling upon the idea that everything can be done by an act of parliament."6 Even Professor Sidgwick, who displays little sympathy with the advocates of laissez faire, is bound to admit that "no adequate substitute has, as yet, been found, by any socialistic reformer," for the motive of self-interest.7

The truth is, the struggle for existence, considered sociologically, is, as Mr Spencer has, in various parts of his writings shown, on the whole a health-giving process. It contributes, in the long run, to the well-being of society, even though in the struggle many unfortunate individuals are forced under. They are, what Mr. Goschen once called the "breakages" of society; and individual effort, in the exercise of its humanitarian impulses, can well be left to lend a helping hand to those less fortunate ones, without adopting a means of amelioration, which at best will prove abortive, and which will, in all probability, stop the struggle altogether, by stamping out or suppressing the motive to enterprise, for which, as yet, no substitute has been found.


Endless thinkers have sounded the note of freedom, as the very starting-point of all our boasted progress. "The true end of man," says Humboldt, "or that which is prescribed by the eternal and immutable dictates of reason, and not suggested by vague and transient desires, is the highest and most harmonious development of his powers, to a complete and consistent whole. Freedom," he adds, "is the grand and indispensable condition, which the possibility of such a development presupposes,"8 and it is, therefore, the one principle, above all others, to preserve which the legislature should constantly aim. "The end of law," says Locke, "is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom; and that freedom consists," according to the same writer, in the "liberty to dispose and order, freely, as he (every man) lists, his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property, within the allowance of those laws, under which he is; and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own."9 The "special function of government," then, is "to see that the liberty of each man to pursue the objects of his desires, is unrestricted, save by the like liberty of all." On the other hand, "to diminish this liberty, by means of taxes or civil restraints, more than is absolutely needful for performing such function, is," according to Mr. Spencer, "wrong, because adverse to the function itself."10 By means of this fuller freedom, the freest play will be given to the motive of self-interest, which, say what we will, and view it how we may, is the primary and fundamental force from which all human activity, all human progress, and all human aspirations are derived. Few men of reading and reflection now recognise any distinction between what have been termed the egoistic and the altruistic impulses of human nature, when those impulses are traced to their source. Even the suckling of a child has [431] been claimed, by one of our nineteenth century philosophers, to spring from a motive, primarily egoistic. Be that as it may, it is not difficult to see that human actions of every kind, even the (apparently) most unselfish, are traceable ultimately to the motive of self-interest. That, in truth, is the taproot of all human activity and advancement; nor should the reflection, as to its source, tend, in any way, to lower its value or importance, in our estimation. There is a higher, and a lower selfishness; the difference being that, in the former, the results are beneficial to those around us, though prompted by a selfish motive; while in the latter, though in the same way producing pleasure for self, the results involve injury to others. The effect of the former on society is good, while that of the latter is injurious. But the effect of the impulse has no connection with the source from which it springs. "For all the desires and aspirations of self (as the Duke of Argyle has said) are not selfish. The interests of self, justly appreciated, and rightly understood, may be, nay, indeed, must be the interests also of other men—of Society—of Country—of the Church—and of the World."11 If, then, self-interest—for which it is admitted no substitute has, as yet, been found—is at the very root of human progress, and liberty is so indispensable to the successful exercise of that motive, then the security of that liberty (limited, of course, by a regard for others) not only becomes the first duty of the state; but the state neglects its duty so soon as it acts in such a way as to check that motive, except it be for the purpose of securing an equal freedom to all. No man of really sound mind has ever advocated absolute unchecked freedom; for it would mean absolute anarchy. Anarchy and freedom cannot be co-existent. As Locke says: "Where there is no law, there is no freedom; for who could be free, when every other man's humour might domineer over him."12 And Blackstone says, in much the same strain: "No man, [432] that considers a moment, would wish to retain the absolute and uncontrolled power of doing whatever he pleases; for, as every other man would also have the same power, there would be no security to individuals in any of the enjoyments of life."13 It has been well said by one of the leading economists that "let alone should be the rule in politics, and interference the exception;" and the same idea is expressed in the contention of an equally high authority, that government should secure to its citizens the "maximum of liberty" and should indulge in the "minimum of interference." In all cases the burden of proof, that interference is necessary, should be thrown upon those who are urging it. "Even in those portions of conduct which doaffect the interests of others, the onus of making out a case," says Mill, "always lies on the defenders of legal prohibitions."14

There is no greater source of error, in the criticism of legislative proposals, than that of limiting one's investigations to the more immediate results of a measure. It frequently happens that a legislative proposal is unanimously approved, on the ground that it will benefit some, without immediately, injuring the rest of society; but, quite as often as not, such a measure, if sufficiently investigated, in its ultimate results, will be found to lead to a loss of character to those benefited—a demoralisation, in fact, of the spirit of self-help and independence, which, in the one case (non-interference) would have been exercised; in the other (interference) will be discouraged and weakened in its vigour. The average politician, and certainly a large proportion of the public themselves, give no heed to such considerations. Such people "never look beyond proximate causes and immediate effects;...they, habitually, regard each phenomenon as involving but one antecedent, and one consequent. They [433]do not bear in mind that each phenomenon is a link in an infinite series."15

There is now a tolerably clear proposition before us. Admitting that liberty is essential to the well-being of society, upon which there is probably no difference of opinion, the question is—Whether any limit should be placed to the interference by the state with that liberty, and, if so, what that limit should be.

The modern tendency to disregard all such limits, and, even, to act as if there could be no possibility of any being required, has at last led to a reaction. There is fast springing up in Great Britain, a party of politicians deeply imbued with the belief that individual freedom will require to be more carefully guarded than it has been during the last quarter of a century. Such persons are beginning to adopt a new party-title—that of "Individualists," in order to distinguish themselves from the followers of the more popular Socialistic school. As Radicalism becomes more and more Socialistic in its tendencies, there will, naturally, be a disposition on the part of the more moderate Radicals to seek refuge among the Liberal party; and the more moderate Liberals, as also the Conservatives, many of whom are now favourable to the true principles of Liberalism, will be drawn into membership with the Individualist party, in their desire to recognise some sort of limit to democratic interference with individual freedom, with private enterprise, and with the rights of property. The principles which I have classed under the title of "True Liberalism" are almost identical with those which an advocate of laissez faire (according to the proper meaning of the term) would approve. The only difference, of any consequence, among the advocates of that principle is as to where that limit should be placed, beyond which state interference should not go. Socialism is, in effect, a struggling for equal or, at [434] least, approximately equal wealth and social conditions. It is none the less so because of the impossibility of attaining to the extreme point desired, viz., absolute equality. That that attainment is impossible has been admitted by Mr. Chamberlain himself, but he nevertheless advocates, as I have shown in my opening chapter, the attempt at an approximation. The fundamental distinction which appears to be unobserved by the advocates of Socialistic legislation is that which exists between equal wealth or social conditions on the one hand, and equal opportunities on the other. No one now-a-days would seriously contend that one citizen should possess better opportunities than another. It is admitted, on all hands, that all should be equal in that respect, that is to say, that every citizen should be free to attempt anything which his fellow-citizens are allowed to do. But Socialists claim that every citizen should have or possess anything which his fellow-citizens possess. There is a great difference between giving a man the liberty to do anything, and supplying him with the means with which to do it. This distinction has been clearly stated by Hobbes in his own quaint way. He says, in the chapter of his "Leviathan," entitled "The Liberty of Subjects:" "When the impediment of motion is in the constitution of the thing itself, we use not to say, it wants the liberty, but the power to move, as when a stone lieth still, or a man is fastened to his bed by sickness." True Liberalism would give to every man the liberty to do anything which his fellow-citizens are allowed to do; but Socialism is not content with liberty only: it wants the state to confer the power also, that is to say the means. If a man is incapable now-a-days of living as he would wish, it is not by reason of the existence of any aristocratic privileges. There is now no law of any kind, which restricts the liberty of the poor man, without also equally affecting the rich. There is, now, no legislative or enforcible social restriction which will dictate to the poorest citizen [435] the quality of clothes he may wear, the amount of wages he may receive, the number and nature of the courses of which his meals may be constituted, the distances he may travel for work, or the nature of the arrangements for combination which he may enter into with his fellow-workmen. He may wear apparel as elaborate and as gaudy as that of Oliver Goldsmith in his most prosperous moments—if he possess it; he is at liberty to receive wages as large as the income of a Vanderbilt—if only he can earn them; he can live in true epicurean style—if only he be possessed of the viands; and he can, by combination with his fellow-workmen, lift his wages to unprecedented levels—if only the laws of supply and demand will admit of it. The state, far from interfering with him in the enjoyment of these liberties, has secured that enjoyment to him—provided he obtain for himself, and that lawfully, the material which is essential to such enjoyment. But while the state thus secures him that liberty of enjoyment of his own possessions, it stops short, or should stop short at that stage at which he asks for the material itself. This is where Individualism and Socialism diverge; and it requires, I think, only a moment's reflection to see which is the only possible policy of the two. Socialism practically says, "We have the liberty to dress and eat as we like, to be educated and to lift our wages as high as economic laws will allow—but we want you to supply us with the clothes, the food, the education, and the work itself even, out of that apparently inexhaustible fund known as the general revenue."

I have said there is now no law restricting the poor and not the rich. That is so; but the converse is not the case. The incoming tide of Socialism has already begun to affect the propertied classes on behalf of the masses; to restrict the use of their private property, as well as to tax them on behalf of the less successful. It may be contended that wealth is an obstacle "of human origin," within the [436] meaning of the definition laid down by Mr. Broadhurst. Now, in the first place, the possession of wealth by one man is not an obstacle to another, and really does not prevent anybody else from reaching the same goal, provided that the latter possesses the necessary qualifications for so doing. The possession of wealth by one citizen really removes him from the struggle for existence, and so lessens the competition which that struggle involves. In that respect the working classes are really benefited. But the possession of wealth by one citizen means, also, the enlisting, as it were, of a further stock of tools for the employment of labour, and a further competition among capitalists in the demand for labour. In this way again the labouring classes are benefited. The possession of wealth by one citizen certainly enables him to avoid some of the pains and inconveniences of the struggle for existence, which his poorer fellow-citizens have to encounter and bear; but the greater enjoyment by the one, does not, in any way, curtail the liberties of the other. All, then, that a citizen can ask for from the state, is that he may have secured to him as free a course as others have had in the struggle for existence.

After devoting an unusual amount of attention to the study of this and kindred subjects, I have come to the conclusion that the cardinal error lying at the very foundation of all the existing discontent with past and present social arrangements is the wide-spread belief that to be (what is popularly termed) "well-off" is really man's normal condition; and that to be compelled to work, to be poor, and lacking many of the comforts enjoyed by those who have been more fortunate in the struggle for existence, is his abnormal condition.

The truth is that the primitively normal condition of man, even in a sparcely populated country, is one of a precarious and hand-to-mouth character; that by the knowledge and utilisation of that fundamental economic principle known as the "division of labour," and by the accumulation of property[437] thus rendered possible, many of the dangers—such as famine and disease—to which man, in a primitive condition, is subjected, are averted; but that, nevertheless, it is equally necessary for man to labour, by hand and by head, in order that he may live. This, then, is the normal condition of man, even after the "division of labour" has secured us so many advantages. But it must be remembered also that the struggle for existence is more and more intensified with the increase of population, and the consequent lessening of the area of the earth's surface which each citizen may enjoy. That nearly forty millions of human beings should be able to exist, from year to year, within so small an area as that of Great Britain, is overwhelming evidence of the immense advantages which the division of labour, throughout the world, has secured to society. One can easily imagine what the normal condition would be, under such circumstances, if that principle were not observed, and if every one of that forty millions sought to supply themselves with all the necessaries of life. When that picture has been fully realised, it will become an easy matter to see that the condition of the most discontented even, among the poor of Great Britain, is immeasurably superior to that which would result from a return to a primitive method of living, such as I shall show is invariably resorted to in all would-be-ideal communities. The normalcondition of man then, especially in closely populated countries, is necessarily one of struggle and dependence; and by the non-adoption of the principle of the "division of labour" it would obviously be much worse. Now it so happens that in order that this beneficial principle of the division of labour may be fully utilised, society, in its myriad ramifications, has developed a large and necessarily intelligent class of men, called in general terms, "middle-men." The members of this class, whose ranks any citizen is at liberty to join—if he possess the ability to succeed—are enabled, by dint of superior capacity, to acquire possession [438] of a surplus—over and above their daily wants—of what is commonly called "wealth." They immediately turn that to account, by using it as a means of further production, in which the further employment of labour is involved. Their wealth, or, in other words, their savings, thus converted into property of some kind conducive to production, multiply, and those of the class, who are successful in their enterprises, become possessed of a more than equal share of the world's accumulations. They are then called "capitalists." The cardinal error, of which I have spoken, consists in the poorer classes erroneously assuming that the condition of the capitalist is the normal one, and that they themselves, in being compelled to work on from day to day in order to live, are being deprived of some benefits to which they have a sort of right. In fact, the demands which are frequently made by Socialists, for a better condition of things, are almost invariably made upon the ground of their being the "rights of labour." There is a vague sort of belief among them that it is in some way possible, through the medium of parliament, to level up, as it were, and thus bring about a more satisfactory average condition of society. The schemes, by which this ideal state of things is hoped to be realised, are as various as they are numerous. All attempts at realisation have, so far, failed, as I shall show in the following chapter. The truth is that the social condition of the more fortunate class alluded to—and which social condition is, unfortunately, made the standard to which Socialists demand to be lifted—is an abnormal one. As a class they are an indispensable accompaniment of the division of labour; for, in order to obtain an abundant and economical production of the numerous necessaries of life, capital itself, in many forms, is indispensable.

