Liberalism and Philosophical Radicalism. The reaction against the philosophy of natural rights which began With Rousseau and Burke and received its first systematic statement, from Hegel by no means superseded the tradition of individualism which formed the main strand of political thinking throughout the Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
On the contrary this philosophy produced its chief practical consequences in the nineteenth century, ts history was an example of the paradox of which Hegel was so fond, that a philosophy is fully developed in its details and applications only when its main principles have come to be taken for granted and, to that extent, have become retarded in their speculative development.
The principles of the Revolutionary Era, first clearly stated by Locke and embodied in great political manifestos like the American declaration of Independence and the French and American bills of rights, summed up political ideals which in the nineteenth century seemed certain of progressive realization in the politics of all countries where the culture of Western Europe prevailed and might probably come to be realized throughout the world. These ideals included the civil liberties-freedom of thought, of expression, and of association-the security of property, and the control of political institutions by an informed public opinion.
Everywhere, as it seemed, these ends were to be practically realized by the adoption of the forms of constitutional government, by the acceptance of the rules that government must work within the limits set by law, that the center of political authority should fall within representative legislatures, and that all branches of government should be responsible to an electorate that tended to include the entire adult population.
These ideals, and this type of political agency for realizing them, had been defended in the name of natural rights and they continued to sum up the purpose and, broadly speaking, the achievements of nineteenth-century liberalism. At the core of this mode of political thought was a fundamental postulate about the nature of value, viz, that all value inheres ultimately in the satisfactions and the realizations of human personality.
It was this postulate which Kant had expressed in his famous dictum that morality consists in treating persons as ends and not as means, and which Jefferson had affirmed when he said that governments exist to realize the inalienable rights of man.
Yet between the philosophy of natural rights in the Revolutionary era and the liberalism of the nineteenth century there was a profound difference of temper and spirit. The philosophy of natural rights was in essence a revolutionary creed; it could brook no compromise where a fundamental right was invaded. But the French Revolution bred in many quarters a reaction against revolution.
On the Continent the imperial ambitions of Napoleon left the constitutional traditions of every western nation in ruins. Even in England, where this was not the case, the progress of parliamentary reform was checked by reaction and was resumed only with difficulty after 1815.
Everywhere the Revolution produced, as revolutions are wont to do, a revulsion against its excesses, and it became the fashion to attribute these excesses to the philosophies and the rights of man. Chateaubriand expressed the temper of liberalism everywhere when he said, We must preserve the political work which. is the fruit of the Revolution…but we must eradicate the Revolution from this work. At a later date the same idea was expressed by idealizing evolution as the antithesis of revolution.
In part this moderating of the liberal attitude was due to philosophical reasons. The ethical theory upon which the philosophy of natural rights had depended was necessarily institutional. There is no way to defend a theory of imperceptible individual rights except to affirm, as both Locke and Jefferson had done, that such rights are self evident. But the drift of science in general and of social thought in particular was pretty steadily toward empiricism, and therefore away from the faith that a proposition may be taken as axiomatic because it appears to be obvious.
In short, the authority of rationalism steadily diminished, and the theory of natural rights had always been an element of philosophical rationalism. More influential than any theoretical consideration, however, were no doubt the changes that naturally occurred in the outlook of the commercial and industrial middle class as its position and influence became more assured. This class everywhere formed the spearhead of liberal political reform in the nineteenth century, and the trend of industrial and commercial development made the expansion of its political power a foregone conclusion.
Correspondingly, the influence of the landed gentry was relatively declining, and wage earners, at least during the first half or two-thirds of the century, had as yet attained little political self-consciousness and no effective organization. It is a gross exaggeration to say, as Marxian critics of liberalism often do say, that the ideals of constitutional government and personal, liberty represented nothing but the interests of the middle class.
It is a fact, however, that in the beginning this class was the main spokesman for these ideals and it is also a fact that the social position of this class made it progressively less revolutionary in its outlook and methods. When Francis Place could assure the Passage of the Reform Bill of 1832 by threatening a run on the Bank of England, he was clearly not addressing a class which must exert its influence at the barricades.
It was also true as time went on that liberal political reform passed more and more out of the region of ideology and into that of institutional reconstruction. The modernizing of administration, the improvement of legal procedure, the reorganization of the courts, the creation of sanitary codes and factory inspection-all characteristic liberal reforms-were effected not by revolutionary enthusiasm but by hard, matter-of-fact research and the careful drafting of legislation, The ideals of liberalism were an aftermath of the Revolutionary Era but its achievements were largely the outcome of a high level of practical intelligence applied to specific problems.
Its theory was still rationalistic but its rationalism was qualified by the realization that ideals have to be made effective in a multitude of concrete cases. Very naturally its philosophy tended to become utilitarian instead of revolutionary.
Political liberalism as a whole was a massive movement that made itself in all the countries of Western Europe and in America but its most characteristic development took place in England. In Germany liberal philosophy remained for the most part academic, not deeply routed in popular thought, and in 1848 the cause of parliamentary government and ministerial responsibility was definitely lost.
The issue of liberal constitutionalism was overshadowed in the minds of Germans by the issue of national unification, and this was accomplished under the non-liberal auspices of Bismarck and the Hohenzollerns. Only in the German judicial system were such liberal values realized as security of property and a considerable measure of civil liberty, and German liberal theory was accordingly juristic rather than political. In France the most significant social consequence of the Revolution was perhaps the creation of five or six million peasant proprietors who were politically inert, except in their power to obstruct, and who felt their interests to be identical with those of the bourgeoisie.
In opposition to both there grew up for the first time in Europe a proletarian working-class movement that was socialist and radical in its political” outlook rather than liberal, a social development of momentous importance that was at once incorporated in Marx’s theory of the class struggle.
French liberalism, therefore, far more than English, tended to be the social philosophy of a class, rather aristocratic in its attitude toward the masses, and mainly critical in function, since it could hardly aspire to carry though a national policy.? Only in England, which throughout the nineteenth century was the most highly industrialized country in the world, did liberalism achieve the status at once of a national philosophy and a national policy.
Here, contrary to the expectation implied by Marxism, it provided the principles for an orderly and peaceful transition, first.to complete freedom for industry and the enfranchisement of the middle class and ultimately to the enfranchisement of the working class and their protection against the most serious hazards of industry. This was possible because the cleavage between social and economic classes in England never coincided exactly with the lines between political parties.
