Liberty Matters

Sandra Peart, “James Mill on Liberty and Governance” (September 2014)

The political thought of James Mill is not as well known as it should be. This online discussion attempts to reassess his contribution to classical liberal political theory via his dichotomy between the ruling “Few” (or what he also called at times “the sinister interest” and the subject “Many.” As an activist in the movement for political and economic reform in England during the 1820s and 1830s James Mill and his fellow Philosophic Radicals sought to analyse the British establishment, the source of their power, how they used it to benefit themselves at the expense of ordinary people, and how they might be dislodged from their privileged position by a combination of electoral reform by opening up the franchise to the middle class and economic reform by repealing the protectionist corn laws. In the course of these campaigns he thought deeply about the nature of political power and democracy which the participants in this discussion will discuss at greater length. The lead essay is by Sandra J. Peart at the University of Richmond and the response essays are by Terence Ball at Arizona State University, Andrew Farrant at Dickinson College, and Quentin P. Taylor at Rogers State University.
It never ought to be forgotten, that, in every country, there is “a Few,” and there is “a Many;” that in all countries in which the government is not very good, the interest of “the Few” prevails over the interest of “the Many,” and is promoted at their expence. [James Mill] [1]
In recent years the “Coexist” bumper sticker has gained some popularity.  I’ve wondered why my colleagues divide on this seemingly trivial matter: some display it with pride while others find the message annoying. Yet perhaps the divide reflects varied reactions to the problem that preoccupied James Mill: we all form relationships to groups that are stronger than our ties to the entirety of persons. The “Coexist” sticker exhorts us to be loyal to the full group and to downplay our ties to local groups.
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For James Mill, the consequence of divided loyalties, especially when institutionalized in political structures, was that the Few would promote their interests at the expense of the Many. The key question in this essay is how Mill – and those before and after him – was sanguine about coexistence in a free society when he nonetheless recognized the dangers associated with the interests of smaller groups being overwhelmed by the desires and consequent actions of larger, more powerful groups, or factions. In Mill’s view, economists had much to say about this “most important” question, but they had received little credit for their analysis. [2]  Sadly, notwithstanding the awarding of Nobel prizes in economic science to economists or political scientists such as James Buchanan, Douglass North, Elinor Ostrom, and Vernon Smith, whose work centered on arrangements that best align individual and group interests, the same might be said today.
The Self and Others
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Economists have struggled for centuries with the relationship between the self and others. For those in the classical tradition of Adam Smith through James and then John Stuart Mill, the question was central to all economic analysis, to the wealth and flourishing of nations. Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments made the case that economic actors are not selfish or even simply self-interested, because they also sacrifice their own material or physical well-being to help others, even though they “derive nothing[3] from doing so, no promise of future reciprocity, no reputational gain, nothing but the pure joy associated with a praiseworthy act.  For Smith, one becomes virtuous through the imaginative exchange of approbation, by learning what is praiseworthy as well as by obtaining well-deserved praise.
For Smith, James Mill, and his eldest son John Stuart Mill, economic activity is a means by which people acquire a sense of reciprocity, fairness, trust, duty, and altruism. In contrast with the modern economic turn that developed an economics of isolated actors unconnected to others by bonds of friendship or language, classical economists presupposed that people are embedded in social contexts. In this view, cooperation in economic and social activity emerged from the resulting interactions; as Smith put it, actors entered into a “great school of self-command” of language and self-sacrifice.[4]
The Problem
Classical economists held that all people are connected by bonds of sympathy that carry motivational force and generate a wide sphere of reciprocity. Yet they also recognized the strong tendency for people to form groups characterized by relative uniformity in social or economic dimensions.  Here arose the danger of “factions,” of cooperative action within one group at the expense of another.  Unlike the division of labor, where gains from specialization and trade accrue on both sides of a transaction, for Smith and, even more, for James Mill, factions are associated with zero-sum outcomes. 
When small groups cooperate at the expense of large groups, the problem that greatly troubled James Mill, the outcome is deleterious. Smith believed that “Masters are always and every where in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is every where a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals.” [5]
Importantly, masters regard one another as “neighbours and equals”: they are close to each other in social and economic dimensions, and as a consequence they seek the approval of those within the group by taking steps that harm those outside the group. 
While Smith focused on the economic problem of collusion, it was the political context of groups exploiting one another that especially troubled James Mill. In Mill’s view, such factions emerge out of and then rely on and reinforce political or economic power. Unchecked power is the means by which an individual or a group promotes its interest to the detriment of others:
[I]f one man has power over others placed in his hands, he will make use of it for an evil purpose; for the purpose of rendering those other men the abject instruments of his will.[6]
When one is “lifted high above” others, one need not earn the approval of the ruled; instead one is afforded a “powerful means of obtaining their services” whether one acts in a deserving manner or not, “altogether independent of his conduct.”
James Mill followed Smith in using sympathetic considerations to explain group formation, organization, and persistence. For Mill, as for Smith, affection for others is motivational: “that important class of Motives which arise from the contemplation of our fellow-creatures, as the cause of our Pleasures, and Pains.” [7]  Small groups are especially effective if they contain those who are sympathetically connected:
Where the inhabitants of a country are divided into classes, a Ruling Class, and a Subject Class, the members of the Ruling Class have hardly any sympathies, except with one another; in other words, have agreeable associations with the pleasures, and removal of the pains, of hardly any persons, but those who belong to the same class.[8]
Groups are characterized by and reinforce “associations” that carry motivational weight, with “terrible” effects. One practical example Mill offered of the results of faction was Ireland, whose “misfortune” was that it was ruled by an aristocracy that aligned itself with the aristocracy of England rather than the people of Ireland.[9]
The problem with small groups is that instead of trying to be praiseworthy by doing what’s best for the widest possible group, people in small groups are motivated to obtain praise from those like them, their colleagues.[10] Obtaining praise, of course, depends upon the group to which an individual happens to belong. As this is often a matter of happenstance, of birth, there is no reason to believe that motivation by praise will serve ends beyond that the immediate group. For the Few to act in such a way as to benefit the largest group possible, the concerns of the largest group must serve as motivation. What links Smith and the two Mills is their laser-like focus on praiseworthiness as motivation[11].
For James Mill, the rulers and the ruled are the principal example of factions. This division in turn reflected a deep divide between rich and poor, one that left the laboring classes rightly “suspicious” of the ruling class
It is not duly considered by the upper ranks of the population, how inseparable from human nature are the suspicions of those who are weak, toward those who are strong; the suspicions of those who are liable to be hurt, towards those who are capable of hurting them. And it is only the blindness of self-love, and our inattention to evils in which we are not called to participate, that leave us ignorant of the actual grounds in practice, whence, even in this country, the institutions of which are so much more favourable than those of most other countries to the poor, the weak have reason to dread the interference of the strong.[12]
While factions form as a result of common interests and sympathetic bonds of association, control of knowledge helps them persist:
It will be decidedly the interest of the knowing class to maintain as much ignorance as possible among the rest of the community, that they may be able the more easily to turn and wind them conformable to their own purposes; and, for that end, to study, not real knowledge, not the means of making mankind wiser and happier, but the means of deluding and imposing upon them; the arts of imposture.[13]
After control of knowledge, Mill points to fear as a means by which factions are abetted. Indeed, much “political evil” is the result of “the facility with which mankind are governed by their fears; and the degree of constancy with which, under the influence of that passion, they are governed wrong.” The few use the fears of the many to justify the creation of “large standing armies; enormous military establishments; and all the evils which follow in their train,” all of which impoverish the many and increase the likelihood of war. Colonial conquest and expansion were the predictable results of “the few” exploiting “the many”; elites in colonial countries find easy access to “the precious matter with which to influence; the other, the precious matter with which to be influenced.” [14]
What to do? A number of partial remedies follow from Mill’s analysis. Government being “the means” to secure freedom of contract and property rights, the question, first, was what form of government? In line with his worry about the many being exploited by the few, Mill argued for dispersed power through the representative system, “the grand discovery of modern times,” the means by which the community can check the power of individuals to follow their partial interest: “All the evils of misgovernment, which we suffer, and to which we are liable, cumulated with all the evils of that horrid immorality which results from the giving and suborning prostitute votes, arise from this; -- that the people of England do not choose the members of parliament, that the majority of them are chosen by a small number of men.”[15] To further disperse power, Mill argued that representatives be chosen by a wider – though not fully inclusive – set of voters.[16]
Since control of information was essential to maintaining the close associations among the exploiting “few,” Mill argued strenuously in favor of rich information and he just as vigorously opposed any form of monopoly in the provision of knowledge.  Ignorance being “the necessary principle of all the evils which have afflicted society,” Mill argued for freedom of inquiry. More than this, he defended the freedom to examine, discuss, and contradict, 
as evidence can spring from nothing but adequate examination, from the necessity of that evidence clearly follows the necessity of examination; from the necessity of examination clearly follows the necessity of the greatest possible liberty of contradiction; and in addition to that liberty, the existence of all those political institutions which are required to give to evidence its greatest possible publicity.[17]
The need was especially pressing in politics, where “the very foundation of a good choice [of representative] is knowledge” and “the fuller and more perfect the knowledge, the better the chance, where all sinister interest is absent, of a good choice.” Here, the printing press had produced “a perfect revolution” in which Mill placed great faith for the reduction of fraud, influence peddling, and the use of force. [18]
Mill placed great hope in education as a measure to reduce the effectiveness of factions. He regarded education as the principal means by which people come to identify with a larger group:
[T]here can be no real Patriotism, no pointing of the Affection, the Motive, and Disposition, steadily to the good of the whole, without preference of any particular part; except, either in men of elevated minds and affections, in whom the larger associations, generated by a good Education, control the narrow associations, growing out of a particular position; or, in men whose position is such as to give them pleasurable associations chiefly with individuals of the general mass, whose good has this happy quality, that it is always identified with that of the community at large.[19]
The challenge for education is to widen sympathy so that its motivational force pertains to all, instead of the small group.[20]
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When T. B. Macaulay reviewed Mill’s “On Government” in the Edinburgh Review, he did not know Mill’s Human Mind, published that year, 1829, in which Mill laid out the empirical claims from which his worries about faction flowed. Macaulay provided a powerful objection to Mill’s argument about the Many and the Few:
If all men preferred the moderate approbation of their neighbours, to any degree of wealth or grandeur, or sensual pleasure, government would be unnecessary. If all men desired wealth so intensely as to be willing to brave the hatred of their fellow creatures for sixpence, Mr Mill’s argument against monarchies and aristocracies would be true to the full extent. But the fact is, that all men have some desires which impel them to injure their neighbours, and some desires which impel them to benefit their neighbours. [21] 
Yet if we think of a ruling group rather than a ruling individual, then Mill’s argument lays out the case of a group that is generous and benevolent inside the group but hawkish toward those outside the group. This fills in the detail that Macaulay rightly found missing in the case of individuals.
In Mill’s view, freedom of property (in the self and the fruits of one’s labor) was a means to obtain “the greatest possible abundance of the things adapted for human enjoyment.”[22]
Government exists as the means to ensure freedom. Since government itself created a division into the Many and the Few, with government came the danger of faction and the necessity of guarding as best we can against the powerfully corrupting influence of small groups. For Mill society guards against those dangers through free and open discussion of the differences among us, the issues that divide us, the problems we seek to solve, and the proposed remedies. Only by strict examination and rich discussion, within an institutional framework that yields places to representatives of all sorts, might we hope to avoid one group exploiting another. 
It is worth noting that despite some key differences with his father, in his review of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America,J. S. Mill developed the argument that democratic electoral competition provides the sort of education that widens one’s sympathies.[23] In On Liberty, J. S. Mill also, as is well known, championed discussion, including, significantly, discussion amidst diversity, difference, and idiosyncrasy, as the means by which we might best coexist. Accordingly, perhaps the conclusion to draw from the foregoing is that the bumper sticker of choice might be, “Discuss!”
[1.] James Mill, “Colony,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica in The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 2013). </titles/2520#Mill_1624_632>. All references henceforth are to the Liberty Fund anthology of The Poltiical Writings of James Mill unless otherwise indicated.
[2.] James Mill, “Economists,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_672>.
[3.] Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments; or, An Essay towards an Analysis of the Principles by which Men naturally judge concerning the Conduct and Character, first of their Neighbours, and afterwards of themselves. To which is added, A Dissertation on the Origins of Languages. New Edition. With a biographical and critical Memoir of the Author, by Dugald Stewart (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853). TMS Part I, Sect. 1, Chap. 1 "Of Sympahty" </titles/2620#Smith_1648_157>.
[4.] This argument, including the historical claim about 20th-century developments in economics is laid out more fully in Sandra J. Peart, “Entering the ‘Great School of Self-Command’: The Moralizing Influence of Markets, Language and Imagination,” in Robert F. Garnett, Paul Lewis, and Lenore Ealy, eds., Commerce and Community: Ecologies of Social Cooperation (London and New York:  Routledge, 2015).
[5.] Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, edited with an Introduction, Notes, Marginal Summary and an Enlarged Index by Edwin Cannan (London: Methuen, 1904). Vol. 1. Book I, Chap. VIII "Of the wages of Labour" </titles/237#Smith_0206-01_296>.
[6.] James Mill, “Government,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_992>. Here Mill was in line with Smith:  “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations. Book III, Chap. IV "How the Commerce of the Towns contributed to the Improvement of the Country" </titles/237#Smith_0206-01_1045>.
[7.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind. In ed. John Stuart Mill. (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer [1829] 1869), vol. 2, p. 270.
[8.] Ibid., p. 275.
[9.] James Mill, “Summary Review of the Conduct and Measures of the Seventh Imperial Parliament” in Parliamentary History and Review (London, 1826). </titles/2520#Mill_1624_1826>.
[10.] Experimental evidence has demonstrated that groups are collectively more self-regarding and competitive than individuals. See Makowsky, Orman, and Peart, forthcoming; <>.
[11.] John Stuart Mill emphasized this point in his father’s work:  “This paragraph, unexplained, might give the idea that the author regarded praiseworthiness and blameworthiness as having the meaning not of deserving praise or blame, but merely of being likely to obtain it. But what [James Mill] meant is, that the idea of deserving praise is but a more complex form of the association between our own or another person’s acts or character, and the idea of praise.” See J. S. Mill’s editorial comments in James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, vol. 2, p. 298.
[12.] James Mill, “Banks for Savings,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_185>.
[13.] James Mill, “Caste,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_498>.
[15.] James Mill, “Liberty of the Press,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_2858>. To mitigate against the accumulation of power by representatives, Mill urged that limits be placed on the duration of time in office. See Mill, “Government,” in Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#lf1624_head_015>.
[16.] Mill famously argued that the interests of women aligned nearly perfectly with those of their fathers or husbands; hence they might be excluded from the franchise. Macaulay took issue with the argument. See T. B. Macaulay, “Mill’s Essay on Government: Utilitarian Logic and Politics,” 1829, in Utilitarian Logic and Politics, edited by Jack Lively and John Rees (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), p. 116.  Online version: "Mill on Government. (March 1829)" in Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay, The Miscellaneous Writings of Lord Macaulay, vol. 1, (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860). </titles/99#lf1228-01_head_036>.
[17.] “Economists,” Supplement to Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_695>.
[18.] “Liberty of the Press,” Supplement to Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_1317>.
[19.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, vol. 2, p. 276.
[20.] Ibid., p. 278.
[21.] T. B. Macaulay, “Mill’s Essay on Government: Utilitarian Logic and Politics,” 1829, in Utilitarian Logic and Politics, edited by Jack Lively and John Rees (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), p. 107. See online: "Mill on Government. (March 1829)" in Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay, The Miscellaneous Writings of Lord Macaulay, vol. 1, (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860). </titles/99#lf1228-01_head_036>. Quote: </titles/99#Macaulay_1228-01_790>.
[22.] James Mill, “Economists,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. .
[23.] John Stuart Mill, “De Tocqueville on Democracy in America,” London Review I, 1835; The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, vol. 18 – Essays on Politics and Society, Part I, ed. John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977).   </titles/233#lf0223-18_head_033>.

