The Individualist Theory or Laissez Faire

The principle of individualism or Individualist Theory also called Laissez Faire in French language, which means, ‘leave the individual alone’ and there should be minimum interference, in his functions, by the government. It should be left to the will of the individual to do what he desires

The Individualist Theory Explained :-

The individualist, unlike the anarchist, considers the state a necessity, though he is nearly in agreement with the anarchist in regarding it as essentially an evil, and hence believes its sphere of activity should be restricted to the narrowest possible limits, consistent with the maintenance of peace, order, and security.

The individualistic doctrine regards all restraint qua restraint as an evil, and every extension of the power of the state as involving a corresponding diminution of the domain 6f individual liberty. It holds that the state is a necessity simply because of the inherent egoism of man, which leads him to disregard the rights of his fellow men for his own selfish purposes.

A well-known Frenchman, Jules Simon, expressed the individualistic idea in extreme form when he said the state ought to strive to make itself useless and prepare for its own demise. The same idea was expressed by the historian Freeman, in language which has a decided anarchistic ring, when he remarked that the ideal form of government is no government at all the existence of government in any shape is a sign of man’s imperfection.

The state exists, argue the individualists merely because crime exists, and its principal function, therefore, is to protect and restrain, not to foster and promote. When the state owns and Operates railroads for transporting freight and passengers, when it carries parcels for private individuals sends telegrams subsidizes theaters and gives concerts for public entertainment, maintains libraries, museums, art galleries, hospitals, zoological gardens, parks, play grounds, bath and wash houses, erects dwellings for the poor, provides schools, colleges, and institutions of research, and sends out scientific expeditions, it not only does what is not necessary for the protection of the individual, which is the only justification for the existence of government, but it encroaches upon the domain of private enterprise and thereby interferes With the liberty of the individual.

Most individualists therefore condemn public education sanitary, vaccination, and quarantine laws , laws regulating the conduct of trade and industry pure food laws and indeed all legislation the effect of which is to impose restrictions upon industry or business or to interfere with the social or moral habits of individuals. In short, they say, the sole duty of the state in regard to industry and morality is to leave them alone.

The modern state attempts to do entirely too many things, says the individualists. Ne pas trap gouuemer, laissez faire, laissez passer, express their conception of its legitimate duty. It should be nothing more than a police organization to enforce contracts, protect property, keep the peace, punish crime, and defend society against foreign aggroression and when this is done, its functions are exhausted.

Origin of the Doctrine of Individualism :-

Individualism as a political doctrine had its origin in the latter part of the eighteenth century as a reaction against the evils of over-government in Europe. It was one of the leading tenets of the physiocratic school of economists that the state ought not to interfere with the economic activities of the people by prescribing conditions under which industry should be carried on, but should confine its functions to the simple protection of the laws of nature under which production would best regulate itself if left alone.

They accordingly attacked the prevailing notions regarding the omnipotence of the state and demanded freedom of trade and industry. The doctrine received a powerful stimulus from the publication of Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” (177 6) which was largely a plea for a policy of non-interference by the state in economic matter‘s. Smith denounced the laws then in force restricting the free interchange of the products of labor and interfering with the free employment of labor, as mischievous and destructive of their own purpose.

Later the doctrine of natural liberty in economic matters was defended by various other English economists, notably Cairnes, Ricardo, and Malthus by the French writers Bastiat, De Tocqueville, Dunnoyer, Leon Say, and Taine and by the German philosophers Kant, Fichte, Wilhelm Humboldt, and the Baron Eotvos. Still more recently the individualistic doctrine found earnest advocates in Laboulaye, Michel, and Leroy Beaulieu in France, and in Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, Earl Wemyss, the Duke of Argyle, Bruce Smith, Wordsworth Donisthorpe, and others in England.

One of the earliest arguments in favor of the governmental minimum was written by a Prussian,Wilhelm Humboldt, in 1791, but for political reasons it was not published until 1852, after the author death. Humboldt laid down the proposition that the state should abstain from all solicitude for the positive welfare of the citizens and ought not to proceed a step farther than is necessary for their mutual security and protection against foreign enemies. For these purposes only should it impose restrictions upon individual liberty.