The different forms of property which come under the term, must be owned and maintained by somebody—otherwise [439] that abundant and economical production could not be carried on. Without capital, the advantages of the division of labour could not in fact be reaped. The class known as "capitalists" is what may be termed a naturally selected one, and it is open to all comers. As a class they cannot be done without; and if the rewards, which their administrative ability now secures to them, were to be appropriated by the state, the incentive being gone, that ability would very soon cease to display itself, and society would lose the benefits of any such accumulations being worked by the most competent hands. Their social condition is certainly far above the normal level, and it is impossible for all to enjoy similar advantages. It is, moreover, the class among which all healthily constituted people are endeavouring to enrol themselves—not excepting even Socialists.

It is sometimes contended that the possession of wealth by one man is an "obstacle" to the progress of another towards some legitimate goal; and it may possibly be contended that it is an obstacle of "human origin" within the meaning of Mr. Broadhurst's definition of Liberalism. But I deny that it is an obstacle. The possession of wealth by one man really cannot prevent a second from pursuing his own course. It certainly may give the possessor a better chance than his neighbour, who has none; but cannot really interfere with the neighbour's liberty. All that a citizen can therefore ask for, from the state, is that he may have as free a course as others, to pursue his own chosen walk in life. If, however, one man is allowed to call in a majority of his neighbours (which he practically does, by utilising a mojority in parliament,) to help him to take, from another neighbour, part even of what that neighbour has legally accumulated, the latter will very soon cease to accumulate; and, inasmuch as accumulation necessitates the exercise of mind and body, which none of us really like apart from what it leads to, men would, if such a course were systematically and persistently [440] pursued, very soon cease to exert themselves beyond what was absolutely essential for their own immediate wants. By continuing the process, society would, undoubtedly, very soon find itself in a condition of primitive life. As Mr. Henry George has said, "Socialism,.... society cannot attempt. We have passed out of the socialism of the tribal state, and cannot re-enter it again, except by a retrogression that would involve anarchy, and perhaps barbarism."

Socialism practically aims at the approximate equalisation of the conditions of living among citizens.The Radicalism of the present day does the same, and it is admitted to be synonymous with Socialism.16The Radical party acknowledges no limit to state functions. Its advocates boast, in fact, that the "death knell" of laissez faire "has been sounded."17 Liberalism can, therefore, have nothing in common with either Radical or Socialist doctrines. The struggle is between "Individualism" and "Socialism." Lord Hartington speaks true Individualism, and also true Liberalism, when he says: "What all Liberals, most strongly, most ardently desire, is that as large an amount of personal freedom and liberty as is possible should be secured for every individual, and for every class in the country."18

Let us enquire now, how the true limit, beyond which the state should not go, is to be found. Is it capable of being found at all? Some writers say not—that no definite rule can be laid down, but that each case must depend on circumstances. The best way to settle the question, I venture to think, is to find out, first of all, what any such principles, if found, or attempted to be found, must depend upon. If the state is not to interfere beyond a certain point, why is it so? Is it a matter of right? That, in itself, is an important question, and one which has led to a large amount of controversy. If individual citizens possess [441] rights against the rest of the community, it should be easy to ascertain what they are. When that is done, the limit of the rights of the state in the contrary direction—that is, against the citizen—will have been determined. There are two theories concerning the position of the citizen towards his fellow-citizens. One theory is that every man has what are termed "natural rights"—rights irrespective of society, such as his earliest ancestors may be assumed to have enjoyed in their natural state. By a philosophic fiction, men are supposed to have agreed to live in communities, and, in pursuance of that agreement, to have given up a portion of their "natural liberty," in order to enable the community to be carried on harmoniously—the immediate objects of such a compact being the protection of the person, and the protection of private property. The other theory is that, inasmuch as man, in a state of nature, has no rights, except such as he is strong enough to enforce; by the formation of what is termed society, a new order of things is established; then each and every constituent member of that society is called upon to give obedience to the governing power, whatever form it may take, and henceforth possesses no rights, except such as are conferred upon him, and thereby undertaken to be guarded by that governing power.

The first of these views is founded upon the theory of an implied "social contract," and is adopted by many influential writers. Blackstone, for instance, whilst repudiating, as "too wild," the notion of men having actually met together, and entered into such a social contract, nevertheless contends that such a contract, "though perhaps, in no instance, has it ever been formally expressed at the first institution of a state," must "in nature and reason, be understood and implied in the very act of associating together." In his chapter on "Royal prerogative," he speaks thus unmistakably on the point: "Man possesses a right, which may be [442] denominated his natural liberty. But of this, every man gives up a part, in consideration of the advantages he gains, by becoming a member of society."19 And, again, he says: "Political or civil liberty is no other than natural liberty, so far restrained by human laws (and no further), as is necessary and expedient for the general advantage of the public."20 Mr. Herbert Spencer takes the same view—that is, as to rights existing irrespective of law; and he contends vigorously for its recognition, in his comparatively late, and most instructive work, "The Man versus The State." In his "Social Statics," first published when his name was little known, and which he has since declined to re-publish on account of its admitted crudeness in some details, he uses the term "right" with unbounded freedom. He goes so far even as to speak of the right of an individual "to ignore the state," by "relinquishing its protection, and refusing to pay towards its support." The most summary way perhaps by which such a right could be tested would be by trying it, that is to say, by refusing to pay taxes, on the ground of not desiring the protection which it was required to maintain. It is probable, I venture to think, that the supposed right would be found to be a wrong. It was thought by some disciples of Mr. Spencer that this was probably one of the subjects upon which he had modified his views since the early publication referred to; but by his later work, which I have mentioned, he appears to still hold the theory unassailable.

The second view also has influential advocates. Professor Stanley Jevons, for instance, says: "In practical legislation the first step is to throw aside all supposed absolute rights."21 If there are any natural rights, one would think that of property, rightfully acquired, one of the surest; yet Bentham says: "We shall see that there is no such thing as natural [443] property, and that it is entirely the work of law.... Property and law are born together, and die together. Before laws were made, there was no property; take away laws and property ceases."22 Again, he says: "The principal function of government is to guard against pains. It fulfils this object, by creating rights, which it confers upon individuals: rights of personal security; rights of protection for honour; rights of property; rights of receiving aid in case of need.... The law cannot create these rights, except by creating corresponding obligations...without creating offences."23

Austin—no mean authority on such a subject—very summarily disposes of the question. "Strictly speaking," he says, "there are no rights, but those which are the creatures of law."24 Burke says: "Men cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. That he may obtain justice, he gives up his right of determining what it is, in points, the most essential to him. That he may secure some liberty, he makes a surrender in trust of the whole of it."25 "Where there is no law, there is no freedom;for liberty is to be free from restraint, and violence from others, which cannot be where there is no law."26

Without presuming to rigorously criticise these various and conflicting views, I content myself with the adoption of the latter. There can be no right (I venture to think) which is not backed up, as it were, with some authority—some power of enforcing it. Austin says, of "natural and moral rights," that they are imperfect, because they are "not armed with the legal sanction, or cannot be enforced judicially."

I have mentioned these two theories of rights, not because the discussion or the distinction seems to me to be of any great importance in itself, but because the adoption of the latter view cleared away for me, and I think might clear [444] away for others, many of the most troublesome doubts regarding state functions.

If a man has rights against the state, irrespective of law, the rule which determines where the state should, and where it should not interfere with individual liberty, would, of necessity, be definite, and, once for all, ascertainable. The adoption of any such rule, if carried out in the strict letter, would lead to great practical inconvenience in many matters of every-day life. For instance, if every individual had, as Mr. Herbert Spencer claims the right "to ignore the state" and repudiate his share of taxation, on the ground of his not desiring protection from the army, the navy, or the law, there would quickly grow up, in such a community, numerous sections of persons, each demanding differential treatment in matters of government, on the ground of their possession of such "natural rights." The latter method of viewing man's position, which I have myself preferred, besides appearing sound, gets rid of all such difficulties. By its adoption, man is taken to have given up his natural liberty by becoming a citizen of any state. Henceforth he has no rights, except such as the state affords him, in common with all his fellow-citizens. Those rights are conferred, or, as Bentham says, created, by imposing restrictions on his fellows, who would be apt, otherwise, to interfere with him. Every right thus involves a restrictive law, and what is not so restricted is taken to be allowed, as far as the state is concerned. Here, now, is the important point to be determined, and one which clears away a host of difficulties which are involved in the adoption of Mr. Spencer's theory. The state can do anything, that is to say, can make any law, unrestricted by "natural rights," "natural liberties," or anything of the kind. The test of all legislation, instead of being a matter of right, regarding which no two people are agreed, becomes one of simple expediency. Legislation is, by this theory, at once elevated into an art, founded upon the science of man [445] and the science of society. It then becomes the duty of the legislator to consider the welfare of the whole community, and not merely those who now form it, but, also, those who are to come—that is to say, posterity. A community is continuous, and should be so viewed by legislators.

The test of legislation is not what the present generation would like, or even what might be beneficial to it alone; for we might all add indefinitely to our national debt, and, meanwhile, enjoy ourselves on the proceeds, throwing the burden on to those who come after us.

We must, therefore, view society very broadly; we must regard, with the greatest care and attention, the remote, the ulterior effects likely to arise from present action. We must, as Bastiat puts it, take into account "what is not seen, as well as what is seen." It is, for instance, ridiculously short-sighted for legislators of this generation to offer assistance to, or encourage idleness and indifference in a large section of the living generation (however much they may like it and praise them for it) if the probable, or even the possible effect will be to diminish the incentive to self-help and independence of spirit in the generations which are to succeed it. We must look carefully to the national character; to see that in nothing we do, is there any danger of removing the motives and inducements to thrift and providence among citizens. Mr. Stanley Jevons has well said: "I conceive that the state is justified in passing any law, or even in doing any single act which, without ulterior consequences, adds to the sum total of happiness. Good done is sufficient justification of any act, in the absence of evidence that equal or greater evil will subsequently follow." Even upon this basis of expediency, as the standard of legislation, it becomes essential, always, to consider what measures, or what abstention from measures is essential to the progress and development—the improvement and elevation of the people. Individual action, and individual liberty, upon which it depends, we have seen [446] to be indispensable to human progress and improvement. The question to be considered is how far should that liberty be restrained? The natural tendencies of man to demoralisation are so numerous, that the study of him alone, as an individual, quite apart from the study of society as an organism, is complex almost beyond conception. The dangers which have to be guarded against are almost incalculable. When we consider how prone man is to idleness if not spurred on by constant necessity; how easily and quickly he inclines to disregard the rights of others, if not constantly and sometimes forcibly reminded; how widespread is the belief that the state is a huge organisation from which benefits can be drawn ad infinitum, and without the necessity for being replenished; the extreme jealousy of many men at seeing others better off than themselves, and the consequent readiness to approve any scheme which promises to immediately lessen or remove the disparity; the liability of most men to believe, with the smallest amount of persuasion, that they are suffering some disadvantage or injury at the hands of their more fortunate fellow-citizens;27 the temptation of men of quick aptitudes and low morals to trade on this tendency; the proneness to laxity in enterprise, if not accompanied with a spur to action, such as the necessity for dividends, which serve as a mirror to the economical working of the organism; the tendency to criticise all things hastily, to consider immediate results only, and neglect those which are more remote; the temptation to hastily utilise state help, without considering, sufficiently, the effect upon national character in the future. These and numerous other considerations are completely overlooked or cunningly utilised, as the case may be, by the average legislator, whose [447] chief aim is served if he has pleased those who elected him to his position. The question, now, is whether, admitting expediency to be the test of legislation, it is possible to lay down any broad general principles which may serve as guides in its enactment. Some writers say that no definite lines can be laid down; but almost all, of any authority, admit that there is some limit. Almost all differ as to where that limit should be placed. I venture the opinion that the unsettled condition of this question, and the consequent non-existence of any universally recognised principle as to that limit, is mainly attributable to the want of unanimity regarding the more primary question concerning the existence of what are termed "natural rights." It seems inevitable that so long as one school of political thought continues to recognise a domain of "natural rights," the hard and fast boundaries of which the state has no justification for entrenching upon, while another school claims that the state can do anything which contributes to the general good, the subordinate question of a definite limit to state functions should remain a sort of undefined territory. But I accept the opinion, which has been expressed by Sir George Cornewall Lewis, that "if political science be properly understood—if it be confined within the limits of its legitimate province, and if its vocabulary be well fixed by sound definitions and a consistent usage, there is no reason why it should not possess the same degree of certainty which belongs to other sciences founded on observation."

