The State and the Ruling Class: An Anthology of Key Works of Libertarian/Classical Liberal Class Analysis

Compiled by David M. Hart
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[Created: 16 August, 2016]
[Updated: 7 January, 2017 ]


Herbert Spencer, Chap. X. “The Class Bias” (1873)

Editing History

  • Item added: 17 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology (London: Henry S. King, 1873).

  • Chap. X. “The Class Bias” <>

Editor's Intro



CHAPTER X. The Class-Bias.

Many years ago a solicitor sitting by me at dinner, complained bitterly of the injury which the then lately-established County Courts, were doing his profession. He enlarged on the topic in a way implying that he expected me to agree with him in therefore condemning them. So incapable was he of going beyond the professional point of view, that what he regarded as a grievance he thought I also ought to regard as a grievance: oblivious of the fact that the more economical administration of justice of which his lamentation gave me proof, was to me, not being a lawyer, matter for rejoicing.

The bias thus exemplified is a bias by which nearly all have their opinions warped. Naval officers disclose their unhesitating belief that we are in imminent danger because the cry for more fighting ships and more sailors has not been met to their satisfaction. The debates on the purchase-system proved how strong was the conviction of military men that our national safety depended on the maintenance of an army-organization like that in which they were brought up, and had attained their respective ranks. Clerical opposition to the Corn-Laws showed how completely that view which Christian ministers might have been expected to take, was shut out by a view more congruous with their interests and alliances. In all classes and sub-classes it is the same. Hear the murmurs uttered when, because of the Queen’s absence, there is less expenditure in entertainments and the so-called gaieties of the season, and you perceive that London traders think the nation suffers if the consumption of superfluities is checked. Study the pending controversy about co-operative stores versus retail shops, and you find the shop-keeping mind possessed by the idea that Society commits a wrong if it deserts shops and goes to stores—is quite unconscious that the present distributing system rightly exists only as a means of economically and conveniently supplying consumers, and must yield to another system if that should prove more economical and convenient. Similarly with other trading bodies, general and special—similarly with the merchants who opposed the repeal of the Navigation Laws; similarly with the Coventry-weavers, who like free-trade in all things save ribbons.

The class-bias, like the bias of patriotism, is a reflex egoism; and like it has its uses and abuses. As the strong attachments citizens feel for their nation cause that enthusiastic cooperation by which its integrity is maintained in presence of other nations, severally tending to spread and subjugate their neighbours; so the esprit de corps more or less manifest in each specialized part of the the body politic, prompts measures to preserve the integrity of that part in opposition to other parts, all somewhat antagonistic. The egoism of individuals leads to an egoism of the class they form; and besides the separate efforts, generates a joint effort to get an undue share of the aggregate proceeds of social activity. The aggressive tendency of each class, thus produced, has to be balanced by like aggressive tendencies of other classes. The implied feelings do, in short, develop one another; and the respective organizations in which they embody themselves develop one another. Large classes of the community marked-off by rank, and sub-classes marked-off by special occupations, severally combine, and severally set up organs advocating their interests: the reason assigned being in all cases the same—the need for self-defence.

Along with the good which a society derives from this self-asserting and self-preserving action, by which each division and sub-division keeps itself strong enough for its functions, there goes, among other evils, this which we are considering—the aptness to contemplate all social arrangements in their bearings on class-interests, and the resulting inability to estimate rightly their effects on Society as a whole. The habit of thought produced perverts not merely the judgments on questions which directly touch class-welfare; but it perverts the judgments on questions which touch class-welfare very indirectly, if at all. It fosters an adapted theory of social relations of every kind, with sentiments to fit the theory; and a characteristic stamp is given to the beliefs on public matters in general. Take an instance.