The grand point to be kept in view by the state,  he said, is the development of the powers of all its single citizens in their perfect individuality, it must, therefore, pursue no other object than that which they cannot procure for themselves, viz security  and this is the only true and infallible means to connect, by a strong and enduring bond, things Which at first sight appear to be contradictory-the aim of the state as a Whole and the collective aims of all its individual citizens.

John Stuart Mill’s Defense :-

In England the individualistic theory of government found a powerful defender in John Stuart Mill. In his famous essay on “Liberty” (1859) he made the following classical statement of the individualistic doctrine.

The sole end for which mankind are warranted individually or collectively in intefering with the liberty of action-of any of their number is self-protection. The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.

The only part of the conduct of anyone for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

There is a class of actions, he said, which affect only the doer of them (self-regarding acts) and another class (social acts) which affect both the author and the community at large. For the former class of acts, the individual is unaccountable to society and cannot be rightfully punished for them further than by the disapprobation of public Opinion. If the individual be in the full maturity of his powers, society has no right to say that he shall not do with his life what he chooses to do. Any other view, he added, ascribes to mankind a vested interest in each other’s moral, intellectual, and even physical perfection, the extent of which must be determined by each claimant according to his own standard.

Herbert Spencer’s Defense :-

The most elaborate if not the most convincing defense of the laissez faire doctrine of government was made by Herbert Spencer in a series of essays published near the middle of the nineteenth century, under the collective title Social Statics and Man versus the State, which at the time did much to popularize the doctrine but which to-day finds few readers and still fewer supporters. Spencer started out with the assertion that the existence of the state is the result of man’s inherent perversity and egoism and that in reality it is an aggressor rather than a protector.

Be it or be it not true, he said,

“that man is shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, it is unquestionably true that government is begotten of aggression and by aggression.”

Being instituted merely for the purpose of curbing his wicked propensities and protecting him from the violence and fraud of his fellows, it follows that in a normally perfect condition of society, government can have no raison detre. Have we not shown, he asked that government is essentially immoral?

Does it not exist because crime exists, and must government not cease when crime ceases, for very lack of objects on which to perform its functions. He went on to say that it is a mistake to consider that government must last forever. It is not essential, but incidental.

As amongst Bushmen we find a state antecedent to government, so may there be one in which it shall have become extinct. The doctrine that the state is justified in doing whatever seems to those in authority to be expedient, or whatever tends to produce the greatest happiness,or which will subserve the general good,

Spencer denounced as governmental despotism, since there is no standard or test for determining what is expedient or what is for the general good except the opinion of the governors themselves. In the first edition of his Social Statics (1866) he even spoke of the right of the individual to ignore the state, drop connection with it, relinquish its protection, throw off its burdens, and adopt a condition of voluntary outlawry.

He dwelt upon what he called the militant type of society, with its excessive regimentation and its army like organization, he compared this with the industrial type, contrasted the condition of the individual under the regime of status with his condition under a regime of contract, as he called it, and emphasized the advantages of voluntary over compulsory cooperation and of negative over positive regulation.

The experience of the past, he affirmed, proves that the acquisition of happiness does not come through state action, but through being left alone. Cutting away men’s opportunities on one side in order to add to them on another is nearly always accompanied by loss, through the friction of administrative mechanism.

The sphere of government should be negatively regulative, that is, its functions should be to redress evils, not to try to make men happier by helping them to do what they can do as well of better themselves. To administer justice, to mount guard over men’s rights, are the only proper functions of the state and when it does more, it defeats its own ends.

The duty of the state is to formulate in law pre-established rights, not to create them, and to enforce them instead of intruding on them like an aggressor. The individual has but one right, the right of equal freedom with everybody else, and the state but one duty, the duty of protecting that right against violence and fraud.

Spencer’s Condemnation of State Interference  :-

Spencer inveighed against all legislation for the regulation of commerce and trade against sanitary legislation, such as quarantine, vaccination, and registration laws against public education against poor relief by the state and even against state-managed post offices and currency issued by the state.

