If the Classical economists' attitudes towards state intervention into the economy are to be rightly understood, we must delve beneath the surface of their various stands on such salient issues of their time as the poor laws and the factory acts to the more fundamental level of their metaphysical and moral presuppositions. In a seminal work published in 1953, Lionel Robbins attempted such an analysis. Dispensing with such traditionalist views as that of Jacob Viner who perceived Adam Smith (at least) as an adherent of a natural law-natural rights philosophy, Robbins contended that the Classical school took its criterion for economic policy from the utility principle as adumbrated by David Hume. Thus, Robbins draws a rather sharp distinction between two traditions within eighteenth and nineteenth century individualist thought. The first tradition, as personified in such figures as Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) and Mercier de la Rivière, founded a system of economic freedom upon natural law or natural rights underpinnings which spontaneously generated a milieu in which state intervention would be not only unnecessary but deleterious. The second individualist tradition, the English Classical school, subscribed to a Utilitarian moral foundation, rejecting all metaphysical ascriptions of natural rights as, in Bentham's pungent phrase, "nonsense upon stilts." For the English economists, who followed this second tradition, the state, consequently, had a more positive function. They refused to lay down any categorical injunction against state intervention, relying instead upon the principle of utility—the greatest happiness of the greatest number—to test the consequences of each particular proposal for state activism.
Most assuredly, Bentham in his philosophical, economic, and political writings incessantly urged state activism, but to characterize Bentham himself as a collectivist would be a gross oversimplification. Cohabiting in unholy alliance with his centralizing, social happiness maximizing tendencies was a core of individualism, of insistence that each person must count for one in the social calculus, that governmental remedies require a special justification, and that one must guard one's liberty against an overweaning and often corrupt state. Whatever tendency Bentham had towards invoking governmental solutions was held at bay by these individualistic precepts and by his admiration for Smithian economics.
What is important to note is the sharp reorientation that a frank nineteenth-century history introduces. Most pundits and scholars who comment on the worrisome immigration situation assume that the nation has had preformed, fixed boundaries into which poured immigrants who eventually melted into an American stock. There is no examination of the nationbuilding experience itself, a national experience that involved Indian wars, plantation slavery, wars with Mexico and Spain, and expansion to California and eventually to Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines. Such failures of historical memory are critical, for only in this way can one ignore the manner in which nation building and conquests of "people of color"—reds, blacks, browns, and yellows—have fused race consciousness ("whiteness") and national identity ("Americanness") and profoundly shaped national politics.
Harris, A Handlist of Nineteenth-Century London Art Societies and Their Predecessors (139–62)
Nancy Fix Anderson, Threading Lives: Work, Art, and Pleasure in the Worlds of Nineteenth-Century Women (163–69)
Immigration, of course, was and is a basic element of the American experience, but twentieth-century immigrants stepped into a world shaped by a past. The massive waves of European and Mexican immigrants of this century assimilated the cultural lore and political lessons of the nineteenth century, even as they put in place a contemporary modern economy. Assimilation occurred, but along ethnic-racial lines. Thus, for most of the twentieth-century Southwest, "American" generally meant "white," an identity that melted various European groups (German, Irish, Polish, Italian, Jewish) into one, while "Mexican" likewise referred to race and not to citizenship.
Motivational considerations aside, the revisionists' interpretations of the "normative" side of Classical economics is essentially accurate. The conventional vision of the followers of Adam Smith as radical antistatists, shunning governmental incursions into private economic relationships on all fronts is, quite simply, indefensible. As in all reigning myths, there is, however, a solid kernel of truth. While the Classical economists tolerated, and indeed encouraged, repeated governmental interventions to cure perceived social and economic ills, noninterventionism remained, to a greater or lesser extent depending upon the quirks of each particular economist, the regnant principle, and any departures from it required elaborate justification. The general presumption, then, was on the side of laissez faire; exceptions arose on an ad hoc, case by case, usually empirical basis; and the burden of proof lay on the interventionists. Of course, over time this laissez-faire presumption was attenuated until, in the hands of men like John Stuart Mill, its dim shadow could barely be perceived.
