A very acute criticism of Mr. Spencer’s position has been made recently before the Manhattan Liberal Club by Stephen Pearl Andrews. He shows that Mr. Spencer is not the radical laissez faire philosopher which he pretends to be; that the only true believers in laissez faire are the Anarchists; that individualism must be supplemented by the doctrines of equity and courtesy; and that, while State Socialism is just as dangerous and tyrannical as Mr. Spencer pictures it, “there is a higher and nobler form of Socialism which is not only not slavery, but which is our only means of rescue from all sorts and degrees of slavery.” All this is straight to the mark,—telling thrusts, which Mr. Spencer can never parry.
But the English philosopher is doing good, after all. His disciples are men of independent mind, more numerous every day, who accept his fundamental truths and carry them to their logical conclusions. A notable instance is Auberon Herbert, formerly a member of the House of Commons, but now retired from political life. While an enthusiastic adherent of the Spencerian philosophy, he is fast outstripping his master. In a recent essay entitled “A Politician in Sight of Haven,” written, as the London Spectator says, with an unsurpassable charm of style, Mr. Herbert explodes the majority lie, ridicules physical force as a solution of social problems, strips government of every function except the police, and recognizes even that only as an evil of brief necessity, and in conclusion proposes the adoption of voluntary taxation with a calmness and confidence which must have taken Mr. Spencer’s breath away. To be sure, Mr. Herbert is as violent as his master against Socialism, but in his case only because he honestly supposes that compulsory Socialism is the only Socialism, and not at all from any sympathy with legal monopoly or capitalistic privilege in any form.
Reprinted from Liberty, May 17, 1884