Later classical liberalism (early to mid-nineteenth century)
Jeremy Bentham, a philosopher developed a supposedly scientific alternative to natural rights theory, based on the idea that each individual would seek to maximise their own ‘utility’ by maximising personal pleasure and minimising personal pain.
Samuel Smiles feared that individualism was threatened by socialism. He argued that, in seeking to overcome new obstacles, individuals would be challenged more rigorously and in the process, become more fully developed. If ‘self-help were usurped by state help’, he argued, ‘human beings would remain stunted, their talents unknown, and their liberty squandered’
Herbet Spencer restated the classical liberal belief in a minimal state and negative freedom, claiming that this would lead to ‘the survivalof the fittest’ and the gradual elimination of those unable to enjoy the benefits of individualism. The eventual outcome would be a society where rational, self-reliance was the norm andwhere individual freedom could thrive.
John Stuart Mill was concerned that during the mid nineteenth century most would-be voters were ill equipped to choose ‘intelligent’ representatives to act ‘rationally’ on their behalf. With that in mind, Mill argued that universal suffragemust be preceded by universal education, hoping this would promote developmental individualism.
Meanwhile, a vote would be withheld from the illiterate and unschooled, while those with a university education (like Mill) would receive more than one vote. Once widespread education had been secured, Mill argued, democracy could actually further liberal values —promoting, for example, political education and opportunities for enlightening debate.