Every attempt to mitigate the suffering of the poor through state aid, he declared, eventuates in the exacerbation of it. The sums devoted to the support of paupers should go to support laborers in new reproductive works. In regard to education by the state, he observed that taking away a man’s property to educate his own or other people’s children is not needful for the maintenance of his rights and hence is wrong.

State intervention is legitimate only for the protection of violated rights and the rights of children are not violated by neglect of their education. The idea that it is the duty of the state to undertake to protect the health of the people Spencer combated with equal ardor, though he admitted that the state might suppress nuisances. All taxation for sanitary superintendence must, he said, be condemned.

He went to the length even of maintaining that it is a violation of the moral law for the state to interpose between quacks and those who patronize them, or to prevent unlicensed persons from prescribing for the sick, since it is the inalienable right of the individual to buy medicine and advice from whomsoever he pieases, and the unlicensed practitioner should have the same right to sell to whomsoever he will.

Regarding the right of the state to monopolize the issue of money, he maintained that it cannot justly forbid the issue of or enforce the acceptance of certain notes or coin in return for other things, since that would be an infringement of the natural right of exchange and a violation of the law of equal freedom.

Finally, Spencer condemned the construction of public works by the state except such as might be necessary for the national defense and rejected  its right to a monopoly of the postal service, since it is clear that the restriction thus put upon the liberty of trade by forbidding private letter-carrying establishments is a breach of the state duty.

The Sins of Legislators :-

Much of Spencer’s case against the state was based upon the errors and blunders of particular governments in the past. The statute books, he lamented, were a record of unhappy guesses. Nearly every parliamentary proceeding is a tacit confession of impotence, for the great majority of legislative measures introduced are designed to amend and improve existing laws. In an essay entitled The Sins of Legislators, Spencer reviewed much of the unwise legislation of the past, dwelt upon the evils Which resulted from it, and concluded that because most of this legislation was in time repealed or modified it ought never to have been enacted.

He protested against what he called the worship of the legislature and asserted that as the great political superstition of the past was the divine right of kings, that of the present is the divine right of parliaments. And the divine right of parliaments means only the divine right of the majority, for the minority has no right to be respected. Some men actually seem to think, he said, that individuals can be made moral by an act of the legislature and that that which is economically unsound can be made sound and wise by the fiat of the state.

Some of Spencer followers, such as Donisthorpe and Auberon Herbert, went to even greater lengths in their Opposition to state regulation. They not only opposed education by the state, poor relief  inspection of factories, mines, and workshops the regulation of injurious trade compulsory vaccination laws, quarantine and health regulations the requirement of official oaths. Sunday legislation laws regulating public amusements restrictions upon the sale of liquor, etc, but they even denied to the state the right to regulate the marriage relations or restrict in any manner individual liberty in social matters except in so far as it is absolutely necessary to protect each man from the positive aggression of his fellows.

Defense of the Laissez Faire Theory:

(1) Argument Based on Justice :-

In defense of the individualistic conception of the sphere of state activity it is argued, in the first place, that considerations of justice require that the individual shall be let alone by the state in order that he may realize fully and completely the ends of his existence. This particular line of argument had the powerful support of such scholars as Kant, Fichte, Humboldt, and John Stuart Mill.

According to their views it is necessary to the harmonious development of all the powers of the individual that he should be interfered with as little as possible by the state, because every restriction upon his freedom of action tends to: destroy his sense of initiative and self-reliance, weaken his responsibility as a free agent, impair his energies, and blunt his character.

The true end of man, or that which is prescribed by the immutable dictates of reason, observed Humboldt, is the highest and most harmonious development of his powers to a complete and consistent whole. Over-government, he went on to say, not only diminishes freedom, but super induces national uniformity and a constrained and unnatural manner of action by its tendency to reduce society to a dead level.

The same line of argument was pursued by Mill, who asserted that an excess of government, especially of the meddling and inquisitorial sort, starves the development of some portion of the bodily or mental faculties. When it deprives one from doing What one is inclined to do or from acting according to one’ s judgment of What is desirable.