Among those authorities who consider it impracticable to lay down any definite rules, as guides to legislators, are Professor Sidgwick, Professor Stanley Jevons, and the Earl of Pembroke (address on "Liberty and Socialism"). M. Léon Say, too, confesses that "the proper limit of state action cannot be laid down in the same way as a boundary line on a map," because "it is a boundary which alters in accordance with the times, and the political, economical, [448] and moral condition of the people." But, the same authority adds: "Though its position is subject to modifications, it is not, on that account, the less definite."28 This much can certainly be admitted; that, on account of the variety and complexity of human wants, it is impossible to provide any single principle, or even code of principles, which could be applied to legislative proposals, so as at once to guage their value. But it is equally clear that there aresome principles, to which men consciously or unconsciously refer, when called upon to determine whether any proposal is, or is not a legitimate and proper one to which to give legislative sanction. If this be so, it is surely possible to say what those principles are, and to lay them down, with some degree of definiteness, as a partial guide in legislative deliberations. All writers of any importance practically agree in saying that freedom should be the rule, and that interference should be the exception; that is to say, that when any one advocates a further interference by the state, he should have thrown upon him the obligation of proving the necessity for the proposed innovation.

We have seen, in a previous chapter, that the first necessity of human progress and development is freedom for the individual; that absolute freedom results in anarchy; and that, therefore, there must be a sufficient limitation to prevent that abuse. We have seen also that this result—this medium as it were, by which the benefits of liberty can be enjoyed, and the dangers of anarchy avoided—is most surely attained by affording to every citizen: (1.) Security for the person. (2.) Security for property; that is to say: (1.) Liberty to do as one chooses (consistently with other persons' liberties) with one's own person, and one's own individuality. (2.) Liberty to do as one wishes with one's own legally acquired property, subject to the same reservation.


Now, society has already framed laws, and at different periods of history elaborated them, in order to meet the fresh developments which have arisen over these identical wants; and it affords a strong confirmation of the soundness of the above conclusions, arrived at by a process of analysis, that the history of our law should show those two social wants to have been the first to be provided for. I take Blackstone as perhaps the most concise expositor of English law. In his Commentaries it will be found that Book I. is devoted to "Personal Rights," and Book II. to the "Rights of Property." Under "Personal Rights" he includes "Personal Security" and "Personal Liberty." Regarding the former he says: "The right of personal security consists in a person's legal and uninterrupted enjoyment of his life, his limbs, his body, his health and his reputation." Regarding the latter he says: "Personal liberty consists in the power of locomotion, of changing situation, or moving one's person to whatsoever place one's own inclination may direct, without imprisonment or restraint, unless by due course of law. The rights of property," he says, "consist in a man's free use, enjoyment and disposal according to the laws of the community, of all his acquisitions in the external things around him."

The fact that these two important branches of rights—those of the person and those of property—have been so carefully created and preserved in the past; that they are dealt with as the two most important of all; and that they were thus regarded, so early in the history of our race, are sufficiently strong evidence of their having been found essential to the progress of our ancestors, and of their being equally essential to our maintenance of the same standard of enterprise and excellence among men. From these rights, then; that is to say, from the most ancient laws of our nation's constitution, it seems possible to deduce, and lay down certain broad principles, which should serve as guides in future [450] legislation. I do not contend that they should be inflexible or incapable of modification; but I do claim that whoever is venturesome enough to propose any radical departure from them, or any measure which involves an inroad upon their completeness, should be forced to give very convincing evidence of the necessity for such a step. Already we hear of proposed legislation, which, if adopted, threatens to subvert one of the first principles of our constitution. If, from time immemorial almost, an Englishman has possessed the right, as Blackstone puts it, of "the free use, enjoyment, and disposal, according to the laws of his country, of all his acquisitions," it is surely a grave proposal that one class in the community (as is proposed in England) should be enabled, through the medium of the legislature, to force others of their countrymen to sell portion of their landed property for the benefit of those others, and moreover against their will. Yet, such is the Allotments scheme, now somewhat popular in Great Britain. The broad principles, then, which I should venture to lay down as guides for any one assuming the reponsible position of a legislator are three in number.

  • 1.The state should not impose taxes, or use the public revenue for any purpose other than that of securing equal freedom to all citizens.29
  • 2. The state should not interfere with the legally acquired property of any section of its citizens for any other purpose than that of securing equal freedom to all citizens; and in the event of any such justifiable interference amounting to appropriation; then, only conditional upon the lawful owner being fully compensated.
  • 3. The state should not in any way restrict the personal liberty of citizens for any other purpose than that of securing equal freedom to all citizens.


I repeat that I do not offer these as conclusive tests of the wisdom of any proposed legislation. I claim for them this use, however, that they should, in every case, be applied to any such proposal; and if, on such application, the new rights sought to be conferred, and the restrictions on liberty which they must necessarily involve, do not conflict with either of the three principles, there can be little objection to its legislative sanction. If, however, any such proposal is found to come into conflict with either of those principles; then, I contend, a great responsibility is cast upon him or them who demand the interference of the legislature; and he or they should be forced to prove, conclusively, that the necessity for the proposal is so urgent that it overrides the consideration of its transgressing one of the fundamental principles upon which our social system has been built up. He should be compelled, too, to show a strong probability that the proposed means will effect the desired end, without producing an equally or more injurious result to society, in some other direction, or at some other time. The effect of the regular application of these principles to proposed measures would be, in the first place, to determine on which side the burden of proof lay; and then it would rest with those who have cast upon them the responsibility of giving the legislative sanction, to determine (1) whether the necessity has been proved; (2) whether, under all the circumstances of the case, that necessity is sufficiently urgentto justify the subversion of a principle which is immemorial, and which has for centuries served as one of the pillars of our social fabric; (3) whether it has been shown that the proposed measure will effect the purpose aimed at, without, at the same time, producing injurious results to society in some other,perhaps unsuspected, direction, or at some other time.30


I propose now, having arrived at this stage of my argument, and having placed myself in possession of a basis upon which to work, to apply these principles to certain of the more important practical questions—subjects of discussion in the present day. I do this, not so much with a view to determining the merits of those particular proposals, as for the purpose of fully explaining and illustrating the process by which, I submit, all practical legislation should be tested. I shall first ask, regarding each of them, whether it conflicts with either of the principles laid down; and, in the event of its so doing, I shall proceed to carefully examine its merits and alleged necessities, in strict accordance with the method which I have explained.

As the various subjects with which it is my purpose to deal are capable of classification under three heads, according to the respective principles to which I conceive them to apply, I have chosen to deal with them in that order. I shall, in the first place, take those which come under the first of the three principles, viz.,

The state should not impose taxes, or use the public revenue for any purpose, other than that of securing equal freedom to all citizens.

Poor Laws.—In order to carry out the process of criticism which I have already explained, it is, in the first place, necessary to consider whether the system known as the Poor laws transgresses the above principle. There can be little doubt that it does, for it involves the imposition of taxes; and the purpose is clearly not that of securing "equal freedom" for all citizens. Every citizen has now secured to him the liberty to live as he chooses, but there is no such obligation on the state to supply the means by which that living can be enjoyed. The effect of the poor laws is to approximate, in a slight degree, to an equalisation of the conditions of life, by taking from one citizen to give to another. This is a process which, if carried to an extreme, would produce [453] community of possessions, that is Communism; and although the approximation which it involves is small, in fact almost infinitesimal in degree, it is the "thin end of the wedge," and, in time, would be regarded by some as a precedent to justify a still further approximation.31

The system, then, which is known by the name of the Poor Laws is clearly a transgression of this fundamental principle, and, in accordance with the method of criticism which I have advocated, it is now necessary to consider whether there is sufficient ground, in its surrounding circumstances, to justify so serious a departure from the broad principle which it so transgresses. In such an investigation, it is, above all things, necessary to remember that the burden of proof lies wholly upon the advocates of the system—that is to say, of Poor laws generally; and the amount of evidence in its favour should preponderate greatly, and its nature be unmistakable and unimpeachable, before the departure should be entertained. It is equally necessary to demand from its advocates satisfactory proof of the probable efficacy of such legislation, as also that the removal of the evils aimed at—poverty and distress—will not be followed by the creation of other evils in some different direction, (not perhaps dreamed of,) or at some different time. "The object of a poor law (says Sir G. Cornewall Lewis) is to relieve the various forms of destitution and want, out of a fund created by compulsory taxation. Its principle is to take the property of the wealthier classes, and to divide it among the poorer, upon the petition of the latter, and without obtaining from them and equivalent."32 [454] The same writer subsequently admits that "severe distress is a legitimate object of public policy, up to a certain limit,but requires counteracting forces to deter applicants." Otherwise, he thinks, it would "become a system of legal spoliation, which would impoverish one part of the community, in order to corrupt the remainder." No principle is here mentioned, by which the deduction as to the legitimacy of the object is arrived at. Mr. Herbert Spencer objects to poor laws, because "in demanding from a citizen contributions for the mitigation of distress—contributions not needed for the due administration of men's rights—the state is reversing its function, and diminishing that liberty to exercise the faculties which it was instituted to maintain."33 The same writer says: "Those who made, and modified, and administered the old Poor Law, were responsible for producing an appalling amount of demoralisation, which it will take more than one generation to remove." He speaks, too, of the responsibility of "recent and present law-makers, for regulations which have brought into being a permanent body of tramps who ramble from union to union."34 Mill, too, sees many objections to the system. "In all cases of helping (he says) there are two sets of consequences to be considered: the consequences of the assistance itself, and the consequences of relying on the assistance. The former are generally beneficial, but the latter, for the most part, injurious; so much so, in many cases, as greatly to outweigh the value of the benefit.... There are few things, for which it is more mischievous that people should rely on the habitual aid of others, than for the means of subsistence, and, unhappily, there is no lesson which they more easily learn. The problem to be solved is, therefore, one of peculiar nicety, as well as importance; how to give the greatest amount of needful help, with the smallest encouragement to undue [455]reliance on it." The same writer has, however, something to say in its favour, but ultimately lays down the following test: "If assistance is given in such a manner that the condition of the person helped is as desirable as that of the person who succeeds in doing the same thing without help, the assistance, if capable of being previously calculated upon, is mischievous; but if, while available to everybody, it leaves to every one a strong motive to do without it, if he can, it is then, for the most part, beneficial."35The effect on motive has been dealt with, at some length, by Sir Henry Maine, in his able work on "Popular Government." "You have," he says, "only to tempt a portion of the population into temporary idleness, by promising them a share in a fictitious hoard, lying in an imaginary strong box which is supposed to contain all human wealth. You have only to take the heart out of those who would willingly labour and save, by taxing them ad misericordiam for the most laudable, philanthropic purposes."36On reference to the most recent statistics I find that, in the county of Lancashire alone, the poor rate for the year 1885 amounted to £1,566,974, and that the county in that year contained 82,590 paupers. The poor rate alone for the year 1886, for the whole of Great Britain, amounted to no less than £10,247,443, or about one-seventh part of the whole public revenue. The number of paupers receiving assistance in Great Britain during the year 1885 is stated to be 1,346,394, that is to say about three per cent. of the whole population. From these figures some idea can be obtained of the gigantic proportions to which this eleemosynary system has developed. It is worthy of notice that, so far, the poor-law system has not been even attempted, upon the English lines, in any of the Australian colonies; and it is therefore not altogether labour in vain to discuss its merits and demerits as a system, and its claims, as a piece of state policy, to receive [456] legislative sanction. If such a system had been commenced in the Australian colonies, and the same proportion of pauperism existed among them as is the case in Great Britain, there would be receiving support about 120,000 persons out of an aggregate population of three millions. The cost to the tax-payers of those colonies, estimated on the basis supplied by Great Britain, would be annually about £1,000,000. As a fact, the number accommodated at various benevolent asylums and other similar institutions—which are, to a great extent, supported by voluntary subscription—is almost infinitesimal; not amounting, indeed, to half per cent. of the population, and costing the state only about one and a half per cent. of its revenue. Few persons are aware of the magnitude of the operations of the poor-law system in Great Britain. Yet, according to Mr. Goschen, who was at one time President of the Poor-Law Board, a small proportion only of the paupers so supported are from the working-classes, or indeed capable of work. "It is frequently put," he says, "as if there were so many men or women out of work, as if they were men and women who ought to be employed.... I can tell you there are workhouses in this country containing 1000 to 2000 inmates, in which there are not forty able-bodied men or women, in which there are not 100 who come from what may be called the working-classes.... I admit," he adds, "that there is business here for legislators, but there is business, too, for every citizen—for the clergyman, for the reformer, for the minister, for every man who cares for the country."37 No doubt, in all countries there are deserving poor, that is, poor who are so from neither vice nor laziness; and it is this class which one must have in mind in considering this question. There are two ways in which the subject must be viewed; first, with reference to those communities in which the system is already in operation; secondly, with [457] reference to those communities in which the system has not yet been attempted. Regarding Great Britain, the question to be determined is not whether the system should have ever been commenced, but, whether so gigantic an organisation, as it has become, should, after having been established for centuries, be swept away in the interests of a more scientific and equitable method of government. To adopt the latter course would involve the throwing of an enormous mass of absolutely helpless persons upon their own wretched resources. The occasion would be seized upon by innumerable impostors, and the system of mendicity would become intolerable. This is, of course, out of the question—the most conclusive of theories and doctrines notwithstanding. Regarding Great Britain, therefore, the broad question concerning the wisdom of the system itself is not open for consideration. But there are two subordinate questions which are, under the circumstances, almost equally important. They are: (1.) Whether those, who must now be assisted, should receive what they require from the state; that is to say, by compulsorycontribution, or should depend upon private and spontaneous benevolence to support the institutions in which they are accommodated; (2.) whether, in the event of its being considered expedient for the state to continue to enforce contributions in the shape of a poor rate, it is not desirable to hedge the system round with a set of conditions which are calculated to discourage, as much as possible, its being depended upon and resorted to by future generations.

