Auberon Herbert and Voluntaryism The political system of 19th Century Britain was full of various political ideologies. The Victorian Era was fored to respond politically to growing industrialization. Political parties butted heads endlessly over how to deal with these new problems, some of the more pressing troubles being urbanization, prison systems, etc. Amongst this political turmoil was one man, Auberon Herbert, who fought for the purest form of liberty. Though his impact was almost nonexistent on Victorian Era politics, the ideas for which he fought were of the greatest importance to all. Auberon Herbert was born in England in 1838. He went to university at Eton and St. John’s College, Oxford. After that he held commissions in the British Army, serving with the Seventh Hussars in India in 1860. He returned to St. John’s where he formed several Conservative debating societies (Herbert p. 12). He ran for the House of Commons as a Conservative in 1865 and a Liberal in 1868. He finally became a member of Commons in 1870 as a Liberal representing Nottingham. He lacked consistency in his political principles while in the House of Commons. His fluid political stance (switching between Conservative and Liberal) was a testament to lack of consistent principles. At that time he supported compulsory education, which he later opposed. His disgust for the current political system led him to not seek reelection in 1874. Whether this was from his lack of a consistent political standing or from his discontent with partisan politics is unclear. He did not develop a consistent political ideology until after he became acquainted with Herbert Spencer. Between 1874 and 1879, He became a radical individualist with the help of his mentor, Herbert Spencer. Spencer was a stringent individualist who stood against compulsion and collectivism. He “devoted his work to the creation of a grand intellectual synthesis based on the theory of evolution” (Jones 130). His teachings led Auberon Herbert to finally develop a consistent ideology, though not as “out of tune with the times” as his mentor’s (Leach 85). Herbert remained optimistic about politics while his mentor grew increasingly pessimistic over time. In 1879, Herbert ran for his previous seat in the House of Commons as a Liberal, but his newfound individualism was not accepted by the Liberal Union of Nottingham. Having been rejected in 1879, he started publishing “addresses, essays, and books in defense of consistent individualism and against all forms of political regimentation” (Herbert 13). He began advocating a new Party of Individual Liberty in 1885. His essay, “The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State,” was the seminal work that outlined the stance of his ideology, later named Voluntaryism. He advocated his libertarian ideology in a monthly paper that ran from 1890 to 1901 called Free Life: The Organ of Voluntary Taxation and Voluntary State. The essence of his ideas was that all aspects of life are to be voluntary. He argued that since everyone is an individual, no one has any right to infringe on their independence. Everyone is to live according to their own facilities and at their own judgment provided they respect the same rights of all others. Since a society consists only of individuals, Herbert argues that a government’s first priority is the individual, i.e. what is good for the individual is good for the whole. This radical ideology called for an extremely limited government. Many people saw this as anarchism. Liberals sought political reform against the established aristocracy, while Conservatives preferred to keep the aristocracy, but in essence they both wanted to keep a powerful, large government. Auberon Herbert and other radical individualists wanted to reduce the government down to its smallest possible form. This created some friction between Herbert and most politicians. Herbert based his ideas on the nature of man as an individual whose right to live as he sees fit should never be infringed. The key idea behind his Voluntaryist Party was to secure “the like Liberty of each, limited alone by the like Liberty of all” (Herbert 124). He summed this up best when he said: "Under a system of the widest possible liberty, each man thinks and acts according to his own judgment and his own sense of right. He labors as he will, making such free bargains as he chooses respecting the price and all other conditions that affect his labor; he is idle or industrious, he spends or he lays by, he remains poor, or he becomes rich, he turns his faculties to wise and good account, or he wastes possessions, time and happiness in folly. He is, be it for good or evil, the owner and possessor of his own self, and he has to bear the responsibility of that ownership and possession to the full." (Herbert 124-5) Government according to Herbert, therefore, must only exist to protect every person’s rights. Government, being that it can only act through force, can only act to retaliate against someone who initiates force—including fraud—and to prevent such initiations. This means that the only justified parts of government are the police, to protect citizens from one another, the military, to protect the citizens from outside aggression; and the courts, to allay quarrels between citizens. In “The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State”, he listed the measures that needed to be taken to ensure the greatest amount of liberty to all. He advocated a simple, expedient, and inexpensive legal system to ensure the defense of individual rights, including property. He called for the end of compulsory taxation in favor of a voluntary contribution system. Thusly people could ensure their money would not be stolen by the government and used for unnecessary ends. Under a voluntary tax system, the people gain control of the government instead of politicians; e.g. if the people do not support a war, the government would not have sufficient funds to wage that war. He called for the “abolition of monopolies and restraints which prevent the people from gaining the full benefits of free trade” (Herbert 165). This calls for true laissez faire capitalism where the state is separated not only from the church, but also from the economy. He recognized that this was the only means of promoting reason and one’s own productivity without infringing on inalienable individual rights; in American terms, that is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Although he fought for true liberty, Herbert and his Voluntaryist movement did not have an impact on British politics. One reason for this lack of impact was the radical nature of Voluntaryism. It completely opposed the partisan politics of the time. It would have weakened the power of politicians who relied on compulsory taxes as means to their arbitrary ends. He sought to undermine the “majority rule” concept on which political parties relied. Instead, legislation would be based on the nature of man as an individual and not on the arbitrary whims of a majority. Herbert argued: Why should either two men live at the discretion of three, or three at the discretion of two? Both propositions are absurd from a reasonable point of view. If being a slave and owning a slave are both wrong relations what difference does it make whether there are a million slave owners and one slave, or one slave owner and a million slaves? Do robbery and murder cease to be what they are if down by ninety-nine percent of the population? Clear your ideas on the subject, Mr. Bramston1, and see that numbers cannot affect the question of what is right and wrong. (Herbert 87) This opposition to the current political system, though more willing to represent the rights and liberties of individual citizens, did not go over well with most politicians. Another reason why Herbert’s ideas did not have an impact was that his system lacked an all-encompassing philosophy. His works concentrated on political and ethical issues without a strong base in metaphysics (the nature of reality) and epistemology (the nature of knowledge.) He assumed that reality was objective and that a definite right and wrong exists with regard to man’s rights. He also assumed that reason, the mental faculty that identifies and integrates sensory perception based on a non-contradictory (logical) process, was the means for man’s actions. His writings lacked a definite analysis of these two concepts; instead, he noted them in passing or assumed them to be true without fully proving them. Had he made his political system more explicitly based upon an entire philosophy instead of just political ideology and introduced this to the universities of England to influence new younger politicians, it would have been hard for people and politicians to deny the merits of Voluntaryism. The principles of Voluntaryism, which included individual rights, property rights, and an extremely limited government, represent the essence of man as an individual with complete control over his life, but they had little effect on British politics. If Herbert’s movement had been concentrated on a complete philosophy that he conveyed to the public, particularly through universities, his radical individualism would have been better accepted by the politicians he opposed. It was, however, not accepted and the issues faced by Britain remained to be debated by a plethora of parties seeking majority rule. They addressed their problems inconsistently and England remained ruled by various warring political ideologies. Works Cited Herbert, Auberon. The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State and Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Classic, 1978. Jones, H.S. Victorian Political Thought. New York: St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 2000. Leach, Robert. British Political Ideologies. 2nd ed. Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall Europe, 1996.