The Man Versus The State, with Six Essays on Government, Society, and Freedom

Herbert Spencer
Spencer, Herbert
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Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc.
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Foreword by Eric Mack. Introduction by Albert Jay Nock is not available online. Essays published 1843-1891.
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Specialized Administration (1871)


This essay was first published in The Fortnightly Review for December 1871 and was reprinted in Spencer's Essays: Scientific, Political and Speculative (London and New York, 1892, in three volumes).


It is contrary to common-sense that fish should be more difficult to get at the sea-side than in London; but it is true, nevertheless. No less contrary to common-sense seems the truth that though, in the West Highlands, oxen are to be seen everywhere, no beef can be had without sending two or three-hundred miles to Glasgow for it. Rulers who, guided by common-sense, tried to suppress certain opinions by forbidding the books containing them, never dreamed that their interdicts would cause the diffusion of these opinions; and rulers who, guided by common-sense, forbade excessive rates of interest, never dreamed that they were thereby making the terms harder for borrowers than before. When printing replaced copying, any one who had prophesied that the number of persons engaged in the manufacture of books would immensely increase, as a consequence, would have been thought wholly devoid of common-sense. And equally devoid of common-sense would have been thought any one who, when railways were displacing coaches, said that the number of horses employed in bringing passengers and goods to and from railways, would be greater than the number directly displaced by railways. Such cases might be multiplied. Whoso remembers that, among quite simple phenomena, causes produce effects which are sometimes utterly at variance with anticipation, will see how frequently this must happen among complex phenomena. That a balloon is made to rise by the same force which makes a stone fall; that the melting of ice may be greatly retarded by wrapping the ice in a blanket; that the simplest way of setting potassium on fire is to throw it into the water; are truths which those who know only the outside aspect of things would regard as manifest falsehoods. And, if, when the factors are few and simple, the results may be so absolutely opposed to seeming probability, much more will they be often thus opposed when the factors are many and involved. The saying of the French respecting political events, that "it is always the unexpected which happens"—a saying which they have been abundantly re-illustrating of late—is one which legislators, and those who urge on schemes of legislation, should have ever in mind. Let us pause a moment to contemplate a seemingly-impossible set of results which social forces have wrought out.


Up to quite recent days, Language was held to be of supernatural origin. That this elaborate apparatus of symbols, so marvellously adapted for the conveyance of thought from mind to mind, was a miraculous gift, seemed unquestionable. No possible alternative way could be thought of by which there had come into existence these multitudinous assemblages of words of various orders, genera, and species, moulded into fitness for articulating with one another, and capable of being united from moment to moment into ever-new combinations, which represent with precision each idea as it arises. The supposition that, in the slow progress of things, Language grew out of the continuous use of signs—at first mainly mimetic, afterward partly mimetic, partly vocal, and at length almost wholly vocal—was an hypothesis never even conceived by men in early stages of civilization; and when the hypothesis was at length conceived, it was thought too monstrous an absurdity to be even entertained. Yet this monstrous absurdity proves to be true. Already the evolution of Language has been traced back far enough to show that all its particular words, and all its leading traits of structure, have had a natural genesis; and day by day investigation makes it more manifest that its genesis has been natural from the beginning. Not only has it been natural from the beginning, but it has been spontaneous. No language is a cunningly-devised scheme of a ruler or body of legislators. There was no council of savages to invent the parts of speech, and decide on what principles they should be used. Nay, more. Going on without any authority or appointed regulation, this natural process went on without any man observing that it was going on. Solely under pressure of the need for communicating their ideas and feelings—solely in pursuit of their personal interests—men little by little developed speech in absolute unconsciousness that they were doing anything more than pursuing their personal interests. Even now the unconsciousness continues. Take the whole population of the globe, and there is probably not above one in a million who knows that in his daily talk he is carrying on the process by which Language has been evolved.


I commence thus by way of giving the key-note to the argument which follows. My general purpose, in dwelling a moment on this illustration, has been that of showing how utterly beyond the conceptions of common-sense, literally so called, and even beyond the conceptions of cultivated common-sense, are the workings-out of sociological processes—how these workings-out are such that even those who have carried to the uttermost "the scientific use of the imagination," would never have anticipated them. And my more special purpose has been that of showing how marvelous are the results indirectly and unintentionally achieved by the cooperation of men who are severally pursuing their private ends. Let me pass now to the particular topic to be here dealt with.


I have greatly regretted to see Prof. Huxley strengthening, by his deservedly high authority, a school of politicians which can scarcely be held to need strengthening: its opponents being so few. I regret it the more because, thus far, men prepared for the study of Sociology by previous studies of Biology and Psychology, have scarcely expressed any opinions on the question at issue; and that Prof. Huxley, who by both general and special culture is so eminently fitted to judge, should have come to the conclusions set forth in the last number of the Fortnightly Review, will be discouraging to the small number who have reached opposite conclusions. Greatly regretting however, though I do, this avowed antagonism of Prof. Huxley to a general political doctrine with which I am identified, I do not propose to make any reply to his arguments at large: being deterred partly by reluctance to dwell on points of difference with one whom I so greatly admire, and partly by the consciousness that what I should say would be mainly a repetition of what I have explicitly or implicitly said elsewhere. But with one point raised I feel obliged to deal. Prof. Huxley tacitly puts to me a question. By so doing he leaves me to choose between two alternatives, neither of which is agreeable to me. I must either, by leaving it unanswered, accept the implication that it is unanswerable, and the doctrine I hold untenable; or else I must give it an adequate answer. Little as I like it, I see that the latter of these alternatives is that which, on public as well as on personal grounds, I must accept.


Had I been allowed to elaborate more fully the Review-article from which Prof. Huxley quotes, this question would possibly not have been raised. That article closes with the following words: "We had hoped to say something respecting the different types of social organization, and something also on social metamorphoses; but we have reached our assigned limits." These further developments of the conception—developments to be hereafter set forth in the Principles of Sociology—I must here sketch in outline before my answer can be made intelligible. In sketching them, I must say much that would be needless were my answer addressed to Prof. Huxley only. Bare allusions to general phenomena of organization, with which he is immeasurably more familiar than I am, would suffice. But, as the sufficiency of my answer has to be judged by the general reader, the general reader must be supplied with the requisite data: my presentation of them being under correction from Prof. Huxley if it is inaccurate.


The primary differentiation in organic structures, manifested alike in the history of each organism and in the history of the organic world as a whole, is the differentiation between outer and inner parts—the parts which hold direct converse with the environment and the parts which do not hold direct converse with the environment. We see this alike in those smallest and lowest forms improperly, though suggestively, sometimes called unicellular, and also in the next higher division of creatures which, with considerable reason, are regarded as aggregations of the lower. In these creatures the body is divisible into endoderm and ectoderm, differing very little in their characters, but serving the one to form the digestive sac, and the other to form the outer wall of the body. As Prof. Huxley describes them in his Oceanic Hydrozoa, these layers represent respectively the organs of nutrition and the organs of external relation—generally, though not universally; for there are exceptions, especially among parasites. In the embryos of higher types, these two layers severally become double by the splitting of a layer formed between them; and from the outer double layer is developed the body-wall with its limbs, nervous system, senses, muscles, etc.; while from the inner double layer there arise the alimentary canal and its appendages, together with the heart and lungs. Though in such higher types these two systems of organs, which respectively absorb nutriment and expend nutriment, become so far connected by ramifying blood-vessels and nerves that this division cannot be sharply made, still the broad contrast remains. At the very outset, then, there arises this separation, which implies at once a cooperation and an antagonism—a cooperation, because, while the outer organs secure for the inner organs the crude food, the inner organs elaborate and supply to the outer organs the prepared materials by which they are enabled to do their work; and an antagonism, because each set of organs, living and growing at the cost of these prepared materials, cannot appropriate any portion of the total supply without diminishing by so much the supply available for the other. This general cooperation and general antagonism becomes complicated with special cooperations and special antagonisms, as fast as these two great systems of organs develop. The originally simple alimentary canal, differentiating into many parts, becomes a congeries of structures which, by cooperation, fulfil better their general functions, but between which there nevertheless arise antagonisms; since each has to make good its waste and to get matter for growth, at the cost of the general supply of nutriment available for them all. Similarly, as fast as the outer system develops into special senses and limbs, there arise among these, also, secondary cooperations and secondary antagonisms. By their variously-combined actions, food is obtained more effectually; and yet the activity of each set of muscles, or each directive nervous structure, entails a draft upon the stock of prepared nutriment which the outer organs receive, and is by so much at the cost of the rest. Thus the method of organization, both in general and in detail, is a simultaneous combination and opposition. All the organs unite in sub-serving the interests of the organism they form; and yet they have all their special interests, and compete with one another for blood.


