Lost Language, Lost Liberalism

A review of the changes 1880-1940 to the central semantics of liberal civilization.

Justice  Rejoinders

William Hurrell Mallock (1849 – 1923) was an English novelist and economics writer. In  The Limits of Pure Democracy   he argued that the pseudo-populist leaders of the political party system promise everything but deliver only the end of parties as such.

William Hurrell Mallock (1849 – 1923) was an English novelist and economics writer. In The Limits of Pure Democracy  he argued that the pseudo-populist leaders of the political party system promise everything but deliver only the end of parties as such.

Mallock, William Hurrell. 1882. Social Equality. Richard Bentley & Son: London.

[29] [The Democrats] come forward as the champions of social justice, and their avowed mission is to reform abuses. This being so, their first and principal task is to place these abuses in the most odious light possible, and to rouse, as much as possible, the people's passion against them. Now, how do they do this? Always in one way. They represent whatever abuse may be at the time in question, not as a direct wrong done to their hearers personally, but rather as an insult to general social justice.

Mallock, William Hurrell. 1884. Property and Progress. G. P. Putnams Sons: New York.

[107-108] [Henry] George puts the case very plainly…‘Natural justice can recognize no right in one man to the possession and enjoyment of land, that is not equally the right of all his fellows.’ This, then, is the doctrine that we have to examine, — this supposed principle of natural and universal justice. … On what ground, then, let us ask, does natural justice deny the right of a man to own all the land that he can pay for? And, supposing that six Americans had bought up the whole of England, on what ground would such justice, as apart from political expediency, maintain against these men that the land still belonged to the nation?

Rae, John. 1884. Contemporary Socialism. Charles Scribners and Sons: New York.

[9] For to [the socialists] mind the struggle they are engaged in is not a struggle for amelioration, but for plain and elementary right. It is not a question of providing greater happiness for the greatest number; it is a question of doing them bare justice, of giving them their own, of protecting them against a disguised but very real expropriation. They declare that, under the present industrial arrangements, the labouring classes are in effect robbed of most of the value of the work of their hands, and of course the suppression of systematic robbery is an immediate obligation of the present. Justice is a basis to start from now, if possible, and not a dream to await hereafter. First let the labouring man have his rights, they cry, and then and then only shall you have the way clear for any further parley about his future. It is true that he is not the victim of individual rapacity so much as of the system, and that he cannot get his rights till the system is completely changed, but the system, they argue, can never be completely changed except by the power of the State, and why then not change it at once? Now, it is obvious how to people who take this view of the matter there should seem no other alternative but an instant reconstruction of industrial society at the hands of the State. For if it is justice that has to be done, then it appears only natural to conclude that it falls upon the State, as the organ of justice, to do it, and that it cannot do it too soon.

[13] It [Socialism] is not only a theory of the State's action, but a theory of the State's action founded on a theory of the labourer’s right. It is at bottom a demand for social justice. It tells us that an enlargement of social justice was made when it was declared that every man shall be free—or, in other words, that every man shall possess completely his own powers of labour; and it claims that a new enlargement of social justice shall be made now, to declare that every man shall possess the whole produce of his labour. Now, this claim of right is really at the bottom of the whole movement, and necessitates both the invocation of authority and the demand for immediate realisation, as well as the communistic changes proposed to realise it by.

[358] Socialists may perhaps answer that this ought not to be so; that if things were as they should be, the railway chairman, the station-master, the inspector, the guard, and the porter, would be paid by the same simple standard of the duration of their labour in the service of the line — a standard which would probably reverse the present gradation of their respective salaries; but if they make that answer, they change their ground; they no longer base their claim for justice to the labourer on value as it is constituted, but on value as they think it ought to be constituted. Their theory of value would in that case not be what it pretends to be, a scientific theory of the actual constitution of value, but a utopian theory of its proper and just constitution. It would be tantamount to saying, Every man, according to our ideas of justice, ought to be paid according to the value of his work, and the value of his work, according to our ideas of justice, ought to be measured by the time—the socially necessary time—it occupied. But this whole argument is manifestly based on nothing better than their own arbitrary conceptions of justice, and it needs no great perspicacity to perceive that these conceptions of justice are entirely wrong.