Response Essay Professor Peart’s Mill – and Mine

Introduction and Overview
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Sandra Peart has written a fine essay which has given me much food for thought. Since my differences with her views are more matters of emphasis and attention than of substance, my brief contribution to this symposium is meant to complement and supplement hers. I propose to proceed in the following way. I begin by noting a fact that Peart -- oddly, to my mind -- never mentions that Mill was a Utilitarian and an ally -- some would say "disciple" -- of Jeremy Bentham, and that this colors everything he ever thought or wrote. Next I consider Mill’s idea of the “middle rank,” which at first sight seems to run counter to the self-consciously and conspicuously egalitarian character of Utilitarianism. I then discuss the import of "political economy" in Mill's economic and political theorizing. "Politics" and "economics" are inseparable in his thinking, and in his and Bentham's "protectionist theory" of democracy in particular. Then I turn to Mill's conception of representation and representative government, paying particular attention to a concept -- viz., gender -- to which Peart pays only passing attention but which I believe to be deserving of greater notice, for reasons I try to spell out.
The Few and the Many
The theme of "the Few" and "the Many" runs like a red thread through Peart's essay, and for good reason. Mill favored the interest of the Many not so much because he was a dyed-in-the wool democrat as because he was a Utilitarian devoted to promoting "the greatest happiness of the greatest number." This pertinent fact is strangely slighted by Professor Peart. It was certainly noted by Mill's contemporaries. Macaulay, for one, was more accurate than arch when he began his "famous attack" (as J.S. Mill called it) in the Edinburgh Review with these words: "Of those philosophers who call themselves Utilitarians and whom others generally call Benthamites, Mr. Mill is, with the exception of the illustrious founder of the sect [i.e., Bentham], by far the most distinguished."[24] And Mill, like Bentham, believed that the day of the Many had finally arrived and that a new moral and political philosophy -- Utilitarianism -- is the first to take that fact into account.
Utilitarianism is the moral and political philosophy of the Common Man – a fact noted and excoriated by aristocratic critics. And yet Mill himself was no thoroughgoing egalitarian; he had his own conception of a new kind of nonhereditary aristocracy.
The “Middle Rank”
Professor Peart reminds us that Mill took a dim view of class divisions, and most especially the division between “a Ruling Class and a Subject Class.”[25] And yet, according to some critics, Mill has his own conception of an exalted class. This I believe to be a misunderstanding of Mill’s view; but first, some background.
Political thinkers as different as Burke and Jefferson believed that there is a “natural aristocracy,” not of birth but of talent, aptitude, and education. Without ever using that much-misunderstood and maligned term, Mill has his own version, which he calls the “middle rank, . . . that intelligent and virtuous rank . . . which gives to science, to art, and to legislation itself, their most distinguished ornaments, and is the chief source of all that has exalted and refined human nature . . . .”[26] It is to this middle rank that common laborers look for advice, inspiration, and guidance. Mill makes it clear that this middle rank is not a “class” (which, as Peart notes, is for Mill a term of opprobrium); it is instead a group of people of particular intellectual and moral merit, whose value and position are made possible by education. As more people become better educated, the middle rank will grow and will eventually constitute a majority.[27] To say that Mill set great store by education – he liked to quote Helvetius’s dictum l’education peut tout – is a gross and grievous understatement. Education exalts and refines our minds and enriches our relations with others.
The Self and Others
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Peart is certainly correct in contending that "Economists have struggled for centuries with the relationship between the self and others." To this I would add the adjective "political" before "economists," as "political economy" was the term used by Adam Smith, David Ricardo (whom James Mill persuaded to write On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation), and of course James Mill himself in his Elements of Political Economy (1821). The adjective is important inasmuch as it recognizes the central role that the state plays in the economy, and perhaps particularly in protecting private property. This is the thrust of Mill's most explicit essay on political theory, “Government” (1820).
As Professor Peart reminds us, Mill maintains that the purpose of government is to promote the aggregate happiness of the community and of its individual members. Those individuals are motivated by self-interest, and particularly -- as Jeremy Bentham was not the first to note -- by their interest in experiencing pleasure and avoiding pain. (Peart rightly emphasizes the centrality of Adam Smith in Mill's thought -- his mind never lost the impress of his Scottish education -- but, surprisingly, not Bentham, who doesn't even merit a mention in her essay.) It is the nature of human beings not only to desire happiness but to expend as little energy and effort as possible in obtaining it. Labor being the means of obtaining happiness, and our own labor being painful to us, we will, unless prevented, try to live off the labor of others. Government exists to prevent this outcome by protecting the fruits of our labor -- that is, our property -- from the predations of others. This, in brief outline, is the argument advanced in support of the so-called "protectionist theory" of democracy to which Bentham and the elder Mill subscribed.
Representative Democracy
As for "the Few" and "the Many," in most previously existing political regimes, the former ruled and rode roughshod over the interests the latter. But representative democracy is different. For the first time in human history -- ancient Athenian democracy doesn't count, since so few were citizens -- it is in Mill's view possible to truly represent the interests of the many as against those of the few. Representation is for him "the grand discovery of modern times."[28]
But of course representation is a multivocal concept, with many mutually conflicting meanings.[29] In Mill's view representative government is both necessary and desirable. And that is because direct democracy would require citizens to expend undue effort and energy -- and time -- away from productive labor. Since, according to the Bentham-Mill protectionist theory, the point and purpose of government is to protect private property and the persons who acquire and own it, direct democracy runs counter to government's very raison d'être. Yet Mill's main target is not direct democracy but the claim -- advanced and defended by Burke and later by Sir James Mackintosh, T.B. Macaulay, and other Whigs -- that the Many may be well represented by the Few even if the former are not fully enfranchised. This conception of "virtual representation" was in Mill's view a sham and a smokescreen to cover the "sinister interests" of the Few, without recognizing or representing the legitimate interests of the Many.
Mill assumes without argument that each individual is the best, perhaps even the only, judge of what is or is not in his (yes, his: see below) interest. To argue otherwise, as defenders of virtual representation do, is not only factually false but morally outrageous. And yet, as William Thompson was the first to point out (Macaulay came later, and almost copied Thompson), Mill catches himself in this very snare.[30]
Gender: Mill's Moral and Logical Lapse
In what his eldest son called "the worst [paragraph] he ever wrote,"[31] Mill said that
One thing is pretty clear, that all those individuals whose interests are indisputably included in those of other individuals, may be struck off without inconvenience. In this light may be viewed all children, up to a certain age, whose interests are involved in those of their parents. In this light, also, women may be regarded, the interest of almost all of whom is involved either in that of their fathers or in that of their husbands.[32]
Thompson, and later Macaulay, pounced on Mill for condemning advocates of virtual representation while, at the same time, holding that the interests of women could be represented virtually by their husbands and/or fathers. This, says Thompson, is tantamount to letting "one half the human race" -- men -- decide what is or is not in the interest of the other half.
What might account for Mill's logical lapse? His son suggests an answer: his father was not writing "a scientific treatise on politics" but was instead advancing "an argument for parliamentary reform."[33] Advocating the extensive enlargement of the male franchise was one thing, and radical enough in its own right; to add to that a proposal for the enfranchisement of women was quite another, and a bridge too far, for purely political reasons.
But this well-meant exercise of filial piety won't wash, inasmuch as the elder Mill viewed his “Government” as a contribution to scientific theorizing about politics. It was a sketch or "skeleton map," a "comprehensive outline" in which "the principles of human nature" and their political and institutional implications were briefly and boldly traced.[34] Moreover, Mill maintained that any adequate "argument for political reform" must be based on science, not mere belief or opinion. Sometimes a contradiction is just a contradiction. And, at least where gender is concerned, Mill was quite capable of contradicting himself.
[24.] T.B. Macaulay, “Mill on Government,” Edinburgh Review, March 1829; reprinted in Terence Ball, ed., James Mill: Political Writings (Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 271. Hereinafter cited as PW. [See also Liberty Fund’s online edition of The Political Writings of James Mill </titles/2520>. Quote .]
[25.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, 2nd ed., ed. J.S. Mill and Alexander Bain (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer), vol. II, p. 275.
[26.] James Mill, “Government,” PW, pp. 41-42. [Online quote.]
[27.] Ibid.; “Education,” PW; “Schools for All,” in James Mill on Education, ed. W.H. Burston (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1969).
[28.] PW, p. 21. [Online quote.]
[29.] See Hanna Fenichel Pitkin, The Concept of Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967). For a defense of the claim that there are multiple and competing concepts of representation, see Andrew Rehfeld, “The Concepts of Representation,” American Political Science Review, August 2011, pp. 1-11
[30.] William Thompson, Appeal of One Half the Human Race (London: Longman, Hurst, Bees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1825). The two Mills’, Bentham’s, and Thompson’s views on enfranchisement are analyzed in Terence Ball, Reappraising Political Theory: Revisionist Studies in the History of Political Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), ch. 8.
[31.] J.S. Mill, The Early Draft of John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, ed. Jack Stillinger (Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1961), p. 98. This cutting criticism was excised from the revised version of Mill’s Autobiography. [See online: Volume I – Autobiography and Literary Essays in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981). Quote.]
[32.] Mill, “Government,” PW, p. 27. Peart takes note of this paragraph in passing (n. 16) but does not pursue it further. [Online quote.]
[33.] J.S. Mill, Early Draft, p. 134; see also Ball, Reappraising, p. 185. [Online version: The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I – Autobiography and Literary Essays. Quote.]
[34.] James Mill to Macvey Napier, May 11, 1820, British Library Add. MSS 34612, fol. 354; JM to Etienne Dumont, 8 June 1821, Bibliotheque Publique et Universitaire (Geneva), MS 76, fol. 21.