A form of government, or control, or coordination develops as fast as these systems of organs develop. Eventually this becomes double. A general distinction arises between the two controlling systems belonging to the two great systems of organs. Whether the inner controlling system is or is not originally derived from the outer, matters not to the argument—when developed it is in great measure independent.*92 If we contemplate their respective sets of functions, we shall perceive the origin of this distinction. That the outer organs may cooperate effectively for the purposes of catching prey, escaping danger, etc., it is needful that they should be under a government capable of directing their combined actions, now in this way and now in that, according as outer circumstances vary. From instant to instant there must be quick adjustments to occasions that are more or less new; and hence there requires a complex and centralized nervous apparatus, to which all these organs are promptly and completely obedient. The government needful for the inner system of organs is a different and much simpler one. When the food obtained by the outer organs has been put into the stomach, the cooperation required of the viscera, though it varies somewhat as the quantity or kind of food varies, has nevertheless a general uniformity; and it is required to go on in much the same way whatever the outer circumstances may be. In each case the food has to be reduced to a pulp, supplied with various solvent secretions, propelled onward, and its nutritive part taken up by absorbent surfaces. That these processes may be effective, the organs which carry them on must be supplied with fit blood; and to this end the heart and the lungs have to act with greater vigour. This visceral cooperation, carried on with this comparative uniformity, is regulated by a nervous system which is to a large extent independent of that higher and more complex nervous system controlling the external organs. The act of swallowing is, indeed, mainly effected by the higher nervous system; but, being swallowed, the food affects by its presence the local nerves, through them the local ganglia, and indirectly, through nervous connexions with other ganglia, excites the rest of the viscera into cooperative activity. It is true that the functions of the sympathetic or ganglionic nervous system, or "nervous system of organic life," as it is otherwise called, are imperfectly understood. But, since we know positively that some of its plexuses, as the cardiac, are centres of local stimulation and coordination, which can act independently, though they are influenced by higher centres, it is fairly to be inferred that the other and still larger plexuses, distributed among the viscera, are also such local and largely independent centres; especially as the nerves they send into the viscera, to join the many subordinate ganglia distributed through them, greatly exceed in quantity the cerebro-spinal fibres accompanying them. Indeed, to suppose otherwise is to leave unanswered the question—What are their functions? as well as the question—How are these unconscious visceral coordinations effected? There remains only to observe the kind of cooperation which exists between the two nervous systems. This is both a general and a special cooperation. The general cooperation is that by which either system of organs is enabled to stimulate the other to action. The alimentary canal yields through certain nervous connexions the sensation of hunger to the higher nervous system; and so prompts efforts for procuring food. Conversely, the activity of the nervo-muscular system, or, at least, its normal activity, sends inward to the cardiac and other plexuses a gush of stimulus which excites the viscera to action. The special cooperation is one by which it would seem that each system puts an indirect restraint on the other. Fibres from the sympathetic accompany every artery throughout the organs of external relation, and exercise on the artery a constrictive action; and the converse is done by certain of the cerebro-spinal fibres which ramify with the sympathetic throughout the viscera: through the vagus and other nerves, an inhibitory influence is exercised on the heart, intestines, pancreas, etc. Leaving doubtful details, however, the fact which concerns us here is sufficiently manifest. There are, for these two systems of organs, two nervous systems, in great measure independent; and, if it is true that the higher system influences the lower, it is no less true that the lower very powerfully influences the higher. The restrictive action of the sympathetic upon the circulation, throughout the nervo-muscular system, is unquestionable; and it is possibly through this that, when the viscera have much work to do, the nervo-muscular system is incapacitated in so marked a manner.*93


The one further fact here concerning us is the contrast presented in different kinds of animals, between the degrees of development of these two great sets of structures that carry on respectively the outer functions and the inner functions. There are active creatures in which the locomotive organs, the organs of sense, together with the nervous apparatus which combines their actions, bear a large ratio to the organs of alimentation and their appendages; while there are inactive creatures in which these organs of external relation bear a very small ratio to the organs of alimentation. And a remarkable fact, here especially instructive to us, is that very frequently there occurs a metamorphosis, which has for its leading trait a great change in the ratio of these two systems—a metamorphosis which accompanies a great change in the mode of life. The most familiar metamorphosis is variously illustrated among insects. During the early or larval stage of a butterfly, the organs of alimentation are largely developed, while the organs of external relation are but little developed; and then, during a period of quiescence, the organs of external relation undergo an immense development, making possible the creature's active and varied adjustments to the surrounding world, while the alimentary system becomes relatively small. On the other hand, among the lower invertebrate animals there is a very common metamorphosis of an opposite kind. When young, the creature, with scarcely any alimentary system, but supplied with limbs and sense organs, swims about actively. Presently it settles in a habitat where food is to be obtained without moving about, loses in great part its organs of external relation, develops its visceral system, and, as it grows, assumes a nature utterly unlike that which it originally had—a nature adapted almost exclusively to alimentation and the propagation of the species.


Let us turn now to the social organism, and the analogies of structure and function which may be traced in it. Of course these analogies between the phenomena presented in a physically coherent aggregate forming an individual, and the phenomena presented in a physically incoherent aggregate of individuals distributed over a wide area, cannot be analogies of a visible or sensible kind; but can only be analogies between the systems, or methods, of organization. Such analogies as exist result from the one unquestionable community between the two organizations: there is in both a mutual dependence of parts. This is the origin of all organization; and determines what similarities there are between an individual organism and a social organism. Of course the similarities thus determined are accompanied by transcendent differences, determined, as above said, by the unlikenesses of the aggregates. One cardinal difference is that, while in the individual organism there is but one centre of consciousness capable of pleasure or pain, there are, in the social organism, as many such centres as there are individuals, and the aggregate of them has no consciousness of pleasure or pain—a difference which entirely changes the ends to be pursued. Bearing in mind this qualification, let us now glance at the parallelisms indicated.


A society, like an individual, has a set of structures fitting it to act upon its environment—appliances for attack and defence, armies, navies, fortified and garrisoned places. At the same time, a society has an industrial organization which carries on all those processes that make possible the national life. Though these two sets of organs for external activity and internal activity do not bear to one another just the same relation which the outer and inner organs of an animal do (since the industrial structures in a society supply themselves with raw materials, instead of being supplied by the external organs), yet they bear a relation otherwise similar. There is at once a cooperation and an antagonism. By the help of the defensive system the industrial system is enabled to carry on its functions without injury from foreign enemies; and by the help of the industrial system, which supplies it with food and materials, the defensive system is enabled to maintain this security. At the same time the two systems are opposed in so far that they both depend for their existence upon the common stock of produce. Further, in the social organism, as in the individual organism, this primary cooperation and antagonism subdivides into secondary cooperations and antagonisms. If we look at the industrial organization, we see that its agricultural part and its manufacturing part aid one another by the exchange of their products, and are yet otherwise opposed to one another; since each takes of the other's products the most it can get in return for its own products. Similarly throughout the manufacturing system itself. Of the total returns secured by Manchester for its goods, Liverpool obtains as much as possible for the raw material, and Manchester gives as little as possible—the two at the same time cooperating in secreting for the rest of the community the woven fabrics it requires, and in jointly obtaining from the rest of the community the largest payment in other commodities. And thus it is in all kinds of direct and indirect ways throughout the industrial structures. Men prompted by their own needs as well as those of their children, and bodies of such men more or less aggregated, are quick to find every unsatisfied need of their fellow-men, and to satisfy it in return for the satisfaction of their own needs; and the working of this process is inevitably such that the strongest need, ready to pay the most for satisfaction, is that which draws most workers to satisfy it, so that there is thus a perpetual balancing of the needs and of the appliances which subserve them.


