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III.: Offences of the Press with respect to Government. - James Mill, Liberty of the Press 
Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: J. Innes, 1825).
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Offences of the Press with respect to Government.
We have now explained, we trust with sufficient clearness for the present occasion, the principles upon which laws should be constructed for protecting the rights of individuals against violations committed by the press. The first part of this inquiry, therefore, we must consider as completed. In the second part we have to explain the principles upon which they should be constructed for protecting the operations of government.
Exhortations to obstruct the operations of Government in detail, should; Exhortations to resist all the powers of Government at once should not, be considered offences.
Unless a door is left open to resistance of the government, in the largest sense of the word, the doctrine of passive obedience is adopted; and the consequence is, the universal prevalence of misgovernment, ensuring the misery and degradation of the people. On the other hand, unless the operations of government, instituted for the protection of rights, are secured from obstruction, the security of rights, and all the advantages dependent upon the existence of government, are at an end. Between these two securities, both necessary to obtain the benefits of good government, there appears to be such a contrariety, that the one can only be obtained by the sacrifice of the other.
As this difficulty, however, arises chiefly from the extent of the terms, a close inspection of the cases which they involve, and which they have a tendency to confuse, will enable us to discover the course which it belongs to practical wisdom to pursue.
It is necessary, first of all, to ascertain what sort of obstructions are inconsistent, and what are not inconsistent, with those operations of government, which are necessary for the protection of rights.
The application of physical force, to resist the government in applying to the execution of the laws the physical power placed at its disposal by the law, is such an obstruction of the operations of government, as would, if frequent, render it inadequate to the ends which it is provided to secure. This application of force, therefore, must be treated as an offence; and any thing proceeding from the press, tending directly to produce it, as a similar offence.
This proposition requires to be illustrated. The application of physical force which is here described, and treated as an evil, is clearly distinguishable from that resistance of government which is the last security of the many against the misconduct of the few. This is an application of physical force to obstruct the operations of government in detail; the proceedings, for example, of a court of justice; the proceedings of the legislative organ, or the proceedings of any of the administrative functionaries, in the execution of the duties with which they are charged. This is not that species of resistance which is necessary, in the last resort, to secure the people against the abuse of the powers of government. This last is not a resistance to the operations of government in detail. It is a resistance to all the powers of government at once, either to withdraw them from the hands in which they have hitherto been deposited, or greatly to modify the terms upon which they are held.
Even this last species of resistance it may be necessary to punish, at least in a certain degree, whenever it is not successful; that society may not be disturbed by commotions which the majority of the people disapprove. This, however, is a question which belongs to the penal code in general, and does not concern the inquiry into the offences capable of being committed by the press: because we think it may be satisfactorily shown, that no operation of the press, however directly exhorting to this species of resistance, ought to be treated as an offence.
The reason is, that no such exhortation can have any immediate, or formidable effect; can, indeed, have any effect at all, except through such mediums as ought to be at all times perfectly free. Suppose, that a work is published, exhorting the people in general to take arms against the government, for the purpose of altering it against the consent of its rulers. The people cannot take arms against the government without the certainty of being immediately crushed, unless there has been already created a general consent. If this consent exists in such perfection as to want nothing to begin action but an exhortation, nothing can prevent the exhortation; and forbidding it is useless. If the consent does not exist in nearly the last degree of perfection, a mere exhortation, read in print, can have no effect which is worth regarding. In all circumstances, therefore, it is useless, and consequently absurd, to treat this species of exhortation as an offence. If, on the other hand, it were clearly recognized, that every man had a licence to exhort the people to the general resistance of the government, all such exhortations would become ridiculous, unless on those rare and extreme occasions, on which no prohibitions, and no penalties, can or ought to prevent them. The doctrine of this paragraph, which will appear somewhat startling and paradoxical to minds accustomed only to a certain train of ideas, will receive illustration, and we trust will be amply confirmed, as we proceed.
Having mentioned this as a grand exception, we now return to the cases in which not only physical force applied to obstruct the operations of government, but the publishing of exhortations to that obstruction, ought to be treated as an offence. These relate solely, as above remarked, to the operations of government in detail. Obstructions it is evident, may be offered to the operations in detail of a government which possesses and deserves the fullest confidence of the community at large; and the press may be employed in directly and efficiently exciting to these obstructions. A hand-bill, for example, distributed at a critical moment, and operating upon an inflamed state of mind, in a narrow district, may excite a mob to disturb the proceedings of a court of justice, to obstruct public officers in the execution of their duties, or even to disturb, on this or that occasion, the deliberations of the legislature itself.