Even in its earlier stage, when its economic theories in particular represented clearly the interest of industrialists, English liberalism in intention at least was always a theory of the general good of the whole national community. In its later stages this intention became conscious and explicit, when it became apparent that other interests, especially those of labor and agriculture, had to be considered along with those of industry and commerce.
As an effective political movement liberalism in England was composed of many elements which learned to cooperate for specific purposes without insisting upon ideological agreement. Most striking of all, perhaps, was what Graham Wallas called the tradition of a working alliance between Evangelical Christianity and the non-religious radicalism of Jeremy Bentham and the Philosophical Radicals.
The disparity of their philosophical beliefs was more than offset by the essential similarity of their moral and social purposes. The backbone of political liberalism; as Gladstone remarked, was the nonconformist religious sects. At-the start they had every motive to safeguard and extend their religious liberty and their participation in political rights.
Though sometimes deficient in intellectual enlightenment they provided an element of Christian charity and humanitarianism which was lacking in the grim egoism of utilitarian ethics and of the classical economics. Moreover, the nonconformists as a body were not at all revolutionary or even radical in their political views.
Because it held in suspension these and other groups with diverse ideologies, political liberalism was from the start less doctrinaire than its theory, and with time the conciliation of many interests became an overt part of its philosophy. It was the Philosophical Radicals, however, who provided the intellectual structure of early liberalism and therefore its program.
They were at all times a group of intellectuals rather than a political party, but their influence was never measured by their numbers. As so often happens in politics the intellectuals provided ideas, which politicians used piecemeal, or sometimes not at all, according to the exigency of circumstances.
For the purpose of emphasizing this conciliatory and synthesizing phase of English liberal philosophy it is desirable that it should be divided into two periods and yet that the historical continuity of the two periods should be kept clearly in view. For the distinguishing characteristic of its history was its development from a philosophy which at the start could not unjustly be branded, as its critics generally have branded it, as the ideology of middle-class interests, into the, philosophy of a national community whose ideal was to protect and conserve the interests of all classes.
The development was possible because the criticism, though not unjust, was never wholly true. The early liberals, though they were often provincial and doctrinaire, were also profoundly and sincerely public-spirited men who turned a defective social philosophy to purposes which in a large measure were socially beneficent and were never in intention merely exploitative.
It was for this reason that liberalism could transform itself into all intellectual bridge between the individualism of its earlier period, which was its heritage from the philosophy of the Revolutionary Era, and a recognition of the reality and the value of social and communal interests, which tended in general to put themselves forward in anti-liberal forms.
Thus the purpose of later liberalism could become at once the conservation of the political and civil liberties which individualism embodied and the adaptation of them to the progressive changes of industrialism and nationalism that bred philosophies which threatened to nullify them. Acknowledging political freedom as an addition of 2ermanent value to modern culture, liberalism could still accept the task of making it a good more accessible to a larger number of persons and hence a genuine social good.
The division of liberalism into two periods is, therefore, somewhat more than an expository convenience. It is intended to suggest a change of great importance coupled with a continuity of equal importance. The dividing line can best be drawn, perhaps, at John Stuart Mill because his philosophy stood curiously on both sides of the line. Accordingly this chapter will deal with the classical version of liberalism, that of the Philosophical Radicals, the next with the revision and modernization of liberalism.
The Greatest Happiness Principle:-
The social philosophy of the Philosophical Radicals was in essence a program of legal, economic, and political reforms connected as they supposed by the fact that they are all derivative from the principle of the greatest happiness of the greatest number. This principle they held to be the only rational guide both to private morals and to public policy, and the more theoretical part of their philosophy was designed to make this principle more accurately applicable to practical problems, In point of fact no member of the group, including Bentham himself, was in any way remarkable for philosophical originality or even for a very firm grasp of philosophical principles.
The formal and deductive manner of presentation which they affected gave an appearance of system to their thought that turns out upon analysis to be deceptive. The order in which the several parts of the system appeared is significant of the fact that their relationship was practical rather than logical.
Originally and indeed until he was nearly sixty years old Bentham was interested wholly in legal reforms, and he expected that these would be accomplished sooner by enlightened despotism than by political liberalism. Accordingly, after the publication of the Principles of Morals and Legislation in 1789, he preferred to address himself to a Continental public by publishing his later works on jurisprudence in French.
It was not until! the 1820’s that his ideas came home to England by the translation of his French works or by the publication of new works such as the Rationale of Judicial Evidence, which John Stuart Mill edited from his manuscripts and published in 1827. in the meantime, about 1808, James Mill convinced Bentham that legal reform in England depended on the liberalizing of representation in Parliament, and it was only then that he abandoned the Tory politics in which he had been reared.
The change was in no sense due to the logical dependence of liberalism upon the greatest happiness principle but solely to the hope that it might prove a more practicable agency of legal reform than aristocracy or enlightened depotism.
In a somewhat similar manner the economic theory of the Philosophical Radicals, which was mainly the work of Ricardo and was developed without any close relation to the legal reforms that interested Bentham, was directed from the start toward the practical purpose of freeing commerce from the restrictions imposed on it by a protective tariff on foodstuffs and by the navigation Jaws.
These reforms also, like legal reform, could be achieved only by breaking down the political monopoly enjoyed by the English landowning class. It was not until practical purposes such as these were by way of being realized that James Mill undertook a theoretical examination of the psychological and philosophical principles upon which the group had always professed to rely. His Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind was published in 1829, when he was already fifty-six years old.
This book, which logically should have been the cornerstone of the system, was in truth little more than a systematization, in a deductive and highly dogmatic manner, of the association psychology developed eighty years before by David Hartley, by the English moralists of the eighteenth century, and by French thinkers like (Condillac and Helvetius.
To this psychology Mill contributed little that was original and nothing that tended to bring it into line with a realistic study of human behavior based upon observation. The alleged empiricism of the Utilitarians was in fact filled with unexamined presumptions. The greatest happiness principle in ethics might have been adopted, as it often had been in the past, without the hedonistic psychology which was supposed to support it, and the reforms advocated in the name of the greatest happiness were implied only if the principle was supplemented by a large number of premises unrelated to the system.
The general outline of utilitarian thinking, apart from economics, was announced in Bentham’s earliest work, the Fragment on Government, which he published in 1776. This was a criticism of Blackstone’s Commentaries and through him an attack upon the whole legal profession and upon the Whig conception of English government.
