Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III: The Form of Government - Selected Economic Writings
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CHAPTER III: The Form of Government - James Mill, Selected Economic Writings 
Selected Economic Writings, ed. Donald Winch (Edinburgh: Oliver Boyd for the Scottish Economic Society, 1966).
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The Form of Government
After the division of the people into ranks and occupations, the great circumstance by which their condition, character, and operations are determined, is the political establishment; the system of actions by which the social order is preserved. Among the Hindus, according to the Asiatic model, the government was monarchical, and, with the usual exception of religion and its ministers, absolute. No idea of any system of rule, different from the will of a single person, appears to have entered the minds of them, or their legislators ...
The plan, according to which the power of the sovereign was exercised in the government of the country, resembled that which has almost universally prevailed in the monarchies of Asia, and was a contrivance extremely simple and rude. In the more skilful governments of Europe, officers are appointed for the discharge of particular duties in the different provinces of the empire; some for the decision of causes, some for the control of violence, some for collecting the contingents of the subjects, for the expense of the state; while the powers of all center immediately in the head of the government, and all together act as connected and subordinate wheels in one complicated and artful machine. Among the less instructed and less civilized inhabitants of Asia, no other plan has ever occurred to the monarch, for the administration of his dominions, than simply divide his own authority and power into pieces or fragments, as numerous as the provinces into which it was deemed convenient to distribute the empire. To each of the provinces a vicegerent was dispatched, who carried with him the the undivided authority and jurisdiction of his master. Whatever powers the sovereign exercised over the whole kingdom, the vicegerent exercised in the province allotted to him; and the same plan which the sovereign adopted for the government of the whole, was exactly followed by the vicegerent in the government of a part. If the province committed to his sway was too extensive for his personal inspection and control, he subdivided it into parts, and assigned a governor to each, whom he intrusted with the same absolute powers in his district, as he himself possessed in the administration of the greater department. Even this inferior deputy often divided his authority, in the same manner, among the governors, whom he appointed, of the townships or villages under his control. Every one of those rulers, whether the sphere of his command was narrow or extensive, was absolute within it, and possessed the whole power of the sovereign, to levy taxes, to raise and command troops, and to decide upon the lives and property of the subjects ...
[Mill proceeds to an examination of the duties of the Hindu monarch: defence against external foes and preservation of internal order though judicial system.]
In the first stage of society, the leader in war is also the judge in peace; and the regal and judicial functions are united in the same person. Various circumstances tend to produce this arrangement. In the first place, there are hardly any laws: and he alone is entitled to judge, who is entitled to legislate, since he must make a law for every occasion. In the next place, a rude people, unused to obedience, would hardly respect inferior authority. In the third place, the business of judicature is so badly performed as to interrupt but little the business or pleasures of the king; and a decision is rather an exercise of arbitrary will and power, than the result of an accurate investigation. In the fourth place, the people are so much accustomed to terminate their own disputes, by their own cunning, or force, that the number of applications for judicature is comparatively small. As society advances, a set of circumstances, opposite to these, are gradually introduced: laws are made which the judge has nothing to do but apply: the people learn the advantage of submitting to inferior authority: a more accurate administration of justice is demanded, and cannot be performed without a great application both of attention and of time: the people learn that it is for the good of the community, that they should not terminate, and that they should not be allowed to terminate, either by force or fraud, their own disputes: the administration of justice is then too laborious to be either agreeable to the king, or consistent with the other services which he is expected to render: and the exercise of judicature becomes a separate employment, the exclusive function of a particular order of men ...
[So far as the duty to legislate is concerned, Mill points out that since the Hindus believe their public as well as private affairs to be governed by a divinely-ordained system, the power of legislation belongs to the priesthood; the monarch becomes the tool of his religious advisors, the Brahmens. Nevertheless, by retaining other powers, the Hindu monarchs had succeeded in keeping the balance in their favour.]
They had two engines entrusted to them, the power of which their history serves remarkably to display; they were masters of the army; and they were masters of the public revenue. These two circumstances, it appears, were sufficient to counter-balance the legislative, and the judicative, and even a great part of the executive power, reinforced by all the authority of an overbearing superstition, lodged in the hands of ‘the Brahmens. These threw around the sovereign an external lustre with which the eyes of uncultivated men are easily dazzled. In dangerous and disorderly times, when every thing which the nation values depends upon the sword, the military commander exercises unlimited authority by universal consent; and so frequently is this the situation of a rude and uncivilized people, surrounded on all sides by rapacious and turbulent neighbours, that it becomes, in a great measure, the habitual order of things. The Hindu king, by commanding both the force, and the revenue of the state, had in his hands the distribution of gifts and favours; the potent instrument, in short, of patronage; and the jealousy and rivalship of the different sets of competitors would of their own accord give him a great influence over the Brahmens themselves. The distribution of gifts and favours is an engine of so much power, that the man who enjoys it to a certain extent is absolute, with whatever checks he may appear to be surrounded.