In this chapter from The Man versus the State, Herbert Spencer attacks the rise of paternalist politics.
Most of those who now pass as Liberals, are Tories of a new type. This is a paradox which I propose to justify. That I may justify it, I must first point out what the two political parties originally were; and I must then ask the reader to bear with me while I remind him of facts he is familiar with, that I may impress on him the intrinsic natures of Toryism and Liberalism properly so called.
Dating back to an earlier period than their names, the two political parties at first stood respectively for two opposed types of social organization, broadly distinguishable as the militant and the industrial—types which are characterized, the one by the régime of status, almost universal in ancient days, and the other by the régime of contract, which has become general in modern days, chiefly among the Western nations, and especially among ourselves and the Americans. If, instead of using the word “cooperation” in a limited sense, we use it in its widest sense, as signifying the combined activities of citizens under whatever system of regulation; then these two are definable as the system of compulsory cooperation and the system of voluntary cooperation. The typical structure of the one we see in an army formed of conscripts, in which the units in their several grades have to fulfil commands under pain of death, and receive food and clothing and pay, arbitrarily apportioned; while the typical structure of the other we see in a body of producers or distributors, who severally agree to specified payments in return for specified services, and may at will, after due notice, leave the organization if they do not like it.
During social evolution in England, the distinction between these two fundamentally‐opposed forms of cooperation, made its appearance gradually; but long before the names Tory and Whig came into use, the parties were becoming traceable, and their connexions with militancy and industrialism respectively, were vaguely shown. The truth is familiar that, here as elsewhere, it was habitually by town‐populations, formed of workers and traders accustomed to cooperate under contract, that resistances were made to that coercive rule which characterizes cooperation under status. While, conversely, cooperation under status, arising from, and adjusted to, chronic warfare, was supported in rural districts, originally peopled by military chiefs and their dependents, where the primitive ideas and traditions survived. Moreover, this contrast in political leanings, shown before Whig and Tory principles became clearly distinguished, continued to be shown afterwards. At the period of the Revolution, “while the villages and smaller towns were monopolized by Tories, the larger cities, the manufacturing districts, and the ports of commerce, formed the strongholds of the Whigs.” And that, spite of exceptions, the like general relation still exists, needs no proving.
Such were the natures of the two parties as indicated by their origins. Observe, now, how their natures were indicated by their early doctrines and deeds. Whiggism began with resistance to Charles II and his cabal, in their efforts to re‐establish unchecked monarchical power. The Whigs “regarded the monarchy as a civil institution, established by the nation for the benefit of all its members” ; while with the Tories “the monarch was the delegate of heaven.” And these doctrines involved the beliefs, the one that subjection of citizen to ruler was conditional, and the other that it was unconditional. Describing Whig and Tory as conceived at the end of the seventeenth century, some fifty years before he wrote hisDissertation on Parties, Bolingbroke says:
The power and majesty of the people, and original contract, the authority and independency of Parliaments, liberty, resistance, exclusion, abdication, deposition; these were ideas associated, at that time, to the idea of a Whig, and supposed by every Whig to be incommunicable, and inconsistent with the idea of a Tory.
Divine, hereditary, indefeasible right, lineal succession, passive obedience, prerogative, non‐resistance, slavery, nay, and sometimes popery too, were associated in many minds to the idea of a Tory, and deemed incommunicable and inconsistent, in the same manner, with the idea of Whig.
—Dissertation on Parties, p. 5.
And if we compare these descriptions, we see that in the one party there was a desire to resist and decrease the coercive power of the ruler over the subject, and in the other party to maintain or increase his coercive power. This distinction in their aims—a distinction which transcends in meaning and importance all other political distinctions—was displayed in their early doings. Whig principles were exemplified in the Habeas Corpus Act, and in the measure by which judges were made independent of the Crown; in defeat of the Non‐Resisting Test Bill, which proposed for legislators and officials a compulsory oath that they would in no case resist the king by arms; and, later, they were exemplified in the Bill of Rights, framed to secure subjects against monarchical aggressions. These Acts had the same intrinsic nature. The principle of compulsory cooperation throughout social life was weakened by them, and the principle of voluntary cooperation strengthened. That at a subsequent period the policy of the party had the same general tendency, is well shown by a remark of Mr. Green concerning the period of Whig power after the death of Anne:
Before the fifty years of their rule had passed, Englishmen had forgotten that it was possible to persecute for differences of religion or to put down the liberty of the press, or to tamper with the administration of justice, or to rule without a Parliament.