Bentham thus announced his major interest, the cause of legal reform, and presented in outline the point of view which he was later to develop in a long series of books on jurisprudence. Blackstone’s account of English law, he said, is at best merely expository-it describes the law as it is-or at worst it is an apology for the status quo disguised as an exposition.
The true function of jurisprudence is censorial, the criticism of the legal system with a view to its improvement. For such criticism a standard of value is required, and that can be supplied only by the principle of utility. It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.
This insight Bentham attributed to Hume; when he had first read Hume’s ethical works, he said, he felt as if the scales had fallen from his eyes. Hume’s criticism demolished the whole apparatus of indefeasible rights and contractual limitations on the power of government by showing them to be either meaningless or else contuse references to the clear principle of utility. The basis of government is not contract but human need, and the satisfaction of human needs is its sole justification.
In consequence, Bentham concluded, relying perhaps as much on Hobbes as on Hume, Blackstone’s glorification of the British Constitution and its supposed division of powers moves in the realm of myth. Legal power by its very nature cannot be legally limited, and somewhere in every political society authority must head up in some emperor persons whom others are accustomed to obey.
This holds true, Bentham argued, of free as well as of despotic governments. The two are indeed different in respect to the responsibility of rulers for their acts, the liberty of subjects to criticize and to combine for political purposes, and in the freedom of the press, but not in respect to the power they exerciser.
The Fragment on Government thus laid down the chief ideas that actuated the Philosophical Radicals the greatest happiness principle as a measure of value, legal sovereignty as an assumption necessary for reform by legislative process, and a jurisprudence devoted to the analysis and censure of the law in the light of its contribution to the general happiness.
The Fragment on Government was in the main critical but Bentham proceeded at once to construction. The Introduction to the principles of Morals and Legislation, privately printed in 1780 and published in 1789, united psychology, ethics, and jurisprudence upon, the lines already suggested by Helvetius. Pleasure and pain, Bentham argued, provide not only the standard of value needed for a censorial jurisprudence but also the causes of human behavior by which the skillful legislator can control and direct it.
Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne.
Accordingly Bentham now included in his theory a somewhat lengthy and highly schematic account of pleasure and pain as motivating forces, designed to show how a calculation of their amount and influence is possible. He assumed, as had commonly been done by the hedonist moralists, that pleasure and pain are commensurable, a given amount of the one offsetting a like amount of the other, and also that they can be added, so that a sum of pleasures may be calculated, which will define the greatest happiness both of an individual and a group of individuals.
In this calculation four dimensions or phases of a pleasure or pain must be considered its intensity, its duration, the certainty with which it will follow a given kind of action, and the remoteness of the time at which it will occur. Since one pleasure or pain is likely to induce another, this tendency also must be taken into account, and in any social calculation the number of persons affected must be considered.
Usually Bentham spoke as if he believed that human beings really do act in accordance with some such mental parallelogram of forces as this, though occasionally he acknowledged that the notion of adding pleasures, and especially the pleasures of different persons, is fictitious. What is certainly true was that he considered the fiction to be a postulation without the allowance of which all political reasoning is at a stand.
He had in fact no skill in psychological observation and no interest in it for its own sake. But he aspired to be the Newton of the moral sciences and he considered his psychological fictions , be no more violent than some that had proved serviceable in the science of mechanics.
The theory of pleasure and pain, and also the sensationalist psychology associated with it, had for Bentham another value besides that of enabling him to calculate the effects of legislation. He believed that by using this psychology he could track down and neutralize the fictions which he saw everywhere in social studies and in political reasoning.
Bentham’s theory of knowledge was rigidly nominalist a quality which it probably owed to Hobbes more than to Hume. Now, a name is the name of something, and that something must in the end be a concrete bit of sensuous experience. The meaning of a name i determined by the experience to which it points, its referent, as it would now be called. Consequently, in so far as names refer to real entities, they are, so to speak, masses of proper nouns as general terms they run the risk at least of becoming fictitious if this fact is overlooked.
Fictitious entities are indeed necessary for convenience of discourse relation, for example, instead of objects related, by clarity requires that the factual reference should be precisely known, Lamentable have been the confusion and the darkness produced by taking the names of factious for the names of real entities. It mus always be possible to put one’s finger on the tangible experience referred to. As William James said many years later, for an empiricist every difference must make a difference.
For Bentham, the utility of this theory of fictions lay chiefly in the spheres of politics and legislation. Both are filled with fictions, and legal fiction, he was convinced, has never been employed to any purpose but the affording a justification for something which otherwise would be unjustifiable.
Terms like rights, property, the crown, the general welfare, are all liable to fictional use, and usually for defending vested interests. From Bentham’s point of view any corporate body, such as society or the state, is evidently fictitious. Whatever is done in its name is done by someone, and its good, as Bentham said, is “the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it.
The utility of the greatest happiness principle, therefore, consists in the fact that it is the great solvent of fictions, for it means that the real significance of a law or an institution must be judged in terms of what it does, and so far as possible by what it does to specific individuals. It is of course not possible, as Bentham knew, to trace out in all cases just where the effects fall, but anything short of this is a makeshift.
Since value is identical with pleasure; and pleasure can occur only in the experience of some individual human being, the worth of law and government muesli if their effects upon the lives and fortunes of actual men and women. Some such principle is a postulate of any liberal philosophy, but it does not, of course, imply accepting the crudities of Bentham’s psychology.
Bentham’s Theory of Law:-
The greatest happiness principle, as Bentham believed, placed in the hands of the skillful legislator a practically universal instrument. With it he can rear the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and law. For it provides a theory of basic human nature, both its valuations and its motivations, which Bentham supposed to be applicable at all times and all places.
The legislator needs to know only the special circumstances of time and place that have produced peculiar customs and habits and he can then control behavior by allocating pains and penalties to produce the most desirable results. The only limitations upon the method which Bentham recognized were psychological and ethical, fixing on the one hand what the law can do and on the other what it can wisely try to do.
In the nature of the case, he believed, there can be no legal limitations upon it. Even the massive limitations imposed by long established custom or long accepted institutions were construed by Bentham as psychological, since he regarded custom and institutions as merely habits. Like all habits they contain many threats to an intelligent adjustment of means to ends; they are the source of the technicalities and fictions which the greatest happiness principle was designed to obviate.
This distrust of custom and its complete subordination to legislation were among the principal characteristics of Bentham’s jurisprudence. With them was connected an indifference to, or rather a contempt for, history as a factor in social! studies. From Bentham’s point of view history was for the most part a compendium of the crimes and follies of mankind.