Whatever its technical ownership may be, Hyde Park is open for the public benefit: no title to special benefit is producible by those who ride and drive. It happens, however, that those who ride and drive make large use of it daily; and extensive tracts of it have been laid out for their convenience: the tracts for equestrians having been from time to time increased. Of people without carriages and horses, a few, mostly of the kinds who lead easy lives, use Hyde Park frequently as a promenade. Meanwhile, by the great mass of Londoners, too busy to go so far, it is scarcely ever visited: their share of the general benefit is scarcely appreciable. And now what do the few who have a constant and almost exclusive use of it, think about the occasional use of it by the many? They are angry when, at long intervals, even a small portion of it, quite distant from their haunts, is occupied for a few hours in ways disagreeable to them—nay, even when such temporary occupation is on a day during which Rotten Row is nearly vacant and the drives not one-third filled. In this, anyone unconcerned may see the influence of the class-bias. But he will have an inadequate conception of its distorting power unless he turns to some letters from members of the ruling class published in the Times in November last, when the question of the Park-Rules was being agitated. One writer, signing himself “A Liberal M.P.,” expressing his disgust at certain addresses he heard, proposed, if others would join him, to give the offensive speakers punishment by force of fists; and then, on a subsequent day, another legislator, similarly moved, writes:—

“If ‘M.P.’ is in earnest in his desire to get some honest men together to take the law into their own hands, I can promise him a pretty good backing from those who are not afraid to take all the consequences.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,


And thus we find class-feeling extinguishing rational political thinking so completely that, wonderful to relate, two law-makers propose to support the law by breaking the law!

In larger ways we have of late seen the class-bias doing the same thing—causing contempt for those principles of constitutional government slowly and laboriously established, and prompting a return to barbaric principles of government. Read the debate about the payment of Governor Eyre’s expenses, and study the division-lists, and you see that acts which, according to the Lord Chief Justice, “have brought reproach not only on those who were parties to them, but on the very name of England,” can nevertheless find numerous defenders among men whose class-positions, military, naval, official, &c., make them love power and detest resistance. Nay more, by raising an Eyre-Testimonial Fund and in other ways, there was shown a deliberate approval of acts which needlessly suspended orderly government and substituted unrestrained despotism. There was shown a deliberate ignoring of the essential question raised, which was—whether an executive head might, at will, set aside all those forms of administration by which men’s lives and liberties are guarded against tyranny.

More recently, this same class-bias has been shown by the protest made when Mr. Cowan was dismissed for executing the Kooka rioters who had surrendered. The Indian Government, having inquired into the particulars, found that this killing of many men without form of law and contrary to orders, could not be defended on the plea of pressing danger; and finding this, it ceased to employ the officer who had committed so astounding a deed, and removed to another province the superior officer who had approved of the deed. Not excessive punishment, one would say. Some might contend that extreme mildness was shown in thus inflicting no greater evil than is inflicted on a labourer when he does not execute his work properly. But now mark what is thought by one who displays in words the bias of the governing classes, intensified by life in India. In a letter published in the Times of May 15, 1872, the late Sir Donald M’Leod writes concerning this dismissal and removal:—

“All the information that reaches me tends to prove that a severe blow has been given to all chance of vigorous or independent action in future, when emergencies may arise. The whole service appears to have been astonished and appalled by the mode in which the officers have been dealt with.”

That we may see clearly what amazing perversions of sentiment and idea are caused by contemplating actions from class points of view, let us turn from this feeling of sympathy with Mr. Cowan, to the feeling of detestation shown by members of the same class in England towards a man who kills a fox that destroys his poultry. Here is a paragraph from a recent paper:—

“Five poisoned foxes have been found in the neighbourhood of Penzance, and there is consequently great indignation among the western sportsmen. A reward of 20l. has been offered for information that shall lead to the conviction of the poisoner.”

So that wholesale homicide, condemned alike by religion, by equity, by law, is approved, and the mildest punishment of it blamed; while vulpicide, committed in defence of property, and condemned neither by religion, nor by equity, nor by any law save that of sportsmen, excites an anger that cries aloud for positive penalties!

I need not further illustrate the more special distortions of sociological belief which result from the class-bias. They may be detected in the conversations over every table, and in the articles appearing in every party-journal or professional publication. The effects here most worthy of our attention are the general effects—the effects produced on the minds of the upper and lower classes. Let us observe how greatly the prejudices generated by their respective social positions, pervert the conceptions of employers and employed. We will deal with the employed first.

As before shown, mere associations of ideas, especially when joined with emotions, affect our beliefs, not simply without reason but in spite of reason—causing us, for instance, to think there is something intrinsically repugnant in a place where many painful experiences have been received, and something intrinsically charming in a scene connected with many past delights. The liability to such perversions of judgment is greatest where persons are the objects with which pleasures and pains are habitually associated. One who has often been, even unintentionally, a cause of gratification, is favourably judged; and an unfavourable judgment is formed of one who, even involuntarily, has often inflicted sufferings. Hence, when there are social antagonisms, arises the universal tendency to blame the individuals, and to hold them responsible for the system.

