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Quotations about Liberty and Power

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It is hard to believe that Dicey was already complaining about the rise of high taxing and high spending “collectivists” in 1905 when these lectures were first published. He laments the passing of the “individualist radicals of 1830” and the laissez-faire anti-imperialism of Richard Cobden, and the coming to power of the “Benthamites”. One of the key points he makes in this passage is the abandonment of the early 19th century link made between a policy of peace in external affairs and the policy of reducing the size and cost of government (“retrenchment”) domestically. Dicey also reminds his readers that every rise in taxation is a diminution in every individual’s rights to property and liberty.

Other quotes about War & Peace:

25 September, 2006

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A.V. Dicey noted that a key change in public thinking during the 19thC was the move away from the early close association between “peace and retrenchment” in the size of the government (1905)

Read the full quote in context here.

In the 12th lecture on the "Relation between Legislative Opinion and General Public Opinion" the great English constitutional jurist A.V. Dicey summarizes his conclusions concerning the movement away from "individualism" towards "collectivism" in the late 19th century:

One example of this change in political opinion is to be found in the altered attitude of the public towards peace and economy. During the era of Benthamism “peace and retrenchment” were the watchwords of all serious statesmen. This formula has now fallen out of remembrance. The point to be noted is that this fact is significant of a very profound revolution in political belief. The demand for peace abroad and economy at home stood in very close connection with the passion for individual freedom of action which was a leading characteristic of Benthamite liberalism. Peace ought to mean light, and war certainly does mean heavy taxation, but heavy taxation whether justifiable, as it often is, or not, always must be a curtailment of each citizen’s power to employ his property in the way he himself chooses.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

Politics are not the same thing as law, but in modern England any revolution in political ideas is certain to correspond with alterations in legislative opinion. If then we take care not to confound the accidental division of parties with essential differences of political faith, we discover a change in the world of politics which closely resembles, if it be not rather a part of, the transition, with which these lectures have been occupied, from individualism to collectivism. One example of this change in political opinion is to be found in the altered attitude of the public towards peace and economy. During the era of Benthamism “peace and retrenchment” were the watchwords of all serious statesmen. This formula has now fallen out of remembrance. The point to be noted is that this fact is significant of a very profound revolution in political belief. The demand for peace abroad and economy at home stood in very close connection with the passion for individual freedom of action which was a leading characteristic of Benthamite liberalism. Peace ought to mean light, and war certainly does mean heavy taxation, but heavy taxation whether justifiable, as it often is, or not, always must be a curtailment of each citizen’s power to employ his property in the way he himself chooses. It is an interference, though in many cases a quite justifiable interference, with his liberty. The augmentation, moreover, of the public revenue by means of taxation is not only a diminution of each taxpayer’s private income and of his power within a certain sphere to do as he likes, but also an increase in the resources and the power of the State; but to curtail the free action of individuals, and to increase the authority of the Government, was to pursue a policy opposed to the doctrine, and still more to the sentiment of Benthamite Liberals. Indifference to the mere lightening of taxation, as an end absolutely desirable in itself, is assuredly characteristic of a state of opinion under which men expect far more benefit for the mass of the people from the extension of the power of the State than from the energy of individual action. No doubt collectivists may hold that the proceeds of heavy taxes are wasted or are spent on the effort to attain objects in themselves undesirable; but the mere transference of the wealth of individuals to the coffers of the State cannot appear to a collectivist, as it did to the individualistic Radicals of 1830, to be in itself a gigantic evil. We may put side by side with the decline of the economic radicalism represented in the last generation by Joseph Hume, both the growth of imperialism, and the discredit which has fallen upon the colonial policy of laissez faire connected with the name of Cobden. For imperialism, whatever its merits and demerits, bears witness to a new-born sense among Englishmen of their membership in a great imperial State. From whichever side the matter be looked at, the changes of political show a close correspondence with the alterations of legislative opinion.

[More works by Albert Venn Dicey (1835 – 1922)]