10 February 2016

Herbert Spencer: socialism and slavery

Herbert Spencer’s essay ‘From freedom to bondage’ contains the following reflections on socialism.
[Compulsory co-operation], still exemplified in an army, has in days gone by been the form of co-operation throughout the civil population …

Having by long struggles emancipated itself from the hard discipline of the ancient régime, and having discovered that the new régime into which it has grown, though relatively easy, is not without stresses and pains, [humanity’s] impatience with these prompts the wish to try another system; which other system is, in principle if not in appearance, the same as that which during past generations was escaped from with much rejoicing.

… As fast as voluntary co-operation is abandoned compulsory co-operation must be substituted. Some kind of organization labour must have; and if it is not that which arises by agreement under free competition, it must be that which is imposed by authority.

Unlike in appearance and names as it may be to the old order of slaves and serfs, working under masters, who were coerced by barons, who were themselves vassals of dukes or kings, the new order wished for, constituted by workers under foremen of small groups, overlooked by superintendents, who are subject to higher local managers, who are controlled by superiors of districts, themselves under a central government, must be essentially the same in principle.  … This is a truth which the communist or the socialist does not dwell upon.

(in Thomas Mackay (ed.), A Plea for Liberty, 1891, pp.8-11)
Spencer points out that the ‘progress’ ostensibly aimed at by socialism actually takes one back to a former position, in which cooperation was compulsory rather than voluntary. However, the tone of Spencer’s comments, published in 1891, suggests a rearguard action, rather than a warning of something avoidable.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.