It is thus with the conceptions the working-classes frame of those by whom they are immediately employed, and of those who fill the higher social positions. Feeling keenly what they have to bear, and tracing sundry real grievances to men who buy their labour and men who are most influential in making the laws, artizans and rustics conclude that, considered individually and in combination, those above them are personally bad—selfish, or tyrannical, in special degrees. It never occurs to them that the evils they complain of result from the average human nature of our age. And yet were it not for the class-bias, they would see in their dealings with one another, plenty of proofs that the injustices they suffer are certainly not greater, and possibly less, than they would be were the higher social functions discharged by individuals taken from among themselves. The simple fact, notorious enough, that working-men who save money and become masters, are not more considerate than usual towards those they employ, but often the contrary, might alone convince them of this. On all sides there is ample evidence having kindred meaning. Let them inquire about the life in every kitchen where there are several servants, and they will find quarrels about supremacy, tyrannies over juniors who are made to do more than their proper work, throwings of blame from one to another, and the many forms of misconduct caused by want of right feeling; and very often the evils growing up in one of these small groups exceed in intensity the evils pervading society at large. The doings in workshops, too, illustrate in various ways the ill-treatment of artizans by one another. Hiding the tools and spoiling the work of those who do not conform to their unreasonable customs, prove how little individual freedom is respected among them. And still more conspicuously is this proved by the internal governments of their trade-combinations. Not to dwell on the occasional killing of men among them who assert their rights to sell their labour as they please, or on the frequent acts of violence and intimidation committed by those on strike against those who undertake the work they have refused, it suffices to cite the despotism exercised by trades-union officers. The daily acts of these make it manifest that the ruling powers set up by working-men, inflict on them grievances as great as, if not greater than, those inflicted by the ruling powers, political and social, which they decry. When the heads of an association he has joined forbid a collier to work more than three days in the week—when he is limited to a certain “get” in that space of time—when he dares not accept from his employer an increasing bonus for every extra day he works—when, as a reason for declining, he says that he should be made miserable by his comrades, and that even his wife would not be spoken to; it becomes clear that he and the rest have made for themselves a tyranny worse than the tyrannies complained of. Did he look at the facts apart from class-bias, the skilful artizan, who in a given time can do more than his fellows, but who dares not do it because he would be “sent to Coventry” by them, and who consequently cannot reap the benefit of his superior powers, would see that he is thus aggressed upon by his fellows more seriously than by Acts of Parliament or combinations of capitalists. And he would further see that the sentiment of justice in his own class is certainly not greater than in the classes he thinks so unjust.

The feeling which thus warps working-men’s conceptions, at the same time prevents them from seeing that each of their unions is selfishly aiming to benefit at the expense of the industrial population at large. When an association of carpenters or of engineers makes rules limiting the number of apprentices admitted, with the view of maintaining the rate of wages paid to to its members—when it thus tacitly says to every applicant beyond the number allowed, “Go and apprentice yourself elsewhere;” it is indirectly saying to all other bodies of artizans, “You may have your wages lowered by increasing your numbers, but we will not.” And when the other bodies of artizans severally do the like, the general result is that the incorporated workers of all orders, say to the surplus sons of workers who want to find occupations, “We will none of us let our masters employ you.” Thus each trade, in its eagerness for self-protection, is regardless of other trades, and sacrifices numbers among the rising generation of the artizan-class. Nor is it thus only that the interest of each class of artizans is pursued to the detriment of the artizan-class in general. I do not refer to the way in which when bricklayers strike they throw out of employment the labourers who attend them, or to the way in which the colliers now on strike have forced idleness on the ironworkers; but I refer to the way in which the course taken by any one set of operatives to get higher wages, is taken regardless of the fact that an eventual rise in the price of the commodity produced, is a disadvantage to all other operatives. The class-bias, fostering the belief that the question in each case is entirely one between employer and employed, between capital and labour, shuts out the truth that the interests of all consumers are involved, and that the immense majority of consumers belong to the working-classes themselves. If the consumers are named, such of them only are remembered as belong to the wealthier classes, who, it is thought, can well afford to pay higher prices. Listen to a passage from Mr. George Potter’s paper read at the late Leeds Congress:—

