Rights, welfare and morality Re-appraising L.T. Hobhouse's theoretical contribution to the British New Liberalism

Hanno Terao*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to clarify how L.T. Hobhouse (1864-1929) theoretically contributed to the British New Liberalism, focusing particularly on the issue of social reform in turn-ofthe- century Britain. Design/methodology/approach - The question is approached in two ways: by exploring the theoretical structure of Hobhouse's ethical theory (which can be termed an "ethics of harmony") through a textual analysis of his rights theory and distributive theory; and by comparing that ethical theory with that of J.S. Mill, T.H. Green and J.A. Hobson so as to identify their commonalities and differences. Findings - It is found that Hobhouse's contribution to the New Liberalism was twofold, both of which grew out of his staunchly moralistic perspective. Hobhouse showed in his rights theory a direction towards which the morality of individuals should be developed; and provided a guideline based on a notion of justice for wealth redistribution by the state which he saw as a necessary external condition for realizing such development. Originality/value - Existing literature on the British New Liberalism has paid less attention to Hobhouse than it has to T.H. Green and J.A. Hobson. Hobhouse has been relatively neglected due to a wide-spread view that his role was mainly in his expressing a typical but not necessarily original direction for the transformation of British Liberalism at the turn of the century. Against this received view, this paper demonstrates that Hobhouse made a significant contribution to the socio-political thinking of the New Liberalism by providing a distinctive ethical theory of harmony, which enabled New Liberal protagonists to address the important issue of the conceptual place of individual morality within a programme of collectivist social reform.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)904-916
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Social Economics
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Jan 1
Externally publishedYes


  • Common good
  • Distributive justice
  • L.T. Hobhouse
  • Liberalism
  • Philosophical idealism
  • Rights

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Economics and Econometrics


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