Auberon Edward William Molyneux Herbert (1838 – 1906) was a writer, theorist, philosopher, and 19th century individualist. A member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, Herbert promoted a classical liberal philosophy and advocated voluntary-funded government that uses force only in defence of individual liberty and private property. 

Auberon Edward William Molyneux Herbert (1838 – 1906) was a writer, theorist, philosopher, and 19th century individualist. A member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, Herbert promoted a classical liberal philosophy and advocated voluntary-funded government that uses force only in defence of individual liberty and private property. 

Herbert, Auberon. 1885. The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State. Williams and Norgate: London.

[12-13] When power is once given, it becomes impossible, in the absence of any general principle or fixed standard, to say what is dangerous or unjust; because the danger and injustice are involved in the every idea and the very fact of some men—be they the many or the few—possessing undefined powers over others.

Raleigh, Thomas. 1886. Elementary Politics. Henry Frowde: London.

[67-68] There are some who call for justice because they think that if justice were done we should all be pretty well off. This is, I fear, a mistaken impression. If strict justice were done, you and I would probably be in a somewhat uncomfortable position. We should receive only what we have earned by honest service; and we should have to pay a full penalty for the ill we have done and the good we have neglected to do. When men demand justice, they very often mean only the removal of some particular inequality which they have found to be a hardship: they do not consider what would be the effect of a thoroughgoing application of the principle.

Sumner, William Graham. 1890. “The Establishment of Protection in the United States” in Protectionism of Free Trade? edited by H. W. Furber. Worthington & Co.: New York.

[342] After taxing the community to foster one industry, it is proposed to tax that one with others, to foster a second, then all the preceding to encourage a third. It follows that the first and second lose their advantage, and that the result is a series of weak fosterlings supporter by weakened legitimate industries. The same criticism applies to any system of ‘incidental protection.’ The claim is put in to widen the system and do ‘justiceby favoring all, which is impossible. The only real justice is to favor none.

Wordsworth Donisthorpe (1847 – 1914) was an English individualist anarchist and inventor, pioneer of cinematography and chess enthusiast.  In 1895 he published  Law in a Free State .

Wordsworth Donisthorpe (1847 – 1914) was an English individualist anarchist and inventor, pioneer of cinematography and chess enthusiast.  In 1895 he published Law in a Free State.

Donisthorpe, Wordsworth. 1892. “The Limits of Liberty” in A Plea for Liberty edited by Thomas Mackay. John Murray: London.

[87] Some writers are of opinion that this and all similar questions can be settled by an appeal to Justice, and that the justice of any particular case can be extracted by a dozen jurymen…. Now, in all sincerity, I have no conception of what is commonly meant by Justice…. Justice has no meaning at all: that is to say, it conveys no definite meaning to the general understanding…even supposing that Justice has a distinct connotation, and furthermore that it connotes something sublime, even then, why should I conform to its dictates? Because it is a virtue? Nonsense: because it is expedient.

[91] One word more about Justice. I have said that to most people the term is absolutely meaningless. To those who have occasional glimmerings, it conveys two distinct and even opposed meanings — sometimes one, sometimes the other. And it has a third meaning, which is definite enough, but merely negative; in which it connotes the elimination of partiality…. In this negative sense of the term I will venture to define Justice as the Algebra of Judgments. It deals in terms not of Dick, Tom, and Harry, but of X, Y, and Z. Regarded in this light, Justice may properly be described as blind, a quality which certainly cannot be predicated of that Justice which carefully examines the competitors in life's arena and handicaps them accordingly.

Spencer, Herbert. 1892. “From Freedom to Bondage” in A Plea for Liberty edited by Thomas Mackay. John Murray: London.

[23] The root of all well-ordered social action is a sentiment of justice, which at once insists on personal freedom and is solicitous for the like freedom of others; and there exists at present but a very inadequate amount of this sentiment.

Van Ornum, William Henry. 1892. Why Government at ALL? Charles H. Kerr and Co.: Chicago.

