Thomas Hodgskin

British writer (1787-1869)

Thomas Hodgskin (12 December 1787 – 21 August 1869) was an English socialist writer on political economy, critic of capitalism and defender of free trade and early trade unions. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the term socialist included any opponent of capitalism, at the time defined as a construed political system built on privileges for the owners of capital.

Quotes edit

  • The British government has hitherto been always so much occupied in devising means to secure its power, that it has been able to pay but little attention to the instruction of the people; nor do we wish that it should. The education of a free people, like their property, will always be directed most beneficially for them when it is in their own hands; when government interferes, it directs its efforts more to make men obedient and docile than wise and happy. It desires to control the thoughts and to fashion even the minds of its subjects…
    • “Institutions for Instruction of Mechanics,” Mechanics' Magazine, (11 October 1823) p. 100
  • Men had better be without education… than be educated by their rulers; for then education is but the mere breaking in of the steer to the yoke; the mere discipline of the hunting dog, which, by dint of severity, is made to forego the strongest impulse of his nature, and instead of devouring his prey, to hasten with it to the feet of his master.
    • “Institutions for Instruction of Mechanics,” Mechanics' Magazine, (11 October 1823) p. 100

Travels in the North of Germany (1820) edit

London, Hurst, Robinson, and Co. Cheapside 1820

  • [T]he real business of men, what promotes their prosperity, is always better done by themselves than by any few separate and distinct individuals, acting as a government in the name of the whole.
    • p. 292, Vol. 1
  • The evil of confinement is not to be remedied by outrage, but it is so great an evil, that it looks like tameness of apathy to be perfectly resigned to it.
    • p. 165, Vol. 1
  • The evils of society cannot be remedied by acts of parliament.
    • p. 98, Vol. 2
  • The simple means of making the race frugal is to supply the wants of no man and to leave every man the produce of his own labour.
    • p. 86, Vol. 2

Labour Defended against the Claims of Capital (1825) edit

London, The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., 1825 1922 [1]

  • It would be better for men to be deprived of education than to receive their education from their masters; for education, in that sense, is no better than the training of cattle that are broken to the yoke… The workers of London must proceed, like those of Glasgow, and found the new institution at their own expense.
    • p. 10 (introduction)
  • The labourers are still more unfortunate in being descended from bondsmen and serfs. Personal slavery or villanage formerly existed in Britain, and all the living labourers still suffer from the bondage of their ancestors.
    • p. 22
  • The skill and the art of the labourer have been overlooked, and he has been vilified; while the work of his hands has been worshiped.
    • p. 66
  • But it is quite plain that the sum the weaver will be disposed to give for the thread will depend on his view of its utility.
    • p. 84
  • The journeymen, however, know their own interest better than it is known to the legislator; and they would be all richer if there were not an idle capitalist in the country.
    • p. 93
  • In the system of nature, mouths are united with hands and with intelligence; they and not capital are the agents of production; and … however it may have been thwarted by the pretended wisdom of law makers, wherever there is a man there also are the means of creating or producing him subsistence… it must be plain that all those numerous advantages, those benefits to civilisation, those vast improvements in the condition of the human race, which have been in general attributed to capital, are caused in fact by labour, and by knowledge and skill informing and directing labour. Should it be said, then, as perhaps it may, that unless there be profit, and unless there be interest, there will be no motives for accumulation and improvement, I answer that this is a false view, and arises from attributing to capital and saving those effects which result from labour; and that the best means of securing the progressive improvement, both of individuals and of nations, is to do justice, and allow labour to possess and enjoy the whole of its produce.
    • pp. 108-109

Popular Political Economy: Four lectures delivered at the London Mechanics Institution (1827) edit

London, Charles Tait, 1827 [2]

  • The natural science of wealth relates only to man, and knows nothing of the distinctions between nobles and peasants, kings and slaves, legislators and subjects; and if we are led to conclude at every step of our investigations, that the fundamental principles of political society as well as the administrative acts of most governments are hostile to the principles of this science, must we wilfully suppress our conclusions,—must we turn aside from the light of truth, that the wisdom of our ancestors, or the peculiar wisdom of the few hundred beings in whose hands the different governments of the world are lodged, may remain for ever the only objects of human adoration?
    • p. ix
  • America, consisting of grubbers and back-woodsmen, with a scorn of all regulations except those the people hewed out for themselves,—with a complete individual liberty, and few or none of the shackles of a paternal or politico-economical government, became the mighty people of the United States, increasing still more in prosperity and power as they got rid of the protection of a European government,…
    • p. 24
  • Now we know from all history, that unjust appropriation, that every long-continued attempt in one class of men to escape from the necessity of labour imposed on our race, that every infringment of a man's right to use, consume, and enjoy his own produce, has ever been attended with disastrous consequences. It is a violation of a natural law which never passes unpunished.
    • p. 30
  • Domestic slavery, combined with systems of foreign conquest and usurpation, ruined the empires of antiquity.
    • p. 30
  • Slave-owners and rich men, among a crowd of slave-descended famishing labourers, lead probably a more anxious and toilsome life in protecting their property, and in enforcing obedience to their orders, than the slaves whose labour they extort.
    • p. 31
  • Governments have meddled incessantly with money, which in our time has been the fruitful parent of intricate discussions and painful changes.
    • p. 179
  • If the government, for example, should decree that an ox should be given for a sheep, and a sheep for a hat or a pair of stockings, its folly would be laughed at, its unjust interference would excite our indignation, and its decrees would be despised and disobeyed. The same would be the case with all other similar commodities; and what is there then in the nature of gold and silver which should release them from this general law,…
    • p. 191
  • [A]ll governments have frequently used this power to delude and defraud their subjects. They have either mixed the precious metals with baser materials, or they have divided them into smaller pieces, certifying at the same time by their public seals, or by the busts of their chiefs, that the coin remained of the same value.
    • p. 192
  • [G]overnments are not producers, they have no commodities on their road to the market, and can have no claim whatever to issue paper-money. Even exchequer bills are wrong,…
    • p. 212