This brings us to the regulative structures under which these two systems of cooperating parts work. As in the individual organism, so in the social organism, the outer parts are under a rigorous central control. For adjustment to the varying and incalculable changes in the environment, the external organs, offensive and defensive, must be capable of prompt combination; and that their actions may be quickly combined to meet each exigency as it arises, they must be completely subordinated to a supreme executive power: armies and navies must be despotically controlled. Quite otherwise is it with the regulative apparatus required for the industrial system. This, which carries on the nutrition of a society, as the visceral system carries on the nutrition of an individual, has a regulative apparatus in great measure distinct from that which regulates the external organs. It is not by any "order in council" that farmers are determined to grow so much wheat and so much barley, or to divide their land in due proportion between arable and pasture. There requires no telegram from the Home Office to alter the production of woollens in Leeds, so that it may be properly adjusted to the stocks on hand and the forthcoming crop of wool. Staffordshire produces its due quantity of pottery, and Sheffield sends out cutlery with rapidity adjusted to the consumption, without any legislative stimulus or restraint. The spurs and checks to production which manufacturers and manufacturing centres receive, have quite another origin. Partly by direct orders from distributors and partly by the indirect indications furnished by the market reports throughout the kingdom, they are prompted to secrete actively or to diminish their rates of secretion. The regulative apparatus by which these industrial organs are made to cooperate harmoniously, acts somewhat as the sympathetic does in a vertebrate animal. There is a system of communications among the great producing and distributing centres, which excites or retards as the circumstances vary. From hour to hour messages pass between all the chief provincial towns, as well as between each of them and London; from hour to hour prices are adjusted, supplies are ordered hither or thither, and capital is drafted from place to place, according as there is greater or less need for it. All this goes on without any ministerial overseeing—without any dictation from those executive centres which combine the actions of the outer organs. There is, however, one all-essential influence which these higher centres exercise over the industrial activities—a restraining influence which prevents aggression, direct and indirect. The condition under which only these producing and distributing processes can go on healthfully, is that, wherever there is work and waste, there shall be a proportionate supply of materials for repair. And securing this is nothing less than securing fulfilment of contracts. Just in the same way that a bodily organ which performs function, but is not adequately paid in blood, must dwindle, and the organism as a whole eventually suffer, so an industrial centre which has made and sent out its special commodity, but does not get adequately paid in other commodities, must decay. And when we ask what is requisite to prevent this local innutrition and decay, we find the requisite to be that agreements shall be carried out; that goods shall be paid for at the stipulated prices; that justice shall be administered.


One further leading parallelism must be described—that between the metamorphoses which occur in the two cases. These metamorphoses are analogous in so far that they are changes in the ratios of the inner and outer systems of organs; and also in so far as they take place under analogous conditions. At the one extreme we have that small and simple type of society which a wandering horde of savages presents. This is a type almost wholly predatory in its organization. It consists of little else than a cooperative structure for carrying on warfare—the industrial part is almost absent, being represented only by the women. When the wandering tribe becomes a settled tribe, an industrial organization begins to show itself-especially where, by conquest, there has been obtained a slave-class that may be forced to labour. The predatory structure, however, still for a long time predominates. Omitting the slaves and the women, the whole body politic consists of parts organized for offence and defence, and is efficient in proportion as the control of them is centralized. Communities of this kind, continuing to subjugate their neighbours, and developing an organization of some complexity, nevertheless retain a mainly-predatory type, with just such industrial structures as are needful for supporting the offensive and defensive structures. Of this Sparta furnished a good example. The characteristics of such a social type are these—that each member of the ruling race is a soldier; that war is the business of life; that everyone is subject to a rigorous discipline fitting him for this business; that centralized authority regulates all the social activities, down to the details of each man's daily conduct; that the welfare of the State is everything, and that the individual lives for public benefit. So long as the environing societies are such as necessitate and keep in exercise the militant organization, these traits continue; but when, mainly by conquest and the formation of large aggregates, the militant activity becomes less constant, and war ceases to be the occupation of every free man, the industrial structures begin to predominate. Without tracing the transition, it will suffice to take, as a sample of the pacific or industrial type, the Northern States of America before the late war. Here military organization had almost disappeared; the infrequent local assemblings of militia had turned into occasions for jollity, and everything martial had fallen into contempt. The traits of the pacific or industrial type are these—that the central authority is relatively feeble; that it interferes scarcely at all with the private actions of individuals; and that the State, instead of being that for the benefit of which individuals exist, has become that which exists for the benefit of individuals.


It remains to add that this metamorphosis, which takes place in societies along with a higher civilization, very rapidly retrogrades if the surrounding conditions become unfavourable to it. During the late war in America, Mr. Seward's boast—"I touch this bell, and any man in the remotest State is a prisoner of the Government" (a boast which was not an empty one, and which was by many of the Republican party greatly applauded)—shows us how rapidly, along with militant activities, there tends to be resumed the needful type of centralized structure; and how there quickly grow up the corresponding sentiments and ideas. Our own history since 1815 has shown a double change of this kind. During the thirty years' peace, the militant organization dwindled, the military sentiment greatly decreased, the industrial organization rapidly developed, the assertion of the individuality of the citizen became more decided, and many restrictive and despotic regulations were got rid of. Conversely, since the revival of militant activities and structures on the Continent, our own offensive and defensive structures have been re-developing; and the tendency toward increase of that centralized control which accompanies such structures has become marked.


And now, closing this somewhat elaborate introduction, I am prepared to deal with the question put to me. Prof. Huxley, after quoting some passages from that essay on the "Social Organism" which I have supplemented in the foregoing paragraphs; and after expressing a qualified concurrence which I greatly value as coming from so highly fitted a judge, proceeds, with characteristic acumen, to comment on what seems an incongruity between certain analogies set forth in that essay, and the doctrine I hold respecting the duty of the State. Referring to a passage in which I have described the function of the individual brain as "that of averaging the interests of life, physical, intellectual, moral, social," and have compared it to the function of Parliament as "that of averaging the interests of the various classes in a community," adding that "a good Parliament is one in which the parties answering to these respective interests are so balanced that their united legislation concedes to each class as much as consists with the claims of the rest"; Prof. Huxley proceeds to say:

All this appears to be very just. But if the resemblances between the body physiological and the body politic are any indication, not only of what the latter is, and how it has become what it is, but what it ought to be, and what it is tending to become, I cannot but think that the real force of the analogy is totally opposed to the negative view of State function.

Suppose that, in accordance with this view, each muscle were to maintain that the nervous system had no right to interfere with its contraction, except to prevent it from hindering the contraction of another muscle; or each gland, that it had a right to secrete, so long as its secretion interfered with no other; suppose every separate cell left free to follow its own "interests," and laissez-faire Lord of all, what would become of the body physiological?


On this question the remark I have first to make is, that if I held the doctrine of M. Proudhon, who deliberately named himself an "anarchist," and if along with this doctrine I held the above-indicated theory of social structures and functions, the inconsistency implied by the question put would be clear, and the question would be unanswerable. But since I entertain no such view as that of Proudhon—since I hold that within its proper limits governmental action is not simply legitimate but all-important—I do not see how I am concerned with a question which tacitly supposes that I deny the legitimacy and the importance. Not only do I contend that the restraining power of the State over individuals, and bodies or classes of individuals, is requisite, but I have contended that it should be exercised much more effectually, and carried out much further, than at present.*94 And as the maintenance of this control implies the maintenance of a controlling apparatus, I do not see that I am placed in any difficulty when I am asked what would happen were the controlling apparatus forbidden to interfere. Further, on this general aspect of the question I have to say that, by comparing the deliberative assembly of a nation to the deliberative nervous centre of a vertebrate animal, as respectively averaging the interests of the society and of the individual, and as both doing this through processes of representation, I do not mean to identify the two sets of interest; for these in a society (or at least a peaceful society) refer mainly to interior actions, while in an individual creature they refer mainly to exterior actions. The "interests" to which I refer, as being averaged by a representative governing body, are the conflicting interests between class and class, as well as between man and man—conflicting interests the balancing of which is nothing but the preventing of aggression and the administration of justice.