This temper of mind was perhaps the principal reason why his social philosophy seemed antiquated in the second half of the nineteenth century. Even his own disciple, John Stuart Mill, came to regard it as a weakness, and certainly it was often responsible for a superficial understanding of the profound differences between men reared in different cultural heritages.
Bentham’s jurisprudence, which was not only the greatest of his works but one of the most remarkable intellectual achievements of the nineteenth century, consisted in the systematic application of the point of view just sketched to all branches of the law, civil and criminal, and to the procedural law and the organization of the judicial system.
In all cases its purpose was critical rather than descriptive, censorial rather than expository, as he had urged at the start against, Blackstone. In all branches of jurisprudence, therefore, he distinguished what he called a natural method from a technical method The latter consists in taking at their face value the classifications and technical procedures accepted by the law and embodied in its customary terminology, its writs, and processes.
The effect of such a jurisprudence is at most to reduce legal concepts to some sort of forma order. A natural method, on the contrary, conceives of all legal prohibitions and all procedures for giving them effect in terms of their utility, as means to the greatest happiness of the greatest number. A juristic problem is essentially the correct allocation of penalties to produce desirable results.
In the field of the civil law this method required an analysis of legal rights and obligations in terms of the help or hindrance that their enforcement causes in the exchange of goods and services upon which utility depends. In the nature of the case every legal obligation must impose a limitation upon the freedom of such exchanges.
A right in one person implies that his freedom of action is guaranteed by a penalty which prevents another person from invading it, and this can be justified only by the relative utility of such a limitation in comparison with what would happen if the acts of both persons were left to voluntary choice.
In all cases the utility of legislation is to be measured in terms of its effectiveness, the costliness of its enforcement, and in general by its consequences in producing a system of exchanges which on the whole is advantageous to most members of the community. Utility is the only reasonable ground for making action obligatory.
Property rights are justified in general by the need for security, for making the consequences of action calculable, and for avoiding the frustrations that follow uncertainty and disappointment, certainly a limited conception of social security.
In Bentham’s judgment security of property is a major condition of achieving the greatest happiness, but it is, as he perceived, a highly conservative principle. It implies the legal protection of the distribution of property which at any given time exists.
As a matter of policy he was convinced that the law should aim at a comparatively equal distribution of property, or at least not at the creation of arbitrary inequalities. In practice it must strike some kind of work able balance between security and equality. Similarly the sanctity of contract, which Bentham believed had been treated by jurisprudence as a kind of incantation, like transubstantiation in theology, is really justified only because it contributes to the maintenance and reliability of commercial transactions.
In the field of the criminal law the principle of utility provided, as Bentham believed, a natural method for arriving at a rational theory of penalties. The technical method starts from the assumption that crime deserves punishment, but the concept of desert is essentially indefinable except in terms of existing practices and ideas. The natural method, on the contrary, starts from the principle that punishment is always an evil, since it causes pain, and is justified only in so far as it either prevents a greater future evil or repairs an evil already done.
Criminal jurisprudence must provide a realistic classification of crimes, not in terms of the customary categories of the law, which Bentham justifiably regarded as contradictory and largely unintelligible, but in terms of the injury that certain modes of action inflict and the incidence of these injuries on assignable individuals or on classes and on the general public.
It must provide also an analogous classification of punishments in order to apportion the penalty to the crime and prevent or redress the injury as effectively as possible. In general the rule is that the pain occasioned by a punishment must exceed the profit gained by committing the offense but must exceed as little as possible the evil caused by the offense.
This part of Bentham’s work was much like the conclusions already reached by Beccaria, another follower of Helvetius, though it was more systematic and rather curiously did not repeat Beccaria’s sound conclusion that certainty of punishment is a more effective deterrent than severity.
It is true, however, that in practice Bentham was favorable to proposals, like those of Sir Samuel Romilly, for eliminating the savage and quite ineffective penalties that disfigured English criminal law at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
In his criminal jurisprudence, as in most of Bentham’s reformatory projects, it appears that he was more moved by a love of order and efficiency than by humanitarian motives, though it is only fair to say that he expended large amounts both of his time and his private fortune to bring about the improvement of prisons. The driving force of his personality was enlightenment, and he was more concerned about the interests of the general public than about the interests of the unfortunate or the reformation of delinquents.
It was in his theory of legal procedure and judicial organization, perhaps, that Bentham developed his most characteristic ideas, and it was certainly here that he departed farthest from the liberal tradition as it had been before him. !n his desire to simplify procedure and improve the efficiency of the courts he proposed to abandon almost entirely the checks and safeguards which had been deemed necessary to protect the subject’s rights. Bentham here extended to procedural law the principles which he had already adopted relative to constitutional law in the Fragment on Government.
He pointed out correctly that legal formalism and artificial rules about the admissibility of evidence Were largely predicated upon a belief that the substantive law is bad and that government is dangerous, and he argued that, if this belief is indeed true, the reasonable remedy is to improve the law, not to weaken the courts. Formality, obscurity, and technicality in the lay he urged, result in a maximum of expense, delay, and vexation to litigants, in withholding justice from great numbers of persons, and in tendering the outcome of legal processes capricious and uncertain, This technical system, as Bentham called it, he regarded as nothing short of a conspiracy on the part of the legal profession to mulct the public. Even in the Fragment on Government he had paid his respects to lawyers and he pursued them throughout a long life with a reformer’s rancor.
A passive and enervate race, ready to swallow anything, and to acquiesce in anything; with intellects incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, and with affections alike indifferent to either; insensible, short-sighted, obstinate lethargic, yet liable to be driven into convulsions by false terrors; deaf to the voice of reason and public utility; obsequious only to the whisper of interest, and to the beck of power.
Bentham’s ideal was Every man his own lawyer. To this end he urged the substitution for formal pleading of informal proceedings before an arbiter who would aim at conciliation, the universal admissibility of any kind of relevant evidence, and a large measure of judicial discretion, rather than rigid rules, to exclude irrelevance respect to the organization of the courts Bentham attacked especially the practice of paying judges and other officers of the courts by fees rather than salaries; the divided, overlapping, and contradictory jurisdictions of the existing English courts; and the jury system, which he thought enjoyed a quite unmerited popularity.