These are clearly hurtful acts; they may be very accurately defined; and penalties, of moderate severity, would be sufficient to deter from the performance of them. Satisfaction by the party offending to the party injured, would often, in offences of this description, be out of the question; because there would be no definite party to whom an injury would be occasioned. It would only be necessary to ascertain the sorts of motives by which such offences would be liable to be produced, and to apply skilfully, as in other cases, motives of an opposite tendency, sufficient to counteract them. This would not be more difficult in this than in other cases, and it is not, therefore, necessary to explain at any length the mode of performing it.
One principle is to be carefully and most religiously observed, that of not imposing an atom of punishment for the purposes of vengeance. This is a principle, the justness and importance of which are so completely recognized, that we might have expected to be relieved ere now from the necessity of recommending attention to it. The fact, however, is, that so long as there are abuses in governments, so long will the men, who have the means of profiting by those abuses, exert themselves to multiply the list of offences against government, and to apply to them punishments of the greatest severity.
Punishments for contempt of court; punishments to vindicate the honour of the court, of the government, of the magistracy; punishments for the support of dignity; punishments severe in proportion as the dignity of the party offended is supposed to be high, and so on, are punishments almost always applied for purposes of vengeance, or the protection of the instruments of abuse. They are punishments, therefore, which will be rigidly excluded from a code which wisely and steadily pursues the general good.
Of Exhortations to obstruct the Operations of Government, in detail, there are two Sorts: 1. The Direct, 2. The Implied, or Constructive.
What the sort of acts are, to which the exhortations of the press ought not to be applied, has been so far ascertained. The next point is, to determine with accuracy what sort of exhortation it is that ought to be forbidden.
To all those who profit by the abuses of government, that is, more especially, to all those who, in a defective government, wield any of its powers, it is of great importance to leave as undefined as possible the sort of exhortation that ought to be forbidden. The point of greatest importance to them is, to keep the people at large from complaining, or from knowing or thinking that they have any ground of complaint. If this object is fully attained, they may then, without anxiety, and without trouble, riot in the pleasures of misrule: there is no limit to the degree in which the few may pursue their own advantage at the expence of the many.
There can be nothing therefore, in which they have a greater interest, than preventing the press from being employed in any such way, as will lead the people to think that they have any thing, on the part of their rulers, of which to complain. All artifices possible will be sure to be employed to effect that prevention. And if it is enacted, that exhortations to acts which obstruct the operations of government in detail should be punished, without defining accurately what sort of exhortations, they will easily find expedients; which will, to a great extent, accomplish their purpose.
Under the sort of constructions which it will be their interest to apply, every thing which can be done by the press, to make the people know or believe that there is any thing in the system of their government, or the conduct of their rulers, of which they have to complain, may be treated as an exhortation to obstruct the operations of government. Of these constructions, our experience affords innumerable examples. Does not the imputing of defects to the government, or misconduct to those who wield the powers of government, tend to bring both “into hatred and contempt?” And if the people hate and contemn the institutions and rulers of their country, will they not oppose their operations? The imputing of these faults, therefore, is it not, in essence and effect, an exhortation to oppose the operations of government? And are we to be governed, in our legislature, by the mere forms in which a set of words may appear, and not by our knowledge of their nature and consequences?
This is not only exceedingly plausible, but almost all the propositions which it involves are true. It is thus, therefore, the more easy to establish such a mode of interpreting an indefinite law of the press, as will prevent, or where the people cannot yet bear a total prevention, will go far towards preventing, whatever can lead the people to believe that any thing is amiss in the manner in which they are ruled.
There are two species of exhortations, the one explicit and direct, the other implied and constructive. In the one, a particular act is pointed out, and the party, or parties, addressed, are called upon to perform it. In the other, certain grounds are only laid, from which the opinion of the addresser, that the act ought to be performed, may, with more or less certainty, be inferred.
With respect to the first, there is no occasion for doubt. A direct and explicit exhortation to commit one of those acts, described above as obstructing the operations of government in detail, should be treated as an offence. The precise question is, whether any exhortation, which is only implied and constructive, should be considered an offence? In the answer to this question, almost every thing which relates to the use of the press in matters of government, will be found to be involved.
Exhortations which are Implied and Constructive, ought not to be punished.
We have already divided the subject of resistance to government into two parts; first, that general resistance, the object of which is some great change in the government at large; and, secondly, resistance to this or that of its operations in detail.
We have already adduced an argument, which appears to us to be conclusive, to show, that no exhortation, whether explicit or implied, direct or indirect, the object or tendency of which is to produce the first species of resistance, ought to be subject to legal restraint.
It is necessary here to enter a little more fully into the grounds of that opinion.