I pass now from this general aspect of the question, which does not concern me, to a more special aspect which does concern me. Dividing the actions of governing structures, whether in bodies individual or bodies politic, into the positively regulative and the negatively regulative, or those which stimulate and direct, as distinguished from those which simply restrain, I may say that if there is raised the question—What will happen when the controlling apparatus does not act? there are quite different replies according as one or other system of organs is referred to. If, in the individual body, the muscles were severally independent of the deliberative and executive centres, utter impotence would result: in the absence of muscular coordination, there would be no possibility of standing, much less of acting on surrounding things, and the body would be a prey to the first enemy. Properly to combine the actions of these outer organs, the great nervous centres must exercise functions that are both positively regulative and negatively regulative—must both command action and arrest action. Similarly with the outer organs of a political body. Unless the offensive and defensive structures can be despotically commanded by a central authority, there cannot be those prompt combinations and adjustments required for meeting the variable actions of external enemies. But if, instead of asking what would happen supposing the outer organs in either case were without control from the great governing centres, we ask what would happen were the inner organs (the industrial and commercial structures in the one case, and the alimentary and distributive in the other) without such control, the answer is quite different. Omitting the respiratory and some minor ancillary parts of the individual organism, to which the social organism has nothing analogous; and limiting ourselves to absorptive, elaborative, and distributive structures, which are found in both; it may, I think, be successfully contended that in neither the one case nor the other do they require the positively regulative control of the great governing centres, but only the negatively regulative. Let us glance at the facts.*95


Digestion and circulation go on very well in lunatics and idiots, though the higher nervous centres are either deranged or partly absent. The vital functions proceed properly during sleep, though less actively than when the brain is at work. In infancy, while the cerebro-spinal system is almost incapable, and cannot even perform such simple actions as those of commanding the sphincters, the visceral functions are active and regular. Nor in an adult does that arrest of cerebral action shown by insensibility, or that extensive paralysis of the spinal system which renders all the limbs immovable, prevent these functions from being carried on for a considerable time; though they necessarily begin to flag in the absence of the demand which an active system of outer organs makes upon them. These internal organs are, indeed, so little under the positively directive control of the great nervous centres, that their independence is often very inconvenient. No mandate sent into the interior stops an attack of diarrhœa; nor, when an indigestible meal excites the circulation at night, and prevents sleep, will the bidding of the brain cause the heart to pulsate more quietly. It is doubtless true that these vital processes are modified in important ways, both by general stimulation and by inhibition, from the cerebro-spinal system; but that they are mainly independent cannot, I think, be questioned. The facts that peristaltic motion of the intestines can go on when their nervous connexions are cut, and that the heart (in cold-blooded vertebrates, at least) continues to pulsate for some time after being detached from the body, make it manifest that the spontaneous activities of these vital organs subserve the wants of the body at large without direction from its higher governing centres. And this is made even more manifest if it be a fact, as alleged by Schmuleswitsch experimenting under Ludwig's direction, that, under duly-adjusted conditions, the secretion of bile may be kept up for some time when blood is passed through the excised liver of a newly-killed rabbit. There is an answer, not, I think, unsatisfactory, even to the crucial part of the question—"Suppose every separate cell left free to follow its own interests, and laissez faire Lord of all, what would become of the body physiological?" Limiting the application of this question in the way above shown to the organs and parts of organs which carry on vital actions, it seems to me that much evidence may be given for the belief that, when they follow their respective "interests" (limited here to growing and multiplying), the general welfare will be tolerably well secured. It was proved by Hunter's experiments on a kite and a sea-gull, that a part of the alimentary canal which has to triturate harder food than that which the creature naturally eats, acquires a thicker and harder lining. When a stricture of the intestine impedes the passage of its contents, the muscular walls of the intestine above, thicken and propel the contents with greater force. When there is somewhere in the course of the circulation a serious resistance to the passage of blood, there habitually occurs hypertrophy of the heart, or thickening of its muscular walls; giving it greater power to propel the blood. And similarly, when the duct through which it discharges its contents is obstructed, the gall-bladder thickens and strengthens. These changes go on without any direction from the brain—without any consciousness that they are going on. They are effected by the growth, or multiplication, or adaptation, of the local units, be they cells or fibres, which results from the greater action or modified action thrown upon them. The only pre-requisite to this spontaneous adaptive change is, that these local units shall be supplied with extra blood in proportion as they perform extra function—a pre-requisite answering to that secured by the administration of justice in a society; namely, that more work shall bring more pay. If, however, direct proof be called for that a system of organs may, by carrying on their several independent activities uncontrolled, secure the welfare of the aggregate they form, we have it in that extensive class of creatures which do not possess any nervous systems at all; and which nevertheless show, some of them, considerable degrees of activity. The Oceanic Hydrozoa supply good examples. Notwithstanding "the multiplicity and complexity of the organs which some of them possess," these creatures have no nervous centres—no regulative apparatus by which the actions of their organs are coordinated. One of their highest kinds is composed of different parts distinguished as cœnosarc, polypites, tentacles, hydrocysts, nectocalyces, genocalyces, etc., and each of these different parts is composed of many partially-independent units—thread-cells, ciliated cells, contractile fibres, etc.; so that the whole organism is a group of heterogeneous groups, each one of which is itself a more or less heterogeneous group. And, in the absence of a nervous system, the arrangement must necessarily be such that these different units, and different groups of units, severally pursuing their individual lives without positive direction from the rest, nevertheless do, by virtue of their constitutions, and the relative positions into which they have grown, cooperate for the maintenance of one another and the entire aggregate. And if this can be so with a set of organs that are not connected by nerves, much more can it be so with a set of organs which, like the viscera of a higher animal, have a special set of nervous communications for exciting one another to cooperation.


Let us turn now to the parallel classes of phenomena which the social organism presents. In it, as in the individual organism, we find that while the system of external organs must be rigorously subordinated to a great governing centre which positively regulates it, the system of internal organs needs no such positive regulation. The production and interchange by which the national life is maintained, go on as well while Parliament is not sitting as while it is sitting. When the members of the Ministry are following grouse or stalking deer, Liverpool imports, Manchester manufactures, London distributes, just as usual. All that is needful for the normal performance of these internal social functions is, that the restraining or inhibitory structures shall continue in action: these activities of individuals, corporate bodies, and classes, must be carried on in such ways as not to transgress certain conditions, necessitated by the simultaneous carrying on of other activities. So long as order is maintained, and the fulfilment of contracts is everywhere enforced—so long as there is secured to each citizen, and each combination of citizens, the full return agreed upon for work done or commodities produced; and so long as each may enjoy what he obtains by labour, without trenching on his neighbour's like ability to enjoy; these functions will go on healthfully—more healthfully, indeed, than when regulated in any other way. Fully to recognize this fact, it is needful only to look at the origins and actions of the leading industrial structures. We will take two of them, the most remote from one another in their natures.


The first shall be those by which food is produced and distributed. In the fourth of his Introductory Lectures on Political Economy. Archbishop Whately remarks that:

Many of the most important objects are accomplished by the joint agency of persons who never think of them, nor have any idea of acting in concert; and that, with a certainty, completeness, and regularity, which probably the most diligent benevolence, under the guidance of the greatest human wisdom, could never have attained.


