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Man Versus the State

Herbert Spencer, The Man vs. the State with Six Essays on Government, Society and Free...
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printed in a separate section the five essays included in either the Caxton or Penguin editions.
Following in the tradition of these earlier publishers we have also added an essay, “The Proper
Sphere of Government,” which has not, to our knowledge, been reprinted in any book for over
one hundred years. Data on original publication are provided at the beginning of each essay.
Herbert Spencer produced four major works in political philosophy plus numerous additional and
important essays. The first of these works, The Proper Sphere of Government (1842) is the least
well-known. The second is Spencer’s most famous systemic treatise in this area, Social Statics
(1851). The Man Versus The State (1884), which is the centerpiece of this volume, is the third
major political work. This is a more polemical and quasi-sociological work than either the first two
or Spencer’s fourth major political study, “Justice,” Part IV of The Principles of Ethics (1891).
In addition to presenting the first and third of these studies, the present volume makes available
two of Spencer’s relatively early political essays, “Over-Legislation” (1853) and “Representative
Government” (1857); two of his important essays in political sociology, “The Social
Organism” (1860) and “Specialized Administration” (1871); and “From Freedom to
Bondage” (1891), which extends the polemical and analytic themes of The Man Versus The State.
Herbert Spencer was born in Derby, England on April 27, 1820.1 He entered a family of
dissenting clergymen and teachers in which a long opposition to State-Church ties and solid
identification with the rising commercial classes had bred a strong anti-statist individualism. Both
his father, George Spencer, and his uncle, the Rev. Thomas Spencer, were supporters of Church
disestablishment, the anti–Corn Law Movement and the extention of the franchise. As autodidacts
and teachers, Spencer’s father and uncles looked to the sciences and their practical applications
rather than to the classical tradition. Their anti-statist individualism and their scientifically
oriented rationalism were passed on to Herbert Spencer. Spencer himself points to the possible
Hussite and Hugenot origins of family as a partial explanation of his own individualism and
disregard for authority. And he often recounts how his belief in a universe entirely governed by
natural causal law grew out of his father’s scientific interests and curiosity about the causes of
natural phenomena.
Spencer’s education was almost entirely in the hands of his father and, later, his uncles William
and Thomas. The focus was on the natural and biological sciences. He gathered plants and
insects, performed experiments, sketched and worked out problems in mathematics and attended
lectures at the Derby Philosophical Society. When Spencer was in his teens his uncle Thomas
sought to broaden his education with classics, languages and history. But his rebellious nephew
proved to be relatively immune to such useless and dogmatic pastimes.
In November 1837, just after Victoria ascended to the throne, Spencer joined the engineering
staff of the London and Birmingham Railway. Until 1841 and again from 1845 through 1848,
working for a number of different firms, Spencer participated in the great expansive phase of
railway construction. He appears to have been highly competent and successful at all the
engineering tasks undertaken; during these years, and later, Spencer produced a variety of
mechanical inventions, and between 1839 and 1842 he published seven articles in the Civil
Engineer’s and Architect’s Journal. Only his greater interest in a literary career and, perhaps, the