—Short History, p. 705.
And now, passing over the war‐period which closed the last century and began this, during which that extension of individual freedom previously gained was lost, and the retrograde movement towards the social type proper to militancy was shown by all kinds of coercive measures, from those which took by force the persons and property of citizens for war‐purposes to those which suppressed public meetings and sought to gag the press, let us recall the general characters of those changes effected by Whigs or Liberals after the re‐establishment of peace permitted revival of the industrial régime and return to its appropriate type of structure. Under growing Whig influence there came repeal of the laws forbidding combinations among artisans as well as of those which interfered with their freedom of travelling. There was the measure by which, under Whig pressure, Dissenters were allowed to believe as they pleased without suffering certain civil penalties; and there was the Whig measure, carried by Tories under compulsion, which enabled Catholics to profess their religion without losing part of their freedom. The area of liberty was extended by Acts which forbade the buying of negroes and the holding of them in bondage. The East India Company’s monopoly was abolished, and trade with the East made open to all. The political serfdom of the unrepresented was narrowed in areas, both by the Reform Bill and the Municipal Reform Bill; so that alike generally and locally, the many were less under the coercion of the few. Dissenters, no longer obliged to submit to the ecclesiastical form of marriage, were made free to wed by a purely civil rite. Later came diminution and removal of restraints on the buying of foreign commodities and the employment of foreign vessels and foreign sailors; and later still the removal of those burdens on the press, which were originally imposed to hinder the diffusion of opinion. And of all these changes it is unquestionable that, whether made or not by Liberals themselves, they were made in conformity with principles professed and urged by Liberals.
But why do I enumerate facts so well known to all? Simply because, as intimated at the outset, it seems needful to remind everybody what Liberalism was in the past, that they may perceive its unlikeness to the so‐called Liberalism of the present. It would be inexcusable to name these various measures for the purpose of pointing out the character common to them, were it not that in our day men have forgotten their common character. They do not remember that, in one or other way, all these truly Liberal changes diminished compulsory cooperation throughout social life and increased voluntary cooperation. They have forgotten that, in one direction or other, they diminished the range of governmental authority, and increased the area within which each citizen may act unchecked. They have lost sight of the truth that in past times Liberalism habitually stood for individual freedom versus State‐coercion.
And now comes the inquiry—How is it that Liberals have lost sight of this? How is it that Liberalism, getting more and more into power, has grown more and more coercive in its legislation? How is it that, either directly through its own majorities or indirectly through aid given in such cases to the majorities of its opponents, Liberalism has to an increasing extent adopted the policy of dictating the actions of citizens, and, by consequence, diminishing the range throughout which their actions remain free? How are we to explain this spreading confusion of thought which has led it, in pursuit of what appears to be public good, to invert the method by which in earlier days it achieved public good?
Unaccountable as at first sight this unconscious change of policy seems, we shall find that it has arisen quite naturally. Given the unanalytical thought ordinarily brought to bear on political matters, and, under existing conditions, nothing else was to be expected. To make this clear some parenthetic explanations are needful.