To enforce this truth he goes on to say:—"Let any one propose to himself the problem of supplying with daily provisions of all kinds such a city as our metropolis, containing above a million of inhabitants." And then he points out the many immense difficulties of the task caused by inconstancy in the arrival of suplies; by the perishable nature of many of the commodities; by the fluctuating number of consumers; by the heterogeneity of their demands; by variations in the stocks, immediate and remote, and the need for adjusting the rate of consumption; and by the complexity in the process of distribution required to bring due quantities of these many commodities to the homes of all citizens. And, having dwelt on these many difficulties, he finishes his picture by saying:

Yet this object is accomplished far better than it could be by any effort of human wisdom, through the agency of men who think each of nothing beyond his own immediate interest—who, with that object in view, perform their respective parts with cheerful zeal—and combine unconsciously to employ the wisest means for effecting an object, the vastness of which it would bewilder them even to contemplate.


But though the far-spreading and complex organization by which foods of all kinds are produced, prepared, and distributed throughout the entire kingdom, is a natural growth and not a State-manufacture; though the State does not determine where and in what quantities cereals and cattle and sheep shall be reared; though it does not arrange their respective prices so as to make supplies last until fresh supplies can come; though it has done nothing toward causing that great improvement of quality which has taken place in food since early times; though it has not the credit of that elaborate apparatus by which bread, and meat, and milk, come round to our doors with a daily pulse that is as regular as the pulse of the heart; yet the State has not been wholly passive. It has from time to time done a great deal of mischief. When Edward I forbade all towns to harbour forestallers, and when Edward VI made it penal to buy grain for the purpose of selling it again, they were preventing the process by which consumption is adjusted to supply: they were doing all that could be done to insure alternations of abundance and starvation. Similarly with the many legislative attempts since made to regulate one branch or other of the food-industry, down to the corn-law sliding-scale of odious memory. For the marvellous efficiency of this organization we are indebted to private enterprise; while the derangements of it we owe to the positively-regulative action of the Government. Meanwhile, its negatively-regulative action, required to keep this organization in order, Government has not duly performed. A quick and costless remedy for breach of contract, when a trader sells, as the commodity asked for, what proves to be wholly or in part some other commodity, is still wanting.


Our second case shall be the organization which so immensely facilitates commerce by transfers of claims and credits. Banks were not inventions of rulers or their counsellors. They grew up by small stages out of the transactions of traders with one another. Men who for security deposited money with goldsmiths, and took receipts; goldsmiths who began to lend out at interest the moneys left with them, and then to offer interest at lower rates to those who would deposit money; were the founders of them. And when, as presently happened, the receipt-notes became transferable by indorsement, banking commenced. From that stage upward the development, notwithstanding many hindrances, has gone on naturally. Banks have sprung up under the same stimulus which has produced all other kinds of trading bodies. The multiplied forms of credit have been gradually differentiated from the original form; and while the banking system has spread and become complex, it has also become consolidated into a whole by a spontaneous process. The clearing-house, which is a place for carrying on the banking between bankers, arose unobtrusively out of an effort to economize time and money. And when, in 1862, Sir John Lubbock—not in his legislative capacity but in his capacity as banker—succeeded in extending the privileges of the clearing-house to country banks, the unification was made perfect; so that now the transactions of any trader in the kingdom with any other may be completed by the writing off and balancing of claims in bankers' books. This natural evolution, be it observed, has reached with us a higher phase than has been reached where the positively-regulative control of the State is more decided. They have no clearing-house in France; and in France the method of making payments by checks, so dominant among ourselves, is very little employed and in an imperfect way. I do not mean to imply that in England the State has been a mere spectator of this development. Unfortunately, it has from the beginning had relations with banks and bankers: not much, however, to their advantage, or that of the public. The first kind of deposit-bank was in some sense a State-bank: merchants left funds for security at the Mint in the Tower. But when Charles I appropriated their property without consent, and gave it back to them only under pressure, after a long delay, he destroyed their confidence. Similarly, when Charles II, in furtherance of State-business, came to have habitual transactions with the richer of the private bankers; and when, having got nearly a million and a half of their money in the Exchequer, he stole it, ruined a multitude of merchants, distressed ten thousand depositors, and made some lunatics and suicides, he gave a considerable shock to the banking system as it then existed. Though the results of State-relations with banks in later times have not been so disastrous in this direct way, yet they have been indirectly disastrous—perhaps even in a greater degree. In return for a loan, the State gave the Bank of England special privileges; and for the increase and continuance of this loan the bribe was the maintenance of these privileges—privileges which immensely hindered the development of banks. The State did worse. It led the Bank of England to the verge of bankruptcy by a forced issue of notes, and then authorized it to break its promises to pay. Nay, worse still, it prevented the Bank of England from fulfilling its promises to pay when it wished to fulfil them. The evils that have arisen from the positively-regulative action of the State on banks are too multitudinous to be here enumerated. They may be found in the writings of Tooke, Newmarch, Fullarton, Macleod, Wilson, J. S. Mill, and others. All we have here to note is, that while the enterprise of citizens in the pursuit of private ends has developed this great trading-process, which so immensely facilitates all other trading-processes, Governments have over and over again disturbed it to an almost fatal extent; and that, while they have done enormous mischief of one kind by their positively-regulative action, they have done enormous mischief of another kind by failing in their negatively-regulative action. They have not done the one thing they had to do: they have not uniformly insisted on fulfilment of contract between the banker and the customer who takes his promise to pay on demand.


Between these two cases of the trade in food and the trade in money, might be put the cases of other trades: all of them carried on by organizations similarly evolved, and similarly more or less deranged from time to time by State-meddling. Passing over these, however, let us turn from the positive method of elucidation to the comparative method. When it is questioned whether the spontaneous cooperation of men in pursuit of personal benefits will adequately work out the general good, we may get guidance for judgment by comparing the results achieved in countries where spontaneous cooperation has been most active and least regulated, with the results achieved in countries where spontaneous cooperation has been less trusted and State-action more trusted. Two cases, furnished by the two leading nations on the Continent, will suffice.


In France, the École des Ponts et Chaussées was founded in 1747 for educating civil engineers; and in 1795 was founded the École Polytechnique, serving, among other purposes, to give a general scientific training to those who were afterward to be more specially trained for civil engineering. Averaging the two dates, we may say that for a century France has had a State-established and State-maintained appliance for producing skilled men of this class—a double gland, we may call it, to secrete engineering faculty for public use. In England, until quite recently, we have had no institution for preparing civil engineers. Not by intention, but unconsciously, we left the furnishing of engineering faculty to take place under the law of supply and demand—a law which at present seems to be no more recognized as applying to education, than it was recognized as applying to commerce in the days of bounties and restrictions. This, however, by the way. We have here simply to note that Brindley, Smeaton, Rennie, Telford, and the rest, down to George Stephenson, acquired their knowledge, and got their experience, without State-aid or supervision. What have been the comparative results in the two nations? Space does not allow a detailed comparison: the later results must suffice. Railways originated in England, not in France. Railways spread through England faster than through France. Many railways in France were laid out and officered by English engineers. The earlier French railways were made by English contractors; and English locomotives served the French makers as models. The first French work written on locomotive engines, published about 1840 (at least I had a copy at that date), was by the Comte de Pambour, who had studied in England, and who gave in his work nothing whatever but drawings and descriptions of the engines of English makers.


The second illustration is supplied to us by the model nation, now so commonly held up to us for imitation. Let us contrast London and Berlin in respect of an all-essential appliance for the comfort and health of citizens. When, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the springs and local conduits, supplemented by water-carriers, failed to supply the Londoners; and when the water-famine, for a long time borne, had failed to make the Corporation do more than propose schemes, and had not spurred the central government to do anything; Hugh Myddleton, a merchant citizen, took in hand himself the work of bringing the New River to Islington. When he had half completed the work, the king came to his help—not, indeed, in his capacity of ruler, but in the capacity of speculator, investing his money with a view to profit: his share being disposed of by his successor after the formation of the New River Company, which finished the distributing system. Subsequently, the formation of other water-companies, utilizing other sources, has given London a water-supply that has grown with its growth. What, meanwhile, happened at Berlin? Did there in 1613, when Hugh Myddleton completed his work, grow up there a like efficient system? Not at all. The seventeenth century passed, the eighteenth century passed, the middle of the nineteenth century was reached, and still Berlin had no water supply like that of London. What happened then? Did the paternal government at length do what had been so long left undone? No. Did the citizens at length unite to secure the desideratum? No. It was finally achieved by the citizens of another nation, more accustomed to cooperate in gaining their own profits by ministering to public needs. In 1845 an English company was formed for giving Berlin an adequate water-supply; and the work was executed by English contractors—Messrs. Fox and Crampton.