Bentham’s theory of law established the point of view of analytic jurisprudence, which was almost the only system of the subject generally known to English and American lawyers throughout the nineteenth century. This School is usually associated with the name of John Austin, but in fact Austin did little more than bring together systematically ideas that were scattered through Bentham’s volume nous and not always very readable works.
In political theory the chief effect of Austin’s work was to attach an exaggerated importance to the theory of sovereignty, which was in fact incidental to Bentham’s plan for reforming the courts by Parliamentary control. Clarity of organization does indeed imply that responsibility should be definitely located somewhere, but Bentham’s idea that a government is merely certain determinate persons set apart to rule, and toward whom subjects have merely a habit of obedience, is grossly inadequate to explain the part that institutions play in politics.
Of vastly more historical importance than the theory of sovereignty was the fact that Bentham’s work on jurisprudence provided the plan according to which the administration of justice in England was completely revised and modernized in the course of the nineteenth century.
It is true that Bentham’s ideas were never systematically adopted and put into effect at a single time and also that some of his ideas, notably a general codification of English law, were never adopted. But in a long succession of acts a thoroughgoing reform of the law and the courts was brought about, and in an astonishing number of cases the reforms followed the direction that Bentham’s criticisms had indicated. Sir Frederick Pollock has said rightly that every important reform of English law during the nineteenth century can be traced to the influence of Bentham’s ideas.
It is certainly true, however, that Bentham’s jurisprudence was not so completely determined by the principle of utility as he supposed. In fact utility is an utterly indefinite word until one specifies utility for what and for whom. The liberal elements in Bentham’s philosophy resided largely in its tacit premises. When he said that One man is worth just the same as another man, or that in calculating the greatest happiness each person is to count for one and no one for more than one, he was obviously borrowing the principle of equality from natural law.
He did not in fact rely merely on the unprofitable assumption that one man’s pleasure is like another man’s. Behind his love for order and efficiency there were genuinely liberal postulates, particularly the value of a humane form of living for all persons, that efficiency or the greatest happiness principle did not cover. It is also true that his jurisprudence, by reason of its individualism, had an unintended bias.
The rule that a law must be judged by the incidence of its effects on human beings, and so far as possible on assignable individuals, was a sound liberal principle, but it was vastly easier to apply in some types of law than in others. The restriction of a property right is apparent, but the precise consequences of a law to protect public health cannot easily be shown in the better health of any single person.
As was to became apparent, the extension of freedom of contract to as many private relations as possible resulted in quite specious senses of freedom. The connotations of Bentham’s jurisprudence no doubt made social legislation more difficult. Far more than he realized his thought was influenced by ad hoc considerations, especially by the fact that legal reform in his day was so largely a matter of getting rid of obsolete practices. Nevertheless, despite obvious inadequacies in his thought, there are few thinkers in the history of social philosophy that have exercised so wide and so beneficent an influence as Bentham.
The Economic Theory of Early Liberalism:-
The liberal philosophy of law was almost wholly inspired Bentham. Its economic theory-the so-called classical economics the theory of laissez faire-formed another strand of liberal though, which owed little to Bentham but was similar in purpose and point of view. Like Bentham’s own views on economic subjects it was derived from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. To this had been added the work of a generation of English writers, as well as that of the French successors to Quesnay and the Physiocrats.
The classical economic received its most important statement in David Ricardo’s Principles of Political Economy (1817), which incorporated the theory of population associated with the name of T. R. Malthus and also the theory of economic rent which Malthus had stated and to which Ricardo’s own name has been attached. Thus economics emerged as an independent social study beside Bentham’s jurisprudence and beside the study of politics. Like these it was conceived to depend upon the general laws of human nature stated by the association and hedonistic psychology that Bentham had used.
Hence it purported to state the laws of any economic society irrespective of time and place and without reference to prescriptions set up by systems of law or government. In its intellectual temper and point of view, therefore, the classical economics was quite in accord with the philosophy of Bentham. It was a kind of social Newtonian-ism which regarded institutions and their history as scientifically irrelevant, because they are reducible to habits of thought and action which can be fully explained by rather simple laws of individual behavior.
This assumption that economics and government are mutually independent, or are only indirectly related through individual psychology, was one of the most characteristic elements in the point of view of early liberalism. It is also the characteristic which now makes the classical economics appear most seriously antiquated.
This is due not only to the fact that the association psychology itself was thoroughly inadequate, or to the fact that the policy of laissez faire espoused by liberal economists became progressively impossible in the latter part of the nineteenth century, though both these statements are true.
The fundamental fact, made progressively clearer by social psychology and anthropology, is that both political and economic institutions are always related factors in a culture, and that the institutions of a culture shape from birth the innate characteristics of the individuals who compose it. Whatever the laws of human behavior turn out to be, they will certainly be far too general to correlate with the practices of any given time or place.
Though the classical economics aspired to be a science and therefore to be independent of the particular social and political circumstances in which it originated, it was marked, like Bentham’s jurisprudence, by the practical reformatory purposes of its creators. The peace of 1815 produced a serious depression in the market for English manufactured goods both at home and abroad.
It accordingly brought no the surface the radical disparity of interests between English landowners and English manufacturers which had been kept under cover by the crisis of the Napoleonic Wars. English agriculture had long enjoyed a market protected by the tariff on grain, while the interests of English merchants and manufacturers were all on the side of cheap food.
The manufacturers themselves, having a technology superior to that of any other country, were for the time being without any need of governmental support. Under the circumstances a policy of free trade was Clearly in their interest, and the stringency that followed the close of the War touched off a controversy that brought about the reform of Parliament in 1832 and culminated in the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.
The outcome was the emergence of England as the first of the modern industrial nations, committed to the typical liberal policies of unrestricted trade, the extension of representative government at home, and the ideal of an international concert of nations all alike liberal in politics and all following their national self-interest in an international division of labor. Ricardo’s economics was characteristic of the years of controversy in which his theories were formulated.
Though the classical economics purported to be a rigidly logical system, it in fact embraced two points of view that were diverse and that issued in very different ideas of economic society. This diversity reflected two conceptions of nature that had been implicit in modern philosophy from the start. On the one hand was a belief that the natural order is inherently simple, harmonious, and beneficent, on the other the belief that it is devoid of ethical attributes and that its laws have no relation to justice, reason, or human welfare.
Even in Bentham’s jurisprudence, as has already been said, there were rudiments of natural right which contrasted with the pure naturalism or utilitarianism that he derived from Hume and professed to follow. In the case of Ricardo’s economics the contrast was between what he called the Static theory and the dynamic.
