The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism

Hodgskin, Thomas (1787-1869)

Thomas Hodgskin was one of the most original libertarian theorists in Victorian England. His first major work was Travels in the North of Germany (1820). This two-volume travelogue, which is interspersed with political commentary on “the much governed countries of Germany,” frequently discusses the inefficiency and waste of governmental projects. Hodgskin even suggests that police functions should be placed in private hands. In 1825, Hodgskin published Labour Defended against the Claims of Capital, a tract cited repeatedly by Karl Marx and later to cause historians to claim that Hodgskin was a “Ricardian Socialist.” In fact, Hodgskin disliked Ricardo’s theories, vastly preferring the insights of Adam Smith, and he hated socialism even more. Although sui generis in many respects, Hodgskin is best categorized as an individualist anarchist.

Hodgskin’s Popular Political Economy (1827), in addition to its defense of free-market currency, banking, and other libertarian institutions, anticipates some later insights by F. A. Hayek and other Austrian economists, such as the role of prices in transmitting crucial market information in a spontaneous economic order. His greatest contribution to libertarian theory was The Natural and Artificial Right of Property Contrasted (1832), a vigorous defense of natural rights and a sustained critique of the utilitarianism and legal positivism of Jeremy Bentham and his followers.

In 1846, Hodgskin became senior editor for The Economist, where for many years he continued to defend libertarian causes, such as voluntary education and opposition to capital punishment. It was during his tenure with this influential publication that Hodgskin befriended Herbert Spencer, then a junior editor on the magazine.


Further Readings

Hodgskin, Thomas. Labor Defended against the Claims of Capital. New York: A. M. Kelley, 1969.

———. The Natural and Artificial Right of Property Contrasted. Clifton, NJ: A. M. Kelley, 1973.

———. Popular Political Economy. New York: A. M. Kelley, 1966.

Marx, Karl. Capital. New York: International Publishers, 1967.

Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics, 1981.

Originally published .