Response Essay James Mill on Liberty and Governance: A Reply to Professor Peart

The problem of the “few” and the “many” is a perennial theme in political thought, and one grappled with at length by such luminaries as Aristotle, Machiavelli, and John Adams. In her essay, Professor Peart explores how James Mill, the utilitarian reformer, defined and attempted to resolve this problem in early 19th-century England. As Peart indicates, Mill’s ideal resolution would go well beyond a mere willingness of distinct groups and classes to simply “coexist.” Strictly speaking, the notion of “coexistence” entails little more than mutual tolerance or forbearance, such as the “peaceful coexistence” that marked the Cold War. As a zealous reformer with a utopian bent, Mill hoped to transcend mere “coexistence” and usher in an era of social unity, harmony, and beneficence.
But how? Professor Peart suggests that Mill believed the divisions, or “factions,” in society could be overcome through a combination of economic liberty, representative government, an extended franchise, education, and open discussion. This is accurate at the level of generality. Mill did vigorously champion these measures as well as numerous other reforms that would enter into the mainstream of the Liberal tradition. On closer inspection, however, there are aspects in Mill’s body of thought that fit rather uneasily into this legacy. Let us first examine his “solution” to the problem of the “few” and the “many.” At the political level, Mill thought he found a civic elixir in representative government, “the grand discovery of modern times. . . .”[35] He believed that frequent elections based on a broad franchise would almost magically transform the political landscape. It would not only serve as a check on the “few” (who, unchecked, are always corrupt and abusive) but align the interests of the “few” with the interests of the “many.” This is not a vision of “interest group” or “broker” politics, but a plan to nearly abolish politics altogether! Mill’s solution was the creation of an “identity of interests” among social groups and classes, one not unlike the solution provided by Plato.[36] Yet to give everyone the same interests or opinions in a free society is impossible. Apparently, Mill had not read Madison’s Federalist No. 10.
It is also notable that Mill rejected the idea of “mixed government,” the alleged hallmark of the much-admired British Constitution. While the actual workings of the system were quite different from popular (and sometimes learned) conceptions, Mill had no use for a regime that purported to achieve balance and stability through institutional checks and rivalries.[37] Nor did he believe in the separation of legislative and executive power, not even in theory.[38] Had it been politically feasible he would have advocated abolition of the House of Lords and the monarchy (something even Bentham understood was not practical) and leave Britain with a unicameral legislature possessed of full sovereignty. Anything less would be to tolerate a kind of imperium in imperio, “two authorities in a state, the one capable of barring whatever the other would do.”[39] As it was, Mill advanced a plan to limit the ability of the Lords to obstruct legislation passed in the Commons: a measure passed three times in the Commons would be law without the consent of the Lords.
It should be noted that Mill wrote very little about the specifics of institutional reform or political architecture. One will search his writings in vain for anything like his son’s extended treatment of these in Considerations on Representative Government.[40] Yet given the elder Mill’s doctrine of “identity of interests,” there was little need to engage in such discussions. His one political treatise, “Government,” has long been a byword for what Leslie Stephen called “simple-minded audacity.”[41] Accordingly, Mill has little to offer the student of political theory in terms of substance, and his place in histories of political thought is correspondingly thin. This is not entirely fair to Mill, who fancied himself a philosopher and theorist, but is perhaps better described as a polemicist, an advocate, and a publicist in the cause of “radical” reform. In this capacity he was far more distinguished and successful than as a political thinker. Moreover, almost every major reform he championed was eventually adopted. Slavery was abolished, education extended, criminal law reformed, Catholics emancipated, prisons humanized, the franchise expanded, representation equalized, the press freed, trade liberalized, and the Lords, monarch, and Church reduced to ciphers. Of course, Britain witnessed other developments in the century after Mill’s death far less in accord with his reformist vision. Yet it remains an impressive record.
If there was little confusion and contradiction in Mill’s practical commitments this cannot be said of his theorizing. Professor Peart notes that Mill adopted Adam Smith’s view of man’s social nature as portrayed in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and there is certainly evidence of this influence in Mill’s economic and educational writings. Yet elsewhere, such as in the essay “Government,” man qua man is portrayed as an inherently selfish and vicious creature lacking even the “diffidence” of Hobbes’s odious Yahoo. Many of Mill’s expositors have observed this seeming contradiction. Some have attempted to extenuate his inconsistency with reference to Hume’s dictum that when considering politics, every man should be counted a knave. Yet the tension remains. As Leslie Stephen writes, Mill, “who has been laying down as a universal law that the strong will always plunder the weak, and that all rulers will reduce their subjects to abject slavery, is absolutely convinced, it seems, of the possibility of somehow transmuting selfishness into public spirit, justice, generosity, and devotion to truth.”[42]
Hobbes, in advocating absolutism, would seem to have been more consistent with his view of human nature than Mill, who advanced popular government. Yet Mill had a far more elastic view than Hobbes. On Mill’s view, human beings are capable of overcoming much of their selfishness and greed through proper training on one hand and institutional arrangements on the other. The former accounts for Mill’s great emphasis on education, anchored in a psychology that allowed for an indefinite malleability of character to the point of human perfection. However ill-founded this idea, it does serve to mitigate the charge that his view of human nature was wholly contradictory. It may be that Mill’s two versions of human nature, the reprobate and the redeemed, mirror the two sides of his animus: one, his hatred for the greed and stupidity of the Establishment (particularly the aristocracy and the Church), and two, his cherished vision of a reformed and enlightened humanity. Mill was, after all, much like a secular Calvinist.            
It would appear that like Plato, Rousseau, Jefferson, and Dewey, Mill looked to moral and mental instruction as the master-key to social and political improvement and mankind’s future felicity. Yet in his essay “Education” just the reverse seems to be the case. Here “political education” (as opposed to “domestic,” “technical,” and “social”) is hailed as “the key-stone of the arch; the strength of the whole depends upon it.”[43] As Professor Peart rightly observes, Mill placed a great deal of confidence in the power of social approbation (and disapprobation) to motivate individuals to act in socially desirable ways. For the purposes of ordinary life, the family, school, and local society (properly arranged) are sufficient to provide the appropriate sanctions to encourage correct conduct. Yet to attain “the grand objects of desire,” viz., approbation on a grand scale, it is necessary to enlist what Mill somewhat ominously calls the “political machine.” The following passage is the soaring crescendo of the essay “Education.”
Now this is certain, that the means by which the grand objects of desire may be attained, depend almost entirely upon the political machine. When the political machine is such, that the grand objects of desire are seen to be the natural prizes of great and virtuous conduct – of high services to mankind, and of the generous and amiable sentiments from which great endeavors in the service of mankind naturally proceed – it is natural to see diffused among mankind a generous ardour in the acquisition of all those admirable qualities which prepare a man for admirable actions; great intelligence, perfect self-command, and overruling-benevolence.
This, one of the most inspired passages in Mill’s vast writings, is distinctly at odds with the popular image of James Mill as a dry, passionless, prosaic philosopher of hedonism. This speaks to another incongruity in Mill’s thought – one recapitulated in that of his son: the coexistence of Benthamite hedonism with high-minded idealism. As W. H. Burston has written, for Mill “the pursuit of personal happiness meant almost precisely the reverse of what we would call a life of pleasure . . . .”[44] The passage from “Education” cited above certainly captures Mill’s idealist side, but it also raises questions about the role of the state (“political machine”) in shaping the values and directing the conduct of citizens. (It could easily be mistaken for a quote on behalf of Napoleon’s Legion of Honor.) In conjunction with Mill’s views on labor, leisure, and leadership, it reinforces the charge that Mill was a “democratic elitist.”[45] If so, this is hardly the worst of his sins, if a sin at all. Mill may have deceived himself regarding the capacity of education to transform character and for charter to transform society, but in adhering to the view that even a reformed society would remain an intellectual pyramid, he remained fast-anchored in abiding reality.
[35.] “Government,” in Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1825; </titles/mill-government> also </titles/mill-the-political-writings-of-james-mill-1815-1836#lf1624_head_015>.
[36.]  The comparison may seem far-fetched but I am not alone in drawing it. See W. H. Burston, James Mill on Philosophy and Education (London: The Athlone Press, 1973), p. 236, and Leslie Stephen, The English Utilitarians, vol. 2 (London: Duckworth & Co., 1900), p. 89. Mill was a great admirer of Plato and betrayed signs of Plato’s “intellectual politics” throughout his career.
[37.][N]o security for good government can be found in an organization of counter-forces, or a balance in the constitution . . . ,” “Economists,” in James Mill, The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Liberty Fund, 2013); /titles/2520#lf1624_head_013. See also “Government.”
[39.] “Aristocracy, ” London Review, April-July 1835 </titles/2520#lf1624_label_391>. See also “Economists” </titles/2520#lf1624_head_013>.
[40.] In John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIX – Essays on Politics and Society Part II, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Alexander Brady (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977); </titles/234>.
[41.] Stephen, English Utilitarians, p. 85.
[42.] Ibid., p. 83.
[43.] “Education,” in Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica </titles/2520#lf1624_head_014>.
[44.] Burston, James Mill, p. 230.
[45.] See Robert A. Fenn, James Mill’s Political Thought (New York: Garland Publishing, 1987), p. 153.