“The consumer, in fact, in so high a civilization, so arrogant a luxuriousness, and so impatient an expectancy as characterize him in our land and age, is ever ready to take the alarm and to pour out the vials of his wrath upon those whom he merely suspects of taking a course which may keep a feather out of his bed, a spice out of his dish, or a coal out of his fire; and, unfortunately for the chances of fairness, the weight of his anger seldom falls upon the capitalists, but is most certain to come crushing down upon the lowly labourer, who has dared to stand upon his own right and independence.”

From which it might be supposed that all skilled and unskilled artizans, all farm-labourers, all other workers, with all their wives and children, live upon air—need no food, no clothing, no furniture, no houses, and are therefore unaffected by enhanced prices of commodities. However fully prepared for the distorting effects of class-bias, one would hardly have expected effects so great. One would have thought it manifest even to an extreme partizan of trades-unions, that a strike which makes coals as dear again, affects in a relatively-small degree the thousands of rich consumers above described, and is very keenly felt by the millions of poor consumers, to whom in winter the outlay for coal is a serious item of expenditure. One would have thought that a truth so obvious in this case, would be recognized throughout—the truth that with nearly all products of industry, the evil caused by a rise of price falls more heavily on the vast numbers who work for wages than on the small numbers who have moderate incomes or large incomes.

Were not their judgments warped by the class-bias, workingmen might be more pervious to the truth that better forms of industrial organization would grow up and extinguish the forms which they regard as oppressive, were such better forms practicable. And they might see that the impracticability of better forms results from the imperfections of existing human nature, moral and intellectual. If the workers in any business could so combine and govern themselves that the share of profit coming to them as workers was greater than now, while the interest on the capital employed was less than now; and if they could at the same time sell the articles produced at lower rates than like articles produced in businesses managed as at present; then, manifestly, businesses managed as at present would go to the wall. That they do not go to the wall—that such better industrial organizations do not replace them, implies that the natures of working-men themselves are not good enough; or, at least, that there are not many of them good enough. Happily, to some extent organizations of a superior type are becoming possible: here and there they have achieved encouraging successes. But, speaking generally, the masses are neither sufficiently provident, nor sufficiently conscientious, nor sufficiently intelligent. Consider the evidence.

That they are not provident enough they show both by wasting their higher wages when they get them, and by neglecting such opportunities as occur of entering into modified forms of co-operative industry. When the Gloucester Waggon Company was formed, it was decided to reserve a thousand of its shares, of £10 each, for the workmen employed; and to suit them, it was arranged that the calls of a pound each should be at intervals of three months. As many of the men earned £2 10s. per week, in a locality where living is not costly, it was considered that the taking-up of shares in this manner would be quite practicable. All the circumstances were at the outset such as to promise that prosperity which the company has since achieved. The chairman is no less remarkable for his skill in the conduct of large undertakings than for that sympathy with the working-classes which led him to adopt this course. The manager had been a working-man; and possessed the confidence of working-men in so high a degree, that many migrated with him from the Midland counties when the company was formed. Further, the manager entered heartily into the plan—telling me himself, that he had rejoiced over the founding of a concern in which those employed would have an interest. His hopes, however, and those of the chairman, were disappointed. After the lapse of a year not one of the thousand shares was taken up; and they were then distributed among the proprietors. Doubtless, there have been in other cases more encouraging results. But this case is one added to others which show that the proportion of working-men adequately provident, is not great enough to permit an extensive growth of better industrial organizations.1