From the lowest to the highest creatures, intelligence progresses by acts of discrimination; and it continues so to progress among men, from the most ignorant to the most cultured. To class rightly—to put in the same group things which are of essentially the same natures, and in other groups things of natures essentially different—is the fundamental condition to right guidance of actions. Beginning with rudimentary vision, which gives warning that some large opaque body is passing near (just as closed eyes turned to the window, perceiving the shade caused by a hand put before them, tell us of something moving in front), the advance is to developed vision, which, by exactly‐appreciated combinations of forms, colours, and motions, identifies objects at great distances as prey or enemies, and so makes it possible to improve the adjustments of conduct for securing food or evading death. That progressing perception of differences and consequent greater correctness of classing, constitutes, under one of its chief aspects, the growth of intelligence, is equally seen when we pass from the relatively simple physical vision to the relatively complex intellectual vision—the vision through the agency of which, things previously grouped by certain external resemblances or by certain extrinsic circumstances, come to be more truly grouped in conformity with their intrinsic structures or natures. Undeveloped intellectual vision is just as indiscriminating and erroneous in its classings as undeveloped physical vision. Instance the early arrangement of plants into the groups, trees, shrubs, and herbs: size, the most conspicuous trait, being the ground of distinction; and the assemblages formed being such as united many plants extremely unlike in their natures, and separated others that are near akin. Or still better, take the popular classification which puts together under the same general name, fish and shell‐fish, and under the sub‐name, shell‐fish, puts together crustaceans and molluscs; nay, which goes further, and regards as fish the cetacean mammals. Partly because of the likeness in their modes of life as inhabiting the water, and partly because of some general resemblance in their flavours, creatures that are in their essential natures far more widely separated than a fish is from a bird, are associated in the same class and in the same sub‐class.
Now the general truth thus exemplified, holds throughout those higher ranges of intellectual vision concerned with things not presentable to the senses, and, among others, such things as political institutions and political measures. For when thinking of these, too, the results of inadequate intellectual faculty, or inadequate culture of it, or both, are erroneous classings and consequent erroneous conclusions. Indeed, the liability to error is here much greater; since the things with which the intellect is concerned do not admit of examination in the same easy way. You cannot touch or see a political institution: it can be known only by an effort of constructive imagination. Neither can you apprehend by physical perception a political measure: this no less requires a process of mental representation by which its elements are put together in thought, and the essential nature of the combination conceived. Here, therefore, still more than in the cases above named, defective intellectual vision is shown in grouping by external characters, or extrinsic circumstances. How institutions are wrongly classed from this cause, we see in the common notion that the Roman Republic was a popular form of government. Look into the early ideas of the French revolutionists who aimed at an ideal state of freedom, and you find that the political forms and deeds of the Romans were their models; and even now a historian might be named who instances the corruptions of the Roman Republic as showing us what popular government leads to. Yet the resemblance between the institutions of the Romans and free institutions properly so‐called, was less than that between a shark and a porpoise—a resemblance of general external form accompanying widely different internal structures. For the Roman Government was that of a small oligarchy within a larger oligarchy: the members of each being unchecked autocrats. A society in which the relatively few men who had political power, and were in a qualified sense free, were so many petty despots, holding not only slaves and dependents but even children in a bondage no less absolute than that in which they held their cattle, was, by its intrinsic nature, more nearly allied to an ordinary despotism than to a society of citizens politically equal.
Passing now to our special question, we may understand the kind of confusion in which Liberalism has lost itself: and the origin of those mistaken classings of political measures which have misled it—classings, as we shall see, by conspicuous external traits instead of by internal natures. For what, in the popular apprehension and in the apprehension of those who effected them, were the changes made by Liberals in the past? They were abolitions of grievances suffered by the people, or by portions of them: this was the common trait they had which most impressed itself on men’s minds. They were mitigations of evils which had directly or indirectly been felt by large classes of citizens, as causes to misery or as hindrances to happiness. And since, in the minds of most, a rectified evil is equivalent to an achieved good, these measures came to be thought of as so many positive benefits; and the welfare of the many came to be conceived alike by Liberal statesmen and Liberal voters as the aim of Liberalism. Hence the confusion. The gaining of a popular good, being the external conspicuous trait common to Liberal measures in earlier days (then in each case gained by a relaxation of restraints), it has happened that popular good has come to be sought by Liberals, not as an end to be indirectly gained by relaxations of restraints, but as the end to be directly gained. And seeking to gain it directly, they have used methods intrinsically opposed to those originally used.
