Liberalism, welfare and the crowd in J.A. Hobson

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J.A. Hobson is known for his views on economy and imperialism. He was also concerned with social psychology and especially with the phenomenon of crowds, which was much discussed at the beginning of the twentieth century. As crowd behaviour was both collective and apparently irrational, it could undermine liberalism. However, Hobson uses crowd phenomena to bolster his own brand of social-democratic liberalism. He perceives mass behaviour as a constituent of the social dialogue favoured by liberals since J. S. Mill, and argues that alterity and festivity are themselves human traits that merit political and legal recognition. This expanded view of human nature grounds a perception of rights which includes entitlements to leisure and structureless sociability: the welfare measures which guarantee such entitlements are thus made constituents of a revised liberalism. His interpretation of the crowd also serves Hobson as a warning to social theory itself, which, he argues, should acknowledge its distance from the world it attempts to analyse. This perception of theory further acts to strengthen liberalism, as it points to the contingent, open-ended character of any view of society and hence favours dialogue and open expression of varying opinions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-215
Number of pages19
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2004


  • Crowds
  • Hobson (J.A.)
  • Le Bon (G)
  • Liberalism
  • Welfare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy


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