Mill's published in 1848 became the leading text on economics for a generation, thereby salvaging Ricardian economics and introducing young economists to an increasingly (as new editions emerged) sympathetic examination of Continental socialist creeds. For anyone familiar with the debates of the 1820s over the scope and method of political economy, the must have appeared anomalous. Both Nassau Senior and J. S. Mill had drawn a seemingly impenetrable barrier between the pure science of economics and the "art" of policy prescriptions. Economists, they had argued, could not, as scientists, give advice to statesmen. Curiously, Mill's repaired to a Smithian conception of political economy in which the instructive powers of the discipline were, if not paramount, then of considerable importance. Apparently, Mill's motive for abandoning his "art-science" distinction was to present a political economy as encompassing as Smith's but bereft of his predecessor's natural law affinity and laissez-faire strictures.
The occupation is often compared to the Meiji Period (1868-1912), which was a time of rapid modernization. Both are seen as watersheds in Japanese history. U.S. forces entered Japan with grand visions of change. They sought to root out militarism. They also wanted to build democratic institutions and tutor the Japanese in the superiority of the American way of life. The occupation agenda was often naïve, heavy-handed, and condescending. Democratization was equated with Americanization. Japan was perceived (as MacArthur himself once put it) as a nation of 12-year-olds. Scholars have debated the extent of the change actually accomplished by the occupiers. Many have noted that SCAP’s fervor for reform cooled after only a couple years. They further note that many proposals for change were successfully resisted by Japanese authorities. Nevertheless, the occupation had a formative impact on postwar Japanese society, the conduct of political and economic life, and Japan’s place in the Cold War world.
But Mill's fleeting acknowledgment of noninterventionism was even further negated by his sympathetic evaluation of the socialists, St. Simon, Fourier, and Robert Owen. While Mill's views on the particular details of socialistic schemes underwent various modifications through the years, a persistent refrain can be heard throughout—that a property based free market system is transitory, and that in all likelihood human progress will result in some form of socialism. The seductive appeal for Mill of equality, fraternity, and communalism certainly held little charm for his predecessors. In fact, if men like Malthus, Ricardo, or Senior mentioned socialism at all, it was to cast aspersions upon it. In all fairness, one ought to add a caveat: Mill was never a rabid collectivist, perhaps because he was too much of an intellectual elitist and individualist to trust the sovereignty of the masses, and particularly the stifling conformity of public opinion.
Smith, "Garden Pests and the Inculcation of Virtue in Early Nineteenth Century England"
Urmi Bhowmik, Empire and the Industrial Novel: Imperial Commodities and Colonial Labor in North and South
Caroline Reitz, "How I Found England: The Detective Narratives of Burton and Stanley"
Erik Ringmar, "Thinking Men and Ideals Betrayed: Bentham, Coleridge and British Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China"
Tricia Cusack, "The “Brightons of Ireland”: The Creation of the Irish Seaside and the Anglo-Irish Civilizing Mission"
Leigh Dillard and Nancy West, "Miss Havisham on the Home Front: Literary Nationalism, Great Expectations, and Harper’s Weekly
Donna Harrington-Lueker, "'As Welcome and Grateful as the Girls in Muslin': Nineteenth-Century Periodicals and the Marketing of Summer Reading"
Constance Crompton, "Embodying the Solution to Degeneration: Eugen Sandow's Effortless Labour" Alex Goody, "Technological Women and Artificial Erotics in the Late Nineteenth Century"
Elizabeth Duquette, "Napoleon Effectts"
Jamison Kantor, "In-House Imperialism"
Robin Peel, "The Center Cannot Hold"
Maura Coughlin, "Van Gogh and Nature"
Two disciples of John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900) and J. E. Cairnes (1823-1875), completed in the 1870s and 1880s the Classical School's evolution toward constructing an impenetrable theoretical barrier between their economic science and laissez faire. In 1870, Cairnes delivered a revealing essay at University College, entitled "Political Economy and Laissez-Faire," in which he categorically denied that economics as a science had anything to do with laissez faire. Contending that the maxim had no scientific basis whatever, he dismissed laissez faire as a mere handy rule of practice, "useful, perhaps, as a reminder to statesmen on which side the presumption lies in questions of industrial legislation, but totally destitute of all scientific authority." Cairnes also leveled a frontal assault upon the Smithian notion of harmony of interests and the "invisible hand" process which led individuals in pursuit of their self-interest to act in ways that prove beneficial to society. Society did not spontaneously organize itself, thought Cairnes, to promote the social good. He maintained that, despite the steady progression of laissez faire in the preceding fifty years, substantial social amelioration had not occurred. Ejected from the pantheon of scientific principle, laissez faire was demoted to a feeble reminder to legislators to move circumspectly in pursuit of social improvement. In a similar vein, Sidgwick promulgated a principle to replace the disgraced laissez-faire "dogma":