Should it be said that great works of ancient nations, in the shape of aqueducts, roads, etc., might be instanced in proof that State agency secures such ends, or should it be said that a comparison between the early growth of inland navigation on the Continent, and its later growth here would be to our disadvantage, I reply that, little as they at first seem so, these facts are congruous with the general doctrine. While the militant social type is dominant, and the industrial organization but little developed, there is but one coordinating agency for regulating both sets of activities; just as we saw happens with the lower types of individual organisms. It is only when a considerable advance has been made in that metamorphosis which develops the industrial structures at the expense of the militant structures, and which brings along with it a substantially-independent coordinating agency for the industrial structures—it is only then that the efficiency of these spontaneous cooperations for all purposes of internal social life becomes greater than the efficiency of the central governing agency.


Possibly it will be said that though, for subserving material needs, the actions of individuals, stimulated by necessity and made quick by competition, are demonstrably adequate, they are not adequate for subserving other needs. I do not see, however, that the facts justify this position. We have but to glance around to find in abundance similarly-generated appliances for satisfying our higher desires, as well as our lower desires. The fact that the Fine Arts have not thriven here as much as in some Continental countries, is ascribable to natural character, to absorption of our energies in other activities, and to the repressive influence of chronic asceticism, rather then to the absence of fostering agencies: these the interests of individuals have provided in abundance. Literature, in which we are second to none, owes, with us, nothing to State-aid. The poetry which will live is poetry which has been written without official prompting; and though we have habitually had a prize-poet, paid to write loyal verses, it may be said, without disparaging the present one, that a glance over the entire list does not show any benefit derived by poetry from State-patronage. Nor are other forms of literature any more indebted to State-patronage. It was because there was a public liking for fiction that fiction began to be produced; and the continued public liking causes a continued production, including, along with much that is worthless, much that could not have been made better by any academic or other supervision. And the like holds of biographies, histories, scientific books, etc. Or, as a still more striking case of an agency that has grown up to meet a non-material want, take the newspaper press. What has been the genesis of this marvellous appliance, which each day gives us an abstract of the world's life the day before? Under what promptings have there been got together its staffs of editors, sub-editors, article-writers, reviewers; its reporters of parliamentary debates, of public meetings, of law cases and police cases; its critics of music, theatricals, paintings, etc.; its correspondents in all parts of the world? Who devised and brought to perfection this system which at six o'clock in the morning gives the people of Edinburgh a report of the debates that ended at two or three o'clock in the House of Commons, and at the same time tells them of events that occurred the day before in America? It is not a Government invention. It is not a Government suggestion. It has not been in any way improved or developed by legislation. On the contrary, it has grown up in spite of many hindrances from the Government and burdens which the Government has imposed on it. For a long time the reporting of parliamentary debates was resisted; for generations censorships and prosecutions kept newspapers down, and for several subsequent generations the laws in force negatived a cheap press, and the educational benefits accompanying it. From the war-correspondent, whose letters give to the very nations that are fighting their only trustworthy accounts of what is being done, down to the newsboy who brings round the third edition with the latest telegrams, the whole organization is a product of spontaneous cooperation among private individuals, aiming to benefit themselves by ministering to the intellectual needs of their fellows—aiming also, not a few of them, to benefit their fellows by giving them clearer ideas and a higher standard of right. Nay, more than this is true. While the press is not indebted to the Government, the Government is enormously indebted to the press; without which, indeed, it would stumble daily in the performance of its functions. This agency which the State once did its best to put down, and has all along impeded, now gives to the ministers news in anticipation of their dispatches, gives to members of Parliament a guiding knowledge of public opinion, enables them to speak from the House of Commons benches to their constituents, and gives to both legislative chambers a full record of their proceedings.


I do not see, therefore, how there can be any doubt respecting the sufficiency of agencies thus originating. The truth that in this condition of mutual dependence brought about by social life, there inevitably grow up arrangements such that each secures his own ends by ministering to the ends of others, seems to have been for a long time one of those open secrets which remain secret because they are so open; and even now the conspicuousness of this truth seems to cause an imperfect consciousness of its full meaning. The evidence shows, however, that even were there no other form of spontaneous cooperation among men than that dictated by self-interest, it might be rationally held that this, under the negatively-regulative control of a central power, would work out, in proper order, the appliances for satisfying all needs, and carrying on healthfully all the essential social functions.


But there is a further kind of spontaneous cooperation, arising, like the other, independently of State-action, which takes a large share in satisfying certain classes of needs. Familiar though it is, this kind of spontaneous cooperation is habitually ignored in sociological discussions. Alike from newspaper articles and parliamentary debates, it might be inferred that, beyond the force due to men's selfish activities, there is no other social force than the governmental force. There seems to be a deliberate omission of the fact that, in addition to their selfish interests, men have sympathetic interests, which, acting individually and cooperatively, work out results scarcely less remarkable than those which the selfish interests work out. It is true that, during the earlier phases of social evolution, while yet the type is mainly militant, agencies thus produced do not exist: among the Spartans, I suppose, there were few, if any, philanthropic agencies. But as there arise forms of society leading toward the pacific type—forms in which the industrial organization develops itself, and men's activities become of a kind that do not perpetually sear their sympathies; these structures which their sympathies generate become many and important. To the egoistic interests, and the cooperations prompted by them, there come to be added the altruistic interests and their cooperations; and what the one set fails to do, the other does. That, in his presentation of the doctrine he opposes, Prof. Huxley did not set down the effects of fellow-feeling as supplementing the effects of self-regarding feelings, surprises me the more, because he displays fellow-feeling himself in so marked a degree, and shows in his career how potent a social agency it becomes. Let us glance rapidly over the results wrought out among ourselves by individual and combined "altruism"—to employ M. Comte's useful word.