We think it will appear, with sufficient evidence, that in the way of indirect exhortation to resistance, that is, in laying the grounds of dissatisfaction with the government, there is no medium between allowing every thing, and allowing nothing; that the end, in short, which is sought to be gained, by allowing any thing to be published in censure of the government, cannot be obtained, without leaving it perfectly free to publish every thing.
The end which is sought to be obtained, by allowing any thing to be said in censure of the government, is, to ensure the goodness of the government; the most important of all the objects to the attainment of which the wisdom of man can be applied. If the goodness of government could be ensured by any preferable means, it is evident that all censure of the government ought to be prohibited. All discontent with the government is only good, in so far as it is a means of removing real cause of discontent. If there is no cause, or if there is better means of removing the cause, the discontent is, of course, an evil, and that which produces it an evil.
So true it is, however, that the discontent of the people is the only means of removing the defects of vicious governments, that the freedom of the press, the main instrument of creating discontent, is, in all civilized countries, among all but the advocates of misgovernment, regarded as an indispensable security, and the greatest safeguard of the interests of mankind.
For what is meant by a vicious government? or wherein do the defects of government consist? Most assuredly they all consist in sacrificing the interests of the many to the interests of the few. The small number, in whose hands the powers of government are, in part directly, in part indirectly, placed, cannot fail, like other men, to have a greater regard for what is advantageous to themselves, than what is advantageous to other men. They pursue, therefore, their own advantage, in preference to that of the rest of the community. That is enough. Where there is nothing to check that propensity, all the evils of misgovernment, that is, in one word, the worst evils by which human nature is afflicted, are the inevitable consequence. (See the article Government.)
There can be no adequate check without the freedom of the press. The evidence of this is irresistible. In all countries, the people either have a power legally and peaceably of removing their governors, or they have not that power. If they have not that power, they can only obtain any considerable ameliorations of their governments by resistance, by applying physical force to their rulers, or, at least, by threats so likely to be followed by performance, as may frighten their rulers into compliance. But resistance, to have this effect, must be general. To be general, it must spring from a general conformity of opinion, and a general knowledge of that conformity. How is this effect to be produced, but by some means, fully enjoyed by the people, of communicating their sentiments to one another? Unless where the people can all meet in general assembly, there is no other means of attaining this object, to be compared with the freedom of the press.
It is, no doubt, true, that in countries where the liberty of the press is unknown, bad governments are frequently overthrown. This is almost always accomplished by the military force, revenging some grievance of their own, or falling in with some heat and animosity of the people. But does it ever enable them to make a new government, in which any greater security is provided for their interests than there was before? In such cases, the people get rid of one set of rulers, whom they hate, only to obtain another set, with equal powers of doing them injury.
There are, however, we believe, some people who say, that though the liberty of the press is a necessary instrument to attain good government, yet, if it is fairly attained, and if legal and peaceable means are in the hands of the people of removing their governors for misconduct;—if the people of England, for example, really chose the members of the House of Commons, and renewed their choice so frequently, as to have the power of removal after a short experience of misconduct, the freedom of the press would be unnecessary.
So far is this from being true, that it is doubtful whether a power in the people of choosing their own rulers, without the liberty of the press, would be an advantage.
Freedom of Censure on the Conduct of their Rulers, is necessary for the good of the People.
It is perfectly clear, that all chance of advantage to the people, from having the choice of their rulers, depends upon their making a good choice. If they make a bad choice—if they elect people either incapable, or disinclined, to use well the power entrusted to them, they incur the same evils to which they are doomed when they are deprived of the due control over those by whom their affairs are administered.
We may then ask, if there are any possible means by which the people can make a good choice, besides the liberty of the press? The very foundation of a good choice is knowledge. The fuller and more perfect the knowledge, the better the chance, where all sinister interest is absent, of a good choice. How can the people receive the most perfect knowledge relative to the characters of those who present themselves to their choice, but by information conveyed freely, and without reserve, from one to another?
There is another use of the freedom of the press, no less deserving the most profound attention, that of making known the conduct of the individuals who have been chosen. This latter service is of so much importance, that upon it the whole value of the former depends.
This is capable of being rigidly demonstrated. No benefit is obtained by making choice of a man who is well qualified to serve the people, and also well inclined to serve them, if you place him in a situation in which he will have preponderant motives to serve himself at their expence.
If any set of men are chosen to wield the powers of government, while the people have not the means of knowing in what manner they discharge their duties, they will have the means of serving themselves at the expence of the people; and all the miseries of evil government are the certain consequence.
Suppose the people to choose the members of the Legislative Assembly, with power of rechoosing, or dismissing them, at short intervals; To what desirable end could these powers be exercised, without the liberty of the press? Suppose that any one of those whom they have chosen has misconducted himself, or promoted, as far as depended upon him, the ends of misgovernment; how are the people to know that the powers with which they had entrusted him had been treacherously employed?
