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John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XVIII - Essays on Politics and Society Part I (On Liberty) [1977]

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John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XVIII - Essays on Politics and Society Part I, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Alexander Brady (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977).

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About this Title:

Vol. 18 of the 33 vol. Collected Works contains a number of Mill’s essays on politics, including his reviews of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and his book On Liberty.

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The online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.

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This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.

Table of Contents:

Edition: current; Page: [i]
volume xviii
Edition: current; Page: [ii]

The Collected Edition of the works of John Stuart Mill has been planned and is being directed by an editorial committee appointed from the Faculty of Arts and Science of the University of Toronto, and from the University of Toronto Press. The primary aim of the edition is to present fully collated texts of those works which exist in a number of versions, both printed and manuscript, and to provide accurate texts of works previously unpublished or which have become relatively inaccessible.

Editorial Committee

j. m. robson, General Editor

v. w. bladen, alexander brady, j. c. cairns, j. b. conacher d. p. dryer, s. hollander, r. f. mcrae, f. e. l. priestley, marsh jeanneret, francess halpenny, jean houston

Edition: current; Page: [iii]
Essays on Politics and Society
Editor of the Text J. M. ROBSON Professor of English Victoria College, University of Toronto
Introduction by ALEXANDER BRADY Professor Emeritus of Political Economy University of Toronto
Edition: current; Page: [iv]

© University of Toronto Press 1977

Toronto and Buffalo

Printed in Canada

ISBN 0-8020-5345-9

LC 76-57079

London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

ISBN 0-7100-8451-X

This volume has been published with the assistance of a grant from the Canada Council

This book has been published during the Sesquicentennial year of the University of Toronto

Edition: current; Page: [v]


  • introduction, by Alexander Brady ix
  • textual introduction, by J. M. Robson lxxi
  • Use and Abuse of Political Terms 1
  • Rationale of Representation 15
  • De Tocqueville on Democracy in America [I] 47
  • State of Society in America 91
  • Civilization 117
  • Essays on Government 149
  • De Tocqueville on Democracy in America [II] 153
  • Reform of the Civil Service 205
  • On Liberty 213
    • I Introductory, 217
    • II Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion, 228
    • III Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being, 260
    • IV Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual, 276
    • V Applications, 292
  • Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform 311
  • Recent Writers on Reform 341
  • Considerations on Representative Government 371
    • Preface, 373
    • I To What Extent Forms of Government are a Matter of Choice, 374 Edition: current; Page: [vi]
    • II The Criterion of a Good Form of Government, 383
    • III That the Ideally Best Form of Government is Representative Government, 399
    • IV Under What Social Conditions Representative Government is Inapplicable, 413
    • V Of the Proper Functions of Representative Bodies, 422
    • VI Of the Infirmities and Dangers to which Representative Government is Liable, 435
    • VII Of True and False Democracy; Representation of All, and Representation of the Majority Only, 448
    • VIII Of the Extension of the Suffrage, 467
    • IX Should there be Two Stages of Election? 482
    • X Of the Mode of Voting, 488
    • XI Of the Duration of Parliaments, 501
    • XII Ought Pledges to be Required from Members of Parliament? 504
    • XIII Of a Second Chamber, 513
    • XIV Of the Executive in a Representative Government, 520
    • XV Of Local Representative Bodies, 534
    • XVI Of Nationality, as Connected with Representative Government, 546
    • XVII Of Federal Representative Governments, 553
    • XVIII Of the Government of Dependencies by a Free State, 562
  • Centralisation 579
  • appendices
    • Appendix A. Taylor’s Statesman 617
    • Appendix B. Appendix to Dissertations and Discussions, Vol. I 648
    • Appendix C. Jowett on Civil Service Examinations 654
    • Appendix D. Substantive variants in the People’s Edition of On Liberty 657
    • Appendix E. Substantive variants in the People’s Edition of Considerations on Representative Government 658 Edition: current; Page: [vii]
    • Appendix F. Bibliographic Index of Persons and Works Cited in the Essays, with Variants and Notes 659
  • index 755
Edition: current; Page: [viii] Edition: current; Page: [ix]


john stuart mill’s development as a political and social thinker may be divided into at least three periods, with the first two largely determining the course and character of the third. The first embraces his youthful apprenticeship in and passionate proselytizing for the utilitarianism in which from childhood he had been carefully nurtured by his father and Bentham. His career as a young and orthodox utilitarian extended to his mental crisis in 1826 at the age of twenty. The second period began with his recovery from the crisis (1826-30) and terminated with the dissolution of the Philosophic Radicals as a distinct party towards the end of the 1830s. In this crucial period of his life Mill refashioned his thinking under a variety of intellectual and emotional influences. The final period comprised the remaining thirty-three years of his career (1840-73), when he published his major works, including A System of Logic, Principles of Political Economy, On Liberty, and Considerations on Representative Government.


mill’s own account of his extraordinary education is a classic in the intellectual history of the last century. This is not the place to describe the rigorous pedagogic experiment to which he was subjected, other than to note its apparent effectiveness in making him, as he admitted, a reasoning machine with impressive powers for analysis and a reverence for facts and principles. It was ostensibly designed by his father to enable him to think for himself, although independent thought was not its immediate result. The highly precocious boy who at sixteen (in 1822) founded the Utilitarian Society had already faithfully absorbed in his father’s study and from the writings and tutelage of Bentham a philosophy of ethics and politics wherein utility was the supreme criterion. He related how he felt as a youth after reading Dumont’s translation of Bentham’s treatise on legislation: “When Edition: current; Page: [x] I laid down the last volume of the Traité I had become a different being. . . . I now had opinions; a creed, a doctrine, a philosophy; in one among the best senses of the word, a religion; the inculcation and diffusion of which could be made the principal outward purpose of a life.”1

With obvious zealotry Mill was now ambitious to reform the affairs of mankind to conform with utilitarian canons. Fired by the influence of his father and Bentham, he engaged in a crusade to carry the torch of rationalism and utilitarianism into every sector of British life. In devotion he no less than Karl Marx had a sense of historic mission. His obvious instrument was journalism, which in his opinion was to modern Europe what political oratory had been to Athens and Rome. At seventeen he began eagerly dashing off letters and articles to newspapers and periodicals, arguing for the specific changes that utilitarians then sought: civil and criminal law reform, population restriction, a free press, a free economy, destruction of monopoly wherever present, abolition of colonial slavery, parliamentary reform, and a redress of Irish grievances. From the outset he wrote less to earn a living than to fulfil a mission and convert a public. In 1823 his father had secured his appointment as a clerk in the East India Company, where in the next thirty-five years he rose to high office and enjoyed ample freedom and adequate income to study and champion those causes to which he was dedicated. His position in time gave him not merely an invaluable independence but a practical experience in coping with complex human situations in the sub-continent on the other side of the globe.

The empiricist here had a congenial opportunity to reinforce his theories with a special experience of public affairs. In later life he wrote:

the occupation accustomed me to see and hear the difficulties of every course, and the means of obviating them, stated and discussed deliberately, with a view to execution; it gave me opportunities of perceiving when public measures, and other political facts, did not produce the effects which had been expected of them, and from what causes; above all it was valuable to me by making me, in this portion of my activity, merely one wheel in a machine, the whole of which had to work together. . . . I became practically conversant with the difficulties of moving bodies of men, the necessities of compromise, the art of sacrificing the non-essential to preserve the essential. I learnt how to obtain the best I could, when I could not obtain everything. . . .2

Two years after Mill founded the Utilitarian Society, Bentham and a few friends launched the Westminster Review as an official organ for utilitarian ideas. In its first four years (1824-28) Mill, despite his youth, was a frequent contributor on a wide range of themes, which he treated in the spirit of utilitarian orthodoxy. He criticized the follies of aristocratic rule in Britain Edition: current; Page: [xi] and Ireland, the illusions of chivalry formerly associated with aristocracy, the vested interests of great landowners in corn and game laws, and the ills of a faulty journalism. He strove to liberate the English press from the trammels of an abused and arbitrary law of libel and the burden of press duties.3 Mill like his father and other contemporary Radicals saw in the freedom of the press the essential instrument for mobilizing opinion, breaking down resistance to reform, and creating that degree of popular discontent which would compel the aristocratic government to make substantial concessions. He was naturally inspired by his father’s famous essay on “Liberty of the Press,” first published in 1821 as a supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He accepted his parent’s uncompromising belief that no special laws should exist to hamper the freedom of newspapers to print facts and advance opinions to protect the people against the tyranny of a government.4

In 1826 when Mill was twenty he entered the shadows of a mental crisis, which lasted for months, and has been variously assessed and explained by biographers. It is easy to accept the traditional and simple view that it resulted from prolonged and excessive work. Mill had recently undertaken the prodigious task of editing the five volumes of Bentham’s Rationale of Judicial Evidence, contributed to newspapers and journals, debated in the societies with which he was associated, tutored his brothers and sisters at home, and dealt with official duties at India House. Yet there was more involved than heavy work and physical exhaustion. In the Autobiography he blames a faulty education which cultivated his intellect but starved his feelings and aesthetic yearnings. His faith in the efficacy of utilitarian thought was evidently shaken, and it is symptomatic that on this, unlike other occasions, he failed to seek from his father guidance, sympathy, or compassion. He had secretly begun to rebel against certain elements in the philosophy of James Mill and Jeremy Bentham and felt compelled to work out alone an intellectual accommodation with his inheritance. A. W. Levi has advanced a Freudian explanation of the mental crisis and its disappearance.5 Whether we accept this view or not, Mill’s illness marked a milestone in his intellectual development. He awoke to deficiencies in the eighteenth-century utilitarian thought in which he had been indoctrinated, and to repair them sought guidance from other and varied sources, including Edition: current; Page: [xii] a constellation of new friends and new mentors. In the fourteen years after 1826 the orthodox utilitarian was transformed into an eclectic liberal who in no sense repudiated all his inheritance but modified and combined it with many fresh ideas and methods of thought demanded in a world gripped by change where truth, as he saw it, must be many-sided.

He found for depression an early antidote in Wordsworth’s tranquil and contemplative poetry, which supplied something which had been lacking in his father’s rigorous educational regime—a cultivation of feeling inspired by natural beauty. Yet the Wordsworthian culture of the feelings was at the time merely one of a medley of influences.6 Even Macaulay’s caustic criticism in the Edinburgh Review of his father’s Essay on Government persuaded Mill that although Macaulay himself was faulty in philosophy, he scored valid points against the narrowness of his father’s political thought and its neglect of significant springs in the conduct of modern man.7

The thinkers, very different from his father and Bentham, who gave him intellectual stimulus in the early 1830s were the Saint-Simonians, Comte, Coleridge, Carlyle, and Tocqueville. He appreciated the fact that these writers emphasized the significance of history and a philosophy of history, and endorsed the idea that each state of society and the human mind tended to produce that which succeeded it, with modifications dictated by circumstances. At the same time, the whirl of change in events and ideas impressed him with the relativity of political institutions; each different stage in human society must have different institutions. Further, as he put it, “government is always either in the hands, or passing into the hands, of whatever is the strongest power in society, and . . . what this power is, does not depend on institutions, but institutions on it. . . .”8

Not the least fascinating circumstance in the shaping of Mill’s thought in the early 1830’s was his coming under different streams of influence and endeavouring to reconcile them or to select from each some element or elements of significance. This process was admirably illustrated in the letter to John Sterling in October 1831.9 He discussed here contemporary Toryism and Liberalism, and distinguished between the contrary types of speculative and practical Toryism, but oddly failed to recognize the significant reformism of men like Huskisson and Peel. “Practical Toryism,” he said, “simply means, being in, and availing yourself of your comfortable position inside the vehicle without minding the poor devils who are freezing outside. . . . Such Toryism is essentially incompatible with any large and generous Edition: current; Page: [xiii] aspirations. . . .” Yet this is the Toryism that appealed to the privileged classes of his day, who had little faith in human improvement, unlike his friends the speculative Tories—Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey. These wanted an ideal Toryism, an ideal King, Lords, and Commons, the old England as opposed to the new, an England as she might be, not as she is. They represented a reverence for government in the abstract,

sensible that it is good for man to be ruled; to submit both his body & mind to the guidance of a higher intelligence & virtue. It is therefore the direct antithesis of liberalism, which is for making every man his own guide & sovereign master, & letting him think for himself & do exactly as he judges best for himself, giving other men leave to persuade him if they can by evidence, but forbidding him to give way to authority; and still less allowing them to constrain him more than the existence & tolerable security of every man’s person and property renders indispensably necessary. It is difficult to conceive a more thorough ignorance of man’s nature, & of what is necessary for his happiness or what degree of happiness & virtue he is capable of attaining than this system implies.10

These sentiments may seem somewhat uncharacteristic of one renowned as spokesman of British nineteenth-century liberalism. They reflect his thinking at a critical period when he was striving to assess the changing winds of current opinion. At the same time they also reflect an enduring element: his doubts about the average man’s capacity unaided to cope wisely with the complex problems of citizenship.

In combining his earlier utilitarian doctrines with those of new intellectual associates, Mill saw politics as an immensely important part of the structure of society, since only through political activity could men maximize their moral and social potentiality. The institutional contrivances of the state, being interwoven with the main facets of economic and social life, were comprehensible only in the context of the whole. Politics reflected the character of economic and social systems and the ethical values men held. Culture and politics were thus inseparable, political progress and social progress interdependent. Some years later, in a letter to John Chapman, Mill expressed in general terms a view that for him had become axiomatic:

I understand by Sociology not a particular class of subjects included within Politics, but a vast field including it—the whole field of enquiry & speculation respecting human society & its arrangements, of which the forms of government, & the principles of the conduct of governments are but a part. And it seems to me impossible that even the politics of the day can be discussed on principle, or with a view to anything but the exigencies of the moment, unless by setting out from definite opinions respecting social questions more fundamental than what is commonly called politics.11

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the varied intellectual stimuli that Mill experienced after his mental crisis helped to shape the mould of his political thought in that turbulent and confused era of the 1830s. However much he strayed from the strict path of his father’s thought, he remained in agreement with the main legal and political reforms sought by James Mill and the Philosophic Radicals. In his journalism he still advocated extensive changes in the laws, the parliamentary system, and the whole system of government to reduce what, in his opinion, was the baneful influence of the aristocracy on the major aspects of British society. He endeavoured to arouse the Radicals in and out of parliament to form a powerful party that either alone or allied with progressive Whigs could shape public policies on reformist lines. In a letter to Edward Lytton Bulwer in March 1838 he summarized his political ambitions in the preceding years:

I have never had any other notion of practical policy, since the radicals were numerous enough to form a party, than that of resting on the whole body of radical opinion, from the whig-radicals at one extreme, to the more reasonable & practical of the working classes, & the Benthamites, on the other. I have been trying ever since the reform bill to stimulate, so far as I had an opportunity, all sections of the parliamentary radicals to organize such a union & such a system of policy. . . .12

Yet despite his genuine zeal, Mill found the task of trying to achieve unity among the Radicals frustrating. They were splintered into stubborn factions, and no parliamentary leader with the requisite qualities emerged to unite them. They constituted a party of many lieutenants without a general. For a short interval Mill pinned his hopes on Lord Durham, who left the Whig ministry, undertook the Canadian mission, surrounded himself with Radical advisers like Charles Buller and Gibbon Wakefield, and produced a report that was a Radical rather than a Whig or Tory document. But Mill’s hopes and designs for Durham’s leadership or indeed for the future of the party were soon shattered by adverse events, including the serious illness and death of Durham and Mill’s own inability to sustain much longer the heavy financial and other burdens of the London and Westminster Review, the organ for radical causes. By 1840 he had virtually ceased to be a leading counsellor to Radical politicians, although his interest in utilitarian reform continued unabated.

Significantly, in the 1830s Mill was not absorbed exclusively in British political ideas and activities. In contrast with his father, who disliked France Edition: current; Page: [xv] and the French, he was early influenced by French thinkers and fascinated by the dialectic of French politics. In 1829 he told a Parisian friend that he admired his countrymen because they were open to ideas and more ready than the English to act on them.13 Never perhaps was his Francophile enthusiasm more pronounced than in 1830. On the collapse of the Bourbon monarchy he hurried to Paris, mixed freely with young revolutionaries and Saint-Simonian leaders, shared the excitement and joy of his French friends in what they assumed was the triumph of revolution over aristocratic politics and ultramontane theology, and returned to England with a renewed zest for reforms.14

Mill’s political hopes for France resembled those for Britain: a political regime on utilitarian lines, a widely representative assembly, a liberal franchise, a free press, free associations, popular education, and an enlightened public. However, the revolution of 1830 became a dismal disappointment. The monarchy of Louis Philippe, wedded to narrow commercial and financial groups, was unwilling to jeopardize for the sake of reform its powers and privileges, and at every step opposed major changes. From London Mill closely and anxiously followed events, and between 1830 and 1834 in successive articles in the Examiner poured out his bitterness.15

Mill’s severe disenchantment left an imprint on his political thinking throughout the 1830s and even later. Although he did not lose liberal convictions or a belief in representative government, he now doubted that large electorates could make sound decisions without the positive leadership of enlightened minorities. An extended suffrage, however important in itself, alone could not prevent the continuance of self-interested oligarchies whether of the aristocracy or middle class. His doubts and fears at the time about representative institutions and democracy were evident in numerous articles. Seven of these are included in the present volume, beginning with the review articles on The Use and Abuse of Some Political Terms by George Cornewall Lewis and Rationale of Political Representation by Samuel Bailey.16


Lewis was a man of Mill’s own age, equipped with similar precocious erudition, and of utilitarian sympathies. His book dealt with the relation of Edition: current; Page: [xvi] logic to politics, a topic in which Mill was then too deeply interested to treat casually. Two years later he confessed to Carlyle that his review was an outgrowth from his own mind and the truest he had ever written—that is, it was no mere product of an orthodox utilitarian schooling.17 He commended Lewis’s attempt to bring a lucid logic into the language of politics, since slovenly thinking and equivocal words were together the bane of political discussion. But he took strong exception to certain points, of which the most important concerned rights. Lewis, following his teacher John Austin, argued that all rights are creations of law and the will of the sovereign. To call anything a right which is not enforceable in the courts is an abuse of language. In contrast Mill emphasized the reality of moral rights. He contended that, in saying that no man has a moral right to think as he pleases, for he ought to inform himself and think justly, Dr. Johnson refers to a right Lewis evidently fails to comprehend. Yet for Mill a right in the Johnsonian sense is no abuse of terms; it is good logic and good English. Rights are the correlatives of obligations and duties, and moral as well as legal rights have a necessary and significant place in the contemporary state. It is a moral right of subjects to be well-governed and a moral duty of the sovereign to govern well. The focus of this criticism is the mischief inherent in unduly simplified and inflexible concepts. Mill reacts here against the rigidity of some utilitarian logicians. His further complaint concerned the apparent and unjustified contempt with which Lewis disposed of Locke and Rousseau for assuming an unhistorical and fictitious state of nature and a social contract. Mill believed that it was inconsequential whether anything like a state of nature existed. The real issue was the extent to which as an hypothesis it shed light on the fact of a morality outside the law to which men could appeal. To Mill as to Locke such morality was important. Independent states in relations with one another remained in a state of nature, without a common superior, but responsive to moral obligations and duties. However unskilfully formulated, the old theories of the social contract and the inalienable rights of man in Mill’s opinion had a rightful place in the evolution of political liberty and justice by indicating a pragmatic limit on the power of the sovereign. He concluded his review of Lewis’s book by emphasizing the necessity of recognizing, despite all the linguistic differences, the close relationship between ideas of different political thinkers, and also the possibility of combining them into a whole.

In reviewing Samuel Bailey’s Rationale of Political Representation, Mill in effect summarized his own ideas on the subject. Sharing the views of the Sheffield Radical, he employed the book to illustrate what for him were the requisites of sound representative government. In his argument he reverted Edition: current; Page: [xvii] to the cherished utilitarian dogma of his father that in politics it was essential to achieve the closest possible identification of interest between rulers and ruled. But this, he thought, was feasible only if decisions were made, not by the uninstructed multitude, but by a carefully selected body commanding special knowledge and techniques and accountable to the public. Strict accountability would help to ensure that rulers pursued the interests of the people rather than their own. Admittedly the task of overcoming the inbred chicanery and low cunning of politicians was difficult. It could not be accomplished simply by institutional machinery without a massive and prolonged public enlightenment. His fear of a sudden flood of new and ignorant voters made him cautious about any rapid extension of the franchise: “no one is disposed,” he wrote, “to deny that we ought cautiously to feel our way, and watch well the consequences of each extension of the suffrage before venturing upon another” (32). (This and subsequent parenthetical references are to the text of the present edition.) This caution extended even to his favourite cause of women’s enfranchisement. Despite a passionate belief in female suffrage, he thought in 1835 that its public advocacy would serve no practical purpose (29n).

Although wary about changes in the franchise, Mill supported many reforms in political machinery in harmony with orthodox Philosophic Radicalism: the secret ballot, triennial parliaments, publicity for parliamentary proceedings, payment of members and their professionalization, reduction in the size of the House of Commons to render it more efficient, and the creation of strong local government which he assumed would reduce the burdens of the national parliament. He also proposed a radical change in the House of Lords to destroy it as a rigid barrier to reforms fashioned in the Commons. He would abolish its hereditary principle and select its membership from the lower house. By such changes he hoped to transform Britain’s government from an aristocracy into a special kind of democracy led by an enlightened few.18

He said little about the enlightened few beyond emphasizing that they consist of those specially endowed with public spirit and educated to conduct a thoughtful direction of national affairs: the fittest persons whom the existing society could produce. He believed that since 1688 the landed aristocracy had governed England badly: it reflected the attitudes of unimaginative dilettantes incapable of the rigorous intellect that government needed, and it was fettered by its own enormous wealth and special privileges. Anxious to protect its own position, it could do little to bridge the chasm between the social classes, which increasingly endangered a Britain subject to the new powerful pressures of nineteenth-century industrialism. To Mill Edition: current; Page: [xviii] its strength and effectiveness seemed inferior to those of the aristocracy of Prussia (23-4).

Through his reform programme Mill hoped to create a new and independent ruling class of paid and professional parliamentarians freed from electoral pledges. He believed that unpaid legislators and magistrates sustained the monopoly power of the aristocracy because aristocrats could usually afford to serve without pay (35). Among the Radicals the issue of pledges provoked acrimonious debate. In 1832 Mill had irritated some in arguing that, although in cases of constitutional change pledges might sometimes be justified, they were in general bad. “The sovereignty of the people,” he wrote, “is essentially a delegated sovereignty. Government must be performed by the few, for the benefit of the many. . . .”19 The same view he repeated in the “Rationale of Representation,” contending that electors are obligated to select representatives fully qualified to form sound decisions on public matters. They must not expect that those they elect should act slavishly in parliament according to popular judgment any more than patients expect a physician to cure their ills according to their own chosen ideas of medicine (40). For Mill, pledges conflicted with the essence of representative government. Voters were free to reward or punish, by re-election or rejection, a representative at the end of his term, but to shackle him from the outset with inflexible instructions would cripple his powers of initiative and responsibility.


As a British radical, Mill from youth was profoundly interested in the United States. For him and most of his fellow utilitarians the republic was a unique experiment of a democracy in action, and hence important for all European liberals. Unlike the Tory writers of the Quarterly Review, they looked to America to demonstrate the virtues of democracy, and abundant praise of the United States became their orthodox practice. They admired it for experimenting with new social ideas, rejecting an established church, extending franchise laws, promoting popular education, recognizing a free press, and believing in a free economy. Such was Jeremy Bentham’s enthusiasm for America that to Andrew Jackson he described himself as “more of a United Statesman than an Englishman.” For him and his disciples the republic seemed to apply the principle of utility more assiduously than did Britain.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that between 1835 and 1840 Mill wrote three leading articles on America: two lengthy reviews in 1835 and 1840 Edition: current; Page: [xix] on the separate parts of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and in 1836 an essay on the state of American society as depicted in five contemporary volumes. In these essays he endeavoured not merely to illustrate the work of a new and major political thinker, but also to portray the democratic society of the United States compared with the aristocratic regimes of Europe. In doing this under the weighty influence of Tocqueville, he clarified and matured his own thought on the merits and faults of democracy. Hence his two essays on Tocqueville are highly significant in the evolution of his thinking.

Almost the same age, although of different social backgrounds, the two men had much in common. Both were convinced that the new industrial age was destined to affect profoundly society and politics. Both were interested in the shape of things to come, in the trend to equality, and in democracy as almost an inevitable force of nature that must be adjusted to human circumstances and needs. Both believed that it alone could diffuse the spirit of a vigorous citizenship and sense of community throughout the whole national state. Yet they were also deeply concerned about its inherent defects and anxious to remedy them. “Man cannot turn back the rivers to their source,” wrote Mill, “but it rests with himself whether they shall fertilize or lay waste his fields” (158).

Tocqueville’s idea of democracy was more loosely defined than Mill’s. He referred to it less often as a particular form of government than as an equality of social conditions, without elements of aristocracy and privilege, the kind of equality which was best exemplified in the United States. Equality of conditions might exist under an absolute ruler, and Tocqueville feared that in some countries, including his own France, it might emerge solely in that form. Mill, on the other hand, applied the term democracy more consistently to a form of government in which the people constitutionally exercised a dominant sway. He was fully aware, however, that democratic government had wide social implications, and a large measure of social equality was a natural accompaniment.

In his two reviews Mill welcomed Tocqueville’s book as a landmark in the literature of politics, hailing the first part as among “the most remarkable productions of our time” (57). He saw its author, in his wide-ranging thought, as comparable to Montesquieu. His praise for the second part was equally enthusiastic. It was “the first philosophical book ever written on Democracy, as it manifests itself in modern society.”20 The reasons for this laudation are found in the grand sweep of Tocqueville’s sociological description and perception and his penetrating comments on democracy, Edition: current; Page: [xx] its mixed properties and tendencies, the dangers it confronted, and the different demands it made on mankind. For Mill method was hardly less important than content. In Tocqueville he saw the new kind of political scientist he was ambitious to be himself, quick to probe the varied social forces that mould man’s political conduct, skilful in combining deduction and induction, and adept in applying comparative methods to the facts of society and government.

In his first essay, especially, Mill employed long quotations to illustrate Tocqueville’s views on American democracy and society and on the operation of its institutions. He acted like a modest chairman, briefly introducing a speaker and giving him abundant time to elaborate his theme, confident in the speaker’s mastery of the subject. But his quotations in both essays indicate his deep interest in certain aspects of Tocqueville’s account, especially the role of a numerical majority and its influences on individual and national life. Anxiously he scrutinized how far in practice Americans respected the principle of true democracy as defined in “The Rationale of Representation.” He was hardly encouraged by his findings. The people often directly governed rather than merely exerting an ultimate control over government. He learned from Tocqueville how widely delegation had replaced representation (74). Electors, however poorly informed, often laid down conditions that their representatives were compelled to respect. The majority was unmistakably dominant, constantly and aggressively asserted its will, shaped the character of opinion, and lived in perpetual adoration of itself. It was little comfort for Mill to read Tocqueville’s verdict that he knew of no country with less independence of mind and less real freedom of discussion than the United States (81). No monarch had such power over opinion as the popular majority. Tocqueville admitted that the majority refrained from attacking the property and material interests of the rich minority, but it otherwise imposed a despotic yoke on public opinion, on independent thought, and hence on individuality of character.

In view of his previous generous admiration for America, Mill doubtless wished that the evidence was different, but could not escape the compelling force of Tocqueville’s critical picture. Yet, although he accepted most of Tocqueville’s strictures on American institutions, he sometimes tried to moderate and excuse them. In the first part of his work Tocqueville concluded that the American electors were disposed to choose mediocrities rather than able candidates, owing partly to their own limited education and understanding and partly to the insatiable envy that most men had for their superiors. Mill feared that this charge, if true, meant that his own belief in a talented élite to guide and instruct the democracy was unlikely to be justified. He thought he found, however, in the facts furnished by Tocqueville a situation less discouraging than had at first appeared. In critical Edition: current; Page: [xxi] times able Americans assumed a positive leadership. In ordinary times, unfortunately, the range of public activity was too restricted to attract men of ambition and talent. Mill believed that this situation would eventually improve with the advance of education, general enlightenment, and the social needs of America.21 He was much less pessimistic than Tocqueville about democracy’s falling under the control of the mediocre.

In his first review Mill also questioned Tocqueville’s assertion that aristocracy had qualities of prudence and steadiness absent in democracy. The steadiness of an aristocracy, he said, was commonly expressed in a tenacious grip on its own cherished privileges. Its strength of will, as English history illustrated, was shaped by its class interests, and its opinions tended to fluctuate with its immediate impulses and needs (77-9).