Again, the success of industrial organizations higher in type, requires in the members a nicer sense of justice than is at present general. Closer co-operation implies greater mutual trust; and greater mutual trust is not possible without more respect for one another’s claims. When we find that in sick-clubs it is not uncommon for members to continue receiving aid when they are able to work, so that spies have to be set to check them; while, on the other hand, those who administer the funds often cause insolvency by embezzling them; we cannot avoid the inference that want of conscientiousness prevents the effective union of workers under no regulation but their own. When, among skilled labourers, we find a certain rate per hour demanded, because less “did not suffice for their natural wants,” though the unskilled labourers working under them were receiving little more than half the rate per hour, and were kept out of the skilled class by stringent rules, we do not discover a moral sense so much above that shown by employers as to promise success for industrial combinations superior to our present ones. While workmen think themselves justified in combining to sell their labour only on certain terms, but think masters not justified in combining to buy it only on certain terms, they show a conception of equity not high enough to make practicable a form of co-operation requiring that each shall recognize the claims of others as fully as his own. One pervading misconception of justice betrayed by them would alone suffice to cause failure—the misconception, namely, that justice requires an equal sharing of benefits among producers, instead of requiring, as it does, equal freedom to make the best of their faculties. The general policy of trades-unionism, tending everywhere to restrain the superior from profiting by his superiority lest the inferior should be disadvantaged, is a policy which, acted out in any industrial combinations, must make them incapable of competing with combinations based on the principle that benefit gained shall be protioned to faculty put forth.

Thus, as acting on the employed in general, the class-bias obscures the truth, otherwise not easy to see, that the existing type of industrial organization, like the existing type of political organization, is about as good as existing human nature allows. The evils there are in it are nothing but the evils brought round on men by their own imperfections. The relation of master and workman has to be tolerated, because, for the time being, no other will answer as well. Looked at apart from special interests, this organization of industry we now see around us, must be considered as one in which the cost of regulation, though not so great as it once was, is still excessive. In any industrial combination there must be a regulating agency. That regulating agency, whatever its nature, must be paid for—must involve a deduction from the total proceeds of the labour regulated. The present system is one under which the share of the total proceeds that goes to pay for regulation, is considerable; and under better systems to be expected hereafter, there will doubtless be a decrease in the cost of regulation. But, for the present, our comparatively-costly system has the justification that it alone succeeds. Regulation is costly because the men to be regulated are defective. With decrease of their defects will come economy of regulation, and consequently greater shares of profit to themselves.

Let me not be misunderstood. The foregoing criticism does not imply that operatives have no grievances to complain of; nor does it imply that trade-combinations and strikes are without adequate justifications. It is quite possible to hold that when, instead of devouring their captured enemies, men made slaves of them, the change was a step in advance; and to hold that this slavery, though absolutely bad, was relatively good—was the best thing practicable for the time being. It is quite possible also to hold that when slavery gave place to a serfdom under which certain personal rights were recognized, the new arrangement, though in the abstract an inequitable one, was more equitable than the old, and constituted as great an amelioration as men’s natures then permitted. It is quite possible to hold that when, instead of serfs, there came freemen working for wages, but held as a class in extreme subordination, this modified relation of employers and employed, though bad, was as good a one as could then be established. And so it may be held that at the present time, though the form of industrial government entails serious evils, those evils, much less than the evils of past times, are as small as the average human nature allows—are not due to any special injustice of the employing class, and can be remedied only as fast as men in general advance. On the other hand, while contending that the policy of trades-unions and the actions of men on strike, manifest an injustice as great as that shown by the employing classes, it is quite consistent to admit, and even to assert, that the evil acts of trade-combinations are the unavoidable accompaniments of a needful self-defence. Selfishness on the one side resisting selfishness on the other, inevitably commits sins akin to those it complains of—cannot effectually check harsh dealings without itself using harsh measures. Further, it may be fully admitted that the evils of working-class combinations, great as they are, go along with certain benefits, and will hereafter be followed by greater benefits—are evils involved by the transition to better arrangements.

Here my purpose is neither to condemn nor to applaud the ideas and actions of the employed in their dealings with employers; but simply to point out how the class-bias warps working-men’s judgments of social relations—makes it difficult for working-men to see that our existing industrial system is a product of existing human nature, and can be improved only as fast as human nature improves.