From the point of view of social statics economic science is the theory of the exchange of goods in a freely Competitive market in which prices are fixed by the condition of the market itself, unobstructed by any forces other than the choices of the individuals involved. An economic society is conceived to be composed of individual producers each bringing his products and exchanging them with other producers, each buying as cheaply as possible and selling for the best price he can get.
From the point of view of social dynamics, however, economics is a theory of the distribution of total product among the producers-as Ricardo puts it, an inquiry into the laws which determine the division of the produce of industry amongst the classes who concur in its formation. The chief components of this part of the science are the theories of rent, profits, and wages, these being the principal kinds of income into which the product of industry must be divided. From this point of view an economic society consists of classes rather than of individuals.
The difference between these two points of view is in fact very considerable. For a free market, relieved of all factors of monopolistic restraint, was conceived, in the long run at least, to serve the interests of all alike and therefore the greatest good of the greatest number.
By what Adam Smith had called the simple principle of natural liberty, the operations of the market continually tend to produce prices as low as is consistent with maintaining the service and yet yielding a fair return for the effort expended.
In short, complete freedom of exchange produces automatically a natural harmony of interests, which only needs to be let alone in order to produce as much economic advantage to everyone as the circumstances permit. The picture is, however, extremely different when one considers the laws of distribution.
Not only do these laws run in terms of a system of economic classes in which the fate of any individual is largely determined by the portions of wealth which economic forces allot to his class, but they also make it logically inevitable, as Ricardo believed, that the interests of each class must in general always be adverse to the interests of the other classes. From this point of view the state of an economic society is typically one of class conflict. Moreover, the direction in which Ricardo expected the dynamic laws to carry a developing economy was by no means toward a natural harmony of interests.
The first of these two contrasting points of view depended upon the labor theory of value, the supposition that in a free market the value of a commodity is fixed by the amount of labor necessary to produce it. By Ricardo this theory was probably intended to provide an absolute economic standard behind the confusing array of prices hat occur in an actual market.
In general, as he supposed, prices would fluctuate around value according to temporary conditions of supply and demand. This purpose was not achieved, as Ricardo regretfully admitted, because the argument was in effect circular prices are themselves the only thing that gives a definite measure of the amount of labor in a commodity.
But a strictly naturalistic meaning of this sort was far from the connotations that had usually been attached to the labor theory of value. Locke had used it in an ethical sense to justify the right of property which a man acquires when he mixes his labor with the goods he produces, and Adam Smith had used the theory to develop the concept of a “natural” price, which in general he regarded as a just price.
For if goods are exchanged according to the amount of labor that produces them, it seems to follow that in general (temporary aberrations being neglected) buyers and sellers must put in and take out equivalent amounts of value. On the whole everyone would keep a value equivalent to the amount of labor he had expended, and in effect he would retain the whole value that he had produced. Perfectly free exchange would therefore produce a system of natural justice.
There is no doubt that the labor theory of value commended itself to Ricardo’s disciples, J. R. MacCulloch, for example, less because of its use in economics than because it provided an ethical justification for free trade and an argument against artificial obstructions to it by legislation. The free play of human motives, ail in themselves egoistic, works out to the greatest good of the community and the nearest practicable approach to justice for all its members. As Ricardo himself said, paraphrasing Adam Smith’s famous expression about the unseen hand, The pursuit of individual advantage is admirably connected with the universal good cf the whole.
This argument was not, however, utilitarian and it was glaringly at odds with Bentham’s use of pleasure and pain in his jurisprudence. Utility, according to Bentham, does indeed require a harmony of interests and the greatest happiness of all, but such a condition is not natural. It can be produced only by legislation, and the significance of pleasure for a jurist is that, in addition to providing a standard of value, it makes possible the control of human behavior.
Moreover, Bentham had consistently refused to name liberty as the object of law, because law exists solely to force men to do what they would not do voluntarily. From Bentham’s point of view social harmony is produced by legislative coercion; from the economists point of view the harmony of economic interests is produced by the absence of legislation. There can be no doubt that, for a utilitarian, Bentham’s position was the more consistent, though possibly, in an effort to secure the repeal of a tariff, the economists argument was the more persuasive.
For even though coercion is always an evil, as Bentham believed, it is a necessary evil, and the limits of its use are set only by its power to Prevent, a greater evil. It is of course possible to argue on utilitarian around, against particular restraints of trade, but some legal regulation of it is inevitable, and the principle of utility can justify any amount of interference with trade, provided only it does less harm than good. Laisse, faire, however, was often defended on the ground that any legal control is intrinsically productive of inequalities of exchange, and the argument apparently assumes that the condition which prevails in the absence of regulation is one of natural liberty and natural equality.
The dynamic laws which govern the distribution of the social product presented a picture very different from the harmony and justice implied by the system of natural liberty. The distribution is he, tween social classes, and the interests of the classes are in genera antagonistic. The dynamic laws, moreover, are laws of social evolution and the normal expectation which they establish for an expanding economy is, as Ricardo described it, very far from optimistic.
The crucial factor among the dynamic forces is the property which Malthus had attributed to population in his Essay, first published in 1798.4 Malthus’s point was that human fecundity, if uncontrolled, sets an inevitable limit to the possibility of social progress anticipated by Condorcet and in England by William Godwin. Any improvement in the standard of living results is an increase of population which nullifies the improvement, and since in general population increases faster than the production of food, population tends always to press hard upon the means of livelihood.
Apart from temporary fluctuations, therefore, the standard of living for the mass of mankind will stand at about the level of subsistence. It cannot, of course, permanently fall below this minimum, but neither can it permanently rise higher, fora further increase of population will always overtake any increase in the supply of food. The economic consequences of this sociological law were formulated in the second dynamic law, the law of rent, which Malthus had stated and which Ricardo elaborated. Food is the product of land, and land is peculiar in that it is limited in amount and differs in its productivity.
Clearly a cultivator can afford to pay a higher rent for fertile than for infertile land, since larger crops can be produced at equal cost. If land produced enough barely to pay the costs of production no rent could be paid for it; for more fertile land the rent which the owner can exact will be greater as the productivity rises. Rent, therefore, is the differential between the productivity of any given piece of land and that of land which, at prevailing prices of food, would just fail to pay the cost of using it.