Free competition develops in the individual the highest possibilities, sharpens and strengthens his powers of initiative, and increases his sense of self-reliance while over-government not only hampers enterprise and interferes with the natural development of trade, but strikes at the development of character, tends to crush out individuality and originality by interfering With the natural Struggle between individuals, and leads to a general lowering of the social level.

The highest civilization, say the laissez faire advocates, has been developed under individualism, a system which has produced more material and educational progress than could ever have been produced under paternalism. Spencer dwelt upon the fact that in an over-governed state everybody is like every body else.

Government management and control of industry, he complained, is essentially despotic, it unavoidably cramps by diminishing liberty of action, angers,leads to discontent, galls by its inefficiency and restrictions, offends by professing to help those whom, it will not allow to help themselves, and vexes by the swarm of dictatorial officials who are forever stepping in between men and their pursuits. Lo The evils of officialism and of socialistic meddling he declared, prevent the healthy and natural development of a people, while freedom develops and strengthens individual character and conduces to human progress,

A people among whom there is no habit of spontaneous action for a collective interest, said Mill,

“who look habitually to their government to command and prompt them in matters of joint concern-who expect to have everything done for them except what can be made an affair of mere habit and routine have their faculties only half developed, their education is defective in one of its most important branches.”

(2) The Biological Argument :-

The laissez faire principle, say its advocates, rests also upon sound considerations of a scientific character. It is in harmony with the principle of evolution, since it is the only system that will lead to the survival of the fittest in the economic struggle. It assumes that self-interest is a universal principle in human nature, that each individual is a better judge of what his own interests are than any government can possibly be, and that if left alone he will follow them. It holds that each individual should be allowed to stand alone or fall according to his worth, unaided by the props and supports of the state should be left to work out his own destiny without the guidance and tutelage of government. By leaving each individual to do unaided that for which he is best fitted, the strong and fit classes survive, the unfit elements are eliminated, and thus the good of society is promoted.

(3) The Economic Argument :-

Again, and this is the most important argument of the laissez faire theorists, the policy of noninterference rests upon sound economic principles. Better economic results, it is asserted, are obtained for society by leaving the conduct of industry as far as possible to private enterprise. Adam Smith, in his “Wealth of Nations,” pointed out that the system of natural liberty tends towards the largest production of wealth. The self-interest of the consumer will lead to the demand for the things that-are most useful to society, while the self-interest of the producer will lead to their production at the least cost.

In the economic struggle the individual is animated mainly by motives of self-interest. If, therefore, he is allowed to use his capital as he pleases, to dispose of his labor to the best advantage, to exchange the products of his toil freely, and to have prices fixed by the natural laws of, supply and demand, better results, not only to himself, but to the whole of society, will be secured.

Unrestricted competition stimulates economic production, tends to keep wages and prices at a normal level, to prevent usurious rates of interest, to secure efficient Service and the production of better products than can be obtained by state regulation or state management.

(4) Argument of Experience :

The experience of the past, say the laissez faire advocates, abundantly establishes the wisdom of ,the non-interference principle. History is full of examples of attempts to fix by fiat of the state the prices of food and clothing and of many other commodities of laws regulating the wages of labor, prohibiting the wearing of certain kinds of apparel, and requiring the wearing of certain other kinds, forbidding the exportation of divers commodities, forbidding certain kinds of machinery in manufacturing processes, restricting the manufacture of certain articles to apprentices, prescribing the location of factories laws aiding and encouraging certain industries by means of bounties and subsidies, and discouraging certain others by prohibitive taxes saws prohibiting combinations among laboring men, fixing the hours of labor, restricting certain trades exclusively to members of guilds, and even laws prescribing the cut of one dress, the number of meals which one should eat, the sizes of bottonholes, the length of shoes, the making of pins, and the kind of material in which the dead should be buried.