If they do not know, they will rechoose him, and that as cordially as the man who has served them with the greatest fidelity. This they are under a deplorable necessity of doing, even to be just; for, as they know no difference between him and the best, it would be on their part iniquity to make any. The consequences would be fatal. If one man saw that he might promote misrule for his own advantage, so would another; so, of course, would they all. In these circumstances, we see laid the foundation on which, in every country, bad government is reared. On this foundation it is impossible that it should not be reared. When the causes are the same, who can expect that the effects will be different? It is unnecessary to dwell upon these fundamental truths, because they have already been developed in the article, Government.
Without the knowledge, then, of what is done by their representatives, in the use of the powers entrusted to them, the people cannot profit by the power of choosing them, and the advantages of good government are unattainable. It will not surely cost many words to satisfy all classes of readers that, without the free and unrestrained use of the press, the requisite knowledge cannot be obtained.
That an accurate report of what is done by each of the representatives, a transcript of his speeches, and a statement of his propositions and votes, is necessary to be laid before the people, to enable them to judge of his conduct, nobody, we presume, will deny. This requires the use of the cheapest means of communication, and, we add, the free use of those means. Unless every man has the liberty of publishing the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, the people can have no security that they are fairly published. If it is in the power of their rulers to permit one person, and forbid another, the people may be sure that a false report,—a report calculated to make them believe that they are well governed, when they are ill governed, will be often presented to them.
One thing more is necessary, and so necessary, that, if it is wanting, the other might as well be wanting also. The publication of the proceedings tells what is done. This, however, is useless, unless a correct judgment is passed upon what is done.
We have brought this inquiry, then, to an important point. In the article Government, we have seen that, unless the people hold in their own hands an effectual power of control on the acts of their government, the government will be inevitably vicious: We have now seen, that they cannot exercise this control to any beneficial purpose without the means of forming a correct judgment upon the conduct of their representatives: We have likewise seen, that one of the means necessary to enable them to judge correctly of the conduct of their representatives, is the liberty to every body of publishing reports of what they do: It remains to inquire, by what other acts the press can be made to contribute to the same desirable end.
What is wanted is, that all the people, or as many of them as possible, should estimate correctly the consequences of the acts proposed or done by their representatives, and also that they should know what acts might have been proposed, if the best were not proposed, from which better consequences would have followed. This end would be accomplished most effectually, if those who are sufficiently enlightened would point out to those who are in danger of mistakes, the true conclusions; and, showing the weight of evidence to be in their favour, should obtain for them the universal assent.
How is this to be accomplished? In what manner are those wise men to be chosen? And who are to be the choosers? Directly the object cannot be attained. There are no distinct and indubitable marks by which wisdom, and less by which integrity, is to be known. And who is to be trusted with the privilege of pointing them out? They whose judgment requires to be directed are not well qualified to determine who shall direct them. And if the rulers are to choose, they will employ none but those who will act in conformity to their views, and enable them to benefit themselves by the pillage and oppression of the people.
As there is no possible organ of choice, no choice whatever ought to be made. If no choice is to be made, every man that pleases ought to be allowed. All this is indubitable. The consequences of denying any part of it are so obvious, that hardly any man, we suppose, will risk the imputations to which such a denial would justly expose him.
They who say that no choice ought to be made, say, in effect, that no limit whatsoever ought to be imposed upon the liberty of the press. The one of these propositions is involved in the other. To impose any restraint upon the liberty of the press, is undoubtedly to make a choice. If the restraint is imposed by the government, it is the government that chooses the directors of the public mind. If any government chooses the directors of the public mind, that government is despotic.
Suppose that, by the restraint imposed upon the liberty of the press, all censure of the government is forbidden, here is undoubtedly a choice. The government, in this case, virtually says, The people who might attempt the task of directing the public mind are of two sorts; one, those who would censure; another, those who would not censure; I choose the latter.
Suppose that not every censure, but only such and such kinds of censure, are forbidden; here, again, is still a choice, while confessedly there is no party to whom the power of choosing for the rest can with safety be given.
If not every censure, but only some censures, are to be forbidden, what are those to which the prohibition should extend? The answer to this question will elucidate nearly all that yet remains in any degree obscure, of the doctrine of the liberty of the press.
It will not be said that any censure which is just should be forbidden; because that would undoubtedly be to detract from the means of enabling the people to form correct judgments; and we have, we trust, rendered it indisputable that no source of benefit to society is at all to be compared with that of correct judgments, on their government and its functionaries, formed by the people, and determining their actions.
