"In a half-century of reviewing, I have never encountered a more sobering book than A Plea for Liberty.
— John Chamberlain, Reason
This collection of essays was originally published in 1891, at a time when the modern welfare state was first taking shape. The theoretical and empirical contributions are fine examples of the classical liberal tradition in British thought."
"The Impracticability of Socialism
by Edward Stanley Robertson
I purpose, in this paper, to deal almost exclusively with the question whether Socialism is practicable. I shall confine myself, as much as I can, to the inquiry whether the means proposed are, or are not, likely to work out the end which is aimed at. I shall have to waive, in a very great degree, the previous essential questions whether the end is a desirable one in itself, and whether justice requires that it shall be held in view. For the purposes of the discussion I shall provisionally concede the affirmative to both; but in order to avoid all misunderstanding, I think it well to put on record here that I do so provisionally only. No such admission is hereafter to be quoted against me, as if I had accepted Socialist or Collectivism theories upon any moral, economical, or political question. Space does not admit of my making a detailed confession of faith upon these points; but it is open to me to state that I am not bound by any à priori theory. What is commonly called 'abstract justice' I confess I cannot discover in the history of any human institution. I cannot discover equality in the dispensations of nature itself."
Thomas Mackay (1849-1912) was a successful Scottish wine merchant who retired early from business so he could devote himself entirely to the study of economic issues such as the Poor Laws, growing state intervention in the economy, and the rise of socialism. Mackay was asked by the individualist and laissez-faire lobby group, the Liberty and Property Defense League, to put together a collection of essays by leading classical liberals to rebut the socialist ideas contained in Fabian Essays in Socialism edited by George Bernard Shaw in 1889. The result was A Plea for Liberty (1891) and A Policy of Free Exchange (1894).