Front Page Titles (by Subject) Appendix A: McCulloch's Discourse on Political Economy (1825) - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume V - Essays on Economics and Society Part II
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Appendix A: McCulloch’s Discourse on Political Economy (1825) - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume V - Essays on Economics and Society Part II 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume V - Essays on Economics and Society Part II, ed. John M. Robson, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967).
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McCulloch’s Discourse on Political Economy (1825)
Westminster Review, IV (July, 1825), 88-92. Unsigned; not republished. Original heading: “Art. VI. A Discourse on the Rise, Progress, Peculiar Objects, and Importance of Political Economy. By J. R. M’Culloch, Esq. Second Edition. pp. 117. Edinburgh [: Constable]. 1825.” Running head: “M’Culloch’s Discourse on Political Economy.” Not mentioned in JSM’s bibliography or Autobiography. Vol. IV of the Westminster is missing from the Mills’ set in Somerville College. Identified as partly by JSM in Alexander Bain, James Mill (London: Longmans, Green, 1882), 292, where a letter from James Mill to McCulloch (18/8/25) is cited, reading in part: “I suppose you have seen by this time the review of your Discourse in the Westminster? John expresses great dissatisfaction with the behaviour of the editors. The whole was the joint production of him and [William] Ellis: but they say that several important things were left out, and the article, by that and other editorial operations, disfigured.” (Cf. Edmund K. Blyth, Life of William Ellis [London: Kegan Paul, Trench, 1889], 35-6, 352.) There is no external evidence to indicate what part of this slight review is by JSM; if a guess is permissible, it seems likely that the sketch of the history of Political Economy is his.
if there is one sign of the times upon which more than any other we should be justified in resting our hopes of the future progression of the human race in the career of improvement, that sign undoubtedly is, the demand which is now manifesting itself on the part of the public for instruction in the science of Political Economy. It is unnecessary for us to bring forward any evidence to prove the existence of this demand—the fact is sufficiently notorious. It is equally notorious, that considerable respect is now paid by the more enlightened portion of our administration to the great principles of the science; that many members of the House of Commons are beginning to be familiar with the demonstrations by which those principles are established; and that those who have inherited the ignorance of their ancestors with their estates, have of late been obliged, however ungraciously, on many occasions, by the force of public opinion, to bow down to others who have less reverence for the errors of the past. And yet, surprising as it may appear, it is no less notorious, that up to the year 1818, the science of political economy was scarcely known or talked of beyond a small circle of philosophers, and that legislation, so far from being in conformity with its principles, was daily receding from them more and more.
At that time all the most important principles contained in the science had been clearly demonstrated, and the materiel for the formation of a regular system was collected. A long interval elapsed after the publication of the Wealth of Nations, in 1776, without any thing worth mentioning being contributed to the science. In 1798 appeared Malthus’s Essay upon the Principle of Population; in 1802, Mr. Say’s work;[*] in 1815, two Essays upon the Nature of Rent;[†] and in 1817, Mr. Ricardo’s profound work upon the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation; and finally, in 1821, Mr. Mill’s Elements of Political Economy.
The attention of those who wish to see an amelioration in the condition of the great mass of mankind ought henceforward to be mainly directed to the means of communicating to all that which is now known only to a few. The principal difficulty is overcome—the road to happiness is discovered—no groping, no perplexing research, no hopeless, thankless toil is required—all that remains to be done is, to remove the obstacles which conceal that road from the view of those who are less fortunate than ourselves. The perfectibility of the human species has long been looked upon as a fit subject of speculation for castle-builders and Utopians; and certainly the schemes by which it has frequently been thought that this perfectibility might be brought about, were well calculated to excite a smile even on the countenance of the most benevolent. On the other hand, political economists, as a class, have often been held up to hatred because their doctrines were considered as adverse to the scheme of perfectibility. This hatred has, however, been extremely ill-placed. For, waiving any opinion as to the scheme of perfectibility, and as to the possibility of attaching any very precise idea to the term, it must be allowed that political economists have shown in what manner the condition of mankind may be considerably improved. It must be allowed, moreover, that, previous to their inquiries, unknown causes existed, by which all plans for improvement were checked and counteracted. Not only have they pointed out these causes of evil, but, fearlessly braving the prejudices of the ignorant and vulgar, they have brought to light a remedy by which that evil may be averted. If, therefore, they are of opinion that the perfectibility of the species is a mere vision, although bright and fascinating to dwell upon, they have, at all events, produced a plan by which a large addition may almost immediately be made to human happiness, and which will ultimately raise the species to a state at least approaching to the perfectibility which has been aimed at.