Mill uses one apparently very strong argument in favour of the state continuing its present support of this system. "Since the state (he says) must necessarily provide subsistence for the criminal poor, while undergoing punishment, not to do the same for the poor, who have not offended, is to give a premium on crime." Charles Dickens, also, once wrote:—"We have come to this absurd, this dangerous, this [458]monstrous pass, that the dishonest felon is, in respect of cleanliness, order, diet and accommodation, better provided for and taken care of than the honest pauper." The strength of this argument, however, depends upon the adoption, as a standard of treatment, of that which is accorded to the felon in the present day. If he undergoes treatment so mild, and his condition is made so comfortable that the "honest pauper" would be satisfied with something similar; then the management of our criminal class must be of a very short-sighted character. If we hesitate about supplying every idle vagabond, who chooses to ask for them, with the necessaries of life, but recognise it as a duty of the state to clothe, feed and board one of the same class, so soon as he chooses to commit some serious offence against society, then we are indeed offering a premium on crime. It would be more consistent to render the conditions of the criminal class so objectionable and so unbearable that no "honest pauper" would consent to be included among that class, in order to obtain the necessaries of life. This argument, then, instead of telling in favour of indiscriminate charity by the state, points to the necessity for considerably increasing the severity of prison life. Let us now see what are the prospects that the poor-law system, as it at present exists, will diminish the amount of poverty among the people; for that has been the aim of most, if not all poor-law legislation. I have already quoted, from a report of the Poor-Law Commissioners, the following admission:—"We find (they say) on the one hand that there is scarcely one statute connected with the administration of public relief which has produced the effect designed by the legislature, and that the majority of them have created new evils and aggravated those which they were intended to prevent."38

Legislation, then, so far, has practically failed in the attempt to mitigate the existing condition of things. The [459] arguments, therefore, against its continuance appear to be the following:—

  • That, inasmuch as it involves the imposition of taxes for a purpose other than that of securing equal freedom for all citizens, it is subversive of one of the fundamental principles upon which our constitution and our society have been based.
  • That it has, from small beginnings, grown to enormous proportions, from which it may fairly be inferred that, under a continuance of similar administration, the tendency will be still further to increase.
  • That, from its being permanently established as a system, it is capable (to use Mill's words) of being "calculated upon," and is therefore "mischievous," by tending to discourage providence.
  • That the fact of its being maintained by compulsory contributions (in the shape of poor rates) is calculated to sap the springs of the charitable and sympathetic motives among the people, which motives play a necessary and important part in the social organism, and which, therefore, it is highly undesirable for the state, in any way, to diminish or discourage.

The arguments in favour of the continuance of the present system appear to be the following:—

  • That, as a system, it is already in existence, and that, already, upwards of 1,200,000 persons are now wholly dependent upon its continuance—that, therefore, its sudden abolition would render about three per cent. of the population of Great Britain helpless and destitute, and thus supply dangerous material for social and political agitators, whose success is inimical to the order and progress of society itself.
  • That, inasmuch as all persons convicted of crimes are, under the present system of prison discipline, supplied with the necessaries of life; to refuse the same aid to those who [460] are not so convicted would be, substantially, to offer a premium on crime.
  • That, by the maintenance of such a system, a sufficient ground is supplied for disallowing mendicity, which is inconvenient and objectionable to the giver, and demoralising to the recipient, and at the same time affords an unchecked and uncheckable encouragement to vagrants and impostors.

After carefully balancing the whole of these reasons, for and against the continuance of the system, I venture to think that the only conclusion which can be drawn from them is that those in favour of the continuance are sufficiently weighty to justify the prolonged departure from the fundamental principle which the system trangresses; but that the following safeguards should be rigidly regarded.39

  • 1. That, inasmuch as all attempts to mitigate the extent and intensity of destitution, by means of legislation, have failed, further attempts of the kind should not hastily be resorted to.
  • 2. That poor-law rates should, in all cases, be local, so as to concentrate attention to abuses in those who pay for the maintenance of the system, and are thus immediately interested in its gradual abolition.
  • 3. That poor rates should be levied separately from any other rate (police or otherwise), so that the amount of such rate may serve as a permanent guage to taxpayers in each locality, as to the diminishing or increasing proportions of the system, and thus serve as a perpetual spur to its gradual reduction and abolition.
  • 4. That all institutions, supported by poor rates, should be made, as far as possible, self-supporting, by the compulsory performance of easy but payable labour, by some at least of the inmates, according to their ascertained capabilities.
  • 5. That the assistance afforded by such institutions should consist of the bare necessaries of life, and that such supplies as afford more than a subsistence, as also what are termed luxuries, should be rigorously prohibited.
  • [461] 6. That any voluntary offers of such luxuries to inmates of such institutions, from outside sources, should be rigorously prohibited, inasmuch as the knowledge of their possibility tends to make such institutions attractive.
  • 7. That mendicity of all kinds should be disallowed.
  • 8. That immates of all such institutions, recipients of poor-law rates, should be compelled to confine themselves to the precincts of the institution.
  • 9. That every indulgence calculated to render such institutions attractive, and to cause them to be regarded as a sufficient last resource by possible inmates, should be rigorously discouraged.

Under such circumstances as these, it is more than probable that the system would be considerably reduced, without, at the same time, doing anything to shock the sense of charity and humanity which is possessed by the individual members of society. Recipients of poor law assistance should be admitted, as such, only in what Sir Geo. Cornewall Lewis calls "severe" cases of distress; and all possible "counteracting forces," as he terms them, should be employed to discourage the system. In this way, the "very smallest encouragement," as Mill puts it, would be afforded to the poor, to avail themselves of it, and the workhouse or "work'us," as it is called, would soon cease to be looked upon as a sort of haven, into which aged men and women could creep, who had, through a knowledge of its comforts, neglected the most ordinary thrift and providence in life.

It will be observed that my remarks, under this head, are written more particularly with reference to Great Britain; but they apply equally well to younger countries, except that, so far, the system has, in most, if not all the colonies, not been established. This is a weighty consideration, and that fact alone should, I think, deter statesmen from entering upon the system, without the most mature reflection. The poor laws have been described by an able writer in the Westminster Review as "a safety-valve against rebellion," and there can be no doubt that, in times of severe distress, [462] in thickly-populated communities, the capability of obtaining the bare necessaries of life is a desirable outlet for intense discontent with the existing but inevitable inequalities of society. Looked at from this point of view, such a system would, under certain circumstances, really contribute to the greater security of liberties to the whole community.

In every case, however, the system, if it is established, or, (being established) is maintained, should be administered under all the most rigid restrictions calculated to discourage citizens from relying on it, or resorting to it.

State Education.—I have no hesitation in characterising the maintenance of state education as a distinct transgression of the first principle of the three which I have deduced from an analysis of man's wants as an individual member of society, viz., that the state should not impose taxes, or use the public revenue for any other purpose than that of securing equal freedom to all citizens. It is undoubtedly true that every citizen should have the liberty to be educated if he so wish; but state education, as now established in most English-speaking communities, involves a recognition of a right to be supplied with the means by which to secure such education. No one, I think, has ever seriously disputed the proposition with which I have opened this section of the present chapter. With the exception of Mr. Herbert Spencer's treatment of the subject in his "Social Statics," I do not think any other writer has recorded his objections to the system on that ground. Mr. Herbert Spencer, indeed, has dealt at great length with this subject, and he has handled it with even more than his usual incisiveness. In the work to which I have just referred, he sets forth an imaginary conversation, which is supposed to take place between a government and a citizen of the same community. That conversation so clearly shows how such a system transgresses the fundamental rule, for a recognition of which I [463] am contending, that I shall venture to set it forth as a portion of my own argument.

  • " 'Your taxes are heavier this year than last,' complains a citizen to the government; 'how is it?'
  • " 'The sums voted for these new school-houses, and for the salaries of the masters and mistresses, have increased the draught upon our exchequer,' replies the government.
  • " 'School-houses, masters, and mistresses—what have I to do with these? You are charging me with the cost of them are you?'
  • " 'Yes.'
  • " 'Why? I never authorised you to do so.'
  • " 'True; but parliament, or in other words, the majority of the nation, has decided that the education of the young shall be entrusted to us, and has authorised us to raise such funds as may be necessary for fulfilling this trust.'
  • " 'But, suppose I wish to superintend the education of my children myself?'
  • " 'You may do as you please; but you must pay for the privilege we offer, whether you avail yourself of it or not. Even if you have no children you must still pay.'
  • " 'And what if I refuse?'....
  • " 'You must agree to our terms, and pay your share of the new tax.'
  • " 'See now, what a dilemma you place me in.... I must either give you a part of my property for nothing; or, should I make a point of having some equivalent, I must cease to do that which my natural affections prompt. Will you answer me a few questions?'
  • " 'Certainly.'
  • " 'What is it that you, as a national executive, have been appointed for? Is it not to maintain the rights of those who employ you, or in other words, to guarantee to each the fullest freedom for the exercise of his faculties, compatible with the equal freedom of all others?'
  • [464]" 'It has been so decided.'
  • " 'And it has been also decided that you are justified in diminishing this freedom, only to such an extent as may be needful for preserving the remainder, has it not?'
  • " 'That is evidently a corollary.'
  • " 'Exactly. And now let me ask what is this property, this money, of which, in the shape of taxes, you are demanding from me an additional amount? Is it not that which enables me to get food, clothing, shelter, recreation; or, to repeat the original expression, that on which I depend for the exercise of most of my faculties?'
  • " 'It is.'
  • " 'Therefore, to decrease my property is to decrease my freedom to exercise my faculties, is it not?'
  • " 'Clearly.'
  • " 'Then this new impost of yours will practically decrease my freedom to exercise my faculties?'
  • " 'Yes.'
  • " 'Well, do you not now perceive the contradiction? Instead of acting the part of a protector, you are acting the part of an aggressor. What you were appointed to guarantee me and others, you are now taking away. To see that the liberty of each man to pursue the objects of his desires is unrestricted, save by the like liberty of all, is your special function. To diminish this liberty, by means of taxes, or civil restraints, more than is absolutely needful for performing such function, is wrong, because adverse to the function itself. Now, your new impost does so diminish this liberty, more than is absolutely needful, and it is, consequently, unjustifiable.' "40

The logic of this dialogue is, I venture to think, unassailable, and it only confirms my primary contention under this head, viz., that the system of state education is, at the outset, subversive of the above principle. This conclusion [465] throws the burden of proof on those who call for the state to interfere, or to continue its interference in this matter of education. What now are the arguments which are advanced in favour of its being admitted to the category of justifiable departures from that broad principle? Those arguments must come from the advocates of the system, and they must be of a somewhat overwhelming nature to justify such a departure. I shall enumerate them.