From these two laws of population and rent Ricardo deduced important consequences. It follows in the first place that the landlord is a monopolist, or indeed a kind of economic parasite, who can collect a tribute from all other economic classes, since rent contributes in no way to production. As Ricardo said, The interest of the landlord is always opposed to the interest of every other class in the community.
Moreover, any increase in the price of food, because it brings less fertile land under cultivation, will increase rents, and an increase of population will increase prices. In the second place, the laws of rent and population imply a law of wages, viz., that except temporarily wages cannot rise above or fall below the level of subsistence.
As Ricardo said, the natural price of labour is that price which is necessary to enable the laborers, one with another, to subsist and perpetuate their race, without either increase or diminution. Finally, since the total product of industry is in general distributed as rent, wages, or profits, it follows that any increase in the first two is subtracted from the portion that goes to the capitalist.
The normal tendency of a progressive economy, therefore, in which production is rising, will be for landlords to receive a larger share, though they contribute nothing to progress, for capitalists to receive a smaller share, and for labor to receive as always only so much as will replace the labor force. Even the most determined optimist would hardly describe this as a system of natural justice. In Ricardo’s dynamic laws nature figures merely as the brute instinct of procreation without regard for consequences.
What held together the idea of a naturally harmonious economic society and the idea of naturally conflicting classes was not, logic but the fact that both appeared to converge on a policy of free trade and more specifically on the repeal of the tariff on grain. This conclusion would follow obviously from the theory that economic society is naturally self-regulating by competition.
On the other hand, if rent is an unproductive drain on the economy, it would follow that rent ought not to be increased by legislation that artificially raises the price of food. This concentration on the immediately practical purpose of repealing a single kind of taxation had the effect of narrowing the interest of the classical economics in a manner that depended very little upon the logic of the system.
Any taxation is bound to affect the economy in some way, and from a purely utilitarian point of view there is no reason why a legislator should not direct taxation to increasing the general welfare, provided only that his measures would work. James Mill, tor example, admitted that it might be directed to increasing capital, though he believed the attempt would probably not succeed.
Moreover, there are many forms of economic rent besides the rent of land, and even if the state were to confiscate them all, the legislation, according to the theory, would in no way hamper production. Henry George’s Progress and Poverty (1879), which affected so powerfully the young Englishmen who were about to found the Fabian Society, reflected a change of interest more than a change of theory, namely, a desire to explore the possibilities, within existing economic theory, of using legislation to regulate the economy for general good.
The opposition of many of the classical economists to all forms of social legislation, possibly excepting the public support of education, reflected their concern with a single problem of the English economy and an unconscious bias in favor of the class they represented. The alleged impossibility of improving the lot of wage earners by legislation depended on Malthus’s sociological law of population, which turned out to be the least reliable part of the system.
The opposition to social legislation was never shared by humanitarian liberals. The English legislation of the 1820’s began the removal of restraints on trade, but it included also the beginning of the factory acts and of the removal of limitations on the right of labor to organize. It is true, however, that the emphasis of liberal legislation, until after the middle of the century, was on the side of laissez faire,
The extent to which liberal economics was controlled by practical considerations rather than by logic is curiously illustrated by the ease with which Karl Marx turned its arguments to a quite different purpose. Ricardo had emphasized the antagonism of the landlord’s interest to the interests of labor and capital, but it was equally easy to argue that the interests of the capitalist were similarly antagonistic to those of labor, since whatever share of the product went to profits was withdrawn from wages.
And if the landlord could exact rent because he monopolized land, it could equally well be held that the capitalist in an industrialized economy monopolizes the means of production and that his profits are a kind of surplus value or, in essence, an economic rent, as the Fabians argued.
Moreover, it is far from obvious that Ricardo’s laws for a developing economy are the only ones or the correct ones. Ricardo might pessimistically expect that capitalists would be impoverished in the interest of landlords, but it was equally open to an optimist to hope that they might be expropriated in the interest of wage earners. The truth is that the classical economics provided Marx with a ready-made picture of the exploitation of labor. The economist, to be sure, imagined that he was describing a system that was rooted in the nature of things. But having the Hegelian dialectic in hand, Marx could readily think of it as rooted in history and ascribe the exploitation to the capitalist system.
The Political Theory of Early Liberalism:-
The political theory of Benthamite radicalism was less significant than Bentham’s jurisprudence or the classical economics. In part this was due to the fact that the dogma of a self-regulating economy left to government a role of very restricted importance. In part it was .due to the fact that the direction which liberal political reforms must take in England had long been evident and that such reforms were long overdue. Quite evidently the political monopoly of the landed interests in Parliament must be broken, if either legal or economic reform was to be possible.
James Mill, in an article contributed to the newly founded organ of the radicals, the Westminster Review, estimated that effectively the House of Commons was chosen by some two hundred families, to which the clergy of the Established Church and the legal profession were substantially adjuncts.
Between the two existing political parties there was, he said, practically no difference except that the one in opposition was bent on securing the patronage enjoyed by the one in power, without changing the monopoly by which both profited. English government, he charged, was absolutely an organ of class interests. Both parties represent a small ruling class, mostly landowners, with some small infiltration of influence by moneyed interests mostly through bribery.
The remedy, as he naively supposed, consisted simply in extending representation to the whole community and especially to the industrial middle class. In the grand discovery of modern times, the system of representation, the solution of all difficulties, both speculative and practical, will perhaps be found.
The original parts of the early utilitarian political theory were all suggested by Bentham’s jurisprudence and had indeed been outlined in the Fragment on Government. They consisted in an extension to constitutional law of the same ideas which he used in his plans for the reorganization of the judicial system. The fundamental principle is that liberal government cannot be equated with weak government.
Devices for legal limitations on sovereignty, such as bills of rights, the separation of powers, and checks and balances, Bentham regarded as confused in theory and self-defeating in practice, like the building up of formality and technicality in the law.
Accordingly he accepted the complete legal sovereignty of Parliament and the need for relying upon an enlightened public opinion to insure responsibility. Ultimate political sovereignty, he believed, should inhere in the people, since only so can the interest of government be made to coincide with the general interest.
To make the interest of the people effective he believed in universal suffrage, with only temporary disqualifications until education can produce an enlightened electorate. And to make Parliament responsive to the electorate he would have reduced its legal life to a year.
The significance of these political ideas lies not so much in the fact that they were more radical than any scheme of reform that was practicable in Bentham’s lifetime as in the fact that he jumped, so to speak, quite over the stage of liberal thought that regarded constitutional limitations as the chief guaranties of freedom.
