Liberty and the Division of Power

  • David Nicholls
Part of the St Antony's book series


The proper ends of political action are not self-evident. If there is one thing that a history of political thinking should teach us it is this: that there has been no generally agreed conclusion about what are the proper concerns of government. Some writers insist that the achievement of some kind of ‘just society’ is the end. Others claim that governments should be concerned with happiness; some think that equality must be achieved at all costs. Others again believe that so long as life is protected and order is maintained, a government may do as it will; or put in contemporary jargon, governments should be concerned with conflict resolution. In this chapter I shall attempt to clarify the belief of Figgis and other pluralists of his day about the status of liberty as a principal end in politics, to point to some of the ambiguities in their understanding of the concept of liberty, and to examine their conviction that the realisation of liberty in the modern state, depends upon the dispersion of power and on the existence of vibrant social groups and associations.


Traditional Group Universal Jurisdiction Group Loyalty Personal Liberty Religious Liberty 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Bernard Crick, In Defence of Politics, p. 21.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Lippmann, A Preface to Morals, pp. 112–13. Recent discussions of ‘the self’ may be found in Michael Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, and Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    ‘A Person is composed of an internalization of organized social roles’, H. H. Gerth and C. W. Mills, Character and Social Structure, p. 83;Google Scholar
  4. see also J. H. Fichter, Sociology, p. 212, and T. M. Newcomb, ‘Community Roles in Attitude Formation’, in American Sociological Review, 1942, 7, pp. 621f.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 4.
    Lamprecht, ‘The Need for a Pluralistic Emphasis in Ethics’, in Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Method, 1920, 17, pp. 562 and 569.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics, pp. 106–7. The same elementary point in made in more recent writers on the subject.Google Scholar
  7. See R. M. Hare, The Language of Morals, pp. 151f and P. H. Nowell Smith, Ethics, pp. 185f.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    Bagehot, ‘The Metaphysical Basis of Toleration’, Works, VI, p. 227.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    Bentley, The Process of Government, p. 371; see also T. V. Smith, The Legislative Way of Life, and The Compromise Principle in Politics.Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    Figgis, Churches, p. 263. For a recent writer who lays great emphasis on character, see Stanley Hauerwas, Character and the Christian Life and A Community of Character.Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    Laski, Authority, p. 121.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    King, Fear of Power, p. 128. In his Four Essays on Liberty, Isaiah Berlin implies that Bentham saw that ‘some laws increase the total amount of liberty in a society’ (p. xlix). I am not convinced that he did. Bentham certainly ‘favoured laws’, but he justified them in terms of increasing happiness or decreasing pain, rather than in terms of increasing the total amount of liberty. This is what distinguishes him from a writer like Hobhouse, who insisted against most of his fellow empiricists that laws can increase the total freedom (though, of course, they decrease the freedom of those being coerced). Hobhouse thus put forward an explicitly liberal defence of legislation, which Bentham did not do. See David Nicholls, ‘Positive Liberty, 1880–1914’, American Political Science Review, 56, 1962, pp. 114f.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    Hobhouse, The Metaphysical Theory of the State, p. 36.Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    King, Fear, p. 128.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    Mill, Principles of Political Economy, book 5 ch. 11.Google Scholar
  16. 14.
    Lindsay, ‘The State in Recent Political Theory’, Political Quarterly, February 1914, p. 128.Google Scholar
  17. 15.
    Figgis, Churches, p. 116;Google Scholar
  18. Laski, Authority, pp. 54–5.Google Scholar
  19. 16.
    Mill, On Liberty, ch. 1. Mill also wrote, ‘I fully admit that the mischief which a person does to himself may seriously affect, both through their sympathies and their interests, those nearly concerned with him and, in a minor degree, society at large …’, ibid., ch. 4. Mill’s defence of liberty must, of course be seen in the context of his utilitarian philosophy.Google Scholar
  20. 17.
    Acton, The History of Freedom, p. 203.Google Scholar
  21. 18.
    Cambridge University Library, Add. MSS, 4901: 20.Google Scholar
  22. 19.
    Louise Creighton, Life and Letters of Mandell Creighton, I, p. 263.Google Scholar
  23. 20.
    Laski, ‘The Literature of Politics’, The New Republic, 17 November 1917, p. 6.Google Scholar
  24. 21.
    Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, p. 53. But see S. A. Grave, Conscience in Newman’s Thought, also David Nicholls, ‘Gladstone, Newman and the Politics of Pluralism’, in James Bastable, ed., Newman and Gladstone, pp. 32f.Google Scholar
  25. 22.
    Figgis, Hopes, p. 116.Google Scholar
  26. 23.
    Sermon 9, Mirfield MSS.Google Scholar