But what censures are just and what are unjust; in other words, what are the conclusions which ought to be formed respecting the properties and the acts of the government, is exactly the point to be determined. If you say that no man is to pass an unjust censure upon the government, who is to judge? It is surely unnecessary to repeat the proof of the proposition, that there is nobody who can safely be permitted to judge. The path of practical wisdom is as clear as day: All censures must be permitted, equally; just, and unjust.
Where various conclusions are formed among a number of men, upon a subject on which it would be unsafe, and therefore improper, to give any minor portion of them a power of determining for the rest, only one expedient remains. Fortunately, that is an expedient, the operation of which is powerful, and its effects beneficial in the highest degree. All the conclusions which have formed themselves in the minds of different individuals, should be openly adduced; and the power of comparison and choice should be granted to all. Where there is no motive to attach a man to error, it is natural to him to embrace the truth; especially if pains are taken to adapt the explanation to his capacity. Every man, possessed of reason, is accustomed to weigh evidence, and to be guided and determined by its preponderance. When various conclusions are, with their evidence, presented with equal care and with equal skill, there is a moral certainty, though some few may be misguided, that the greater number will judge right, and that the greatest force of evidence, wherever it is, will produce the greatest impression.
As this is a proposition upon which every thing depends, it is happy that the evidence of it should be so very clear and striking. There is, indeed, hardly any law of human nature more generally recognized, wherever there is not a motive to deny its existence. “To the position of Tully, that if Virtue could be seen, she must be loved, may be added,” says Dr. Johnson, “that if Truth could be heard, she must be obeyed.” (Rambler, No. 87.)—“Je vous plains, mes Péres,” says Mons. Pascal to the Jesuits, “d’avoir recours à de tels remèdes. Vous croyez avoir la force et l’impunité: mais je crois avoir la verité, et l’innocence. C’est une etrange et longue guerre que celle ou la violence essaie d’opprimer la verité. Tous les efforts de la violence ne peuvent affoiblir la verité, et ne servent qu’à la relever davantage: toutes les lumières de la verité ne peuvent rien pour arrêter la violence, et ne font que l’irriter encore plus. Quand la force combat la force, la plus puissante detruit la moindre: quand l’on expose les discours aux discours, ceux qui sont veritables et convainquants confondent et dissipent ceux qui n’ont que la vanité et le mensonge.” (Lett. Provinc. 12.)—“Reason,” says Burke, “clearly and manfully delivered, has in itself a mighty force; but reason, in the mouth of legal authority, is, I may fairly say, irresistible.” (Lett. on Regicide Peace.)
It is of importance to show how many of the greatest men, of all ages and countries, have borne testimony to the prevalence of true over false conclusions, when both are fairly offered to the human mind. “Truth,” says Mr. Locke, “certainly would do well enough, if she were once left to shift for herself. She seldom has received, and I fear never will receive, much assistance from the power of great men, to whom she is but rarely known, and more rarely welcome. She is not taught by laws, nor has she any need of force to procure her entrance into the minds of men.” (Letter on Toleration.) The following is the emphatical language of Montesquieu: “La raison a un empire naturel; elle a même un empire tyrannique: on lui resiste, mais cette resistance est son triomphe, encore un peu de temps, et l’on sera forcé de revenir à elle.” (Esp. de Loix, l. 28, ch. 38.)—“It is noted out of Cicero, by Machiavel, that the people, though they are not so prone to find out truth of themselves, as to follow custom, or run into error; yet if they be shown truth, they not only acknowledge and embrace it very suddenly, but are the most constant and faithful guardians and conservators of it.” (Harrington.)—“The labour of a confutation,” says Chillingworth, “I have not in any place found such labour or difficulty, but that it was undertakeable by a man of very mean abilities; and the reason is, because it is Truth I plead for; which is so strong an argument for itself, that it needs only light to discover it.” (Religion of Protestants.)—“About things on which the public thinks long,” says Dr. Johnson, “it commonly attains to think right.” (Life of Addison.)—“The adversary,” says Dr. Campbell, “is both subtile and powerful. With such an adversary, I should on very unequal terms enter the lists, had I not the advantage of being on the side of truth. And an eminent advantage this doubtless is. It requires but moderate abilities to speak in defence of a good cause. A good cause demands but a distinct exposition, and a fair hearing; and we may say, with great propriety, it will speak for itself.” (Campbell on Miracles, Introd.)
We have then arrived at the following important conclusions,—that there is no safety to the people in allowing any body to choose opinions for them; that there are no marks by which it can be decided beforehand, what opinions are true and what are false; that there must, therefore, be equal freedom of declaring all opinions, both true and false; and that, when all opinions, true and false, are equally declared, the assent of the greater number, when their interests are not opposed to them, may always be expected to be given to the true. These principles, the foundation of which appears to be impregnable, suffice for the speedy determination of every practical question.