[48-50] State socialism then, originates in the manifest tendency of men to try to correct errors by striking at the effect of those errors. Its object (a pure and noble one) seeks to establish justice: that is, equality, and promote fraternity. Its methods are those of the politician, and must continue to be subject to political conditions. … To entrust one man with power over another: to enable him to decide what that other may, or may not do, is to magnify the one and belittle the other. It is to confer on one what is taken from the other. It is, at its very starting point, a violation of equality, and consequently a violation of justice; because justice means equity. The equal balance is a perfect symbol of justice. A thing is just between two individuals if, in its action, it affects them equally. … This is, and always must remain, the essential character of politics, as well as the method of politicians. Where power, distinction, and through them the possibility of wealth are offered as prizes, politicians will scramble for them. Nor will they be particular how they scramble. The course of human development has been toward greater equality: that is, toward justice, by increasing instead of decreasing liberty: by restricting instead of enlarging the functions of government. Every social evil will be found, on last analysis, to arise solely from the control which some men exercise over other men. Reform has always been in the lessening of that control: in approaching more nearly to equality, or, justice, by the repeal of laws, and by promoting a larger liberty.

State socialism then, by seeking to extend the power of the state, would turn back the current of human progress, and re-enact the despotisms of the past. All this it would do in a mistaken pursuit of a reign of universal justice.

Flint, Robert. 1894. Socialism. Isbister and Co.: London.

[400] While Socialism…rightly dwells on the necessity and importance of justice in the institutions and conduct of society it fails to conceive aright of its nature. Its exaggerated conception of the claims of the State and its erroneous economic doctrines make it impossible for those who accept them not to entertain also the most perverted views of justice.

[401] All thorough Socialists who think with any degree of clearness, must be aware that what they mean by justice is what other people mean by theft.

[403] Mr. Bax’s ‘bourgeois’ is one of his favourite ‘abstractions,but as mythical as ‘the man in the moon.What he calls ‘the bourgeois idea of justiceis one too crude and absurd to have been ever entertained by any minority however small. If he had known of even one ‘bourgeois apologist’ who admitted ‘that the present possessors of land and capital hold possession of them simply by right of superior force,he would doubtless have been ready enough to give us his name. His ‘bourgeois,’ ‘bourgeois idea of justice,and ‘bourgeois apologist’ are, in short, mere fictions of his own invention.

[415] The right to labour as understood by Socialists finds no support in the idea or sense of justice. The claim to be unhindered in the search for labour and in the exercise of one's powers of labour for one's own advantage is manifestly just. The claim to be provided with labour by the labour and at the expense of others is of an entirely different character, and manifestly unjust.

[457] Socialism has helped to emphasise and diffuse the truth that the entire economic life of society should be conformed to justice. If we ask its adherents what they mean by justice, we will generally find that it is what other men would consider injustice.

Bullock, Charles Jesse. 1897. Introduction to the Study of Economics. Silver, Burdette and Company: New York.

[464-465] The main argument in favor of socialism has always been that it would secure a more just distribution of wealth than can possibly be brought about by competition. Socialists have no difficulty in showing that present methods fall far short of securing satisfactory results in many cases. But they have not always agreed as to what constitutes justice in distribution. At present, however, socialists are inclined to hold that equality of income would secure at least approximate justice. Without discussing the principles of distribution according to merit, which were advanced by earlier socialists, it is sufficient to say that equality of income would be the only practicable plan in a socialistic regime. The difficulties of having public authorities decide whose merit or whose need is greatest, to say nothing of the difficulty of inducing the majority of the people to assent to such decisions, is a fatal weakness in any plan except that of equality in distribution.

Scotsburn. 1898. What is Socialism? Isbister and Co.: London.

[98-100] Socialists are pressing their system on the world on the plea that the civilisation they are going to put in the place of that which they intend to destroy is founded on justice (‘the justice not of civilisation, but of Socialism’); and they are endeavouring to obtain recruits, and are appealing to those they would convert, by trying to prove this. …We ask, therefore: ‘What is this justice?They reply, ‘The justice of confiscation.Justice is ‘thenceforth identified with confiscation.

