Herbert Spencer, the Radical

Thomas Dixon

in The Invention of Altruism

Published by British Academy

Published in print May 2008 | ISBN: 9780197264263
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734816 | DOI:

Series: British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Monographs

Herbert Spencer, the Radical

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Aside from Darwin, the writer most commonly associated with evolution in Victorian Britain, and the country’s most famous living philosopher, was the individualistic Herbert Spencer. Spencer certainly seems an unlikely altruist, but it was the influence of his writings, including his Data of Ethics (1879), that did most to guarantee the wider dissemination of the language of altruism from the 1870s onwards. This chapter explains what altruism meant to Spencer; how he used it in his attacks on the brutality and hypocrisy of British imperialism; how it led many readers, to his great frustration, to identify him as a disciple of Comte; and how he finally dropped the term as it came to be associated with socialism. Spencer’s combination of altruism abroad and egoism at home made sense as two sides of his resistance to political and ideological movements which he thought represented the ‘New Toryism’.

Keywords: Herbert Spencer; New Toryism; socialism; Data of Ethics; altruism; British imperialism

Chapter.  16987 words.  Illustrated.

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