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The New Slavery: Nock on Spencer

[This is Albert Jay Nock’s (1870–1945) introduction to Spencer’s forgotten 1884 classic, The Man versus the State.]

In 1851 Herbert Spencer printed a treatise referred to as Social Statics; or, The Circumstances Important to Human Happiness Specified. Amongst different specs, this work established and made clear the elemental precept that society needs to be organized on the idea of voluntary cooperation, not on the idea of obligatory cooperation, or underneath the specter of it. In a phrase, it established the precept of individualism as in opposition to Statism—in opposition to the precept underlying all of the collectivist doctrines that are in all places dominant these days. It contemplated the discount of State energy over the person to an absolute minimal, and the elevating of social energy to its most; as in opposition to the precept of Statism, which contemplates the exact reverse. Spencer maintained that the State’s interventions upon the person needs to be confined to punishing these crimes in opposition to particular person or property that are acknowledged as such by what the Scots philosophers referred to as “the frequent sense of mankind”; implementing the obligations of contract; and making justice costless and simply accessible. Past this the State shouldn’t go; it ought to put no additional coercive restraint upon the person. All that the State can do for the most effective pursuits of society—all it will probably do to advertise a everlasting and steady well-being of society—is by the use of these purely unfavorable interventions. Let it transcend them and try the promotion of society’s well-being by optimistic coercive interventions upon the citizen, and no matter obvious and momentary social good could also be effected will probably be significantly at the price of actual and everlasting social good.

Spencer’s work of 1851 is lengthy out of print and out of forex; a replica of this can be very laborious to seek out. It needs to be republished, for it’s to the philosophy of individualism what the work of the German idealist philosophers is to the doctrine of Statism, what Das Kapital is to Statist financial idea, or what the Pauline Epistles are to the theology of Protestantism. It had no impact, or little or no on checking the riotous progress of Statism in England; nonetheless much less in staying the calamitous penalties of that progress. From 1851 right down to his dying on the finish of the century, Spencer wrote occasional essays, partly as working touch upon the acceleration of Statism’s progress; partly as exposition, by power of illustration and instance; and partly as remarkably correct prophecy of what has since come to go in consequence of the wholesale substitution of the precept of obligatory cooperation—the Statist precept—for the individualist precept of voluntary cooperation. He reissued 4 of those essays in 1884, underneath the title, The Man Versus The State; and these 4 essays, along with two others, referred to as Over-legislation and From Freedom to Bondage, are actually reprinted right here underneath the identical normal title.


The primary essay, The New Toryism, is of major significance simply now, as a result of it reveals the distinction between the goals and strategies of early Liberalism and people of contemporary Liberalism. In lately we hear a fantastic deal about Liberalism, Liberal ideas and insurance policies, within the conduct of our public life. All types and situations of males put themselves ahead on the general public stage as Liberals; they name those that oppose them Tories, and get credit score with the general public thereby. Within the public thoughts, Liberalism is a time period of hon our, whereas Toryism—particularly “financial Toryism”—is a time period of reproach. Evidently, these phrases are by no means examined; the self-styled Liberal is taken popularly on the face worth of his pretensions, and insurance policies that are put forth as Liberal are accepted in the identical unreflecting means. This being so, it’s helpful to see what the historic sense of the time period is, and to see how far the goals and strategies of latter-day Liberalism might be introduced into correspondence with it; and the way far, subsequently, the latter-day Liberal is entitled to bear that title.

Spencer reveals that the early Liberal was persistently for slicing down the State’s coercive energy over the citizen, wherever this was doable. He was for lowering to a minimal the variety of factors at which the State may make coercive interventions upon the person. He was for steadily enlarging the margin of existence inside which the citizen may pursue and regulate his personal actions as he noticed match, freed from State management or State supervision. Liberal insurance policies and measures, as initially conceived, have been comparable to mirrored these goals. The Tory, however, was opposed to those goals, and his insurance policies mirrored this opposition. Typically phrases, the Liberal was persistently inclined in the direction of the individualist philosophy of society, whereas the Tory was persistently inclined in the direction of the Statist philosophy.