Mill’s main criticism in his second essay was well taken: Tocqueville, in failing to define democracy with precision, sometimes confused its effects with those of a commercial civilization in general. As a nation progresses in industry and wealth, its manufactures expand, its capital grows, its class structure changes, and the intermediate group between poor and rich, comprised of artisans and middle class, multiplies. This may seem to make, as Tocqueville believed, a trend to equalization, but it could be merely one of many consequences from augmented industry and wealth, which created a highly complex society without necessarily furthering political freedom and democratic equality. Mill doubted whether in itself a commercial civilization, aside from other influences, necessarily equalized conditions among men. At any rate it failed to do so in Britain. There, he wrote, “The extremes of wealth and poverty are wider apart, and there is a more numerous body of persons at each extreme, than in any other commercial community” (193). Owing to their abundant children, the poor remained poor, while the laws tended to keep large concentrations of capital together, and hence the rich remained rich. Great fortunes were accumulated and seldom distributed. In this respect, Mill thought, Britain stood in contrast to the United States, although in commercial prosperity and industrial growth she was similar.

However ready to accept Tocqueville’s belief in the passion for equality as a dynamic factor in modern industrial nations, Mill in comparing Britain and the United States saw and illustrated other influences. He agreed with Tocqueville that in the two countries the middle classes were remarkably alike in structure and aspirations. Both experienced social instability, the restless drive of individuals to improve their lot, the ceaseless pursuit of wealth, and the enlargement of the middle class through constant recruitment from below. But in one respect they differed. Britain, unlike America, Edition: current; Page: [xxii] had a governing and landed aristocracy, and also a leisured class and a learned class, larger and more significant in influence than their counterparts in the republic. Such class features produced between the two countries differences in the quality of political life. Mill admitted that in Britain profound changes then occurring narrowed the divergences. The strongholds of aristocratic powers were weakening. The House of Lords, for all its pretensions and authority, failed to defeat the Reform Bill. Peers were now influenced by bourgeois opinion and even taste. The edifice of government might still rest on an impressive aristocratic base, but its transformation had begun, and Mill and the Philosophic Radicals were determined that it must be carried to ultimate success.

It is needless to dwell on differences in opinion between Mill and Tocqueville, since the dissimilarities are less important than what the men shared in common, Mill saw Tocqueville as he saw himself—a leader in the great transition of thought between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and a contributor of social insights and ideas to those who desired for Europe a new liberal age. In his Autobiography he described how Tocqueville more effectively than any other contemporary depicted the virtues of democracy as well as its perils. He admitted that his French friend reinforced his own fears about the political tyranny of popular opinion and influenced him in shifting his ideal from that of pure democracy to its modified form later presented in Considerations on Representative Government.22 Both men observed in America harsh forms of popular tyranny, not in laws, but in what Mill called the dispensing power over all law. “The people of Massachusetts,” he remarked, “passed no law prohibiting Roman Catholic schools, or exempting Protestants from the penalties of incendiarism; they contented themselves with burning the Ursuline convent to the ground, aware that no jury would be found to redress the injury” (177). In these cases popular tyranny was expressed not merely in the action of mobs, incited by the passions of religion, party, or race, but by the inability of the administrative and judicial organs to work effectively owing to their direct dependence on popular opinion.

Mill, like Tocqueville, saw in the democratic majority perennial threats to what for both were supreme values: individuality, intellectual variety, effective minority opinions, and the spontaneous initiatives derived from individuals and groups. For Mill these values remained an enduring element in his liberal philosophy and pervaded On Liberty. Their implications for national development were manifest. But no single rule or set of concepts could determine the same development for all nations. Each nation must pursue a course appropriate to the varied interests, circumstances, and temperament of its citizens. Years before Mill had criticized Comte’s folly in Edition: current; Page: [xxiii] assuming a single law of evolution for all nations, a criticism he never retracted.23

Mill no less than Tocqueville was eager to recognize the main political corollaries of these liberal ideas. He emphasized the importance for individuals of fostering and preserving combinations or associations to promote mutual protection and common causes, such as political unions, antislavery societies, and the like. He saw the freedom of combination as intimately joined to that of the press. “The real Political Unions of England,” he wrote, “are the Newspapers. It is these which tell every person what all other persons are feeling, and in what manner they are ready to act.” (165.) He evidently did not foresee that sometimes newspapers might also become the instruments of a democratic despotism.

He likewise agreed with Tocqueville in extolling the value of local government as a means for extending among the people the management of public business, training them in self-rule, and enlarging their scope for political freedom. He here reflected his faith that under democracy politics becomes a form of adult education. He was hardly less confident than Tocqueville that the spirit and habit of local autonomy was a primary source of American freedom and would no less promote freedom in other democracies.

Finally, in his second article on Tocqueville he also expressed the conviction that in a mass democracy, whether in Europe or America, it was essential to bolster influences that countervailed those of the mass. For him the evil was not the preponderance of a democratic class in itself, but of any class, especially when it lacked intellectual cultivation (196). He believed with Tocqueville that the overwhelming dominance of a single class would always predispose it to establish a deadening uniformity in the style and texture of life for the whole society. This would mean an intellectually static community resembling that of China as understood in Europe at the time.

Mill, like Tocqueville, remained apprehensive that in an industrial and commercial age democracy would impoverish the national culture by imposing on it a single and inflexible set of mass values. Although he admitted that public opinion must rule, he speculated that to form

the best public opinion, there should exist somewhere a great social support for opinions and sentiments different from those of the mass. The shape which that support may best assume is a question of time, place, and circumstance; but (in a commercial country, and in an age when, happily for mankind, the military spirit is gone by) there can be no doubt about the elements which must compose it: they are, an agricultural class, a leisured class, and a learned class.


These sentiments, tinged with Coleridgean conservatism, may have seemed strange and unwelcome to some fellow Philosophic Radicals, but by 1840 Edition: current; Page: [xxiv] his associates in the movement had learned that his Benthamite orthodoxy had long since disappeared.

It may be added that Mill did not remain convinced that the existence of a leisured class was of pre-eminent importance. In 1847 he wrote to John Austin:

I have even ceased to think that a leisured class, in the ordinary sense of the term, is an essential constituent of the best form of society. What does seem to me essential is that society at large should not be overworked, nor over-anxious about the means of subsistence, for which we must look to the grand source of improvement, repression of population, combined with laws or customs of inheritance which shall favour the diffusion of property instead of its accumulation in masses.24

At this time Mill was working on his Principles of Political Economy, and the healing virtues of the stationary state were fresh and vivid in his mind.

In his essay on the “State of Society in America” Mill expressed not merely some additional reflections on the American experiment, but also briefly raised questions on how environment determines a nation’s politics, how nations could benefit from one another’s experience through a science of comparative institutions, and how American society was judged by European observers in the doubtful light of their own prejudices, especially hostility to popular rule. He was strongly convinced that the American form of democracy must be directly related to the special character of American society, moulded by a wide variety of forces: abundant natural wealth, a fast growing population, a remarkable opportunity for all classes to raise their standards of living, the absence of aggressive neighbours, the lack of a leisured class except in the southern states, and the inheritance of a language and culture from a parent nation three thousand miles away. Its experiment in politics was scarcely comprehensible apart from the interplay of these numerous influences, all of which, although seldom the product of government, impinged directly on government. They were not all favourable to the success of democracy. To Mill the United States was a classic demonstration of the intimate bonds between social circumstances and political forms.

Characteristic is the sentence: “High wages and universal reading are the two elements of democracy; where they co-exist, all government, except the government of public opinion, is impossible” (99). Mill held that the high premium on labour in North America meant that the common man was not merely well remunerated but also had to be consulted about his government. Likewise the general literacy of the Puritans, originally cherished as a means for reading Holy Writ, had become the invaluable medium for political and forensic debates whereby the Americans established and Edition: current; Page: [xxv] sustained their freedoms. Thus with the strokes of a broad brush Mill explained to readers in the London Review American democracy in terms of environment, history, and social conditions. He may have provided an unduly simplified version of reality, but it was well calculated to correct the partisan bias of the many itinerant writers who came and went across the Atlantic.


Mill’s long essay, “Civilization,” is closely related to those on America and the ideas of Tocqueville. It reflects the same concern over certain profound changes then occurring or about to occur in society and their significance for the individual and his government.

Alexander Bain thought Mill’s definition of civilization inadequate and much of his article merely a Philosophic Radical’s criticism of contemporary British society.25 Mill explicitly restricted use of the term to institutions and practices different from those of the savage. “Whatever be the characteristics of what we call savage life,” he wrote, “the contrary of these, or the qualities which society puts on as it throws off these, constitute civilization” (120). A modern anthropologist may be even less likely than Bain to feel satisfied with this definition. Yet whatever its deficiency it in no way hampered Mill in discussing that in which he was principally interested—certain aspects of contemporary Britain on which he had strong opinions. He advocated reform in many established institutions, ideas, and prejudices. He recognized that in every country civilization exhibits ill as well as salutary traits, and both he scrutinized.

Civilized men, unlike savages, have clustered in great and fixed concentrations, acted together in large bodies for common purposes, and proceeded from one material achievement to another. They have created populous cities, developed specialized industries, accepted fully the division of labour, expanded channels of trade, improvised techniques of production, and applied science to the cultivation of the soil. Thus they have augmented their material comforts and satisfactions as well as their pleasures in social intercourse. Mill welcomed the general results of this onward thrust of civilization, but was disturbed by some of its features, and especially by the passing of power increasingly from individuals and small groups of individuals to the masses, whose importance grew while that of individuals shrank. The characteristic product of modern material civilization has been a mass society, which Mill no less than Tocqueville feared. “When the masses become powerful,” he wrote, “an individual, or a small band of Edition: current; Page: [xxvi] individuals, can accomplish nothing considerable except by influencing the masses; and to do this becomes daily more difficult, from the constantly increasing number of those who are vying with one another to attract public attention” (126).

Not the least interesting part of his essay is a sketch of the possible strategy whereby the literate and educated elements of the population might guide the masses or create a rival power to them. He believed that an effective civilization is possible only through the capacity of individuals to combine for common ends. Combination, as in trade unions and benefit societies, had already made the workers more powerful. Combination and compromise also could enlarge the influence of the literate middle class, demolish old barriers between all classes, and extend the range of law and justice. English educational institutions were imperfectly organized for their task, and he feared the advent of democracy before the people were sufficiently educated and ready to shoulder their responsibilities. He censured the ancient English universities for failing to make the present rulers grasp what had to be done in reform to avoid the worst features of mass domination. In pursuing narrow sectarian ends, as in the exclusion of Dissenters, the universities were ignoring political realities.26 They must moreover extend their scope to serve a larger proportion of the population, and at the same time sponsor more through research in the manner of the German universities.

In his targets for criticism Mill included the Established Church. For this ancient instrument of national religion and culture he had little reverence, partly because he was not a believer, and partly because its intimate alliance with the aristocracy had bolstered conservative forces hostile to reform. Evident throughout his essay is what Matthew Arnold called Mill’s insensitivity to religion, especially dogmatic religion. On this subject he was explicit: “The principle itself of dogmatic religion, dogmatic morality, dogmatic philosophy, is what requires to be rooted out” (144). For him the Establishment in particular was too sectarian, too protective of its own institutional monopoly, and too much a prop of the existing social order. With satisfaction he witnessed the shrinkage of its power as other religious bodies secured a greater public freedom. In 1829 he described to Gustave d’Eichthal the immense significance of Catholic emancipation. “It forms an era in civilization. It is one of those great events, which periodically occur, by which the institutions of a country are brought into harmony with the better part of the mind of that country. . . .”27 He was gratified that the Established Edition: current; Page: [xxvii] Church and its ally the aristocracy had suffered a defeat, for he felt the emancipation had dealt a fatal blow in general to exclusion from political rights on grounds of religion. As a sequel to this event, Mill was inclined in the early 1830s to predict an imminent collapse of the power of the Church. Here his perception failed him. He greatly underestimated the Church’s resilience, vitality, and capacity for change and survival, as he also misunderstood the human feelings that helped to sustain it.

In turning from the general aspects of contemporary civilization to its moral effects. Mill generalized freely about the imponderables in individual conduct. He thought that civilization relaxed individual energy and tended to focus it within the narrow sphere of the individual’s money-getting pursuits. He believed that in the civilized milieu the individual received so many elements of security and protection for himself, family, and property, that he depended less on his own unaided initiatives and exertions. This profound change in man’s spirit and temper was illustrated in all phases of society, including literature and the arts, which now tended to lose their older distinct and enduring standards. As literacy spread, good literature diminished. The influence of superior minds over the multitude weakened. “The individual,” wrote Mill, “becomes so lost in the crowd, that though he depends more and more upon opinion, he is apt to depend less and less upon well-grounded opinion; upon the opinion of those who know him. An established character becomes at once more difficult to gain, and more easily to be dispensed with” (132). In Mill’s view it was now only in small communities that the valuable influence of public opinion could be demonstrated.

In discussing the advance of civilization Mill attempted no confident and systematic balance-sheet of gains and losses for mankind. In his own age of transition he evidently felt that his chief task as a utilitarian reformer was to concentrate on augmenting the gains and minimizing the losses in the best way possible. To this end his reformist recommendations were directed.


The one remaining selection in this volume illustrative of Mill’s political ideas in the decade 1830-40 is a brief review of Essays on Government (1840). The author of this slender volume was an anonymous radical who believed in republican government, universal suffrage, the ballot, and rule by a natural aristocracy composed of those with wisdom and virtue whom the community selected in contrast to the existing aristocracy of birth and wealth. Mill found in the book no deep or original thought, but simply some rather naïve current thinking about democracy. The machinery constituted Edition: current; Page: [xxviii] for choosing a natural aristocracy does not necessarily secure one. Unlike the author, Mill was not confident that the people would either know where to find natural aristocrats or select them as rulers when they found them.

Further he saw in the book contradictions between the principal prerequisites for good government. It insisted that the government must conform to the opinion of the governed, and also that the rulers must be the wisest and best persons in the community. Would the wise ones consent to rule in conformity with the opinions of the less wise? Dissatisfied with the book’s ambiguities, Mill summed up his own position:

We think that democracy can govern: it can make its legislators its mere delegates, to carry into effect its preconceived opinions. We do not say that it will do so. Whether it will, appears to us the great question which futurity has to resolve; and on the solution of which it depends whether democracy will be that social regeneration which its partisans expect, or merely a new form of bad government, perhaps somewhat better, perhaps somewhat worse, than those which preceded it.



two related themes dominated Mill’s political thought from 1840 to his death: the invention and maintenance of institutions that would efficiently express the sanction of citizens for what rulers did in their name; and the appropriate role of the state in furthering human betterment in a Britain hurrying deeper into the industrial age. On the first theme his Considerations on Representative Government summarized most of his thinking over many years and became his chief classic in political science, providing a practical and liberal guide to nineteenth-century man searching for stable and competent government. On his second theme, however, Mill produced no equivalent single volume, although of cardinal importance were his On Liberty and his Principles of Political Economy in its successive editions. Illuminating also on this subject are his occasional writings and speeches, especially those on Ireland. In the last century some Englishmen viewed Ireland as a social laboratory where it was necessary to try special experiments not tolerable at home. Mill in particular was ready to enlarge greatly the agenda of government to combat Ireland’s indigenous and lingering poverty.


In the seven years before Considerations on Representative Government appeared, Mill produced some papers that foreshadowed the arguments in Edition: current; Page: [xxix] his major essay. First in time was the submission, requested by Sir Charles Trevelyan, then Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, which strongly commended the Northcote-Trevelyan Report for advocating the recruitment of civil servants, not by the casual methods of political patronage, but by open competitive examinations. For Mill this genuine reform harmonized with his long-held conviction that representative government could be efficient only if conducted by the country’s best-educated and orderly minds. On reading the report he quickly dispatched a characteristic comment to Harriet: “it is as direct, uncompromising, & to the point, without reservation, as if we had written it.”28 Apart from placing administration under the control of competent and professional officials, he hoped that the new mode of recruitment would strengthen existing political institutions by opening public positions to the competition of all classes and persons, thus diminishing the traditional sway of the aristocracy and privileged classes. This in turn, he thought, would extend intellectual cultivation and encourage talented individuals.

Sir Charles Trevelyan, an unshakably determined man, was not content simply to submit a report. To overcome troublesome opposition he carefully primed the press, solicited the opinions of influential individuals likely to support it (Mill being one), and printed them in a special blue book, Papers on the Reorganisation of the Civil Service. Yet his effort won little immediate success. The proposals were bitterly resisted, and their supporters had to be content with piecemeal reforms until their final triumph under Gladstone in 1870.29


It is evident from Mill’s correspondence that throughout the 1850s he thought frequently about the contentious issue of parliamentary reform. The outcome was a pamphlet and a major article, both published in 1859: Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform and “Recent Writers on Reform.” The first of these was largely written in 1853 with subsequent revisions and additions. In it he argued that since the Reform Bill British opinion had profoundly changed. A new and restless public came to believe that a further improvement in parliamentary representation was a national necessity. An unremitting trial of strength between the progressive and stationary forces confronted all party leaders, who were compelled to recognize that out of Edition: current; Page: [xxx] the ceaseless dialectic of debate change must come. For them the main issue was its extent and timing.

In the light of this situation, Mill in his pamphlet attempted to formulate his own electoral programme in seven main proposals: grouping of small boroughs into districts, gradual steps to universal male and female suffrage, electioneering reform to free candidates from expenses amounting to a burdensome property qualification, a minimal educational requirement for the franchise, plural voting based on educational attainments, representation of minorities through the cumulative vote, and rejection of the ballot, which had not yet become a part of British electoral law.

Some of these topics naturally figured more prominently in public discussion than others, and it is needless here to examine Mill’s arguments on all of them. His proposal to protect the views of minorities through the cumulative vote became obsolete a month after the publication of Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, with the appearance of Thomas Hare’s Election of Representatives. Hare’s book, discussed below, promptly convinced Mill. In March 1859 he enthusiastically wrote to its author: “You appear to me to have exactly, and for the first time, solved the difficulty of popular representation; and by doing so, to have raised up the cloud of gloom and uncertainty which hung over the futurity of representative government and therefore of civilization.”30 Henceforth he was committed to Hare’s scheme of electoral reform, with its preferential and transferable vote, calculated quota, and transformation of the country into a single constituency. To him it seemed the best protection for minorities that parliament could provide.

Mill’s proposals in Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform had in the preceding years evolved through prolonged discussions with his wife, who then greatly influenced his thinking. His suggested educational qualification for the franchise, and his rejection of the secret ballot provoked much controversy. On the first of these, he argued that a minimal education test must accompany a universal franchise. In view of the high value he consistently placed on a trained intelligence, he found it impossible to accept the equality of educated and uneducated electors.

If it is asserted that all persons ought to be equal in every description of right recognized by society, I answer, not until all are equal in worth as human beings. It is the fact, that one person is not as good as another; and it is reversing all the rules of rational conduct, to attempt to raise a political fabric on a supposition which is at variance with fact Putting aside for the present the consideration of moral worth, . . . a person who cannot read, is not as good, for the purpose of human life, as one who can.


Taking off from a premise that rejected the old radical dogma of “one man one vote,” Mill argued that all adult men and women who passed an Edition: current; Page: [xxxi] education test should be enfranchised, but those with superior training should receive plural or extra voting power, even to the extent of some individuals having three or more votes. In this Mill’s logic may have been impeccable, but the political practicability of his proposal was a different matter. The passion for equality that Tocqueville saw as part and parcel of the democratic movement was unlikely to render possible the kind of voting that Mill described. He himself appeared to have doubts. In the same year he admitted to John Elliot Cairnes that his proposal for plural voting on the basis of intellectual qualification was intended “not as an immediately practical measure but as a standard of theoretical excellence.”31 Yet on the same matter he commented to Alexander Bain: “One must never suppose what is good in itself to be visionary because it may be far off. . . . We must remember too that the numerical majority are not the politically strongest force yet. The point to be decided is, how much power is to be yielded to them; & justice always affords the best basis for a compromise, which even if only temporary may be eminently useful.”32

On the issue of the ballot, Mill in Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform publicly expressed for the first time his volte-face from a position stoutly held in the 1830s. In the earlier period, he, like other Philosophic Radicals, had extolled the ballot as scarcely less important than an extended franchise in overthrowing the ruling oligarchy in Britain. Without it the franchise might mean little. For him and his associates it became virtually a symbol of their radicalism. Secret voting, once established, was expected to demolish the political power of the aristocracy and privileged classes, and hence open the road for the march of the Radical party. It would protect tenants from coercion by landlords, customers from coercion by shopkeepers and vice versa, employees from coercion by employers, and the general public from coercion by miscellaneous and often sinister interests of every kind. It would benefit the people in that comprehensive way so dear to the Radicals. In 1837 Mill told Tocqueville with simplistic assurance that with the ballot “reform will have finally triumphed: the aristocratical principle will be completely annihilated, & we shall enter into a new era of government.”33 He then believed that in the country there was a deep radicalism which without the ballot was repressed. Two years later, in a letter to John M. Kemble, he wrote in more moderate terms, but still considered the ballot essential for the success of the radical cause.34

In defending his change of mind in the 1850s, Mill argued that when earlier he and the Philosophic Radicals had first advocated the ballot they were justified by the circumstances of the time. Many voters were then artfully manipulated by landlords and employers, and unable to declare their Edition: current; Page: [xxxii] real convictions in an open election. Twenty-five years later, however, the conditions were different. No longer were the rich the masters of the country. The middle classes and workers were less subservient to those above them, felt their own strength, and resented attempts by others to coerce them. In the larger electorates the real evil now lay in the selfish partialities of the voter himself, which reduced his concern for the general interest. Open voting, Mill thought, might best correct this egocentric attitude, foster a wholesome sense of public responsibility, and emphasize the vote as a trust for which the voter was accountable to the community.

Social circumstances had unquestionably changed, but for most Liberals the changes had failed to diminish the practical advantages of the ballot as a means for moderating the influences of wealth and power. Mill and his wife thus fell singularly out of step with the main army of reformers, who persistently advocated this change until its final triumph under Gladstone in 1872. Competent studies of the electoral system in this period seem to support the practical utility of the ballot.35

The few remaining active Philosophic Radicals, like George Grote and Francis Place, deplored Mill’s change of view. Place, often critical of Mill, was specially irritated by his pronounced shift of opinion on the ballot. “If James Mill,” he wrote bitterly, “could have anticipated that his son John Stuart should preach so abominable a heresy . . . he would have cracked his skull.”36 Place charged Mill with a shocking inconsistency, but on his part Mill thought mere consistency a minor virtue. Where circumstances change a situation, he would argue, then it is only common sense to alter one’s view of it.

In “Recent Writers on Reform” Mill examined the ideas of three contemporary writers on parliamentary institutions in the 1850s, selected for their distinction and the importance of their ideas: John Austin, James Lorimer, and Thomas Hare. Austin had been one of Mill’s oldest friends, under whom as a youth he had studied law, and whose ability he greatly admired. Yet Austin, although a disciple of Bentham, had in later years become conservative and estranged from Mill, who in particular was disturbed by his vehement criticism of the French revolutionary government of 1848. In his Plea for the Constitution Austin displayed a hostility to further parliamentary reform in the conviction that it was likely to destroy the delicate balance of the existing constitution and the appropriate attitudes of mind which facilitated its operation. The constitution, he believed, Edition: current; Page: [xxxiii] combined democratic and aristocratic elements. The electors were a democratic body, while the elected in the main constituted a remarkably skilled, devoted, and aristocratic governing class, who throughout a long span of time had acquired and were still able to apply the arts of ruling a country they understood.

This version of the British system combined with a laudation of the governing aristocracy was something that since the 1820s Mill had consistently condemned. On finding it in the pages of Austin he criticized it afresh, although, evidently out of respect for his old friend, his condemnation was moderate. He was content to show that the aristocratic classes, who had an opportunity to become instructed and trained statesmen, had frittered away their opportunities. Historically, they were less effective than the open aristocracy of Rome or the closed aristocracy of Venice. He noted Austin’s point that parliamentary reform was needless because the existing elected members of the lower house were already fully alert to the requirements of sound legislation and able to draft it. But Mill replied that, aside from law-making, parliament had another role. The House of Commons as the grand council of the entire nation must contain spokesmen to discuss the critical issues that divide the community and reflect the diverse shades of opinion in all classes. The most numerous class in the kingdom, that of the workers, had a moral right to representation to avoid having its affairs disposed of in its absence. He did not believe that recognizing this right of the workers and shopkeepers would produce all the disastrous social consequences that Austin took for granted.

By contrast, Mill had some reason for satisfaction with James Lorimer’s Political Progress Not Necessarily Democratic, for Lorimer was hardly less hostile than himself to the domination of the majority, accepted universal suffrage, but also favoured plural votes for certain citizens, although his criterion for them differed from Mill’s. He thought that a man’s social status, whether that of a peer or a labourer, should determine his voting power. This thesis Mill rejected as a dangerous sophistry, since it assumed that society must bend to forces created by itself, whereas he was conviced that men must intelligently try to mould society into something better, and his proposal for plural votes was intended to help the educated in doing so. In Lorimer’s work he was specially gratified with one feature: the rejection of current demands for the representation of interests. Mill expressed his own characteristic view that whenever interests are not identical with the general interest, the less they are represented the better. “What is wanted is a representation, not of men’s differences of interest, but of the differences in their intellectual points of view. Shipowners are to be desired in Parliament, because they can instruct us about ships, not because they are interested in having protecting duties.” (358.) Mill had no intention of suggesting Edition: current; Page: [xxxiv] that ideas can always be divorced from interests. As a reformer of society he knew better. He was trying to emphasize, as he did frequently, the necessity for cultivating an overriding and dispassionate sense of a public interest, which in his opinion was the prime purpose of a representative government.

The most important part of Mill’s article dealt with Thomas Hare’s book and the electoral mechanism it recommended to ensure for minorities a parliamentary voice equal to their strength. Hare appeared to solve a problem in representation that had worried Mill for a quarter of a century: how the domination by an electoral majority could be mitigated and a real image of the nation’s varied groups be expressed. It was only by solving this problem that true rather than false democracy could be achieved. He unhesitantly welcomed Hare’s departure from the principle of strict territorial representation, hitherto dominant in the constitution of the Commons. No longer would it be necessary for a candidate to gain or keep his seat by those “time-serving arts, and sacrifices of his convictions to the local or class prejudices and interests of any given set of electors” (366). Through the transferable vote he could appeal to a wider electorate, while on their part electors could enjoy a larger range in the choice of candidates, and thus achieve, as Mill said, a more personal rather than local representation. He expected that the quality of candidates would greatly improve, the tone of public debate rise, and the inducements of a parliamentary career for talented men increase. He enthusiastically wrote to Hare in December, 1859: “If the Americans would but adopt your plan (which I fear they never will) the bad side of their government and institutions, namely the practical exclusion of all the best minds from political influence, would soon cease. Let us hope that in the old country (thanks to you) democracy will come in this better form.”37

Mill was confident that with the implementation of Hare’s proposals any ill consequences of universal suffrage would be greatly diminished and even the plural voting he had recommended might become unnecessary. He hoped that the system could be accepted without prolonged delay, for reasons he confided to Henry Fawcett in February 1860: “It is an uphill race, and a race against time, for if the American form of democracy overtakes us first, the majority will no more relax their despotism than a single despot would.”38

Mill’s hopes for an early acceptance of the new principles were singularly unrealistic. Yet for the remainder of his life he continued to be an undaunted advocate of the single transferable vote and constantly encouraged and helped his friends like Hare and Fawcett in their efforts. Although women’s suffrage and the Hare system of electoral reform were not the sole Edition: current; Page: [xxxv] practical causes that occupied him in the 1860s, they were pre-eminent in appeal, and when in the House of Commons he strove to further both. Despite his efforts parliament never took the action he wanted, and the reasons are not far to seek. At the time when Mill was advocating a new electoral system, party managers gradually began to remould the organization of the two major parties to render them more disciplined and effective instruments for shaping policies and winning elections. For them the Hare-Mill electoral ideas seemed too revolutionary, too complicated, and their effects on party fortunes too uncertain to be acceptable. Hence, except for some of their members, they showed little interest in proportional representation of the type that Mill supported and were unwilling to incorporate it as an essential element in their political plans. Gladstone, for example, although in some reforms he was evidently influenced by Mill, rejected proportional representation when he considered electoral changes. This is not to say, however, that Mill’s ideas lacked influence. Even into the twentieth century, his basic idea, as stated in Representative Government, continued to incite the interest of many: in a democracy, any and every section must be represented, not disproportionately, but proportionately. A majority of the electors should always have a majority of the representatives; a minority of electors should always have a minority of representatives.


