[Spencer's "On Manners and Fashion" originally appeared in the April 1854 Westminster Review. This text has comes from the Project Gutenberg online version of the Everyman edition — George P. Landow]

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he "party of order" repeat their charge against the rebel, that he is sacrificing the feelings of others to the gratification of his own wilfulness, he replies once for all that they cheat themselves by misstatements. He accuses them of being so despotic, that, not content with being masters over their own ways and habits, they would be masters over his also; and grumble because he will not let them. He merely asks the same freedom which they exercise; they, however, propose to regulate his course as well as their own—to cut and clip his mode of life into agreement with their approved pattern; and then charge him with wilfulness and selfishness, because he does not quietly submit! He warns them that he shall resist, nevertheless; and that he shall do so, not only for the assertion of his own independence, but for their good. He tells them that they are slaves, and know it not; that they are shackled, and kiss their chains; that they have lived all their days in prison, and complain at the walls being broken down. He says he must persevere, however, with a view to his own release; and in spite of their present expostulations, he prophesies that when they have recovered from the fright which the prospect of freedom produces, they will thank him for aiding in their emancipation.

Unamiable as seems this find-fault mood, offensive as is this defiant attitude, we must beware of overlooking the truths enunciated, in dislike of the advocacy. It is an unfortunate hindrance to all innovation, that in virtue of their very function, the innovators stand in a position of antagonism; and the disagreeable manners, and sayings, and doings, which this antagonism generates, are commonly associated with the doctrines promulgated. Quite forgetting that whether the thing attacked be good or bad, the combative spirit is necessarily repulsive; and quite forgetting that the toleration of abuses seems amiable merely from its passivity; the mass of men contract a bias against advanced views, and in favour of stationary ones, from intercourse with their respective adherents. "Conservatism," as Emerson says, "is debonnair and social; reform is individual and imperious." And this remains true, however vicious the system conserved, however righteous the reform to be effected. Nay, the indignation of the purists is usually extreme in proportion as the evils to be got rid of are great. The more urgent the required change, the more intemperate is the vehemence of its promoters. Let no one, then, confound with the principles of this social nonconformity the acerbity and the disagreeable self-assertion of those who first display it. [Emphasis added]

Related Materials


Spencer, Herbert. "On Manners and Fashion." Essays on Education and Kindred Subjects. London: Dent/Everyman, 1966.

Last modified 17 November 2019