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Abstract

Speaking to the House of Commons during a debate over closer state regulation of friendly societies in 1854, the member for North Wiltshire, T. H. S. Sotherton, said they ‘were purely voluntary associations, and the very moment [the government] put on the screw in the direction that Parliament thought desirable the association would at once be dissolved, and there would be nobody applicable to the bearing of the Act’.1 Sotherton had identified the principal constraint on friendly society legislation. As voluntary, private organisations reliant upon the goodwill and pennies of their members, friendly societies could vanish as soon as they perceived any threat to their independence. The ideology of political voluntarism, which held that the state had little or no right to intervene in people’s lives, limited the government’s reach at the very moment reformers were beginning to comprehend disease, poverty, and illiteracy as social problems demanding state action.2 Voluntarism assumed that charity and self-help would in combination cure them.3 Compulsory regulation foundered on the rocks of autonomy.4

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Notes

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© 2003 Simon Cordery

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Cordery, S. (2003). Regulatory Voluntarism. In: British Friendly Societies, 1750–1914. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230598041_4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230598041_4

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