All censure thrown upon the government, all censure thrown either upon the institutions of the government, or upon the conduct of any of the functionaries of government, supreme or subordinate, has a tendency to produce resistance to the government.
Of the censures thrown upon government, some may have a tendency to produce resistance to the operations of government in detail; others that general resistance which has in view some great alteration in the government.
Of the first sort would be any such accusation of the conduct and disposition of a judge, as might excite the people, whose sympathies were roused in favour of the individual against whom his sentence was to operate, to rescue him from the officers of justice. We have already shown that such a rescue ought to be punished, and any direct exhortation to it ought to be punished. It will now be evident, we trust, that no censure on the judge, though capable of being treated as an indirect exhortation, ought to be punished.
The reason is conclusive. The people ought to know, if possible, the real qualities of the actions of those who are entrusted with any share in the management of their affairs. This they have no chance of knowing, without the unlimited power of censure upon those actions, both in gross and detail. To see the full force of these propositions, it is only necessary to apply the principles which have been already established.
If the people have not the means of knowing the actions of all public functionaries, they have no security for the good conduct even of their representatives. Suppose it is the duty of their representatives to watch the conduct of the judges, and secure the perfection of judicature, the people cannot know whether their representatives perform this duty, unless they know what the conduct of the judges is. Ignorance of this would of itself suffice to vitiate the government. A door would be left open, through which the rulers might benefit themselves at the expence of the people. All the profit to be made by an abuse of the power of justice, would thus become the profit of the representatives, by whom it would be allowed, and encouraged, as far as the knowledge which they could not withhold from the people, would permit.
That the people ought, therefore, to know the conduct of their judges, and when we say judges we mean every other functionary, and the more perfectly the better, may be laid down as indubitable. They are deprived of all trust-worthy means of knowing, if any limit whatsoever is placed to the power of censure.
All censure consists in the delivery of an unfavourable opinion, with or without the grounds of it. This is the essence of censure. But if the conduct of the judge deserves that an unfavourable opinion should be entertained of it, the more perfectly that is known to the people, the better.
The conduct of the judge, on this occasion, says a defender, does not deserve an unfavourable opinion: A public expression of such an opinion ought, therefore, to be prohibited. But there are occasions on which the conduct of judges deserves an unfavourable opinion. When it is deserved, there is no security for good government, unless it is allowed to be made known. How can you allow an unfavourable opinion to be delivered in the one case, and not delivered in the other. To have the benefit of it in the one case, you must submit to the evil of it in the other.
In matters of Government, undeserved praise as mischievous as undeserved Blame.
As the real point of importance is, to establish correct opinions in the minds of the people, it is as mischievous to inculcate a favourable opinion, when an unfavourable is deserved, as an unfavourable when a favourable is deserved; and, in the eye of reason, it is incontrovertible, that, if the one deserves to be prevented by punishment, so does the other.
But, if an unfavourable opinion is pronounced of any public functionary; of a judge, for example, would you have it left uncontradicted? Would you not grant the liberty of calling in question the truth of the allegations, and of supporting a different opinion? If not, the character of no public functionary would be safe, and any man, however deserving, might be made to appear the proper object of the most unfavourable sentiments. Why should not the two cases be treated equally? Why should not the favourable, as well as the unfavourable opinion be open to contradiction?
It is perfectly certain, that it is not in the power of law to mark out, by antecedent definition, any sort of men, of whom it can say, all opinions favourable to such men shall be punished. It can never be affirmed of any men beforehand, that they will certainly perform such and such injurious actions. If they do perform them, all declarations conformable with the matter of fact are good. But the question is, whether they have performed them? One man affirms that they have. Is that to be taken for granted? And is no man to be allowed to affirm the contrary, and to sift the grounds upon which the allegations of the other man are supported? It is by weighing well the evidence on both sides, that a well-founded opinion is capable of being formed. And it is certain, that the best security for having the evidence on both sides fully adduced, and the strength and weakness of it perfectly disclosed, is by permitting all those who are attached to different opinions to do what they can for the support of them.
If it is evident that it ought not to be permitted to speak evil of public functionaries without limit, while any limit is put to the power of speaking well of them; it is equally evident that, for the purpose of forming a correct opinion of their conduct, it ought not to be permitted to speak well of them, and oppose any limit whatsoever to the power of speaking ill of them.
It ought not to be permitted to speak evil of them without an equal liberty of speaking well; because, in that case, the evidence against them might be made to appear much stronger than it was. It ought not to be permitted to speak well of them without an equal liberty of speaking ill; because, in that case, the evidence in favour of them might be made to appear much greater than it really was. In either case, the people would be misguided, and defrauded of that moral knowledge of the conduct of their rulers, the paramount importance of which has so fully appeared.
