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The Man Versus the State [Kindle Edition]

Herbert Spencer
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Spencer had caught a vision of what might be in store for mankind if its potential were free to realize itself.

— Edmund A. Opitz, The Freeman

This volume contains the four essays that Spencer published as The Man Versus the State in 1884 as well as five essays added by later publishers. In addition, it provides "The Proper Sphere of Government," an important early essay by Spencer.

Spencer develops various specific disastrous ramifications of the wholesale substitution of the principle of compulsory cooperation—the statist principle—for the individualist principle of voluntary cooperation. His theme is that "there is in society . . . that beautiful self-adjusting principle which will keep all its elements in equilibrium. . . . The attempt to regulate all the actions of a community by legislation will entail little else but misery and compulsion."

Eric Mack is Professor of Philosophy at Newcomb College of Tulane University

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Product Details

  • File Size: 621 KB
  • Print Length: 550 pages
  • Publisher: Liberty Fund Inc.; New Ed edition (May 8, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0084H1UFU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #541,711 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid, Penetrating, and Dripping with Wisdom July 11, 1999
This book, deservedly, is a classic. Although relatively short, it is chock-full of insights -- many of which anticipate the important work decades later by F.A. Hayek. Spencer's passion for freedom, and his understanding of the nature of politicized and depoliticized societies, was deep. This is an inspiring work.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the greatest intellect of all time March 30, 2008
I agree with Dr. Boudreaux.

When Hayek said "We understand now that all enduring structures above the level of simplest atoms, and up to the brain and society, are the results of, and can be explained only in terms of, processes of selective evolution..." He was reiterating the insights that Spencer was already expounding over a century earlier. Given my current state of ignorance I believe that Herbert Spencer is the greatest intellectual of all time, with F.A. Hayek coming in a close second. It seems like the world is just beginning to catch up to Hayek. Who knows how much longer till we rediscover Spencer.

This book is a masterpiece. It has been a long time since I read it and the essay I remember most is "Over-legislation" where he does a great job criticizing government interventions into what he referred to as the social organism. He was right! We really are a social organism... or has Hayek would mention "extended order". I quote this wonderful essay often in my book.

No wonder Darwin himself said to him "Every one with eyes to see and ears to hear (the number, I fear, are not many) ought to bow their knee to you, and I for one do." and in another occasion referred to Spencer as "twenty times my superior."
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Man v. State April 15, 2010
Herbert Spencer believed in the ubiquity of the fundamental processes of integration, dissolution, equilibration, segregation and differentiation. These are subsumed under his concept of evolution, defined as the trend towards increasing differentiation coupled with integration--the trend from the simpler to the more complex.

These matters, however, are touched upon only briefly in this work, competently edited and provided with an erudite introduction. As the title indicates, the book expounds Spencer's views on politics and ethics rather than his contributions to sociological and anthropological theory; and the reader interested in the latter must look at his Principles of Sociology.

Spencer believed ethics ought to rest upon biology and sociology, which alone can reveal the goal of social evolution; and that the value of individual as well as collective practices can be assessed by ascertaining whether they subserve or impede the attainment of this goal. This view is based on a premise that the general direction of the march of mankind must be good.

Spencer favored laissez-faire in all matters (e.g., education policy, public health, etc.). His diatribes against the short-sightedness, inertia, pettiness and selfishness of politicians and bureaucrats retain their perennial topicality. For now, bureaucracy is the chief agent of oppression and exploitation, which endows Spencer's impassioned pleas for liberty, and his tirades against the bureaucratic octopus, with perhaps more merit today than they did when they were penned.
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