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THE LIBERAL BIAS

Liberals, on the other hand, reject these solutions, and desire not to end the present system but to mend it. The

grounds for this conclusion need to be clearly expressed, for after all it is the fundamental point of doctrine

which distinguishes them from the Labour party. In the first place, there is the fact that Liberals attach a

special importance to the liberty of the individual. The general relation of the individual to the State is rather

outside my subject, but we start from the fact that the bias of Liberals is towards liberty in every sphere, on

the ground that spiritual and intellectual progress is greatest where individuality is least restricted by authority

or convention. Variety, originality in thought and action, are the vital virtues for the Liberal. It is still true that "in this age the mere example of Nonconformity, the mere refusal to bow the knee to custom, is itself a

service." The Liberal who no longer feels at the bottom of his heart a sympathy with the rebel who chafes

against the institutions of society, whether religious, political, social or economic, is well on the road to the

other camp. But the dynamic force of Liberty, that great motive power of progress, though a good servant,

may be a bad master; and the perennial problem of society is to harmonise its aims with those of the common

good.

When we come to the more specific problem of industry, which is our immediate concern, a glance at history

shows that the era of most rapid economic progress the world has ever seen has been the era of the greatest

freedom of the individual from statutory control in economic affairs. The features of the last hundred years

have been the rapidity of development in industrial technique, and constant change in the form of industrial

organisation and in the direction of the world's trade. Could any one suppose that in these respects industry,

under the complete control of the State or of corporations representing large groups of wage earners and

persons engaged in trade, could have produced a sufficiently elastic system to have permitted that progress to

be made? In reply to this it may be said that though this was true during the industrial revolution, it does not

apply to−day; that our industries have become organised; that methods of production, population, and

economic conditions generally are stabilised, and that we can now settle down to a new and standard form of

industrial organisation. But this agreement is based on false premises. The industrial revolution is far from

complete. We are to−day in the full flood of it. Look at the changes in the last four decades−−the evolution of

electricity, the development of motor transport, or the discoveries in the chemical and metallurgical industries.

Consider what lies ahead; the conquest of the air, the possible evolution of new sources of power, and a

hundred other phases which are opening up in man's conquest of nature, and you will agree that we are still at

the threshold of industrial revolution.

I may mention here a consideration which applies practically to Great Britain. We are a great exporting

country, living by international trade, the world's greatest retail shopkeeper whose business is constantly

changing in character and direction. The great structure of international commerce on which our national life

depends is essentially a sphere in which elasticity is of the utmost importance, and in which standardised or

stereotyped methods of control of production or exchange would be highly disastrous. Liberal policy,

therefore, aims at keeping the field of private enterprise in business as wide as possible. But in the general

discussion of political or personal liberty in economic affairs, we have to consider how far and in what way

the freedom of private enterprise needs to be limited or curtailed for the common good. We must solve that

problem. For Liberals there is no inherent sanctity in the conceptions of private property, or of private

enterprise. They will survive, and we can support them only so long as they appear to work better in the public

interest than any possible alternatives.