Considerations on Representative Government brings together many of Mill’s views expressed in earlier writings, especially those on the domination of majorities, the proposals of Thomas Hare, the folly of extracting pledges from parliamentarians, the superiority of public voting, the equity of female suffrage, and the desirability of plural votes for the educated.39 But the book is more than a résumé of previous opinions. It contains some of the author’s most effective arguments on political liberalism and it assesses the liabilities no less than the assets of what for Mill was the best form of government. It has usually been rated as one of the most influential appraisals of the subject written in Victorian England, though to a modern political analyst it has some deficiencies. It says little about the social and economic environment in which the institutions are expected to operate, although Mill was well aware of social forces and class struggles. Another work of the same decade, the English Constitution by Walter Bagehot, has perhaps since received more profuse acclaim, especially for elegance of style, but, except on the subject of Crown and parliament, Bagehot’s range Edition: current; Page: [xxxvi] was narrower and his probing of problems less profound and original.40

It is not proposed here to examine and evaluate in detail the contents of its eighteen chapters, but merely to comment on salient features. At the outset Mill attempts to distinguish the two contemporary forms of political speculation. The first postulated politics as a practical art, the product of invention and contrivance, concerned with means and ends and the devices for persuading citizens to accept them. It considered government a machine and a matter of rational choice, an opinion congenial to many British utilitarians. The second viewed government as less a machine than a living social organism, evolving like organisms in natural history. Emerging from simple situations, it grows spontaneously under the shaping influences of environment and the habits, instincts, and unconscious wants and desires of mankind This theory was much cherished by Conservatives in Britain.

Mill believes that neither theory alone explains the nature of politics. Each has elements of truth; each in itself can mislead. But both together help to further political comprehension. For him the essential fact is that political institutions, as the work of men, depend on will and thought, and are subject to the errors as well as the wisdom of human judgment. Unlike trees, which once planted grow while men sleep, they are controlled by the constant decisions and participation of individuals, exposed to a host of influences. “It is what men think, that determines how they act” (382). He rejects the idea that any people is capable of operating any type of political system. A bewildering medley of circumstances usually determines the nature and outlook of a country’s government. For a system to be successful, the people must be willing to accept it, do whatever ensures its survival, and strive to fulfil its purposes. Representative government makes heavy demands on the energy and initiative of citizens, requiring in particular self-discipline, moderation, and a spirit of compromise. It can succeed only when, in a favourable environment, the citizens have the qualities requisite to operate it. Mill admits that until relatively recent times a free and popular government was rarely possible outside a city community because physical conditions failed to permit the emergence and propagation of a cohesive public opinion. These views were not new to him in the 1860s. In his Autobiography he relates that some thirty years earlier he had seen representative democracy as a question of time, place, and circumstance.41

Mill viewed government as primarily an instrument to further the improvement Edition: current; Page: [xxxvii] of mankind, and to this end representative institutions are ideally the best, although hitherto human progress has often been served by efficient regimes that did not represent the people. An autocracy which successfully curbs a lawless and turbulent populace may for an interval provide an essential prerequisite for the order and progress of civilization: the ingrained habits and spirit of obedience to law. At critical times enlightened despots can achieve concrete social advances that may be less feasible under representative institutions, which permit powerful vested interests to block reform.

Nevertheless, for Mill the most desirable form of government, provided the people are willing and able to fulfil its conditions, is representative, because it offers the maximum opportunity for fostering men’s intelligence, virtue, and happiness. But at the same time he admits that where the people are morally and mentally unfit for this demanding form of rule, it may become an instrument of tyranny, and popular elections less a security against misgovernment than an additional wheel in its machinery (378). Even in the progressive democracies many men are content to be passive in public affairs. Absorbed in private cares and satisfactions, they patiently endure social evils and surrender to the pressure of circumstances. Usually present, however, are an energetic and active few who express thought, advocate innovations, and encourage provocative debate, thus making progress possible. Representative institutions enable these few to thrash out differences and reach workable agreements for the common good. With characteristic sober optimism Mill describes the competitive and restless spirit of liberal society as he perceives it in the nineteenth century: “All intellectual superiority is the fruit of active effort. Enterprise, the desire to keep moving, to be trying and accomplishing new things for our own benefit or that of others, is the parent even of speculative, and much more of practical, talent. . . . The character which improves human life is that which struggles with natural powers and tendencies, not that which gives way to them.” (407.)

Electoral Machinery, Responsibility, and Expertise

In Representative Government, Mill is principally concerned with three institutional features: the electoral machinery, the structure of a responsible national government, and the paramount role of a professional and expert class in administration and law-making.

The first of these themes, which he had earlier explored in articles, emphasizes his distinction between true and false democracy. True democracy represents all, and not merely the majority. In it the different interests, opinions, and grades of intellect are heard, and by weight of character and strength of argument influence the rest.42 This democracy is achieved by Edition: current; Page: [xxxviii] reforming the electoral system according to the proposals of Thomas Hare, by ensuring that everyone, male and female alike, has a voice (although not an equal voice) in the voting process, and by fostering education from infancy through life. Mill believes that the expansion of democratic rights in itself exerts a pervasive educational influence. He accepts Tocqueville’s belief that American democracy fostered both a robust patriotism and an active intelligence. “No such wide diffusion of the ideas, tastes, and sentiments of educated minds,” he writes, “has ever been seen elsewhere, or even conceived as attainable” (468). He strongly holds this view, although in earlier essays on the United States he also acknowledged in the American electorate a narrow and intolerant mentality. Although Mill at times fluctuates between trust and distrust of democracy, he always believes in its potentiality to improve men. Active citizenship can usually nourish the qualities that good citizenship demands, draw out human resources otherwise dormant, and advance the lot of mankind.

In discussing the executive in the representative system, Mill is the empiricist and Benthamite, who is eager to accept innovations but clearly places a high value on what has been tested by experience. He sanctions the parliamentary executive, which the British developed through common sense and the accidents of a long history. Indeed, he gives scant attention to any other system except the American, which affords him merely a basis for contrasts. With brevity and acumen he discusses precepts that must govern a responsible and effective executive. “It should be apparent to all the world, who did everything, and through whose default anything was left undone. Responsibility is null when nobody knows who is responsible,” (520.) But it is equally true that in many counsellors there is wisdom. A single individual even in his own business seldom judges right, and still less in that of the public. These and related points, he thinks, are woven into the fabric of British parliamentary practice.

Distinguishing between policy and administration, he is anxious that in the latter highly trained minds should save democracy from errors. He fears that the popular tolerance of mediocrity impairs the competence and quality of the state. In defending the Northcote-Trevelyan Report on the civil service he had advocated the recruitment of officials through competitive examinations from the ablest brains in the country, irrespective of social class. This case he confidently argues afresh in Representative Government (529-33) and defends it for every democratic state. In 1869 he writes to an American correspondent that “the appointments to office, without regard Edition: current; Page: [xxxix] to qualifications, are the worst side of American institutions: the main cause of what is justly complained of in their practical operation, and the principal hindrance to the correction of what is amiss; as well as a cause of ill-repute to democratic institutions all over the world.”43

Even in Britain he saw a too common inclination to ignore in officials the need for special qualifications: “Unless a man is fit for the gallows, he is thought to be about as fit as other people for almost anything” (427). Critical of British complacency and aristocratic casualness, he constantly extols the professional and the expert above the amateur and the dilettante.

His zeal for professional skills extends from administration to lawmaking. In his opinion a large and unwieldy parliament can no more legislate than administer. His Benthamite conscience was hurt by the haphazard and often dilatory manner in which British laws were made, with little concern for whether they fitted logically into the existing legal structure. His remedy was a legislative commission, composed of those who from assiduous study and long experience acquired an expertise in drafting bills which parliament could pass, reject, or return for further consideration (430-2). A legislature in Mill’s opinion should not itself draft law, but merely ensure its competent drafting. He suggests that on their appointment members of the commission should become life peers and thus enlarge the element of expertise in the House of Lords. In his chapter on second chambers, however, he emphasizes that the House of Lords should not be considered the main instrument for tempering the ascendancy of the majority in the lower house, a task better achieved through the electoral reforms that he and Thomas Hare advocated. As a drafting body, Mill’s legislative commission resembled the Parliamentary Counsel to the Treasury established by Gladstone in 1869, but Mill would have given to permanent experts more power than any House of Commons was ever likely to concede. His sympathy always seemed stronger for the men in Whitehall than for those in Westminster, for the officials rather than the politicians.

More than a quarter of Representative Government is devoted to four topics that may seem somewhat marginal to the main subject of the book. But because for Mill they are important and illustrate cardinal features of his liberalism they merit separate discussion.

Local Government

In both On Liberty and Representative Government Mill extols local institutions as essential for the welfare and education of the people. They permit citizens to acquire invaluable experience in working for common ends, introduce them to the skills and ethics of collaboration, and are an indispensable preparatory school for the democratic state. In Britain, moreover, such Edition: current; Page: [xl] institutions are a necessary auxiliary to the national parliament itself, which otherwise would become harassed and strained by tasks better left to local bodies, visible and sensitive to local electorates and directly accountable to them. A robust municipal system, Mill believed, would nourish a responsible public spirit and foster among the citizenry the political enlightenment essential for an extended franchise and a viable democracy.

In these views Mill was faithful to the utilitarian and radical tradition, drawing inspiration from Bentham who had emphasized the inherent value of local government and the necessity for its overhaul in England. He shared an early and lifelong friendship with Edwin Chadwick, a zealous and energetic Benthamite and the chief architect of municipal reform in the 1830s and 1840s. In 1833 he saw Chadwick as “one of the most remarkable men of our time in the practical art of Government. . . .”44 He had ample reasons for praising his friend, although Chadwick incurred much unpopularity for an apparently uncompassionate attitude towards the administration of the Poor Law and for centralist prejudices. The two men freely consulted, exchanged general ideas, and usually agreed on policy. Mill supported the major innovations that were deeply indebted to Chadwick’s utilitarian thought and ingenuity; in particular the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, the Corporations Act of 1835, and the Public Health Act of 1848, each of which was a conspicuous landmark in the evolution of new forms of local administration and service.

When in 1861 Mill came to write his chapter on local government he surveyed a scene of increasing complexity and baffling confusion. The rapid growth of industry and population had created massive urban concentrations of people clamouring for new and varied services. The different municipal bodies launched in the 1830s and 1840s were busily trying to cope with the problems of a social cauldron. The Boards of Poor Law Guardians, the borough councils, and the numerous ad hoc boards and commissions responsible for specific services all attempted to give a new meaning to municipal rule in a changing society. But in the counties the ancient system of appointed justices of the peace meeting in Quarter Sessions still survived. On this institution Mill as a faithful Radical is caustic:

The mode of formation of these bodies is most anomalous, they being neither elected, nor, in any proper sense of the term, nominated, but holding their important functions, like the feudal lords to whom they succeeded, virtually by right of their acres. . . . The institution is the most aristocratic in principle which now remains in England: far more so than the House of Lords, for it grants public money and disposes of important public interests, not in conjunction with a popular assembly, but alone.

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He would correct the deficiencies of county government through elected county councils to replace the Quarter Sessions, a reform not achieved until 1888.

Mill also attacks the cluttering proliferation of boards and commissions which needlessly fragmented and confused English civic life. He anticipates the Royal Sanitary Commission’s Report of 1871 and the critical verdict that England suffered from a chaos of local authorities and a chaos of local rates.45 He advocates consolidation of the existing services (such as paving, lighting, water supply, and drainage) under a single elected council rather than leaving them under separate ad hoc commissions. In brief, he recommends for all the local business of a town one body, whose members should be chosen only by ratepayers. He criticizes the subdivision of London into several independent units, each jealously clinging to responsibility for providing the same services, and thus preventing co-operation. Like other of Mill’s ideas in Representative Government, this one played a practical part in his parliamentary career when, a few years later, he introduced the first proposal for a London Corporation.46

Mill had pronounced convictions on the relations of central and local governments, believing that the central authority’s principal task was to give instructions and that of the local authority to apply them. Action must be localized, though knowledge, to be useful to all citizens in the kingdom, should be centralized. In the public interest a close partnership between the two levels of government is imperative. The central government should designate a specific department to act as a responsible guardian, adviser, and critic, scrutinizing everything done in local areas and making its fund of special knowledge available to those who need it. It should in particular supervise those matters of national interest left to local administration, but its power should be limited to compelling local officers to obey the laws enacted for their guidance. His chief example for this type of supervision is that of the Poor Law Board over the Local Guardians.

In their standard work on local government, Josef Redlich and Francis Hirst remark that Bentham’s “idea of centralisation was interpreted, modified, and adapted to English needs by Mill and not till it was adapted by Mill was it fully adopted by England.”47 His influence on local government clearly asserted itself in the years after 1871 with the organization of an efficient central authority for doing what he had long advocated, supervising municipal rule. In these ideas he demonstrates his type of utilitarian thought Edition: current; Page: [xlii] at its best, especially in taking traditional English institutions and adapting them to the necessities of a new industrial age.


Mill’s discussion of nationality, unlike his discussion of local government, might at the time have seemed of little relevance to Britain’s domestic politics. But in the wider perspective of her relations with continental Europe it was important. The idea of a self-conscious nationality emerged as a revolutionary force in transforming European politics after the French Revolution, and in Mill’s opinion Britain could not elude its wide-ranging effects.

His chapter on the subject is brief, little more than half the length of that on local government, perhaps too brief for him to render full justice to the magnitude and complexity of the theme. In “Coleridge” and A System of Logic he had viewed nationality as an essential condition for a stable political society, but emphasized that he did not mean nationality in the vulgar sense.48 In the interval between these writings and the appearance of Representative Government Mill saw nationality in Europe grow stronger in influence, more militant, and more uncompromising. It was manifested in a people through a powerful sense of community and an anxiety to live under one government. It was fostered by a variety of influences, such as identity of race, a common homeland, common language, common religion, and a common sense of history. “But the strongest of all is identity of political antecedents: the possession of a national history, and consequent community of recollections; collective pride and humiliation, pleasure and regret, connected with the same incidents in the past” (546). This passage has been quoted and requoted. Yet in his brief sketch Mill does not explain precisely how, why, and when the actual unifying sense of a common national history arises, especially in cases like Germany and Italy, where for generations deep political divergences expressed in a plethora of small states seemed more conspicuous than unity.49

Mill took a definite position on the relations of nationality to democracy. “Where the sentiment of nationality exists in any force, there is a primâ facie case for uniting all the members of the nationality under the same government, and a government to themselves apart. This is merely saying that the question of government ought to be decided by the governed.” To this remark he adds another no less revealing: “Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities” (547). In brief, Edition: current; Page: [xliii] democracy works best in a uni-national state of like-minded people. He contends that different nationalities, speaking different languages, would hamper the crystallizing of public opinion on which successful representative institutions depend. Social fragmentation and divisiveness would result from the presence of separate leaders of different nationalities. The same books, newspapers, pamphlets, and speeches would fail to circulate throughout all sectors of the society. Each nationality would thus differently assess facts and differently express opinions. Such differences, when sharp enough, would favour despotism rather than freedom. Politicians for their own advantage and power would exploit mutual antipathies.

Mill makes two far-reaching qualifications to his principle that the boundaries of state and nation should coincide. First, circumstances may sometimes render it difficult or impossible to implement: for example, in parts of Europe, notably the Austrian Empire, nationalities were so intricately intermingled as to make separate national states impracticable. In such cases the people affected must make a virtue of necessity and tolerantly accept life together under regimes of equal rights and equal laws. Second, it is often socially advantageous for a small nationality, rather than pursuing political independence, to merge in a larger one. He thinks it preferable for a Breton or Basque to become a part of the richly-endowed French nation than “to sulk on his own rocks, the half-savage relic of past times, revolving in his own little mental orbit, without participation or interest in the general movement of the world” (549). He believes that this also applies to the Welshman and the Scottish Highlander. Whatever his sympathy for such small nations, he is confident that their members would reap cultural benefits from close association with the larger nation, and in return confer benefits. In this type of situation it is essential for the weaker to receive not only equal justice but equal consideration, and thus help to blend qualities inherent in the different nationalities to the advantage of mankind.

Mill’s qualifications to his main thesis on state and nation are often forgotten while his general thesis is remembered. They are manifest in his treatment of the contentious national problem of Ireland. This Mill discussed in a sparse single paragraph in Representative Government, but in subsequent writings he said much on the subject, and notably in his pamphlet England and Ireland.50

Mill recognizes that the nationality of the Irish had never been absorbed in the larger nationality of Britain, as Bretons and Alsatians had been absorbed in that of France. For this result he gives two reasons: the Irish are numerous enough to constitute in themselves a respectable nationality and had for generations nursed a deep enduring enmity towards England Edition: current; Page: [xliv] because of its harsh methods of rule. His comments in Representative Government suggest that Mill believed that recent improvements in British policy had reduced Irish hostility, and in the future even more harmonious relations between the two countries might be expected. Hence he omits discussion of whether Ireland’s distinct nationality requires a separate statehood, as his general principle would imply. Seven years later, however, in England and Ireland, he is more pessimistic. In the interval a severe agrarian depression and Irish agitations for land reform had failed to win an adequate response from the British parliament. The consequent rise of a revolutionary Fenian movement committed to tactics of violence to achieve independence worsened and embittered relations between the two countries. Mill now wrote a sombre criticism of British rulers: “What seems to them the causelessness of the Irish repugnance to our rule, is the proof that they have almost let pass the last opportunity they are ever likely to have of setting it right. They have allowed what once was indignation against particular wrongs, to harden into a passionate determination to be no longer ruled on any terms by those to whom they ascribe all their evils. Rebellions are never really unconquerable until they have become rebellions for an idea.”51

Nevertheless, despite the inflamed sense of Irish nationality. Mill desires that the two countries should remain united. Their affairs are intimately intertwined in trade, population movements, and international security. Geography makes it easier for them to exist within one state rather than two. But the imperative condition for doing so successfully is that English rulers radically change their attitude towards Ireland. In making laws for that island they must resolve to recognize Irish circumstances and satisfy Irish interests no less than their own.

In particular, Mill argues, they should introduce sweeping agrarian reforms, leaving Irish peasants in permanent possession of their land, subject to fixed charges. In 1867, he told a correspondent that his guiding principle was: “To declare openly on all suitable occasions that England is bound either to govern Ireland so that Ireland shall be satisfied with her government, or to set Ireland free to govern herself.”52 He still hoped that it would be unnecessary to apply to Ireland the principle of one state for one nation, but, if English rulers failed in their duty, this would be inescapable.

Mill’s association of nationality with the idea of democratic and free government has held a prominent place in the literature of modern nationalism. Koppel S. Pinson asserts that Representative Government, translated into the language of subject nationalities, “had a tremendous influence on Edition: current; Page: [xlv] the shaping of nationalist ideology.”53 Mill seems to have less fear than Lord Acton that a sense of nationality fosters political forces hostile to democracy, although he did see the danger in multi-national states where anti-liberal governments may play off one nationality against another. In such a state, Mill believes, an army composed of different nationalities could readily be the executioner of liberty (548). For this reason he prefers whenever feasible the uni-national state, confident that it gives richer promise for free government.

Even in a uni-national state, however, a spirit of aggressive nationality may destroy democratic liberties whenever the power and prestige of the nation are threatened. A nationalist is not necessarily a liberal or a democrat. He may support any form of government that satisfies the ambition and interests of his nation. On this matter Mill attempts no direct argument, but from the nature of his general philosophy we can deduce his views. Primarily concerned as he is with individual liberty and human progress, he nowhere suggests that the claims of nationality are superior to those of liberalism.


Mill’s chapter on federal government has been less influential and significant than that on nationality. Federalism he extols as an invaluable instrument to achieve a larger and more fruitful collaboration in defence and social development between communities endowed with many mutual interests, but separately weak and often absorbed in petty rivalries. He discusses with acumen the conditions necessary to render a federation acceptable and feasible, the different modes of organizing it, the institutions such as a supreme court essential to fulfil its purposes, and the broad beneficial consequences flowing from its success. In federal states he sees decisive advantages similar to those conferred by other practical modes of co-operation wherein persuasion replaces command and for certain purposes the weak meet on equal terms with the strong. For him in some degree the federal principle is implicit in every truly free state.

Although most of Mill’s remarks are hardly less relevant today than when he wrote, he was clearly handicapped by the paucity of existing federations from which to draw illustrations, the only two of importance being the United States and Switzerland. This fact partly explains his conclusion that a federal government had inadequate authority to conduct effectively any war except one in self-defence. In the American case he had some evidence to support this opinion, but scarcely sufficient on which to rest a firm and enduring generalisation. Hence, although his principal remarks on federalism Edition: current; Page: [xlvi] reflect shrewd intuitions, he lacked adequate data for the full play of his characteristically empirical thinking. He made no attempt to probe the history of federal ideas in such thinkers as Jean Bodin and the German jurists. His chief inspiration and guidance came directly from the American Federalist Papers and the wealth of American practical experience. He looked to concrete political experiments as a guide. Writing on the eve of the Civil War he thought that American federalism had already achieved something valuable in limiting the tyranny of majorities, protecting territorial groups, and creating a judicial arbiter supreme over all the governments, both state and federal, and able to declare invalid any law made by them in violation of the constitution.

The Government of Dependencies

Mill’s chapter on the rule of dependencies draws on his life-long interest in colonies and empire. As a servant of the East India Company for thirty-five years, he was constantly preoccupied with imperial issues. He also became closely associated with those Philosophic Radicals who in the 1830s advocated colonial reform in general and systematic colonization in particular: notably Charles Buller, William Molesworth, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, and the enigmatic Lord Durham. Wakefield’s seminal if erratic mind fed the group with ideas on the economics of colonial development. Mill freely admitted his debt to Wakefield.54 He turned aside from the anti-imperial concepts of his father and Bentham, expressed in Bentham’s pamphlet Emancipate Your Colonies. For him the old mercantilist empire was near death, and not to be mourned, but a renovated and vigorous empire could be established on the mutual interests of self-governing colonies and the metropolis. This cause made him actively interested in the National Colonization Society, launched by Wakefield and his associates to create a new colonial society on liberal principles, built on British capital and British labour. The new empire was expected to ensure markets and sources of supply for Britain and relieve her population pressures, economic stagnation, and the miseries of an industrial society.55

Mill’s enduring interest in the dependencies, evident in Representative Government, was heavily indebted to his earlier absorption in the imperial issues of the 1830s and especially his part in the discussions provoked by the Canadian Rebellion of 1837-38. He was elated in January 1838 by the Edition: current; Page: [xlvii] appointment of Lord Durham as High Commissioner and Governor General of British North America, because this event provided an unparalleled opportunity for the Philosophic Radicals to prescribe for a critical colonial situation. If Durham succeeded, the Radical party no less than the Empire would immediately benefit. Durham took with him to Canada Buller and Wakefield, both of whom substantially contributed to the contents and character of the famous report, including its recommendation for colonial autonomy. Mill for his part promptly employed the London and Westminster Review to defend Durham and his mission.56 From this action he derived unusual satisfaction, telling a friend in 1840 “that, as far as such things can ever be said, I saved Lord Durham—as he himself, with much feeling, acknowledged to me. . . .”57

In 1861 his praise of Durham’s Report remained confident and forcible. It began, he wrote, “A new era in the colonial policy of nations” and remained an imperishable memorial to its author’s courage, patriotism, and liberality, as well as to the intellect and sagacity of his associates Wakefield and Buller (563). Such a generous assessment was far from acceptable to all the contemporary Radicals, Roebuck in particular was forthright in criticizing Durham, especially for his contemptuous attitude to the French Canadians and their nationality. Although Mill praised Durham’s Report for advocating the general principle of colonial autonomy, he nowhere subjects it to a detailed and public analysis or meets the legitimate criticisms lodged against it at the time, especially those directed against the apparent impracticability of the formal terms for colonial autonomy.58

In the wake of triumphant free trade in Britain and responsible government in Canada certain members in the Liberal camp were openly hostile to colonies and empire. Spokesmen for the Manchester School and a few veteran Benthamites, like Place, wrote of colonies as expensive and needless encumbrances. Since trade was everywhere free or becoming so, the burdens and perils of a permanent colonial connection were unacceptable. The most polished and influential exponent of this view was Goldwin Smith, Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, who in The Empire argues that the self-governing colonies contribute nothing to Britain, and threaten to involve her in conflicts with other major powers.59 Mill rejects Smith’s thesis. In Edition: current; Page: [xlviii] Representative Government he contends that Britain and her colonies had so many interests in common that a severance of formal ties would be a mistake (565-6). The empire could survive by consent. For him colonization, despite its numerous problems, is justified by its ultimate and enduring benefits. The imperial society preserves peace among its scattered territories, pursues a civilizing mission, furnishes an opportunity for invaluable co-operation between young communities and the mature metropolis, and helps to keep their markets open to one another, immune from exclusion by hostile tariffs. On the last point Mill reflects a sanguine belief, then current among British Liberals, but soon shattered by events, that the free trade so recently introduced must naturally appeal to the overseas segments of empire.

Mill moreover considered that a continuance of imperial ties augmented the moral stature and influence of Britain in the councils of the world. In a special expression of national pride he lauds Britain as the power that best understands liberty, and that in dealings with foreigners is more responsive to conscience and moral principle than any other great nation (565). Such qualities were consonant with his deep respect for the imperial links. In 1862 he wrote to his friend, John E. Cairnes:

. . . I think it very undesirable that anything should be done which would hasten the separation of our colonies. I believe the preservation of as much connexion as now exists to be a great good to them; and though the direct benefit to England is extremely small, beyond what would exist after a friendly separation, any separation would greatly diminish the prestige of England, which prestige I believe to be, in the present state of the world, a very great advantage to mankind.60

Although he favoured the maintenance of the colonial connection, Mill rejected as unrealistic the idea of a federation of Britain and its colonies, which was then occasionally mooted, especially in the form of direct colonial representation in the parliament at Westminster:

Countries separated by half the globe do not present the natural conditions for being under one government, or even members of one federation. If they had sufficiently the same interests, they have not, and never can have, a sufficient habit of taking counsel together. They are not part of the same public: they do not discuss and deliberate in the same arena, but apart, and have only a most imperfect knowledge of what passes in the minds of one another. They neither know each other’s objects, nor have confidence in each other’s principles of conduct.


The conditions essential for a genuine federation did not exist, and to assume otherwise would be folly. As late as January, 1870, Mill expressed similar views to a friend in New Zealand.61

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Mill advocated, however, one proposal designed to consolidate the sense of imperial unity. He would open the public service in all departments and in every part of the empire on equal terms to the inhabitants of the colonies. He commended his old radical friend Sir William Molesworth for setting an excellent example in appointing Francis Hincks, a Canadian politician, to the governorship of a West Indian Island (566).

In the concluding pages of his chapter on dependencies Mill presents his mature opinions on governing India. In his last years as a high official of the East India Company he had taken a significant part in the struggle against the company’s extinction by the British parliament, and in the preparation of several papers, two being of major importance: Report on the Two Bills now Before Parliament Relating to the Government of India and Memorandum on the Improvements in the Administration of India during the Last Thirty Years.62 He saw India as an immense tradition-bound land with many and vast disparities, acute problems, widely conflicting cultures and religions, and hence as unfit for immediate self-rule.63 Nowhere does he suggest a willingness to apply the full teachings of Liberty and Representative Government to the India of his day. Instead he believed that it needed for a prolonged period enlightened governance by those with high administrative competence and a profound grasp of its special difficulties. In his opinion the best available vehicle under the Crown for applying sound utilitarian principles was the East India Company, with its large and unique stock of knowledge and experience. More effectively than any other institution the Company could act as a trustee and guardian for the Indian people.

In 1834 the Company had concluded its role as trader. Henceforth the welfare of subjects, rather than the dividends of shareholders, was its paramount concern. In 1858, however, parliament transferred the Company’s ruling authority directly to the Crown, to be exercised by a Secretary of State, responsible to parliament and advised by a Council of India sitting in London. In Representative Government Mill criticized this fundamental change on the ground that a British politician would usually be ignorant of the country, seldom hold office long enough to acquire an intelligent grasp of the subject, and naturally be more responsive to considerations of party advantage in Britain than of social progress in India (573). Since a Secretary of State must constantly be answerable to the British people, his authority could hardly serve the best interests of Indians, whom he was unable to see, hear, or know, and whose votes he had no need to solicit. The parliament and public to which he was accountable were even less likely Edition: current; Page: [l] than himself to understand Indian affairs. In its ignorance it would be unable to judge whether and to what extent he abused his powers.

Mill admits that any system whereby one people attempts to rule another is defective, for alien rulers usually misjudge and despise subject populations; they do not and cannot feel with the people. But political systems differ in the amount of wrong they commit. He feared that in 1858 Britain had selected the worst possible system (573). So intense were his convictions that he twice refused an invitation to serve on the new Council of India.

A major issue confronting the British in India was to formulate proper policies for education, language, and culture, and at the India House Mill had to deal with these. He witnessed with disapproval the attempt of Lord Bentinck and Thomas Macaulay to downgrade the study of Oriental languages and philosophy and exalt that of English literature, thought, and science. Bentinck and Macaulay desired to impose on India an unmistakable English image, and in particular emphasized the necessity of useful knowledge. On these matters Mill followed a moderate course, free from much of the dogmatism of his father and utilitarian friends. He thought that education for Indians as for Englishmen should foster the self-development and social progress integral to his concept of liberty. Since the state must play a positive part in promoting the country’s material advances, an educated Indian élite must be developed, who would help the English to govern India, interpret western ideas to its many millions, create equality under the law, eradicate racial discrimination, and establish a foundation for the society’s material and intellectual progress. In principle Mill opposed any aggressive cultural imperialism, such as attempts to discard India’s scholarship and ignore its learned class.64 He saw no reason for Indians to jettison their entire cultural tradition and inheritance and doubted that they could be induced to do so. Their vernacular languages must be respected and cultivated as the indispensable means whereby the bulk of the people could assimilate useful ideas from Britain and Europe. He had little sympathy for missionaries who wanted to proselytize India or impose practices repugnant to the religious feelings of its people (570).