We deny that the Socialists ideas and intentions embody justice, that there is any justice or any resemblance to justice, or the fundamental essentials of justice, in any part of their plans. The assertion that ‘confiscation is right and justicebrings us no nearer to the point. It only tells us that Socialists will resort to confiscation whenever the Socialist State sees fit.

Socialists talk a good deal about justice. They say it is ‘awfuland ‘implacable,and so on, but they give us nothing which can be taken as a standard to regulate, or judge, ideas by. …. But as the justice they refuse is that which is accepted by the whole civilised world, the onus that it is inadequate lies upon them. Allegations are not sufficient; the onus lies upon them of propounding a definition of justice which the world can accept, of stating exactly what it is. Seeing they have talked so much about it, and staked their all upon it, it is strange they have not attempted to do so. Instead, however, of this, they utter denunciations and show us how they have arrived at their conclusions about confiscation and kindred matters in a series of astounding leaps, and then exclaim, ‘This is justice.

Thus: You are robbers. You have robbed us. We mean to take all you have away from you. You must admit you hold your possessions by force, therefore you must admit it is right for us to take them from you by force. This is justice, awful, implacable justice.


Jordan, David Starr. 1899. The True Basis of Economics. Doubleday and McClure Co.: New York.

[81] Nor is experiment needed to determine what is justice, for justice is an eternal and unalterable principle of action, the law of which is as well established as the law of gravitation. Justice is simply ‘the equality of all men before the law.’ But not equality before all sorts of law; not equality before unequal law; not equality before untruthful law; not equality before bench law; not equality before military law; not equality before United States law—in fine, not equality before any human made law whatever. But justice is the equality of all men before natural law, which is alone just and equal and the only law which, when free to all men, as it should be, provides a certain guarantee that life, liberty and happiness are within the reach of all men.

[81] Justice, therefore, simply gives to all men equal title to the benefits of ‘ascertained sequences,’ or natural law. It is injustice which denies these benefits to any, and such denial is continually ordained by human legislation and carried out by force.

[82] Justice entitles no man to the exclusive use of any benefits due to natural laws, and neither governments nor constitutions can confer on some exclusive title to natural benefits which belong equally to others. … Moreover, justice does not ‘depend on governmental forms, nor is it attained slowly by their aid.’ Government in any form or by any means is incapable of creating justice or even of securing its attainment, for the relation of ‘all mento natural law is personal and sacred, and is determined, not by governmental forces, but by the man himself.

[82-83] Justice as thus defined is the foundation of individual freedom, and it is the only safe guide of human conduct. It applies to ‘all men,both in the individual and collective sense. It is the cardinal principle of democratic government, and the only reasonable hope for peace and good will among individuals and nations. … Human legislation cannot even foster justice. It can only interfere with it; for whenever governments attempt empirically to correct or exterminate personal misdoings the freedom of justice is destroyed and the evil is increased.

Smart, William. 1899. The Distribution of Income. Macmillan and Co.: London.

[330-331] There is, however, one modification — to use a private colourless term—that must be made in this claim of rough justice. It is such justice as we can have under a system of private property and free transfer of property. The payment by service which we have accepted as more or less a translation of ‘payment by deserts,’ is a payment for the services of factors of production. … If it be objected in limine that no justice is possible under private property and free transfer of property, then, of course, there is no more to be said; although we might, with some propriety, ask to see how justice is to be secured in a Socialist community, and refuse the ordinary answer that it is time enough to think out details when such a society becomes possible. For the justice, if there is any, must be determined by these details. But perhaps we, in turn, might ask what is to be understood as a ‘justdistribution.

William Howard Taft (1857 – 1930) was the 27th President of the United States (1909–1913) and later the tenth Chief Justice of the United States (1921–1930). He is the only person to have served in both of these offices.

William Howard Taft (1857 – 1930) was the 27th President of the United States (1909–1913) and later the tenth Chief Justice of the United States (1921–1930). He is the only person to have served in both of these offices.

Taft, William Howard. 1908. Popular Government. Yale University Press: New Haven.