Most of such legislation was mischievous and destructive of the ends which it was intended to secure, and the results which were sought for could have been more effectively obtained by allowing every man to sell his labor and goods whenever and wherever he wished Speaking of those who were responsible for this sort of legislation,Beckie observed that they went blundering along in the old track,believing that no commerce could flourish without their interference, hampering that commerce by repeated and harassing regulations, and taking for granted that it was the duty of every government to benefit the trade of its own people by injuring the trade of others,

The extent to which the governing Classes interfered with the freedom of industry and the mischief which that interference produced were so remarkable, he concluded, as to make thoughtful men wonder how civilization could have advanced in the face of such repeated obstacles.

(5) Argument of State Incompetency :-

Finally, the laissez faire theorists argue that it is a false assumption which attributes omniscience and infallibility to the state and which regards it as better fitted to judge of the needs of the individual, and to provide for them, than he is himself. There is, they assert, a common belief that governments are capable of doing anything and everything, and of doing it more efficiently than it can be done by private enterprise, when, in reality, experience and reason , showed the contrary to be the fact.

The state has no greater powers of invention or of initiative than the individuals who come pose it and who must operate it, it is not a creative organ, but an organ which acts only by means of a complicated apparatus, composed of numerous wheels and systems of wheels subordinated one to another, it is an organ of criticism, of generalization, and of coordination, from which it follows that the state cannot be the first agent, the primary cause of progress in human society, but only an auxiliary or agent of propagation.

Every additional function, observed Mill, means a new burden imposed on a body already overcharged with duties the result is that most things are ill done, and much is not done at all because the government is not able to do it without delays.

The great majority of things are worse done, he declared, when done by government than when done by individuals who are most interested, for the people under stand their own business better and care for it better than any government can all the faculties which a government enjoys of access to information, all the means which it possesses of remunerating and therefore of commanding the best available talent in the market are not an equal for the one great disadvantage of an inferior interest.

Criticism of the Laissez Faire Doctrine: Assumption that the State is an Evil :-

The individualistic theory of state functions has been criticized upon various grounds. First of all, the assumption that the state is a necessary evil, that all restraint as such is wrong, has not been borne out by the experience of mankind under the regime of state organization. History, in fact, shows unmistakably that the progress of civilization in the past has been promoted to a very large degree by wisely directed state action in short, that the state is a positive good.

It is true, of course, that at times the ends of the state have been perverted to the detriment of the public good, but this is no more reason for condemning it indiscriminately as an evil than for arguing that railroads are an evil because their operation sometimes results in accidents. Spencer’s doctrine that the state exists only because crime exists, and that it would subserve no purpose in a society of morally perfect beings, cannot be accepted.

The function of the state in the complex civilization of today is not merely repressive, not simply negatively regulative, it has a higher task than that of restraint and punishment the task of protecting, encouraging, and fostering the common welfare.

So long as men live in groups they will have collective wants which can be satisfied only through state organization, and hence there is no reason for believing that the necessity for the state will ever disappear or that the role Which it now plays in the life oi human societies Will ever diminish.

The Increasing Necessity of State Regulation :-

On the Contrary all signs indicate that with the increasing complexity of modem civilization the need for state action will become stronger and its role more extensive. In comparatively recent years a strong reaction against the individualistic movement of the earlier nineteenth century has everywhere taken place, due largely to the conditions resulting from the growth of manufactures, the congestion of the population in the cities, the growth of corporate wealth, and changed economic conditions generically, all of Which have thrown the laissez faire theories into disrepute.

The higher the state of civilization, observed Huxley, the more completely do the actions of one, member of the social body influence all the rest and the less possible is it for any one man to do a wrong without interfering more or less. with the freedom of all his fellow-citizens. So that even upon the narrowest view of the functions of the state it must be admitted to have wider powers than the advocates of the police theory are disposed to admit.

Laveleye pointed out in the same connection that as civilization progresses men become more dependent on one another and upon society as a Whole, and hence the role of the state must increase correspondingly in order to satisfy their common wants. The individualism of Spencer, as Laveleye rightly concluded, is wholly inadmissible under the conditions of modern society.

