Towards a Definition of Laissez-faire
THE consideration of a subject so contentious as laissez-faire should properly begin with a definition of the term itself. Unlike mercantilism, with which it has frequently been contrasted, laissez-faire was a term current in the period to which it has been most commonly applied. Its French origins lie deep in the eighteenth century and it was mentioned by Lord Liverpool in the House of Commons as early as 1812.1 Before the middle of the nineteenth century, however, references to laissez-faire in literature or debate are relatively infrequent. Like many terms familiar to the historian — Medievalism, Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution are obvious examples — laissez-faire was a term more honoured by use in later generations than in the period to which it has closest reference.