The ruling and employing classes display an equally-strong bias of the opposite kind. From their point of view, the behaviour of their poorer fellow-citizens throughout these struggles appears uniformly blamable. That they experience from a strike inconvenience more or less considerable, sufficiently proves to them that the strike must be wrong. They think there is something intolerable in this independence which leads to refusals to work except at higher wages or for shorter times. That the many should be so reckless of the welfare of the few, seems to the few a grievance not to be endured. Though Mr. George Potter, as shown above, wrongly speaks of the consumer as though he were always rich, instead of being, in nine cases out of ten, poor; yet he rightly describes the rich consumer as indignant when operatives dare to take a course which threatens to raise the prices of necessaries and make luxuries more costly. This feeling, often betrayed in private, exhibited itself in public on the occasion of the late strike among the gas-stokers; when there were uttered proposals that acts entailing so much annoyance should be put down with a strong hand. And the same spirit was shown in that straining of the law which brought on the men the punishment for conspiracy, instead of the punishment for breach of contract; which was well deserved, and would have been quite sufficient.

This mental attitude of the employing classes is daily shown by the criticisms passed on servants. Read The Greatest Plague in Life, or listen to the complaints of every housewife, and you see that the minds of masters and mistresses are so much occupied with their own interests as to leave little room for the interests of the men and maids in their service. The very title, The Greatest Plague in Life, implies that the only life worthy of notice is the life to which servants minister; and there is an entire unconsciousness that a book with the same title, written by a servant about masters and mistresses, might he filled with equally-severe criticisms and grievances far more serious. The increasing independence of servants is enlarged upon as a change greatly to be lamented. There is no recognition of the fact that this increasing independence implies an increasing prosperity of the classes from which servants come; and that this amelioration in the condition of the many is a good far greater than the evil entailed on the few. It is not perceived that if servants, being in great demand and easily able to get places, will no longer submit to restrictions, say about dress, like those of past times, the change is part of the progress towards a social state which, if apparently not so convenient for the small regulating classes, implies an elevation of the large regulated classes.

The feeling shown by the rich in their thoughts about, and dealings with, the poor, is, in truth, but a mitigated form of the feeling which owners of serfs and owners of slaves displayed. In early times bondsmen were treated as though they existed simply for the benefit of their owners; and down to the present time the belief pervading the select ranks (not indeeed expressed but clearly enough implied) is, that the convenience of the select is the first consideration, and the welfare of the masses a secondary consideration. Just as an Old-English thane would have been astonished if told that the only justification for his existence as an owner of thralls, was that the lives of his thralls were on the whole better preserved and more comfortable than they would be did he not own them; so, now, it will astonish the dominant classes to assert that their only legitimate raison d’être is that by their instrumentality as regulators, the lives of the people are, on the average, made more satisfactory than they would otherwise be. And yet, looked at apart from class-bias, this is surely an undeniable truth. Ethically considered, there has never been any warrant for the subjection of the many to the few, except that it has furthered the welfare of the many; and at the present time, furtherance of the welfare of the many is the only warrant for that degree of class-subordination which continues. The existing conception must be, in the end, entirely changed. Just as the old theory of political government has been so transformed that the ruling agent, instead of being owner of the nation, has come to be regarded as servant of the nation; so the old theory of industrial and social government has to undergo a transformation which will make the regulating classes feel, while duly pursuing their own interests, that their interests are secondary to the interests of the masses whose labours they direct.

While the bias of rulers and masters makes it difficult for them to conceive this, it also makes it difficult for them to conceive that a decline of class-power and a decrease of class-distinction may be accompanied by improvement not only in the lives of the regulated classes, but in the lives of the regulating classes. The sentiments and ideas proper to the existing social organization, prevent the rich from seeing that worry and weariness and disappointment result to them indirectly from this social system apparently so conducive to their welfare. Yet, would they contemplate the past, they might find strong reasons for suspecting as much. The baron of feudal days never imagined the possibility of social arrangements that would serve him far better than the arrangements he so strenuously upheld; nor did he see in the arrangements he upheld the causes of his many sufferings and discomforts. Had he been told that a noble might be much happier without a moated castle, having its keep and secret passages and dungeons for prisoners—that he might be more secure without drawbridge and portcullis, men-at-arms and sentinels—that he might be in less danger having no vassals or hired mercenaries—that he might be wealthier without possessing a single serf; he would have thought the statements absurd even to the extent of insanity. It would have been useless to argue that the régime seeming so advantageous to him, entailed hardships of many kinds—perpetual feuds with his neighbours, open attacks, surprises, betrayals, revenges by equals, treacheries by inferiors; the continual carrying of arms and wearing of armour: the perpetual quarrellings of servants and disputes among vassals; the coarse and unvaried food supplied by an unprosperous agriculture; a domestic discomfort such as no modern servant would tolerate; resulting in a wear and tear that brought life to a comparatively-early close, if it was not violently cut short in battle or by murder. Yet what the classbias of that time made it impossible for him to see, has become to his modern representative conspicuous enough. The peer of our day knows that he is better off without defensive appliances and retainers and serfs than his predecessor was with them. His country-house is more secure than was an embattled tower; he is safer among his unarmed domestics than a feudal lord was when surrounded by armed guards; he is in less danger going about weaponless than was the mail-clad knight with lance and sword. Though he has no vassals to fight at his command, there is no suzerain who can call on him to sacrifice his life in a quarrel not his own; though he can compel no one to labour, the labours of freemen make him immensely more wealthy than was the ancient holder of bondsmen; and along with the loss of direct control over workers, there has grown up an industrial system which supplies him with multitudinous conveniences and luxuries undreamt of by him who had workers at his mercy.