Mill was confident that Britain had conferred on India solid benefits, including greater peace, order, and unity under law than the country had ever enjoyed before and than any native despot seemed able to ensure. It had introduced the vitalizing influence of highly trained and competent administrators who furthered social progress and prepared for the time, Edition: current; Page: [li] however remote, when India would rule itself. Although Mill accepted the superiority of British culture, he denied that cultural differences were due to racial differences. A variety of influences, such as education, state enactments, and special social and historical circumstances were more important than race. Nowhere is he more explicit on this subject than in his Principles of Political Economy: “Of all vulgar modes of escaping from the consideration of the effect of social and moral influences on the human mind, the most vulgar is that of attributing the diversities of conduct and character to inherent natural differences.”65 Donald Winch reminds us that Mill shared this view with other members of the liberal and classical school of political economy, who derived it from eighteenth-century thinkers.66 They assumed that human nature was the same wherever found and that it could always be elevated in the scale of civilization by effective government and assiduous education. They also assumed that it was Britain’s inescapable obligation to accomplish this goal in India.


The relations between individual, society, and state is a theme constantly pursued throughout Mill’s writings, a theme which achieves a special and impressive focus in On Liberty, a classic much misunderstood and the most controversial of all his works.67 Mill’s broad aim is to establish the primacy of the individual and the freedom essential for the abundant growth of his inherent powers. This task, as he conceived it, was compelling because of the circumstances in a critical age of transition, which witnessed the emergence Edition: current; Page: [lii] of democracy, improved and enlarged media for expressing opinions, the threatened tyranny of the majority, and the active presence of reformers like Auguste Comte hostile to the principle of individual liberty.

In no sense is On Liberty isolated from Mill’s other writings. It selects, refines, and develops certain elements from earlier essays that advocated religious tolerance, free discussion for testing ideas and sifting truth from error, and a free press to promote public enlightenment and responsible government. Early friendships and associations, especially those with Thomas Carlyle, Alexis de Tocqueville, the Saint-Simonians, and notably Harriet Taylor, influenced his conceptions of freedom.68 So pervasive indeed in his own opinion was the intellectual assistance and guidance of his wife that he regarded her as virtually a joint author. Some commentators, most notably Gertrude Himmelfarb, attribute to Harriet’s persuasion certain divergences in Mill’s ideas from those he earlier expressed. In addition, the social environment, Britain’s flexible constitution, and the general moods and attitudes of the country in the middle of the last century exerted on this book a subtle and profound influence. It is easy to agree with Noel Annan that Mill’s On Liberty rests on the unconscious assumption that the British Navy ruled the seas and no fifth column could take root in England, the only major power in Europe where pacifism was then able to flourish.69 It rests also on Mill’s supremely confident faith in man’s rationality.

In the introduction Mill remarks that his object

is to assert one simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, indirectly or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.


This general formula is supplemented by an argument that the independence of an individual in whatever concerns merely himself should be absolute. From the outset the broadness of this formula made it subject to varied interpretations. For Mill it implies an individual utility, since liberty is an unfailing source of personal development, and also a social utility, since ultimately society must benefit from whatever sustains a diverse and rich individual life. Progress for all depends on liberty for each.

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The chief terms of Mill’s liberty are inapplicable either to children or to undeveloped societies where free and equal discussion is not feasible. His liberal principle is thus not an absolute ethic, irrespective of time or place, but related to changing circumstances affecting the conduct of man as a progressive being (224). Despotism rather than liberty is a legitimate rule for primitive societies, provided it aids their development to the ultimate stage where they can benefit from liberty. The appropriate domain of liberty comprises that of conscience, thought, opinion, and all the tastes and pursuits of an individual pursuing his own good in his own way and at his own risks. Included also are voluntary combinations of individuals for purposes involving no harm to others.

In Mill’s argument for liberty certain elements merit special emphasis. His initial and main interpretation of the concept is in the British empirical tradition, which equates liberty with an absence of external coercion over an individual’s thought and activity. Men are free when they can act according to their desires (294). Their liberty consists in expressing views they want to express and doing what they want to do without injuring others. To such liberty the principal threat has hitherto come from unresponsible and despotic governments, which to satisfy their own ambitions and interests encroached on the customary areas of individual liberty. Hence the early liberal movement sought to resolve the conflict between authority and liberty by making rulers accountable to the people through constitutions and bills of rights. These endeavours brought to Western Europe a major era of political liberalism and democracy, which people hoped would foster their interests and protect their liberties. At the outset Mill shared their hopes, but, influenced partly by Tocqueville and American experience, he soon perceived in democracy an implicit element of tyranny—that of the majority, or those who accepted themselves as the majority threatening the liberties of individuals and minorities (218-19).

He also saw that increasingly in the democratic age the chief menace to liberty is derived, not from public officials and the penalties of law, but from society itself through the inescapable pressures of social usage, popular prejudice, and public opinion. Society, in exercising power, executes its own mandates and over the individual asserts a pervasive compulsion hardly less relentless and even more capricious than that of law. “In our times.” Mill writes in his third chapter, “from the highest class of society down to the lowest, every one lives as under the eye of a hostile and dreaded censorship” (264). Under such strict public surveillance individuals and families shape their conduct less by what they think it ought to be than by what the circumstances of the society seem to demand. Their inclination is to conform with custom, public opinion, and established norms. They become lost in the crowd: “by dint of not following their own nature, they have no nature Edition: current; Page: [liv] to follow” (265). In the modern state mass emotions have a larger opportunity for expression and dominance. To Mill this fact undermines the opportunity for variety in man’s nature and originality in his thinking.70 Hitherto the human race had benefitted immensely from men of genius who had rendered progress possible. He feared, however, that the emergence of mass domination would destroy the atmosphere of freedom and tolerance necessary for a lonely genius to develop and exert influence.

The ultimate phase of social tyranny occurs when the majority desert or renounce liberty by failing to make judgments and choices. They thus frankly “do not desire liberty, and would not avail themselves of it” (267). As individuals they lose the capacity to determine their own fate. In his Autobiography Mill saw this as a degeneration of society “into the only despotism of which in the modern world there is real danger—the absolute rule of the head of the executive over a congregation of isolated individuals, all equals but all slaves.”71

Fears about current social tendencies explain the fervour with which Mill formulated a plan to protect men from what seemed to him a dismal fate. Rules of conduct must encourage the individual to explore abundantly the ends and qualities of life to his own advantage and that of mankind. In Chapter ii he extols liberty to exchange ideas as cardinal to other liberal values. It enables a society to know and to reform itself. “Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument” (231). Mill rejects out of hand the claim made in some nations that a government is entitled to interfere with a free press when the public so demands (229). The best government is no more entitled than the worst either to dictate or silence opinion. Although for him freedom of discussion is not a natural right, it is a supreme priority in the life of a progressive society.

This freedom provides, not merely protection against tyrannical and corrupt rulers, but helps also to foster understanding among citizens about themselves and their society, to resolve social conflicts, and to establish truth as the ideal if elusive aim of human inquiry. Mill assumes that the collision of adverse opinions is an instrument of enlightenment. Truth may suffer from silencing a single dissenter. “Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right” (231). This hopeful view was not supported by all his contemporary adherents. Leonard Edition: current; Page: [lv] Courtney doubted that truth was to be found half-way between two anti-thetical theories. Such a doctrine might be a plausible weapon in combatting dogmatism, but “its value ceases when from a sword of offence and controversy it is beaten into a ploughshare of peace and domestic economy.”72

The opinions Mill confidently expressed on the virtues of free discussion were not those he had hitherto invariably approved. Nor did they contain reservations one might expect him to make. In the 1830s in “The Spirit of the Age,” in “Civilization,” and in “Coleridge,” he confessed fears about unlimited free debate.73 He then doubted that magnifying discussion would necessarily magnify political wisdom or strengthen public judgment, especially when it affected the fundamental principles underlying the authority of the national state. He believed that it was the quality, rather than the quantity, of discussion that counted. In 1833 he told Carlyle: “I have not any great notion of the advantage of what the ‘free discussion’ men, call the ‘collision of opinions,’ it being my creed that Truth is sown and germinates in the mind itself, and is not to be struck out suddenly like fire from a flint by knocking another hard body against it. . . .”74

These reservations are explained by differences in time and circumstances. Mill’s ruling ambition was to be a philosopher-teacher for the British public. Under different circumstances and in different periods he frankly bared his mind on important matters, but what he wrote sometimes failed to coincide with what he said when circumstances and his own thinking were different. This variance is particularly evident in his treatment of free discussion in relation to authority, where he leaves many questions unanswered. Yet there is no ignoring the firmness of his convictions and assurance of his language in Chapter ii of On Liberty. However inconsistent with earlier writings, it clearly reads as his genuine and unamended testament.

In the third chapter Mill argues on lines parallel to those in the second. In one he contends for freedom of discussion to discover social truth and in the other for liberty of action to achieve a vital individuality. In some respects this is the most distinctive part of his essay, because the concept of individuality contributes to his liberalism a more original and more contentious element than the older and long-extolled liberty of speech. His great liberal forbears, like Milton and Locke, never attempted to annex so large Edition: current; Page: [lvi] and uncertain a territory for the free and autonomous self. Mill’s argument adds a dimension to his view of an open society, and reflects his debt to the German, Wilhelm von Humboldt, whose words form the epigraph to this essay.75 From Humboldt Mill takes the precept that men must direct their efforts to the “individuality of power and development,” including a necessary scope for freedom and variety in human life (261).

When he describes human development as strictly synonymous with the cultivation of individuality he reflects Humboldt’s spirit. The potential aggregate of qualities in the individual must be fostered as an antidote to the ills of a drab social uniformity, whereby people are cast in the same mould. As an innovative force individuality is assumed to express itself in a ready originality, in differences of conduct and practice, in diverse displays of spontaneity and energy, and in distinct styles of living. Indeed, Mill believes that eccentricity in itself is significant in helping to destroy the yoke of mass attitudes and opinions. He assumes that “Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained” (269). The inventor and innovator, he thinks, are likely to be regarded by others as eccentric. In all this Mill fails to admit what Leslie Stephen later recognized, that eccentricity is not invariably a virtue: it may be positively bad when it wastes individual energy and expends itself on trifles.76 A modern critic remarks that Mill “looked to liberty as a means of achieving the highest reaches of the human spirit; he did not take seriously enough the possibility that men would also be free to explore the depths of depravity. He saw individuality as a welcome release of energy and ingenuity, as if individuals cannot be as energetic and ingenious in pursuing ignoble ends as noble ones.”77

Mill, however, makes the reservation that men must never undervalue human tradition and experience: “it would be absurd to pretend that people ought to live as if nothing whatever had been known in the world before they came into it; as if experience had as yet done nothing towards showing that one mode of existence, or of conduct, is preferable to another” (262). Yet it was imperative that they should be free to interpret experience in their own way and according to their own circumstances.

In supporting his plea for individuality Mill deplores any set of beliefs, like that of Calvinism, which in his opinion views human nature as corrupt and self-will as a source of evil. Strict Calvinism, by inculcating rigid submission Edition: current; Page: [lvii] to the will of God, thereby numbs the independence of the individual (265). Mill does not extol obedience over will and self-denial over self-assertion. He finds more attractive the Greek ideal of self-development, which recognizes human nature as suitable for purposes other than merely abnegation. He is particularly disturbed by the tendency of modern creeds to consolidate into a massive uniformity all that is distinctly individual instead of fostering it within bounds set by the rights and interests of others.

For the remainder of this chapter Mill continues to praise the merits of the distinct individual, whose development confers immeasurable benefits on the human race: “whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called, and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men” (266). He fears that to its own loss society is getting the better of individuality. More active life in individuals would mean more real life in the mass. Those endowed with originality and genius can help their fellows to reduce the deadening ascendency of mediocrity. Mill evidently here, in contrast to what he says elsewhere, trusts the capacity of the average man to recognize and accept the initiative of the gifted (267).

In the last two chapters of his essay he examines how his libertarian principle may be reasonably interpreted and applied. In limited space he tried to explore a vast subject with wide moral and social ramifications. To make this endeavour manageable he attempts to assign one part of life to individuality and another to society, a venture in logic that creates difficulties and confusions which critics have long stressed. It is not feasible in this introduction to traverse the wide range of the argument. But it may be useful to note some instances where he applies his principle to concrete human situations: to the indulgence of an individual in alcohol, drugs, and gambling; to the provision of education; to economic life; and to the governance of the state.

Mill’s preference is to leave the individual free to exercise autonomy in all matters concerning his personal life, since presumably he knows better than anyone else his own wants and needs. But he admits that to do so poses difficult problems, because no man is isolated from society. An individual, for example, should be free to consume alcoholic beverages according to his inclination, even though he becomes drunk. He should not be punished by society for intoxication in itself, but only if it has ill consequences for others. A soldier or a policeman must certainly be punished for drunkenness on duty, for thus he commits an other-regarding act of positive or potential peril to his fellow citizens. Where others drink to excess and harm themselves and their families, they should at least be subject to moral disapprobation, and in some circumstances to legal penalties. In general, whenever personal vices lead to acts injurious to others, these must be taken from the realm of liberty and made subject either to morality or to law.

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Mill comments on the gravity of the issues:

If protection against themselves is confessedly due to children and persons under age, is not society equally bound to afford it to persons of mature years who are equally incapable of self-government? If gambling, or drunkenness, or incontinence, or idleness, or uncleanliness, are as injurious to happiness, and as great a hindrance to improvement, as many or most of the acts prohibited by law, why (it may be asked) should not law, so far as is consistent with practicability and social convenience, endeavour to repress these also? And as a supplement to the unavoidable imperfections of law, ought not opinion at least to organize a powerful police against these vices, and visit rigidly with social penalties those who are known to practise them?


Such measures in no way prevent the flowering of individuality or cramp new and venturesome experiments in personal living. They merely deal with practices long condemned by the judgment of the world. Alcohol also affects another issue on which Mill has strong views: temperance societies sought to reduce the consumption of liquor by prohibiting its sale. Drinking is mainly a private matter, whereas selling is a social act. Any interference with sales would, in Mill’s opinion, violate the liberty of prospective buyers and consumers. But the campaign for prohibition was supported by those who alleged that their social rights were violated by merchants who trafficked in liquor. In the transient victories of American temperance societies Mill, with much indignation, finds a classic example of pressure groups which ignore the liberty of others in using the machinery of democracy to achieve their own ends (287-8). He likewise rejects sabbatarian legislation, which also reflects the religious prejudices of a part of the population who coerce the remainder into its acceptance.

Liberty, Mill remarks, is often granted where it should be withheld, and withheld where it should be granted (301). Education is an example. When he wrote it was still common, in the name of liberty, for a father to have exclusive power to determine the instruction of his children, a practice Mill criticises as unjust. For him it is self-evident that a nation has a major stake in the welfare of its children, whether rich or poor. It must, in particular, ensure that they are all educated up to a prescribed standard, that parents guarantee they reach this, and that the costs for educating the poor are publicly defrayed.

Mill, because of his rationalism, has an extravagant confidence in education as a meliorative force, including it with population control as one of two major remedies for existing social ills. Yet he repudiates the idea that the state should provide instruction. Here he apparently makes a concession to parents who for many reasons, usually religious, hold diverse views on the substance of education and the values it should inculcate. In any case, however, he has his own pronounced reason for rejecting state instruction. Edition: current; Page: [lix] He fears it as a ready instrument for moulding citizens to be exactly alike, thus shattering his ambition for the proper cultivation of individuality. A common mould would be created for the convenience and advantage of the dominant power, whether an absolute monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or a majority in a democracy. “An education established and controlled by the State,” he writes, “should only exist, if it exists at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of example and stimulus, to keep the others up to a certain standard of excellence” (302). To this rule he makes one exception: if the society is so backward and impoverished that citizens cannot afford a proper education, then the government must provide it.

In On Liberty Mill attempts no extensive discussion of liberty in economic life, for he had already treated it at length in his Principles of Political Economy, first published in 1848 and revised four times before 1859, when On Liberty appeared. But he makes clear his attachment to the concept of a free market. It was once, Mill observes, the responsibility of governments to fix market prices and regulate manufacturing processes (293). But long experience has demonstrated that the quality, quantity, and cheapness of goods are best achieved by a free market of buyers and sellers, from which society in general benefits even though some individuals suffer. This basic concept of the market as an instrument of liberty he tries to preserve, even in such commodities as alcohol and poisons which can be abused or put to destructive purposes.

He recognizes, however, that no less firmly rooted in experience is the need for the state at times to interfere in the market process to secure among other things a balance of public and private interests, prevention of fraud, exposure of adulteration in food, and protection of workers in dangerous occupations. Mill adheres to the idea of the free market except when the results are obviously bad; then he approves of intervention, permitting expediency to replace liberty. For him it is usually better to leave people alone than to control them, but at times it is imperative to control them in the general interest.

From the late 1840s Mill’s interest in state intervention was greatly strengthened by the compelling influence of events, the impoverished plight of Ireland in the famine years, its continuing and baffling land problem, the critical social issues of industrial Britain, the explosion of Chartism, and above all the French Revolution of 1848 and the emergence of the socialists with proposals for profound changes. The revolution in Paris struck Mill with the same forcible effect as the earlier events of 1830. Less than a week after the proclamation of the French Republic in February 1848 he writes to Henry S. Chapman: “I am hardly yet out of breath from reading and thinking about it. Nothing can possibly exceed the importance Edition: current; Page: [lx] of it to the world or the immensity of the interests which are at stake on its success.”78

What most impressed Mill in the revolution was the effectiveness of the socialists in raising the issue of a government’s role in economic and social life, especially in reducing economic inequalities which breed bitter dissension and undermine the stability and security of the state. He was convinced that in both England and France private property was so seriously threatened that ways had to be found to remedy existing abuses. This aspect of his reformist ideas is reflected in successive editions of his Principles of Political Economy, notably the third in 1852. Although he rejects certain elements in the socialist argument he has more sympathy for it than hitherto. In November, 1848, he writes to an American correspondent, John Jay: “I have expressed temperately and argumentatively my objections to the particular plans proposed by Socialists for dispensing with private property, but on many other important points I agree with them, and on none do I feel towards them anything but respect, thinking, on the contrary, that they are the greatest element of improvement in the present state of mankind.”79

Lord Robbins believes that in a part of his mind Mill had sympathy for socialism, and in another part was critical. He concludes that Mill was “unsettled about the fundamental basis of society; in spite of his belief in progress, he was afraid of the future; he did not feel confident that he knew where we were going; what is more he did not feel quite confident that he knew where he wanted us to go.”80 Some may question whether Mill is as uncertain and negative as Lord Robbins suggests but, at any rate, his thinking on the issue of socialism remained in a state of flux. In 1849 he had writen that “Socialism is the modern form of the protest, which has been raised, more or less, in all ages of any mental activity, against the unjust distribution of social advantages.”81 He continues to consider it an invaluable movement of protest, but doubts that conditions in society are yet suitable to make it an acceptable substitute for a system of private property. Considerable moral and educational progress is essential before socialism is practicable. To a German professor in 1852 he complains of “the unprepared state of the labouring classes & their extreme moral unfitness at present for the rights which Socialism would confer & the duties it would impose.”82

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Mill’s increased sympathy for socialism is not evident in On Liberty. Since this work is strongly intended to foster individuality, it is perhaps hardly to be expected that it would pay tribute to the collectivist idea. In the last part of the essay he summarizes his principal objections to government intervention, apart from cases where it is intended to protect the liberty of individuals (305-10). He opposes it in matters which can be managed more effectively by private individuals than by the government, because they have a deeper interest in the outcome. He also opposes it when individuals may be less competent than public servants, but can acquire an invaluable public education in providing the service. Thus they strengthen their faculties, their judgment, and their grasp of joint and diverse interests that deeply concern themselves and society. He finds examples of these in jury service, participation in local administration, and conduct of voluntary philanthropic or industrial activities. Without such practical experience and education, no people can be adequately equipped for success in political freedom. It is the role of the central government, not to engage directly in these activities, but to act for them as a central depository, diffusing the diverse experience gathered in the many experiments of civic activity.

For Mill not the least important reason for opposing the undue intervention of the central government is to avoid the evil of excessively augmenting its power. The greater this power, the less scope remains for independent initiative by individuals and groups.

If the roads, the railways, the banks, the insurance offices, the great joint-stock companies, the universities, and the public charities, were all of them branches of the government; if, in addition, the municipal corporations and local boards, with all that now devolves on them, became departments of the central administration, if the employés of all these different enterprises were appointed and paid by the government, and looked to the government for every rise in life; not all the freedom of the press and popular constitution of the legislature would make this or any other country free otherwise than in name


Here certainly is no advocate of a centralized state socialism.

Among the many themes discussed in the final chapter of On Liberty, the last is bureaucracy. As noted earlier, Mill was a devoted advocate of recruiting brilliant talent to the British civil service. Although on this matter he does not alter his views, he argues that in the interest of political liberty no civil service must monopolize all the distinguished brains and skills of the nation. He thinks it essential to ensure outside the service a countervailing intellectual influence, in no degree inferior to that within, in order to prevent bureaucracy from dominating the government and stifling intelligent criticism. He fears for political freedom if the multitude looks exclusively to the bureaucracy for direction and dictation, or if the able and ambitious mainly depend on it for personal advancement. Indeed, its own Edition: current; Page: [lxii] competence is likely to be undermined unless it is kept, in Mill’s words, under “the watchful criticism of equal ability outside the body” (308). Otherwise it will fall victim to its traditional failings: a slavish attachment to rigid rules and a ready acquiescence in indolent routine. It may also commit errors of a different kind. Leaders of the corps may pursue half-examined and over-sanguine ventures of policy that political chiefs too easily accept and an innocent public too patiently tolerates.

Mill’s argument throughout is shrewd, but couched in general terms. His dicta on bureaucratic traits appear to have been derived mainly from what he had learned from the history and experience of European states. He attributes no specific abuses to the bureaucratic power in either the United States or Britain. Indeed, his lavish praise for the New England system of local government and his glowing admiration for American civic capacity suggest that he is not complaining of bureaucratic ills in the republic. His obvious intention is to offer a solemn warning that bureaucracy can imperil the liberty of individuals whenever two necessary safeguards are absent or neglected: the presence of an alert and critical public that keeps it under a constant and intelligent scrutiny; and a wide diffusion of political power throughout the nation, which enables individuals and groups to be effective elements in the body politic. For Mill the ills of bureaucracy and centralism are intertwined and inseparable. The best protection against both is to ensure the maximum amount of local government consistent with national unity.


Mill carries the themes of centralisation and bureaucracy from On Liberty into his essay on centralisation which, under the guise of reviewing the ideas of two French writers, presents an acute comparison of French and English political thought and institutions. The first of the authors, M. Odilon Barrot, has opinions readily defined and in harmony with Mill’s own. A severe critic of the current centralism of France under Napoleon III, he condemns its confusion of spiritual and temporal powers, its petty interferences with the privacy of individuals, and its restrictions on the rights of communes to manage their local affairs and appoint their local officials. He complains that the central authority, with an insatiable appetite for power, forbids the communes to convene their councils without its permission, prescribes their annual estimates, and compels them at their expense to employ its own engineers and architects.

Mill readily accepts Odilon Barrot’s criticism of despotic structures and policies in the Second Empire. To him the elaborate citadel of centralized power in Paris is repellant. In his review, however, he deals principally with Edition: current; Page: [lxiii] the wide-ranging discussions of Dupont-White on individual, state, and centralism.

Writing in a France torn by class warfare and ideological conflict, Dupont-White assumes that with the evolution of society the selfishness of individuals and classes becomes sharper and more pervasive, and that a powerful centralized government is needed to control the manifestations of friction and conflict. Without it, society is likely to be dismembered by bitter hatreds. The state, as the chief instrument of stability and progress, is obligated to protect the weak from the strong, a task that grows ever larger and more complex with an expanding industrial society. State interference in economic life, far from being an evil, is an unavoidable result of social progress and a requisite for continued progress.

These speculations greatly interest Mill, and with many of the conclusions he has sympathy. But, as might be expected, he rejects Dupont-White’s pronounced bias for centralism and his easy faith that it can always accomplish great things, including a reduction in the natural inequalities among men. For him the French writer’s convictions serve to illustrate a sharp contrast between France’s political culture and that of England and the United States. Frenchmen cling to centralism as a splendid achievement of the Revolution and a continuing necessity for the greatness of their country. Those in active politics invariably have a vested interest in the centralist regime, even when critical of it. Tocqueville once remarked: “Most of those people in France who speak against centralisation do not really wish to see it abolished, some because they hold power, others because they expect to hold it.”83 They ignore Tocqueville’s testimony, based on studies of England and America, that decentralized government is an invaluable school of freedom.

Mill’s view of what centralism means for France is clear: it fails to give adequate scope to the practical enterprise and public spirit of individuals and groups throughout the nation (582, 601). Private initiative, compared with that in England, is shackled and weakened by the excessive interference of government. Mill says of Dupont-White.

Our author, having pointed out many needful things which would never be done by the mere self-interest of individuals, does not seem to be aware that anything can be expected from their public spirit: apparently because public spirit in this form is almost entirely stifled in the countries with which he is most familiar, by the centralisation which he applauds. But in our uncentralised country, even such a public want as that of life-boats is supplied by private liberality, through the agency of a voluntary association.


Among the principal faults of the centralist system in Mill’s opinion is the massive patronage it creates and the major power that the bureaucracy Edition: current; Page: [lxiv] constantly exercises at the expense of popular liberty. A centralized executive, equipped to give or withhold many favours, dominates the elections and controls the legislature. It turns the electorate into a vast tribe of place hunters (608-9). Hence its management of public affairs is difficult to challenge successfully, except in times of crisis, and then, as in 1830 and 1848, the result is likely to be revolutionary violence. Indeed, an overcentralized regime may be amenable to no effective check short of revolution.

Disturbing to Mill is the manner whereby the system fosters a supine attitude towards officials. French citizens almost universally appear to tremble before every petty bureaucrat, a circumstance which Mill thinks makes them incapable of much liberty. “How should they not be slavish, when everyone wearing a Government uniform . . . can domineer at will over all the rest . . . ?” (587.) To him it seems evident that hitherto no French government, whatever its liberal professions, has been able to divest itself of the exclusive right to be a judge in its own cause.

In drawing a contrast with French practice Mill comments on the greater degree of genuine decentralization in the institutions and procedures of the English state, beginning with the parish vestries at the bottom. Not merely have the local authorities in England provided a training ground for political skill and initiative, they have also tempered any tendencies to despotism at either level of government. Local bodies have considerable independence, but can operate only within the areas prescribed for them by parliament. Through experience they have generally learned to conduct themselves with reasonable competence. Their vitality adds to that of the state in general, whereas in France the local units are too numerous and too weak to contribute a valuable balance.

Mill is provoked to discuss the special character of British empirical collectivism by Dupont-White’s confident case for state interventionism in France. Englishmen, he asserts, naturally distrust government and any extension of its powers (609). They employ it only when other means, especially the free market, fail to achieve what in general the community wants. National grants for education were adopted only after private associations for many years had tried their hand and demonstrated how little they could accomplish. Government regulation of emigrant ships came only when its absence had created sordid conditions that became a public scandal. In this instance the free market had allowed the shipowners to profit from the poverty, ignorance, and recklessness of emigrants (592). The Poor Law Board was established after the old laws created a situation no longer tolerable to the public.

In citing these and other cases Mill on the whole defends the English conservative temper and attitudes of mind that they reflect. He appears to believe that a voluntary instrument should usually be tried before government Edition: current; Page: [lxv] action is attempted. Yet he also agrees with Dupont-White that the state is obligated to regulate or supervise whenever large and complicated enterprises are run by individuals or private corporations. Railways can be built and operated by private companies, but the state may usefully limit fares, impose safety rules, protect commercial interests, and insure shareholders against reckless or fraudulent managers (593). The steady growth of business directed by individuals and corporations must necessarily enlarge rather than diminish the regulating activity of modern government.

Mill shares with Dupont-White the conviction that a growing social conscience, responding to the ethical requirements of mankind, significantly augments the activity of government, making it at times the unpaid agent of the poor and underprivileged. Partly under this influence the British parliament had regulated the hours of labour, prohibited the employment of children under a certain age, prevented employment of women and children in mines, and compelled manufacturers to maintain in factories those conditions that reduce accidents and lessen hazards to health. Thus in England a network of practical arrangements and compromises were fashioned between state and individual, between state and corporation, and between central and local authority, with what Mill regarded as salutary consequences for the body politic and for the kind of liberty he extolled.

