A Birthday Message for America

by Herbert Spencer  

The great political superstition of the past was the divine right of kings. The great political superstition of the present is the divine right of parliaments. The oil of anointing seems unawares to have dripped from the head of the one on to the heads of the many, and given sacredness to them also and to their decrees. 


When that ‘divinity’ which ‘doth hedge a king’, and which has left a glamour around the body inheriting his power, has quite died away – when it begins to be seen clearly that, in a popularly governed nation, the government is simply a committee of management; it will also be seen that this committee of management has no intrinsic authority.

The inevitable conclusion will be that its authority is given by those appointing it; and has just such bounds as they choose to impose. Along with this will go the further conclusion that the laws it passes are not in themselves sacred; but that whatever sacredness they have, it is entirely due to the ethical sanction – an ethical sanction which, as we find, is derivable from the laws of human life as carried on under social conditions.  

And there will come the corollary that when they have not this ethical sanction they have no sacredness, and may rightly be challenged. The function of Liberalism in the past was that of putting a limit to the powers of kings. The function of true Liberalism in the future will be that of putting a limit to the powers of Parliaments.

From: “The Great Political Superstition (1884).

3 thoughts on “A Birthday Message for America

  1. In the 1880s, Herbert Spencer visited the United States on a lecture tour. He was already widely known and respected in America.

    In an interview that he gave while in the United States, Spencer said:

    “The fact is that free institutions can be properly worked only by men, each of whom is jealous of his own rights, and also sympathetically jealous of the rights of others—who will neither himself aggress on his neighbors in small things or great, nor tolerate aggression on them by others.

    “The Republican form of government is the highest form of government; but because of this it requires the highest type of human nature—a type nowhere at present existing. We [the British] have not grown up to it; nor have you [the Americans].”

    Something to reflect on also, on this Fourth of July.

    Richard Ebeling

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