Response Essay James Mill: Of Faction, Sympathy, and Theodore Tugboat

In the late 1970s, James M. Buchanan told a Portuguese audience that he had been “reading a very interesting book … [an early 19th-century] debate between James Mill and [T. B.] Macaulay” that provided a “view of the institutional process” that greatly differed “from what you find anywhere today.” Indeed, Buchanan noted that he favored a “kind of return to the thinking of that period, in thinking about institutional rules.”[46] Needless to say, aspects of James Mill’s famous 1820 essay “Government”[47] have much similarity to Buchanan’s worst-case philosophy of constitutional political economy.[48] For Mill, the paradigmatic example of worst-case government is one where government is a slave-driver: The “ruling One [i.e., monarchy], or the ruling Few [i.e., aristocracy], would, if checks did not operate in the way of prevention, reduce the great mass of the people subject to their power ... to the condition of negroes in the West Indies” (emphasis added).[49] As Mill noted, those who would deny the empirical relevance of his prima facie implausible worst-case model of government would do well to meditate upon the “decisive” experiment afforded by the way in which the “English gentleman … a favourable specimen of civilization, of knowledge, of humanity, of all the qualities, in short, that make human nature estimable” had readily made slaves of his “fellow creatures” in the West Indies: Indeed, Mill insisted that “Wherever the same [unchecked] motives [i.e., the desire for power and wealth] exist, the same conduct as is displayed by the English gentleman may be expected to follow.… [N]ot one item in the motives that led English Gentlemen to make slaves of their fellow-creatures, and to reduce them to the very worst condition in which the negroes have been found in the West Indies, can be shown to be wanting, or to be less strong in the set of motives which universally operate upon the men who have power over their fellow creatures.”[50]
As is well known, T. B. Macaulay was (to put it mildly) less than persuaded by the adequacy of Mill’s worst-case reasoning and wrote a devastating 1829 response to Mill. (Macaulay’s brilliant essay was published in the Edinburgh Review.[51]) Indeed, Macaulay was equally scathing when he became embroiled in a heated and highly entertaining “bare-knuckle” debate over the merits of Mill’s essay with T. Perronet Thompson (the controversy raged in the pages of the Edinburgh Review and the Westminster Review.[52]) Macaulay is generally considered to have amply demolished Mill’s worst-case logic and to have left the rather hapless Thompson (“defending” Mill on behalf of the Westminster Review) bloody-nosed and flat on his back in the dust. As Sandra Peart has rightly noted in her essay, however, Macaulay appears to have greatly underrated the vital importance that Mill’s worst-case analytics implicitly placed on the associationist psychology that he would later set out in much detail in his 1829 Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind.[53] Indeed, one of Macaulay’s vehement complaints – there were many – about Mill’s 1820 theory of government was that Mill had seemingly “left” the way in which “sympathy” might check the abuse of power wholly “out of consideration.”[54] Nevertheless, as Sandra Peart justifiably notes, Mill’s assessment of the way in which sympathetic bias and partiality induced by exposure to “bad trains of association” warp our behavior may provide  relatively solid foundations for what might otherwise appear as Mill’s rather implausible worst-case analytics. [55] (“Bad” trains of association induce us to engage in blameworthy but profitable behavior.)
Of course, Macaulay did not deny Thompson’s charge that the “planter and the slave-driver” no more sympathized with their “negro” slaves than did the “epicure” sympathize with or care one jot about “the sentiments of oysters.”[56] Nevertheless, Macaulay took Mill’s worst-case axioms at face value and promptly and brilliantly hoisted Mill with his very own “democratic” petard.[57] As Mill’s Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind makes abundantly clear, however, his earlier analysis of the worst-case consequences of unchecked government power has rather more plausibility when we take into account Mill’s analysis of the way in which the desire for wealth and power conjunct with sympathetic partiality can lead to a narrowly self-interested “community of Interest” with the fellow members of one’s “Party, or class,” thereby assuring incessant demands for “Privileges … conferred by Legislative act.”[58] 
I imagine that Sandra would supplement what I say above about Mill’s sympathy-based class analytics by rightly reiterating her very important point about the immense weight that Mill and his eldest son (and Adam Smith too) placed on the vitally important distinction between actual praise and blame and praiseworthiness and blameworthiness per se, and her point about the way in which praise and praiseworthiness often don’t map onto one another or march in tandem (with the way in which the allure of actual praise trumps the desire to be praiseworthy having detrimental consequences for humanity writ large). As Sandra notes, Mill’s worst-case analysis of faction, party, and class posits a sharp cleavage between the individual’s desire to truly merit the epithet praiseworthy (and not be blameworthy) and his or her far stronger response (far stronger because of their repeated exposure to “bad” trains of association) to the incentives provided by the allure of actual praise and the disincentive of actual blame (incentives which are intensified by sympathetic biases with “class” and “party”).[59] As Sandra notes, moral education may provide a solution. Indeed, James Mill argued that “ [I]n minds happily trained, the love of Praiseworthiness, the dread of Blameworthiness, is a stronger feeling, than the love of actual Praise, the Dread of actual Blame” (emphasis added).[60] Hence J. S. Mill’s noting of his father’s heavy emphasis on the importance of high-quality moral education, which could potentially provide an adequately countervailing weight to the “direct motive of obtaining praise where it is to be obtained by other means than desert.”[61] Of course, moral education may prove a rather weak and non-robust reed[62] when we try to engineer a collective switch from an inferior faction-ridden equilibrium (one where narrow self-interest and pervasive sympathetic biases work hand in all-too ugly hand) to a far superior “community interest writ large” equilibrium. Nevertheless, the Mills’ wager might well be the best “bet” in town (and is much preferred to the foolish option of placing a wager on a supposedly “benevolent” dictator). I leave this aside, however, and probably wisely so (space constraints and the terrors of a harsh editorial pen – even a pen wielded by praiseworthy “word-count liberals” – are not always to be bemoaned!).[63]
All in all, and as Sandra aptly notes, Mill’s “Government” was not meant to be read as a standalone essay but in conjunction with his other essays (e.g., the wonderful essay “Liberty of the Press”), and his defense of representative institutions presupposes a well-informed electorate, a truly free press (“publicity” provided the “principle of life and strength to all other [electoral and constitutional] securities”), and a “democracy-induced” absence of sympathetic biases.[64] Nevertheless, I wonder what happens under Mill’s set of mutually reinforcing institutions (democracy, a free press, etc.) when praise and praiseworthiness do not march in tandem. Are faction and sympathetic failure exacerbated? A free but ideologically polarized press may pander to actual and faction-biased praise and blame and may attack the moderation of praiseworthiness while praising blameworthy behavior, thus inducing a far greater cleavage between praise and praiseworthiness and much intensifying underlying factional biases and enmity (Fox News anyone?). This may well further reinforce an undesirable equilibrium and make our collective escape to something better much harder.
As Sandra notes, Macaulay devastatingly homed in on Mill’s flagrantly best-case argument that sympathy would assure an identity of interest between fathers and their offspring (with men under 40, let alone their wives, daughters, or single women, consequently having no need whatsoever of a vote). Unsurprisingly, Macaulay tore Mill’s argument into confetti and charged Mill with having all-too “placidly” dogmatized “away the interests of one half of the human race.[65] As noted earlier, Buchanan was very interested in the Mill-Macaulay debate and Mill’s worst-case analytics. Nevertheless, I cannot imagine Buchanan ever making the all-too-best-case statement that “an interest identical with that of the whole community, is to be found in the aggregate males of an age to be regarded as sui juris.”[66] I wonder, however, whether some of Buchanan’s readers tend to miss the role that unbiased sympathy (or something very similar) plays in Buchanan’s constitutional project in much the same way that it can be all too easily overlooked when assessing the merits of Mill’s worst-case thinking.  For instance, Buchanan can be found arguing for constitutional rules “that will make it a relatively trivial matter as to the personal characteristics of those who happen to be selected as governors.”[67] Elsewhere, however, Buchanan notes that “historical experience … [more than amply suggests that] constitutions can be reformed without being effectively enforced,” and he adds that “[p]erhaps more important than formal constitutional changes are changes in ethical attitudes that would make attempted reforms workable. . . . There must be some general understanding that exploitation implemented through politics is just as immoral as exploitation implemented in the private sector.”[68] Thus, for Buchanan, as for James Mill, we need a far tighter alignment between that which is praiseworthy (and blameworthy) and behavior that is generally viewed as worthy of praise (or meriting blame). Peter Boettke often describes Buchanan’s constitutional project as a clarion call for a “politics which displays neither dominion nor discrimination” (e.g., no off-diagonals allowed). Perhaps praiseworthy choice is the only choice available when political equals make unanimous political choices behind a Rawls-type veil of ignorance.[69]
Of course, real-world in-period politics is a complex mix of praiseworthiness and blameworthiness, and Sandra Peart rightly urges us all to reconsider our priors, try and set aside our biases (and narrow self-interest), and do our utmost to be praiseworthy.[70] Again, however, how might we get from “here” to “there”? Similarly, what does “there” look like? For one thing, John Stuart Mill – working with much the same analytical toolkit as had his father – provided a very different assessment of what society might ultimately look like when juxtaposed with the vision of the future provided by his father. Ultimately, Sandra provides a most welcome defense of Millian democratic discussion – and by extension of Millian institutional experimentation – and she concludes by suggesting that the bumper sticker of choice might be “Discuss!” I have an alternative sticker to suggest. It is much less pithy than Sandra’s suggestion (and I will not hold my breath waiting for my royalty check) but one in keeping with the spirit of her suggestion: “Frank Knight was right (as were J. S. Mill and Buchanan). Pass it on!” This, of course, may presuppose that you drive an all-too-blameworthy gas-guzzling SUV rather than use a mode of transportation that is rather more praiseworthy.
[46.] James M. Buchanan, "Constitutional Design and Construction: An Economic Approach,” in Choice, Contract, and Constitutions (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund [1979] 2001), p. 109. Vol. 16 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan (not available onine).
[47.] James Mill, “Government,” in James Mill, The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Liberty Fund, 2013). </titles/2520#lf1624_head_015>.
[48.] Indeed, Geoffrey Brennan and Buchanan acknowledge that their Leviathan model of government marks something of a return to the worst-case “spirit of the classical political economists.” Geoffrey Brennan and James M. Buchanan, The Power to Tax (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, [1980] 2000), vol. 9 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, p. 220; </titles/2114#Buchanan_0102-09_570>.
[49.] Mill, “Government.” Bentham provides a similar worst-case assessment of government: “[T]ake the case of Negro slavery.… The Slave-holder – it may be said – for it is continually said – has an interest in common with that of his slaves. True: and so has the Mail-Coach Contractor in common with that of his horses. While working them, and so long as they appear able to work, he accordingly allows them food. Yet, somehow or other, notwithstanding this community of interest, so it is that but too often Negro as well as horse are worked to the very death. – How happens this? – How? – but because in the same breast with the conjunct interest is lodged a separate and sinister interest, which is too strong for it … [Hence] the condition of the poor people is day by day approaching nearer and nearer to the condition of the Negro and the horse” (Jeremy Bentham, “Plan of Parliamentary Reform,” London: R. Hunter, 1817, xxvi-xxvii). See online the Bowring edition of Bentham's Works </titles/1922#Bentham_0872-03_4982>. Mill (“Government”) is much taken by Montesquieu’s expression of this “important truth … ‘C'est une expérience éternelle que tout homme qui a du pouvoir est porté à en abuser; il va jusqu'à ce qu'il trouve des limites’” </titles/2520#lf1624_footnote_nt015>. This translates as “Experience constantly proves that every man who has power is impelled to abuse it; he goes on till he is pulled up by some limits.” See C. T. Ramage, ed., Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors: With English Translations and Lives of the Authors, an English Index of Subjects Analytically Arranged, Also Numerous References to Parallel Passages from Latin, Greek, and English Authors (Liverpool: Edward Howell, 1866); or the OLL online version Book XI "Of the Laws which establish Political Liberty" Chap. IV </titles/2520#lf1624_footnote_nt015>. Brennan and Buchanan use the same maxim as an epigraph to The Power to Tax </titles/2114#Buchanan_0102-09_22>.
[50.] For Buchanan, the worst-case does not necessarily have empirical relevance, but is the contingency we truly want to avoid (see David M. Levy, “Robust Institutions,” Review of Austrian Economics,2002, 15 (2-3), pp. 131-42). Also see James Mill, “Government.”
[51.] Macaulay’s wonderful “Mill’s Essay on Government: Utilitarian Logic and Politics,” is reprinted in Jack Lively and John Rees, eds., Utilitarian Logic and Politics, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), pp. 99-129. See also online </titles/99#lf1228-01_head_036>.
[52.] The entire fascinating debate is reprinted in Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics.
[53.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, (London: Baldwin and Cradock,1829). As John Stuart Mill later noted, James Mill’s “fundamental doctrine [in psychology] was the formation of all human character by circumstances, through the universal Principle of Association, and the consequent unlimited possibility of improving the moral and intellectual condition of mankind by education. Of all his doctrines none was more important than this, or needs more to be insisted on.” John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I – Autobiography and Literary Essays, ed. John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981); </titles/242#Mill_0223-01_367>.
[54.] Macaulay, “Utilitarian Theory of Government.” See Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics, p. 216. Also online </titles/99#lf1228-01_head_039>.
[55.] “A very general idea, such as that of Mankind, is an indistinct idea; and no strong association is formed with it, except by the means of Education. In the common run of men, the narrow sympathies, alone, act with any considerable force. Such men can sympathize with … their own Family, or their own class … [T]o sympathize with mankind at large, or even with the body of the people in their own country, exceeds the bounds of their contracted affections.” James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, vol. 2, pp. 231-32. (Emphasis added.)
[56.] T. Perronet Thompson, “‘Greatest Happiness’ Principle.” See Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics, p. 136.
[57.] Macaulay charged that Mill’s democratic legislature – composed of “private men” who were “zealous for the interests of the community” – would necessarily have a worst-case interest once elected, an interest “opposite to the interests of the community,” and “according to Mr. Mill … [thus] produce measures opposite to the interests of the community (Macaulay “Mill’s Essay on Government,” Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics,pp. 114-15). And online </titles/99#Macaulay_1228-01_817>. Nevertheless, Mill presupposed that democratically elected representatives who are answerable to a wide and informed electorate will sympathize with the wider interest of the community writ large and not with a narrow self-interested and frequently pocket-borough owning aristocratic class.
[58.] “There is no Love of Class … but in a Privileged Order.” Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, p. 188. For Mill, a class proper is any faction or group that has an interest “in common … which is not in common to the rest of the community” (p. 187). Mill’s 1829 analysis of “class” leaves aside the “associations … the members of a governing class have with one another” other than the “associations connected with privilege” (p. 188). 
[59.] Mill and Buchanan are much taken by Hume’s famous dictum “that, in contriving any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controuls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave.” As Hume goes on to explain, however, this dictum may well apply “in the case of politics” yet not in “fact” (“men are generally more honest in their private than in their public capacity”) because of “sympathetic biases.” Men will “go to greater lengths to serve a party, than when their own private interest is alone concerned. Honour is a great check upon mankind: But where a considerable body of men act together, this check is, in a great measure, removed; since a man is sure to be approved of by his own party, for what promotes the common interest; and he soon learns to despise the clamours of adversaries. To which we may add, that every court or senate is determined by the greater number of voices; so that, if self-interest influences only the majority, (as it will always do) the whole senate follows the allurements of this separate interest, and acts as if it contained not one member, who had any regard to public interest and liberty.” David Hume, Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary. Indianapolis, Ind. : Liberty Fund, 1977 </titles/704#Hume_0059_147>. I think it very noteworthy that Mill quotes these particular passages in his delightfully titled surrogate response to Macaulay (directed at Sir James Mackintosh). See Mill, A Fragment on Mackintosh: Strictures on Some Passages in the Dissertation by Sir James Mackintosh, Prefixed to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: Baldwin and Cradock, 1835, pp. 280-81). 
[60.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, p. 249. As J.S. Mill himself (in editorial notes to the 1869 edition of this work of his father’s 1829 work explained, moral education – favorable “circumstances” – would generate a powerful association “between deserving praise and obtaining it” (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, vol. 2, pp. 298-99, emphasis added). (J.S. Mill's notes are available onlin, James Mill's Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (1869) in John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXXI – Miscellaneous Writings, ed. John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1989). </titles/238#lf0223-31_head_024>.) As James Mill explained, a “happily” trained mind would view “the secondary feeling [desire to be praiseworthy per se] … [as by far] more powerful than the primary [desire for praise per se].” (James Mill, 1829, p. 249).
[61.] See J. S. Mill’s 1869 editorial notes, p. 299. As James Mill explained, a “happily” trained mind would view “the secondary feeling [desire to be praiseworthy per se] … [as by far] more powerful than the primary [desire for praise per se]” (Mill, 1829, p/ 249).
[62.] Levy, “Robust Institutions.”
[63.] As J. S. Mill noted in 1879, any requisite improvements in moral education are “necessarily very gradual. . . . [T]he future generation is educated by the present, and the imperfections of the teachers set an invincible limit to the degree in which they can train their pupils to be better than themselves.” In Chapters on Socialism (1879) "The Difficulties of Socialism" </titles/232#Mill_0223-05_1338>.
John Stuart Mill, 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); </titles/232#Mill_0223-05_1338>.  
Indeed, Mill – writing to Harriet Taylor in 1849 – noted that he could not “persuade” himself that she did “not greatly overrate the ease of making people unselfish. Granting that in ‘ten years’ the children of a community might by teaching be made ‘perfect’ it seems to me that to do so there must be perfect people to teach them.” John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume III – The Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy (Books III-V and Appendices), ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by V.W. Bladen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965); </titles/243#Mill_0223-03_1124>.
[64.] James Mill, “Liberty of the Press,” in James Mill, The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Liberty Fund, 2013); </titles/2520#Mill_1624_1211>.
[65.] “[W]omen have always been, and still are, over the greater part of the globe, humble companions, playthings, captives, menials, beasts of burden.” Macaulay, “Mill’s Essay on Government,” in Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics, p. 116. Also on.ine at </titles/99#Macaulay_1228-01_822>.
[66.] “Government.” Indeed, he continues, “The great principle of security here is, that the men of forty have a deep interest in the welfare of the younger men.” As Mill explains in the Human Mind, however, the sympathetic “father regards the son somewhat in the light of another self” (p. 178).  </titles/2520#Mill_1624_1003>.
[67.] James M. Buchanan, “Constitutional Restrictions on the Power of Government,” In Choice, Contract, and Constitutions (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, [1981] 2001), p. 47.
[68.] James M. Buchanan, “Distributional Politics and Constitutional Design,” in Choice, Contract, and Constitutions, p. 275.
[69.] Buchanan’s vision of a nondiscriminatory politics is something over which all manner of folk can legitimately disagree when it comes to deciding what counts as nondiscrimination and nondominion. There is a very good reason why Buchanan and Rawls found each other so fascinating.
[70.] Is this a call for the Fox News viewer to sometimes watch Link TV and vice versa? I would argue that Smith-Mill lessons about praiseworthiness and blameworthiness are better taught by an hour or so watching the very best PBS kids shows (e.g., Arthur and Theodore Tugboat).

Conversation Comments How James Might Have Been Improved Had John Stuart Mill Reviewed “On Government” before It Went to Press

