More Timely Than Ever!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Herbert Spencer on Labor's Predicament

In their [workers'] social relations, too, there has been an entailed retrogression rather than a progression. The wage-earning factory-hand does, indeed, exemplify entirely free labour, in so far that, making contracts at will and able to break them after short notice, he is free to engage with whomsoever he pleases and where he pleases. But this liberty amounts in practice to little more than the ability to exchange one slavery for another; since, fit only for his particular occupation, he has rarely an opportunity of doing anything more than decide in what mill he will pass the greater part of his dreary days. The coercion of circumstances often bears more hardly on him than the coercion of a master does on one in bondage.
From Chapter IX of Principles of Sociology. The mainstream critics of Spencer, ignorant as they are of what the man actually wrote (see this New York Times article), would be surprised by this passage. Spencer does not appear to attribute the workers' predicament to government intervention, but rather treats it as something inherent in the nature of things. At the end of the chapter he wrote, "...there appears to be no remedy."


Anonymous said...

Actually he seems cautiously optimistic about this remedy.

earth that was said...

i've noted elsewhere that Roderick Long has playfully raised the flag for the formation of a "Herbert Spencer Anti-Defamation League".

The main goal of the HSADL was seen as defending HS from absurd, poorly researched complaints from leftists and liberals that he advocated state enforced eugenics.

Obviously the HSADL needs to branch out into labour relations as well.

As it happens I have come across a potential high profile recruit for the HSADL. Will Durant.

In his chapter on HS in his "The Story of Philosophy" he has a chapter on Spencer with an unusually sympathetic conclusion. Durant noted that interest in Spencer had more or less dried up by the time he went to press (1926). Yet WD predicts that interest in HS deserved to and would ultimately revive.