[230-231] The social reformers contend that the old legal justice consisted chiefly in securing to each individual his rights in property or contracts, but that the new social justice must consider how it can secure for each individual a standard of living and such a share in the values of civilization as shall make possible a full moral life. They say that legal justice is the removal of all those restrictions on the free action of an individual which are not necessary for securing the like freedom on the part of his neighbors, while social justice is the satisfaction of every one's wants so far as they are not outweighed by others’ wants. The change advocated by the social reformers is really that the object of law should be social interests and not individual interests. They unjustly assume that individual rights are held inviolate only in the interest of the individual to whom such rights are selfishly important and not because their preservation benefits the community. On the contrary, personal liberty, including the right of property, is insisted upon because it conduces to the expansion of material resources which are plainly essential to the interests of society and its progress. We must continue to maintain it whether our aim is individualistic or social.

Stone, Harlan Fiske. 1915. Law and Its Administration. Columbia University Press: New York.

[40] The prevailing social unrest, the impatient desire for speedy, not to say hasty, recognition of scarcely yet formulated theories of social welfare, have found expression in criticism of our whole system of law administration. This public discussion of law and lawyers has resulted in the coining of a new phrase, to which some reference should be made in any discussion of law and justice. The phrase is ‘social justice.’

It has been used in varying senses, perhaps more often as indicating a political theory of social welfare than any other. When thus used as a political war cry, or as the expression of political aspiration, we need have no quarrel with it. Indeed, we are not directly concerned with it in the discussion of law and its administration. But when it is referred to, as it often is, as a principle of judicial decision, we are concerned in ascertaining both its meaning and its application. I surmise that most of the advocates of ‘social justice’ would be puzzled if called upon to define with precision just what idea was intended to be expressed by the phrase.

James Laurence Laughlin (1850 – 1933) was an American economist who helped to found the Federal Reserve System.

James Laurence Laughlin (1850 – 1933) was an American economist who helped to found the Federal Reserve System.

Laughlin, James Laurence. 1915. “Business and Democracy,” The Atlantic Monthly 116(1): 89-98.

[90-91] In brief, industrial democracy assumes that wealth is unjustly distributed, and its avowed end is a new and different distribution. … Then those who seek high office, and wish to secure these votes, are cleverly bidding for followers under the standard of ‘social justice.’ They have spread their sails to catch that particular slant of wind to gain their desired end.

What does 'social justice' mean? Supposedly, it means the extension of justice not now obtainable by law to a field of economic rewards in which injustice is assumed. For instance, if wages in some sweated industries are very low, it would be ‘social justice’ to raise them. But, if wages should be equal among those of equal earning capacity, how can the wages of the less capable be made equal to those of the more highly capable? Certainly not by legislation. Such a position, however, is not inconsistent with the belief that intelligent legislation may often change environment so as better to equalize opportunity and choice of occupation. But we do not need a new phrase, ‘social justice,’ to cover justice to men for acts included under accepted codes. For instance, a disease-breeding sweatshop is a violation of municipal health regulations and to be dealt with accordingly. ‘Social justice’ is a convenient phrase to the politician, because it appeals to most men's sense of dissatisfaction with their material reward, and it is too vague to be concretely challenged.

Fay, Charles Norman. 1917. Labor in Politics or Class versus Country, fourth ed. The University Press: California.

[x] I am glad to believe that generosity rather than envy lies at the bottom of the American conception of Social Justice today as in the time of our fathers, who embodied the rights of private property and individual liberty in the constitutional guarantees handed down to us. This book is therefore frankly a defense of capital against the organized attack of labor.

[102-103] Not only are the great employers, financiers, and captains of industry entitled in all social justice to the minute reward they get from each of these they serve, but they equally deserve their reward from those they employ, to whom they offer, in competition with others, an opportunity to earn an honest livelihood. Whether we pretend with Karl Marx that employers steal from their laborers the surplus value created by them, or tell the truth, viz., that they collect from their customers the cost of service plus their own reward for rendering it, either way they cause each to serve the other, and are entitled to reward from every one of both elements in Society. It is the unchanging law of trade that as the groups served grow larger the reward from each member for service rendered grows smaller. Nevertheless in the aggregate it is huge, and it is justly deserved. Social Justice is done!