In the first place we are asked by the author of "The Radical Programme" whether "it is not a duty which the state owes to the humblest of its subjects to guarantee their children a modicum of learning?" And with the same fearless logic, he concludes: "If it is, then it must be a moral violation of that duty to perform it in a niggardly and gruding manner, painful and intolerable to English feeling."41 This is, of course, a bold trifling with first principles; and, considering that Mr. Chamberlain has edited the volume, it is very unpardonable trifling. If the state owes the duty, let us ask who is the state? It is everybody. So that everybody owes to the children of every humble citizen a modicum of learning. But surely not to the children of humble citizens only. There is no special merit in being humble now-a-days, or even in being poor, though the Radical author would apparently so contend. People who are not "poor" or "humble" must have the same right for their children, and the proposition, made more plain, amounts to this: "Everybody owes to everybody else's children a modicum of learning." The proposition is simply puerile, and certainly unworthy the editor (Mr. Chamberlain), though, as I shall show, he has himself said much the same thing. Elsewhere the same writer says: "One of the earliest measures for the relief of the rural poor should be to secure free education for their children."42 The English of this is that those who disapprove should be made to [466] pay, and by act of parliament. Again he says: "There are signs of a growing antagonism against the system, among the poor, and compulsory education is in danger of being regarded by them as a tyranny"! This is, indeed, very fine fooling. No regard seems to be had for the tyranny of compulsory payment by those whose children are not educated in state schools. The tyranny of having to pay for an acknowledged benefit for anotherseems to me to be much more unbearable than the tyranny of having to receive that benefit. Then we are told that those who are so poor as to be unable to pay for their children's education are dissatisfied with the "stigma of pauperism" which the admission of inability involves! Surely this strong Radical plea for free schools is a much more insolent stigma of pauperism, cast, not upon individuals only, but on the whole of the working classes! These are really not arguments, and their repetition here is only intended to show the illogical nature of the Radical or Socialistic programme, as it touches this matter.

There are really two heads to this subject. (1.) Whether the state should educate at all? (2.) In the event of its doing so, who should pay for the education? I shall deal briefly with both, in the order in which they are stated.

In the first place, there is no difference of opinion as to the advantages of education, supposing it is of a proper character. The elevation of the race is a matter which the state should have a keen regard for, and there can be no two opinions that education, of the proper kind, must contribute towards that elevation. It would, of course, be out of place to teach a plough-boy, who had never touched a musical instrument, such subjects as harmony and thorough bass, or to instruct a shepherd in the science of acoustics. It would be equally contrary to the fitness of things to teach a young girl, who was going to spend her life in a cotton factory, Greek or algebra. But in all cases there must be nothing but good come out of the teaching of the rudiments— [467] that is to say, the putting in possession of the intellectual tools by which all the higher branches of mind-cultivation are reached. To reading, writing, and simple arithmetic there can be no objection—nay, there can be nothing but approval; for, inasmuch as every citizen is assumed to know the law, and ignorance of it is not regarded as an excuse for its breach, everyone needs to be capable of reading a law when it is printed. It is equally requisite that he should be able to write his name and to calculate matters of every-day occurrence. Of course higher education is beneficial if adapted to the line of life in which the learner is placed, or if it is likely to help him to get to a higher position among his fellow beings. But now, having admitted so much, I have yet to ask—should the state supply this education? Are there not a hundred things more necessary for all classes? However desirable reading, writing, and arithmetic may be, mankind succeeded without them. Is not food more important—is it not absolutely indispensable? So also clothing, shelter, warmth in winter, medicine in sickness. Is it not more important that the food we eat should be wholesome, than that our education should be good? Yet the state takes upon itself none of these wants. It does not undertake the supply of meat, bread, butter, or milk. It does not concern itself about the thickness or sufficiency of our clothing; about the temperature of our dwellings. Surely the proper feeding of the body is of as much importance as the feeding of the mind. Then why should education be undertaken by the state? While many hundreds of children, in Great Britain, are being taught to read and write, they are suffering from a want of clothing, and in some cases from an empty stomach. Why does the state not come to the rescue in those more important wants? There must surely be some other reason for state interference in this matter. Now, the advocates of state education have John Stuart Mill on their side. Let [468] us then see what arguments he advances. In the first place, he justifies the state taking education in hand on the ground that it is one of those commodities which the consumer cannot judge for himself. He, therefore, claims it as an exception to the rule of allowing the individual to be the judge of his own wants. Practically, this means that every man, being a judge of butter, or sugar, or bread, or meat, or cloth, or linen, he should be left to look after his own interest; but in matters in which he is not a "competent judge" it is "admissible in principle that the government should provide it" for him. Considering the authority from which this doctrine comes, it is indeed extraordinary. Let us see where it would lead. Mill himself admits that even in "material objects produced for our use," it is "not true universally" that the consumer is the best judge. If this is so, which we may assume on the admission, should the state provide for the stupid people? Should the state undertake the function of advising citizens what is, and what is not a good article? This is really what Mill's doctrine would lead to. To go further; if the state is only to interfere when the inability of the consumer to judge the article is tolerably universal, why should not the state take in hand the work now performed by lawyers, physicians, and chemists? How many of the public are "competent judges" of law or physic? How many of them are "competent judges" as to whether they really want such advice? Surely the state should come in here also! I cannot follow up the illustrations of its unsoundness as an argument; but it applies to such subjects of "consumption" as art, literature, the drama, and even the sciences. It is true that the masses are not "competent" judges of the higher branches of culture; but is it not unreasonable to assume that their ignorance is so profound that they cannot appreciate the advantages of reading the newspaper, writing a letter, and being able to correctly add up an account, [469] or expeditiously check the money-change which they receive in their every-day transactions? Yet these are obvious results of the ordinary state-school curriculum, and if any part of the masses are so dense that they cannot really discern these advantages, I venture to think that when the schooling has been forced upon them it will not be to much purpose. But if this reason—the inability of the consumer to judge any commodity for himself—is a sufficient one for justifying the assumption by the state of the supply of that commodity, where is the result to terminate? Can, for instance, one out of a hundred of the masses judge in literature between elevating and unhealthy writing? Can one out of a hundred judge in the drama, as to the probable effect upon character of a particular plot or dialogue? Can one out of a hundred distinguish a chromo-lithograph from a water-colour? Can one out of a hundred judge as to the good or injurious effect on their minds of reading Mr. Tyndall's famous Belfast address, or the scientific works of Darwin, Huxley, Owen or Spencer? If not, then, according to Mill's doctrine, the state should provide and supply to the people their art, their literature, their theology, their science, and their dramatic entertainment, and a hundred other wants of which they, and many educated people even, are incapable of judging the merits or demerits. As a fact, the Russian Government proscribes certain scientific works which are calculated to "unsettle" the minds of the people; and, in China, the government actually publishes a catalogue of works which may be read. Mill's doctrine would, if followed to its logical consequences, lead to the same and similar practices by the British Government. Mr. Herbert Spencer has dealt somewhat trenchantly with this doctrine. "It is argued (he says) that parents, and especially those whose children most need instructing, do not know what good instruction is." He then sets out Mill's principle, and [470] comments upon it thus: "It is strange that so judicious a writer should feel satisfied with such a worn-out plea. This alleged incompetency on the part of the people has been the reason assigned for all state interferences whatever. It was on this plea that buyers were unable to tell good fabrics from bad; that those complicated regulations, which encumbered the French manufacturers, were established. The use of certain dyes in England was prohibited, because of the insufficient discernment of the people. Directions for the proper making of pins were issued, under the idea that experience would not teach the purchasers which were best. Those examinations as to competency, which the German handicraftsmen undergo, are held needful as safeguards to the customers. A stock argument for the state-teaching of religion has been that the masses cannot distinguish false religion from true. There is hardly a single department of life, over which, for similar reasons, legislative supervision has not been, or may not be established."43

But Mill advances other reasons in favour of state education. "There are (he says) certain primary elements and means of knowledge," which "all human beings should acquire during childhood." In the first place, he contends, the parents owe this to their children as a duty, and also "to the community generally, who are all liable to suffer seriously from the consequences of ignorance and want of education in their fellow-citizens."

The state, therefore, he says, should "impose on parents the legal obligation of giving elementary instruction to children," and he adds this "cannot fairly be done, without taking measures to ensure that such instruction shall be always accessible to them, either gratuitously, or at a trifling expense."

The question of determining who should pay I shall deal with afterwards. At present I merely wish to deal with the [471] reason given for the state taking it in hand. This latter argument is practically that the want of education renders a man dangerous to the interests of his fellow-men, who, Mill says, are "liable to suffer seriously from the consequences of ignorance." This argument is an old one, and is very popular. I shall begin my criticism of its bearing on the matter by admitting its truth, that is to say for argument's sake. Suppose now the want of education is conducive to crime; is that a sufficient reason for the state taking upon itself to supply the want? How many crimes could be traced to an empty stomach? How many men and women have been transported for such offences as the theft of a pair of boots, which the thief intended to sell in order to buy bread with the proceeds? How many poachers, and how many sheep-stealers have been hanged for an offence committed by the promptings of hunger? How many thefts could be traced to a desire to obtain clothing for some poor unfortunate children? How many men have turned burglars, highwaymen, and even resorted to murder, in order to satisfy their bodily wants? Marcus Clarke's "His Natural Life" will give some answers to these questions? Yet, I ask, should the state, in consequence, undertake to satisfy these wants in anticipation,in order to prevent the crimes which the wants might lead to? That is Mill's doctrine. If the state thus supplied every want, lest otherwise it might lead to crimes, the knowledge of the fact would operate as a splendid incentive to a variety of offences, cleverly conceived in order to obtain from the state the particular object desired. The contention so often urged that the education is for the good of the community and not for the individual, has already served as a ground for repudiating the liability of the parent to pay for it. "It was not intended (says "The Radical Programme,") that the parent should be provide for a service which the state imposed upon them for the general advantage of the community."


The force of the argument I have used—that if the state affords education it should afford food and clothing also—has at last dawned on the minds of the members of a school board.

In March, 1884, the London School Board "resolved to apply for authority to use local charitable fundsfor supplying, gratis, meals and clothing to indigent children."44

Mr. Herbert Spencer adds:—"Presently, the definition of 'indigent' will be widened; more children will be included, and more funds asked for."

It has been very properly pointed out that if the state takes out of the hands of the parent the trouble and expenses of education, and consistently follows up the principle, by doing the same with the subjects of feeding and clothing, the parental responsibility would be practically annulled. The system of state education is therefore only a small step towards a modified Communism. An able writer, in the pioneer number of Scribner's Magazine, in an article on "Socialism," points out that though "the plea of a service to government in the way of reducing violence and crime, through the influence of the public schools, is often urged,"yet that it "was not the real consideration and motive, which in any instance ever actually led to the establishment of the system, or which, in any land, supports public instruction now." "Indeed," he says, "the immediate effects of popular instruction, in reducing crime, are even in dispute," and he adds, in a subsequent part of the same article "in all its stages the movement has been purely socialistic in character, springing out of a conviction that the state would be stronger, and the individual members richer, and happier, and better, if power and discretion, in this matter of the education of children, were taken away from the family and lodged with the government."

I go back now to my admission as to the anti-criminal effects of education. I made the admission for the time [473] being, in order to show that, even if it did have that effect, there were numerous other wants, the supply of which by the state would do the same, yet which wants the state did not attempt to supply. I do not admit the contention that crime is rendered less likely by the imparting of the sort of instruction which is given in state schools. It is, I think, certain that the anti-criminal consideration was not an element in its inception as a system, and, even if it were, there should have been conclusive proof of its effect in that direction before the system was established. That has never been forthcoming. As the writer last referred to observes, "the question is at the very most unsettled," yet the system itself is in full operation. Macaulay said "that whoever had the right to hang had the right to educate," and, in a letter written by Miss Martineau, that accomplished woman said: "As a mere police tax, this rating would be a very cheap affair. It would cost us much less than we now pay for juvenile depravity."45 Now, in both these utterances, there is the same assumption, viz., that there is this close connection between education and crime, which, to say the least, is yet unproved.