The view of the laissez faire advocates that state intervention in the interest of the common good necessarily involves a curtailment of individual freedom, rests on an assumption that is true only Within very restricted limits. It is a very narrow view indeed which sees in a factory act, a pure food law, or a quarantine regulation nothing but an infringement upon the domain of individual liberty.

Manifestly there can be no liberty in the absence of restraint the greater the freedom of the strong man, the less will be that of the weak and the liberty of some must involve restrictions upon the freedom of others. In short, the whole problem of creating and guaranteeing liberty is largely a problem of organizing restrictions.

The rights of all are enlarged and secured by wise restrictions upon the actions of each. The imposition of such restrictions is somewhat like pruning a fruit tree or trimming a vineyard, it means a loss of some fruit, but better fruit is produced so that there is a gain in the end.

Argument that Government and Liberty are Antithetical Conceptions :-

The weakest point in the argument of the laissez faire advocates is the assumption that the state is necessarily hostile to freedom, that government and liberty represent antithetical ideas, that in proportion as the functions of government are multiplied the domain of individual liberty is restricted, in short, that a maximum of government necessarily means a minimum of freedom. It is, as Ritchie remarks, like treating the two as if they formed the debit and credit sides of an account book.

In reality wisely organized and directed state action not only enlarges the moral, physical, and intellectual capacities of individuals, but increases their liberty of action by removing obstacles placed in their way by the strong and self seeking, and thus frees them from the necessity of a perpetual struggle With those who would take advantage of their weakness. In this way the latent abilities of the individual are liberated, and his opportunities increased.

It is manifestly wrong to assume that all restraint is an evil in truth the state emancipates and promotes as wen as restrain. The doctrine that government regulation tends to impair individual character by weakening the sense of individual initiative, self reliance, and self help, and by preventing the full and harmonious development of the faculties of the individual, has been greatly exaggerated by the laissez fazre advocates.

Many of the individualistic writers like Mill, Humboldt, and Spencer have, in fact confused individuality with eccentricity, variety of living, and oddity of character, qualities which in themselves have nothing of value. Character is developed-not through freedom alone, but quite as much through discipline and restraint.

It is not true that as the functions of government are extended the individual becomes weaker and less self-reliant. The most perfectly developed man is the social, not the natural man, for it is now generally admitted that the individual owes much of his character to the society of which he is a part.

Individualistic Exaggeration of the Evils of State Regulation :-

The chief fault of the individualists was that they exaggerated the evils of state regulation and minimized the advantages they misunderstood the true nature and limits of liberty and had a mistaken idea of the relation of the individual to the society of which he is a part. In short, they overemphasized the importance of the man at the expense of the group they treated him as if he were paramount and as if he determined the character of society when in fact it is society, as has been said, that determines in a large degree the character of the individual.

Their doctrine rested on the assumption that the individual is largely a thing apart from the group of which he is a member, that he can be separated from society and treated as if his interests were entirely distinct from the interests of his fellow men.

In reality, however, the individual is more than a mere fraction of society he is the epitome of it heis a bundle of relations, he is the concise formula for the total of actions and attributes out of relation to other things, he is literally nothing. Apart from his surroundings and relationships, says Professor Ritchie, the individual is a mere abstraction, a logical ghost, a metaphorical specter, a mere negation

He cannot be conceived of as being uninfluenced by and exerting no influence upon those by whom he is surrounded. There are hardly any individual actions, said Lord Pembroke, which are purely self-regarding, and Professor Ritchie goes to the length of expressing doubt whether even any thoughts of an individual can, strictly speaking, be self-regarding and therefore a matter of indifference to others.

The much admired individual, self-centered and self contained, is, indeed, not very far from the strong and Solitary wild beast. It is only in consequence of restrictions imposed by the state that he has any liberty at all beyond the desolate freedom of the wild ass.

Argument Based on Past Mistakes of Government :-

The distrust, not to say hostility, of the laissez faire theorists to government because of the errors or abuses of particular governments in the past is childish. It is wholly wrong to take the position that because governments have made mistakes in the past, or because their agents have sometimes abused the powers entrusted to them, they cannot be trusted in the future or that because sumptuous laws are wrong, factory and sanitary legislation must be wrong as well or that because municipally constructed sewers have sometimes produced typhoid fever, cities in the future should leave ,the construction of their sewer systems to private enterprise or that because some poor laws have proved ineffective, the state should abandon altogether the policy of poor relief.