And now, having seen how this reversal of policy has arisen (or partial reversal, I should say, for the recent Burials Act and the efforts to remove all remaining religious inequalities, show continuance of the original policy in certain directions), let us proceed to contemplate the extent to which it has been carried during recent times, and the still greater extent to which the future will see it carried if current ideas and feelings continue to predominate.
Before proceeding, it may be well to say that no reflections are intended on the motives which prompted one after another of these various restraints and dictations. These motives were doubtless in nearly all cases good. It must be admitted that the restrictions placed by an Act of 1870, on the employment of women and children in Turkey‐red dyeing works, were, in intention, no less philanthropic than those of Edward VI, which prescribed the minimum time for which a journeyman should be retained. Without question, the Seed Supply (Ireland) Act of 1880, which empowered guardians to buy seed for poor tenants, and then to see it properly planted, was moved by a desire for public welfare no less great than that which in 1533 prescribed the number of sheep a tenant might keep, or that of 1597, which commanded that decayed houses of husbandry should be rebuilt. Nobody will dispute that the various measures of late years taken for restricting the sale of intoxicating liquors, have been taken as much with a view to public morals as were the measures taken of old for checking the evils of luxury; as, for instance, in the fourteenth century, when diet as well as dress was restricted. Everyone must see that the edicts issued by Henry VIII to prevent the lower classes from playing dice, cards, bowls, etc., were not more prompted by desire for popular welfare than were the acts passed of late to check gambling.
Further, I do not intend here to question the wisdom of these modern interferences, which Conservatives and Liberals vie with one and other in multiplying, any more than to question the wisdom of those ancient ones which they in many cases resemble. We will not now consider whether the plans of late adopted for preserving the lives of sailors, are or are not more judicious than that sweeping Scotch measure which, in the middle of the fifteenth century, prohibited captains from leaving harbour during the winter. For the present, it shall remain undebated whether there is a better warrant for giving sanitary officers powers to search certain premises for unfit food, than there was for the law of Edward III, under which innkeepers at seaports were sworn to search their guests to prevent the exportation of money or plate. We will assume that there is no less sense in that clause of the Canal‐boat Act, which forbids an owner to board gratuitously the children of the boatmen, than there was in the Spitalfields Acts, which, up to 1824, for the benefit of the artisans, forbade the manufacturers to fix their factories more than ten miles from the Royal Exchange.
We exclude, then, these questions of philanthropic motive and wise judgment, taking both of them for granted; and have here to concern ourselves solely with the compulsory nature of the measures which, for good or evil as the case may be, have been put in force during periods of Liberal ascendency.
To bring the illustrations within compass, let us commence with 1860, under the second administration of Lord Palmerston. In that year, the restrictions of the Factories Act were extended to bleaching and dyeing works; authority was given to provide analysts of food and drink, to be paid out of local rates; there was an Act providing for inspection of gas‐works, as well as for fixing quality of gas and limiting price; there was the Act which, in addition to further mine‐inspection, made it penal to employ boys under twelve not attending school and unable to read and write. In 1861 occurred an extension of the compulsory provisions of the Factories Act to lace‐works; power was given to poor‐law guardians, etc., to enforce vaccination; local boards were authorized to fix rates of hire for horses, ponies, mules, asses, and boats; and certain locally‐formed bodies had given to them powers of taxing the locality for rural drainage and irrigation works, and for supplying water to cattle. In 1862 an Act was passed for restricting the employment of women and children in open‐air bleaching; and an Act for making illegal a coal‐mine with a single shaft, or with shafts separated by less than a specified space; as well as an Act giving the Council of Medical Education the exclusive right to publish a Pharmacopoeia, the price of which is to be fixed by the Treasury. In 1863 came the extension of compulsory