It is conspicuous how little formal ideology, least of all an egalitarian ideology, figured in these developments of the Victorian age. A year before the publication of On Liberty Mill gave to Giuseppe Mazzini impressions of his countrymen:

The English, of all ranks and classes, are at bottom, in all their feelings, aristocrats. They have some conception of liberty, & set some value on it, but the very idea of equality is strange & offensive to them. They do not dislike to have many people above them as long as they have some below them. And therefore they have never sympathized & in their present state of mind never will sympathize with any really democratic or republican party in other countries. They keep what sympathy they have for those whom they look upon as imitators of English institutions—Continental Whigs who desire to introduce constitutional forms & some securities against personal oppression—leaving in other respects the old order of things with all its inequalities & social injustices and any people who are not willing to content themselves with this, are thought unfit for liberty.84


mill’s writings in the present volume illustrate the wide range of his political thoughts and insights. He touched on most aspects of political Edition: current; Page: [lxvi] speculation important in his age, although his principal interest was the emergence of representative and democratic government and its implications for the individual. Never simply a dispassionate analyst, he was constantly engaged in a reform polemic in harmony with the liberalism that he himself fashioned out of the ideas of Bentham and his father. His reform proposals were mainly a concrete product of a conscious effort to revise and interpret Benthamism in the interests of a broader humanity.

From the perspective of a century it is not difficult to cite the more salient ideas of Mill’s political thinking. Along with his theory of liberty he is deeply anxious to elicit and develop in every phase of government man’s rational faculty. This endeavour is a consistent strand in his discussions on representative institutions. He wants to see men governed by reasoned purpose to a far greater extent than they have ever been in the past, and to this end institutions must be designed. The paradox in Mill’s position is clear enough. He believes that a majority should rule, but thinks that only a minority is likely to have the requisite wisdom. As a reluctant democrat he seeks to select for public service those few with a cultivated and eminent intelligence. All his discussions on representation and the franchise are intended to protect individual and minority interests and ensure the maximum recognition for educated minds. He assumes that respect for intellectual distinction is unnatural to the democratic spirit, but in the interest of democracy everything possible must quickly be done to cultivate it. The act of voting should be emphasized as a rational decision made by people determined that reason has to prevail.

No less cardinal in his thought is a related concern for achieving a balance amongst the powerful and contending interests in the modern state. To him industrial society appears to be a fierce struggle of classes and groups for diverse ends. In view of this struggle, democracy can only provide the best form of government when it is “so organized that no class, not even the most numerous, shall be able to reduce all but itself to political insignificance . . .” (467). It must operate in such a way as to sustain a workable plurality of interests that prevent the domination of any one over all the others. Much of what he says about political machinery concerns instruments, often complicated, that are intended to protect society from the monopoly of power by a single interest. To the end of his days he remained convinced that the presence of countervailing interests is essential for the survival of political liberty.

Less precise and much harder to summarize is Mill’s view of the economic roles of the contemporary state. On this theme his thinking after 1848 underwent pronounced changes in response to transformations in society and the currents of European opinion. It was the ethos of his philosophy to further the full and free development of every human individual. He doubted, however, Edition: current; Page: [lxvii] whether the existing industrial society offered the best environment for such development, since sometimes it failed to permit even the most harsh and exhausting labour to earn the bare necessaries of life. It fostered inequalities between groups, gave advantages to some, and imposed impediments on others. He believed that in existing society remedies for man’s plight must be sought through a variety of institutions: co-operative industrial associations might replace the wage system, reformed proprietorship might replace land monopoly, and restrictions on the right of inheritance might reduce the general extent of inequality. Many new and untried instruments of economic control are possible and must be employed under the direct or indirect initiative of the state.

These and other related ideas put Mill on the road leading to a liberal and co-operative form of socialism like that championed by the early Fabians, who indeed built on his thought and were glad to admit their indebtedness.85 Like him they saw in socialism the economic side of the democratic ideal and justified it only if it remained democratic. Yet the extent to which Mill travelled or hoped to travel the road of socialism remains wrapped in some doubt because he still continued to believe that in contemporary society private property and the competitive principle were necessary for effective production and indispensable for material progress.

It is more accurate to think of him as an empirical collectivist rather than a socialist, and as such he moved in harmony with the currents of the time and his own country. For him the new industrial society demanded extensions in the agenda of government. But he never ceased to emphasize that in any country the role of government must depend on the peculiar necessities of its economy and society. Some countries require more government than others, especially when poor, underdeveloped, and lacking in the special attitudes and institutions that nourish private enterprise. Mill abundently illustrated this point in his discussions on Ireland and India. The major problem of Ireland, for example, was poverty, the result of bad government over generations, harsh class domination, and the gross mismanagement of its land. The remedy must be drastic action by the government to ensure a peasant proprietorship, which in Mill’s opinion was best able to protect the soil and foster in the cultivators forethought, frugality, self-restraint, and the other solid qualities needed for their material progress and welfare. There was no other stimulus comparable to the ownership of the land by those who tilled it. The necessary steps proposed by Mill to ensure this end startled and annoyed the contemporary upholders of the Edition: current; Page: [lxviii] rights of property because they involved something alien to English custom, the control of rents by law rather than by market forces. But for Mill Ireland was not England, and a free market was not an inflexible dogma. He rejected the idea that English practice should be a norm for Irish policy. Irish circumstances and the land situation were such that only state action could remedy them, and bring to the country order and prosperity.

Mill’s continuing interest in future social change made him aware of the continental exponents of revolutionary socialism, who dramatically appeared in 1848 and became enemies of both capitalism and liberalism. He did not sympathize with either their theories or their methods. The concept of a dictatorship of the proletariat with the physical force to assert its claims would obviously conflict with all his long-cherished principles. He told William R. Cremer, a trade unionist and a one-time secretary of the British section of the International Working Men’s Association, that only two situations justified violent revolution: acute personal oppression and suffering; and a system of government which does not permit the redress of grievances by peaceful and legal means. In his opinion neither existed in England,86 nor, we may infer, in other European countries under genuine constitutional regimes. On this aspect of his thought there is no equivocation and no uncertainty.

Five years after his comment to Cremer, Mill told Thomas Smith. Secretary of the International Working Men’s Association of Nottingham, how much he welcomed the general principles of the Association, especially its acceptance of goals that he himself had long sought, such as equal rights for women and protection of minorities.87 But he strongly cautioned against use of the term “Revolution” in the French style. For him revolution meant solely a change of government effected by force. He regretted that the Association relied on the vague French political language that dealt in abstractions. “It proceeds from an infirmity of the French mind which has been one main cause of the miscarriages of the French nation in its pursuit of liberty & progress; that of being led away by phrases & treating abstractions as if they were realities. . . .” He feared that these verbal practices and French ideas would have adverse effects: confuse issues, foster misunderstanding, and range men under different banners as friends or enemies of “the Revolution,” without reference to the real worth of specific measures advantageous to all and accepted by all. In these views Mill was the liberal empiricist, protesting against an attempt to establish a revolutionary ideology among British workers. His appeal at the time would doubtless command Edition: current; Page: [lxix] a ready response from the bulk of British labour leaders.88 The political ferment and social convulsions of the 1830s and 1840s were past. By 1867 the British skilled craftsmen had acquired the franchise and at the same time were busily engaged in the sober task of creating trade unions to become powerful pressure groups, furthering the material interests of their members. They also helped to build and sustain in the Liberal party a political bridge between the workers and the middle class. During the remainder of the century the Liberal-labour alliance, deeply influenced by evangelical religion, was to dominate union spokesmen, and to them Mill’s form of utilitarianism was unquestionably more appealing than the revolutionary rhetoric and intricate strategies of class warfare sponsored by Marx and Engels.

Mill’s ideas in time won an impressive position. It is a common and acceptable verdict that in Victorian England his was the most influential voice of liberalism. No one else produced so many substantial and readable texts, running through successive editions, and supplemented by scores of articles in periodicals and newspapers setting forth the proper principles of economics and politics in harmony with liberal philosophy. By the 1860s his authority reached its peak.89 His writings then appealed to a wide range of readers’ parliamentarians, a new and growing generation of students in the universities, middle-class elements in the towns interested in practical reform, and leaders and spokesmen among the workers. He was not the sole liberal prophet, and many who read him disagreed with him. On Liberty, for example, produced a chorus of criticism as well as of praise. Yet for all its controversial features, it reformulated boldly the problem of freedom in the environment of the nineteenth century and thus contributed richly to the contemporary ferment of liberal thinking. It was a distinguished liberal of the period who wrote that On Liberty “belongs to the rare books that after hostile criticism has done its best are still found to have somehow added a cubit to man’s stature.”90

This was the tribute of a devoted disciple, whose thinking was shaped by Mill. Yet many twentieth-century readers would still endorse it. They have continued to find enduring value in the tenets of On Liberty. They cherish almost as much as did John Morley a book that protests against the infallibility Edition: current; Page: [lxx] of public opinion and the arrogance of majorities. They accept Mill’s distrust of centralised power and admire his ideals of individual liberty and a free state, although they may admit the increased difficulties in achieving them. They welcome his admonition that liberty and intellectual progress, insecure and fragile things, demand constant cultivation. But they would also emphasize that Mill had other valuable thoughts to express outside the pages of On Liberty. His writings and discussions as a whole must be considered in any genuine assessment of his worth as a social thinker. In them one view was conspicuous. He believed that political ideas and structures must change with a changing society. For him all institutional arrangements are provisional. If we imagined him living into the present century, we can conceive him still busily engaged in revising his liberal thought, in response to altered circumstances and fresh currents of opinion. He would still be feverishly absorbed in trying to reach the most reliable balance between his individualist and collectivist convictions. He would of course remain the rationalist, confident that social change could be effected by the art of persuasion and by the simple fact that men would learn from bitter experiences.

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Textual Introduction

the essays in this volume comprise the main body of Mill’s writings specifically on political and social theory, including On Liberty and Considerations on Representative Government, his most valued contributions to this area. Given his abiding interest in the application of theory to experience, and the testing of theory by experience, and given also his view of the “consensus” that obtains in social states, it is impossible to isolate essays that deal only with political and social theory, or to include in one volume (or even in several) all his essays that touch on such matters. Perhaps the most obviously necessary exclusions in a volume of this kind are the final Books of the System of Logic and the Principles of Political Economy, both of which are essential to an understanding of Mill’s ideas. The decision to include or exclude particular essays is in large measure a pragmatic one, and students of Mill’s political and social thought will want to refer, inter alia, to some of his essays and newspaper writings on economics, on particular political and social events, and on law and equality, which will be found in other volumes of the Collected Works. The main characteristics determining the selection of the essays in this volume are the focus on abiding and theoretical questions, and thematic interdependence.1

While the themes and purposes of these essays show much similarity, their provenances, comparative weights, and histories are diverse. Two of them, On Liberty and Considerations on Representative Government, are separate monographs, the former of which went through, in Mill’s lifetime, four Library Editions and the latter, three; each also appeared in often-reprinted inexpensive People’s Editions. Both of these have, it need hardly be said, earned a lasting place in discussions of British political thought. Of the other eleven items (excluding the Appendices), one, Thoughts on Edition: current; Page: [lxxii] Parliamentary Reform, first appeared as a pamphlet, which went through two editions and then was republished in Volume III of Mill’s Dissertations and Discussions; and another is a solicited paper in support of competitive civil service examinations, which was first published in Parliamentary Papers and then reprinted as a pamphlet.

The other nine items are articles: one (the earliest) from Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine; five from the Westminster Review (including three from the London Review before it merged, in April, 1836, with the Westminster); two from the Edinburgh Review; and one from Fraser’s Magazine. Of these nine, three were republished in Dissertations and Discussions: these are “Civilization” (the only one which is not actually a review) from the Westminster, the second review of Tocqueville on democracy in America from the Edinburgh, and “Recent Writers on Reform” from Fraser’s. Such republication indicates, of course, the relative importance he attached to these essays,2 and so one must note that both “Rationale of Political Representation” and the first review of Tocqueville (both from the Westminster) are represented in Dissertations and Discussions by the lengthy excerpts that make up the “Appendix” to Volume I (here reprinted as Appendix B). None of the others (including the review of Taylor’s Statesman, contributed to the London and Westminster by George Grote and Mill, which here appears as Appendix A) was republished by Mill.3

The background, composition, and publishing history of these essays, spread as they are over Mill’s most active years of authorship, from the early 1830s to the 1860s, provide valuable insights into his intellectual history and influence. After he and his father had virtually severed relations with the Westminster Review in the late 1820s, the younger Mill wrote voluminously for newspapers, especially the Examiner, and sought out avenues for longer essays, since the major reviews, the Edinburgh, Quarterly, and Blackwood’s, were closed to him on political grounds. His main outlet was in the Unitarian Monthly Repository, but four of his articles, the first of which was his review of George Cornewall Lewis’s Use and Abuse of Political Terms (the first essay in this volume), appeared in the short-lived Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine. His review of Lewis’s book (which he had commented on a month earlier in the Examiner of 22 April, 1832) shows Edition: current; Page: [lxxiii] clearly his growing interest in logic,4 particularly in the language of political and ethical speculation, which came to maturity not in these essays, but in the System of Logic. Though he does not refer to the essay in his Autobiography,5 his correspondence indicates something of his view of his writings at that time. On 23 May, 1832, Mill wrote to the proprietor of the magazine, William Tait: “Since you have thought my article worthy of insertion it is very probable that I may place another or others at your disposal. . . .”6 Six days later, in a letter to Thomas Carlyle, he refers to this review, along with his recent writings in the Examiner (including the shorter notice of Lewis’s book), as probably having no interest for Carlyle, except as coming from Mill. “On the whole,” he says, “the opinions I have put forth in these different articles are, I think, rather not inconsistent with yours, than exactly corresponding to them, & are expressed so coldly and unimpressively that I can scarcely bear to look back upon such poor stuff” (EL, CW, XII, 105). Later, however, he returned to the matter in another letter to Carlyle (12 January, 1834), saying:

Do you remember a paper I wrote in an early number of Tait, reviewing a book by a Mr. Lewis (a man of considerable worth, of whom I shall have something more to say yet). That paper paints exactly the state of my mind & feelings at that time. It was the truest paper I had ever written, for it was the most completely an outgrowth of my own mind & character: not that what is there taught, was the best I even then had to teach; nor perhaps did I even think it so; but it contained what was uppermost in me at that time and differed from most else that I knew in having emanated from me, not, with more or less perfect assimilation, merely worked itself into me.

(Ibid., 205.)

Meanwhile the matter of the review had been in his mind for, in what must be a reference to the passage on 13 below, he wrote to Tait on 24 September, 1833: “I have not given up the idea of those ‘Essays on the Ambiguities of the Moral Sciences’ but for the present I see no chance of my having time for it” (ibid., 179)—again, only in the System of Logic did he return to this question.

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Towards the end of the review of Lewis, Mill proposes “a more comprehensive view” that “would unite all the exclusive and one-sided systems, so long the bane of true philosophy . . .” (13). This aim is, of course, a theme he explores most notably in On Liberty; more particularly, he expressly tried to fulfil it personally in the next few years, as is shown in the essays he wrote in the 1830s.

“Rationale of Representation,” “De Tocqueville on Democracy in America [I],” “State of Society in America,” and “Civilization,” the next four essays in this volume, form a coherent group. The actual circumstances of their publication give them an evident persuasive purpose that is not fully consonant with the retrospective account in his Autobiography, where he says of this period in his development:

If I am asked what system of political philosophy I substituted for that which, as a philosophy, I had abandoned, I answer, no system: only a conviction, that the true system was something much more complex and many sided than I had previously had any idea of, and that its office was to supply, not a set of model institutions, but principles from which the institutions suitable to any given circumstances might be deduced.


And he adds (98) that he would willingly have taken Goethe’s “device, ‘many-sidedness,’ ” as his own. These comments would seem to apply to the years just before the founding in 1835 of the London Review, of which Mill was “the real,” if not “the ostensible, editor” (Autobiography, 120), and are consistent with his account of his editorial aims, where “many-sidedness” is implied. It was, however, predominantly a Radical many-sidedness, and was further limited, as he indicates, by the need to represent strongly the Philosophic Radicals’ viewpoints, especially those congenial to James Mill. So, the “old Westminster Review doctrines, but little modified . . . formed the staple of the review” (ibid.), and, though Mill does not say so, the party polemic also appears strongly—though not solely—in his own early articles, most obviously in those, not here included, dealing with specific political questions, but also in the four here collected. Only one of them, “Civilization,” it may again be noted, was republished in full by Mill,7 Edition: current; Page: [lxxv] because, in his own view, the others suffered from one or more of the characteristics he lists in the Preface to Dissertations and Discussions: the excluded essays “were either of too little value at any time, or what value they might have was too exclusively temporary, or the thoughts they contained were inextricably mixed up with comments, now totally uninteresting, on passing events, or on some book not generally known; or lastly, any utility they may have possessed has since been superseded by other and more mature writings of the author.”8

Looking at only the last of these characteristics,9 one may say, in justification of republication, that our view of utility includes an opportunity to assess the development of the views expressed in the “more mature writings” here included. At the very least, these essays were important to Mill when they were written and reveal some of his attitudes towards contemporary opinions, and also towards the purposes of a radical review. For example, in a letter of 15 April, 1835, Mill asked Joseph Blanco White to tell James Martineau, who had offered to review Bailey’s Rationale of Representation, that “after a good deal of deliberation among the three or four persons who take most share in the conduct of the review, it has appeared to us that a subject involving so directly and comprehensively all the political principles of the review, should be retained in the hands of the conductors themselves . . .” (EL, CW, XII, 258; cf. 263).

Alexander Bain says of this article: “Bailey’s view being in close accordance with his own. [Mill] chiefly uses the work as an enforcement of the radical creed. After Bentham and the Mills, no man of their generation was better grounded in logical methods, or more thorough in his method of grappling with political and other questions, than Samuel Bailey.”10

Unlike Bailey, an old ally of the Philosophic Radicals, Tocqueville, the author of the work reviewed in the next article here printed, represented the new influences flooding in on Mill in this period His subject, the workings of democracy in the United States, was, however, of great interest to all British Radicals, who looked to the American system as a model, either ideal or experimental, on which to found their arguments for reform. And Tocqueville’s views held special importance, as coming from a Frenchman with the background of the great Continental Revolution, the other main foreign topos for political discussion. In fact, these two exemplars were used by political and social writers of all shades of blue as well as red.

The great importance to Mill of Tocqueville’s work is brought out in his Autobiography (115), where he comments on the “shifting” of his “political Edition: current; Page: [lxxvi] ideal from pure democracy, as commonly understood by its partisans, to the modified form of it,” set forth in Considerations on Representative Government. This gradual change, he says, which began with his reading of Tocqueville, may be seen by comparing his two reviews of Democracy in America with one another and with Considerations on Representative Government.

On hearing of Tocqueville’s book from Nassau Senior, Mill initially offered it, in February, 1835, to Blanco White for review in the second (July) number of the London Review.11 When he had himself read it, however, he quickly developed an admiration for it and sought information about its author, and when in May Blanco White decided not to write the review, Mill took on the task for the third (October) number.12 He met Tocqueville later that spring, and began (partly with a view to securing him as a contributor to the London Review) an extremely interesting and mutually laudatory correspondence with him that casts important light on the political and methodological views of both.13

Mill’s esteem, which continued and grew, led to his second review of Democracy in America in 1840; in the meantime, probably stimulated by his reading of Tocqueville’s book, he contributed to the next number of the London Review (January, 1836) a review of five works on the United States, entitled “State of Society in America.” The particular line of argument adopted, based on the value of comparative studies of states of society, reminds one that this was a period of gestation for the last Book of the Logic, and justifies Bain’s remark that the essay “may be called one of his minor sociological studies.”14

The next article in this volume, “Civilization,” appeared in the first number of the amalgamated London and Westminster Review (April, 1836) and further develops his sociological and cultural themes. In his Autobiography (121), Mill mentions that his father, then in the final year of his life, approved of this article, into which, he says, “. . . I threw many of my new opinions, and criticized rather emphatically the mental and moral tendencies of the time, on grounds and in a manner which I certainly had not learnt from him.”15

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Light on Mill’s reasons for republishing this article in Dissertations and Discussions is thrown by his comments in a letter to George Cornewall Lewis two years after its first appearance. There he declines Lewis’s article on authority in matters of belief because it is “suited only for students, & not for the public.” Believing now that, as a “popular periodical,” the London and Westminster should not publish such essays. Mill says that if this policy had been in effect earlier, neither his “Civilization” nor his “On the Definition of Political Economy” would have been published there.16

There are over one hundred and fifty substantive variants between the first version of this essay and that reprinted below, all but nine of them introduced in the first edition of Dissertations and Discussions. (In general, as would be expected, the earlier of the essays in those volumes were more rewritten by Mill than the later ones: cf. Collected Works, Vol. X, p. cxxii, and see also Vol. IV, p. xlvi.) Of these variants, about 15 per cent reflect a change of opinion (often minor), correction of information, or the passage of time and the altered provenance; the others are about equally divided between qualifications (of judgment and tone) and minor verbal alterations (including changes in capitalization and italicization). Various interesting examples may be cited, as illustrative of the changes found not only in this essay, but in others reprinted in Dissertations and Discussions. For instance, at 131s-s, referring to the “refined classes” in England. Mill in 1835 said: “When an evil comes to them, they can sometimes bear it with tolerable patience, (though nobody is less patient when they can entertain the slightest hope that by raising an outcry they may compel somebody else to make an effort to relieve them).” In 1859 he substituted this less condemnatory sentence: “The same causes which render them sluggish and unenterprising, make them, it is true, for the most part, stoical under inevitable evils.” Sometimes a seemingly minor variant disguises a significant (if occasionally enigmatic) change, such as that at 145t, where, describing the place history should play in education, he said in 1835 that he accorded it importance “not under the puerile notion that political wisdom can be founded upon it”; this remark was excised in the republished version a quarter of a century later. One sentence on 127 will serve to illustrate three different kinds of change: the first, altered usage over time, the second, a minor verbal change; and the third, Mill’s typical kind of qualification. Originally the sentence read: “With Conservatives of this sort, all Radicals of corresponding enlargement of view, could fraternize as frankly and cordially as with many of their own friends . . .”; in 1859 “democrats” replaced “Radicals”, “aims” replaced “view” (and the comma was dropped), and “many” became “most”. The type of variant reflecting changed provenance and or Edition: current; Page: [lxxviii] passage of time may be illustrated by those in which attribution is altered, as at 134l-l, where Mill deleted the specific reference in quoting from a paper by himself, and at 138z-z, where, in the version of 1859, Carlyle is identified as the source of a comment (cf. the references to Maurice and Hamilton at 140f-f and 142p-p). Finally, as an example of Mill’s sensitivity to the unintentionally ludicrous, one may refer to 122t-t, where the paragraph beginning “Consider the savage” had, in 1835, a more direct invitation, “Look at the savage” (cf. 122x-x).

The next item in this volume, Mill’s short review of a work entitled Essays on Government, was not republished, and may here be treated in brief compass. It appeared in September, 1840, after the termination of his editorial relation with the Westminster Review (which now dropped London from its title), but may reflect a commitment earlier entered into. While slight, it touches on many issues central to radical politics at the time.

Mill’s separation (not a total severance) from the Westminster in 1840 was of great significance for him, as symbolizing the end of his direct adherence to the party politics of his youth.17 His last article during his editorship was the celebrated essay on Coleridge; his first major essay subsequently was his second review of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (now completed), which appeared in that full-throated organ of Whiggism, the Edinburgh Review, second only to the Tory Quarterly Review as the target of the early Philosophic Radicals’ excoriating analysis.18 That his switch was for him an end and a beginning is indicated, at least slightly, by his mention of the second Tocqueville review and its provenance in the concluding sentence of Chapter v of the Autobiography, Chapter vi being “General Review of the Remainder of My Life.” The move (which led to his impressive series of essays on French historians) caused him some uneasiness, however, as is implied in a letter to Tocqueville announcing that his review will appear:

When I last wrote to you I lamented that from having terminated my connection with the London & Westminster Review I should not have the opportunity of reviewing your book there, but I have now the pleasure of telling you that I am to have the reviewing of it in the Edinburgh Review which as you know is much more read, and which has never had a review of your First Part—I suppose none of the writers dared venture upon it, and I cannot blame them, for that review is the most perfect representative of the 18th century to be found in our day, & that is not the point of view for judging of your book. But I & some others Edition: current; Page: [lxxix] who are going to write in the Ed. Review now, shall perhaps succeed in infusing some young blood into it. They have given me till October for this article.

(EL, CW, XIII, 435: 11/5/40.)

During the interval (1835-40) between the two parts of Tocqueville’s work, Mill had of course not anticipated his giving up the Westminster connection, and had been continuing his efforts to get Tocqueville to contribute to the Review. As early as 1836 he had reconciled himself, for the moment, to Tocqueville’s not having time to write more than one article, because his book was absorbing his time: and in January, 1837, hoping that the London and Westminster would be the first British review to notice the second part of Democracy in America, he asked Tocqueville if he could have advance sheets of the work (EL, CW, XIII, 316). When it finally appeared in 1840, Mill’s anticipations were more than met, and once more the correspondence is full of mutual esteem.19

When Mill republished this second review in his Dissertations and Discussions, he interpolated passages from his first review of Democracy in America20 and added a section from his “Duveyrier’s Political Views of French Affairs,” which had appeared in the Edinburgh in 1846. While there are 101 substantive variants in the text between the versions of 1840 and 1859 (nine more appear in the version of 1867),21 few are of significance on their own. Apart from the kinds illustrated above in the discussion of “Civilization,” there are two types that deserve mention. In one type, of more interest to textual than other scholars, there is evidence of Mill’s preparatory editing: see 163t-t and 164w-w, where a correction and a tentative rewording are found in Mill’s own copy (Somerville College, Oxford) of the 1840 article. The other type will prove of interest to those concerned with nuances and shading in Mill’s political thought; they are not trivial in cumulative effect, especially when seen in conjunction with the changes that Mill made in reproducing Reeve’s translation of Tocqueville (see 162q and the collation of the translation in the Bibliographic Appendix). Some of these are merely changes in initial capitalization, but (and the same is true in On Liberty and Considerations on Representative Government) the hints they give, in sum, justify their indication in this volume as substantive Edition: current; Page: [lxxx] variants: see, for example, 170c-c to f-f, where the words involved are “democracy,” “democratic,” “society,” and “state.”

The following decade, marked by the publication of Mill’s first books—the System of Logic (1843), Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy (1844), and the Principles of Political Economy (1848)—as well as the series of essays on the French historians and many newspaper articles, saw no separate major articles by Mill on political and social theory, though those writings contain much material relevant to these areas. And in the 1850s, the decade of his marriage, he published very little of any kind, being occupied, with Harriet’s collaboration, in the composition of many of his later works.

By the 50s, however, Mill was very widely known as a philosopher with practical interests,22 and so his approbation was solicited by Trevelyan for the proposed reform of entrance to the civil service. Mill, who was enthusiastic about the similar reform of 1853 in the Indian civil service, had already praised the proposal in a letter to his wife, noting that the “grand complaint” about it was that it would “bring low people into the offices! as, of course, gentlemen’s sons cannot be expected to be as clever as low people” (LL, CW, XIV, 147, 175 [2/2/54, 3/3/54]). He was therefore pleased by Trevelyan’s request of 8 March, 1854, to comment on the plan, and in response hailed it as “one of the greatest improvements in public affairs ever proposed by a government. If the examination be so contrived as to be a real test of mental superiority, it is difficult to set limits to the effect which will be produced in raising the character not only of the public service but of Society itself.” And he offered to write further in support at a later time (ibid., 178-9). Gratified at the response by Trevelyan and in the House of Commons and the press to the announcement of his approval (ibid., 184, 187-8), he sent the paper here printed as a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and subsequently yielded, with “great regret,” to Trevelyan’s request for the softening of the wording of a sentence concerning religious tests.23

Among the works that Mill wrote in the 1850s,24 with Harriet’s aid, is the best known of all his writings, On Liberty. In the Autobiography (144) he says: “I had first planned and written it as a short essay, in 1854. It was in mounting the steps of the Capitol, in January 1855, that the thought first Edition: current; Page: [lxxxi] arose of converting it into a volume.” The contemporary evidence, unfortunately, does not quite bear out this retrospective account. Mill, travelling in southern Europe for his health from December 1854 till June 1855, wrote almost daily to Harriet about his thoughts and experiences, and it is clear that the idea struck him some days before he actually visited the Capitol. He may, however, be forgiven the attractive, if mistaken, collation of events. “On my way here [from Viterbo to Rome],” he comments to her on 15 January, 1855, “cogitating” on the effect of the Italian sights in taking off “my nascent velleity of writing,”

. . . I came back to an idea we have talked about & thought that the best thing to write & publish at present would be a volume on Liberty. So many things might be brought into it & nothing seems to me more needed—it is a growing need too, for opinion tends to encroach more & more on liberty, & almost all the projects of social reformers in these days are really liberticide—Comte, particularly so. I wish I had brought with me here the paper on Liberty that I wrote for our volume of Essays—perhaps my dearest will kindly read it through & tell me whether it will do as the foundation of one part of the volume in question—If she thinks so I will try to write & publish it in 1856 if my health permits as I hope it will.25

It is very unlikely that Harriet sent the earlier manuscript to him, but she did approve his turning to the subject, which he said he would “think seriously about,”26 and, heartened by the effect he believed his evidence on limited liability in partnerships before a Parliamentary committee was having, he wrote again to her on the subject:

We have got a power of which we must try to make a good use during the few years of life we have left. The more I think of the plan of a volume on Liberty, the more likely it seems to me that it will be read & make a sensation. The title itself with any known name to it would sell an edition. We must cram into it as much as possible of what we wish not to leave unsaid.