I begin this second round with brief responses to Professors Ball and Taylor. I then take up in more detail the mistake noted by Professors Farrant and Ball, James Mill’s failure to argue for an extension of the franchise to women (and children?). Next I examine his views on education and mention one niggling worry: education as a potential instrument of remaking. Finally, I touch upon the issue of idealism and actuality mentioned by Professors Farrant and Taylor – how to get from here to there?
Professor Ball is of course correct that I excluded both Bentham and utilitarianism from the essay.  I focused instead on a neglected and, for political economists who work on institutional arrangements, important part of James Mill’s argument: groups, the formation of group loyalties (I thank Professor Farrant for the details on associationist psychology), and the resulting zero-sum -- or negative-sum -- outcomes of interactions within such contexts.[71] For the exploration of these issues the work of Smith is compelling and that of Bentham (or Smith’s teacher, Francis Hutcheson, who coined the utilitarian phrase) is much less so. This is not, however, to suggest their work wasn’t extremely important in other contexts.
Second, I think it fair to say that, like Smith, James Mill regarded people as a messy combination of public and private interests that were in part shaped by the institutional context in which we live. Seeking approval, seeking to be praiseworthy, people may be induced better to appreciate their commonalities and become more willing to put partial interests aside as they discuss the impartial. Professor Taylor correctly suggests this is idealistic, but it’s also true that James Mill surely knew what he was up against: he knew that partiality (and party, and faction) would remain with us for the foreseeable future.
James Mill excluded the large majority of humans from his call for an enlarged franchise. Professor Ball correctly reminds us that John Stuart Mill took issue with his father’s position, referring to it in the early draft of his Autobiography as the “worst [paragraph] he ever wrote.”[72] Indeed, John Stuart Mill worked tirelessly and at some cost to his reputation to alter marriage and property laws. In 1832, at her request, he wrote to the woman he later married, Harriet Taylor, to explain his views on women. He opined that the “indissolubility of marriage is the keystone of woman’s present lot, and the whole comes down and must be reconstructed if that is removed.” Autobiography and Literary Essays, Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, vol. 1, ed. John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981). But though the emancipation of women required a change in marriage laws to end what Mill likened to a state of slavery, much more was required:
The question is not what marriage ought to be, but a far wider question, what woman ought to be. Settle that first, and the other will settle itself. Determine whether marriage is to be a relation between two equal beings, or between a superior and an inferior, between a protector and a dependent; and all other doubts will easily be resolved.But in this question there is surely no difficulty. There is no natural inequality between the sexes.[73]
John Stuart Mill was subsequently caricatured in the popular press as having lost his sexual identity (see the Judy cartoon below).  His professional reputation, too, was seriously affected as the question of “Harriet’s influence” (and hence his originality) became live.[74]
What of James Mill?  I cannot explain his lapse.  One might suggest that he simply reflected his time, but since his views were immediately challenged by William Thompson and Thomas Macaulay, this seems entirely inadequate.[75] One might try to think through the argument: might a household constitute a unit that always has common interests and so could receive one vote? I think it best simply to acknowledge that he was wrong on this issue and that his son – loyal as he was – recognized that fact. 
I would add that we all seem to be content to leave children out of the fray. Perhaps we presume that children’s interests do not count before they attain the age of majority or that, more reasonably, their interests are adequately represented by their parents and/or they are incapable of formulating and defending rational views on political and economic matters.  While I would hesitate to argue to extend the franchise to children, it seems worth remarking that such arguments were used to exclude women from the franchise.
Perhaps James Mill’s treatment holds up better to the test of time in the area of education. Relying on the associationist psychology that Professor Farrant has correctly emphasized, Mill placed faith in “technical education.” Such education constituted the means by which “dispositions of Temperance and Benevolence” as well as “Generosity” and “Justice” were to be cultivated amongst all ranks of people, who in his mind were equally educable:[76] “the difference which exists, or can ever be made to exist, between one class of men, and another, [being] wholly owing to education.” As education was to be offered to the lower ranks of society, this would produce economic growth and flourishing:
It is desirable that the great body of the people should not be wretchedly poor; that when the people are wretchedly poor, all classes are vicious, all are hateful, and all are unhappy. If so far raised above wretched poverty, as to be capable of being virtuous; though it be still necessary for them to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, they are not bound down to such incessant toil as to have no time for the acquisition of knowledge, and the exercise of intellect.”[77]
All well and good. I do wish, however, to mention one misgiving about this case for moral education. Notwithstanding the depth of my loyalty to the academy and the life of the mind, I sometimes worry when education is conceived of as an instrument of moral or economic reform. Calls for education are sometimes calls for remaking people; and the allure of remaking people can be heady stuff. Late in the 19th century anthropologists and biologists engaged in a campaign to physically remake the less educated.  Education is by no means eugenics, but political economists have focused on education as the means of making people “rational,” i.e., making them behave as good neoclassical economics suggests they should behave, when in point of fact their decisions in the first place might have been spot on. In the Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith wrote about the hubris of the “man of system” this way:
The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it.… He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it.
John Stuart Mill also worried that education might be too fully controlled by the state.  In his Principles of Political Economy he argued that the government should provide education, but he was wary of ceding to it a monopoly control over education:
The government must claim no monopoly for its education, either in the lower or in the higher branches;… To possess such a control, and actually exert it, is to be despotic. A government which can mould the opinions and sentiments of the people from their youth upwards, can do with them whatever it pleases. Though a government, therefore, may, and in many cases ought to, establish schools and colleges, it must neither compel nor bribe any person to come to them; nor ought the power of individuals to set up rival establishments, to depend in any degree upon its authorization.”[78]
While I would not want to place too much emphasis on biographical details as explanations for the younger Mill’s conclusions, it is noteworthy that he wrote from personal experience about the power and influence of his own teacher, James Mill:  “[Bentham] is a much greater name in history. But my father exercised a far greater personal ascendancy. He was sought for the vigour and instructiveness of his conversation, and did use it largely as an instrument for the diffusion of his opinions.”[79]
Finally, I’ve long wondered about transitions and institutional transitions – how a society comes to recognize that an institutional failing exists and then rights it.  In the 19th century, as Professor Taylor rightly notes, hugely significant institutional reforms were effected in some measure due to the influence of the political economists: “Slavery was abolished, education extended, criminal law reformed, Catholics emancipated, prisons humanized, the franchise expanded, representation equalized, the press freed, trade liberalized, and the Lords, monarch, and Church reduced to ciphers.”  Professor Farrant asks us to think about how we move from here to there and, indeed, what “there” is; this is a problem that has puzzled political economists as different as James Buchanan and Amartya Sen. It’s a problem that is particularly vexing in the context of partiality (if we all were to gain it would be relatively straightforward to induce the change), when we have factions that stand to lose through institutional reform. The place of women in society was extremely difficult to reform, of course, because the countervailing faction – married men and those who expected to marry – was very large. So, too, was slavery: those who owned slaves stood to lose in the event of the end of slavery, and in the end former slave owners were compensated for the transition by British taxpayers.[80] No such compensatory deal was struck in the United States, with terrible results instead.
Do the measures proposed by James Mill help us with this deep problem of how to get from here to there? I by no means suggest that we will achieve Professor Taylor’s “social unity,” although I agree with him that there is “a utopian bent” to James Mill’s writing.  Mutual agreement to play by the rules alongside a willingness to put one’s views to the test of publicness is perhaps the best we can hope for. As Amartya Sen has noted, this view runs as a thread through much of political economy, from Smith to the Mills to Frank Knight, to his student James Buchanan, and to Sen himself: 
Public reasoning is not only crucial for democratic legitimacy, it is essential for a better public epistemology that would allow the consideration of divergent perspectives. It is also required for more effective practical reasoning. It can bring out what particular demands and protests can be restrained in interactive public reasoning, in line with scrutinized priorities between a cluster of quite distinct demands. This involves a process of “give and take” which many political analysts, from Adam Smith and the Marquis de Condorcet in the eighteenth century to Frank Knight and James Buchanan in our time, have made us appreciate better.[81]
[71.] In the first essay I used the words zero-sum.  But if we take into account the costs associated with (for instance) lobbying to obtain partial treatment, we may indeed be in a negative-sum institutional framework.
[72.]   J. S. Mill, The Early Draft of John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, Ed. Jack Stillinger (Champaign, Ill:  University of Illinois Press, 1961), p. 98.  In the published version of the Autobiography Mill wrote, “Although his Essay on Government was regarded probably by all of us as a masterpiece of political wisdom, our adhesion by no means extended to the paragraph of it, in which he maintains that women may consistently with good government, be excluded from the suffrage, because their interest is the same with that of men. From this doctrine, I, and all those who formed my chosen associates, most positively dissented. It is due to my father to say that he denied having intended to affirm that women should be excluded, any more than men under the age of forty, concerning whom he maintained, in the very next paragraph, an exactly similar thesis. He was, as he truly said, not discussing whether the suffrage had better be restricted, but only (assuming that it is to be restricted) what is the utmost limit of restriction, which does not necessarily involve a sacrifice of the securities for good government.”
[73.]The first and indispensable step, therefore, towards the enfranchisement of woman, is that she be so educated, as not to be dependent either on her father or her husband for subsistence.” Mill, “On Marriage,” 1832-1833(?). See Hayek on Mill: The Mill-Taylor Friendship and Related Writings, ed. Sandra Peart, Collected Works of F. A. Hayek,volume 16 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), p. 62.
[74.] On the issue of Mill’s originality or lack thereof, see my Editor’s Introduction in ibid. 
[75.] I’ve heard a similar claim, that “everyone was a racist” in the early 19th century – a “defense” of Thomas Carlyle’s views on slavery – and found it wanting since it was decidedly not the case that “everyone was a racist then.” See
[76.]The trains [of thought] which lead to Temperance and Benevolence may be equally cultivated in all classes.  The impression which persons are made to receive, and the trains of others which they are made to copy, may, with equal certainty, be guided to the generating of those two qualities in all the difference classes of society.” James Mill, Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: J. Innes, 1825); /titles/1764#Mill_0890_120
[77.] James Mill, ibid.
[78.]   John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy, Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, vols. 2-3, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965), p. 950. Teachers consequently had a special obligation to teach from different perspectives: “If teaching, even on matters of scientific certainty, should aim quite as much at showing how the results are arrived at, as at teaching the results themselves, far more, then, should this be the case on subjects where there is the widest diversity of opinion among men of equal ability, and who have taken equal pains to arrive at the truth. This diversity should of itself be a warning to a conscientious teacher that he has no right to impose his opinion authoritatively upon a youthful mind. His teaching should not be in the spirit of dogmatism, but in that of enquiry.” (Mill, 1867 [1984], “Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St. Andrews,” in J. S. Mill, Essays on Equality, Law, and Education, in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, vol. 21, J. M. Robson ed., (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), p. 249.
[79.] As is well known, in his Autobiography J. S. Mill wrote that his education, with its heavy emphasis on theory and reasoning (hence molding him into a “reasoning machine,” p. 111) inadequately cultivated the imagination: “From this neglect both in theory and in practice of the cultivation of feeling, naturally resulted among other things an undervaluing of poetry, and of Imagination generally as an element of human nature,” p. 115.
[80.] On the role of compensation in institutional reform, see Peart and David M. Levy, The ‘Vanity of the Philosopher’: From Equality to Hierarchy in Post-Classical Economics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005), pp. 182, 190-91. 
[81.] Amartya Sen, “What happened to Europe?” The New Republic, Aug. 2, 2012;,2.

Conversation Comments Two James Mill Myths – Part I

I find it difficult if not impossible to disagree with what my colleagues in this exchange have said about James Mill’s thinking. Perhaps, though, it might be possible to bring out into the open what has so far been unsaid in our exchange. I want to focus, in particular, on two facets of his thought, or rather what has been believed about it. The first is that Mill was not at all religious and was ardently opposed to an established religion like the Church of England; the second, that he never replied to Macaulay’s “famous attack” on his essay “Government.” Here I shall deal with the first, saving the second for my next installment.
In his Autobiography J. S. Mill tells us that he was raised without any religious instruction at all. This was because his father “reject[ed] all that is called religious belief.” Thus, he continues, he was “one of the very few examples, in this country, of one who has, not thrown off religious belief, but never had it: I grew up in a negative state with regard to it.”[82] This flies in the face of what Bain tells us about the younger Mill’s upbringing, viz., that the Mill children were baptized and taken to church on Sundays.[83] This is only one of several respects in which J.S. Mill’s Autobiography offers an unreliable account of his upbringing and early education.[84]
It is true, however, that James Mill, educated to be a preacher in the Scottish Kirk, lost his faith, possibly with Bentham’s help, or perhaps even before meeting Bentham in 1808. He also shared Bentham’s aversion to any established state church generally and to what Bentham called “Church of Englandism” in particular. From this it would seem to follow that he was opposed to any sort of scheme for a civil religion such as those propounded by Machiavelli, Rousseau, and Comte, among others.
But in the mid-1830s James Mill seems to have undergone a change of head if not of heart. In the controversial essay “The Church, and its Reform,” published in the first number of the London Review (1835), Mill propounded a plan for what can only be called a civil religion. The reasons for this change are not entirely clear. My own guess, for what it is worse, is that Mill came around to the view that “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” At any rate, he outlined a proposal for the radical reformation of the state church, in which the Sunday service became an occasion for enlightening and educating its parishioners.[85]
More than any other of Mill’s essays, “The Church, and its Reform” reveals what Professors Peart and Taylor term the “utopian bent,” and perhaps also what Murray Rothbard calls the “Leninist” element and Mazlish the “revolutionary asceticism,” in Mill’s thinking.[86] Mill proposes the appointment of a minister of public instruction to oversee a radically reformed state church. This minister would oversee the selection and training of the clergy, who were to be drawn from the meritorious “middle rank” – praised earlier in “Government” as “that intelligent, that virtuous rank . . . which gives to science, to art, and to legislation itself, their most distinguished ornaments, and is the chief source of all that has exalted and refined human nature.” Mill then goes on to describe in the minutest detail the features of the Sunday service, which is to educate parishioners in everything from moral philosophy to political economy. Having already exceeded my assigned word-limit, I cannot recount his scheme in any detail. Trust me, it is a hoot to read.
[The Editor: We insert here the first part of James Mill's long dissertation on how the Sunday Services should be conducted:]
The next thing which solicits the attention of all rational men, is the work which the English clergy are called upon to perform for this pay; exhibiting, in their extreme, the opposite vices of extravagance, and deficiency.We undertake to maintain the two following propositions: First, that the only services which are obligatory upon the Church of England clergy, and regularly performed, are ceremonies, from which no advantage can be derived. Secondly, that the services they might render, in raising the moral and intellectual character of the people, are not obligatory, but left wholly to their option, to do, or not to do; that they are performed always most imperfectly, and in general not at all. Let us go to the particulars.The services obligatory on the Church of England clergymen are, the Sunday service, performing the ceremony of baptism, that of marriage, and that of the burial of the dead.To estimate the value of them, let us see wherein they consist.The Sunday service. That consists almost wholly in the repetition of certain formularies; read out of a book called the Book of Common Prayer. On this part of the duty (the work is actually called duty) of the Church of England priest, the following observations are inevitable.1. The repetition of forms of words has a tendency to become a merely mechanical operation, in which the mind has little concern. To whatever extent the repetition of religious formularies becomes mechanical, it is converted into an unmeaning ceremony.2. The formularies themselves are of the nature of mere [261] ceremonies. They consist of creeds; of short sentences called collects, which are commonly words of Scripture thrown into the form of ejaculations, or petitions to God; prayers, especially the Lord’s Prayer; and extracts from the Bible. It is needless to mention the Communion Service, because, excepting the purely mechanical part, handing what is to be eaten and drank, it consists of the same things.It is necessary to bestow a short examination on each of those particulars.Of the repetition of creeds, the best thing which can be said is, that it is purely ceremonial. If it is not ceremonial, it is far worse: it is a forced declaration of belief—in other words, an instrument for generating the worst habit which can be implanted in the human breast—the habit of saying the thing which is not—the habit of affirming as a matter of fact, that which is not a matter of fact—the habit of affirming that a man is conscious of a state of mind, when he is not conscious of it.* This is to poison morality in the very fountain of life. The fine feeling of moral obligation is gone in a mind wherein the habit of insincerity is engendered: nay, more—every man who is possessed of that fatal habit possesses an instrument for the perpetration of every other crime. Mendacity is the pander to the breach of every obligation.The collects, which are short sentences—mostly words of scripture, thrown into the form of ejaculation or petition—we may take along with the prayers; and of the whole lot together we may affirm, that if it is not ceremonial, and without meaning, it is a great deal worse.The most important, by far, of all the religious sentiments is—the distinct, and steady, and perpetually operative conception of what is implied in the words, Almighty Being of perfect wisdom and goodness. Without this, there is no religion. Superstition there may be, in perfection. Priestism is its nature; it is a contrivance of priests, and always manufactured for their ends. When deluded people are made to think ill of the Divine Being, they are in the hands of the priests, and can be made to do whatever the cunning of the order prescribes to them. [262]The tendency of the Church of England prayers is to give a wrong notion of the Divine attributes; and instead of the idea of a Being of perfect wisdom and goodness, to present the idea of a being very imperfect in both. To speak of them in the most general way, we may observe, that perpetually to be asking God for things which we want, believing that this is a way to obtain them, implies the belief that God is imperfect both in wisdom and goodness. Telling God unceasingly of our wants, implies that he needs to be told of them—otherwise it is an unmeaning ceremony. Asking Him continually to do things for us, implies our belief that otherwise he would not do them for us; in other words, our belief, either that God will not do what is right, if he be not begged and entreated to do so—or that, by being begged and entreated, he can be induced to do what is wrong.
[82.] J.S. Mill, Autobiography, ed. Jack Stillinger (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971 [1873]), p. 136.
[83.] Alexander Bain, James Mill: A Biography (London: Longmans Green & Co., 1882), p. 90.
[84.] For more particulars see William Thomas, “John Stuart Mill and the Uses of Autobiography,” History, 56 (1971), pp. 341-59.
[85.] For further details see my Reappraising Political Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), ch. 6.
[86.] Murray N. Rothbard, "3.1. "James Mill, the radicals' Lenin", pp. 71-7, in An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought. Volume II "Classical Economics" (Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006). And Bruce Mazlish, The Revolutionary Ascetic: Evolution of a Political Type (New York: Basic Books, 1976).

