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Laisser Faire

Laisser Faire, a system of State policy which consists in refraining from legislation on economic and social matters, on the ground that national welfare is best promoted by allowing free scope to individual enterprise. The principle was adopted in a greater or less degree by the French Physiocrats and Adam Smith; and the "Manchester School," the most prominent members of which were Cobden and Bright, urged it with a vehemence which sometimes amounted almost to fanaticism, objecting not only to restrictions on foreign commerce [Free Trade], but to all interference with industry on the part of the State, including even the Factory Acts and similar legislation. The term is now used in a wider and more general sense; in fact, it may be regarded as co-extensive with the whole sphere of government. The views on which Laisser Faire, in its full signification, is based may be considered as the outcome of the struggle for individual liberty which culminated in the French Revolution. Since the growth of the theory of Evolution it has been connected with the doctrine of the "struggle for life," and is now ably advocated by such men as Herbert Spencer and Professors Huxley and Tyndall. Regarded as a system of political doctrines resting on some philosophic basis, the principles of Laisser Faire are usually termed "Individualism" as opposed to Socialism (q.v.).