May we not, then, infer that just as the dominant classes of ancient days were prevented by the feelings and ideas appropriate to the then-existing social state, from seeing how much evil it brought on them, and how much better for them might be a social state in which their power was much less; so the dominant classes of the present day are prevented from seeing how the existing forms of class-subordination redound to their own injury, and how much happier may be their future representatives having social positions less prominent? Occasionally recognizing, though they do, certain indirect evils attending their supremacy, they do not see that by accumulation these indirect evils constitute a penalty which supremacy brings on them. Though they repeat the trite reflection that riches fail to purchase content, they do not draw the inference that there must be something wrong in a system which thus deludes them. You hear it from time to time admitted that great wealth is a heavy burden: the life of a rich peer being described as made like the life of an attorney by the extent of his affairs. You observe among those whose large means and various estates enable them to multiply their appliances to gratification, that every new appliance becomes an additional something to be looked after, and adds to the possibilities of vexation. Further, if you put together the open confessions and the tacit admissions, you find that, apart from these anxieties and annoyances, the kind of life which riches and honours bring is not a satisfactory life—its inside differs immensely from its outside. In candid moments the “social treadmill” is complained of by those who nevertheless think themselves compelled to keep up its monotonous round. As everyone may see, fashionable life is passed, not in being happy, but in playing at being happy. And yet the manifest corollary is not drawn by those engaged in this life.

To an outsider it is obvious that the benefits obtained by the regulative classes of our day, through the existing form of social organization, are full of disguised evils; and that this undue wealth which makes possible the passing of idle lives brings dissatisfactions in place of the satisfactions expected. Just as in feudal times the appliances for safety were the accompaniments to a social state that brought a more than equivalent danger; so, now, the excess of aids to pleasure among the rich is the accompaniment of a social state that brings a counterbalancing displeasure. The gratifications reached by those who make the pursuit of gratifications a business, dwindle to a minimum; while the trouble, and weariness, and vexation, and jealousy, and disappointment, rise to a maximum. That this is an inevitable result any one may see who studies the psychology of the matter. The pleasure-hunting life fails for the reason that it leaves large parts of the nature unexercised: it neglects the satisfactions gained by successful activity, and there is missing from it the serene consciousness of services rendered to others. Egoistic enjoyments continuously pursued, pall because the appetites for them are satiated in times much shorter than our waking lives give us: leaving times that are either empty or spent in efforts to get enjoyment after desire has ceased. They pall also from the want of that broad contrast which arises when a moiety of life is actively occupied. These negative causes of dissatisfaction are joined with the positive cause indicated—the absence of that content gained by successful achievement. One of the most massive and enduring gratifications is the sense of personal worth, ever afresh demonstrating itself to consciousness by effectual action; and an idle life is balked of its hopes partly because it lacks this. Lastly, the implied neglect of altruistic activities, or of activities felt to be in some way serviceable to others, brings kindred evils—a deficiency of certain positive pleasures of a high order, not easily exhausted, and a further falling-back on egoistic pleasures, again tending towards satiety. And all this, with its resulting weariness and discontent, we may trace to a social organization under which there comes to the regulating classes a share of produce great enough to make possible large accumulations that support useless descendants.

