By David Nicholls (auth.)
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Out, is a free government, and the one thing which they could not get rid of is centralisation. Napoleon had speeded up the centralising tendency of the ancien regime, while the restoration and the government of July were as absolute centralisers as Napoleon himself. If Tocqueville can be said to represent the right-wing revolt against the concentration of power, Proudhon played a similar role on the left wing. He endeavoured to combat (as did the guild socialists in a later age) the centralising tendency of socialism; centralism is, he declared, incompatible with liberty.
It was not primarily the claim of individuals to freedom of speech which led to toleration, but the claim of groups to freedom of assembly. ' 70 Few, then, believed in liberty as a political end. Figgis mentioned the Benthamites and Hoadly; Acton added Socinus, the independent founders of Rhode Island and the Quaker patriarch of Pennsylvania - these dogmatic liberals were the true prophets of liberty. Things began to change though, and as Butterfield reminds us, toleration which had been a political necessity was turned into a religious ideal.
In an earlier period he was quite prepared to accept the idea of the supremacy of Parliament as a legal theory, as well as a practical guide to lawyers. He declared that Coke, with a common law theorists, had not really grasped the conception of sovereignty; he maintained a position, reasonable enough in the Middle Ages, but impossible in a developed unitary State. 38 He believed that Locke was guilty of a confusion between natural law and positive law, and praised theorists of the divine right of kings for a deeper insight into the nature of law than their opponents, who were 'ever haunted by the vain illusion of placing legal limits on the sovereign power'.