Conversation Comments Two James Mill Myths, Part II

A second Mill myth was, strange to say, aided and abetted by James Mill’s eldest son. In his Autobiography John Stuart Mill, in the course of discussing Macaulay’s “famous attack” on his father’s essay “Government” in the 1829 Edinburgh Review, wrote that
I was not at all satisfied with the mode in which my father met the criticisms of Macaulay. He did not, as I thought he ought to have done, justify himself by saying, “I was not writing a scientific treatise on politics. I was writing an article for parliamentary reform”. He treated Macaulay’s argument as simply irrational; an attack upon the reasoning faculty; and example of the saying of Hobbes, that when reason is against a man, a man will be against reason.
The younger Mill leaves the impression that even though his father was displeased by a number of paltry replies to Macaulay in the Westminster Review, he never replied to Macaulay. This, as we shall see, is simply false.
Before going on to say how and why the younger Mill is mistaken on this score we need to ask why James Mill did not reply to Macaulay in the pages of the Westminster Review. The answer is that he had had a falling out with the editors of the Review, with whom he was no longer on speaking terms. He did, however, try – without success -- to persuade his friend and fellow Utilitarian Etienne Dumont to reply to “the curly-headed coxcomb, who only abuses what he does not understand.”[87] Torn between his haughty wounded pride and his wish to get back at Macaulay and give him the thrashing that Mill believed he so richly deserved, Mill sought some means other than the now-despised Westminster Review. Lo and behold there fortuitously appeared Sir James Mackintosh’s large and ponderous (and posthumous) Dissertation on Ethical Philosophy (1830). An old Whig warhorse, Mackintosh, like Macaulay, was keen to take on the Philosophic Radicals, and Mill most particularly.
The manner and method of Mackintosh’s critique of Mill’s “Government” was, as he readily acknowledged, borrowed from “the writer of a late criticism on Mr. Mill’s Essay. – See Edinburgh Review, No. 97, March 1829.” For Mill this was like manna from heaven, and his excitement is evident. “This,” he writes in his Fragment on Mackintosh, “is convenient; because the answer, which does for Sir James, will answer the same purpose with the Edinburgh Review.”[88] Thus the elder Mill did reply to Macaulay, not directly, but in the thin guise of criticizing Mackintosh. Indeed, I have often wondered whether Mill wrote his last big book for just that purpose.
In any event, Mill’s reply is disappointing. It is little more than a splenetic reiteration of the argument advanced in his “Government,” and I am sorry to say that Mill does not acquit himself well, or at all.
[87.] James Mill to Etienne Dumont, July13, 1829, MSS Dumont,  Bibliotheque Publique et Universitaire, Geneva, fol. 31.
[88.] James Mackintosh's "Dissertation on the Progress of Ethical Philosophy' can be found in The Miscellaneous Works. Three Volumes, complete in One. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1871). </titles/2266#lf1446_head_012>. James Mill, Fragment on Mackintosh (London: Baldwin and Craddock, 1835), excerpted in James Mill: Political Writings, ed. Terence Ball (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 304-14, at 305.

Conversation Comments The Danger of Conformity

In my rejoinder I mentioned a worry about education as means to shaping individuals: conformity. Perhaps I am particularly interested in this now because I have been reading page proofs of the correspondence between John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, the woman who would eventually become his wife.  Friedrich Hayek collected that correspondence and, in 1951, published the extraordinary edition that, as I argue in my Editor’s Introduction, began a new era of Mill scholarship.[89] Hayek took a great interest in the major influences on J. S. Mill, including James Mill, Gustave D’Eichthal, and Harriet Taylor. He decided to include Harriet’s 1832 essay, “On Conformity,” in his collection. Many will know the story of their relationship. It cost them dearly, as John Stuart became estranged from his family following their marriage; and the couple gradually withdrew from many of their friendships and acquaintances.
The follow passage is perhaps relevant to our discussion:
The root of all intolerance, the spirit of conformity, remains; and not until that is destroyed, will envy hatred and all uncharitableness, with their attendant hypocrisies, be destroyed too.  Whether it be religious conformity, political conformity, moral conformity or social conformity, no matter which the species, the spirit is the same:  all kinds agree in this one point, of hostility to individual character, and individual character if it exist at all, can rarely declare itself openly while there is, on all topics of importance a standard of conformity raised by the indolent minded many and guarded by a fasces of opinion which, though composed individually of the weakest twigs, yet makes up collectively a mass which is not to be resisted with impunity.[90]
[89.] See Hayek on Mill  The Mill-Taylor Friendship and Related Writings (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2014), p. xix. 
[90.] “On Conformity,” in Hayek on Mill, p. 264.

Conversation Comments Buchanan and the Challenge of Unbiased Sympathy

I earlier wondered whether  “some of [James M.] Buchanan’s readers tend to miss the role that unbiased sympathy (or something very similar) plays in Buchanan’s constitutional project in much the same way that it can be all too easily overlooked when assessing the merits of Mill’s worst-case thinking.” As Sandra herself aptly noted, the all-too-thorny problem of how we might “move from here to there and, indeed, what ‘there’ is … is a problem that has puzzled political economists as different as James Buchanan and Amartya Sen. It’s a problem that is particularly vexing in the context of partiality (if we all were to gain it would be relatively straightforward to induce the change) … [and] factions that stand to lose through institutional reform.”
I recently came across an interview with the late Professor Buchanan in which he addresses these points[91]
I interpret the part of the spectator as Smith (and of course, I'm putting my spin on it ; I don't deny that at all putting my spin on it), namely, you interpret that as Smith’s way of getting at the problem that Jack Rawls was getting at, namely, how do you, in fact, derive a legitimacy for the system of natural liberty from individual people that are just “out there.” We know there is no impartial spectator. On the other hand, how can you imagine a setting in which you could say, well, this would be a desirable aspect, this system of natural liberty. And the impartial spectator gives you a handle on it, just like Rawls’s veil of ignorance gives you a handle on it.
[91.] James M. Buchanan, Masazumi Wakatabe, Yong J. Yoon, "Adam Smith, James Buchanan, and Classical Liberalism," The History of Economic Thought, vol. 48 (2006), no. 1, pp. 124-138. <>.

Conversation Comments Auto-Icon: Making the Greatest Happiness Principle Incentive-Compatible?

Jeremy Bentham’s Auto-Icon (1832) scheme -- mummify the dead and put them on public display -- has been subject to undue neglect by the economics literature. (David Levy is one particularly notable exception[92].) Indeed, the usual response from an economist learning of Bentham’s proposal for the first time is one of somewhat amused incredulity (to put it mildly): how could Bentham possibly have been serious? Levy, however, suggests that we ought to read Auto-Icon as a paradigmatic exercise in the economics of fame. Reading Auto-Icon as such, however, one can quite readily make the link between Bentham’s scheme and the Mill-Macaulay debate: the judgment provided by posterity can serve to markedly lengthen the time-horizon over which an individual optimizes. Though opportunistic conduct (defection) proves the dominant strategy – supposing, of course, that payoffs are linked to monetary income alone – in any one-shot Prisoner’s Dilemma-type situation, when we allow the relevant payoffs to be represented by a vector of both money income and approbation, cooperation might prove optimal. Indeed, the potential receipt of disapprobation in all future periods (for a repeated game) might serve to induce cooperation in the present. For one thing, any act of political knavery at T0 might well earn one’s Auto-Icon a potentially lengthy stay (T1 through to T∞) in Bentham’s envisaged Temple of Shame at T1 (the date of one’s death). Thus, Bentham’s Auto-Icon plan provides something of a utilitarian substitute for the Christian afterlife (a payoff, upon which Macaulay, of course, had placed such weight).[93]
As Bentham himself put it, “out of Auto-Icons, a selection might be made for the Temple of Fame.… Sometimes for honour, sometimes for reproach, will Auto-Icons be preserved. Not many years ago, the heads of so-called traitors presided over the gate of Temple Bar.”[94] Public opinion – the potential receipt of positive approbation – could therefore provide adequate inducement to good behavior:
There would be pilgrimages to Auto-Icons, who had been living benefactors of the human race.… The Auto-Icons of the virtuous in their silence would be eloquent preachers. “Go thou and do likewise,” would be the lessons they would teach.… What will be said of my Auto-Icon hereafter? The good report obtained by good conduct will attach to the man after death.… [H]e must anticipate the judgement of his fellow men.[95]
Alas, Bentham seemingly ignored the possibility that failure might arise in the market for future fame, providing no especially persuasive reason why the Greatest Happiness Principle – rather than some alternative moral code – would prove a focal point upon which public opinion could readily coordinate.[96]
[92.] David M. Levy, The Economic Ideas of Ordinary People (London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 164-65.
[93.] One of Perronet-Thompson’s responses to Macaulay also placed much weight on fame and shame:  “The true check on bad administrations, is in setting before them the risk of present ruin, and of future if not present disgrace. Will the reputation of the conductors of the American and anti-revolutionary wars, be any prize in a lottery a century hence?” (T. Perronet Thompson, “‘Edinburgh Review and the ‘Greatest Happiness’ Principle’,” s reprinted in Utilitarian Logic and Politics, edited by Jack Lively and John Rees (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978): 240.
[94.] Jeremy Bentham, “Auto-Icon, or, Farther Uses of the Dead to the Living,” unpublished, 1832, p. 7.
[95.] Ibid.
[96.]  Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960). As is well-known, J. S. Mill worried a great deal about the potential downside associated with approbational enforcement mechanisms. Mill worried over the possibility for approbational “lock-in”: the possibility that public opinion might coordinate upon a highly suboptimal set of social norms.

Conversation Comments James Mill on Liberty and Governance: A Reply to Professor Ball

The more I read and learn about James Mill the more I see his shadow lengthen across the life and thought of his eldest son. They were both, first and foremost, philosophic-minded reformers who had an almost unlimited faith in the capacity of education to transform society. They shared many of the same philosophic principles and plans of reform that made them both intellectually and politically “radical.” Unlike other (nonphilosophic) reformers of the time, James and John Stuart Mill were not ultimately content with piecemeal adjustments and the general amelioration of social conditions. Both aimed at something far higher than “a chicken in every pot” for their fellow countrymen. This something was not merely the removal of long-standing abuses, but what John Mill called the “regeneration of mankind.” James Mill was neither systematic nor fully consistent in his account of how this transformative process is to occur: does it start with educational reform or institutional reform? Does it issue from the top or the bottom? In any event, both Mills assign a vital role not only to education per se, but also to an educational elite that will form a kind of aristocracy of merit whose defining feature is moral and intellectual excellence.
In his first response, Professor Ball draws attention to this elitist feature in James Mill’s thought – the notion of a “natural aristocracy” of virtue and talent. In his followup, he points to the remarkable essay “The Church, and its Reform,” in which Mill proposes to transform the Established Church (in the words of Leslie Stephen) “into a popular London University.” I agree with Professor Ball’s suggestion that Mill’s proposal embodies something like a “civil religion,” but I would not attribute its appearance in Mill’s system to default (“if you can’t beat’em, join ’em”), that is, to a failure to disestablish the Church of England. Even less does it strike me as a reversion to any vestigial religiosity. In light of his grandiose plans for the reformation of society (and his hostility to revealed religion), Mill’s proposal looks more like a shrewd (if preposterous) effort to “capture” the Church on behalf of what John Mill called “the religion of humanity.” In practice this would amount to de facto disestablishment and endow the new dispensation with official status. 
The idea of a “clerisy,” or a body of “wise men,” exercising moral influence (and perhaps political authority) was nothing new in Western thought, and it is no coincidence that Plato (the father of this idea) was James Mill’s favorite philosopher. While Mill rejected the authoritarian aspects of Plato’s politics (which he blames on the absence of the idea of representation in ancient Greece), he frequently invoked the Platonic idea of arête – moral and intellectual excellence. In his essay “The Ballot,” Mill goes so far as to call the radical reformers “Aristocrats” and quotes Plato in support of “attaining the highest excellence of nature" through the leisure provided by wealth. It is “best,” Mill concludes, “that government should be entrusted in the hands of the Αϱıотоı "(“the best” or “aristocracy” ).
Utilitarianism may be (as Professor Ball notes) “the moral and political philosophy of the Common Man,” but when poured into the mold of Philosophic Radicalism it diverged in notable ways from the original doctrine. While “utilitarianism” and “philosophic radicalism” are often used interchangeably, a close comparison of the moral and political teachings Bentham and the Mills will reveal significant differences with serious implications for democratic theory and practice.

Conversation Comments The Mills and Comte’s Religion of Humanity

I am grateful to Quentin Taylor for his engaged and engaging reply to my two postings about two James Mill myths. Our differences are differences of degree, I believe, and not of kind. He is certainly correct in claiming to see James Mill’s “shadow lengthen across the life and thought of his eldest son.”  This indeed has been a red thread running through my work on the Mills père et fils. Much of the younger Mill’s work was a critique – sometimes overt, more often covert – of his father’s views.[97]
Professor Taylor rightly calls attention to the Mills’ emphasis on education. Much more than his son, James Mill was a relentlessly didactic writer whose aim was to educate his reader. Men (yes, men) of the “Middle Rank” – Bentham, George Grote, David Ricardo, J.S. Mill and of course himself – were to be responsible for the moral and political education of their less fortunate fellow citizens. That was the aim of almost everything the elder Mill ever wrote. And it is certainly true that “The Church, and its Reform” falls into that category. Not for nothing is the head of a new (kind of) established state church called the Minister of Instruction. Unlike Professor Taylor, I see nothing in Mill’s essay that suggests he hoped to “capture” the Church of England; this was to be, I believe, an entirely new institution.
Nor do I agree that Mill’s model church was to resemble the Comtean “Religion of Humanity” about which the younger Mill wrote when he was still on good terms with Auguste Comte (who invented the idea and coined the phrase). Professor Taylor leaves the impression that J.S. Mill found the idea of a religion of humanity attractive and praiseworthy. And so he did, early on; but Professor Taylor omits to mention that the younger Mill turned sharply against Comte and his ersatz religion.
J.S. Mill held that in Comte’s Religion of Humanity “the intellect should be wholly subordinated to the feelings...." [98] The single-minded subordination of the critical intellect to the selfless social feelings is the foundation on which “the Grand Pontiff of Humanity... organizes an elaborate system for the total suppression of all independent thought.” [99] Comte’s religion was the capstone of “the completest system of spiritual and temporal despotism, which ever yet emanated from a human brain.” [100] Comte’s system “stands as a monumental warning to thinkers on society and politics, of what happens when once men lose sight, in their speculations, of the value of Liberty and of Individuality.”[[101]
To which I can only reply, Amen.
[97.] See, inter alia, Terence Ball, “Competing Theories of Character Formation: James vs. John Stuart Mill,” in John Stuart Mill: Thought and Influence eds. Paul Kelly and Georgios Variouxis (London: Routledge, 2010), pp. 35-56.
[98.] J.S. Mill, Auguste Comte and Positivism (1865; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961), p. 169. See also "Auguste Comte and Positivism" (1865) in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume X – Essays on Ethics, Religion, and Society, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by F.E.L. Priestley (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985).) </titles/241#lf0223-10_head_052>.
[99.] Ibid.
[100.] J.S. Mill, Autobiography, ed. Jack Stillinger (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 127.
[101.] Ibid., pp. 127-28.

Conversation Comments My Dinner with Jeremy

Since our recent exchanges regarding James Mill have been rather high-minded and serious, I want to inject a note of levity, which David Hart’s welcome posting of Bentham’s Auto-Icon prompts me to do.
In 2006 the Bentham Project at University College London sponsored a conference to celebrate the bicentenary of John Stuart Mill’s birth.  I, along with a small contingent of Mill scholars, was asked to attend and to present a paper, which I duly did. The end of the conference was marked by a dinner at UCL. When I entered the dining room I saw the Auto-Icon at the head of a long table. Philip Schofield, director of the Bentham Project, had arranged for me to sit at Bentham’s left and Peter Singer at his right.  “Why am I accorded this singular honor?” I asked Philip. To which he replied, “I’ve known you long enough to surmise that you won’t be bothered by having dinner with a dead man.” I’m not entirely sure that he was correct. It was a bit disconcerting, to say the least.
In his will Bentham stipulated that he, or rather his preserved corpse, be present at all meetings of the UCL College Council. The minutes of these meetings are to include the words, “Mr. Bentham present but not voting.” Not many have his morbid sense of humor. Thank heaven for small favors. 