(Ibid., 332 [17/2/55].)

The note struck here, of approaching death, is characteristic of his correspondence with his wife in these years, and explains much of their attitude towards their self-imposed task of reform through writing.27 The revised plan for a separate volume on liberty did not fit into their earlier Edition: current; Page: [lxxxii] scheme, which was for a volume of republished essays and another posthumous volume (or volumes) of new essays, the latter including the previously composed and briefer discussion of liberty and the “Life” (that is, what became the Autobiography).28 The strategy of publication concerned them; Mill, considering again the collection of republished essays that they had thought of as early as 1839,29 wrote to his wife: “Above all, it is not at all desirable to come before the public with two books nearly together, so if not done now it cannot be done till some time after the volume on Liberty—but by that time. I hope there will be a volume ready of much better Essays, or something as good. . . .”30

The period after his return to England in mid-1855 until Harriet’s death in late 1858 is very thin in evidence about writing, and he published very little. His responsibilities at the India House increased in 1856 when he became head of the Examiner’s Office, and his intense involvement in the East India Company’s resistance to the government’s assumption of full control included the drafting of their petition and the writing of several pamphlets in which, as Bain says, “he brought to bear all his resources in the theory and practice of politics.”31 Nevertheless, it is certain that he wrote and rewrote On Liberty during these years, as well as preparing new editions of his Logic and Principles. The revision of the latter for its 5th edition (1857) gives us the best evidence we have that he had worked on the Liberty early in this period, for he writes to Parker on 16 December, 1856: “I am engaged about a new book (in one smaller volume [than the Principles]) which I think I could finish in time for publication in May, and I am not so certain of being able to do so if I put it aside to revise the Pol. Economy.”32 He did not, however, finish it then, for he wrote to Theodor Gomperz on 5 October, 1857, almost a year later, saying: “I have nearly finished an Essay on ‘Liberty’ which I hope to publish next winter.” Edition: current; Page: [lxxxiii] And—surely most authors will sympathize—more than another year went by before he could write to Gomperz, on 4 December, 1858, to say: “My small volume on Liberty will be published early this winter” (LL, CW, XV, 539, 581). The arrangement had just been made with Parker, to whom Mill had offered the book on 30 November, saying: “You can have my little book ‘On Liberty’ for publication this season. The manuscript is ready; but you will probably desire to look through it, or to have it looked through by some one in whom you confide, as there are some things in it which may give offence to prejudices.”33

The offer was not prompted, however, by a feeling that the manuscript was finally in its best form; rather, the death of Harriet, on 3 November, 1858, drove Mill to consider it almost as a memorial to her that should never be altered by revision. As he says in the Autobiography (144):

During the two years which immediately preceded the cessation of my official life [in October, 1858], my wife and I were working together at the “Liberty.” . . . None of my writings have been either so carefully composed, or so sedulously corrected as this. After it had been written as usual twice over, we kept it by us, bringing it out from time to time and going through it de novo, reading, weighing and criticizing every sentence. Its final revision was to have been a work of the winter of 1858-59, the first after my retirement, which we had arranged to pass in the South of Europe. That hope and every other were frustrated by the most unexpected and bitter calamity of her death. . . .

His full account of the work, a few pages later in the Autobiography (149-52), should be consulted, not only as giving his testimony to his wife’s importance on this aspect of his thought, but also as revealing his assessment of its value in the present and the future. He also comments on the question of the originality of On Liberty,34 and concludes the account by returning to the circumstances of its publication. “After my irreparable loss one of my earliest cares was to print and publish the treatise, so much of which was the work of her whom I had lost, and consecrate it to her memory. I have made no alteration or addition to it, nor shall I ever. Though it wants the last touch of her hand, no substitute for that touch shall ever be attempted by mine.”35

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This promise has been taken at face value, but, as is the case in all of Mill’s major works, there was some revision, though in this instance very slight, and not of much consequence. On Liberty went through four Library Editions, two in 1859, a third in 1864, and a fourth in 1869, as well as a People’s Edition in 1865 (see n37 below). Only three variants were introduced in the 2nd edition;36 twenty-eight changes, however, were made for the 3rd edition. Except for the transposition of two words (252e-e), none of these involves more than one word, and many are simply initial capitalization (e.g., of “State” four times on 303-4). One may mention that the mistake in the title of Comte’s Système de politique positive (identified as his Traité in the 1st edition) was corrected by Mill (227c-c). The most important revisions are those such as 242c-c, where “genuine principles” was changed to “general principles” (and here perhaps a printer’s error was involved). In the 4th edition only two minor changes were made, the movement of quotation marks at 234b-b, and the substitution of “When” for “Where” at 243d-d. In short, Mill’s statement is not strictly accurate, for there are substantive changes, but On Liberty is, by a significant margin, the least revised of his works, and his homage to Harriet is not damaged by the textual evidence.

In spite of its popularity and controversiality, and Mill’s increased reputation in the 1860s, On Liberty, as mentioned above, after the issuance of a 2nd edition in the year of first publication, went through only two further Library Editions (both now rare), in 1864 and 1869. The explanation is that Mill agreed to the publishing in 1865 of a cheap People’s Edition of On Liberty (and of his Principles and Considerations on Representative Government)37 by Longmans (who had taken over Parker’s business). Edition: current; Page: [lxxxv] Thousands of these inexpensive copies of On Liberty were sold in the next few years, at a considerable pecuniary sacrifice resulting from both the low price and the reduced sales of the Library Edition;38 the accessibility of his thoughts to a broad and less affluent public clearly more than compensated him for the sacrifice.

Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, the next item in this volume, had, like On Liberty, lain fallow for some years before it appeared in February, 1859, but, it being a more occasional piece, the timing of its publication, as of its composition, was determined by political events. In the Prefatory Note (see 313a below) he says:

Nearly the whole of this pamphlet, including the argument on the Ballot, was written five years ago, in anticipation of the Reform Bill of Lord Aberdeen’s Government [in 1854]. The causes which at that period kept back the question itself prevented the publication of these remarks upon it Subsequent reflection has only strengthened the opinions there expressed. They are now published, because it is at the present time, if ever, that their publication can have any chance of being useful.

As the pamphlet was completed in 1858, the “five years” takes one back to 1853, and a letter to Harriet of 9 January, 1854, confirms that it was drafted by then. There Mill refers to an article by W. R. Greg in the October, 1853, number of the Edinburgh, in which he notes an extraordinary parallel to the ideas on the ballot expressed in their “unpublished pamphlet” (LL, CW, XIV, 126). The next reference in the correspondence, on 24 June, 1854, is to “the political pamphlet that was to have been” (ibid., 218, to Harriet); the appropriate occasion had by then gone by, with the withdrawal of the Bill put forward by Russell during the Aberdeen administration, and another did not arise until Derby’s proposal of 1859, the expectation of which aroused considerable discussion. So, even at the height of his grief at Harriet’s death, and while On Liberty was going through the press, Edition: current; Page: [lxxxvi] he was able to respond to a suggestion from Chadwick that he contribute to the debate, referring to the pamphlet “written several years ago” and now adapted “to the present time” (ibid., XV, 584). The necessary adaptation, the addition of a suggested plurality of votes for some electors based on “proved superiority of education,”39 is mentioned in Mill’s account in the Autobiography (152-3), where he also dwells on the other two features of the pamphlet that from a Radical point of view would be viewed as “heresies”40—the rejection of the secret ballot, and support for minority representation.

Unlike plural voting, the argument against the ballot not only had his wife’s approval but had originated with her. One piece of inferential evidence, a revision of the text of the Logic,41 suggests that the change of opinion (in which, as he says, Harriet preceded him), came as early as 1851. That she was more eager than he to make known their abandonment of this part of the Radical credo appears in his letters to her in June, 1854; indeed. one can easily sense his prudent reserve about offending allies and giving comfort to enemies.42

Concerning minority representation it is worth noting that, while he approved of Garth Marshall’s proposal for cumulative votes when Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform was published (as he had in 1853 when the pamphlet was drafted), it very quickly lost in importance for him when Thomas Hare’s scheme for Personal Representation came to his attention. In his account in the Autobiography (153-5) he indicates that had he known of it earlier, he certainly would have included Hare’s proposal in Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, and mentions his almost immediately subsequent treatment of it in “Recent Writers on Reform” (the next essay in this volume). Actually this account disguises one further step in his propagandism for Hare’s scheme. By 3 March, 1859, just after the first publication of Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, Mill had read Hare’s Treatise, and must soon have written his review of it. Austin’s Plea. and Lorimer’s Political Edition: current; Page: [lxxxvii] Progress, for by 29 March he was able to tell Hare that it would appear in Fraser’s Magazine, as it did in April.43 But later in 1859, when a second edition of Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform was called for, he appended to it a long section from “Recent Writers on Reform” dealing with Hare’s plan.44 When the two essays appeared in the third volume of Dissertations and Discussions (1867)—the form in which Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform is usually read—there was, of course, no need to append the section, since it was included in “Recent Writers on Reform.”45

All of the matters discussed in Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform and “Recent Writers on Reform” are treated at greater length in Mill’s main treatise devoted to political theory, Considerations on Representative Government,46 the next item in this volume, which was written in the following year, 1860. Mill wrote to Henry Fawcett on 24 December of that year that he had completed two works, “one of them a considerable volume” (the other was Utilitarianism, which appeared in serial form in Fraser’s late in 1861), and made “good progress with a third” (the Subjection).47 Little is known of the details of composition, though it would appear from letters to Charles Dupont-White that much of the work was completed by April of 1860, and it was in the press in early March of 1861.48 The first edition was soon exhausted, and Mill revised the work in early summer by, as usual, “des changemens purement verbaux,” and adding a note to Chapter xiv and several pages in defence of Hare’s scheme to Chapter vii.49 A third edition Edition: current; Page: [lxxxviii] being called for three years later, Mill finished the revision by 6 November, 1864,50 and the edition appeared in February, 1865.

At the end of the Preface, Mill introduced in the 2nd edition a comment (see 373a) that, apart from the pages added to defend Hare’s scheme (462r-r465), and a short note (528n), the only changes introduced were “purely verbal,” (Cf. his comments to correspondents cited above.) In fact, he made 105 substantive changes (including another added footnote), of which about one-half involve at least a minor qualification. There is no prefatory indication in the 3rd edition of the further eighty-eight substantive variants (including four added footnotes) there introduced. (There are in addition seventeen variants in the self-quotations from Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform and “Recent Writers on Reform,” some of them more important than might be expected.) Only a few of these may here be mentioned, though many are of more than passing interest, especially because popular reprints are often based on the 1st edition. Those mentioned in the Preface to the 2nd edition should of course be studied (that at 528n contains a further correction of fact in the 3rd edition), as should those mentioned in letters by Mill (465n, on Personal Representation, and 534-5b-b, on the democratic institutions of the New England States),51 and that in the closing paragraph of Chapter ix, on indirect election (486-7f-f). The qualifications for senatorial office are interestingly modified, in the second edition at 517i-i, and (of special note for academics) in the third at 517k-k. There are quite a few variants reflecting changed circumstances in other countries—for example, the emancipation of the serfs in Russia (382h), the revolution in Greece (415n), and the Civil War in the United States (553a-a to c-c, 557g-g to i-i. A kind of minor change, noted above in other contexts as having significance in cumulative effect, which might escape notice, is illustrated at 403c-c, where in 1865 “a people” was changed to “the people.” And finally, passing by more important matters that the attentive reader will note, two oddities may be mentioned: at 473g-g, the change in the 2nd edition from “the” to “a” somewhat disguises a probable allusion to Swift; and at 497u-u, the change in the 3rd edition from “euphonious” to “euphemistic” calls attention to what would appear to be an unusual lapse on Mill’s part rather than a printer’s error.

Among the People’s Editions of Mill’s works, that of Representative Government is unique in having some claim to textual authority, in that the variants, substantive and accidental, suggest that it was prepared from the text of the final Library Edition in Mill’s lifetime (both were published in 1865).52 The number of typographical errors in the People’s Edition, however, Edition: current; Page: [lxxxix] and the problems of deciding among the accidentals (which are few and trivial), make it unwise to depart from our policy of using the final Library Editions as copy-text; the substantive variants between the People’s and Library Editions are given in Appendix E.

It should be mentioned that more editions of Mill’s works appeared in 1865 than in any other year: in addition to the two editions of Representative Government, the fifth editions of both the Logic and the Principles, the People’s Editions of On Liberty and the Principles, the periodical and first book editions of Auguste Comte and Positivism, and the first and second editions of the Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy. The sale of all these, and his public reputation, were enhanced by his unusual and successful candidacy for Westminster in this same year.

The final item in this volume, “Centralisation,” which appeared in the Edinburgh Review for April, 1862, explores, through its review of works by Dupont-White and Odilon Barrot, a theme long on Mill’s mind, one not examined as thoroughly as might be expected in Representative Government, which he had presumably just completed before reading Dupont-White’s Centralisation.53 The article itself is not referred to in the Autobiography (few of Mill’s late articles are), but the importance of the theme is developed at length in his homage to Tocqueville (115-16), which concludes with a reference to his “serious study” of the problems of centralization. This study included the reading of Dupont-White’s L’Individu et l’Etat in 1858, when the two began a fairly extensive correspondence that shows Mill steering his course between extremes, but certainly closer to his own shore than Dupont-White’s. Their relations were cemented by the latter’s translations of On Liberty (1860) and Representative Government (1862), and Mill was attracted towards giving an account of the Frenchman’s ideas after reading his Centralisation, a continuation of L’Individu et l’Etat.54 He therefore wrote, on 1 May, 1861, to Henry Reeve, editor of the Edinburgh, proposing a review to be completed during the summer or autumn, and including mention of Odilon Barrot’s book.55 Although Reeve was himself writing on centralization (in education) for the July, 1861, number of the Edinburgh, Mill’s suggestion was taken up. Having written the review after his return from Avignon in June, he reported on 4 December to Dupont-White that he had sent the review to Reeve; although Mill thought it might be too long, it was accepted, and appeared in April, 1862.56

This article would be better known had Mill chosen to republish it in the third volume of Dissertations and Discussions (1867). In fact, he would seem to have planned to include it, for his library in Somerville College Edition: current; Page: [xc] includes, among articles cut from reviews, “Centralisation,” prepared like the others for republication.57 There is no evident reason for his excluding it, especially as Volume III (which includes essays up to 1866), is slimmer than the first two volumes.

This essay of 1862, though it is the latest in this volume, does not, of course, mark the end of Mill’s interest in political and social questions. But henceforth his published opinions were more closely attached to particular events, or have their main focus elsewhere, especially during his parliamentary career from 1865 to 1868.


as throughout this edition, the copy-text for each item is that of the final version supervised by Mill.58 There are, it is to be regretted, no extant manuscripts for any of the essays here included. Details concerning revisions are given in the headnotes to each item and in the discussion above.

Method of indicating variants. All the substantive variants are governed by the principles enunciated below; “substantive” here means all changes of text except spelling, hyphenation, punctuation, demonstrable typographical errors, and such printing-house concerns as type size, etc. There being few cases of changed initial capitalization, and some of them having at least suggestive significance, these are given as substantives. All substantive variants are indicated, except the substitution of “on” for “upon” (twenty-one instances). The variants are of three kinds: addition of a word or words, substitution of a word or words, deletion of a word or words. The following illustrative examples are drawn, except as indicated, from “De Tocqueville on Democracy in America [II].”

Addition of a word or words: see 157b-b. In the text, the passage “will, in general, longest hesitate” appears as “willb, in general,b longest hesitate”; the variant note reads “b-b+67”. Here the plus sign indicates the edition of this particular text in which the addition appears. The editions are always indicated by the last two numbers of the year of publication: here 67 = 1867 (the 2nd edition of Volumes I and II of Dissertations and Discussions). Information explaining the use of these abbreviations is given in each headnote, as required. Any added editorial comment is enclosed in square brackets and italicized.

Placing this example in context, the interpretation is that when first Edition: current; Page: [xci] published (1840) the reading was “will longest hesitate”; this reading was retained in 1859 (the 1st edition of Volumes I and II of Dissertations and Discussions); but in 1867 the reading became “will, in general, longest hesitate”.

Substitution of a word or words: see 157c-c. In the text the passage “he has of necessity left much undone, and” appears as “he has cof necessity left much undone,c and”; the variant note reads “c-c40 left much undone, as who could possibly avoid?” Here the words following the edition indicator are those for which “of necessity left much undone” were substituted; applying the same rules and putting the variant in context, the interpretation is that when first published (1840) the reading was “he has left much undone, as who could possibly avoid? and”; in 1859 this was altered to “he has of necessity left much undone, and”; and the reading of 1859 (as is clear in the text) was retained in 1867.

In this volume there are very few examples of passages that were altered more than once: an illustrative instance is found in Considerations on Representative Government at 456k-k. The text reads “kor who could not succeed in carrying the local candidate they preferred, would have the power tok fill up”; the variant note reads “k-k611 would] 612 would have the power to”. Here the different readings, in chronological order, are separated by a square bracket. The interpretation is that the reading in the 1st edition (1861), “would fill up”, was altered in the 2nd edition (also 1861) to “would have the power to fill up”, and in the 3rd edition (1865, the copytext) to “or who could not succeed in carrying the local candidate they preferred, would have the power to fill up”.

Deletion of a word or words: see 157e and 23g-g. The first of these is typical, representing the most convenient way of indicating deletions in a later edition. In the text at 157e a single superscripte appears centred between “second” and “is”; the variant note reads “e40 (published only this year)”. Here the words following the edition indicator are the ones deleted, applying the same rules and putting the variant in context, the interpretation is that when first published (1840) the reading was “second (published only this year) is”; in 1859 the parenthesis was deleted, and the reading of 1859 (as is clear in the text) was retained in 1867.

The second example (23g-g) illustrates the method used in the volume to cover more conveniently deletions when portions of the copy-text were later reprinted, as in the case of “Rationale of Representation,” part of which was republished in the “Appendix” to Dissertations and Discussions, Volume I. (That is, there is here, exceptionally, a later version of part of the copy-text, whereas normally the copy-text is the latest version.) In the text the words “a most powerfully” appear as “a gmostg powerfully”, the variant note reads “g-g—67.” The minus sign indicates that in the edition Edition: current; Page: [xcii] signified the word enclosed was deleted; putting the example in context the interpretation is that when first published (1835) the reading was (as is clear in the text) “a most powerfully”; this reading was retained in 1859, but in 1867 it was altered to “a powerfully”.

Dates of footnotes: see 164n. Here the practice is to place immediately after the footnote indicator, in square brackets, the figures indicating the edition in which Mill’s footnote first appeared. In the example cited, “[59]” signifies that the note was added in 1859 (and retained in 1867). If no such indication appears, the note is in all versions.

Punctuation and spelling. In general, changes between versions in punctuation and spelling are ignored. Those changes that occur as part of a substantive variant are included in that variant, and the superscript letters in the text are placed exactly with reference to punctuation. Changes between italic and roman type are treated as substantive variants and are therefore shown, except in foreign phrases and titles of works.

Other textual liberties. Some of the titles have been modified or added, as explained above; the full titles in their various forms will be found in the headnotes. The dates added to the titles are those of first publication. When footnotes to the titles gave bibliographic information, these have been deleted, and the information given in the headnotes. In two places a line space has been inserted between paragraphs where there is a page break in the copy-text; in both cases the space is justified by other editions and parallel cases.59 On 200, where Mill added part of another essay, a series of asterisks replaces a rule; square brackets are deleted; and the explanatory paragraph is raised to normal type size. (In the same essay, at 176.9, “first part” is altered to “First Part” to conform to earlier and adjacent usage.)

Typographical errors have been silently corrected in the text; the note below lists them.60 In the headnotes the quotations from Mill’s bibliography, Edition: current; Page: [xciii] the manuscript of which is a scribal copy, are also silently corrected; again, the note below lists them.61 While the punctuation and spelling of each item are retained, the style has been made uniform: for example, periods are deleted after references to monarchs (e.g., “Louis XIV.,”), dashes are deleted when combined with other punctuation before a quotation or reference, and italic punctuation after italic passages has been made roman. Indications of ellipsis have been normalized to three dots plus, when necessary, terminal punctuation. The positioning of footnote indicators has been normalized so that they always appear after adjacent punctuation marks; in some cases references have been moved from the beginning to the end of quotations for consistency.

Also, in accordance with modern practice, all long quotations have been reduced in type size and the quotation marks removed. In consequence, it has occasionally been necessary to add square brackets around Mill’s words in quotations; there is little opportunity for confusion, as there are no editorial insertions except page references. Double quotation marks replace single, and titles of works originally published separately are given in italics. Mill’s references to sources, and additional editorial references (in square brackets), have been normalized. When necessary his references have been silently corrected; a list of the corrections and alterations is given in the note below.62

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Appendices. Two items have been taken out of the normal chronological order and appended, but otherwise treated uniformly with the main text: Appendix A, the review of Taylor’s Statesman, is placed here because it was jointly authored by George Grote and Mill and the precise contribution of each is not known; Appendix B, the “Appendix” to Volume I of Dissertations and Discussions, is here relegated because it combines portions of “Rationale of Representation” and “De Tocqueville on Democracy in America[I],” both of which are fully reprinted in the text.

Appendix C consists of an extract from a letter from Benjamin Jowett on the proposed competitive examinations for the Civil Service that contains opinions criticized by Mill in his submission on the same topic, and a footnote editorially appended to Mill’s own submission, containing Jowett’s reply to Mill’s criticism. These materials are included because they give context to Mill’s remarks, and because the footnote appears in the pamphlet version of Mill’s submission.

Appendices D and E, for reasons given above, list, respectively, the substantive variants between the People’s Editions of On Liberty and Considerations on Representative Government and the last Library Editions of those works in Mill’s lifetime.

Appendix F, the Bibliographic Appendix, provides a guide to Mill’s references and quotations, with notes concerning the separate entries, and a list of substantive variants between his quotations and their sources. The items in this volume contain references to over 160 publications (excluding Statutes and Parliamentary Papers, and unidentified anonymous quotations, but including classical tags, and references that occur in quotations from others). Mill quotes from over one-half of these, including the sixteen works he reviews. He quotes from nine of his own writings, and refers to Edition: current; Page: [xcv] six more. (There are also quotations from three of his father’s writings, and references to three others.) The most extensive quotation is, as one would expect, from reviewed works; a large number of the shorter quotations (some of which are indirect) are undoubtedly taken from memory, with no explicit references being given, and the identification of some of these is inescapably inferential. It will be noted that Mill habitually translates from the French. Except for the standard classical authors, few important references are made to standard works in the history of political thought. In this context, one may refer (without predicting the effect of the reference) to Mill’s praise of Lewis (5n below) for having “spared himself the ostentatious candour of mentioning the authors to whom he was indebted, they being mostly writers of established reputation” whose “truths . . . are the common property of mankind”; the contrary practice implies “either that the author cares, and expects the reader to care, more about the ownership of an idea than about its value; or else that he designs to pass himself off as the first promulgator of every thought which he does not expressly assign to the true discoverer.” Whatever view one may take of Mill’s attitude towards real property, he evidently was not, in 1832 an advocate of pedant proprietorship.

Because Appendix F serves as an index to persons, writings, and statutes, references to them do not appear in the Index proper, which has been prepared by Dr. Bruce Kinzer.


to the members of the Editorial Committee, and especially Alexander Brady and J. B. Conacher, to the editorial and printing staff of the University of Toronto Press, and especially the copy-editor. Rosemary Shipton, and to my research assistant, Judith Le Goff. my most sincere appreciation and thanks. I am deeply indebted to the staffs of various libraries, including the British Library, the University of Toronto Library, the Victoria University Library, the University of London Library, the British Library of Political and Economic Science, the London Library, and (a special thanks for prompt and ever-courteous aid) the library of Somerville College, Oxford. Among others who have helped in various ways, and to whom this mention is insufficient reward, are C. J. Allen, John Anton, Joan Bigwood, Frank Collins, Roland Hall, William J. Hyde, Patricia Kennedy, L. M. Kenny, Michael Laine, Jane Millgate, Ann Christine, John, and William Robson, Flora Roy, James P. Scanlan, Francis Sparshott, James Steintrager, and Kenneth Thompson. And, last and foremost, to my wife who, society and politics notwithstanding, has aided me cheerfully and expertly, my reiterated but still heartfelt gratitude.

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Essays on Politics and Society


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Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, I (May, 1832), 164-72. Unsigned. Not republished. The title is footnoted: “Use and Abuse of Political Terms. By George Cornwall [sic] Lewis, Esq. Student of Christ Church, Oxford. London: Fellowes, 1832.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A review of Geo. Cornewall Lewis’s Remarks on the Use and Abuse of Political Terms, in the second number of Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine (May, 1832.)” (MacMinn, 21.) The copy in Somerville College, on which JSM has written “From Tait’s Magazine for May 1832”, has no corrections or emendations. For JSM’s contemporary attitude to the essay, see the Textual Introduction, lxx-lxxii above.

JSM quotes part of this review (see 9-10 below) in his Logic, producing variant readings, which are footnoted. In the variant notes the editions of the Logic are indicated by the last two figures of their dates of publication: e.g., “51—72” means that the reading given is that of the 3rd (1851) to 8th (1872) editions; “MS—72” means that the reading is that from the manuscript through the 8th edition.

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Use and Abuse of Political Terms

mr. lewis is known in society as the son of the Right Hon. T. Frankland Lewis, and in literature, as the translator, jointly with Mr. Henry Tufnell, of two erudite and interesting works on classical antiquity, Muller’s Dorians, and Bockh’s Public Economy of Athens.[*] Mr. Lewis is also the author of a little work on logic;[†] to which subject, stimulated like many others of the Oxford youth, by the precepts and example of Dr. Whately, he has devoted more than common attention, and was so far peculiarly qualified for writing such a work as the volume before us professes to be. This alone should entitle him to no slight praise; for such is the present state of the human mind, in some important departments, that it is often highly meritorious to have written a book, in itself of no extraordinary merit, if the work afford proof that any one of the requisites for writing a good book on the same subject is possessed in an eminent degree.

Certain it is, that there scarcely ever was a period when logic was so little studied, systematically, and in a scientific manner, as of late years; while, perhaps, no generation ever had less to plead in extenuation of neglecting it. For if, in order to reason well, it were only necessary to be destitute of every spark of fancy and poetic imagination, the world of letters and thought might boast, just now, of containing few besides good reasoners; people to whom, one would imagine, that logic must be all in all, if we did not, to our astonishment, find that they despise it. But the most prosaic matter-of-fact person in the world must not flatter himself that he is able to reason because he is fit for nothing else. Reasoning, like all other mental excellencies, comes by appropriate culture: not by exterminating the opposite good quality, the other half of a perfect character. Perhaps the mere reasoners, with whom the world abounds, would be considerably less numerous, if men really took the pains to learn to reason. It is a sign of a weak judgment, as of a weak virtue, to take to flight at the approach of every thing which Edition: current; Page: [4] can, by any remote possibility, lead it astray. Men who, for want of cultivation, have the intellects of dwarfs, are of course the slaves of their imagination, if they have any, as they are the slaves of their sensations, if they have not; and it is partly, perhaps, because the systematic culture of the thinking faculty is in little repute, that imagination also is in such bad odour; there being no solidity and vigour of intellect to resist it where it tends to mislead. The sublimest of English poets composed an elementary book of logic for the schools;[*] but our puny rhymsters think logic, forsooth, too dry for them;* and our logicians, from that and other causes, very commonly say with M. Casimir Perier, A quoi un poëte est-il bon?

In undertaking to treat of the use and abuse of the leading terms of political philosophy, Mr. Lewis has set before himself a task to which no one but a logician could be competent, and one of the most important to which logic could be applied. If, however, we were disposed for minute criticism, we might find some scope for it in the very title-page. We might ask, what is meant by an abuse of terms; and whether a man is not at liberty to employ terms in any way which enables him to deliver himself of his own ideas the most intelligibly; to bring home to the minds of others, in the greatest completeness, the impression which exists in his own? This question, though it has a considerable bearing upon many parts of Mr. Lewis’s book, throws, however, no doubt upon the importance of the object he aims at. His end is, to prevent things essentially different, from being confounded, because they happen to be called by the same name. It is past doubt that this, like all other modes of false and slovenly thinking, might be copiously exemplified from the field of politics; and Mr. Lewis has not been unhappy in his choice of examples. The instances, in which the confusion of language is the consequence, and not the cause, of the erroneous train of thought (which we believe to be generally the more common case,) are equally worthy of Mr. Lewis’s attention, and will, no doubt, in time receive an equal share of it.

