Although the word would not be coined until several decades after Stephen’s death, his ideal was a kind of technocracy. Unlike many of today’s liberals, he unscrupulously accepted the inegalitarian implications of his beliefs. A worrying aspect of Victorian civic attitudes, he claimed, was the underestimation of experience: “The work of governing a great nation… requires an immense amount of special knowledge and the constant, measured and calm effort of a great variety of the top. talents.” Therefore, theirs was the era of “engineers, men of science, lawyers and the like.” Only by better incorporating the intellectual habits and virtues of the professions into the art of government could politics be redeemed from its status as “ perfectly disgusting.”
Stephen’s elitism was directed at two main groups of enemies. The first, and most obvious, were the democratizers. He insisted on the inability – intellectual and moral – of the masses to exercise political rights. Victorian England was not a democracy in Stephen’s formative years, and even after successive suffrage expansions in 1867 and 1884, it was still far from universal suffrage. But Stephen’s outlook was stern. He held the view that the arrival of democracy may well be inevitable. However, he was determined to fight: “The waters (of democracy) have run out, but I don’t see why as we go with the flow we need to sing Hallelujah to the river god.”
Since it was evident that “the minority is wise and the majority foolish,” the only appropriate conclusion was that “the wise minority is the rightful owner of the foolish majority.” Democracy erased the distinction “between wisdom and madness.” It was based on the presumption that “mediocrity,” “impudence,” and “rudeness” had the right to an opinion in public affairs just like intellect and experience. Democracy had nothing to do with liberalism properly understood, which consisted of finding a way for reason to oppose the direction of government to ignorance, passion, habit and custom. Stephen’s friend and predecessor as an Indian legislator, another liberal anti-democrat named Henry Maine, summed up his case: “Democracy would result in a dead level of ultra-conservatism,” because “the establishment of the masses in power bodes worst for India.” all legislation based on scientific opinion.”
“Coercion was an instrument for the betterment of humanity, no more suspect than any other.”
Stephen’s technocratic liberalism had another enemy: libertarianism (like technocracy, the word itself is a 20th-century coinage). For his elitism comprised a defense not only of the bureaucracy of learned experts, but also of a “powerful and well-organized” government. Stephen’s apologies for a strong state clashed, as he saw it, with an expanding sector of the intelligentsia that had erected a “religious dogma of freedom.” Stephen despised “the great mass of speculative men” who “set out to challenge the right of government to meddle with anything but police subjects, or to show that, in fact, they can never do so to advantage.” (Police subjects only (It’s a concise summary of the “night watchman state” that libertarians would defend a century later.) These thinkers would let “everyone indiscriminately… do whatever they wanted.” This perspective, Fitzjames wrote, amounted to a “petty and cowardly” abdication of the elite’s duty to the population. The leaders of a society were not to allow each man to go astray according to his will, but to guide him in the right direction. “Wise and good men must rule over foolish and evil men,” Stephen concluded. The elite should also not be ashamed of the need to use force to set the country’s trajectory. Coercion was an instrument for the betterment of humanity no more suspect than any other; the only thing that mattered was that it was exercised effectively and “directed correctly.”
Stephen believed that Mill had offered help and comfort to a pathological libertarian streak in the national culture. In terms of politics, Mill was not a libertarian. But Stephen thought Mill avoided it only by ignoring the clear implications of his theory. For Mill’s About freedomwhich was nothing less than a “gospel” to many Victorian readers, defended the “very simple principle” that society was justified in interfering with individuals. just to avoid harm to others. But state action, even the most insignificant such as infrastructure repair, was financed by taxes. And wasn’t it tax interference (indeed, interference often in an invasive and intimately felt way)? “Forcing an unwilling person to contribute to the support of the British Museum is as different a breach of Mr Mill’s principle as religious persecution,” Stephen argued. “The difference between paying a single shilling of public money to a single school in which any opinion of which a single taxpayer disapproves is taught, and the maintenance of the Spanish Inquisition, is a matter of degree.” Due, About freedom fueled in an “attack on all government.” What many still consider a sacred text of liberalism was for Stephen a recipe for anarchy.
Unsurprisingly, given these proclamations, Stephen’s favorite philosopher was Thomas Hobbes, the great 17th-century theorist on absolute sovereignty and the ineluctability of coercion. Nor is it surprising that Stephen became impatient with the utopian schemes prevalent in the literature of his own time, which predicted the extinction of the state and the disappearance of coercive power. Against “childish satisfaction with things as they are going to be,” Stephen enunciated something like a law of conservation of coercion. The historical record, he argued, revealed no decline in the relevance of coercion to political life, nor did it support the thesis that coercion was more necessary for the “backward states of society” (as Mill called them) than for the advanced. “President Lincoln achieved his objectives by using a degree of force that would have crushed Charlemagne and the paladins and his peers as if they were eggshells.” No great improvement had been achieved or consolidated (the spread of Christianity, the Reformation, and the French Revolution were some that Stephen stopped short of) without enormous force.
Today, especially for Americans, liberalism is associated with the separation of church and state. But in mid-19th-century Britain, liberalism was divided on this issue, and Stephen sided with those who defended ecclesiastical establishments. Indeed, he remained an establishment even as his personal faith eroded, so high a value he placed on the visible way in which the existence of a state church sent the message that there was no fixed limit to vigorous government action. A religious establishment was a potent symbol that, as Burke had said, “the State should be considered nothing better than an agreement of association in the trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or some other enterprise of little importance.” but rather “a partnership in all virtue and in all perfection.” Or in Stephen’s biting prose:
The division between Church and State, the maxim of a free Church in a free State, will mean that men in their political capacity will have no opinions on the issues that interest them most deeply; and, on the other hand, that men of a speculative bent should never attempt to reduce their speculations to practice on a large scale, by making or attempting to make them the basis of legislation.
If the principle of separation takes hold, he warned, “the State will be degraded and reduced to mere police functions.” To make matters worse, such a degraded state would leave individuals prey to the illiberal pressures that powerful associations could exert. By attacking the state and diminishing its scope of activity, the misguided liberals softened the ground for their enemies:
Associations of various kinds will take its place and push it aside, and the result may be entirely new forms of society. Mormonism is an example of this, but the strong tendency that has manifested itself on many occasions, both in France and in the United States, on the part of enthusiastic people to “try experiments in life,” erecting some form of entirely new society, has furnished many lesser people with illustrations of the same principle. Saint-Simonianism, families of love, whatever name they are called, are straws that show the configuration of a wind that could one day be among the fiercest storms. Experiments like these have nothing to do with freedom. They are embryonic governments, small States that over time can become dangerous antagonists of the old one.
If radicals attacked the prerogatives of the government in the name of remaining “neutral” on the most important issues and, therefore, expanding the freedom of citizens, the vacuum would be filled by private organizations that would not hesitate to promote a positive moral vision, even through intimidation and oppression. What was needed, instead, was for the best and brightest to recognize the fact that it was “simply impossible for legislation to be truly neutral” and to admit that “governments should take responsibility for acting on such principles, religious and religious.” ”. , political and moral, whatever they may from time to time consider to be most likely to be true”, with all the serious moral burden that this implied.
The only path to a freedom worth talking about – much less to more primordial goods like order and public safety – involved ignoring the freedom fanatics whose proposals would result in private entities completely displacing the government and in turn intimidate the citizens. Like all other social goods, any freedom worthy of the name “depended on a powerful, well-organized, and intelligent government.” Educated men directing the apparatus of coercion according to the best evidence and with specialist insight: anything other than this was, at best, reactionary idiocy and, at worst, a return to the state of nature. .