  27. 24.
    Zylstra, From Pluralism to Collectivism, p. 38.Google Scholar
  28. 25.
    Acton, The Rambler, January 1860, p. 146.Google Scholar
  29. 26.
    Acton, The History of Freedom, p. 3.Google Scholar
  30. 27.
    Figgis, Hopes, p. 114.Google Scholar
  31. 28.
    Laski, Authority, pp. 55 and 37. Green wrote of freedom as ‘a positive power of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying, and that, too, something that we do or enjoy in common with others’. Works, III, p. 371.Google Scholar
  32. 29.
    Laski, Grammar, p. 142; in later editions he changed this passage.Google Scholar
  33. 30.
    Cole, Social Theory, p. 184.Google Scholar
  34. 31.
    Cole, Social Theory, p. 182.Google Scholar
  35. 32.
    Cole, Labour, p. 194.Google Scholar
  36. 33.
    Cole, Self-Government, p. 227.Google Scholar
  37. 34.
    Russell, Principles of Social Reconstruction, p. 228.Google Scholar
  38. 35.
    Russell, Political Ideals, p. 10.Google Scholar
  39. 36.
    Tocqueville, Journeys to England, p. 24.Google Scholar
  40. 37.
    Quoted in J. Charles-Bran’s introduction to Proudhon’s Principe fédératif, p. 123n.Google Scholar
  41. 38.
    Acton in Mirfield MSS. It was, of course, the Tory Samuel Johnson who called the Devil the first Whig.Google Scholar
  42. 39.
    Figgis, Lecture on Aquinas, Mirfield MSS, Notebook 2.Google Scholar
  43. 40.
    Acton, Essays on Freedom and Power, p. 35. Richard Niebuhr has pointed out how the American puritans were similarly suspicious of power, see The Kingdom of God in America, pp. 77f.Google Scholar
  44. 41.
    Figgis, Lecture III on Marsilius, Mirfield MSS, Notebook 3.Google Scholar
  45. 42.
    Acton, Essays, p. 101.Google Scholar
  46. 43.
    Acton, Essays, p. 48.Google Scholar
  47. 44.
    Acton, Essays, pp. 48 and 63; and Letters to Mary Gladstone, p. 124.Google Scholar
  48. 45.
    Maitland, Introduction to Gierke, Political Theories, p. xliii.Google Scholar
  49. 46.
    G. P. Gooch, Foreword to G. Ritter, The Corrupting Influence of Power, p. x.Google Scholar
  50. 47.
    Laski, Authority, p. 387.Google Scholar
  51. 48.
    Laski, Authority, p. 90.Google Scholar
  52. 49.
    Sorel, Réflexions sur la violence, p. 151.Google Scholar
  53. 50.
    Russell, Political Ideals, pp. 11–12, and Principles, p. 73.Google Scholar
  54. Compare the views of critics of pluralism: ‘it is not force that is dangerous but the will embodied in it. The problem, therefore, is not that of limiting sovereignty, but of educating the sovereign.’ Norman Wilde, ‘The Attack on the State’, International Journal of Ethics, 1920, 30, p. 370.Google Scholar
  55. 51.
    Burke, ‘Substance of the Speech on Army Estimates’ (1790), in Works, III, pp. 9–10.Google Scholar
  56. 52.
    Georges Goyau, Ketteler, p. 41. this association idea was, he held, particularly strong with the German people, Die Arbeiterfrage und das Christenthum, pp. 49–50. Gierke continually made a similar point in Das deutsche Genossenschaftsrecht, cf II, p. 32.Google Scholar
  57. 53.
    ‘This pulverisation method, this chemical solution of humanity into individuals, into grains of dust of equal value, into particle which a puff of the wind may scatter in all directions — this method is as false as are the suppositions on which it rests’, Ketteler, Die Arbeiterfrage, p. 57. See J. F. Stephen’s remark, ‘The existence of such a state of society reduces individuals to impotence, and to tell them to be powerful, original and independent is to mock them. It is like plucking a bird’s feathers in order to put it on a level with beasts, and then telling it to fly’. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, p. 46.Google Scholar
  58. 54.
    For a discussion of this principle see below pp. 130f.Google Scholar
  59. 55.
    Maitland, ‘Moral Personality and Legal Personality’, in Collected Papers, III, p. 311; reprinted below in appendix D.Google Scholar
  60. 56.
    Figgis, Antichrist, p. 266.Google Scholar
  61. 57.
    Figgis, Churches, p. 101.Google Scholar
  62. 58.
    S. Mogi, The Problem of Federalism, p. 312.Google Scholar
  63. 59.
    Figgis, Churches, p. 81; and Figgis in A. J. Mason et al., Our Place in Christendom, p. 94.Google Scholar
  64. 60.
    Acton, Essays, p. 160.Google Scholar
  65. 61.
    Figgis, Churches, p. 101. See H. Butterfield, The Historical Development of the Principle of Toleration in British Life, p. 3.Google Scholar
  66. 62.
    W. K. Jordan, The Development of Religious Toleration in England, I, p. 19.Google Scholar
  67. For a discussion of the growth of toleration in the USA see A. P. Stokes, Church and State in the United States, especially, I, p. 244.Google Scholar
  68. 63.
    Figgis, ‘A Puritan Utopia’, Church Quarterly Review, 1903, p. 126.Google Scholar
  69. 64.
    For example A. A. Seaton The Theory of Toleration under the Later Stuarts, p. 18;Google Scholar
  70. Maitland seems to have held this view too: ‘Scepticism or doubt is the legitimate parent of toleration’, ‘Liberty and Equality’(1875), in Collected Papers, I, p. 95.Google Scholar
  71. 65.
    Figgis, Gerson, p. 118.Google Scholar
  72. 66.
    Figgis, Churches, p. 101.Google Scholar
  73. 67.
    M. de W. Howe, ed., Holmes-Laski Letters, pp. 246–7.Google Scholar
  74. 68.
    Figgis, Gerson, p. 180.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Nicholls 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Nicholls

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations