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Herbert Spencer
by [?]

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The leading note in “Social Statics” is a plea for the liberty of the individual. That government is best which governs least. The liberty of each, limited only by the liberty of all, is the rule to which society must conform in order to attain the highest development. Governments have no business to scrutinize the life and belief of the individual. Interference should only come where one man interferes with the liberties of another.

Liberty of action is the first requisite to progress, and the prime essential in human happiness. It is better that men have wrong opinions than no opinions–through our blunders we reach the light.

Government is for man, and not man for government. Men wish to do what is best for themselves, and eventually they will, if let alone, but they can only grow through constant practise and frequent mistakes. Plato’s plan for an ideal republic provided rules and laws for the guidance of the individual. In the Mosaic Laws it is the same: every circumstance and complication of life is thought out, and the law tells the individual what he shall do, and what he shall not do. That is to say, a few men were to do the thinking for the many. And the argument that plain people should not be allowed to think for themselves, since the wise know better what is for their good, is exactly the argument used by slaveholders: that they can take better care of the man than the man can of himself.

There is a certain plausibility and truth in this proposition. It is all a point of view.

But to Herbert Spencer there was little difference between enslavement of the mind and enslavement of the body. Both were essentially wrong in this–they interfered with Nature’s law of evolution, and anything contrary to Nature must pay the penalty of pain and death. All forms of enslavement react upon the slaveholder, and a society founded on force can not evolve–and not to evolve is to die. The wellsprings of Nature must not be dammed–and in fact can not be dammed but for a day. Overflow, revolution and violence are sure to follow. This is the general law; and so give the man liberty. One man’s rights end only where another man’s begin.

The idea of evolution, as opposed to a complete creation, was in the mind of Spencer as early as Eighteen Hundred Forty-eight. In that year he said, “Creation still goes forward, and to what supreme heights man may yet attain no one can say.”

By a sort of general misapprehension, Darwin is usually given credit for the discovery and elucidation of the Law of Evolution, but the “Origin of Species” did not appear until Eighteen Hundred Fifty-nine, and both Spencer and Alfred Russel Wallace had stated, years before, that the theological dogma of a complete creation had not a scintilla of proof from the world of nature and science, while there was much general proof that the animal and vegetable kingdom had evolved from lower forms, and was still ascending.

The usual idea of the clergy of Christendom was that if the account of creation given by Moses were admitted to be untrue, then the Bible in all its parts would be declared untrue, and religion would go by the board. Now that the theory of evolution is everywhere accepted, even in the churches, we see how groundless were the fears. All that is beautiful and best we still have in religion in a degree never before known.

In an essay on “Manners and Fashion,” published in the “Westminster Review” of Eighteen Hundred Fifty-four, Herbert Spencer says: “Forms, ceremonies and even beliefs are cast aside only when they become hindrances–only when some finer and better plan has been formed; and they bequeath to us all the good that was in them. The abolition of tyrannical laws has left the administration of justice not only unimpaired, but purified. Dead and buried creeds have not carried down with them the essential morality they contained, which still exists, uncontaminated by the sloughs of superstition. And all that there is of justice, kindness and beauty embodied in our cumbrous forms will live perennially, when the forms themselves have been repudiated and forgotten.”