The bias of the wealthy in favour of arrangements apparently so conducive to their comforts and pleasures, while it shuts out the perception of these indirect penalties brought round on them by their seeming advantages, also shuts out the perception that there is anything mean in being a useless consumer of things which others produce. Contrariwise, there still survives, though much weakened, the belief that it is honourable to do nothing but seek enjoyment, and relatively dishonourable to pass life in supplying others with the means to enjoyment. In this, as in other things, our temporary state brings a temporary standard of honour appropriate to it; and the accompanying sentiments and ideas exclude the conception of a state in which what is now thought admirable will be thought disgraceful. Yet it needs only, as before, to aid imagination by studying other times and other societies, remote in nature from our own, to see at least the possibility of this. When we contrast the feeling of the Fijians, among whom a man has a restless ambition to be acknowledged as a murderer, with the feeling among civilized races, who shrink with horror from a murderer, we get undeniable proof that men in one social state pride themselves in characters and deeds elsewhere held in the greatest detestation. Seeing which, we may infer that just as the Fijians, believing in the honourableness of murder, are regarded by us with astonishment; so those of our own day who pride themselves in consuming much and producing nothing, and who care little for the well-being of their society so long as it supplies them good dinners, soft beds, and pleasant lounging-places, may be regarded with astonishment by men of times to come, living under higher social forms. Nay, we may see not merely the possibility of such a change in sentiment, but the probability. Observe, first, the feeling still extant in China, where the honourableness of doing nothing, more strongly held than here, makes the wealthy wear their nails so long that they have to be tied back out of the way, and makes the ladies submit to prolonged tortures that their crushed feet may show their incapacity for work. Next, remember that in generations gone by, both here and on the Continent, the disgracefulness of trade was an article of faith among the upper classes, maintained very strenuously. Now mark how members of the landed class are going into business, and even sons of peers becoming professional men and merchants; and observe among the wealthy the feeling that men of their order have public duties to perform, and that the absolutely-idle among them are blameworthy. Clearly, then, we have grounds for inferring that, along with the progress to a regulative organization higher than the present, there will be a change of the kind indicated in the conception of honour. It will become a matter of wonder that there should ever have existed those who thought it admirable to enjoy without working, at the expense of others who worked without enjoying.

But the temporarily-adapted mental state of the ruling and employing classes, keeps out, more or less effectually, thoughts and feelings of these kinds. Habituated from childhood to the forms of subordination at present existing—regarding these as parts of a natural and permanent order—finding satisfaction in supremacy, and conveniences in the possession of authority; the regulators of all kinds remain unconscious that this system, made necessary as it is by the defects of existing human nature, brings round penalties on themselves as well as on those subordinate to them, and that its pervading theory of life is as mistaken as it is ignoble.

Enough has been said to show that from the class-bias arise further obstacles to right thinking in Sociology. As a part of some general division of his community, and again as a part of some special sub-division, the citizen acquires adapted feelings and ideas which inevitably influence his conclusions about public affairs. They affect alike his conceptions of the past, his interpretations of the present, his anticipations of the future.

Members of the regulated classes, kept in relations more or less antagonistic with the classes regulating them, are thereby hindered from seeing the need for, and the benefits of, this organization which seems the cause of their grievances; they are at the same time hindered from seeing the need for, and the benefits of, those harsher forms of industrial regulation that existed during past times; and they are also hindered from seeing that the improved industrial organizations of the future, can come only through improvements in their own natures. On the other hand, members of the regulating classes, while partially blinded to the facts that the defects of the working-classes are the defects of natures like their own placed under different conditions, and that the existing system is defensible, not for its convenience to themselves, but as being the best now practicable for the community at large; are also partially blinded to the vices of past social arrangements, and to the badness of those who in past social systems used class-power less mercifully than it is used now; while they have difficulty in seeing that the present social order, like past social orders, is but transitory, and that the regulating classes of the future may have, with diminished power, increased happiness.

Unfortunately for the Social Science, the class-bias, like the bias of patriotism, is, in a degree, needful for social preservation. It is like in this, too, that escape from its influence is often only effected by an effort that carries belief to an opposite extreme—changing approval into a disapproval that is entire instead of partial. Hence in the one case, as in the other, we must infer that the resulting obstacle to well-balanced conclusions, can become less only as social evolution becomes greater.



Ibid., pp. 130–140.