Ernest Benn

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Sir Ernest John Pickstone Benn, 2nd Baronet, CBE (25 June 1875 – 17 January 1954) was a British publisher, writer and political publicist. His father, John Benn, was a politician, who had been made a baronet in 1914. He was an uncle of the Labour politician Tony Benn.


Benn was born in Oxted, Surrey. He attended the Central Foundation Boys' School[1]

As a civil servant in the Ministry of Munitions and Reconstruction during the First World War he came to believe in the benefits of state intervention in the economy. In the mid-1920s, however, he changed his mind and adopted "the principles of undiluted laissez-faire".[2]

From his conversion to classical liberalism in the mid-1920s until his death in 1954 Benn published over twenty books and an equivalent amount of pamphlets propagating his ideas. His The Confessions of a Capitalist was originally published in 1925 and was still in print twenty years later after selling a quarter of a million copies.[3] In it he rejected the labour theory of value and argued that wealth is a by-product of exchange.

Benn admired Samuel Smiles and in a letter to The Times Benn claimed ideological descent from leading classical liberals:

In the ideal state of affairs, no one would record a vote in an election until he or she had read the eleven volumes of Jeremy Bentham and the whole of the works of John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer and Bastiat as well as Morley's Life of Cobden.[4]

Benn was also a member of the Reform Club and a founder of what would become the Society for Individual Freedom.

Ernest Benn Limited

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Benn was also a principal and manager of the publishing firm Benn Brothers, later Ernest Benn, Ltd.


"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies."[5]

This quote is often misattributed to Groucho Marx, with slightly different wording ("Politics is the art of looking for trouble; finding it everywhere, diagnosing it wrongly, and applying unsuitable remedies").[6]



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  2. Deryck Abel, Ernest Benn: Counsel for Liberty (London: Benn, 1960), p. 11.
  3. W. H. Greenleaf, The British Political Tradition. Volume II: The Ideological Heritage (London: Methuen, 1983), p. 302.
  4. Ernest Benn, The Letters of an Individualist to The Times, 1921-1926 (London: Benn, 1927), p. 13.
  5. Henry Powell Spring, What is Truth?, Orange Press, 1944, p. 31
  6. Gyles Brandreth, Word Play: A cornucopia of puns, anagrams and other contortions and curiosities of the English language, Coronet, 2015.

Further reading

  • Deryck Abel, Ernest Benn: Counsel for Liberty, London: Ernest Benn Ltd., 1960.

External links

Honorary titles
Preceded by High Sheriff of the County of London
Succeeded by
Charles Hambro
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Baronet
(of Old Knoll)
Succeeded by
John Benn