Some notion of the extent of ground over which our author travels may be gathered from his table of contents; which, with that view, we transcribe:

1. Government. 2. Constitution—Constitutional. 3. Right—Duty—Wrong—Rightful—Wrongful—Justice. 4. Law—Lawful—Unlawful. 5. Sovereign—Sovereignty—Division of Forms of Government. 6. Monarchy—Royalty—King. 7. Commonwealth—Republic—Republican. 8. Aristocracy—Oligarchy—Nobility. 9. Democracy. 10. Mixed Government—Balance of Powers Edition: current; Page: [5] 11. People—Community. 12. Representation—Representative—Representative Government. 13. Rich—Middle Class—Poor. 14. Nature—Natural—Unnatural—State of Nature. 15. Liberty—Freedom—Free. 16. Free Government—Arbitrary Government—Tyranny—Despotism—Anarchy. 17. Power—Authority—Force. 18. Public—Private—Political—Civil—Municipal. 19. Property—Possession—Estate—Estates of Parliament. 20. Community of Goods.

To explain thoroughly the various senses of any one of these terms, would require, possibly, as much space, as Mr. Lewis has devoted to them all. His observations, however, are those of an instructed and intelligent mind. They contain, perhaps, not much that is absolutely new; except that ideas, which the mind has made completely its own, always come out in a form more or less different from that in which they went in, and are, in that sense, always original. Moreover, any one who can look straight into a thing itself, and not merely at its image mirrored in another man’s mind, can also look at things, upon occasion, when there is no other man to point them out.*

Yet, highly as we think of this work, and still more highly of the author’s capabilities, we will not pretend that he has realized all our conceptions of what such a work ought to be. We do not think he is fully conscious of what his subject requires of him. The most that he ever seems to accomplish, is to make out that something is wrong, but not how that which is wrong may be made right. He may say, that this is all he aimed at; and so, indeed, it is. But it may always be questioned, whether one has indeed cut down to the Edition: current; Page: [6] very root of an error, who leaves no truth planted in its stead. Mr. Lewis, at least, continually leaves the mind under the unsatisfactory impression, that the matter has not been probed to the bottom, and that underneath almost every thing which he sees, there lies something deeper which he does not see. If in this we should be deemed hypercritical, we would say in our defence, that we should never think of ranging Mr. Lewis in the class of those, from whom we take thankfully and without asking questions, any trifling matter, which is all they have to bestow. The author of such a work as the present, is entitled to be tried by the same standard as the highest order of intellect; to be compared not with the small productions of small minds, but with ideal perfection.

Mankind have many ideas, and but few words. This truth should never be absent from the mind of one who takes upon him to decide if another man’s language is philosophical or the reverse. Two consequences follow from it; one, that a certain laxity in the use of language must be borne with, if a writer makes himself understood; the other, that, to understand a writer who is obliged to use the same words as a vehicle for different ideas, requires a vigorous effort of co-operation on the part of the reader. These unavoidable ambiguities render it easier, we admit, for confusion of ideas to pass undetected: but they also render it more difficult for any man’s ideas to be so expressed that they shall not appear confused; particularly when viewed with that habitual contempt with which men of clear ideas generally regard those, any of whose ideas are not clear, and with that disposition which contempt, like every other passion, commonly carries with it, to presume the existence of its object. It should be recollected, too, that many a man has a mind teeming with important thoughts, who is quite incapable of putting them into words which shall not be liable to any metaphysical objection; that when this is the case, the logical incoherence or incongruity of the expression, is commonly the very first thing which strikes the mind, and that which there is least merit in perceiving. The man of superior intellect, in that case, is not he who can only see that the proposition precisely as stated, is not true; but he who, not overlooking the incorrectness at the surface, does, nevertheless, discern that there is truth at the bottom. The logical defect, on the other hand, is the only thing which strikes the eye of the mere logician. The proper office, we should have conceived, of a clear thinker, would be to make other men’s thoughts clear for them, if they cannot do it for themselves, and to give words to the man of genius, fitted to express his ideas with philosophical accuracy. Socrates, in the beautiful dialogue called the Phædrus, describes his own vocation as that of a mental midwife:[*] not so Mr. A. or B., who, perhaps, owes the advantage of clear Edition: current; Page: [7] ideas to the fact of his having no ideas which it is at all difficult to make clear. The use of logic, it would seem, to such a person, is not to help others, but to privilege himself against being required to listen to them. He will not think it worth his while to examine what a man has to say, unless it is put to him in such a manner that it shall cost him no trouble at all to make it out. If you come to him needing help, you may learn from him that you are a fool; but you certainly will not be made wise.

It would be grossly unjust to Mr. Lewis to accuse him of any thing approaching to this; but we could have wished that his work could have been more decidedly cited as an example of the opposite quality. We desiderate in it somewhat more of what becomes all men, but, most of all, a young man, to whom the struggles of life are only in their commencement, and whose spirit cannot yet have been wounded, or his temper embittered by hostile collision with the world, but which, in young men more especially, is apt to be wanting—a slowness to condemn. A man must now learn, by experience, what once came almost by nature to those who had any faculty of seeing; to look upon all things with a benevolent, but upon great men and their works with a reverential spirit, rather to seek in them for what he may learn from them, than for opportunities of shewing what they might have learned from him; to give such men the benefit of every possibility of their having spoken with a rational meaning; not easily or hastily to persuade himself that men like Plato, and Locke, and Rousseau, and Bentham, gave themselves a world of trouble in running after something which they thought was a reality, but which he Mr. A. B. can clearly see to be an unsubstantial phantom; to exhaust every other hypothesis, before supposing himself wiser than they; and even then to examine, with good will and without prejudice, if their error do not contain some germ of truth; and if any conclusion, such as a philosopher can adopt, may even yet be built upon the foundation on which they, it may be, have reared nothing but an edifice of sand.

Such men are not refuted because they are convicted of using words occasionally with no very definite meaning, or even of founding an argument upon an ambiguity. The substance of correct reasoning may still be there, although there be a deficiency in the forms. A vague term, which they may never have given themselves the trouble to define, may yet, on each particular occasion, have excited in their minds precisely the ideas it should excite. The leading word in an argument may be ambiguous; but between its two meanings there is often a secret link of connexion, unobserved by the critic but felt by the author, though perhaps he may not have given himself a strictly logical account of it; and the conclusion may turn not upon what is different in the two meanings, but upon what they have in common, or at least analogous.

Until logicians know these things, and act as if they knew them, they must not expect that a logician and a captious man will cease to be, in common Edition: current; Page: [8] apprehension, nearly synonymous. How, in fact, can it be otherwise in the mind of a person, who knows not very clearly what logic is, but who finds that he can in no way give utterance to his conviction without infringing logical rules, while he is conscious all the time that the real grounds of the conviction have not been touched in the slightest degree?

It is only in a very qualified sense that these admonitions can be applied to Mr. Lewis; but there are so few persons of our time to whom they do not apply more or less, (and perhaps there have been but few at any time,) that we are not surprised to find them even in his case far from superfluous. It remains for us to establish this by particular instances.

Mr. Lewis, under the word right, gives a definition of legal rights, and then lays it down that all rights are the creatures of law, that is, of the will of the sovereign; that the sovereign himself has no rights, nor can any one have rights as against the sovereign; because, being sovereign, he is by that supposition exempt from legal obligation, or legal responsibility. So far, so good Mr. Lewis then says, that to call any thing a right which cannot be enforced by law, is an abuse of language. We answer,—Not until mankind have consented to be bound by Mr. Lewis’s definition. For example, when Dr. Johnson says[*] that a man has not a moral right to think as he pleases, “because he ought to inform himself, and think justly,” Mr. Lewis says [p. 21] he must mean legal right; and adds other observations, proving that he has not even caught a glimpse of Johnson’s drift. Again, according to him, whoever asserts that no man can have a right to do that which is wrong, founds an argument upon a mere ambiguity, confounding a right with the adjective right: and this ambiguity is “mischievous, because it serves as an inducement to error, and confounds things as well as words.” [P. xv.]

Now, we contend that Mr. Lewis is here censuring what he does not thoroughly understand, and that the use of the word right, in both these cases, is as good logic and as good English as his own. Right is the correlative of duty, or obligation; and (with some limitations) is co-extensive with those terms. Whatever any man is under an obligation to give you, or to do for you, to that you have a right. There are legal obligations, and there are consequently legal rights. There are also moral obligations; and no one, that we know of considers this phrase an abuse of language, or proposes that it should be dispensed with. It seems, therefore, but an adherence to the established usage of our language, to speak of moral rights; which stand in the same relation to moral obligations as legal rights do to legal obligations. All that is necessary is to settle distinctly with ourselves, and make it intelligible to those whom we are addressing, which kind of rights it is that we mean; if we fail in which, we become justly liable to Mr. Lewis’s censure. It has not Edition: current; Page: [9] totally escaped Mr. Lewis that there may be some meaning in the phrase, moral rights; but he has, by no means, correctly hit that meaning. He expounds it thus, “claims recommended by views of justice or public policy;” the sort of claim a man may be said to have to anything which you think it desirable that he should possess. [P. 8.] No such thing. No man in his sound senses considers himself to be wronged every time he does not get what he desires; every man distinguishes between what he thinks another man morally bound to do, and what he merely would like to see him do; between what is morally criminal, a fit subject for complaint or reproach, and what excites only regrets, and a wish that the act had been abstained from. No system of moral philosophy or metaphysics that we ever heard of, denies this distinction; though several have undertaken to account for it, and to place it upon the right footing.

If you may say that it is the moral duty of subjects to obey their government, you may also express this by saying that government has a moral right to their obedience. If you may say that it is the moral duty of sovereigns to govern well, or else to abdicate, you may say that subjects have a right to be well governed. If you may say, that it is morally culpable in a government to attempt to retain its authority, contrary to the inclinations of its subjects; you may say, that the people have a right to change their government. All this, without any logical inaccuracy, or “abuse of language.” We are not defending this phraseology as the best that can be employed; the language of right and the language of duty, are logically equivalent, and the latter has, in many respects, the advantage. We are only contending, that, whoever uses the word right shall not be adjudged guilty of nonsense, until it has been tried whether this mode of interpreting his meaning will make it sense. And this we complain that Mr. Lewis has not done.

To explain what we meant by saying that almost everything which Mr. Lewis sees has something lying under it which he does not see, we have now to shew, that, in catching at an imaginary ambiguity near the surface, he has missed the deeper and less obvious ambiguities by which men are really misled. Two of these we shall briefly set forth.

aSpeaking morally, you are said to have a right to do a thing, if all persons are morally bound not to hinder you from doing it. But, in another sense, to have a right to do a thing, is the opposite of having no right to do it,—bviz.b of being under a moral obligation to forbear cfromc doing it. In this sense, to say that you have a right to do a thing, means that you may do it without any breach of duty on your part, that other persons not only ought not to hinder you, but have no cause to think dthed worse of you for doing it. This is a Edition: current; Page: [10] perfectly distinct proposition from the preceding. The erighte which you have by virtue of a duty incumbent upon other persons, is obviously quite a different thing from a right consisting in the absence of any duty incumbent upon yourself. Yet the two things are perpetually confounded. Thus a man will say he has a right to publish his opinions; which may be true in this sense, that it would be a breach of duty in any other person to interfere and prevent the publication:—but he assumes thereupon, that in publishing his opinions, he himself violates no duty; which may either be true or false, depending, as it does, upon his having taken due pains to satisfy himself, first, that the opinions are true, and next, that their publication in this manner, and at this particular juncture, will probably be beneficial to the interests of truth, on the whole. fIn this sense of the word, a man has no right to do that which is wrong, though it may often happen that nobody has a right to prevent him from doing it.f

The second ambiguity is that of confounding a right, of any kind, with a right to enforce that right by resisting or punishing a violation of it. gMeng will say, for example, that they have a right to hah good government; which is undeniably true, it being the moral duty of their governors to govern them well. But in granting this, you are supposed to have admitted their right or liberty to turn out their governors, and perhaps to punish them, for having failed in the performance of this duty; which, far from being the same thing, is by no means universally true, but depends upon an immense number of varying circumstances,a and is, perhaps, altogether the knottiest question in practical ethics. This example involves both the ambiguities which we have mentioned.

We have dwelt longer on this one topic than the reader perhaps will approve. We shall pass more slightly over the remainder.

Our author treats with unqualified contempt all that has been written by Locke and others, concerning a state of nature and the social compact. [Pp. 185ff.] In this we cannot altogether agree with him. The state of society contemplated by Rousseau, in which mankind lived together without government, may never have existed, and it is of no consequence whether it did so or not. The question is not whether it ever existed, but whether there is any advantage in supposing it hypothetically; as we assume in argument all kinds of cases which never occur, in order to illustrate those which do. All discussions respecting a state of nature are inquiries what morality would be if there were no law. This is the real scope of Locke’s Essay on Government,[*] rightly understood: whatever is objectionable in the details did not Edition: current; Page: [11] arise from the nature of the inquiry, but from a certain wavering and obscurity in his notion of the grounds of morality itself. Nor is this mode of viewing the subject, we conceive, without its advantages, in an enlarged view, either of morality or law. Not to mention that, as is observed by Locke himself, all independent governments, in relation to one another, are actually in a state of nature, subject to moral duties but obeying no common superior;[*] so that the speculations which Mr. Lewis despises, tend, in international morality at least, to a direct practical application.

Even the social compact, (though a pure fiction, upon which no valid argument can consequently be founded,) and the doctrine connected with it, of the inalienable and imprescriptible rights of man, had this good in them, that they were suggested by a sense, that the power of the sovereign, although, of course, incapable of any legal limitation, has a moral limit, since a government ought not to take from any of its subjects more than it gives. Whatever obligation any man would lie under in a state of nature, not to inflict evil upon another for the sake of good to himself, that same obligation lies upon society towards every one of its members. If he injure or molest any of his fellow-citizens, the consequences of whatever they may be obliged to do in self-defence, must fall upon himself; but otherwise, the government fails of its duty, if on any plea of doing good to the community in the aggregate, it reduces him to such a state, that he is on the whole a loser by living in a state of government, and would have been better off if it did not exist. This is the truth which was dimly shadowed forth, in howsoever rude and unskilful a manner, in the theories of the social compact and of the rights of man. It was felt, that a man’s voluntary consent to live under a government, was the surest proof he could give of his feeling it to be beneficial to him: and so great was the importance attached to this sort of assurance, that where an express consent was out of the question, some circumstance was fixed upon, from which, by stretching a few points, a consent might be presumed. But the test is real, where, as in imperfectly settled countries, the forest is open to the man who is not contented with his lot.

Notwithstanding the length to which our remarks have extended, we cannot overlook one or two passages, less remarkable for their importance, than as proofs of the haste with which Mr. Lewis must have examined the authors and even the passages he has criticised.

Thus, where Mr. Bentham recommends natural procedure in the administration of justice, in opposition to technical, Mr. Lewis observes, that as it is impossible to suppose that any mode of judicial procedure should be left to the discretion of the judge guided by no rules, the word natural, in this case, “seems to be a vague term of praise, signifying that system which, to the writer, seems most expedient.” [Pp. 182-3.] It shews but little knowledge Edition: current; Page: [12] of Mr. Bentham’s habits of mind, to account in this way, of all others, for any phraseology he may think proper to adopt. The fact is, as has been explained a hundred times by Mr. Bentham himself,—that by natural procedure, he means what he also calls domestic procedure; viz. the simple and direct mode of getting at the truth which suggests itself naturally,—that is, readily and invariably, to all men who are inquiring in good earnest into any matter which, happening to concern themselves, they are really desirous to ascertain. That the technical methods of our own, and all other systems of law, are bad in proportion as they deviate from this, is what Mr. Bentham affirms, and, we will add, proves.

Again, when Mr. Mill speaks of the corruptive operation[*] of what are called the advantages of fortune, Mr. Lewis comments [pp. 184n-185n] upon the strangeness of this sentiment from the writer of a treatise on Political Economy;[†] that is, on the production and accumulation of wealth; and hints, that the work in question must have been composed with an object similar to that of a treatise on poisons. Did it never occur to Mr. Lewis, that Mr. Mill’s meaning might be, not that a people are corrupted by the amount of the wealth which they possess in the aggregate, but that the inequalities in the distribution of it have a tendency to corrupt those who obtain the large masses, especially when these come to them by descent, and not by merit, or any kind of exertion employed in earning them?

To add one instance more. Mr. Lewis falls foul of the often quoted sentence of Tacitus, “that the most degenerate states have the greatest number of laws; in corruptissimâ republicâ plurimæ leges;[‡] a position not only not true, but the very reverse of the truth, as the effect of the progress of civilization is to multiply enactments, in order to suit the extended relations, and the more refined and diversified forms of property, introduced by the improvement of society.” [P. 205.] Mr. Lewis is a scholar, and understands the words of Tacitus, but, in this case, it is clear, he has not understood the ideas. He has committed what he himself would call an ignoratio elenchi. By a corrupt society. Tacitus (we will take upon ourselves to assert) did not mean a rude society. The author was speaking of the decline of a nation’s morality, and the critic talks to you of the improvement of its industry. Tacitus meant, that, in the most immoral society, there is the most frequent occasion for the interposition of the legislator; and we venture to agree with him, thinking it very clear, that the less you are able to rely upon conscience and opinion, the Edition: current; Page: [13] more you are obliged to do by means of the law—a truth which is not only not the opposite of Mr. Lewis’s position, but stands in no logical relation to it at all, more than to the binomial theorem.

These are the blemishes of Mr. Lewis’s work. Yet they do not induce us to qualify our high opinion, both of the book and of its author. It is an able, and a useful publication; only, it is not a sufficient dissertation on the use and abuse of the leading political terms.

We have often thought, that a really philosophical Treatise on the Ambiguities of the Moral Sciences would be one of the most valuable scientific contributions which a man of first-rate intellectual ability could confer upon his age, and upon posterity. But it would not be so much a book of criticism as of inquiry. Its main end would be, not to set people right in their use of words, which you never can be qualified to do, so long as their thoughts, on the subject treated of, are in any way different from yours; but to get at their thoughts through their words, and to see what sort of a view of truth can be got, by looking at it in their way. It would then be seen, how multifarious are the properties and distinctions to be marked, and how few the words to mark them with, so that one word is sometimes all we have to denote a dozen different ideas, and that men go wrong less often than Mr. Lewis supposes, from using a word in many senses, but more frequently from using it only in one, the distinctions which it serves to mark in its other acceptations not being adverted to at all. Such a book would enable all kinds of thinkers, who are now at daggers-drawn, because they are speaking different dialects and know it not, to understand one another, and to perceive that, with the proper explanations, their doctrines are reconcilable: and would unite all the exclusive and one-sided systems, so long the bane of true philosophy, by placing before each man a more comprehensive view, in which the whole of what is affirmative in his own view would be included.

This is the larger and nobler design which Mr. Lewis should set before himself, and which, we believe, his abilities to be equal to, did he but feel that this is the only task worthy of them. He might thus contribute a large part to what is probably destined to be the great philosophical achievement of the era, of which many signs already announce the commencement; viz. to unite all half-truths, which have been fighting against one another ever since the creation, and blend them in one harmonious whole.

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London Review, I (July, 1835), 341-71 (equivalent to Westminster Review, XXX); headed: “Art IV. The Rationale of Political Representation. By the Author of ‘Essays on the Formation of Opinions,’ &c. &c. [Samuel Bailey.] London, 1835. Hunter, 8vo., pp. 436.” Signed “A”; republished in part as first section of “Appendix,” Dissertations and Discussions, I, 467-70. Running title: “Rationale of Representation.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A review of Bailey’s ‘Rationale of Political Representation’ in the second number of the London Review (July 1835.)” (MacMinn, 44.) The copy of this article in the Somerville College Library has no corrections or emendations. Also in Somerville is a sewn, uncut offprint, without title, numbered 1-31, and signed “A”. (In the offprint, parts of which are reset, there are no corrections; some accidental variants appear [these are not accepted in the present text], the typographical error at 25.38 is retained, and two more are introduced.) The review is not mentioned in the Autobiography. For comment on the circumstances of its publication, see the Textual Introduction, lxxii-lxxiii above.

In selecting a portion of this review for republication in “Appendix,” D&D, I, JSM made a few revisions (see 22-4 below). In the variant notes, “59” indicates D&D. 1st ed., 1859, “67” indicates ibid., 2nd ed., 1867. JSM also quotes from his “Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy” (see 42-3 below); the changes are shown as variants, in which “33” indicates “Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy.”

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Rationale of Representation

this is the work of a writer who, in the difficult art of making philosophy popular, has excelled most of his contemporaries; and his present is not inferior to the best of his former productions.

The theoretical grounds of Representative Government, and the solutions of the more momentous of its practical problems, are laid down by our author, in the spirit which is now nearly universal among the more advanced thinkers on the subject, but with a felicity of adaptation to the wants of the most numerous class of readers, which is peculiarly his own. In addition to this, several popular fallacies, of most extensive prevalence, and infecting the very elements of political speculation, are refuted, conclusively and forcibly, and with as much depth of philosophy as the purpose required. The thoughts succeed one another in the most lucid order. The style is perspicuity itself. To a practised student in abstract speculation, it will appear diffuse; but this, in a book intended for popularity, is far from being a defect. To common readers a condensed style is always cramped and obscure: they want a manner of writing which shall detain them long enough upon each thought to give it time to sink into their minds. Our author is not, indeed, entitled to the transcendant praise due to those who, like Hobbes or Bacon, employ at pleasure either the power of condensation or that of enlargement; dwelling on the idea until it has made its way into the understanding, and then clenching it by one of those striking images, or of those pregnant and apophthegmatic expressions, which sum up whole paragraphs in a line, and engrave the meaning as with a burning steel upon the imagination. But if our author’s style does not come up to this exalted standard, it is easy, flowing, always unaffected, and has the greatest of merits, that to which all other excellencies of manner are merely subsidiary—that of perfectly expressing whatever he has occasion to express by it.

The work consists of an Introduction, and six Chapters: “On the proper Object and Province of Government;” “On the Grounds of Preference for a Representative Government;” “On the Representative Body;” “On the Electoral Body;” “On Elections;” and “On the Introduction of Changes in Political Institutions;” with two supplementary essays “On Political Equality,” and “On Rights.”

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This programme gives a correct indication of the scope and purpose of the book. It is rightly termed “The Rationale of Political Representation,” not “The Rationale of Government.” It attempts an outline of a part only of the philosophy of government, not the whole. The philosophy of government, a most extensive and complicated science, would comprise a complete view of the influences of political institutions; not only their direct, but what are in general so little attended to, their indirect and remote influences: how they affect the national character, and all the social relations of a people; and reciprocally, how the state of society, and of the human mind, aids, counteracts, or modifies the effects of a form of government, and promotes or impairs its stability. Such is not the design of this work; and, considered in this comprehensive sense, the science itself is in its infancy.* But the advantages of a representative government, and the principles on which it must be constructed in order to realise those advantages, form a branch of the subject, the theory of which, so far as one branch can be considered separately from the rest, may be regarded as nearly perfect; and to the exposition of this, the work before us is dedicated.

It must be admitted also, that this one branch of the inquiry runs parallel, for a considerable distance, to the main trunk. The reasons for having a representative government, and the reasons for having a government at all, are, to a very considerable extent, identical. The ends or uses of government are indeed multifarious, since we may include among them all benefits, of whatever kind, to the existence of which government is indispensable; but the first and most fundamental of all, the only one the importance of which literally amounts to necessity, is to enable mankind to live in society without oppressing and injuring one another. And the need of a representative government rests upon precisely the same basis. As mankind, in a state of society, have need of government, because, without it, every strong man would oppress his weaker neighbour; so mankind, in a state of government, have need Edition: current; Page: [19] of popular representation, because, without it, those who wielded the powers of government would oppress the rest.

Of this fundamental truth an acute sense is manifested by our author. He rests the necessity of a popular government upon one primary axiom: “That men will, in the majority of cases, prefer their own interest to that of others, when the two are placed in competition.” (P. 68.) Whoever denies this, denies the principle on which, it is most certain, he himself habitually acts, when the interest at stake happens to be his own. It is the principle which all persons, when at liberty to follow their inclinations, uniformly observe in the guardianship of their own property. They do not appoint an agent, with liberty to do as he pleases, and without reserving the power of instantaneous dismissal. If they did, they would expect that the obligations of his trust would be disregarded, when in competition either with the interest of his pocket or with that of his ease.

“From this principle,” says our author, “that men will prefer their own interest to that of others, when the two are placed in competition, it follows, that the interest of the community at large will be uniformly consulted only when they have the regulation of their own affairs.” [P. 69.]

But since government cannot be performed by the community en masse; since “it is implied in the very notion of government, that a few are invested with authority over the rest; since, from the nature of the case, the legislative power must be lodged in the hands of a few; and as the few possessing it will be tempted in a thousand ways to sacrifice the public good to their own private interest;” [pp. 69, 70-1] here is but one resource:

It becomes essentially requisite to place them in such a position that their own interest, and the public good, shall be identified. The simple expedient which meets this is to make the office of legislator dependent on the will of the people. If his power were irresponsible, if it were subject to no direct control, if the improper exercise of it were not followed by evil consequences to the possessor, it would be inevitably abused; the public good would be neglected, and his own habitually preferred; but by the simple expedient of rendering the continuance of his power dependent on his constituents, his interest is forced into coincidence with theirs. Any sinister advantage which he might derive from the power intrusted to him would cease with the loss of the office, and he would have no inducement to pursue an advantage of that kind, if by so doing he unavoidably subjected himself to dismissal. Such is the general theory of political representation. An individual, under the title of a representative, is delegated by the people to do that which they cannot do in their own persons, and he is determined in his acts to consult the public good, by the power which they retain of dismissing him from the office.

(P. 71.)

One might have imagined, that if any propositions on public affairs deserved the character of maxims of common sense, these did. Views of human affairs more practical and business-like, more in accordance with the received Edition: current; Page: [20] rules of prudence in private life, it would be difficult to find. These doctrines, nevertheless, or at least the possibility of drawing any conclusions from them, have met with questioners. That human beings will commonly prefer their own interests to those of other people, and that the way to secure fidelity to a trust is to make the trustee’s interest coincide with his duty, have been classed among propositions which are either not true, or, if true at all, only in a sense in which they are insignificant and unmeaning. Nor has the assertion been made of these doctrines alone, but of all propositions relating to the motives of human actions. “When we pass,” it has been said, “beyond maxims which it is impossible to deny without a contradiction in terms, and which therefore do not enable us to advance a single step in practical knowledge, it is not possible to lay down a single general rule respecting the motives which influence human actions.”[*] Such was the doctrine maintained in a memorable article in the Edinburgh Review, by a writer, all whose ingenuity and brilliancy would not have made his subsequent fortunes what they have been, but for the grateful acceptance which this doctrine found in influential quarters.

Our author has no great difficulty in disposing of this theory:

Nothing [says he] can be more extraordinary than an assertion of this kind, in an age when, at all events, the nature of moral inquiries is better understood than formerly, however insignificant may have been our progress in the inquiries themselves. It is extraordinary, too, as having appeared in a work which is in the habit of favouring its readers with articles of distinguished ability on political economy, a science founded on “general rules respecting the motives which influence human actions,” and which is, further, in the habit of drawing out long deductions from such general rules. Whoever turns over its pages may find inferences constantly made from propositions like the following: “commercial countries will resort to the cheapest market;” “high duties on imported articles inevitably cause smuggling;” “unusually large profits in any trade attract capital to it;” “a rise in the price of corn forces capital on inferior soils.”

It would almost seem as if the reviewer was not aware that all these are general rules respecting the actions of men. To take the last proposition: we might conclude from his own doctrine, that he regarded the high price of corn as a physical agent propelling a material substance, called capital, upon a sterile field; and had forgotten that the proposition is an elliptical expression, under which is couched a law respecting human motives, and which virtually asserts, that when men become willing to give more money for corn, other men will be willing to grow it on land before uncultivated.

Political economy abounds with such laws; the common business of life abounds with them; every trade, every profession, legislation itself, abounds with them. Is not the whole system of penal legislation founded on the general rule, that if a punishment is denounced against any given act, there will be fewer instances of the commission of that act than if no penalty were annexed to it? Can Edition: current; Page: [21] there be a proposition which comes more decidedly under the designation of a general rule respecting the motives which influence human actions? Can there be a more certain law in physics, and can there be one more fertile in practical consequences? The very term, efficacy of punishment, is only an abridged expression of this law of human nature; it implies a general rule respecting the motives which influence human actions, and a rule on which all mankind unhesitatingly and habitually proceed, both in national legislation and private management.

