Herbert Spencer (Derby 27 April 1820 – 8 December 1903) was an English philosopher and sociologist.
Coming from a family of radicals, he was very early interested in political issues. That is why he joined many associations. He became a member of the Anti-Corn Law League, founded by Richard Cobden. Although he became known as a sociologist, he served the profession of a railway engineer.
To write a research paper on Herbert Spencer you should know that collaborating in The Economist, he wrote many great books, including Social Statics (1850), very inspired by the utilitarian Bentham, A Theory of Population (1852), where he challenged catastrophism of Thomas Malthus, or his Principles of Psychology (which he began in 1855). His great work consisted of the development of Principles of Sociology (whose publication was spread from 1876 to 1897).
Throughout his life, Spencer was an enemy of war and the imperialism: that is why he opposed the Spanish-American War of 1898 and tried to establish a League against aggression.
Since 1857, he has defended, in his Progress, its law and causes, an evolutionary philosophy. According to him, evolution is a gradual transition from homogeneous to heterogeneous and inconsistent to consistent. A phenomenon is evolving in the direction of growing differentiation and integration (organization).
Today he is best known for his political essays, they are particularly mentioned by liberal thinkers like Robert Nozick. The philosopher Nietzsche criticized him strongly, in The Gay Science (V, 373), Beyond Good and Evil (VIII, 253), Genealogy of Morals (I, 3, II, 12), Twilight of the Idols (Straying from an “untimely,” 37), and Ecce Homo (Why I am a Destiny, 4). Nietzsche treated him as a “decadent.”
His best-known work is The Right to ignore the State, published in 1850, classic formulation of the right to dispense with the services of the State and, therefore, the right of individual secession when a legitimate government abuses its power.
Spencer was then an advocate of minimal state (therefore reduced strictly to the maintenance of internal and external security, as he explains in his The Proper Sphere of Government in 1842). As John Locke, he defended contractual relations between individuals and government. For him, the government is simply an employee that everyone is free to withdraw, without waiting the rights of others. He, nevertheless, turned gradually to a more classic liberal utilitarian.
Spencer also defends a philosophy of history, according to which, industrial societies (open, dynamic, productive, based on the contract, and individual freedom) gradually supplant military companies (warriors, hierarchical, holistic, fixed, closed on themselves). Finally, the State would itself become an archaic and obsolete item. According to the opinion that develops Yvan Blot in his doctoral thesis, Spencer is considered a minarchiste convinced of the likelihood of a anarcho-capitalist future. Georgi Plekhanov, in his book Anarchism and Socialism, considered him as a bourgeois philosopher and “conservative anarchist.”
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