Conversation Comments Three Additional Thoughts

1. Terence Ball remarks on the “unreliability” of J. S. Mill’s Autobiography. I’m glad that he did so. In 1951, having worked with three versions of the manuscript, F. A. Hayek wrote that the portrait contained therein was “candid” and “patently truthful,” but “in some respects the existence of an autobiography may be the cause of our knowing less about its subject” (since it substituted for good biographical work).  Hayek found the account remarkable both for what Mill included and what he left unspoken:
There is thus perhaps no other instance where an autobiography had so much to tell us and where at the same time such a purely intellectual account of a man’s development is so misleading. The Autobiography is as remarkable for what it leaves out as for what it discusses—what it leaves out not in any desire to suppress but because Mill thought it genuinely irrelevant. It is one of the most impersonal accounts of a mental development ever attempted, an account in which only the factors found a place that in Mill’s view ought to have influenced it. Of what in the ordinary sense of the word we should call his life, of his human interests and personal relations, we learn practically nothing. Even the account of “the most valuable friendship of his life” is scarcely an exception to this; the feeling of incongruity which this account of Mill’s greatest experience conveys is not least due to its being represented as a purely intellectual experience. It would certainly be a mistake to believe that Mill really was like that, that what he regarded as deserving of a public record gives us a picture of the whole man. It is even doubtful whether we can fully appreciate the significance or the lesson of the Autobiography until we know much more of the very human being whose strongest beliefs have led him thus to depict himself.[102]
2. Ball notes in addition that James Mill possessed a Benthamite “aversion to any established church.”  One might add that this is a Smithian aversion, for Smith favored competition in religious as well as in economic arrangements and because established monopolized religion would yield to partial and factional interests that could be most dangerous for society.
3. Andrew Farrant’s snippet of the interview with James Buchanan again comes to the point of partial and impartial interests.  Buchanan was perhaps unique amongst his generation of economists in his appreciation of the difficulties that partiality posed for economic policy making. In a verbal exchange with his long-time sparring partner and colleague, Warren Samuels, Buchanan remarked on the “really hard question” how we achieve impartiality as social scientists. The world’s “out there”:
But the question is: how do we look at this world? We’re looking almost necessarily, it seems to me … at that world from a window, a perspective, a predisposition on the way to look at it. And if you look at it differently you get different aspects of that world, you stress different aspects ….  Yet [Warren] wants to seem somehow to stay with this, what I would call an illusion, that, in fact, he can look at the world as an “antiseptic scientist” in the purer sense, whereas I am much more willing to acknowledge that the way I look at the world is in a sense a precommitment to look at the world that way. [103]
Ultimately I think Buchanan acknowledged that impartiality was a pipedream and, consequently, institutional arrangements need to do the work of generating some approximation to impartial science. 
[102.] Sandra J. Peart, ed., Hayek on Mill: The Mill-Taylor Friendship and Related Writings, The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, vol. 16 (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press), pp. 13-14.
[103.] [James M.  Buchanan and Warren J. Samuels, “Politics as Exchange or Politics as Power: Two Views of Government,” in Sandra J. Peart and David M. Levy 2008, The Street Porter and the Philosopher: Conversations on Analytical Egalitarianism (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press), pp. 21-22.]

Conversation Comments The Golden Rule without the Sanction

An all-too-bemused friend has asked why I wrote about Bentham’s wonderfully outlandish Auto-Icon scheme. Were my irremediable personality flaws to blame? Or was there a larger and rather more pressing reason to mention Bentham’s mummy? The answer is simple: The participants in the Mill-Macaulay debate quite readily accepted that the Greatest Happiness Principle and the Golden Rule of Christianity were formally equivalent. [104] Where they did significantly differ with each other, however, was with respect to the supposed incentive-compatibility (or otherwise) of the Greatest Happiness Principle. Macaulay, for one, was adamant that the Benthamite principle was incentive-incompatible and amounted to barely “more than the Golden Rule of the Gospel without its sanction.” [105] Consequently, the Greatest Happiness Principle (while formally equivalent to the Golden Rule) was a wholly inadequate substitute for the Golden Rule of Christianity: The Golden Rule is “accompanied by a sanction of immense force. To a man whose greatest happiness in this world is inconsistent with the Greatest Happiness of the Greatest Number, is held out the prospect of an infinite happiness hereafter, from which he excludes himself by wronging his fellow creatures here.” [106] Indeed, Macaulay – misguidedly thinking he was debating Bentham himself (the “gloves” truly came off when Macaulay discovered his error and he promptly beat the proverbial “crap” out of T. Perronet Thompson) – insisted that the Golden Rule (rendered adequately incentive-compatible by the present expected value of the payoffs associated with heaven and hell) was somewhat akin to that “practical philosophy” upon which “penal legislation is founded.” [107]
As Macaulay aptly challenged Thompson: “[A] man may so greatly prefer the life of a thief to the life of a labourer, that he may determine to brave the risk of detection and punishment, though he may even think that risk greater than it really is.… [H]ow on Utilitarian principles, is such a man to be convinced that he is in the wrong?… We may say that the tastes of the thief and the tyrant differ from ours; but what right have we to say, looking at this world alone, that they do not pursue their greatest happiness very judiciously?” [108]
Thompson’s response failed – perhaps unsurprisingly – to adequately rebut Macaulay’s sharp critique of philosophic radicalism, with Thompson blithely asserting that the “greatest happiness of the individual … [is] in the long run to be obtained by pursuing the greatest happiness of the aggregate.” [109] Macaulay, of course, was unpersuaded: The Westminster Review has “taken the precept of Christ, and left the motive.… [A]ll that they have done has been to make a most useful maxim useless by separating it from its sanction.” [110]
Hence, the reason to mention Bentham’s wonderfully fascinating surrogate for the Christian afterlife. Perhaps Professor Ball will tell us how he found Bentham’s dinner conversation? I envy his having dinner with the noble JB.  
[104.] “There is no war between Christianity and philosophy. Pure and undefiled Christianity is sound philosophy.” T. Perronet Thompson “‘Edinburgh Review and the ‘Greatest Happiness’ Principle,’” reprinted in Utilitarian Logic and Politics, ed. Jack Lively and John Rees (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), p. 245. See David M. Levy, How the Dismal Science Got Its Name: Classical Economics and the Ur-Text of Racial Politics (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2001).
[105.] Macaulay’s June 1829 “Bentham’s Defence of Mill: Utilitarian System of Philosophy” is reprinted in Utilitarian Logic and Politics, p.176.
[106.] Ibid. 175-76.
[107.] Ibid. 176.
[108.] Macaulay, “Utilitarian Theory of Government, and the ‘Greatest Happiness Principle’” (1829), in Utilitarian Logic and Politics, p. 217-218.
[109.] T. Perronet Thompson, “Edinburgh Review and the ‘Greatest Happiness’ Principle’” (1829), in Utilitarian Logic and Politics, p. 187.
[110.] “Utilitarian Theory of Government, and the ‘Greatest Happiness Principle,’” p. 221.

Conversation Comments On Self-Interest and Collective Interest

The Mill-Macaulay debate is fascinating stuff – and immensely entertaining knockabout stuff to boot – but I want to briefly revisit Sandra’s earlier point regarding a thorny matter: namely, how we might “move from here to there and, indeed, what ‘there’ is … a problem that is particularly vexing in the context of partiality (if we all were to gain it would be relatively straightforward to induce the change) … [and] factions that stand to lose through institutional reform.” As Sandra notes, there is much debate over how “we” might engineer the transition from “here” to “there,” and much debate and disagreement over whether “here” is really “bad” enough to warrant the potentially painful transition to “there” and whether “there” is really all it’s cracked up to be. As already noted, poor old Perronet Thompson “rebutted” Macaulay’s charge that the Greatest Happiness Principle was incentive-incompatible by asserting that the “greatest happiness of the individual … [is] in the long run to be obtained by pursuing the greatest happiness of the aggregate.”[111] As Ludwig von Mises similarly noted, “Liberal social philosophy … showed that by maintaining and developing the social bond each individual serves his highest interest.… [T]he sacrifices made in the fulfillment of social life are only temporary ones.… [D]uty and interest coincide. This is the meaning of the harmony of interests of which the liberal theory of society speaks.”[[112]
Indeed, Mises – explaining the classical-liberal theory regarding the “harmony of the rightly understood interests of all members of a market society” – explicitly states in a footnote that by “rightly understood” interests we “may as well say interests in the long run.”[113] Unsurprisingly, Mises (as with all too many thinkers) is implicitly invoking the far from robust assumption of a zero discount rate.[114] Nevertheless, the allure of the off-diagonal payoff (e.g, in a one-shot prisoner’s dilemma game) all too often assures that a person’s narrow self-interest trumps the collective interest. James Mill’s solution is, as we have seen, moral education. Accordingly, I wonder if the whole libertarian or classical liberal enterprise is just so much pious hope.[115] As the late Professor Buchanan candidly wondered, “To what extent … does classical liberalism depend on some presumption that man is perfectible?”[116] I leave the reader to enjoy the discovery of Professor Buchanan’s fascinating answer.
[111.] T. Perronet Thompson’s “‘Edinburgh Review and the ‘Greatest Happiness’ Principle,’” reprinted in Utilitarian Logic and Politics, edited by Jack Lively and John Rees (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), p. 187.
[112.] Ludwig von Mises, Socialism (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 1981), p. 363. Online: Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane, Foreword by F.A. Hayek (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981). </titles/1060#Mises_0069_892>.
[113.] Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (Washington, D.C.: Henry Regnery, 1966), p. 674. Online: Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, in 4 vols., ed. Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007). Vol. 2. </titles/1894#lf3843-02_label_677>.
[114.] David M. Levy, The Economic Ideas of Ordinary People (London: Routledge, 1992) provides a brilliant and highly illuminating discussion of the way in which this fragile supposition rears its head in umpteen important debates.
[115.] Admittedly, the libertarian (or classical liberal) enterprise is a very broad-church: <,1480/>
[116.] James M. Buchanan, Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2005), p. 11.

Conversation Comments An Alternative to the Auto-Icon

Bentham's Auto-Icon scheme may be too outlandish for the reader. An alternative suggestion -- I think Bentham notes this idea in his pamphlet -- is to name kids and cats after merit-worthy men and women. For instance, one might name a cat after the winner of the Mill-Macaulay debate (or after the saintly Platonica). Similarly, one might name a kid after David Levy (maybe an even more outlandish idea than Bentham's mummification scheme), or one may well (much like a rather silly acquaintance of mine) even name a kid after the holy and saintly one. [117]
According to Bentham, the Auto-Icon scheme would help to assure that the “good report obtained by good conduct will attach to … [a man or woman] after death.… [Hence, they] must anticipate the judgement of … [their] fellow men [while alive]”[118] Indeed, Bentham countenances the possibility that Auto-Icons might find themselves changing location – moving from the “temple of honour” to the “temple of dishonor” (or vice versa) – with changes in the “interests and prejudices of … [the] age.”[119] As I told my acquaintance on the unhappy occasion of the one-time “one true god’s” decision to jump ship on transfer deadline day, however, just change the kid’s name to something far more suitable (after all, the kid would have no sensible objections, right?)[120] Nevertheless, a far wiser head than his (let alone mine) prevailed and the poor kid is stuck with the one-time “one true god” moniker for life. One the plus side, however, the kid will never find himself attending Salem House wearing a “Take care of him. He bites” sign.
[118.] Jeremy Bentham, “Auto-Icon, or, Farther Uses of the Dead to the Living,” unpublished, 1832, p. 7.
[119.] Ibid.

Conversation Comments James Mill on Governance and Liberty – Further Considerations

As a political theorist with a highly limited understanding of economics, I have not felt qualified to respond to the remarks of Professors Peart and Farrant on the not-so-dismal science.  Their more recent posts, however, are more within my range of comment. I’ve always found it fascinating that Hayek took such a strong interest in J. S. Mill (and Harriet Taylor). Even before he published their correspondence, he “rescued from oblivion” Mill’s The Spirit of the Age (1831),[121] the essays which have played a notable role in revisionist readings of Mill’s status as “the apostle of liberty.” Though Mill had only known (and perhaps been in love with) Mrs. Taylor for two years when she penned “On Conformity” (1832), the contrast with Mill’s ideas on opinion formation and deference to “experts” (as expressed in The Spirit of the Age) could not be more glaring. (Was Harriet aware of Mill’s authorship? If so would she not have scolded the young swain?) In his unbounded faith in the power of education to shape human character and thereby transform society, Mill is often accused of naiveté. Yet even he balked at Harriet’s ever more sanguine projections in this area. (Ironically, he was still willing to defer to her opinions.) Yet as Professor Peart suggests, Harriet was shrewdly aware of the dangers of conformity, and quotes a passage that could have been lifted from Mill’s On Liberty. Perhaps Mill should be taken at his word when he described the work as a joint production.
Bentham’s decision to mummify his corpse and place it on display is perhaps the oddest instance of leading by example in the modern record. As Professor Farrant writes, “amused incredulity” is something of an understatement. Also amusing (at least to this observer) is Farrant’s economic analysis of Bentham’s Auto-Icon, which he cleverly characterizes as “a paradigmatic exercise in the economics of fame.” Clearly Bentham (like Comte) was attempting to replace religious sanctions for model behavior with secular humanist ones. The results of both were equally bizarre, and in Bentham’s case macabre as well. The basic idea, however, is not so strange after all. What is the best way to motivate individuals to elevated behavior? The answer (or at least a part of it) is posthumous fame. While Bentham would have us erect Halls of Fame to the great benefactors of mankind (and preserve and display their bodies there), WE have chosen to build temples to celebrities: athletes, film stars, presidents, cowboys, broadcasters, etc. Bentham would have likely placed many of our biggest pop culture icons in the Hall of SHAME (since he could not with consistency consign them to Hell.) That some of these celebrities (e.g., Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson) are among the most recognized (and admired) personages in the world would have left Bentham incredulous if not amused. (The monetary equation would have struck him as even more absurd – Monroe, Presley, and Jackson have generated more income in the grave than while living!)  This is not the “fame,” Bentham dreamed of as a fillip to good deeds, but rather “the democratic descent of honor.” [122] The present-day Hall of Shame is embodied by the principle of simple exclusion from the Hall of Fame (e.g., Pete Rose). Of course, one need only visit Congress to observe a living Rogue’s Gallery.
[121.] Mill's essay is split into several parts in John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII – Newspaper Writings December 1822 – July 1831 Part I, 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). </titles/256#lf0223-22_label_1091>. It can be found collected into one essay here </pages/mill-s-spirit-of-the-age>.
[122.] Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History (New York: Vintage Books, 1986), p. 3.