vaccination to Scotland, and also to Ireland; there came the empowering of certain boards to borrow money repayable from the local rates, to employ and pay those out of work; there came the authorizing of town‐authorities to take possession of neglected ornamental spaces, and rate the inhabitants for their support; there came the Bakehouses Regulation Act, which, besides specifying minimum age of employés occupied between certain hours, prescribed periodical lime‐washing, three coats of paint when painted, and cleaning with hot water and soap at least once in six months; and there came also an Act giving a magistrate authority to decide on the wholesomeness or unwholesomeness of food brought before him by an inspector. Of compulsory legislation dating from 1864, may be named an extension of the Factories Act to various additional trades, including regulations for cleansing and ventilation, and specifying of certain employés in match‐works, that they might not take meals on the premises except in the wood‐cutting places. Also there were passed a Chimney‐Sweepers Act, an Act for further regulating the sale of beer in Ireland, an Act for compulsory testing of cables and anchors, an Act extending the Public Works Act of 1863, and the Contagious Diseases Act: which last gave the police, in specified places, powers which, in respect of certain classes of women, abolished sundry of those safeguards to individual freedom established in past times. The year 1865 witnessed further provision for the reception and temporary relief of wanderers at the cost of ratepayers; another public‐house closing Act; and an Act making compulsory regulations for extinguishing fires in London. Then, under the Ministry of Lord John Russell, in 1866, have to be named an Act to regulate cattle‐sheds, etc., in Scotland, giving local authorities powers to inspect sanitary conditions and fix the numbers of cattle; an Act forcing hop‐growers to label their bags with the year and place of growth and the true weight, and giving police powers of search; an Act to facilitate the building of lodging‐houses in Ireland, and providing for regulation of the inmates; a Public Health Act, under which there is registration of lodging‐houses and limitation of occupants, with inspection and directions for lime‐washing, etc., and a Public Libraries Act, giving local powers by which a majority can tax a minority for their books.
Passing now to the legislation under the first Ministry of Mr. Gladstone, we have, in 1869, the establishment of State‐telegraphy, with the accompanying interdict on telegraphing through any other agency; we have the empowering a Secretary of State to regulate hired conveyances in London; we have further and more stringent regulations to prevent cattle‐diseases from spreading, another Beerhouse Regulation Act, and a Sea‐birds Preservation Act (ensuring greater mortality of fish). In 1870 we have a law authorizing the Board of Public Works to make advances for landlords’ improvements and for purchase by tenants; we have the Act which enables the Education Department to form school‐boards which shall purchase sites for schools, and may provide free schools supported by local rates, and enabling school‐boards to pay a child’s fees, to compel parents to send their children, etc.; we have a further Factories and Workshops Act, making, among other restrictions, some on the employment of women and children in fruit‐preserving and fish‐curing works. In 1871 we met with an amended Merchant Shipping Act, directing officers of the Board of Trade to record the draught of sea‐going vessels leaving port; there is another Factory and Workshops Act, making further restrictions; there is a Pedlars Act, inflicting penalties for hawking without a certificate, and limiting the district within which the certificate holds as well as giving the police power to search pedlars’ packs; and there are further measures for enforcing vaccination. The year 1872 had, among other Acts, one which makes it illegal to take for hire more than one child to nurse, unless in a house registered by the authorities, who prescribe the number of infants to be received; it had a Licensing Act, interdicting sale of spirits to those apparently under sixteen; and it had another Merchant Shipping Act, establishing an annual survey of passenger steamers. Then in 1873 was passed the Agricultural Children’s Act, which makes it penal for a farmer to employ a child who has neither certificate of elementary education nor of certain prescribed school‐attendances; and there was passed a Merchant Shipping Act, requiring on each vessel a scale showing draught and giving the Board of Trade power to fix the numbers of boats and life‐saving appliances to be carried.