[103] In fine, I believe that entirely free and untrammeled operation of the law of supply and demand is the nearest human approximation to ‘Social Justice,’ as the colossal failure, here and abroad, one after the other, of recent bureaucratic attempts to fix fair wages, prices, distribution, and production of commodities has most abundantly shown. My profound conviction is that the less political meddling there is the greater social justice! We have become the most prosperous people on earth, from top to bottom of the social scale, by letting able men make large fortunes. We ought to keep our system going as it has been, until at least something that gives better results has been shown us.

Laughlin, James Laurence. 1917. Latter-day Problems, revised. Charles Scribners Sons: New York.

[332] To some minds industrial democracy is fitted to bring us ‘social justice.’ In the fierce industrial competition of the day what is ‘social justice’? … When one producer of small equipment is fighting against a large producer who can produce more cheaply, is it justice to the consumer to handicap the large producer so that a higher price will allow the small producer to stay in the market? Or has any man—even the small producer—a droit au commerce? He has, of course, a right equal to that of any other to enter trade; but it is never true that men have equal success in trade. What is social justice here? Is it the attempt to equalize human capacities by handicapping the superior? There is no need of arguing about such a proposal.

Mencken, Henry Louis. 1920. Prejudices, second series. Alfred A. Knopf: New York.

[124] I have before me a speech in which [Theodore Roosevelt] pleaded for ‘a spirit of kindly justice toward every man and woman,’ but that seems to be as far as he ever got in that in that direction—and it was the gratuitous justice of the absolute monarch that he apparently had in mind, not the autonomous and inalienable justice of a free society.

Collingwood, R. G. 1926. “Economics as a Philosophical Science.” International Journal of Ethics 36(2): 162-185.

[174] It is, therefore, impossible for prices to be fixed by any reference to the idea of justice or any other moral conception. A just price, a just wage, a just rate of interest, is a contradiction in terms.

Herrick, Francis H. 1944. “British Liberalism and the Idea of Social Justice,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology 4(1): 67-79.

[75-76] The idea of social justice insinuated itself into the minds of the new Liberals. It grew stronger and clearer as the nineteenth century drew to a close. The exceptions and qualifications of the old philosophy…became the precedents for a new philosophy. The idea of individual freedom metamorphosed into the idea of social justice, which emerged as the guiding principle of twentieth century Liberalism.

Social Justice meant social legislation, and social legislation meant not only recognition of the existence of class distinction, but class discrimination.

Hayek, F. A. 1973. Law, Legislation, and Liberty Volume II. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago.

[135] Though in the long perspective of Western civilization the history of law is a history of a gradual emergence of rules of just conduct capable of universal application, its development during the last hundred years has become increasingly one of destruction of justice by ‘social justice,’ until even some students of jurisprudence have lost sight of the original meaning of ‘justice.’

Hayek, F. A. 1978. New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas. University of Chicago Press: Chicago.

[57] …I have come to regard ‘social justice’ as nothing more than an empty formula, conventionally used to assert that a particular claim is justifies without giving any reason.

[58] The term ‘social justice’ is today generally used as a synonym of what used to be called ‘distributive justice. … Justice has meaning only as a rule of human conduct, and no conceivable rules for the conduct of individuals supplying each other with goods and services in a market economy would produce a distribution which could be meaningfully described as just or unjust.

[58] The complete emptiness of the phrase ‘social justice’ shows itself in the fact that no agreement exists about what social justice requires in particular instances; also there is no known test by which to decide who is right if people differ, and that no preconceived scheme of distribution could be effectively devised in a society whose individuals are free, in the sense of being allowed to use their own knowledge for their own purposes.

4L is authored by Daniel B. Klein, Professor of Economics, JIN Chair at the Mercatus Center, George Mason University, Associate Fellow of the Ratio Institute; email: dklein@gmu.edu

Quotations compiled by Ryan Daza & Daniel B. Klein