Figures, I know, will prove anything, so that, for exactitude, I should not rely on them; but they are certainly useful for showing broad results.

I find by statistics at hand that the state school average attendance in England and Wales, in 1874, was 1,985,000; and that, in 1885, it had increased to 3,800,000—that is to say, the attendance had doubled.It will be admitted that, after 13 years of such widespread education, there should be some perceptible diminution in the statistics of crime. Yet, I find, the criminal convictions, which were, in 1874, 11,912, had not been reduced four per cent. though the attendance had increased one hundred per cent. Mr. Spencer quotes some very striking statistics to much the same effect. I do [474] not, however, claim that these figures conclusively prove the non-effect of education as an influence in reduction of crime; but I do contend that if the justification for state education depends upon the soundness of this theory, then the system has been established very much in advance of the basis having been rendered certain. Von Humboldt says: "National education fails in accomplishing the object proposed by it, viz., the reformation of morals according to the model which the state considers most conducive to its designs."46 Mr. Spencer contends that if there is any education or training of the mind calculated to reduce crime, it would have to be of an emotional character; but, after giving reasons for that belief, he pertinently adds: "From all legislative attempts at emotional education may heaven defend us!"

There are, yet, other grounds upon which the state is said to be justified in undertaking the functions of the school proprietor. Rousseau, in his famous "Contrat Social" (liv. i., c. 1.), said: "The right of votingimposes the duty of instruction in its exercise" (Le droit d'y voter suffit pour m'imposer le devoir de m'en instruire). The answer to this contention seems to me to be a very short one. The exercise of the franchise is certainly a right, that is, after the law has given it sanction; but it is not an obligation. Every citizen is at liberty to refrain from exercising that right. It is a liberty which the governing power concedes to him. Is there any known principle in law, or in morals, by which the granting of oneconcession entitles the person, to whom it is granted, to demand a second? Yet that is Rousseau's doctrine. If the state forced a citizen to exercise the franchise, it might be said—"Then you are bound to qualify him for the duty you impose." But the state says: "You may, if you choose, exercise the franchise; I leave you to judge for yourself whether you are competent to do so." [475] But, even if such a concession did impose a duty, it would yet have to be proved that such education as the state gives would qualify a man as an elector—that is, would make him exercise the franchise more wisely. Indeed, the so-called "Liberal" press of Victoria has lately admitted that the "electoral test of literacy is not, after all, much of a guarantee of intelligence." As a rule, the man who had no more education than that which the state gives would not read political works. He would probably read his daily paper only, and accept, as correct and unanswerable, most of the views expressed by the particular organ which he patronised; but whether such a course of reading would render him wiser in the use of the franchise is a question which would depend wholly upon the character of the newspaper. I venture to think that, inasmuch as newspapers are purely commercial undertakings, the matter which would be contained in a paper read by such a man would be of a character calculated to please rather than instruct him. The section of the press above referred to says: "It is to be feared that the young Australian, to a large extent, restricts his reading very much to his newspaper." In such a case, instead of correcting the crude and ill-digested opinions which he entertained, his daily reading would rather serve to confirm him in those opinions, because that would best please him; and, as a consequence, the only effect would be to render him more confident, and more dangerous to himself and those about him. I find this same idea dealt with by Mr. Spencer: "Knowing rules of syntax," he says, "being able to add up correctly; having geographical information, and a memory stocked with the dates of kings' accessions, and generals' victories, no more implies fitness to form political conclusions than acquirement of skill in drawing implies expertness in telegraphing, or than an ability to play cricket implies proficiency on the violin." And, in reference to the contention as to the uses of reading, [476] he adds: "Table talk proves that nine out of ten people read what amuses them or interests them, rather than what instructs them; and the last thing they read is something which tells them disagreeable truths or dispels groundless hopes."47 Mr. Huxley, too, has made some admirable remarks on this subject in a lecture on "A Liberal Education," delivered to the South London Working Men's College. Speaking of the education obtainable at the primary schools in England, he says: "The child learns absolutely nothing of the history or the political organisation of his own country. His general impression is that everything of much importance happened a very long while ago; and that the Queen and the gentlefolks govern the country much after the fashion of King David and the elders and nobles of Israel—his sole models." And then he adds: "Will you give a man with this information a vote? In easy times he sells it for a pot of beer. Why should he not? It is of about as much use to him as a chignon, and he knows as much what to do with it for any other purpose. In bad times, on the contrary, he applies his simple theory of government, and believes that his rulers are the cause of his sufferings, a belief which sometimes bears remarkable practical fruit.... Teach a man to read and write, and you have put into his hands the great keys of the wisdom box. But it is quite another matter whether he ever opens the box or not. And he is as likely to poison as to cure himself, if, withont guidance, he swallows the first dose that comes to hand."48

A further reason has been advanced in support of state education. It has been said that every child has a right to be educated, and for a parent to neglect giving it that education is to "deprive the child of one of its most valuable liberties; thus the state, in providing education, protects the [477] child." This is certainly ingenious reasoning. It attacks Individualists or true Liberals with their own weapons. But let us examine it. Suppose we admit the right, for argument's sake. Then the state, without waiting, as it does in other matters, to see if there is an infringement of the right by the parent, comes in and takes the responsibility off the parent's shoulders. Why should this novel doctrine be confined to education? Every child has a claim on its parents for food and clothing—a right to be fed and clothed by them. Why should not the state step in (without waiting to see if there is any neglect) and take the feeding and clothing in hand, as it has done in the case of education? Every man has a right to have his contracts performed by the other contracting party. Why should not the state, upon the same principle, relieve that other party of the obligation, and do it for him. The carrying out of such a doctrine would lead to results at once absurd and impracticable. As Mr. Spencer says: "No cause for such interposition can be shown, until the children's rights have been violated."49

It will be seen, therefore, that in whatever way we regard this question, no sound reason can be given in justification of the state assuming this function. Humboldt, in fact, says: "National education seems to me to lie wholly beyond the limits within which political agency should properly be confined."50

But there are many reasons why the state should not undertake this function. It can be performed more economically and more efficiently by private enterprise. And first on the score of economy. It is evident to anyone, who has had any experience of the system, that there is not the same incentive to economical working. The sums of money which have been spent in the erection, and are being regularly spent in the maintenance of the state schools, wherever [478] the system is in force, are altogether out of proportion to the requirements. Private enterprise, which would be constantly subjected to the sharp spur of competition, would, while on the one hand prompted to consult the hygienic requirements of the buildings used, on the other hand be prompted to employ no more capital than requisite to maintain an approved standard of excellence. Those who did not conform to such requirements would have to retire from the contest. Mr. Gladstone, whose experience of such matters should carry great weight, said, in his Liberal Manifesto of September, 1885: "The rule of our policy is that nothing should be done by the state which can be better or as well done by voluntary effort; and I am not aware that, either in its moral or even its literary aspects, the work of the state for education has as yet proved its superiority to the work of the religious bodies or of philanthropic individuals. Even the economical considerations of materially augmented cost do not appear to be wholly trivial."

On the score of efficiency, the same remark may be made—that there is no incentive to give the consumer satisfaction, as there would be, and is, in schools started on a commercial or philanthropic basis. Adam Smith, more than a century ago, speaking of the necessity for education, says: "The publiccan establish in every parish or district a little school, where children may be taught for a reward so moderate that even a common labourer may afford it; the master being partly, but not wholly paid by the public; because if he was wholly or even principally paid by it, he would soon learn to neglect his business."51 And again he says, in illustration of the want of some strong incentive: "A private teacher could never find his account in teaching either an exploded and antiquated system, of a science acknowledged to be useful, or a science universally believed to be a mere useless or pedantic heap of sophistry and nonsense. Such systems, [479] such sciences, can subsist nowhere but in those incorporated societies for education, whose prosperity and revenue are, in a great measure, independent of their industry." Speaking of women's education, for which there were then no publicinstitutions, he said: "They are taught what their parents or guardians judge it necessary or useful for them to learn, and they are taught nothing else." Now, it may fairly be asked—What likelihood is there of the younger generations being educated, unless the state takes the schools in hand? I answer that it is possible and legitimate for the state to say: "We shall require every parent to see that his or her child is educated up to a certain standard, and we leave it to them to choose for themselves where the education shall be obtained." I have already contended that, after going through a certain process of analysis, the ultimate test of all legislation is expediency. I have laid down certain fundamental rules which I contend should be strictly observed, and in no case departed from, unless upon almost overwhelming evidence.

I admit that there are liberties possessed by children; and although I quite recognise the logic of Mr. Spencer's contention that an infringement of liberty must be active, and that a neglect on the part of a parent is passive; yet, nevertheless, I am prepared to put education in the same category with food and clothing for children. A liberty is a right, created by the governing power, which gives it sanction. A child has a right to live, as against its parent who brought it into the world; and, as it cannot so live, except by having food and clothing supplied to it, the neglect by the parent, to satisfy those wants for it, is regarded by the law as an infringement of a right, for which a punishment is provided. I should regard education in the same way, as though not quite so necessary, nevertheless next in importance from the child's own point of view. Locke was of opinion that "the power parents have over their children arises from that [480] duty which is incumbent on them to take care of their offspring during the imperfect state of childhood. To inform the mind (he said) and govern the actions of their yet ignorant nonage, till reason shall take its place, and ease them of that trouble, is what the children want, and the parents are bound to." And Professor Fawcett says: "The chief justification for the interference between parent and child, involved in compulsory education, is to be sought in the fact that parents, who incur the responsibility of bringing children into the world, ought to provide them with education; and that if this duty is neglected, the state interposes as the protector of the child."

It is singular that Professor Fawcett should have offered this reason as a justification for the undertaking of education by the state. He says "The state interposes as the protector of the child, if this duty (of the parent) is neglected." The state has interposed; but has the duty been neglected? Before the Education Act came into force in England, the duty of educating one's children was only a moral one. The state therefore interposed, to fulfil a moral duty for certain indifferent citizens, and thereby imposed additional taxation on all parents who did regard that moral duty. Would it not have been better to have made that moral duty a legal one, and then punish the negligent parent, instead of, as now, imposing additional taxation on the citizens who did regard their duty? If the state required, by statute, a certain standard of education in every child, before it was allowed to be placed at work, there would be an incentive to reach that standard in order to acquire freedom. "The public (says Adam Smith), can impose upon almost the whole body of the people the necessity of acquiring the most essential parts of education, by obliging every man to undergo an examination or probation in them, before he can obtain freedom in any corporation, or be [481] allowed to set up any trade, either in a village or town corporate."52