The readiness with which all the late discoveries in economical science have been received and assented to, and the success which has attended all the attempts that have been made to diffuse a knowledge of them, hold out the strongest encouragement to those who have already devoted either time or talent for the purpose of imparting useful information, to persevere in their course, and to others to follow their example. Of all who have hitherto been engaged in this meritorious employment, there is no one who has distinguished himself more than the author of the Discourse which we have before us. Were it possible to trace any portion of the improvement in the public mind within these few years to the labours of particular individuals, we think that much might be traced to those of Mr. McCulloch. In him are united a profound knowledge of the principles of the science, a most uncommon degree of skill in illustrating and expounding them, a complete mastery of all the errors and sophisms which have heretofore prevailed, and of the arguments by which they are to be met, with an apostolic zeal in communicating his knowledge to others. What other qualities can be required to entitle a man to the character of a perfect teacher?
In the early part of last year a Lectureship upon Political Economy was founded for a limited number of years in honour of the late Mr. Ricardo; a manner of commemorating the virtues and talents of that great philosopher, as consonant to what it might be supposed would be his wishes, as it was creditable to the judgment of his friends and admirers. The well-known qualifications of Mr. McCulloch pointed him out to these gentlemen as the fittest person to fill the lecturer’s chair. Mr. McCulloch had already given some courses of lectures at his own private risk at Edinburgh; but doubts were entertained by many whether the public mind was yet ripe for such an institution. The success, however, which attended his first course far exceeded the most sanguine expectations of the most ardent friends of the science, and induced a number of public-spirited individuals to invite him to deliver a course of lectures in the city, in addition to the one which he was engaged to deliver as Ricardo lecturer.
The student who wishes to form an idea of what political economy really means, and to judge for himself whether the knowledge of the science would repay him for the time and application which he must necessarily sacrifice in order to obtain it, cannot do better than purchase this pamphlet. It does not contain more than 117 pages, and is written in a popular and pleasing style. In it he will find a general view of the principles on which the science is founded; the distinguishing features of the most celebrated theories that have been advanced to explain its various results; the distinction between it and politics; and some remarks illustrative of the utility of its study to all ranks and orders of the community.
Mr. McCulloch puts forth no pretensions to originality in this discourse. It was written evidently with a view to attract those who as yet are strangers to the science. In this he has more than succeeded. Whoever carefully peruses its contents cannot fail to be inspired with a wish to perfect himself in the science, since he will see the necessity of either ceasing to take a part in the discussion of public affairs, or of qualifying himself to discuss them philosophically. Our space will not permit us to indulge in many examples of the style and spirit of the work. We subjoin the following:
There is a peculiarity in the political and economical sciences which deserves to be noticed, inasmuch as it serves to show the superior necessity and importance of general instruction in their principles. The peculiarity in question originates in the circumstance of the politician or economist being extremely apt to be influenced by other considerations than a regard to the interests of truth and the public welfare. The cultivators of the mathematical and physical sciences, can very rarely have any motive to bias their judgments, or to induce them to conceal or pervert the truth. But such is not the case with those who discuss political or economical questions. Every abuse, and every vicious and unjust institution and regulation, operates as a bounty on the production of false theories; for, though injurious to the public, they are almost always productive of advantage to a greater or smaller number of individuals, who, to preserve this advantage, enlist a portion of the press into their service, and labour, by means of perverted and fallacious statements, to make the public believe that the abuse is really beneficial to them, and that they are interested in its support. These attempts to make the worse appear the better cause, or to make the most flagrant abuses be viewed as national benefits, have very often been attended with complete success. And there are plainly no means of obviating this evil, of correcting what is really disadvantageous in the influence of the press, and of preventing the public from being misled by the specious sophistry of those whose interest and object it is to delude them, except by making them generally acquainted with the elementary and fundamental truths of this science. . . . . . Ignorance is the impure and muddy fountain whence nine tenths of the vice, misery, and crime, to be found in the world are really derived. Make the body of the people once fully aware of the circumstances which really determine their condition, and you may be assured that an immense majority will endeavour to turn that knowledge to good account. If you once succeed in convincing a man that it is for his interest to abandon one line of conduct and follow another, the chances are ten to one that he will do so.
[[*] ]Say, Jean-Baptiste, Traité d’économie politique. 2 vols. Paris: Deterville, 1803.
[[†] ]Malthus, T. R. An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent. London: Murray, 1815; West, Edward. Essay on the Application of Capital to Land. London: Underwood, 1815.