Conversation Comments James Mill on Liberty and Governance: The Church of England and the Religion of Humanity

John Stuart Mill suppressed his writings on religion, perhaps fearing their skepticism would alienate his audience and damage the cause of reform. They were only published posthumously. James Mill, though writing anonymously, felt no such reserves. In Schools for All (1812) he lambasted the Church of England and described its officials as a “band of conspirators against the intellectual prosperity of mankind.” Late in life he lashed out again in the pages of the London Review in a double-barreled attack on the doctrines, ritual, and organization of the stated-backed Anglican Church. “The Church, and its Reform” (1835) is also, by implication, an attack on revealed religion as such. For Mill, “the Church of England exists to no good purpose” and is “a viciously organized establishment.” Its priests are the “sworn enemies of the good of their fellow creatures,the enemies of all improvement of the human mind.”” as well as “ The Church, in a word, is (and the word is Mill’s) the “Antichrist.”
In his response to my earlier post, Professor Ball’s finds “nothing in Mill’s essay that suggests he hoped to ‘capture’ the Church of England; this was to be, I believe, an entirely new institution.” I think this observation accurately describes the spirit if not the letter of Mill’s proposal. Perhaps “converted” is a better word than “captured” – it is the word used by Mill himself: “the Church of England might be converted from an instrument of evil into an instrument of much good. ... ” Mill’s “converted” Church would be  led by a “Minister of Public Instruction,” presumably a paid state official (albeit a layman), and comprised of a “clergy, paid by the state.” Admittedly (and this I take it to be Professor Ball’s point) such a Church would look nothing like the Church of England, of for that matter any church then in existence. Leslie Stephen likened Mill’s reformed Church to “a popular London University,” a scheme that “illustrates the incapacity of an isolated clique to understand the real tone of public opinion.”[123] It might be added that Mill and his clique were engaged in shaping opinion, not gauging it. In any case, a university is a university; a church is a church.
This said, there is still something official and rather ominous about Mill’s reformed Church, which is said to embody “the true idea of a State religion.” This is nothing short of what John Mill called “the Religion of Humanity.” (Once more father anticipates son.) Would attendance at such a Church be voluntary or compulsory? “All would share in the religious services of such a church, and all would share in the blessings which would result from them.” Mill suggests that attendance would be strongly encouraged. “We think it of great importance, that all families of a parish be got to assemble on the Sunday – clean, and so dressed, as to make a favourable appearance ...” It is doubtful that Mill would have required attendance, but would possibly rely (as his son did) on shame and other forms of moral suasion. The elder Mill was not unaware of objections to such a plan: “In what parish are the people to be found,getting them to do what, at every step, would be delightful who will submit to all this moral drilling?” Yet if men can be made to conform to the dogmas of an absurd and unnatural religion, one can certainly envision “, and from which they would derive the greatest of all conceivable pleasures, the consciousness, the heart-felt assurance, of rising higher and higher in the scale of virtue and intelligence every day!” Alas, if only it were so!
Mill may have discarded his religious bias when he shuffled off his vestments to become a secular saint. He did not, however, discard his class bias. Among the key subjects to be taught in his Church of Humanity is political economy, viz., “the laws which determine the rate of wages – from ignorance of which rise most of [the working poor’s] contentions with their masters, as well as the other evils which they endure.” Such instruction, Mill contends, is “the best of all modes of reconciling them to that inequality of distribution which they see takes place, and which there are people ignorant or wicked enough to tell them, is in all violation of their rights, because it is by their labour that everything is produced.” Is this aspect of Mill’s curriculum education or indoctrination? By enlisting education in defense of economic inequality Mill makes Marx’s point for him – ideology is the handmaid of class interest.[124] 
Finally, I’d like to address remarks made by Professor Ball on Comte and the Religion of Humanity. In an earlier post I did not mean to suggest that either James or John Mill embraced Comte’s version of this religion of the future. John clearly rejected the illiberal and authoritarian elements (as well as the bizarre ritualistic trappings) of Comte’s creed, but he did not reject the idea of a Religion of Humanity itself. This is where I appear to differ with Professor Ball. Yes, Mill did unequivocally condemn the untoward features of Comte’s Religion of Humanity in Auguste Comte and Positivism. Yet the first half of that work is filled with praise for the idea of a Religion of Humanity. Consider the following passages:
1. [W]e venture to think that a religion may exist without a belief in God, and that a religion without a God may be, even for Christians, an instructive and profitable object of contemplation.[125]
2. If we honor as we ought those who have served mankind in the past, we shall feel what we are also working for those benefactors by serving that too which their lives are devoted.[126]
3. That the ennobling power of this grand conception [the Religion of Humanity] may have its full efficacy, we should, with M. Comte, regard the Grand Etre, Humanity, or Mankind, as composed, in the past, solely of those who, in every age and variety of position, have played their part worthily in life. It is only as thus restricted that the aggregate of our species become an object of veneration.[127]
4. We, therefore, not only hold that M. Comte was justified in the attempt to develope [sic] his philosophy into a religion, and had realized the essential conditions of one, but all other religions are made better in proportion as, in their practical result, they are brought to coincide with that which he aimed at constructing.[128]
5. This is our conception of the moral rule prescribed systematically disciplined in self-mortificationby the religion of Humanity....  It is as much a part of our scheme as of M. Comte’s, that the direct cultivation of altruism, and the subordination of egoism to it, far beyond the point of absolute moral duty, should be one of the chief aims of education, both individual and collective. We even recognize the value, for this end, of ascetic discipline, in the original Greek sense of the word.... We do not doubt that children and young persons will one day be again; that they will be taught, as in antiquity, to control their appetites, to brave dangers, and submit voluntarily to pain, as simple exercises in education. Something has been lost as well as gained by no longer giving to every citizen the training necessary for a soldier[129]
Clearly, Mill did not abandon the Religion of Humanity, nor entirely reject Comte. Indeed, he considered Comte a greater philosopher than either Descartes or Leibniz: “We think M. Comte as great as either of these philosophers, and hardly more extravagant. Were we to speak our whole mind, we should call him superior to them.”[130] Recall that these passages were published in 1865, late in Mill’s career. There is no evidence that he retracted them in the last years of his life. And so we find a basic continuity in the views of Bentham and both Mills in this feature of their thought: from Bentham’s Hall of Fame it is but a step to James Mill’s Reformed Church and but another to John Mill’s Religion of Humanity. But what of the idea itself? As it mutated from Bentham to père Mill and from père Mill to fils Mill it appears to have gained in rigor. James Mill would engage in “moral drilling” while John would extend such drilling to “ascetic discipline” and “self-mortification” (Hair-shirt anyone?) Whatever the envisioned details, the idea of a Religion of Humanity is problematic on a number of levels. As a contemporary scholar has observed:
The Religion of Humanity is Mill’s solution to the Hume-Tocqueville conundrum [the desire to replace religion mixed with the fear of the consequences], for it will retain the ennobling function of religion while banishing superstition. Nonetheless, the solution is not so much unstable as useless, for as Hume says especially clearly, a religion that is appealing to philosophers will for just that reason have no purchase on the sentiments of humanity at large.[131]
[123.] Leslie Stephen, The English Utilitarians, vol. 2  (London: Duckworth, 1900), p. 62.
[124.] As Robert Fenn observes, “socialism is to be conquered by a little adroit brainwashing.” Moreover, Mill’s remarks in “The Church, and its Reform,” are “in complete or near complete contradiction to his remarks on property elsewhere [History of British India], which note the historical development and justification [rationalization] of property.” For Marx history ceases with communism. “For Mill, history ceases once the level of bourgeois development is reached.” James Mill’s Political Thought (New York: Garland Publishing, 1987), p. 93.
[125.] Complete Works, vol. 10 (1969), p. 332.
[126.] Ibid., p. 334.
[127.] Ibid.
[128.] Ibid., p. 334-35.
[129.] Ibid., p. 339.
[130.] Ibid., p. 368.
[131.] Ronald Beiner, “John Stuart Mill’s Project to Turn Atheism into a Religion,” in Civil Religion: A Dialogue in the History of Political Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 267.

Conversation Comments James Mill’s Commonplace Books

Professor Taylor notes Robert Fenn's important work on James Mill. I read Fenn's work a number of years ago and recall that he cited James Mill's Commonplace Book. A while ago (I forget when) I came across the following wonderful resource and spent some time exploring its treasures (put together by the late Professor Fenn) but have not revisited it since. Therefore, please link to a wonderful resource

Conversation Comments Bentham Would Approve

A self-confessedly rather mystified but extremely highly esteemed correspondent has written to inform me that he or she knows of a corkscrew-tailed and reportedly rather “greedy” kitten that is named after one of Frank Lampard’s offspring. Indeed, I myself would heavily wager that there are legion cats and kids who are named for the great man himself. This, however, is as it should be. For one thing, the use of goal-line technology at the recent summer World Cup (go USA!!) can largely be attributed to the scandalously and incorrectly disallowed Frankie “special” at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa[132] Similarly, I predict that many more kids and cats in the Manchester region and related environs will soon find themselves sporting Mr. Lampard’s moniker given the extraordinary rate at which he is currently banging them in (4 in 3).[133] Bentham would assuredly approve (despite his well-known and rather lamentable support for the all-too wicked and justifiably much-hated Lucifer FC -- no names mentioned). My esteemed correspondent also assures me that at least two new pilgrims will be making their happy way to visit Bentham’s Auto-Icon at UCL. Bentham emailed me to say that he approves of their wise decision in spades. He also asked if they could please bring him the truly wonderful Liberty Fund edition of J. S. Mill’s writings (paperback please). As he explained to me, “One cannot spend all of one’s time watching EPL on cable.” I myself beg to differ.[134]
[134.] Frank Lampard Jr. is named after the marvellous Frank Lampard Sr. See: <>.

Conversation Comments J S Mill Returns Political Economy to its Smithian Roots

Professor Taylor writes that “it is no coincidence” that Plato was James Mill’s favorite philosopher; “when poured into the mold of Philosophic Radicalism” utilitarianism, he suggests, diverged from Professor Ball’s “moral and political philosophy of the Common Man” to something much less democratic and more aristocratic. I would to this add that perhaps Bentham and the older Mill represent a divergence in this respect from Adam Smith before them and John Stuart Mill afterwards. Perhaps the best passage from Smith that touches on this question -- and on the question of “expert advice” by the rulers generally -- is this passage on the Man of System:
The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit, and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it: he seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board; he does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. [135]
Professor Ball writes that the younger Mill turned sharply against Auguste Comte.  I agree.  Notwithstanding my comments about J. S. Mill on education in my posts above, I would suggest that his rejection of Comte is evidence that the younger Mill rejected his father’s penchant for system. 
The very first and fundamental principle of the whole system, that government and the social union exist for the purpose of concentrating and directing all the forces of society to some one end. [Comte] cannot mean that government should exist for more than one purpose, or that this one purpose should be the direction of the united force of society to more than one end. What a foundation for a system of political science this is! Government exists for all purposes whatever that are for man’s good: and the highest & most important of these purposes is, the improvement of man himself as a moral and intelligent being, which is an end not included in M. Comte’s category at all. The united forces of society never were, never can be directed to one single end, nor is there, so far as I can perceive, any reason for desiring that they should. Men do not come into the world to fulfil one single end, and there is no single end which if fulfilled even in the most complete manner would make them happy.[136]
Readers familiar with the writings of F. A. Hayek will recognize a similarity to Hayek’s case about the impossibility of establishing unitary goals for society. [137]
Professor Farrant remarks on the formal equivalence of the Golden Rule and the Greatest Happiness Principle.  It is worth perhaps emphasizing that this espoused equivalence was jettisoned by economists late in the century. With the advent of the notion of cardinal – measurable – utility and the “recognition” that people (groups) possessed varying degrees of enjoyment of pleasures, came a formal recognition that total net social utility, as the sum of net utility across all individuals in the maximand, might increase if those individuals who belonged to low pleasure enjoyment and low productivity groups were removed from the maximand.[138]  “Pending a scientific hedonometry,” Edgeworth mused, the principle “Every man, and every woman, to count for one” should be very cautiously applied.” (ibid., p. 81). I would again remind us all that herein lies a danger of thinking and theorizing in terms of “groups”:  If we are not to count equally, some must count more than others.  Historically, the demise of classical political economics was associated with the rise of hierarchy within economic analysis. Hence, my concern with faction and my strong sense that one solution to Smith’s man-of-system problem is to constrain the person of system to a system of impartiality.
[135.] Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments; or, An Essay towards an Analysis of the Principles by which Men naturally judge concerning the Conduct and Character, first of their Neighbours, and afterwards of themselves. To which is added, A Dissertation on the Origins of Languages. New Edition. With a biographical and critical Memoir of the Author, by Dugald Stewart (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853). </titles/2620#Smith_1648_590>.
[136.] John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XII – The Earlier Letters of John Stuart Mill 1812-1848 Part I, ed. Francis E. Mineka, Introduction by F.A. Hayek (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963). Letter 27. To Gustave d'Eichthal (London 8th October 1829) <http://oll.libertyfu/titles/>.
[137.] F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom: Texts and Documents—The Definitive Edition, volume II of The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, edited by Bruce J. Caldwell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp. 100-11.
[138.] F. Y. Edgeworth, Mathematical Psychics (London: C. Keegan Paul, 1881), pp. 70-81.

Conversation Comments Praise and Praise Worthiness

Professors Farrant and Taylor ask us to think more about the question of approval – who approves and whether it’s warranted. This is indeed the key problem for which Adam Smith devised the “impartial spectator.”  In Farrant’s view, Bentham’s auto-icon might serve a similar purpose, acting as a reminder from generations past about the appropriateness of our actions today. Such reminders may have motivational weight, albeit somewhat muted relative to the actual approval of actually living souls.  I’m reminded of the proverbial phrase “turning over in her grave” as a conversational signal that someone (often a relative) would disapprove of an action. Acknowledging the signal, one feels obliged to explain why the proposed action is justified.  Though I’m hesitant to disagree with James Buchanan, I would suggest that one need not believe that we are perfectible to believe that we might occasionally be nudged into “better” acts – acts that would obtain more wide approval – by reminders from living or dead people. Like Mises, however, J. S. Mill drew the line at wholesale institutional reform that would require “better” humans: as humans were presently constituted, he concluded, they were simply not ready for socialism on a wide scale.
What of the “wall of shame” we read about in Professor Taylor’s comment?  Well put.  Here, we see the warping of approval that Smith so feared. Humans obtain pleasure not only from receiving well-deserved praise but also from receiving praise. More than this, they are creatures of self-deception. They obtain praise from the adoring crowds, and they come to deceive themselves into thinking they deserve the praise, thus seeking to become part of and then joining Professor Taylor’s Hall of Shame. How best to deal with this problem? Competition might provide one answer at least in politics: new ideas, new candidates, questioning journalists, fact checkers – all might provide a check to the powerful lure of undeserved praise.