Mill admits that the government "would be justified in requiring, from all the people, that they shall possess instruction in certain things, but not in prescribing to them how, or from whom they shall obtain it."53 This is exactly what the state is now prescribing. It actually provides and charges for the commodity, nolens volens. Such a demand as Mill does justify is only defensible on principle, if education be regarded as a liberty. Of course, under such a system, the parent should be looked to, to pay for the instruction given to the child, just as is now the case with its food and clothing. The arguments which go to strengthen this contention are the same as those which are applicable to the more practical question which is just now current, viz., whether state education should be free? Mill has supplied a reason in its favour; but it is, I think, quite unworthy of his great logical powers. He says: "Inasmuch as parents do not practise the duty of giving instruction to their children at their own expense, and do not include education among those necessary expenses which their wages must provide for, therefore the general rate of wages is not high enough to bear their expenses, and they must be borne by some other source."54 I should like to put an analogous case; and the unsoundness and impracticability of this doctrine will, I think, be at once apparent. For the working class, it will be admitted that life insurance is as essential a provision as education, especially where, otherwise, there is a liability to leave a large family of children unprovided for. Mill's argument is this: Inasmuch as parents do not practise the duty of insuring their lives in favour of their wife and children, at their own expense, and do not include insurance among those necessary expenses which their wages must provide[482] for; therefore the general rate of wages is not high enough to bear those expenses, and they must be borne by some other source." Ergo: The state should insure workmen's lives. This is by no means a strained analogy; yet, reflect where it would lead us. One would really have thought this piece of writing had been composed by Mill for electioneering purposes, instead of as part of a treatise on political economy. I think most people will prefer Mr. Gladstone's view of the matter. "According to the habits of this country (he said), a contribution towards the cost of the article tends to its being more thoroughly valued by the receiver."55 Lord Hartington, about the same time, said: "I think that the sympathy of every one must be enlisted in the direction of lessening the burden which is imposed upon the working classes, for the education they are compelled to give their children. But this is not a question entirely of sympathy and feeling. It is a question of justice; and it is also a question of expediency. As to justice, I cannot admit that there is any actual injustice in forcing any man to pay for that which is a decided benefit to himself and his family. And, when we talk of justice, (he added) we must remember that education must be paid for somehow; and we must consider whether, in relieving the labourer, who now pays for his children, we are not doing an injustice to the general body of the taxpayers, who will make good the amount of the relief.... You are aware (he continues) that the late Mr. Fawcett, a man who certainly could not be accused of any lack of sympathy with the labouring and working classes, was decidedly opposed to the principle of what is called free education, upon social and upon economical grounds."56 Professor Fawcett himself says: "Great care ought to be taken to preserve some recognition of the individual responsibility which every parent owes to his children in reference to [483] education; and, instead of entirely sweeping away the responsibility, the people should be rather encouraged to regard the present system only as a temporary arrangement, and that, as they advance, the portion of the charge...which can now be shifted upon others, should, instead of being increased, be gradually diminished."57 Mr. Gladstone, even as late as January of this year (1887), has said, in his article on "Locksley Hall and the Jubilee," "The entire people have good schools placed within the reach of their children, and are put under legal obligation to use the privilege and contribute to the charge." Mr. Bright, too, takes a very similar view of this feature of the question. Speaking within a few days of the date upon which Lord Hartington uttered the words I have just quoted, he said: "I think, as a mere burden upon parents, the payment of a penny, or twopence, or threepence, whatever it may be, for a child, for his week's education, is not a burden from which conscientious parents ought to shrink.... I suppose there are few labourers' families who pay more for the education of their children at a board school, than the price of a quart of beer in a week. I think that parents have a duty to perform towards their children, whether the law is disposed to enforce it or not."58 Even if education were made absolutely free, it is highly probable that the state expenditure would not end there, for in America it has lately been proposed that the government should supply children with text-books, free; and I have already mentioned the London School Board, as having applied for permission to use their funds for the purpose of distributing clothing and food among the children. This tendency is all in one direction—that of looking upon the state as a sort of "milch cow," from which an everlasting stream of positive benefits may be drawn; and no one, who has any knowledge of human nature, will [484] doubt the wisdom of fostering a firm determination not to advance any further in so demoralising a course.

My analysis of this subject has been somewhat lengthy, which I have found unavoidable.

My conclusions are as follow:—

  • That state education, inasmuch as it involves the imposition of taxes for a purpose other than that of securing equal liberties for all citizens, is subversive of one of the fundamental principles upon which our constitution and our society have been based.
  • That the system, as at present administered, involves a most inequitable distribution of benefits, out of a fund in which all citizens have a common interest.
  • That experience points to the conclusion that the system could be better administered by private enterprise.
  • That the fact of the system being administered by the state, leads a large section of the parents of the children who attend the schools, to look for the education as a gift, the constant agitation for which, and the consciousness of receiving which, are demoralising.

On the other hand I consider:

  • That next to food and clothing, education is the most essential advantage which a child can receive; and that it is desirable, in the interests of the whole comunity, that all children should be educated up to a certain standard.

From these I draw the following further conclusion: That the only argument in favour of the system may be satisfied without transgressing any of those which are advanced against the system.

In order to do this, the state would have simply to require all children to be educated up to a certain standard, for which each child might receive a certificate before being allowed to be employed by its parents in other work. As a sort of safety-valve for absolute stupidity, an age might be fixed at which a child who had not been able to reach the standard could be regarded as weak-minded, and be allowed to begin the world with what knowledge he or she already possessed.


Such a scheme would give parents absolute liberty in the choice of a school, and religious and philanthropic bodies could and would take the matter in hand. Moreover, there would be a distinct encouragement to private industry, and the cost of providing children with what so many people regard as coming next in importance to food and clothing, would be thrown upon those who brought the children into the world, and were thus responsible for their maintenance. All of the foregoing, which I venture to lay down as a body of general principles, are somewhat upset by the fact that the government in Great Britain, and those in her various colonies have already spent some hundreds of thousands of pounds in the erection of schools, and have, besides, entered into important obligations with large staffs of teachers, inspectors, etc. It would be bold, and I am bound to admit impracticable, to suggest that the state should suddenly retrace all its steps in connection with this vast system, and resort to any proposals based on first principles. I have no hope or expectation of the happening of any such event. My only purpose here is to explain what, in my opinion, should have been done where such a system now exists, or what should be done in any new community where such a system has not yet been established. I am, however, of opinion, that if there should be in the future, as I believe there will be sooner or later, a tide of popular feeling against the socialistic principles which characterise present-day legislation, and which are involved in the existing educational system, the reform could be best effected by the state merely ceasing to carry on the work of education, and leasing the buildings to such individuals or such bodies as would be immediately forthcoming to carry on, by private enterprise, and at the cost of those for whom the benefit was provided, the work which had hitherto been done by the state at the cost of the whole of the people, irrespective of their deriving or not deriving any benefits therefrom.


The Housing of the Poor.—This is another development of the socialistic doctrine which has of late been making itself felt in Great Britain. It is not, apparently, considered sufficient to have established, at the annual cost (as I have shown) of upwards of £10,000,000, a system of relief for the poor, which extends from one end of the country to the other, and which already affords subsistence to 1,350,000 paupers in Great Britain; but it is now being further urged that the state should extend its assistance to the non-pauper class, in order to secure to them more comfortable houses than they at present enjoy. In order that I shall not be suspected of exaggerating the tone and character of this fresh demand, I shall resort to "The Radical Programme," from which I have already quoted. I have previously referred to Mr. Chamberlain's speeches, in which he reminded his hearers that, by means of local government, they would "come into contact with the masses," and "be able to increase their comforts, secure their health,and multiply their luxuries"; and I have quoted from that part of "The Radical Programme" in which the author speaks hopefully of "the intervention of the state, on behalf of the weak against the strong;...of labour against capital;...of want and suffering against luxury and ease." But, lest this should be considered too general to involve the advocacy of the "housing of the poor," I turn to another part of the same publication. "The alternative proposition, (says the author of that work) which the Radical party will put before the country, is that the expense of making towns habitable for the toilers, who dwell in them, must be thrown on the land, which their toil makes valuable, without any effort on the part of the owners."59 The English of this proposition is that that section of the community which happens to possess land (the act of doing which has lately been characterised as "immoral,") is to [487]have cast upon it the expenses of building and maintaining houses for another class (ingeniously called "toilers,") who happen to have achieved for themselves less success in life. To effect this object, local taxation would be necessary. The first question which we are called upon to determine is as to whether the possession of a comfortable dwelling is a "liberty"; to which there can only be one answer. Every citizen has, already, the right secured to him of living where he likes, and for the most part how he likes, subject only to the condition that he shall not, in its exercise, interfere with the liberties of others. Subject to that condition, no other citizen will be allowed to interfere with him in the exercise of his own judgment. That is one of his many liberties. It is quite a different thing, however, for him to look to his fellow-citizens, and demand from them the means also, by which to live as he wishes. To tax any section of society, for the purpose of improving the dwelling which another citizen has obtained for himself, is to demand the means. It is, therefore, taxation for another purpose than that of securing "equal freedom to all citizens." Even if a comfortable home were capable of being classed among "liberties," such a proposal would fail to comply with the admitted conditions of state interference; for it is not proposed to carry out this "housing" for all citizens, but only for the "toilers," that is to say the "physical" toilers. The mental toilers, of whom there is, I venture to suggest, a considerable number in Great Britain, are not even mentioned in this generous proposal! The "housing of the poor" scheme is therefore one which is subversive of the fundamental principle with which we are, at present, dealing. We have now to consider whether there are circumstances, surrounding this demand, which, on examination, will be found to justify so serious a departure from that broad principle. It will be remembered that the burden of proving this is thrown upon those who advocate [488] the interference of the state. In the first place, it is to be observed that the old question of the "unearned increment" is made a sort of "peg" on which to hang this (to Englishmen) extraordinary proposal. It does not seem to occur to those, who regard with so much jealousy the periodical increase in land values, that the anticipated increase is one of the most important elements in determining the price which the owner paid for it, and that the moment any such increase is definitely confiscated by the state, either directly or indirectly, from that moment it will have ceased to exist. Land, like every other commodity, is only worth what it will fetch in the market; and it may be taken as a foregone conclusion, that if land, originally worth (say) £100, would, in the ordinary course of things, have risen in value to (say) £120, the knowledge that the extra £20 is destined to be taken by local authorities in the form of taxation will prevent it from bringing more than the £100. The result will be a splendid illustration of the moral which is pointed in Æsop's fable of the "Dog and the Shadow." But, apart from that, it would be interesting to know why this principle of "unearned increment" should be confined to land. If a man possesses a thousand pounds, which is bringing him in five per cent., or £50 a year, and he gives that larger sum for a piece of land, he at once parts with the income of £50 a year which goes with it. It is surely anomalous that the purchaser of the land should not be allowed to retain the £50 a year increase in the value of the land, although he would have been allowed to retain the £50 a year increment which the £1000 would have produced in the form of interest. The only effect of such a law, therefore, would be, as every man who possesses a modicum of commercial knowledge must know, to reduce enormously the value of landed property in Great Britain. Real property of different kinds now contributes more than one-third of the whole Income tax of the nation; and the [489] immediate effect of such a reduction in the property values would be to correspondingly reduce the proportion of the Income tax derived from it, which would then have to be thrown on the other sources of income, viz., "annuities and dividends," "trades and professions," and "public offices," which three heads now contribute the other two-thirds of the Income tax. Professor Fawcett, commenting upon the sanction which so great an authority as John Stuart Mill gave to this theory of increment, suggests a very grave difficulty in connection with it. "If the state (says that writer) appropriates this unearned increment, would it not be bound to give compensation if land became depreciated through no fault of its owner?"60 But, let us turn again to "The Radical Programme," to discover some reasons for this new proposal. We shall find, amid the author's somewhat lugubrious attempts to excite the sympathy of his readers, data which, though offered for quite other purposes, nevertheless serve as a means of enabling us to get at some of the real causes of the discomfort of the present homes of the poor, from which the illustrations are drawn.

In describing the home of a "working man, earning from 25s. to 30s. a week," he says: the passage is "narrow;" a man and woman are "quarrelling;" the man is "growling and swearing;" the walls are "clammy with the dirt of years;" the chairs are ricketty; there is "a disagreeable smell from dirt, the washing of clothes, and the overcrowding of human beings;" the room is thirteen feet by twelve, and nine in height; the bed linen is "of course, dirty;" a half-grown girl of fourteen is "putting some ribbonson a hat, by the light of the window;" "the bed has not been aired for months;" the proprietor of the room pays 5s. a week for it, and on being asked why he does not go farther away, and get two rooms for the same money, he replies "it is so near his work."


In another part of London (Euston Square), the author "enters a small street.... Knots of men are standing round the public house at the corner, all unkempt, most of them half drunk.... Women lean, half dressed, out of the windows, shouting to friends.... The language is not to be described.... The street doors are all open, the filthy passages on view.... Not a window can be seen in which brown paper does not take the place of glass. A room on the ground floor costs 3s. 6d. a week. The walls and ceilings are almost as black as the passage, and 'the windows seem never to have been washed." On the beds, "blankets and quilts are all dirty."

A third part of London (Drury Lane), is visited. A yard is entered ten feet by eight feet, and a "thin pale-faced woman" presents herself. "She is followed by her husband.... just as dirty, as slovenly, as anæmic as is the woman." The walls of the room "are almost black with dirt as is the ceiling.... Some blankets, over which are thrown a dirty quilt; a quilt which is not grey, but black.... Whether we touch wall, or table, or chair, or bed, we feel the same moisture that seems to exude from every object.... The air is made noisome with the staleness of old filth, and with the breath of human beings. The man admits he earns 30s. a week as a tinsmith, but adds that 'work is often slack.' "

There is much of the same kind. There is not a word about bad drainage, about dilapidations, about leaky roofs, or, in fact, about anything which seems incapable of cure with sobriety and cold water. Everywhere the walls, ceilings, and furniture, as also the bedding, are "filthy," "black," and "sticky." The people themselves are in a similar condition, and there is much evidence of drunkenness and immorality. Yet these are, admittedly, the people whom the Radical party are about to experiment upon, at the expense of the owners of land, in particular, and the public in general.