Spencer reveals furthermore that as a matter of sensible coverage, the early Liberal proceeded in the direction of the belief of his goals by the tactic of repeal. He was not for making new legal guidelines, however for repealing previous ones. It’s most necessary to recollect this. Wherever the Liberal noticed a legislation which enhanced the State’s coercive energy over the citizen, he was for repealing it and leaving its place clean. There have been many such legal guidelines on the British statute-books, and when Liberalism got here into energy it repealed an immense grist of them.

Spencer should be left to explain in his personal phrases, as he does in the middle of this essay, how within the latter half of the final century British Liberalism went over bodily to the philosophy of Statism, and abjuring the political technique of repealing existent coercive measures, proceeded to outdo the Tories in establishing new coercive measures of ever-increasing particularity. This piece of British political historical past has nice worth for American readers, as a result of it permits them to see how intently American Liberalism has adopted the identical course. It permits them to interpret appropriately the importance of Liberalism’s affect upon the course of our public life within the final half-century, and to understand simply what it’s to which that affect has led, simply what the implications are which that affect has tended to result in, and simply what are the additional penalties which can be anticipated to ensue.

For instance, Statism postulates the doctrine that the citizen has no rights which the State is sure to respect; the one rights he has are these which the State grants him, and which the State might attenuate or revoke at its personal pleasure. This doctrine is prime; with out its assist, all the assorted nominal modes or types of Statism which we see at massive in Europe and America—comparable to are referred to as Socialism, Communism, Naziism, Fascism, and so on.—would collapse without delay. The individualism which was professed by the early Liberals, maintained the opposite; it maintained that the citizen has rights that are inviolable by the State or by every other company. This was basic doctrine; with out its assist, clearly, each formulation of individualism turns into a lot waste paper. Furthermore, early Liberalism accepted it as not solely basic, but in addition as axiomatic, self-evident. We might bear in mind, for instance, that our nice constitution, the Declaration of Independence, takes as its basis the self-evident reality of this doctrine, asserting that man, in advantage of his delivery, is endowed with sure rights that are “unalienable”; and asserting additional that it’s “to safe these rights” that governments are instituted amongst males. Political literature will nowhere furnish a extra express disavowal of the Statist philosophy than is to be discovered within the major postulate of the Declaration.

However now, by which course has latter-day American Liberalism tended? Has it tended in the direction of an increasing régime of voluntary cooperation, or considered one of enforced cooperation? Have its efforts been directed persistently in the direction of repealing existent measures of State coercion, or in the direction of the devising and promotion of recent ones? Has it tended steadily to enlarge or to cut back the margin of existence inside which the person might act as he pleases? Has it contemplated State intervention upon the citizen at an ever-increasing variety of factors, or at an ever-decreasing quantity? Briefly, has it persistently exhibited the philosophy of individualism or the philosophy of Statism?

There might be however one reply, and the information supporting it are so infamous that multiplying examples could be a waste of house. To take however a single one from among the many most conspicuous, Liberals labored laborious—and efficiently—to inject the precept of absolutism into the Structure via the Earnings-tax Modification. Underneath that Modification it’s competent for Congress not solely to confiscate the citizen’s final penny, but in addition to levy punitive taxation, discriminatory taxation, taxation for “the equalization of wealth,” or for every other goal it sees match to advertise. Hardly may a single measure be devised which might do extra to clear the way in which for a purely Statist régime, than this which places so formidable a mechanism within the fingers of the State, and provides the State carte blanche for its employment in opposition to the citizen. Once more, the current Administration is made up of self-styled Liberals, and its course has been a steady triumphal advance of Statism. In a preface to those essays, written in 1884, Spencer has a paragraph which sums up with outstanding completeness the political historical past of the USA over the last six years:

Dictatorial measures, quickly multiplied, have tended frequently to slender the liberties of people; and have completed this in a double means. Rules have been made in yearly-growing numbers, restraining the citizen in instructions the place his actions have been beforehand unchecked, and compelling actions which beforehand he may carry out or not as he favored; and on the identical time heavier public burdens, mainly native, have additional restricted his freedom, by lessening that portion of his earnings which he can spend as he pleases, and augmenting the portion taken from him to be spent as public brokers please.

