30 April 2009

Radio Silence

Apologies for the lack of postings. I've been trying to balance the output with some input, so I'm in the middle of reading Herbert Spencer's Social Statics. I'll try to churn something out soon.

2 comments:

Jock Coats said...

Very good - probably the book that moved me from being just a.n. other Lib Dem to a libertarian - even if, in fact, I have never read it in the cover-to-cover sense but delved in whenever I've wanted specific apologetics about particular policy areas. That guy who sometimes comments ad nauseam about child porn and drugs policy on my blog always reckons that Spencer is a corporatist shill. But I don't see it, unless I'm missing something out about Spencer's own history or perspective on things maybe.

Paul Lockett said...

Roderick Long has written a few interesting essays about the misrepresentation of Spencer. I particularly like the letter he wrote to the New York Times recently contesting an article they published and also the essay he wrote in 2003 contesting the picture of Spencer painted by a book called "War Against the Weak."

It seems to me that most people who criticise Spencer have never read any of his work and only know that he coined the phrase "survival of the fittest," from which they assume he must have supported a "might is right" approach and on that basis, attribute beliefs to him which he never held.

I think the situation is best summed up by the quote from George Smith in Long's second essay:

Probably no intellectual has suffered more distortion and abuse than Spencer. He is continually condemned for things he never said – indeed, he is taken to task for things he explicitly denied. The target of academic criticism is usually the mythical Spencer rather than the real Spencer; and although some critics may derive immense satisfaction from their devastating refutations of a Spencer who never existed, these treatments hinder rather than advance the cause of knowledge.That probably goes some way to explaining how a man who spoke in favour of trade unions can end up being described as a corporatist shill.

There is one contradiction surrounding Spencer which brings home to me how misunderstood Classical Liberal ideas are; Spencer's blueprint for a perfect society was pretty much the same as the one that Thomas Spence suggested before him (common ownership of land, private property, civil liberties, government limited to protecting individual rights, etc.), but, while Spence is portrayed as a man who wanted to free the weak from the tyranny of the powerful, Spencer is portrayed in almost completely the opposite way.