Herbert Spencer on the State’s cultivation of “the religion of enmity” to justify its actions (1884)

Herbert Spencer

In the Postscript to his The Man versus the State (1884) the English sociologist Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) argued that the State deliberately encouraged “the religion of enmity” against others in order to bolster public “faith in governmental ability and authority”:

Chiefly, however, the maintenance of this faith is necessitated by the maintenance of fitness for war. This involves continuance of such confidence in the ruling agency, and such subordination to it, as may enable it to wield all the forces of the society on occasions of attack or defence; and there must survive a political theory justifying the faith and the obedience. While their sentiments and ideas are of kinds which perpetually endanger peace, it is requisite that men should have such belief in the authority of government as shall give it adequate coercive power over them for war purposes—a belief in its authority which inevitably, at the same time, gives it coercive power over them for other purposes.

In 1884 Spencer thought that Britain was caught in a transition period between two fundamentally different societies, namely “the militant régime” dominated by a warrior class which ruled a society constantly prepared for war, and the “industrial régime” where individual rights are respected, free trade in all things takes place, and where domestic and international peace reigns. He was confident that eventually Britain would slough off all the remnants of the militant régime and fully enter the industrial stage of society. However, in the meantime, the old ruling elites would try to hang onto power for as long as possible which they were doing by instilling a climate of fear, “the religion of enmity”, against foreigners in order justify a large military and continued control of key sectors of the economy. Spencer pointed out the obvious incongruity between sermons on Sunday preaching “the religion of amity” while on the other six days of the week there was near universal “admiration those who … achieved the greatest feats in battle”.