It may be said (as by the short-sighted, if we did not anticipate them, it would be said), that if, by limiting the power of censure, the people are made to judge more favourably of their rulers than they deserve, the evil is small; but if they are permitted to form a very unfavourable opinion, the consequences are alarming.
We believe it may be rigidly demonstrated, that no evils are greater than those which result from a more favourable opinion of their rulers, on the part of the people, than their rulers deserve; because just as far as that undue favour extends, bad government is secured. By an opinion of their rulers more favourable than they deserve, is implied an ignorance on the part of the people of certain acts of their rulers by which the people suffer. All acts by which the rulers have any motive to make the people suffer, are acts by which the rulers profit. When the ignorance of the people extends to material points, all the evils of bad government are secured. These are the greatest of all possible evils. To this it will not be said that the ignorance of the people ought to extend. On all material points, it is admitted, then, that the freedom of censure ought to be complete. But if it is to be allowed on great points, on those where it is calculated to excite the greatest disapprobation; what can be thought of their consistency, who would restrain it on those where it is only calculated to excite a small? If it is proper to protect the people from great injuries at the hands of their rulers, by exciting a strong, it is good to protect them against small injuries, by exciting a weak disapprobation.
To public functionaries may be imputed either acts which they have not performed, or a want of certain qualifications, moral or intellectual, which they ought to possess.
With respect to acts, and even dispositions, which do not, either directly or indirectly, concern their public function, the same protection may be safely extended to them as to private men.
Acts in their public capacity which they have not performed, may be imputed to them either by mere forgery, and without any appearance of ground, or they may be imputed with some appearance of ground. From permitting the former, no good can be derived. They ought, therefore, to be prevented, in the same way as false imputations, injurious to individuals in their private capacity. That there should be no restraint in imputing actions to any public functionary which he may appear to have done, flows immediately from the principles already established, and requires not that any thing should here be added to its proof. Any appearance sufficient to lay the foundation of the slightest suspicion, renders it useful to call the attention of the public to the suspected part, which can only be done by making the suspicion known. A man may, indeed, publish, as a matter of fact, what is supported by appearances which would only justify the slightest suspicion. In that case, he is sure of incurring the disgrace of temerity, if not of malignity; and this is all the penalty which needs or can safely be inflicted upon him.
In imputing inaptitude to a public functionary, on the score either of intellectual or moral qualities, scarcely any limitation would be safe. Every man ought to have liberty to declare upon this subject any opinion which he pleases, and support it by any evidence which he may think adapted to the end. If, in supporting his opinion of the inaptitude of any public functionary, he imputes to him actions which there is not even an appearance of his having performed, that limited prohibition, the propriety of which we have just recognized, will strictly apply. With this exception, freedom should be unimpaired.
We have now, therefore, explained, we hope sufficiently, in what manner the principles which we have established require, that the use of the press should be regulated in speaking of the actions of public functionaries, and of their fitness for the duties which they are appointed to discharge, whether those functionaries are the immediate representatives of the people, or others whom it is the business of those representatives to control.
Freedom of Censure on the Institutions of Government is necessary for the good of the People.
We have next to inquire in what manner those principles require that the use of the press should be regulated in speaking of the institutions of government. The illustrations already adduced will supersede the use of many words upon this part of the subject.
Institutions of government are good in proportion as they save the people from evil. Institutions of government are bad in proportion as they are the cause of evil to the people, either by what they create, or what they fail in preventing.
According to this statement, which it is impossible to controvert, institutions of government may, in strict propriety of speech, be said to be the cause of all the evil which they do not save the people from, and from which the people would be saved by any other institutions.
It is therefore of the highest importance that the people should know what are the institutions which save from the greatest quantity of evil, and how much their own institutions want of being those best institutions.
Institutions of government are bad, either because those in whose hands the powers of government are placed do not know that they are bad, and though willing, cannot improve them; or they are bad, because those who have in their hands the powers of government do not wish that they should be improved.
