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Jo Labadie and His Gift to Michigan

A Legacy for the Masses

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)




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The Water Board Incident

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Special Collections Library
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

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Both Jo Labadie and his mentor, Benjamin Tucker, avidly read the works of the greatest English philosopher of the late nineteenth century, Herbert Spencer.

In 1847 Spencer had abandoned railway engineering for his own ingenious if not very successful inventions and free-ranging essays published in the Westminster Review. His first book, Principles of Psychology (1855), suggested that mind developed from biological necessities. Commenced in 1860, Spencer's system of synthetic philosophy endeavored to find a universal principle that underlies all phenomena and encompasses all areas of human knowledge. From the formless mass of undifferentiated primal energy emerged galaxies in which the vital force became ever more specific and individual. The Darwinian theory of evolution harmonized with Spencer's cast of thought; he coined the phrases "struggle for existence" and "survival of the fittest" as keys to life on our planet. Spencer warned that the drift to centralization in human society endangered the individual who was both the measure and the means of progress.

Through his many essays Spencer exerted a tremendous influence. His materialistic views and conviction of inexorable forces working through universal laws appealed alike to pathfinders in science, proponents of laissez-faire economics, fighters for emancipation from convention, and radicals intent on future utopias.



"If men use their liberty in such a way as to surrender their liberty, are they therefore any the less slaves? If people by a plebiscite elect a man despot over them, do they remain free because the despotism was of their own making?"

Herbert Spencer