The Natural and Artificial Right of Property Contrasted (1832) edit

London, B. Steil Paternoster Row, 1832 [3]

  • Wherever the right of property is placed on a proper foundation, slavery, with all its hateful consequences, is unknown:—wherever this foundation is rotten, freedom cannot exist, nor justice be administered.
    • p. 12
  • Our leaders invent nothing but new taxes, and conquer nothing but the pockets of their subjects.
    • p. 14
  • As the contests between individuals, between classes, and between subjects and their rulers, all relate to wealth, you may be sure, that no topic can in practise, be pregnant with more important results—The right of property, which is now arming the land-owner and the capitalist against the peasant and the artizan, will, in truth, be the one great subject of contention for this and the next generation; before which, it needs no prophetic vision to foretel, the squabbles of party politicians, and the ravings of intolerant fanatics will die away unnoticed and unheard.
    • p. 15
  • I look on a right of property—on the right of individuals, to have and to own, for their own separate and selfish use and enjoyment, the produce of their own industry, with power freely to dispose of the whole of that in the manner most agreeable to themselves, as essential to the welfare and even to the continued existence of society. If, therefore, I did not suppose, with Mr. Locke, that nature establishes such a right — if I were not prepared to shew that she not merely establishes, but also protects and preserves it, so far as never to suffer it to be violated with impunity—I should at once take refuge in Mr. Bentham’s impious theory, and admit that the legislator who established and preserved a right of property, deserved little less adoration than the Divinity himself. Believing, however, that nature establishes such a right, I can neither join those who vituperate it as the source of all our social misery, nor those who claim for the legislator the high honour of being ‘the author of the finest triumph of humanity over itself.’
    • p. 24
  • A savage, stronger than the labourer or more cunning, may undoubtedly take the fruit of his industry from him by force or fraud; but antecedently to the use of force or fraud, and antecedently to all legislation, nature bestows on every individual what his labour produces, just as she gives him his own body. She bestows the wish and the power to produce, she couples them with the expectation of enjoying that which is produced, and she confirms in the labourer’s possession, if no wrong be practised, as long as he wishes to possess, whatever he makes or produces. All these are natural circumstances — the existence of any other person than the labourer not being necessary to the full accomplishment of them. The enjoyment is secured by the individual’s own means. No contract, no legislation, is required. Whatever is made by human industry, is naturally appropriated as made, and belongs to the maker.
    • p. 27
  • Mr. Locke says, that every man has a property in his own person; in fact, individuality—which is signified by the word own—cannot be disjoined from the person. Each individual learns his own shape and form, and even the existence of his limbs and body, from seeing and feeling them. These constitute his notion of personal identity, both for himself and others; and it is impossible to conceive — it is in fact a contradiction to say — that a man’s limbs and body do not belong to himself: for the words him, self, and his body, signify the same material thing.
    • p. 28
  • As we learn the existence of our own bodies from seeing and feeling them, and as we see and feel the bodies of others, we have precisely similar grounds for believing in the individuality or identity of other persons, as for believing in our own identity. The ideas expressed by the words mine and thine, as applied to the produce of labour, are simply then an extended form of the ideas of personal identity and individuality.
    • p. 28
  • Thus, the natural idea of property is a mere extension of that of individuality; and it embraces all the mental as well as all the physical consequences of muscular exertion. As nature gives to labour whatever it produces—as we extend the idea of personal individuality to what is produced by every individual—not merely is a right of property established by nature, we see also that she takes means to make known the existence of that right. It is as impossible for men not to have a notion of a right of property, as it is for them to want the idea of personal identity. When either is totally absent man is insane.
    • pp. 29-30
  • The power of making laws was long vested in those—and still is vested in their descendants—who followed no trade but war, and knew no handicraft but robbery and plunder.
    • p. 32
  • What is the law?—Who are the law makers?— The law is a great scheme of rules intended to preserve the power of government, secure the wealth of the landowner, the priest, and the capitalist, but never to secure his produce to the labourer.—The law-maker is never a labourer, and has no natural right to any wealth.—He takes no notice of the natural right of property.—Manifold miseries which result from his appropriating the produce of labour, and from the legal right of property being in opposition to the natural.
    • p. 44
  • The law, as to preserve life is that of individuals, is a set of rules and practices … intended to appropriate to the law-makers the produce of those who cultivate the soil, prepare clothing, or distribute what is produced among the different classes, and among different communities.
    • p. 46