Turn now to Liberal law‐making under the present Ministry. We have, in 1880, a law which forbids conditional advance‐notes in payment of sailors’ wages; also a law which dictates certain arrangements for the safe carriage of grain‐cargoes; also a law increasing local coercion over parents to send their children to school. In 1881 comes legislation to prevent trawling over clam‐beds and bait‐beds, and an interdict making it impossible to buy a glass of beer on Sunday in Wales. In 1882 the Board of Trade was authorized to grant licences to generate and sell electricity, and municipal bodies were enabled to levy rates for electric‐lighting: further exactions from ratepayers were authorized for facilitating more accessible baths and washhouses; and local authorities were empowered to make bye‐laws for securing the decent lodging of persons engaged in picking fruit and vegetables. Of such legislation during 1883 may be named the Cheap Trains Act, which, partly by taxing the nation to the extent of £400,000 a year (in the shape of relinquished passenger duty), and partly at the cost of railway‐proprietors, still further cheapens travelling for workmen: the Board of Trade, through the Railway Commissioners, being empowered to ensure sufficiently good and frequent accommodation. Again, there is the Act which, under penalty of £10 for disobedience, forbids the payment of wages to workmen at or within public‐houses; there is another Factory and Workshops Act, commanding inspection of white lead works (to see that there are provided overalls, respirators, baths, acidulated drinks, etc.) and of bakehouses, regulating times of employment in both, and prescribing in detail some constructions for the last, which are to be kept in a condition satisfactory to the inspectors.
But we are far from forming an adequate conception if we look only at the compulsory legislation which has actually been established of late years. We must look also at that which is advocated, and which threatens to be far more sweeping in range and stringent in character. We have lately had a Cabinet Minister, one of the most advanced Liberals, so‐called, who pooh‐poohs the plans of the late Government for improving industrial dwellings as so much “tinkering” ; and contends for effectual coercion to be exercised over owners of small houses, over land‐owners, and over ratepayers. Here is another Cabinet Minister who, addressing his constituents, speaks slightingly of the doings of philanthropic societies and religious bodies to help the poor, and says that “the whole of the people of this country ought to look upon this work as being their own work” : that is to say, some extensive Government measure is called for. Again, we have a Radical member of Parliament who leads a large and powerful body, aiming with annually‐increasing promise of success, to enforce sobriety by giving to local majorities powers to prevent freedom of exchange in respect of certain commodities. Regulation of the hours of labour for certain classes, which has been made more and more general by successive extensions of the Factories Acts, is likely now to be made still more general: a measure is to be proposed bringing the employés in all shops under such regulation. There is a rising demand, too, that education shall be made gratis (i.e., tax‐supported), for all. The payment of school‐fees is beginning to be denounced as a wrong: the State must take the whole burden. Moreover, it is proposed by many that the State, regarded as an undoubtedly competent judge of what constitutes good education for the poor, shall undertake also to prescribe good education for the middle classes—shall stamp the children of these, too, after a State pattern, concerning the goodness of which they have no more doubt than the Chinese had when they fixed theirs. Then there is the “endowment of research,” of late energetically urged. Already the Government gives every year the sum of £4,000 for this purpose, to be distributed through the Royal Society; and, in the absence of those who have strong motives for resisting the pressure of the interested, backed by those they easily persuade, it may by‐and‐by establish that paid “priesthood of science” long ago advocated by Sir David Brewster. Once more, plausible proposals are made that there should be organized a system of compulsory insurance, by which men during their early lives shall be forced to provide for the time when they will be incapacitated.
Nor does enumeration of these further measures of coercive rule, looming on us near at hand or in the distance, complete the account. Nothing more than cursory allusion has yet been made to that accompanying compulsion which takes the form of increased taxation, general and local. Partly for defraying the costs of carrying out these ever‐multiplying sets of regulations, each of which requires an additional staff of officers, and partly to meet the outlay for new public institutions, such as board‐schools, free libraries, public museums, baths and washhouses, recreation grounds, etc., local rates are year after year increased; as the general taxation is increased by grants for education and to the departments of science and art, etc. Every one of these involves further coercion—restricts still more the freedom of the citizen. For the implied address accompanying every additional exaction is—” Hitherto you have been free to spend this portion of your earnings in any way which pleased you; hereafter you shall not be free so to spend it, but we will spend it for the general benefit.” Thus, either directly or indirectly, and in most cases both at once, the citizen is at each further stage in the growth of this compulsory legislation, deprived of some liberty which he previously had.
