“They who employ force by proxy are as much responsible for that force as though they employed it themselves”
Who: Herbert Spencer was a philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and classical liberal theorist who argued that liberty is essential to social progress and that government’s only proper function is to promote liberty by protecting individual rights.
His Life: Spencer entered this world on April 27, 1820 and died December 8, 1903. His father, an individualist with strong anti-establishment and anti-clerical views, greatly influenced him. Indeed, Spencer demonstrated independence and a good deal of resistance to authority throughout his early years. Though his uncle offered to send him to Cambridge, Spencer declined this opportunity. Instead, he accessed higher education through reading. His work has been very politically influential; in 1986 three Supreme Court justices were reportedly avowed ‘Spencerians.’ Furthermore, Spencer was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1902, though he did not accept most of the honors he was given.
Why He Matters: Spencer derived the law of equal freedom which states that “every man has the freedom to do as he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.” From this, he concluded that legal law represents a restriction of liberty, which is in itself, an evil justified only where necessary to preserve others’ equal liberty.
Spencer further posited that each individual within society is a self-conscious and independent actor. Unlike animals which possess one consciousness relating to the whole pack, human social societies exist for the good of individual members and not the other way around. Indeed, in Spencer’s eyes, societies depend upon the value of individual identities. When governments restrict individual freedom, social progress and utility decline. This makes sense because happiness reflects complete adaptation of an individual organism to its environment; in other words, happiness is a marker of progress and humans naturally seek happiness as an ultimate goal. Furthermore, a prime factor motivating humans to come together and form societies is rational self-interest—particularly interest in avoiding war and violence, but also a general interest in bettering one’s position in life by forming trade routes and so forth. Therefore, by preventing individuals from pursing their own interests (so long as these interests harm no one else), governments fail to perform their intended functions. (more…)