The Man Versus the State


Category: Economics, Liberty & Dignity, Politics

By Herbert Spencer

Published in 1844

Reference #0344

The Man Versus the State Containing “The New Toryism”, “The Coming Slavery”, “The Sins of Legislators” and “The Great Political Superstition”.

Written in 1851, this work contains in embryo most of Spencer’s later view’s, including his argument in favor of an extreme form of economics and social laissez-faire. In this work, he puts forth the fundamental principle that society should be based on voluntary – not compulsory – cooperation.

He supported the principles of individualism, believing that government power over the individual should be reduced to an absolute minimum, as opposed to Statism ( or any collectivist doctrine or military-based government), in which government has great control over the individual. In his view, state intervention upon the individual should be strictly limited to: punishing crimes against people or property which are recognized as serious by “common sense” or general agreement (murder, arson, robbery, assault, etc.); enforcing the obligations of contracts; and making justice costless and easily accessible.

Spencer felt the State should not go beyond this limited role and should not put coercive restraints on the individual. Society exists for the benefit of its members and not they for its benefit. This individualism is key to all of Spencer’s work.