Such, then, are the doings of the party which claims the name of Liberal; and which calls itself Liberal as being the advocate of extended freedom!
I doubt not that many a member of the party has read the preceding section with impatience: wanting, as he does, to point out an immense oversight which he thinks destroys the validity of the argument. “You forget,” he wishes to say, “the fundamental difference between the power which, in the past, established those restraints that Liberalism abolished, and the power which, in the present, establishes the restraints you call anti‐Liberal. You forget that the one was an irresponsible power, while the other is a responsible power. You forget that if by the recent legislation of Liberals, people are variously regulated, the body which regulates them is of their own creating, and has their warrant for its acts.”
My answer is, that I have not forgotten this difference, but am prepared to contend that the difference is in large measure irrelevant to the issue.
In the first place, the real issue is whether the lives of citizens are more interfered with than they were; not the nature of the agency which interferes with them. Take a simpler case. A member of a trades’ union has joined others in establishing an organization of a purely representative character. By it he is compelled to strike if a majority so decide; he is forbidden to accept work save under the conditions they dictate; he is prevented from profiting by his superior ability or energy to the extent he might do were it not for their interdict. He cannot disobey without abandoning those pecuniary benefits of the organization for which he has subscribed, and bringing on himself the persecution, and perhaps violence, of his fellows. Is he any the less coerced because the body coercing him is one which he had an equal voice with the rest in forming?
In the second place, if it be objected that the analogy is faulty, since the governing body of a nation, to which, as protector of the national life and interests, all must submit under penalty of social disorganization, has a far higher authority over citizens than the government of any private organization can have over its members; then the reply is that granting the difference, the answer made continues valid. If men use their liberty in such a way as to surrender their liberty, are they thereafter any the less slaves? If people by a plebisciteelect a man despot over them, do they remain free because the despotism was of their own making? Are the coercive edicts issued by him to be regarded as legitimate because they are the ultimate outcome of their own votes? As well might it be argued that the East African, who breaks a spear in another’s presence that he may so become bondsman to him, still retains his liberty because he freely chose his master.
Finally if any, not without marks of irritation as I can imagine, repudiate this reasoning, and say that there is no true parallelism between the relation of people to government where an irresponsible single ruler has been permanently elected, and the relation where a responsible representative body is maintained, and from time to time re‐elected; then there comes the ultimate reply—an altogether heterodox reply—by which most will be greatly astonished. This reply is, that these multitudinous restraining acts are not defensible on the ground that they proceed from a popularly‐chosen body; for that the authority of a popularly‐chosen body is no more to be regarded as an unlimited authority than the authority of a monarch; and that as true Liberalism in the past disputed the assumption of a monarch’s unlimited authority, so true Liberalism in the present will dispute the assumption of unlimited parliamentary authority. Of this, however, more anon. Here I merely indicate it as an ultimate answer.
Meanwhile it suffices to point out that until recently, just as of old, true Liberalism was shown by its acts to be moving towards the theory of a limited parliamentary authority. All these abolitions of restraints over religious beliefs and observances, over exchange and transit, over trade‐combinations and the travelling of artisans, over the publication of opinions, theological or political, etc., were tacit assertions of the desirableness of limitation. In the same way that the abandonment of sumptuary laws, of laws forbidding this or that kind of amusement, of laws dictating modes of farming, and many others of like meddling nature, which took place in early days, was an implied admission that the State ought not to interfere in such matters: so those removals of hindrances to individual activities of one or other kind, which the Liberalism of the last generation effected, were practical confessions that in these directions, too, the sphere of governmental action should be narrowed. And this recognition of the propriety of restricting governmental action was a preparation for restricting it in theory. One of the most familiar political truths is that, in the course of social evolution, usage precedes law; and that when usage has been well established it becomes law by receiving authoritative endorsement and defined form. Manifestly then, Liberalism in the past, by its practice of limitation, was preparing the way for the principle of limitation.