The laissez faire writers never tired of parading and exaggerating the mistakes which governments have made in the past, and when they are all collected and put on exhibition, they constitute What to some is indeed a strong indictment against state interference. The state lives in a glass house, observed Huxley , we see what it tries to do, and all it’s failures, partial or total, are made the most of But private enterprise is sheltered under good opaque bricks and mortar.

The public rarely knows what it tries to do and only hears of its failures when they are gross and patent to all the world.  We may Well ask, with Lord Pembroke, What would private enterprise look like if its mistakes and failures were collected, and pilloried in a similar manner ? It may readily be admitted, observes an able writer, that government is weak and inefficient at times and obedient to private interests, but it does not follow from such an admission that government ought to be made weaker, corrupter, and more inefficient by practicing the illogical doctrine of laissez fazre.

Argument as to Superior Ability of the Individual to Judge for Himself :-

The laissez faire assumption that each individual knows his own interests better than society can know them, and is therefore the best judge of what is good for him, and if left to himself will follow those interests, is true only in a limited sense, and is still less true of classes. This was readily admitted by some individualist writers like Mill.

Sidgwick, an unusually fair and judicial writer, discussing this assumption, said: But it seems to me very doubtful whether this can be granted, since in some important respects the tendencies of social development seem to be rather in the opposite direction. As the appliances of life become more elaborate and complicated through the progress of invention, it is only according to the general law of division of labor to suppose that an average man’s ability to judge of the adaptation of means to ends, even as regards the satisfaction of his everyday needs, is likely to become continually less.

If every man observed the Belgian writer Laveleye, could see clearly and judge accurately of his own interests, rights, and duties, then pursue them, and do voluntarily what he ought to do and nothing that he ought not to do, the necessity for state intervention would disappear and we should enjoy the reign of liberty. But the very point of the matter is that ignorant people cannot take precautions against dangers of which they are ignorant.

No one lives in a badly drained house, drinks water polluted with sewage, or eats adulterated food because his interest leads him to do so, but generally because he is ignorant of the real character of the service or article which he uses or consumes, or because he cannot help himself.

Not only is the individual not always a competent judge of his own interests as an economic consumer, but in affairs of personal conduct he is often an to be trusted, particularly in matters relating to his health or safety or moral welfare. The truth is, society may be a better judge of a man’s intellectual, moral, or physical needs than he is himself, and it may rightfully protect him from disease and danger against his own wishes and compel him to educate his children and to live a decent life.

Present Day Practice :-

The practice of all modern states is in fact in harmony with this View. Few, if any, governments leave their citizens to find out for themselves what is healthful food what physicians, surgeons, and druggists are qualified to practice or what conditions of work are safe or dangerous.

Most governments prescribe conditions under which certain dangerous occupations shall be carried on and refuse to permit them to be dispensed with even with the consent of those who would be endangered . All governments prohibit the exercise of certain professions of a quasi-public character except by persons Who are able to show by examination or otherwise that they possess the requisite qualifications to insure the public against incompetent service. Evidence of competency is generally required of physicians, apothecaries, engineers, pilots, and even of barbers and plumbers.

The state goes even further and undertakes -to protect the individual against the consequences of his own acts, as where it limits the number of hours of labor in mines and factories, and prohibits women and children from engaging in certain injurious trades.

Much of the individualistic distrust of government is due, as Sir Frederick Pollock has pointed out, to the failure to distinguish between centralized government and local self-government. A good deal of the objection which the individualists urge against government would be justified if it were centralized government that was complained of, but the objection is not always Well founded when directed against local government, through local bodies directly under the eye and control of the people concerned.

There is a vast difference, for example, between the nationalization and the municipalization of an industry, and there is an equal difference between national regulation of individual conduct and control by locally elected bodies. Manifestly the same objecation cannot be urged against a local health regulation that would be applicable to a national quarantine raw. Individualists, like wise, in their wholesale condemnation of government usually over look the distinction between government popularly constituted and controlled and bureaucratic, irresponsible government.

