Thomas Hodgskin

Thomas Hodgskin

Thomas Hodgskin (b. December 12, 1787 Chatham, Kent, d. -
August 21, 1869 Feltham, Middlesex) was an english
socialist writer on political economy, critic of capitalism, free-market anarchist [Gregg Jr., Footnote 2 in "Kenneth R. George Henry Evans & The Origins Of American Individualist-Anarchism." In Benjamin R. Tucker and the Champions of Liberty. pp. 106-115] and defender of free trade and early trade unions.

Born of a father who worked in the Chatham Naval Dockyard, Hodgskinjoined the navy at the age of 12. He rose rapidly through the ranks inthe years of naval struggle with the French to the rank of firstlieutenant. Following the naval defeat of the French the opportunitiesfor advancement closed and Hodgskin increasingly ran into disciplinarytrouble with his superiors, eventually leading to his court martialand dismissal in 1812. This prompted his first book "An Essay on NavalDiscipline" (1813) a scathing critique of the brutal authoritarianregime then current in the navy.

Entering Edinburgh University for study he later came to London in1815 and entered the utilitarian circle around
Francis Place, Jeremy Bentham and James Mill. With their support hespent the next five years in a programme of travel and study aroundEurope which resulted, inter alia, in a second book "Travels in NorthGermany" (1820).

After 3 years in Edinburgh, Hodgskin returned to London in 1823 as ajournalist. Influenced by, amongst others, Jean Baptiste Say, hisviews on political economy had diverged from the utilitarianorthodoxy of David Ricardo and James Mill. During thecontroversy around the parliamentary acts to first legalise and thenban worker's "combinations" Mill and Ricardo had been in favour of theban whereas Hodgskin supported the right to organise. Taking Ricardo's
labour theory of value he used it to denounce the appropriation ofthe most part of value produced by the labour of industrial workers asillegitimate. He propounded these views in a series of lectures at theLondon Mechanics Institute where he debated with
William Thompson with whom he shared the critique of capitalist expropriationbut not the proposed remedy. The results of these lectures and debateshe published as "Labour Defended against the Claims of Capital"(1825), "Popular Political Economy" (1827) and "Natural andArtificial Right of Property Contrasted" (1832). The title of"Labour Defended" was a jibe at James Mill's earlier "CommerceDefended" and signalled his opposition to the latters taking sideswith the capitalists against their employees.

Though his criticism of Employers appropriation of the lion's share ofthe value produced by their employees went on to influence subsequentgenerations of socialists, including Karl Marx, Hodgskin'sfundamental Deist beliefs identified production andexchange based on the labour theory of value (freed from thesupposedly illegitimate expropriations of rent, interest and owner'sprofits) as part of "natural right", the divinely ordained properrelations of society contrasted to "artificial" contrivances - thesource of disharmonies and conflicts. He rejected the proto-communismof William Thompson and Robert Owen by the same appeal to"natural right". In 1823 Hodgskin joined forces with Joseph Clinton Robinson in founding the "Mechanics Magazine". In the October 1823 edition Hodgskin and Francis Place wrote a manifesto for a Mechanics Institute. This would be more than a technical school but a place where practical studies could be combined with practical reflection about the condition of society. The inaugural meeting to found the Institute took place in 1823 but the idea was taken over by people of less radical views concerned about Hodgskin's unorthodox economic views including George Birkbeck a well known educator from Glasgow.

Despite his high profile in the agitated revolutionary times of the 1820s, he retreated into the realm of Whig journalism after the Reform Act of 1832. He became an advocate of free trade and spent 15 years writing for The Economist. He worked on the paper with its founder James Wilson and with the young Herbert Spencer. Hodgskin viewed the demise of the Corn Laws as the first step to the downfall of government and his libertarian anarchism was regarded as too radical by many of the liberals of the Anit-Corn Law League. He left the Economist in 1857. He continued working as a journalist for the rest of his life.


*David Stack, "Nature and Artifice: The Life and Thought of Thomas Hodgskin 1787-1986" Boydell & Brewer Ltd 1998
*Edward Sallis, "The Social and Political Thought of Thomas Hodgskin 1787-1869", MA Social Studies Dissertation University of Newcastle upon Tyne 1971
*Elie Halevy, "Thomas Hodgskin" (Paris 1903), English translation A J Taylor 1956

External links

* [ Labour Defended against the Claims of Capital]

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