Conceptions of government which he had originally applied to enlightened despotism he applied forthwith to liberalism. His belief in enlightenment was such that he had no misgivings about the possible tyranny of a majority. As John Stuart Mill later said, the early utilitarians were liberals nut so much because they believed in liberty as because they believed in good government.
Bentham was, no doubt, inclined to underestimate the importance of institutional safeguards for political and civil liberty, and this was of a piece with his deficient sense of the reality of institutions in culture. At the same time his position was sound in so far as it depended on the principle that liberal government need not be defended by accepting its inefficiency.
James Mill’s ideas of government and reform differed in no important respect from those of Bentham, but his Essay on Government exposed somewhat more clearly the philosophical basis of hose ideas. In particular it showed that the political thought of the Benthamite liberals depended more on Hobbes than on Hume. Like Hobbes, Mill believed that all men are driven by a restless desire for power which institutional limitations cannot check. Like Bentham he rejected, for liberal as well as for autocratic governments, any conception of the division or balancing of powers, though he asserted broadly that the only difficult questions in government have to do with restraining the power which rulers must have.
The problem, as he supposed, could only be solved by securing a legislature whose interests are identical with those of the country, so that its members have no motive for using their power otherwise than in the general interest, and by giving the legislature control over the executive. As has been said, he imagined, rather fatuously, that such a result would automatically be brought about by a representative system with universal suffrage and short terms of office.
In spite of his tendency to state every argument as if it embodied a universal and eternal principle, Mill’s political thinking was in fact dominated by the immediate purpose which he considered important, namely, the enfranchisement of the industrial middle class.
This class he described quite frankly as the wisest part of the community, and he supposed that the lower classes would always be guided by it. He never contemplated the possibility that the middle class might itself use political power for its own advantage.
Like classical economics, Mill’s political thought united in an uneasy combination an egoistic theory of individual motivation with a belief in the natural harmony of human interests. His argument for universal suffrage depended upon the premise that all human beings, at least with a moderate amount of education, can be brought to a clear sighted understanding of their interests and that, understanding their interests, they will infallibly act in accordance with them.
It depended also on the tacit assumption that, if all men reasonably seek their individual interests, the greatest good of the greatest number will result. In short he succeeded, after some manner known only to a doctrinaire, in combining a rather pessimistic estimate of human nature with some remnant of that sublime faith in reason which had made revolutionary radicals like Condorcet and Godwin look forward to limitless human progress. John Stuart Mill described his father’s point of view quite accurately as follows:
So complete was my father’s reliance on the influence of reason over the minds of mankind, whenever it is allowed to reach them, that he felt as if all would be gained if the whole population were taught to read, if all sorts of opinions were allowed to be addressed to them by word and in writing, and if by means of the suffrage they could nominate a legislature to give effect to the opinions they adopted. He thought that when the legislature no longer represented a class interest, it would aim at the general interest, honestly and with adequate wisdom.
Manifestly a belief such as this could have been logically supported only upon the assumption that reasonable action issues naturally in social harmony and could never have been reached on empirical or utilitarian grounds.
The liberalism of the Philosophical Radicals was an intellectual force of enormous practical importance in nineteenth-century politics. Without themselves attaining the proportions of a political party, they disseminated ideas in the light of which a vast amount of antiquated political lumber was swept away, and legislation, administration, and judicial process were made both more efficient and more democratic. The reform of Parliament, the repeal of obsolete restrictions on trade and industry, and the reorganization of the judicial system were the most conspicuous examples of this process but they were not the only ones.
The reform of Parliament in 1832 amply justified Bentham’s belief that liberal reform would not limit the power of government but would invigorate its action. Parliamentary reform initiated within a few years a long series of administrative reforms in which men trained in the ideas of Bentham played an important though not always a conspicuous part.
Almost at once a centralized administration for the Poor Law was begun, and the moving spirits were Edwin Chadwick and George Grote. The organization of services for protecting public health and of centralized administration for the county police and the inspection of factories followed soon, and again Chadwick played a leading part.
In 1840 J. A. Roebuck and other Benthamites secured the passage of an inadequate but still substantial bill looking to a universal system of primary education. Lord Durham’s Report in 1839, prepared in part by Charles Buller and Edward Gibbon Wakefield, began a revision of colonial policy and introduced in Canada a liberal constitution which was the first constitution granted to a colony. This, with Wakefield’s plan for the colonization of Australia, was in effect the inception of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
In the patient drudgery of these utilitarians the faith in reason which they inherited from the Enlightenment was combined with an idea! of professional competence which they learned from Bentham, and the two together issued in reforms that made government both more liberal and more efficient.
The criticisms commonly passed upon Philosophical Radicalism and given currency even by liberal successors like John Stuart Mill were that it neglected institutions and their historical growth and that it worked with a falsely schematic conception of human nature and motives.
Both criticisms were true often however they were taken to imply that it was clear, rigidly logical and systematic, and merely based on premises too narrowly limited. This was not true. Its fundamental weakness was rather that as a philosophy it was never clear and never critical of its assumptions or its deductions.
In certain respects it was a system of nature like the rationalist philosophies of the seventeenth century, but it had no theory of knowledge that made an appeal nature intelligible. it claimed to be empirical but it made little effort to check its premises by observation, and in effect its empiricism stopped with a crude form of sensationalism that had been derived from Locke two generations before. Hence it easily fell a victim to criticism as soon as it faced thinkers less impressed than Mill with its characteristic dogmas.
Philosophical Radicalism was in truth largely an ad hoc philosophy, and it was also largely the spokesman for a single social interest which it identified, hastily though not hypocritically,with the well-being of the whole community. The consciousness of this fact, together with a perception of the intolerable consequences of its social policy, tended to discredit it as a social philosophy, even before the legal reforms for which it stood were accomplished.
Its weakness as a social philosophy can be summed up by saying that it had no positive conception of a social good; and that its egoistic individualism made it look with suspicion on the validity of any such conception, at a time when the total welfare of the community was becoming a principal object of concern.
Its weakness as a political philosophy was that its theory of government was almost wholly negative, at a time when it was becoming inevitable that government should assume a larger responsibility for the general welfare.
In a long view of political evolution, therefore, Philosophical Radicalism tended to be carried by inertia instead of projecting itself upon the growing lines of development. Its importance as an agent of political obsolescence was inestimable but by limiting itself to that function it dated itself as the organ of a period.