Though they show a trace of this feeling, I will not dwell upon the numerous institutions by which men are enabled to average the chances throughout life by insurance societies, which provide against the evils entailed by premature deaths, accidents, fires, wrecks, etc.; for these are mainly mercantile and egoistic in their origin. Nor will I do more than name those multitudinous Friendly Societies that have arisen spontaneously among the working-classes to give mutual aid in time of sickness, and which the Commission now sitting is showing to be immensely beneficial, notwithstanding their defects; for these also, though containing a larger element of sympathy, are prompted chiefly by anticipations of personal benefits. Leaving these, let us turn to the organizations in which altruism is more decided: taking first that by which religious ministrations are carried on. Throughout Scotland and England, cut away all that part of it which is not established by law—in Scotland, the Episcopal Church, the Free Church, the United Presbyterians, and other Dissenting bodies; in England, the Wesleyans, Independents, and the various minor sects. Cut off, too, from the Established Church itself, all that part added in recent times by voluntary zeal, made conspicuous enough by the new steeples that have been rising on all sides; and then also take out, from the remainder of the Established Church, that energy which has during these three generations been infused into it by competition with the Dissenters: so reducing it to the degraded, inert state in which John Wesley found it. Do this, and it becomes manifest that more than half the organization, and immensely more than half its function, is extra-governmental. Look round, again, at the multitudinous institutions for mitigating men's ills—the hospitals, dispensaries, alms-houses, and the like—the various benevolent and mendicity societies, etc., of which London alone contains between six and seven hundred. From our vast St. Thomas's, exceeding the palace of the Legislature itself in bulk, down to Dorcas societies and village clothing-clubs, we have charitable agencies, many in kind and countless in number, which supplement, perhaps too largely, the legally-established one; and which, whatever evil they may have done along with the good, have done far less evil than the Poor-Law organization did before it was reformed in 1834. Akin to these are still more striking examples of power in agencies thus originating, such as that furnished by the Anti-slavery Society, which carried the emancipation of the slaves, notwithstanding the class-opposition so predominant in the Legislature. And if we look for more recent like instances, we have them in the organization which promptly and efficiently dealt with the cotton-famine in Lancashire, and in that which last year ministered to the wounded and distressed in France. Once more, consider our educational system as it existed till within these few years. Such part of it as did not consist of private schools, carried on for personal profit, consisted of schools or colleges set up or maintained by men for the benefit of their fellows, and the posterity of their fellows. Omitting the few founded or partially founded by kings, the numerous endowed schools scattered throughout the kingdom, originated from altruistic feelings (so far, at least, as they were not due to egoistic desires for good places in the other world). And then, after these appliances for teaching the poor had been almost entirely appropriated by the rich, whence came the remedy? Another altruistic organization grew up for educating the poor, struggled against the opposition of the Church and the governing classes, eventually forced these to enter into competition and produce like altruistic organizations, until by school systems, local and general, ecclesiastical, dissenting, and secular, the mass of the people had been brought from a state of almost entire ignorance to one in which nearly all of them possessed the rudiments of knowledge. But for these spontaneously-developed agencies, ignorance would have been universal. Not only such knowledge as the poor now possess—not only the knowledge of the trading-classes—not only the knowledge of those who write books and leading articles; but the knowledge of those who carry on the business of the country as ministers and legislators, has been derived from these extra-governmental agencies, egoistic or altruistic. Yet now, strangely enough, the cultured intelligence of the country has taken to spurning its parent; and that to which it owes both its existence and the consciousness of its own value is pooh-poohed as though it had done, and could do, nothing of importance! One other fact let me add. While such teaching organizations, and their results in the shape of enlightenment, are due to these spontaneous agencies, to such agencies also are due the great improvements in the quality of the culture now happily beginning to take place. The spread of scientific knowledge, and of the scientific spirit, has not been brought about by laws and officials. Our scientific societies have arisen from the spontaneous cooperation of those interested in the accumulation and diffusion of the kinds of truth they respectively deal with. Though the British Association has from time to time obtained certain small subsidies, their results in the way of advancing science have borne but an extremely small ratio to the results achieved without any such aid. If there needs a conclusive illustration of the power of agencies thus arising, we have it in the history and achievements of the Royal Institution. From this, which is a product of altruistic cooperation, and which has had for its successive professors Young, Davy, Faraday, and Tyndall, there has come a series of brilliant discoveries which cannot be paralleled by a series from any State-nurtured institution.


I hold, then, that forced, as men in society are, to seek satisfaction of their own wants by satisfying the wants of others; and led as they also are by sentiments which social life has fostered, to satisfy many wants of others irrespective of their own; they are moved by two sets of forces which, working together, will amply suffice to carry on all needful activities; and I think the facts fully justify this belief. It is true that, a priori, one would not have supposed that by their unconscious cooperations men could have wrought out such results, any more than one would have supposed, a priori, that by their unconscious cooperation they could have evolved Language. But reasoning a posteriori, which it is best to do when we have the facts before us, it becomes manifest that they can do this; that they have done it in very astonishing ways; and perhaps may do it hereafter in ways still more astonishing. Scarcely any scientific generalization had, I think, a broader inductive basis than we have for the belief that these egoistic and altruistic feelings are powers which, taken together, amply suffice to originate and carry on all the activities which constitute healthy national life: the only pre-requisite being, that they shall be under the negatively-regulative control of a central power—that the entire aggregate of individuals, acting through the legislature and executive as its agents, shall put upon each individual, and group of individuals, the restraints needful to prevent aggression, direct and indirect.


And here I might go on to supplement the argument by showing that the immense majority of the evils which government aid is invoked to remedy, are evils which arise immediately or remotely because it does not perform properly its negatively-regulative function. From the waste of, probably, £100,000,000 of national capital in un-productive railways, for which the Legislature is responsible by permitting the original proprietary contracts to be broken,*96 down to the railway accidents and loss of life caused by unpunctuality, which would never have grown to its present height were there an easy remedy for breach of contract between company and passenger; nearly all the vices of railway management have arisen from the non-administration of justice. And everywhere else we shall find that, were the restraining action of the State prompt, effective, and costless to those aggrieved, the pleas put in for positive regulation would nearly all disappear.


I am thus brought naturally to remark on the title given to this theory of State-functions. That "Administrative Nihilism" adequately describes the view set forth by Von Humboldt, may be: I have not read his work. But I cannot see how it adequately describes the doctrine I have been defending; nor do I see how this can be properly expressed by the more positive title, "police-government." The conception suggested by police-government does not include the conception of an organization for external protection. So long as each nation is given to burglary, I quite admit each other nation must keep guards, under the forms of army or navy, or both, to prevent burglars from breaking in. And the title police-government does not, in its ordinary acceptation, comprehend these offensive and defensive appliances needful for dealing with foreign enemies. At the other extreme, too, it falls short of the full meaning to be expressed. While it duly conveys the idea of an organization required for checking and punishing criminal aggression, it does not convey any idea of the no less important organization required for dealing with civil aggression—an organization quite essential for properly discharging the negatively-regulative function. Though latent police-force may be considered as giving their efficiency to legal decisions on all questions brought into nisi prius courts, yet, since here police-force rarely comes into visible play, police-government does not suggest this very extensive part of the administration of justice. Far from contending for a laissez-faire policy in the sense which the phrase commonly suggests, I have contended for a more active control of the kind distinguishable as negatively regulative. One of the reasons I have urged for excluding State-action from other spheres, is, that it may become more efficient within its proper sphere. And I have argued that the wretched performance of its duties within its proper sphere continues, because its time is chiefly spent over imaginary duties.*97 The facts that often, in bankruptcy cases, three-fourths and more of the assets go in costs; that creditors are led by the expectation of great delay and a miserable dividend to accept almost any composition offered; and that so the bankruptcy-law offers a premium to roguery; are facts which would long since have ceased to be facts, had citizens been mainly occupied in getting an efficient judicial system. If the due performance by the State of its all-essential function had been the question on which elections were fought, we should not see, as we now do, that a shivering cottager who steals palings for firewood, or a hungry tramp who robs an orchard, gets punishment in more than the old Hebrew measure, while great financial frauds which ruin their thousands bring no punishments. Were the negatively-regulative function of the State in internal affairs dominant in the thoughts of men, within the Legislature and without, there would be tolerated no such treatment as that suffered lately by Messrs Walker, of Cornhill; who, having been robbed of £6,000 worth of property and having spent £950 in rewards for apprehending thieves and prosecuting them, cannot get back the proceeds of their property found on the thieves—who bear the costs of administering justice, while the Corporation of London makes £940 profit out of their loss. It is in large measure because I hold that these crying abuses and inefficiencies, which everywhere characterize the administration of justice, need more than any other evils to be remedied; and because I hold that remedy of them can go on only as fast as the internal function of the State is more and more restricted to the administration of justice; that I take the view which I have been re-explaining. It is a law illustrated by organizations of every kind, that, in proportion as there is to be efficiency, there must be specialization, both of structure and function—specialization which, of necessity, implies accompanying limitation. And, as I have elsewhere argued, the development of representative government is the development of a type of government fitted above all others for this negatively-regulative control.*98 This doctrine, that while the negatively-regulative control should be extended and made better, the positively-regulative control should be diminished, and that the one change implies the other, may properly be called the doctrine of Specialized Administration—if it is to be named from its administrative aspect. I regret that my presentation of this doctrine has been such as to lead to misinterpretation. Either it is that I have not adequately explained it, which, if true, surprises me, or else it is that the space occupied in seeking to show what are not the duties of the State is so much greater than the space occupied in defining its duties, that these last make but little impression. In any case, that Prof. Huxley should have construed my view in the way he has done, shows me that it needs fuller exposition; since, had he put upon it the construction I intended, he would not, I think, have included it under the title he has used, nor would he have seen it needful to raise the question I have endeavoured to answer.