It is difficult to see, in many cases, why a public utility owned by the government, but under immediate control of the people of the locality, should be more feared and distrusted than one under the management of a private company not amenable to public opinion or popular control.

Dangers of the Laissez Faire Policy :-

Spencer’s doctrine of negative regulation, which would limit the function of the state to redressing rather than preventing wrongs, would in many instances defeat the ends of the state. Thus, if the only security provided by the state against unsanitary plumbing, adulterated foods, incompetent practitioners of medicine or apothecaries, consisted of the right to sue the negligent plumber, the dishonest milk dealer, or the incompetent physician or druggist, instead of requiring plumbers to give bonds for the efficient discharge of their duties, physicians and druggists to pass examinations otherwise furnish-evidence of capacity, milk to be inspected, etc, the protection afforded would in many cases be inadequate, since the injury could not be redressed by a mere suit for damages.

We agree with Sir Frederick Pollock that if it is negative and proper regulation to say that a man shall be punished for building his house in a city so that it falls into the street, it cannot be positive and improper regulation to say that he shall so build it that it will not appear to competent persons likely to fall into the city street.

If it is purely negative regulation, and therefore proper, to punish a man for communication an infectious disease by neglect of common precautions, it is not improper to require precautions, where the danger is known to exist, without waiting for somebody to be actually infected. The individuals showed a distorted notion of liberty when they contended, as they did in effect, that the individual has a right to keep his premises in an unsanitary condition, to discharge his sewage where he will, to spread disease among his neighbors, to sell unwholesome food and drugs to whosoever will buy.

If the State has the right and duty to protect by preventive measures the individual against violence and fraud, it has the same right and duty to protect him against acts the consequences of which will be to inflict upon him injuries which cannot be redressed. There is, as Huxley said, no very great difference between the claim of an individual to go about threatening the lives of his neighbors with a pistol, and his claim to keep his premises in an unsanitary condition.

The same is true of the right and duty of the state to protect the individual against the dangers incident to modern industrial processes, such as those resulting from dangerous machinery, from bad ventilation, from unsanitary workshops, from tire, and even from unfair contracts of labor. The freedom of contract is a popular phrase, as has been aptly remarked, and to many it is a conclusive argument against state intervention in industrial matters , but when it refers to an agreement between a capitalist and an ignorant laborer who is at the mercy of his employer, there is no equality.

The doctrine of freedom of contract has no sanctity in such cases. There is really no illegitimate interference with the freedom of contract when the state undertakes to prescribe the conditions under which contracts shall be entered into between parties one of whom is really not on a free and equal footing with the other.

The Truth in the Laissez Faire Philosophy :-

Nevertheless,When all is said against the laissez faire doctrine that can be said, it must be admitted that up to a certain point the weight of reason is on its side. The opposition that the individual is the best judge of what contributes to his own happiness and that he will prosper most under a system of liberty and free competition is in most cases a sound one and ought in practice, as Sidgwick and Cairnes have shown, to be deviated from only in special cases where there are strong empirical reasons for believing that the general assumption is not true.

The doctrines of the individualists, while in many cases productive of harm, have not been entirely without a good effect. They have, as an able writer on economics has observed, taught the people not to confound public morality with a state church, public security with police activity, or public wealth with government property. They have emphasized the importance of the individual, the value of self-reliance and freedom, and the baneful effects of excessive state interference with industry and morality.

The principal fault with them has been their disposition to exaggerate the evils of state regulation and to minimize the advantages of wisely conceived and directed government intervention for the promotion Of the collective interests of society. They have also frequently committed the error of failing to distinguish between those activities of the state which are in the nature of compulsion and those which are not, and of opposing both without discrimination.

As was stated in the early part of this chapter, governments perform many functions which do not involve any element of coercion and hence impose no restrictions upon individual liberty e.g. Where a government engages in a business undertaking or operates a public utility enterprise.

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