Mr. Chamberlain has already said that "the idler, the drunkard, the criminal, and the fool must bear the brunt of their defects;" yet the class of people thus described, in the words of "The Radical Programme" itself, are to be rendered clean, sober, and provident, by act of parliament! That there are poor in every country in the world, and deserving poor also, there can be no doubt; but if they are clean, sober, and provident, they do not remain in such localities as those from which the author of "The Radical Programme" has drawn his illustrations. Drury Lane, and such places, are the social cesspits of London, and, speaking from personal knowledge of those places, I do not hesitate to say that the inhabitants of such localities would constitute a cesspit wherever they were placed.

Let us see, now, what is to be said on the other side. In 1882, a royal commission was appointed to report upon the subject of the condition of this class. The commission consisted of men of reputation and impartiality, and they reported that "the labourers were never in a better position;" that "they have better cottages, higher wages, and less work," and that "during the (then) recent depression, the labourer has had the best of it." And Mr. Giffen, in his able pamphlet, entitled "The Progress of the Working Classes," published in 1884, shows, by the most undeniable figures that, "while the individual incomes of the working classes have largely increased, the prices of the main articles of their consumption have rather declined; and the inference as to their being much better off, which would be drawn from these facts, is fully supported by statistics." He concluded that the proportion of poor is comparatively much smaller; that individually the poor are "twice as well off as they were fifty years ago," and that they have had almost all the benefit of the great material advance of the last fifty years. Mr. Gladstone has characterised Mr. Giffen's "treatise" as one of "great care and ability," and he apparently accepts his [492] conclusions unreservedly. There can be little doubt of this: that any attempt on the part of the legislature to compel property-owners to supply a better article for less money will fail, just as lamentably as would an attempt to coerce the occupants of such houses to keep themselves, their clothes, and their bodies clean, by act of parliament.

The reasons, then, which can be advanced in favour of taxing the landed class, or any other class, or even the whole community, for the purpose of supplying the "poor" with better dwellings, are wholly insufficient to justify so unmistakably socialistic a proposal, by which, also, the broad principle referred to would be transgressed.

The author of "The Radical Programme" says: "It should be made an offence punishable by heavy penalties to hold property unfit for human habitation;" and that there should be a heavy fine "for allowing property to become a cause of disease or crime." With the latter proposal the most rigid Individualist can find no fault. Every man has an equal right (as the law now stands) to enjoy the air, in such places as are open to him, in as pure and undefiled a condition as nature admits; and if any citizen, by neglect of drainage, or any other incident of his property, so pollutes the atmosphere that his neighbours are thereby injured, he is as guilty of a trespass as if he had struck them a blow on the body.

There is no evidence, however, in "The Radical Programme" of any such state of things. It is perfectly certain that if the state were to enter upon a course of legislation such as that which this proposal involves, the attempt would, on the one hand, further sap the self-help and independence of the recipients, offer a premium for improvidence and idleness, and constitute a precedent in charity which would be shortly claimed as an acknowledgment of a right. On the other hand, it would operate as a severe blow at the rights of property, shake public confidence in individual possessions, [493] and produce a distinct and formidable reduction in the national wealth.

Unemployed.—One of the most frequent illustrations of the growing feeling among the poorer class, in favour of socialistic principles, is the increasing practice by which large bodies of unemployed citizens appeal to the state for occupation. The custom is now becoming a common one, both in Great Britain and in the colonies; and each year the appeal is made with greater confidence, and with an apparently stronger sense of justification on the part of those who make it.

Everybody has become familiar with the published demands for work which appear from time to time in the press. As far as the colonies are concerned, it has begun to be looked upon as one of the "duties" of government. I have before me, a report of a meeting of unemployed in Sydney, New South Wales; and it appears, from the short article which precedes it, that the system of distributing tickets for meals had been abused to such an extent that they were being obtained by people several times over, and then sold. One of the speakers, who was frequently cheered at the meeting in question, demanded that the government should give "6s. a day and guarantee work for twelve months." He urged his hearers to "demand recognition of their rights...not to submit to insults to their independence"...but to "unite and conquer."

This is the extreme from which the abuse takes—that is to say, it is demanded; while the cases in which it is asked for as a favour, are becoming very numerous in England and in the colonies. The practice involves a very simple, though a very vicious principle. When a number of men find themselves, for various reasons, out of employment, they at once resort to the government.

I do not know of a case in England in which the government has, in any direct way, encouraged the system; but in [494] the colonies it is becoming an every-day practice. The government, in most cases, starts works for the purpose of affording employment. The work is generally such as the government would not otherwise have then executed, so it may be concluded that a sacrifice of the public revenue is made which would not otherwise have been the case.

Mr. Chamberlain has spoken very wildly, at different times, about "natural rights"; but, so far, there is no recognised right in any man to have employment.61 It is not a "liberty," and even if it were, it is not sought for all citizens, but for a class. The practice is, therefore, contrary to the broad principle which I have laid down.

Are there, now, any circumstances which would justify a breach of that principle? Mr. Herbert Spencer has reduced the claim for work from the state, to an absurdity, by showing that any such obligation on the government, to find work for any citizen who happens to be out of employment, means that society generally (which the government represents), is under an obligation to provide work for all its individual members—hence, every man in a community is under an obligation to co-operate in finding work for his fellow-citizen. It would be really impossible to find any logical justification for this practice, which involves the thrifty tax-payer contributing to the support of those who have allowed themselves to drift into the last stage of destitution; and if, in all cases, men were to find a ready response to this call on a government, it would be practically educating such people in the sheerest improvidence. As an illustration of the confidence, and even impudence, with which this claim has come to be preferred in some of the colonies, in which it has been only too often and too easily responded to, I may mention that, within the last few months, [495] a body of unemployed, in the colony of New South Wales, expressed their determination not to take "five shillings a day." They demanded "six," and, I believe they obtained it. That there are frequent cases in which sober, steady men, from among the working classes, find themselves among this body, there can be no doubt; but if one can believe the newspaper accounts which appear from time to time, while a period of depression is being undergone, they are very few in number. The bulk of these men are lazy, intemperate, and improvident. In London a very large proportion are criminals.

While I write, the following significant passage appears in the Victorian daily press, purporting to come from a Sydney correspondent:—"Although the number of disaffected, among the so-called unemployed, is small, some anxiety has been felt, in official quarters, lest, when they were under the influence of drink, and incited by the unscrupulous, a serious assault on life and property might take place. The establishing of soup-kitchens, and the giving away of food, without getting work done in return, has been a great mistake. Worthless individuals, to whose minds the greatest calamity is to be forced to work, were quite satisfied to receive one meal a day, and to sleep in the park. Dozens of dirty, disgusting persons have been infesting the domain, where the seats, in many cases, are now swarming with vermin. The police complain that, lately, they have been compelled to do as much as eighteen hours' duty, to prevent an outbreak; while, at the same time, a great many of the drunkards, who have been locked up, are found to have been receiving government food." The steady, sober men, who are unfortunately thrown among so motley a crowd, no one can fail to sympathise with; but they are not sufficiently numerous, and the effect of their not being so assisted is not sufficiently grave to justify the practice, and the necessary breach of the broad principle which it involves. In [496] Great Britain, and in most of the colonies, trades organisations are apparently always ready to help a fellow-worker who has been thrown out of employment. In the colony of Victoria, the trade-unionists, as a body, have shown an extraordinary amount of esprit de corps, and, moreover, expressed it in a very substantial way, by supporting hundreds of families in one particular trade while a labour dispute was being fought out. This spirit of mutual assistance is sufficiently strong to prevent any steady, deserving workman, who is respected by his fellows, from being reduced to a condition of destitution. That being so, the effect of this practice is calculated to draw to the locality, in which it is carried on, the whole of the idle and improvident classes who can find means to reach the spot. The expense which it involves falls on the working-classes, as well as on the other classes of society, and it is really to their interest as much as to that of others, to discourage and discountenance it.




[1] "Principles of Political Economy," p. 568.


[2] "Principles of Political Economy," p. 569.


[3] "Municipal and State Socialism," 1886.


[4] "Influence of Authority," (Sir Geo. C. Lewis) p. 217. † "Influence of Authority," p. 132.


[5] "Principles of Political Economy," p. 570.


[6] "Speech," October 12, 1885.


[7] "Economic Socialism," Contemporary Review, November, 1886.


[8] "Sphere and Duties of Government," p. 11.


[9] "Two treatises on Government," p. 219.


[10] "Social Statics," p. 306.


[11] "Reign of Law," p. 370.


[12] "Two treatises on Government," p. 219.


[13] "Commentaries," vol. ii., p. 500.


[14] "Principles of Political Economy," p. 569.


[15] "Over-Legislation." (Collected Essays), Herbert Spencer.


[16] "Radical Programme," p 13.


[17] "Radical Programme," p. 13.


[18] "Speech," July 12, 1886.


[19] "Commentaries," vol. ii., p. 500.


[20] "Commentaries," vol. ii., p. 500.


[21] "The State in Relation to Labour," p. 8.


[22] "Theory of Legislation," p. 113.


[23] "Theory of Legislation," p. 95.


[24] "Jurisprudence," vol. i., p. 354.


[25] "Reflections on the French Revolution," vol. ii., Collected Works, p. 332.


[26] "Two Treatises on Government," John Locke.


[27] I have heard one of the most prominent of Australian politicians (who owes his reputation and success entirely to his having been considered "the friend of the working man") confess that the surest road to popularity with that class was by persuading them they were injured. I hope the charge is not universally true, but I know that the method was adopted with great success by the politician mentioned.


[28] "Municipal and State Socialism," p. 15


[29] I am well aware that the first of these three principles could, strictly speaking, be included within the second, for to impose taxes is really to interfere with property; and to use the public revenue, in which each and every citizen has an interest, practically produces a similar result; but inasmuch as the lapping of the two is not palpable, I have chosen to separate them.


[30] "It is not sufficient (says Professor Stanley Jevons) to show by direct experiment or other incontestable evidence that an addition of happiness is made. We must also assure ourselves that there is no equivalent or greater subtraction of happiness—a substraction which may take effect either as regards other people or subsequent times."


[31] As an instance of the manner in which this principle of prescription may be abused, the author of "The Radical Programme," to which I have already referred, actually claims that, inasmuch as the state has already thrown on the community at large three-fourths of the burden of maintaining state-schools, it has "admitted" that there is "a duty to provide the whole": therefore that such schools should be free! If such a contention can come from such a quarter, one would have little cause for surprise at hearing it contended that the state had, for all time, admitted the right of every poor man and every idle man to receive support from his fellowcitizens. Mr. Chamberlain has in fact already spoken of the claim to such assistance as "a right."


[32] "Influence of Authority in Matters of Opinion," p. 164.


[33] "Social Statics," p. 341.


[34] "Man versus The State," p. 19.


[35] "Principles of Political Economy," p. 584.


[36] "Popular Government," p. 49.


[37] Speech at Edinburgh, October, 1885.


[38] Quoted by Mr. Herbert Spencer in "The Man versus The State," p. 58.


[39] Fawcett says, "It would not be safe to conclude that the Poor law ought to be abolished because of the Socialism which attaches to the system. Such a question ought to be determined by a careful balancing of advantages and disadvantages; and we believe that when this is done the conclusion will be that the abolition of the poor law, from the stimulus which would be given to all the evils associated with indiscriminate charity, would produce consequences which would be far more serious than any mischief which results from a poor law system, when carefully and properly administered." "Principles of Political Economy," p. 298.


[40] "Social Statics," p. 306.


[41] "Radical Programme," p. 52.


[42] "Radical Programme," p. 107.


[43] "Social Statics," p. 367.


[44] "Man versus The State," p. 27.


[45] "Social Statics," p. 379.


[46] "Sphere and Duties of Government," p. 69.


[47] "The Man versus The State," p. 31.


[48] "Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews" (Thomas Henry Huxley), 1870.


[49] "Social Statics," p. 361.


[50] "Sphere and Duties of Government," p. 71.


[51] "Wealth of Nations," p. 328.


[52] "Wealth of Nations," p. 329.


[53] "Principles of Political Economy," p. 577.


[54] "Principles of Political Economy," p. 576.


[55] "Liberal Manifesto." September, 1885.


[56] "Political Speech." October, 1885.


[57] "Manual of Political Economy," p. 299.


[58] "Political Speech." October, 1885


[59] The whole of this "alternative proposition," as it is called, is significantly printed in italics in the original.


[60] "Manual of Political Economy," p. 286.


[61] As an illustration of the absurd extremes to which this notion of "rights" can be carried, under excitement, an American writer on the subject of Democracy, states that, in the manifesto of a new journal, published in Chicago in the working man's interest, it was broadly affirmed that "there are no rights but the rights of labour."