But returning from these more general considerations to the special question, I emphasize the reply that the liberty which a citizen enjoys is to be measured, not by the nature of the governmental machinery he lives under, whether representative or other, but by the relative paucity of the restraints it imposes on him; and that, whether this machinery is or is not one he shared in making, its actions are not of the kind proper to Liberalism if they increase such restraints beyond those which are needful for preventing him from directly or indirectly aggressing on his fellows—needful, that is, for maintaining the liberties of his fellows against his invasions of them: restraints which are, therefore, to be distinguished as negatively coercive, not positively coercive.
Probably, however, the Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical, who more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able, will continue to protest. Knowing that his aim is popular benefit of some kind, to be achieved in some way, and believing that the Tory is, contrariwise, prompted by class‐interest and the desire to maintain class‐power, he will regard it as palpably absurd to group him as one of the same genus, and will scorn the reasoning used to prove that he belongs to it.
Perhaps an analogy will help him to see its validity. If, away in the far East, where personal government is the only form of government known, he heard from the inhabitants an account of a struggle by which they had deposed a cruel and vicious despot, and put in his place one whose acts proved his desire for their welfare—if, after listening to their self‐gratulations, he told them that they had not essentially changed the nature of their government, he would greatly astonish them; and probably he would have difficulty in making them understand that the substitution of a benevolent despot for a malevolent despot, still left the government a despotism. Similarly with Toryism as rightly conceived. Standing as it does for coercion by the State versus the freedom of the individual, Toryism remains Toryism, whether it extends this coercion for selfish or unselfish reasons. As certainly as the despot is still a despot, whether his motives for arbitrary rule are good or bad; so certainly is the Tory still a Tory, whether he has egoistic or altruistic motives for using State‐power to restrict the liberty of the citizen, beyond the degree required for maintaining the liberties of other citizens. The altruistic Tory as well as the egoistic Tory belongs to the genus Tory; though he forms a new species of the genus. And both stand in distinct contrast with the Liberal as defined in the days when Liberals were rightly so called, and when the definition was—” one who advocates greater freedom from restraint, especially in political institutions.”
Thus, then, is justified the paradox I set out with. As we have seen, Toryism and Liberalism originally emerged, the one from militancy and the other from industrialism. The one stood for the régime of status and the other for the régime of contract—the one for that system of compulsory cooperation which accompanies the legal inequality of classes, and the other for that voluntary cooperation which accompanies their legal equality; and beyond all question the early acts of the two parties were respectively for the maintenance of agencies which effect this compulsory cooperation, and for the weakening or curbing of them. Manifestly the implication is that, in so far as it has been extending the system of compulsion, what is now called Liberalism is a new form of Toryism.
How truly this is so, we shall see still more clearly on looking at the facts the other side upwards, which we will presently do.
NOTE—By sundry newspapers which noticed this article when it was originally published, the meaning of the above paragraphs was supposed to be that Liberals and Tories have changed places. This, however, is by no means the implication. A new species of Tory may arise without disappearance of the original species. When saying, as on page 16, that in our days “Conservatives and Liberals vie with one another in multiplying” interferences, I clearly implied the belief that while Liberals have taken to coercive legislation, Conservatives have not abandoned it. Nevertheless, it is true that the laws made by Liberals are so greatly increasing the compulsions and restraints exercised over citizens, that among Conservatives who suffer from this aggressiveness there is growing up a tendency to resist it. Proof is furnished by the fact that the “Liberty and Property Defense League,” largely consisting of Conservatives, has taken for its motto “Individualism versus Socialism.” So that if the present drift of things continues, it may by and by really happen that the Tories will be defenders of liberties which the Liberals, in pursuit of what they think popular welfare, trample under foot.