Where the rulers are willing, but do not know how to improve the institutions of government; every thing which leads to a knowledge of their defects is desirable to both rulers and people. That which most certainly leads to such knowledge is, that every man who thinks he understands any thing of the subject, should produce his opinions, with the evidence on which they are supported, and that every man who disapproves of these opinions should state his objections. All the knowledge which all the individuals in the society possess upon the subject is thus brought, as it were, to a common stock or treasury; while every thing which has the appearance of being knowledge, but is only a counterfeit of knowledge, is assayed and rejected. Every subject has the best chance of becoming thoroughly understood, when, by the delivery of all opinions, it is presented in all points of view; when all the evidence upon both sides is brought forward, and all those who are most interested in showing the weakness of what is weak in it, and the strength of what is strong, are, by the freedom of the press, permitted, and by the warmth of discussion excited, to devote to it the keenest application of their faculties. False opinions will then be delivered. True; but when are we most secure against the influence of false opinions? Most assuredly when the grounds of those opinions are the most thoroughly searched. When are the grounds of opinions most thoroughly searched? When discussion upon the subject is the most general and the most intense; when the greatest number of qualified persons engage in the discussion, and are excited by all the warmth of competition, and all the interest of important consequences, to study the subject with the deepest attention. To give a body of rulers, or any other body of men, a power of choosing, for the rest, opinions upon government, without discussion, we have already seen, upon good evidence, is the way to secure the prevalence of the most destructive errors.
When institutions are bad, and the rulers would gladly change them if they knew they were bad, discussion, it will not be disented, would be good for both parties, rulers, and ruled. There is, however, another case, and that by far the most common, where the rulers are attached to the bad institutions, and are disposed to do all in their power to prevent any alteration. This is the case with all institutions which leave it in the power of the men who are entrusted with the powers of government, to make use of them for their own advantage, to the detriment of the people; in other words, which enable them to do injury to the people, or prevent the people from good. This is the case with by far the greater number of those institutions by which the people suffer. They are institutions contrived for benefiting the few at the cost of the many.
With respect, therefore, to the greater number of defective institutions, it is the interest of the rulers that true opinions should not prevail. But with respect to those institutions, it is of still greater importance to the people that discussion should be free. Such institutions as the rulers would improve, if they knew that they were defective, will be improved as the rulers themselves become sensible of their defects. Such defective institutions as the rulers would not wish to see improved, will never be improved, unless the knowledge of those defects is diffused among the people, and excites among them a disapprobation which the rulers do not think it prudent to disregard.
That the prevalence of true opinions among the people, relative to those defects in their political institutions, by which the rulers profit at their expence, is of the utmost importance to the people, is therefore a proposition, which no improbity will dare openly to controvert. That freedom of discussion is the only security which the people can have for the prevalence of true opinions has already been proved. It is therefore proved, that freedom of discussion, in its utmost perfection, they ought to enjoy.
What is included in the term freedom of discussion, is evident from what has already been said.
Freedom of discussion means the power of presenting all opinions equally, relative to the subject of discussion; and of recommending them by any medium of persuasion which the author may think proper to employ. If any obstruction is given to the delivering of one sort of opinions, not given to the delivering of another; if any advantage is attached to the delivering of one sort of opinions, not attached to the delivery of another; so far equality of treatment is destroyed, and so far the freedom of discussion is infringed; so far truth is not left to the support of her own evidence; and so far, if the advantages are attached to the side of error, truth is deprived of her chance of prevailing.
To attach advantage to the delivering of one set of opinions, disadvantage to the delivering of another, is to make a choice. But we have already seen, that it is not safe for the people to let any body choose opinions for them. If it be said, that the people themselves might be the authors of this preference, what is this but to say, that the people can choose better before discussion than after; before they have obtained information than after it? No, if the people choose before discussion, before information, they cannot choose for themselves. They must follow blindly the impulse of certain individuals, who, therefore, choose for them. This is, therefore, a pretence, for the purpose of disguising the truth, and cheating the people of that choice, upon which all their security for good government depends.
If these deductions are as clear and incontrovertible as to us they appear to be, the inquiry respecting the principles which ought to regulate the use of the press is drawn pretty nearly to its close. We have shown, that, as far as regards the violation of the rights of individuals, in respect to both persons and things, no definition on account of the press is required. We have shown in what manner the rights of individuals, in regard to reputation, should be defined by the civil code, and the violation of them prevented by the penal. We next proceeded to what may be considered as the main branch of the inquiry, namely, the use of the press in speaking of the institutions and functionaries of government. We have found, that in this respect the freedom of the press is of such importance, that there is no security for good government without it. We have also found, that the use of it, in respect to those subjects, admits but of two useful restrictions;—that of a direct exhortation to obstruct any of the operations of government in detail, and that of imputing to a functionary of government a criminal act, which there was no ground, nor even any appearance of ground, to impute to him. These restrictions, of course, it would be very easy to define in the criminal code, and to find appropriate motives to sanction. In all other respects, we have seen that the press ought to be free; that if there is any limit to the power of delivering unfavourable opinions, respecting either the functionaries, or the institutions of government, and of recommending those opinions by any media, with the single exception of false facts, under the circumstances mentioned above, the benefits which may be derived from the freedom of the press are so greatly infringed, that hardly any security for good government can remain.