Front Page Titles (by Subject) 360.: AUSTIN ON CENTRALIZATION MORNING CHRONICLE, 6 FEB., 1847, PP. 4-5 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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360.: AUSTIN ON CENTRALIZATION MORNING CHRONICLE, 6 FEB., 1847, PP. 4-5 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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AUSTIN ON CENTRALIZATION
John Austin (1790-1859), husband of Sarah, lawyer and jurisprudentialist, with whom Mill had studied law in the early 1820s, had reviewed works by Cormenin, Vivien, Dunoyer, and Laing in “Centralization,” Edinburgh Review, LXXXV (Jan. 1847), 221-58 (anonymously, but the author’s identity was known to Mill). Austin was by temperament and habit unable to publish much, a circumstance that explains Mill’s comment to him in a letter of 13 Apr., 1847: “The notice in the Chronicle, to which I am indebted for your letter, was, as you supposed, mine. It is really a pity that all the trouble you must have taken with the article on Centralisation should have produced nothing more than a review article.” (EL, CW, Vol. XIII, p. 711; for further praise of the article, and comment on Austin’s abilities and problems, see Mill’s letter to Alexander Duff-Gordon of 27 Jan., 1847, ibid., pp. 706-7.) This unheaded third leader (not a review) is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A leading article on Mr. Austin’s article in the Edinburgh Review on Centralization, in the Morning Chronicle of 6th Febry 1847”
(MacMinn, p. 67).
there are two modes of arguing disputed questions, whether speculative or practical: one of these has the recommendation of being most to the purpose, the other has that of being the easiest, and very often the most persuasive. The first is, to discuss the thing on its special merits: if what you are contending against is a principle, to prove that it is false; if a project, to show that it is ill adapted to its purpose, or point out some pernicious consequences which it tends to produce. The other, and shorter mode of attack, is to find some phrase which, for reasons good or bad, is understood in an alarming sense, and which is sufficiently elastic to bear any little stretching that may be necessary to enable the opinion you are desirous of discrediting to be brought within it. Many a moral and political truth, many a salutary proposal, have been hooted down, without the compliment of examination, because they were said to be theory. Every newspaper presents examples of some wiseacre who thinks he has completely demolished some maxim of reason and common sense by calling it political economy. If it is proposed to take anything from anybody, no matter how little right he may have to it, or how ample a compensation it is intended to give him, spoliation is the word. We have often thought that a dictionary of catch-words, with a full analysis of the proper meaning of each in the English language, and an enumeration of its misapplications, distinguishing the ideas it ought to convey, and those which it only serves to confound, would be a valuable service, both to public discussion and to philosophy.
A service of this nature has been rendered by an admirable article in the last number of the Edinburgh Review, with respect to a word continually bandied to and fro by loose talkers on government and administration, when discussing subjects beyond their comprehension—the word “Centralization.” The article is the production of an eminently clear and precise thinker; qualities which ought to be much commoner than they are, for every one is not capable of thinking profoundly, but all ought to be able to think with exactness, to be fully masters of their ideas, and of the meaning of the terms they use. But this writer has still higher merits; a power and a determination to go to the very bottom of his subject, and be satisfied with no explanation which leaves any real difficulty unsolved. His style of writing is worthy of such a thinker; he uses no word by which something is not added to the sense.
Any interference by a government, [says the reviewer,] with the interests and concerns of its subjects, however expedient that interference may be, is reproached by those who would raise a prejudice against it with a tendency to centralization; and by this brandishing of a word (which, as being imperfectly understood, is full of mysterious terrors) they can work on the practical convictions of their hearers or readers with an effect which they could not produce by a perspicuous statement of their reasons. To obviate the prevalent mistakes concerning centralization, and to obviate the obstacles to improvement which they have raised, and are likely to raise, is the purpose of the present article.
And with this view he endeavours to define and fix the idea of centralization, and to distinguish it from the things with which it is habitually confounded, more especially from “over-governing, that is, an over-meddling by governments with the interests and concerns of their subjects.” [Ibid.]
Centralization, according to the reviewer’s simple and comprehensive conception, means, such a constitution of the subordinate authorities in a state, and such a determination of their functions, as tends strongly to make them practically dependent upon the supreme or sovereign authority. In theory, they are always thus dependent. It is assumed in all governments, that every subordinate authority exercises only such powers as the legislature confers, and exercises them for the end and in the spirit which the legislature intended and approves. It is never supposed that they assert any independence of the supreme power in the state, or exercise any other discretion than what that supreme power knowingly and purposely entrusted to them. A centralized administration, then, is an administration so organized as to insure that the conformity thus assumed in theory, between the intentions of the supreme and the conduct of the subordinate authorities, shall exist in fact. And the reviewer has no difficulty in showing that centralization, thus understood, is one of the main elements of good government; that, “if the form of the government be good, centralization will enhance its good tendencies; if the form of the government be bad,” the same thing will “go far to correct its bad ones.” [P. 236.]