Thus intently has the course of American Statism, from 1932 to 1939, adopted the course of British Statism from 1860 to 1884. Contemplating their professions of Liberalism, it might be fairly acceptable and on no account in-urbane, to ask Mr. Roosevelt and his entourage whether or not they consider that the citizen has any rights which the State is sure to respect. Would they be prepared—ex animo, that’s, and never for electioneering functions—to subscribe to the elemental doctrine of the Declaration? One could be unfeignedly shocked in the event that they have been. But such an affirmation may go some method to make clear the excellence, if there truly be any, between the “totalitarian” Statism of sure European international locations and the “democratic” Statism of Nice Britain, France and the USA. It’s generally taken without any consideration that there’s such a distinction, however those that assume this don’t bother themselves to indicate whereby the excellence consists; and to the disinterested observer the very fact of its existence is, to say the least, not apparent.

Spencer ends The New Toryism with a prediction which American readers at present will discover most fascinating, in the event that they keep in mind that it was written fifty-five years in the past in England and primarily for English readers. He says:

The legal guidelines made by Liberals are so significantly growing the compulsions and restraints exercised over residents, that amongst Conservatives that suffer from this aggressiveness there may be rising up a bent to withstand it. Proof is furnished by the truth that the “Liberty and Property Protection League” largely consisting of Conservatives, has taken for its motto, “Individualism versus Socialism.” In order that if the current drift of issues continues, it might by-and-by actually occur that the Tories will probably be defenders of liberties which the Liberals, in pursuit of what they assume in style welfare, trample underneath foot.

This prophecy has already been fulfilled in the USA.


These essays following The New Toryism appear to require no particular introduction or rationalization. They’re largely occupied with the assorted explanation why speedy social deterioration has ensued upon the progress of Statism, and why, except that progress be checked, there should ensue an extra regular deterioration ending in disintegration. All of the American reader want do as he goes by way of these essays is to attract a steady parallel with Statism’s progress in the USA, and to comment at each web page the power and accuracy of Spencer’s forecast, as borne out by the unbroken sequence of occasions since his essays have been written. The reader can see plainly what that sequence has run as much as in England—a situation by which social energy has been up to now confiscated and transformed into State energy that there’s no longer sufficient of it left to pay the State’s payments; and by which, by mandatory consequence, the citizen is on a footing of full and abject State-slavery. The reader may even understand what he has little doubt already suspected, that this situation now current in England is one for which there’s apparently no assist. Even a profitable revolution, if such a factor have been conceivable, in opposition to the army tyranny which is Statism’s final expedient, would accomplish nothing. The folks could be as completely indoctrinated with Statism after the revolution as they have been earlier than, and subsequently the revolution could be no revolution, however a coup d’Etat, by which the citizen would achieve nothing however a mere change of oppressors. There have been many revolutions within the final twenty-five years, and this has been the sum of their historical past. They quantity to not more than a formidable testimony to the good reality that there might be no proper motion besides there be proper considering behind it. So long as the simple, enticing, superficial philosophy of Statism stays answerable for the citizen’s thoughts, no beneficent social change might be effected, whether or not by revolution or by every other means.

The reader could also be left to assemble for himself no matter conclusions he sees match regarding situations now prevailing in the USA, and to make what inferences he thinks cheap regarding these to which they might naturally be main. It appears extremely possible that these essays will probably be of nice assist to him; better assist, maybe, than every other single work that might be put earlier than him.

Albert Jay Nock

Narragansett, R.I.

25 October, 1939.



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