Henry Hazlitt called The Man versus The State "one of the most powerful and influential arguments for limited government, laissez-faire, and individualism ever written."
Herbert Spencer was a laissez-faire radical at a time when the academy was growing ever more illiberal. He was an opponent of militarism, economic regulation, infringement on personal liberty, and government centralization.
He played a huge role in the history of ideas, one that contemporary sociologists have sadly neglected other than to dismiss him as an irrelevant "social Darwinist." In fact, it was Darwin who took his metaphors from Spencer.
Spencer's great contribution was actually to untangle the study of society from all claims that it operated as a life form apart from the choices made by individuals. One of the last defenders of true liberalism in England, the scholar argued for the law of equal freedom: "Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man."
In this book, he presents the perceptive argument that liberalism, which had over time liberated the world from slavery and feudalism, was (in the 1880s, when the book was first published) undergoing a disturbing transformation. Its new love for the state was moving liberalism behind a movement to create a new despotism that would be worse than the old. He called it the Coming Slavery.
Spencer understood that real freedom must always mean freedom from the state, that in the end the battle for liberty is one that pits the free man versus the state.