But we are most desirous to draw attention to the portion of the article which combats the prevailing misconceptions. A centralized government, as commonly conceived, is “an over-regulating, over-restraining, over-protecting government; paternal, as its friends would call it; a pestilent busy-body, as it would be called by its enemies.” In opposition to this notion, the writer contends that “centralization has no tendency whatever to lead a government to excessive interference;” that the over-meddling of certain centralized governments is not an effect of their centralization, but of the erroneous opinions which pervade alike the governments and the people, respecting the legitimate province of government, and the proper limits of its interference. [P. 237.]
In France, Prussia, and Austria, protection for national industry against the competition of foreigners is still part and parcel of the economical creed of the majority: the same may be affirmed of police regulations determining the prices of provisions, or interfering with the rates of wages or the hours of labour; nay, the vexatious passport system, considered as a precaution against crimes, is generally regarded with favour, and endured with cheerful resignation. In these cases (produced as examples), and in many analogous cases, the cause of the over-governing is the false and prevalent opinion; [and as opinion improves,] the excessive governing has already diminished, and the disposition to it is rapidly declining.
The writer also shows, that the uncentralized governments which preceded the present governments of those countries, carried over-governing to a much greater excess. [Pp. 238-9.] The ignorant and mischievous meddling of the French Government, before the Revolution, with the freedom of labour and the processes of industry, was immeasurably worse than anything which can be justly imputed to the present centralized government of France.
The reviewer fully examines two other current misconceptions respecting centralization; that it implies a needless multiplication of public functionaries, and gives, therefore, large means of corruption or influence to the head of the administration; and that it is inconsistent with the existence or with the proper power and influence of popular local authorities. On the first point, he shows that under a regularly and systematically constituted administration there would, on the contrary, be fewer functionaries required than when the organization is crude and confused, and he points out the real causes which have made the countries of the Continent of Europe suffer under the evil of an undue multitude of functionaries. [Pp. 242-9.] With respect to local authorities, he shows that undue jealousy of their powers, and improper limitation of their discretion, are in no respect inherent in centralization; which merely requires that the functions of each local authority shall be precisely defined, and limited to purely local objects. [Pp. 249-56.] When thus defined and limited, he justly considers not only their existence, but, to a great degree, their freedom of action, to be important elements of a well constituted government.
The immediate end of local government, [he observes,] is a good administration of local affairs: the social education of the country at large is, or ought to be, its ulterior and paramount object. It appears to us, that the friends of centralization make a mistake which seriously damages their cause. In reference to the attributes of local governments, they look too much to the immediate end of the institution, and think too little of its remoter and larger purpose. There has been (for example) in France, till within the last few years, an excessive disposition to limit the powers of such governments, and to subject them to the control of the general administration. In respect to the immediate end, the disposition may be justified or excused; for, owing to their crude conceptions of local interests, the local governments, if not so limited and checked, might frequently abuse their powers, to the detriment of the country and the localities. But by this grudging and jealous policy, the remoter and larger purpose is nearly or altogether defeated. It may prevent the authorities of local origin from abusing their powers. But it also perpetuates their indifference about public interests, and their ignorance of public affairs; since no man enters with heart and mind into any business committed to his care if nothing is left to his discretion, and he is treated with systematic mistrust. The policy, moreover, thwarts the ends of centralization, by a more direct and obvious consequence; for, by offending the self-love of the local authorities and populations, it tends to set them in opposition to the central authority.
After a careful consideration of the different modes in which the connection between the local authorities and the general government may be regulated, he gives a deliberate preference to the plan according to which
the active government of every locality would be placed in authorities of local origin; the general administration having a consultative voice. Specified administrative powers, calculated as well as might be to prevent the administrators from abusing them, would be given to the local authorities; these being bound, however, to ask the preliminary advice of the appropriate department of the general administration in every matter of importance and difficulty.
By this system
the immediate and remote ends of local government would probably be reconciled to no inconsiderable extent. The obligation of the local administrators to consult the general administration would be a considerable (though a merely moral) security against their abusing their powers. Their habitual exercise of considerable discretionary powers would give them a political education, and a care for public interests. By their habitual contact with the chief departments of the general administration, this important effect of their unshackled activity would be greatly enhanced. As those departments are constantly occupied with all the sections of the country, their experience of local affairs is far more varied than that of the local authorities in any particular locality; and being accustomed to regard such affairs in relation to the general interests, they are naturally superior to the local partialities and prejudices by which such authorities are as naturally blinded and misled. The results of their varied experience and dispassionate judgments would be constantly offered to the consideration of the local governments; and, as coming in the shape of advice rather than the form of command, would find a ready acceptance with the local governments and populations, and insensibly correct their misconceptions of their special interests.
Citations like those we have made give a most imperfect idea of the contents and merits of an essay so crowded with matter, and valuable not only as a contribution to its special subject, but as a model to the philosophical student. We must for the present be satisfied with having called attention to a paper which, from its elaborate character, is in danger of being overlooked by the mere review reader; but we shall have future opportunities for availing ourselves of some of the important and forcibly expressed thoughts continually thrown out by the writer on points incidental to his subject.