  • It is a not less important question, who is the law-maker, who made, who makes, who enforces obedience to these rules and practices? Can he show a title bestowed upon him by nature, derived from the laws of his organization, and the constitution of the universe, to have and to own, and to appropriate all the wealth that is created? Now it is an important fact, but it is so obvious that one is sneered at for drawing a deduction from it, that the law has always been, and is at present made, by men who are not labourers. It is actually made by those who derive from nature no title whatever to any wealth. But as law in fact is only a general name for the will of the law-maker, being, the expression of his desire to have wealth, and retain power and dominion, it is clear that in making laws for the appropriation of property, he will not, consistently with nature, give to every one what he produces. This object always has been, and now is, so to dispose of the annual produce as will best tend to preserve his power. Nature rewards industry and skill, the legislator be he who he may, is utterly regardless of the connection between industry and plenty.
    • p. 47
  • The first and chief violation of the right of property, which pervades and disturbs all the natural relations of ownership, confusing, and perplexing the ideas of all men as to the source of the right of property, and what is their own, of which so many actions stigmatized by the law as crimes, are the necessary consequences, and the natural corrections,— the parent theft from which flow all other thefts, is that of the legislator, who, not being a labourer, can make no disposition of any property whatever, without appropriating what does not naturally belong to him.
    • p. 48
  • Those who make laws, appropriate wealth in order to secure power.
    • p. 49
  • One of the first objects then of the law, subordinate to the great principle of preserving its unconstrained dominion over our minds and bodies, is to bestow a sufficient revenue on the government. Who can enumerate the statutes imposing and exacting taxes? Who can describe the disgusting servility with which all classes submit to be fleeced by the demands of the tax-gatherer, on all sorts of false pretences, when his demands cannot be fraudulently evaded? Who is acquainted with all the restrictions placed on honest and praiseworthy enterprise; the penalties inflicted on upright and honourable exertions;—what pen is equal to the task of accurately describing all the vexations, and the continual misery, heaped on all the industrious classes of the community, under the pretext that it is necessary to raise a revenue for the government?
    • p. 49
  • Nature may annihilate, but she never tortures…. Not so the legislator. He has inflicted on mankind for ages the miseries of revenue laws,—greater than those of pestilence and famine, and sometimes producing both these calamities, without our learning the lesson which nature seems to have intended to teach, viz. the means of avoiding this perpetual calamity. Revenue laws meet us at every turn. They embitter our meals, and disturb our sleep. They excite dishonesty, and check enterprise. They impede division of labour, and create division of interest. They sow strife and enmity amongst townsmen and brethren….
    • p. 50
  • Among the legislative classes embodied into, and constituting the government, we must place the landed aristocracy. In fact, the landed aristocracy and the government are one—the latter being nothing more than the organized means of preserving the power and privileges of the former.
    • p. 51
  • The natural right of property far from being protected, is systematically violated, and both government and law seem to exist chiefly or solely, in order to protect and organize the most efficacious means of protecting the violation….
    • p. 53
  • The persons who thus appropriated the soil of Europe, did so by a right of conquest. They did not lay down the sword the instant they had overrun the land, they kept it drawn in their hand, and engraved with it laws for the conquered. The countries they overran had been previously cultivated by slaves in a rude manner. In appropriating the soil, they appropriated its inhabitants, reduced some to slavery, and continued the slavery of others. Power so acquired, and privileges so established, were the basis of the present political and legal, not social, edifice of Europe. These conquerors were the first legislators. By an almost uninterrupted succession, the power of legislation has continued in the hands of their descendants to the present day.
    • p. 73
  • [I]t is nevertheless proper to make men aware that the price they pay for attempting to uphold the artificial right of property, is nothing less than the enormous sum of misery inflicted in the name of law and government.
    • p. 157

Quotes about Hodgskin edit

  • Hodgkin’s many articles for The Economist made it one of the most interesting and provocative libertarian periodicals of its time. In addition to supporting laissez-faire, voluntary education, and other (classical) liberal causes, Hodgskin also opposed capital punishment and questioned the traditional wisdom about the efficacy of punishment as a deterrent to crime.
  • Hodgskin, very simply, was a natural-law individualist who thought government should grant no privileges to anyone, particularly capitalists, landowners, and clergy, who in his time were the chief beneficiaries of state appropriation and other interference with peaceful market activity. He embraced the ‘natural right of property’ and opposed the ‘artificial right of property,’ which he attributed to the utilitarians’ belief that legislation, not natural law, was the source rights. In other words, land and other objects acquired through original appropriation and honest, voluntary means were legitimate property. All forced and fraudulent means of acquisition yielded illegitimate, artificial property that could only be sustained by government power. He called for the abolition of all forms of the artificial right of property and full flowering of the natural right.

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