POSTSCRIPT—Since the above article was written, a fact of some significance in relation to the question of State-management has come under my notice. There is one department, at any rate, in which the State succeeds well—the Post-Office. And this department is sometimes instanced as showing the superiority of public over private administration.


I am not about to call in question the general satisfactoriness of our postal arrangements; nor shall I contend that this branch of State-organization, now well-established, could be replaced with advantage. Possibly the type of our social structure had become, in this respect, so far fixed that a radical change would be injurious. In dealing with those who make much of this success, I have contented myself with showing that the developments which have made the Post-Office efficient, have not originated with the Government, but have been thrust upon it from without. I have in evidence cited the facts that the mail-coach system was established by a private individual, Mr. Palmer, and lived down official opposition; that the reform originated by Mr. Rowland Hill had to be made against the wills of employés; and, further, I have pointed out that, even as it is, a large part of the work is done by private enterprise—that the Government gets railway-companies to do for it most of the inland carriage, and steam—boat companies the outland carriage: contenting itself with doing the local collection and distribution.


Respecting the general question whether, in the absence of our existing postal system, private enterprise would have developed one as good or better, I have been able to say only that analogies like that furnished by our newspaper-system, with its efficient news-vending organization, warrant us in believing that it would. Recently, however, I have been shown both that private enterprise is capable of this, and that, but for a legal interdict, it would have done long ago what the State has but lately done. Here is the proof:

To facilitate correspondence between one part of London and another was not originally one of the objects of the Post-Office. But, in the reign of Charles II, an enterprising citizen of London, William Dockwray, set up, at great expense, a penny post, which delivered letters and parcels six or eight times a-day in the busy and crowded streets near the Exchange, and four times a-day in the outskirts of the capital. ... As soon as it became clear that the speculation would be lucrative, the Duke of York complained of it as an infraction of his monopoly, and the courts of law decided in his favour.—Macaulay, History of England, 1866, i., pp. 302-3.


Thus it appears that two centuries since, private enterprise initiated a local postal system, similar, in respect both of cheapness and frequency of distribution, to that lately-established one boasted of as a State-success. Judging by what has happened in other cases with private enterprises which had small beginnings, we may infer that the system thus commenced, would have developed throughout the kingdom as fast as the needs pressed and the possibilities allowed. So far from being indebted to the State, we have reason to believe that, but for State-repression, we should have obtained a postal organization like our present one generations ago!


SECOND POSTSCRIPT—When the foregoing essay was republished in the third series of my Essays, Scientific Political, and Speculative, I included, in the preface to the volume, some comments upon Prof. Huxley's reply. In the absence of this preface, now no longer appropriate, there seems no other fit place for these comments than this. I therefore here append them.


"On the brief rejoinder to my arguments which Prof. Huxley makes in the preface to his Critiques and Addresses. I may here say a few words. The reasons he gives for still thinking that the name 'Administrative Nihilism' fitly indicates the system which I have described as 'negatively regulative,' are, I think, adequately met by asking whether 'Ethical Nihilism' would fitly describe the remnant of the decalogue, were all its positive injunctions omitted. If the eight commandments which, substantially or literally, come under the form 'thou shalt not,' constitute by themselves a set of rules which can scarcely be called nihilistic; I do not see how an administrative system limited to the enforcement of such rules can be called nihilistic: especially if to the punishment of murder, adultery, stealing, and false-witness, it adds the punishment of assault, breach of contract, and all minor aggressions, down to the annoyance of neighbours by nuisances. Respecting the second and essential question, whether limitation of the internal functions of government to those which are negatively regulative, is consistent with that theory of the social organism and its controlling agencies held by me, I may say that the insufficiency of my reply has not, I think, been shown. I was tacitly asked how the analogy I have drawn between those governmental structures by which the parts of the body politic have their actions regulated and those nervous structures which regulate the organic actions of the individual living body, is to be reconciled with my belief that social activities will in the main adjust themselves. My answer was this. I recognized as essential the positively-regulative functions of the State in respect to the offensive and defensive appliances needful for national self-preservation, during the predatory phase of social evolution; and I not only admitted the importance of its negatively-regulative functions in respect to the internal social activities, but insisted that these should be carried out much more efficiently than now. Assuming always, however, that the internal social activities continue subject to that restraining action of the State which consists in preventing aggressions, direct and indirect, I contended that the coordination of these internal social activities is effected by other structures of a different kind. I aimed to show that my two beliefs are not inconsistent, by pointing out that in the individual organism, also, those vital activities which parallel the activities constituting national life, are regulated by a substantially-independent nervous system. Prof. Huxley does, indeed, remind me that recent researches show increasingly the influence of the cerebro-spinal nervous system over the processes of organic life; against which, however, has to be set the growing evidence of the power exercised by the visceral nervous system over the cerebro-spinal. But, recognizing the influence he names (which, indeed, corresponds to that governmental influence I regard as necessary); I think the consistency of my positions is maintainable so long as it is manifest that the viscera, under the control of their own nervous system, can carry on the vital actions when the control of the cerebro-spinal system is substantially arrested by sleep, or by anaesthetics, or by other causes of insensibility; and while it is shown that a considerable degree of coordination may exist among the organs of a creature which has no nervous system at all."

Notes for this chapter

Here, and throughout the discussion, I refer to these controlling systems only as they exist in the Vertebrata, because their relations are far better known in this great division of the animal kingdom—not because like relations do not exist elsewhere. Indeed, in the great sub-kingdom Annulosa, these controlling systems have relations that are extremely significant to us here. For while an inferior annulose animal has only a single set of nervous structures, a superior annulose animal (as a moth) has a set of nervous structures presiding over the viscera, as well as a more conspicuous set presiding over the organs of external relation. And this contrast is analogous to one of the contrasts between undeveloped and developed societies; for, while among the uncivilized and incipiently civilized there is but a single set of directive agencies, there are among the fully civilized, as we shall presently see, two sets of directive agencies, for the outer and inner structures respectively.
To meet the probable objection that the experiments of Bernard, Ludwig, and others, show that in the case of certain glands the nerves of the cerebrospinal system are those which set up the secreting process, I would remark that in these cases, and in many others where the relative functions of the cerebro-spinal nerves and the sympathetic nerves have been studied, the organs have been those in which sensation is either the stimulus to activity or its accompaniment; and that from these cases no conclusion can be drawn applying to the cases of those viscera which normally perform their functions without sensation. Perhaps it may even be that the functions of those sympathetic fibres which accompany the arteries of the outer organs are simply ancillary to those of the central parts of the sympathetic system, which stimulate and regulate the viscera—ancillary in this sense, that they check the diffusion of blood in external organs when it is wanted in internal organs: cerebro-spinal inhibition (except in its action on the heart) working the opposite way. And possibly this is the instrumentality for carrying on that competition for nutriment which, as we saw, arises at the very outset between these two great systems of organs.
See Social Statics, chap. xxi., "The Duty of the State." See also essay on "Over-legislation."
Lest there should be any misunderstanding of the terms positively regulative and negatively regulative, let me briefly illustrate them. If a man has land, and I either cultivate it for him, partially or wholly, or dictate any or all of his modes of cultivation, my action is positively regulative; but if, leaving him absolutely unhelped and unregulated in his farming, I simply prevent him from taking his neighbour's crops, or from making approach-roads over his neighbour's land, or from depositing rubbish upon it, my action is negatively regulative. There is a tolerably sharp distinction between the act of securing a citizen's ends for him or interfering with his mode of securing them, and the act of checking him when he interferes with another citizen in the pursuit of his ends.
See Essay on "Railway Morals and Railway Policy."
See Essay on "Over-Legislation."
See Essay on "Representative Government—What is it good for?"

Essay: From Freedom to Bondage

End of Notes

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