Audio presentation of Herbert Spencer’s classic 1884 book ‘The Man versus The State.’ Read by Jock Coats.

Herbert Spencer lived long enough to witness both the hey-day of classical liberal reform in the mid-nineteenth century—the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 which ushered in a period of virtual free trade in Britain—and the gradual decline of classical liberalism towards the end of the nineteenth century. It is the latter which helps explain the grumpiness expressed in his later writings such as the collection of essays entitled Facts and Comments (1902).

Spencer was born in Derby, England in 1820 to a strict, non-conformist family, and died in 1903. As a young man, Spencer worked for the leading free trade journal of the day, The Economist, from 1848-1853 during which time his first significant book appeared—Social Statics (1850). Here he worked with James Wilson, one of the most consistent advocates of laissez-faire in Britain, Nassau Senior, one of the leading members of the classical school of political economy, and Thomas Hodgskin, a radical individualist author.

Much of the rest of his life was spent working on an all-encompassing theory of human development based upon the ideas of individualism, utilitarian moral theory, social and biological evolution, limited government, and laissez-faire economics. In his later writings, most notably The Principles of Sociology (1876-1896), he drew a sharp distinction between the peaceful productivity of free market societies (“the industrial type of society”) and the social conflict, political privilege, and proclivity to war and empire inherent in societies with “over-legislation” (“the militant type of society”). In The Man Versus The State (1884) Spencer argued that the politics of vested interests and the increasing demand for economic regulation would lead to a new form of “slavery” and a “rebarbarization” of society. The rise of pro-interventionist “New Liberalism” in the 1880s and 1890s and the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899 confirmed his worst fears. (Source: Liberty Fund, Inc.)

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