(Pp. 16-18.)

He then shows, by copious examples, what it is strange should require to be exemplified in order to be understood—that a general proposition may be of the greatest practical moment, although not absolutely true without a single exception; and that in managing the affairs of great aggregations of human beings, we must adapt our rules to the nine hundred and ninety-nine cases, and not to the thousandth extraordinary case, “ ’Tis certain,” says Hume (in a remarkable passage quoted by our author), “that general principles, however intricate they may seem, must always, if they are just and sound, prevail in the general course of things, though they may fail in particular cases; and it is the chief business of philosophers to regard the general course of things. I may add, that it is also the chief business of politicians, especially in the domestic government of the state, when the public good, which is or ought to be their object, depends on the concurrence of a multitude of causes—not as in foreign politics, upon accidents and chances, and the caprices of a few persons.”[*]

“The views of political reasoning here advocated,” continues our author, “might be confirmed by an appeal to some of our ablest writers;” and among other apt quotations, he adds two from Burke, whom Conservatives of all denominations glorify as an oracle, because on one great occasion his prejudices coincided with theirs, but for whose authority they have not a shadow of respect when it tells against their vulgar errors.

Far [says our author] from regarding deductions from human nature as vain or frivolous, or leading to what are usually honoured by the designation of wild theories, he considers such deductions as opposed to speculative views, and as proceeding on experience Thus, in his Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, speaking of the plan of pacification pursued in 1776, in reference to our colonies, he says, “That plan being built on the nature of man, and the circumstances and habits of the two countries, and not on any visionary speculations, perfectly answered its end.”[†] And in his Speech on Economical Reform he tells the House, “I propose to economize by principle, that is, I propose to put affairs into that train, which Edition: current; Page: [22] experience points out as the most effectual from the nature of things, and from the constitution of the human mind.[*]

(Pp. 30-1.)

If principles of politics cannot be founded, as Burke says, “on the nature of man,” on what can they be founded? On history? But is there a single fact in history which can be interpreted but by means of principles drawn from human nature? We will suppose your fact made out: the thing happened (we will admit) as you affirm it did; but who shall tell what produced it?—the only question you want answered. On this subject our author has some instructive remarks, which we regret that our limits do not permit us to quote, as well as to corroborate by some others which we think necessary to complete the analysis of the subject. It is well worthy to be treated in a separate article.

It may be interesting to collate with our author’s refutation of the Edinburgh Reviewer, what the writer, who was the principal object of the reviewer’s attack, has deemed it needful to say in his defence. This is to be found in pp. 277 to 292 of a recent volume, entitled A Fragment on Mackintosh,[†] where it is shown that the necessity of identification of interest between the rulers and the ruled, and the probability (amounting practically to certainty) that, in so far as that identification is incomplete, the rulers will pursue their separate interest, to the detriment of the ruled, has been recognised as the foundation of political wisdom by almost all its greatest masters, ancient and modern. Well may the writer exclaim—“It is mortifying to find one’s self under the necessity of vindicating the wisdom of ages” against what he calls (not too severely) “pitiful objections.”[‡]

aFrom bthisb principle, of the necessity of identifying the interest of the government with that of the people, most of the practical maxims of a representative government are corollaries. All popular institutions are means towards rendering the identity of interest more complete. We say more complete, because (and this it is important to remark) perfectly complete it can never be. An approximation is all that is, in the nature of things, possible. By pushing to its utmost extent the accountability of governments to the people, you indeed take away from them the power of prosecuting their own interests at the expense of the people by force, but you leave to them the whole range and compass of fraud. An attorney is accountable to his Edition: current; Page: [23] client, and removable at his client’s pleasure; but we should scarcely say that his interest is identical with that of his client. When the accountability is perfect, the interest of rulers approximates more and more to identity with that of the people, in proportion as the people are more enlightened. The identity would be perfect, only if the people were so wise, that it should no longer be practicable to employ deceit as an instrument of government: a point of advancement only one stage below that at which they could do without government altogether; at least, without force, and penal sanctions, not (of course) without guidance, and organized co-operation.

Identification of interest between the rulers and the ruled, being, therefore, in a literal sense, impossible to be realized, cmust notc be spoken of as a condition which a government must absolutely fulfil; but as an end to be incessantly aimed at, and approximated to as nearly as circumstances render possible, and as is compatible with the regard due to other ends. For dthed identity of interest, even if it were wholly attainable, not being the sole requisite of good government, expediency may require that we should sacrifice some portion of it, or (to speak more precisely) content ourselves with a somewhat less approximation to it than might possibly be attainable, for the sake of some other end.

The only end, liable occasionally to conflict with that which we have been insisting on, and at all comparable to it in importance—the only other condition essential to good government—is this: That it be government by a select body, not by the epeoplee collectively: That political questions be not decided by an appeal, either direct or indirect, to the judgment or will of an uninstructed mass, whether of gentlemen or of clowns; but by the deliberately-formed opinions of a comparatively few, specially educated for the task. This is an element of good government which has existed, in a greater or less degree, in some aristocracies, though unhappily not in our own; and has been the cause of whatever reputation for prudent and skilful administration those governments have enjoyed. It has seldom been found in any aristocracies but those which were avowedly such. Aristocracies in the guise of monarchies (such as those of England and France) have very generally been aristocracies of idlers; while the others (such as Rome, Venice, and Holland) might partially be considered as aristocracies of experienced and laborious men. fBut of all governments, ancient or modernf, the one by which this excellence is possessed in the most eminent degree is the government of Prussia—a gmostg powerfully and hskilfully organized aristocracy of allh the most highly educated men in the kingdom. The British government in India partakes (with considerable modifications) of the same character.

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iWherei this principle has been combined with other fortunate circumstances, and particularly (as in Prussia) with circumstances rendering the popularity of the government almost a necessary condition of its security, a very considerable degree of good government has occasionally been produced, jevenj without any express accountability to the people. Such fortunate circumstances, however, are seldom to be reckoned upon. But though the principle of government by persons specially brought up to it will not suffice to produce good government, good government cannot be had without it; and the grand difficulty in politics will for a long time be, how best to conciliate the two great elements on which good government depends; to combine the greatest amount of the advantage derived from the independent judgment of a specially instructed kFew, with the greatest degree of the security for rectitude of purpose derived from rendering those Few responsible to the Many.

What is necessary, however, to make the two ends perfectly reconcilable, is a smaller matter than might at first sight be supposed. It is not necessary that the Manyk should themselves be perfectly wise; it is sufficient, if they be duly sensible of the value of superior wisdom. It is sufficient if they be aware, that the majority of political questions turn upon considerations of which they, and all persons not trained for the purpose, must necessarily be very imperfect judges; and that their judgment must in general be exercised rather upon the characters and talents of the persons whom they appoint to decide these questions for them, than upon the questions themselves. They would then select as their representatives those whom the general voice of the instructed pointed out as the most instructed; and would retain them, so long as no symptom was manifested in their conduct of being under the influence of interests or of feelings at variance with the public welfare. This implies no greater wisdom in the people than the very ordinary wisdom, of knowing what things they are and are not sufficient judges of. If the bulk of any nation possess a fair share of this wisdom, the argument for universal suffrage, so far as respects that people, is irresistible: for, the experience of ages, and especially of all great national emergencies, bears out the assertion, that whenever the multitude are really alive to the necessity of superior intellect, they rarely fail to distinguish those who possess it.a

The opinions which we have been stating are substantially those of our author: from whose pages we now proceed to exemplify their application.

From the principle that the interest of the ruling body should be as closely as possible identified with that of the people, follow most of the conclusions respecting the constitution of the supreme legislature, which are commonly Edition: current; Page: [25] contended for by the thorough reformers. Such are—first, that the utmost possible publicity should be given to the proceedings of parliament: secondly, that its members should be elected at stated periods: thirdly, that these periods should be short; sufficiently so, to render the sense of responsibility a perpetual, not an occasional feeling. Our author thinks, with most of the complete reformers, that three years are “the longest period consistent with a salutary sense of accountableness.” (P. 203.) Fourthly, the votes at elections must be so taken, as to express the real sentiments of the electors, and not the sentiments merely of some person who has the means of bribing or of coercing them. This, where there are great inequalities of fortune, and where the majority of all classes but the richest are more or less in a dependent condition, requires that the votes be taken in secret. All these topics are handled in our author’s best manner. We shall quote one passage from near the end of the discussion on the ballot; and should have extended our quotation, had not the subject been so recently and so fully treated by ourselves.[*] After replying to some of the common objections on the ballot, our author says—

The great opposition to secret voting does not, however, arise from the consideration of its being unmanly or un-English, or leading to insincerity and deception, but from a deeper source—from a feeling which many who entertain it perhaps would not avow even to themselves, although others make no scruple of publicly declaring it. The higher classes fear to commit the election of legislators to the genuine sentiments of the people. They have so long exercised a power over the community, by means of the brute force of rank and riches applied to the hopes and fears of those below them, that they have accustomed themselves to regard it as a salutary and even necessary control. It has relieved them too from a great part of the trouble of being intelligent, active, and virtuous. They have found it much easier to arrive at the office of legislator, by throwing away a few thousand pounds for a seat, or ejecting a few miserable tenants as a terror to the rest, than by winning affection through their virtues, or commanding esteem by their superior intelligence and well-directed activity. To men accustomed to domineer over the wills of their fellow-creatures, it is intolerably irksome to be reduced to the necessity of appealing to their understandings. Having been obliged to concede, nevertheless, a more popular system of representation, having been reduced to the necessity of ostensibly yielding the elective franchise to those who never before possessed it, they are unwilling to trust the real exercise of it to the parties on whom it is conferred by law. They consent to confide the privilege to a popular constituency, but only as instruments to receive a direction from a higher guidance. They cannot bear the idea for a moment of trusting the machinery to work by its own inherent power. They therefore oppose a system of voting which would snatch this domination out of their hands—which would really give to the people what the law professes to bestow upon them, which would effect what has never yet been effected in this country, that the issue of the elections should express the genuine sense of the constituent body. Here indeed Edition: current; Page: [26] would be an end to all the despotic sway of rank and riches; by this would be established the fatal necessity of combining them with moral and intellectual excellence: on this system there would be a lamentable predominance conferred on talents and virtues. Those theretore do perfectly right to oppose the ballot, who fear that it would annihilate that unjust influence in elections which they have hitherto enjoyed from mere wealth and station; who are apprehensive that to maintain themselves on the vantage-ground where they have been set down by fortune, they would have to task all their faculties: who recoil from the labour of thought, and shrink from the hardship of being useful. All those, in a word, who wish to retain any unfair domination over others in the business of elections, should rouse themselves to resist the adoption of the ballot, as utterly destructive of the object of their desires.

(Pp. 296-8.)

We believe this to be a true picture of the feelings of at least the most powerful class among the enemies of popular institutions. Experience proves but too truly, that “to men accustomed to domineer over the wills of their fellow-creatures, it is intolerably irksome to be reduced to the necessity of appealing to their understandings.” The hands which have ruled by force will not submit to rule by persuasion. A generation at least must elapse, before an aristocracy will consent to seek by fair means the power they have been used to exercise by foul. And yet, their portion of importance under popular institutions is no niggardly one, unless made so by their own perverseness. In every country where there are rich and poor, the administration of public affairs would, even under the most democratic constitution, be mainly in the hands of the rich; as has been the case in all the republics of the old world, ancient and modern. Not only have the wealthy and leisured classes ten times the means of acquiring personal influence, ten times the means of acquiring intellectual cultivation, which any other person can bring into competition with them; but the very jealousies, supposed to be characteristic of democracy, conspire to the same result. Men are more jealous of being commanded by their equals in fortune and condition, than by their superiors. Political power will generally be the rich man’s privilege, as heretofore; but it will no longer be born with him, nor come to him, as heretofore, while he is asleep. He must not only resign all corrupt advantage from its possession, but he must pay the price for it of a life of labour. More than this: he must consent to associate with his poorer fellow-citizens, as if there existed between him and them something like human feelings, and must give over treating them as if they were a race to be kept coldly at a distance—a sort of beings connected with him by a less tie of sympathy than the brute animals of his household. Under really popular institutions, the higher classes must give up either this anti-social and inhuman feeling, or their political influence. Surely no good, hardly even any rational person, to whom the alternative was offered, would hesitate about the choice.

Is it not, then, a melancholy reflection, that in England (and in England, Edition: current; Page: [27] we believe, alone, among the great European nations) the youth of the aristocratic classes are even more intensely aristocratic than their fathers—more wedded to all that is most noxious in the privileges of their class—animated by a more violent hostility to those tendencies of their age, in accommodating themselves to which lies their sole chance of either being at ease in it, or exercising any beneficial influence over it? And how deeply ought this thought to impress upon us the necessity, the pressing and immediate necessity, of a radical reform in those institutions of education, which mould these youthful minds, and cherish, when they ought to counteract, the baneful influences exercised over them by the accident of their social position?

The question, Who should compose the constituency? is the next which presents itself. This is rather a more complicated question than any of the preceding, having to be decided by a compromise between conflicting considerations.

By making the members of the sovereign legislature elective, by sending them back to their constituents at short intervals, and by taking the votes in secret, we provide for the identity of their interest with that of the electors. But what if the interest of the electors differs from that of the community? We have then only an oligarchy of electors, instead of an oligarchy of senators. There is not the slightest reason for supposing that the former oligarchy will be less tenacious of its separate interest than the other, or less ready to sacrifice the public interest to it. Not only must the interest of the representatives be made, so far as possible, coincident with that of the electors, but the interest of the electors must be made coincident with the interest of the whole people.

If this principle were to be followed out, without limitation from any other principle, it would, we conceive, lead to universal suffrage. Imposing authorities, it is true, have held that a portion of the people may be found, much less than the whole, whose interest, so far as government is concerned, is identical with that of the whole. A portion might undoubtedly be found, less than the whole, whose interest would generally lie in good government, and only occasionally in bad. But complete identity of interest appears to us to be unattainable: (we are speaking, of course, as our argument requires, of selfish interest.)* The identity which is contended for cannot be identity Edition: current; Page: [28] in all things, but only in those which properly fall within the province of government. The payers of wages, for instance, and the receivers, have opposite interests on the question of high or low wages; but as this is a question in which the interference of government cannot be really beneficial to either, the interest of both, so far as relates to the purposes of government, is (it may be contended) the same. Admitting, however (which is more than we are prepared to admit), that there exists no mode in which the middle classes could really benefit their selfish interests at the expense of the poorer class, by means of their exclusive possession of the government; still, when there is a real diversity of interest between two parties, although confined to matters with which law cannot beneficially interfere, and the powers of law are in the hands of one party, it is rarely that we do not witness some Edition: current; Page: [29] attempt, well or ill advised, to make those powers instrumental to the peculiar purposes of the one party; and if these purposes are not thereby compassed, yet the interests of the other party often suffer exceedingly by the means used to compass them. Such, for example, were the laws against combinations of workmen;[*] and the laws which have existed at some periods of our history, fixing a maximum of wages. Nor is the evil annihilated although the excluded be a minority: the small number of the oppressed diminishes the profits of oppression, but does not always weaken the feelings which lead to it. Is the interest of the free blacks in the northern states of America the same with that of the whites? If so, why are they a kind of outcasts? So long, therefore, as any person capable of an independent will is excluded from the elective franchise, we cannot think that the evils of Edition: current; Page: [30] misgovernment, in so far as liable to arise from a diversity of interest between the ruling body and the community, are entirely guarded against.

There are, however, other evils to be contended with, besides those arising from diversity of interest; and granting, that, by the exclusion of one class from the suffrage, something must be given up of the identity of interest between the constituency and the entire community, yet if some purpose of more than equivalent utility be attained by the sacrifice, it may still be advisable. And this, in our author’s opinion, is the case. He proposes that a certain portion of identity of interest should be sacrificed, for the sake of obtaining a higher average degree of intelligence. That this is an object worth attaining at some cost, nobody will deny. A certain measure of intelligence in the electors is manifestly indispensable: a much larger measure would be eminently desirable; and if any test, even an approximative one, could be obtained of its existence, without trenching too much upon the identity of interest, the exclusion from the franchise of all who could not pass that test would add to the securities for good government. But when our author contends that such an approximative test may be found in the possession of a certain amount of property, we can only partially agree with him. It is but fair to quote the passage.

We must admit at once, that it [the possession of property] is a very inexact criterion [of knowledge;] and in regard to some classes, no criterion at all. It is not true that knowledge is in proportion to wealth. A man of 50,000l. a year would probably be found less intelligent and capable of discrimination than a man of 1000l. Great wealth relaxes the motives to exertion, and efficient knowledge is not to be attained without labour. Place a man in boundless affluence, and (to use a phrase of a masterly writer) you shelter and weather-fend him from the elements of experience.[*]

When, however, we descend lower in the scale, we find a different result. People who are raised above the necessity of manual toil can afford to cultivate their minds, and have time and motives for giving some attention to the acquisition of knowledge. One of the first effects of wealth on those who acquire it, is a desire to bestow a liberal education on their children, which of itself tends to maintain a superiority on the side of the rich. Knowledge, like many other things, is an article not readily acquired without pecuniary expense, nor yet without leisure; and, as a general rule, those who can afford to make the necessary outlay of time and money will have the greatest quantity of the commodity. Thus, people of two hundred a year will be found on the average to possess more extensive knowledge than people of fifty pounds a year, and the possessors of two thousand more than those of two hundred Numerous exceptions to this rule will present themselves; but it is sufficient that it prevails on the whole, and affords the best criterion which we can obtain. If it holds on the whole, it will be practically useful.

(Pp. 231-2.)
Edition: current; Page: [31]

These propositions must, we think, be greatly qualified. They are true until we rise above the class which cannot read, or which never does read, and consequently takes no interest in political affairs; for though the intelligence of many people does not come to them by reading, the habit of applying that intelligence to public matters commonly does. But when, ascending in the scale, we reach a class which habitually reads, especially which reads newspapers, we suspect that we attain as high an average of intelligence as is to be found in any class not expressly bred and educated for some intellectual profession. We are speaking, of course, of England: in any country possessing a really national education, both for rich and poor, the case, we allow, would be different. But in this country, and at this time, between an average Birmingham gun-maker, an average London shopkeeper, and an average country gentleman, we suspect the differences of intelligence are more apparent than real. The land-holder, we find, has just as little foresight of the consequences of his actions; miscalculates as egregiously in his own conduct, both public and private; hates just as intensely all who, from however patriotic motives, set themselves against any of the things which he likes; despises as sincerely, under the name of theorists and visionaries, all who see farther than himself; is as incapable of feeling the force of any arguments which conflict with his own opinion of his immediate and direct interest. These are the tests of intelligence, and not the being able to repeat Propria quœ maribus.[*] If the bulk of our operative manufacturers are to be excluded from the suffrage, it must be, we suspect, on quite other grounds than inferiority of intelligence to those who are permitted to exercise it.

We have never been able to understand why, if the real object in excluding poverty were to exclude ignorance and vice, the test should not be applied to ignorance and vice directly, and not to something which is a mere presumption of their existence. It would be easy to exclude all who cannot read, write, and cipher. If a higher test be desirable, there would be no great difficulty in contriving it. If there were here (as there are in Prussia, and as there would be in every country where the good of the people was cared for) schools for all, under the superintendence of the state, the test might be a certificate from the teacher at the public or some other school, of having passed creditably through it. A test of morality would, in the present state of society, be not so easy to devise; something, however, might be done towards it. To have been seen drunk, during the year previous, might be a disqualification at the annual registry. To have received parish relief during Edition: current; Page: [32] the same time, might be equally so. Conviction for any criminal offence might disqualify for a longer period, or for ever.

The most rational argument which we can conceive, for the exclusion of those who are called persons of no property, would be founded, not on inferiority of intellect, but on difference in apparent interest. All classes (it might be said) are in a most imperfect state of intelligence and knowledge; so much so, that they cannot be expected to be, and, as experience shows, hardly ever are, accessible to any views of their own ultimate interest which rest upon a train of reasoning. Since, then, it is certain that those who enjoy the franchise will exercise it in the manner dictated, not by their real and distant, but by their apparent and immediate interest, let us at least select, as the depositaries of power, those whose apparent and immediate interest is allied with the great principles on which society rests, the security of property, and the maintenance of the authority of law. These, we are sure, are safe in the hands of the possessors of property: an equal regard for them on the part of those without property would suppose a much higher degree of intelligence, since the latter benefit by them so much less obviously and directly, though not less really, than the former.

This places the question on a distinct and tangible issue; namely, whether the body of the operatives, or that portion of the body whom the rest follow, do in fact entertain opinions or feelings at variance with any of the primary principles of good government. This is a question not of argument, but of fact; and as such we think the question of universal suffrage ought always to be considered. That the prevalence of such mischievous opinions and feelings, and the difficulty of eradicating them where they exist, are vastly exaggerated, we have good reason to be assured: to what extent they really are entertained, we have no means of accurately knowing; and our belief is, that almost all persons of what are called the educated classes, if they have any opinion on the point, have it without evidence.

Happily there is no necessity for a speedy decision of the question. Many important things are yet to be done, before universal suffrage can even be brought seriously into discussion: and it will probably never be introduced, unless preceded by such improvements in popular education as will greatly weaken the apprehensions at present entertained of it. The middle classes, too, if freed from the coercive power of the rich, have an interest absolutely identical with that of the community on all the questions likely to engage much of the attention of parliament for many years to come; and no one is disposed to deny that we ought cautiously to feel our way, and watch well the consequences of each extension of the suffrage before venturing upon another. With a people like the English, whose feelings are not apt to be kindled by an abstract principle, but only by a practical grievance, very ordinary prudence would enable us to stop short at the point where good Edition: current; Page: [33] government is practically attained.

We return to the volume before us, from which we shall not again permit ourselves to stray so far.

Our author brings forward, with the prominence which justly belongs to them, several of the requisites of a well-constituted representative government, the importance of which is still far from being adequately felt. One is, that the supreme legislature should be relieved from the weight of purely local business which now oppresses it, by the establishment of subordinate representative assemblies.

Every district, [says he,] would not only send representatives to the supreme assembly, but have its own domestic legislature for provincial purposes; in which all matters relating to its roads, bridges, prisons, court-houses, and assessments, and other points concerning itself alone, might be determined. In England, at present, large sums are collected under the name of county rates, and expended (frequently with lavish profusion) under the control of the magistrates at quarter-sessions, who virtually do part of what is here assigned to a district assembly; while of the rest, some is neglected, and some is done in a hasty and slovenly manner by Parliament.

Such a district assembly would be the proper body to take cognizance of all projects for canals, rail-roads, gas-works, water-works, and other undertakings, which, on account of trespassing on private property, could not be executed without the authority of the law. Every one must see at a glance how great would be the relief to the national legislature, if all these minor matters were resigned to other bodies more competent to deal with them. Nec deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus,[*] should be the principle of the supreme assembly. It should rigorously abstain from doing what can be done as well or better without its interference, and direct its undivided energies to those points which involve the welfare of the whole empire, or which subordinate powers are incompetent to effect.

On all the subjects mentioned as the proper business of subordinate authorities, the supreme legislature might pass general regulations in strict accordance with the principle here maintained. It might enact, for instance, certain general provisions in regard to the making of canals; but whether a particular canal should be made between two towns in Yorkshire might be left for Yorkshire itself to decide. The supreme legislature would also determine the objects and define the powers of the subordinate legislatures, and be the ultimate court of appeal in all cases of difference and difficulty amongst them.

It is evidently one of the worst possible arrangements, that the time of the supreme legislative assembly, which would find ample occupation in the preparation and perfecting of general enactments, should be taken up with matters of only local interest, and sometimes of merely individual concern; that it should be occupied with bills for changing names, alienating estates, supplying towns with water and lighting them by gas. While this continues to be the case, it is both morally and physically impossible there can be that degree of excellence in Edition: current; Page: [34] legislation, which the present state of knowledge admits. It is a system which acts injuriously in both directions; a system on which neither enactments of a local nor those of a national kind can possibly be of the same beneficial character as if the preparation of them were devolved on separate assemblies.

(Pp. 93-5.)

On this question, which has already occupied ourselves, and to which we shall return again and again, this is not the place to enlarge.

Another change for which our author earnestly contends, is a large reduction in the numbers of the House of Commons. This had already been advocated by Mr. Bulwer, in his England and the English,[*] and was one of the many points in which that valuable work was in advance of the public mind. “Large assemblies,” our author justly observes [p. 161], “are unfit for deliberation;” and the immense consumption of the time of parliament, and neglect of the real business of the nation, which arises from the struggles of several hundred men, of few ideas and many words, to give their vocabulary an airing, is gradually forcing upon thinking persons the conviction, that, as our author proposes, the House should be reduced to one-half or one-third of its present numbers. A step, though but a small one, was made towards this important improvement by the first Reform Bill,[†] which broke in upon the magical number, 658; and it is to be regretted that the principle was given up, in deference to the most hypocritical clamour ever raised by Tories under the false pretence of zeal for popular rights. To diminish the number of the members of the House of Commons was treated as diminishing the amount of popular representation! As well might it be said, that the Spartans had twice as much government as we have, because they had two kings, while we have but one. Popular government does not consist in having the work done by more hands than are necessary to do it, but in having those hands, whether few or many, subject to popular control.

To the other strong reasons for reducing the numbers of the House, will sooner or later be added one of economy. We mean, of course, when the members are paid—a change to which we shall certainly come, and of which our author is a warm advocate:

This expedient, [says he,] seems to be required at all events, in order to secure the services of the ablest men, and to give the greatest intensity to the motives which impel the mind of the legislator to apply itself to the difficulties of the task, as well as to enhance the vigilance of the constituent body, by teaching them the value of his services, and of their own suffrages, in a way which the dullest amongst them can understand. Under such an arrangement, men of energetic and comprehensive minds, trained to vigorous personal and intellectual exertion, but who are obliged to devote themselves to pursuits yielding a profitable return, and are consequently at present either excluded from the legislature, or are mere Edition: current; Page: [35] cyphers in it, would be, with all their faculties, at the command of the public. Men of this description, so gifted, and so placed above private cares, would be invaluable; for instead of giving that lazy gentlemanly attention to public questions, which, in their own apprehension at least, is all that can be reasonably expected from unpaid representatives living in luxurious opulence; or that casual and intermitting, and brief attendance on their duties, which is all that professional practitioners can bestow, they would make their legislative functions the business of their lives. Strenuous intellectual exertion, except in the case of a few extraordinary minds to which it is a pleasure, as severe corporeal exercise is to a man of great muscular strength, is irksome, and seldom habitually undertaken without a powerful external motive. It is surely policy in a nation to furnish this motive for due application to national affairs.

(Pp. 193-4.)

In nearly all ages and countries, popular governments have found it for their interest that all the functionaries whom they employ should be paid. The unpaid is apt to become the self-paid, and to cost dearest of all: his work, at the best, is dilettante work, and is put aside from the smallest call of business or pleasure. Moreover, an unpaid legislature and an unpaid magistracy are institutions essentially aristocratic: contrivances for keeping legislation and judicature in the hands exclusively of those who can afford to serve without pay. This in itself may seem but a small consideration: the important matter is not by whom we are governed, but how:—with due securities for their being properly qualified, we should not complain, although the whole legislature were composed of millionnaires. But those securities are themselves weakened, by narrowing the range of the people’s choice. It is matter of general remark, how few able men have appeared of late years in parliament. What wonder? when, of the able men whom the country produces, nine-tenths at least are of the class who cannot serve without pay; and, for the first time since the constitution assumed its modern form, the members of the House of Commons are now practically unpaid. The rich have advantages in their leisure, and command of the means of instruction, which will render it easy for them, whenever they exert themselves, to be the ablest men in the community. That they do not take this trouble, is precisely because they are not exposed to the competition of the non-rich. Let in that competition upon them, if you would have them improve. In political, as in all other occupations, if you would stimulate exertion, you must throw open all monopolies.

If the members of the legislature were paid, legislation would become—what, to be well discharged, it must become—a profession: the study and the occupation of a laborious life. On this point our author’s remarks are well worthy of an attentive perusal:

While the current of life flows on smoothly, the interest which each individual has in good government evidently makes little impression on his imagination, it consists, for the most part, of small fractions of benefit scarcely appreciable, of Edition: current; Page: [36] protection from evils, to which, as they are prevented from occurring, he is insensible; of advantages, which, to a superficial view, accrue to him only under particular circumstances, such as redress of wrong when he has occasion to appeal to the law. Most people are therefore supine and indifferent as to the general course of domestic policy, and especially indifferent as to the intellectual qualifications and conduct of their representatives. Their minds want awakening to the difficulty and importance of sound and accurate and systematic legislation. They may rest assured, that, in our complicated state of society, it is a business which requires as long and assiduous preparation as any profession which can be named; and as entire devotion to it, when its duties are once undertaken, as the calling of a lawyer or a physician, a merchant or an engineer. One chief reason why there are so many needless, blundering, crude, mischievous, and unintelligible enactments, is, that men have not dedicated themselves to legislation as a separate study or profession, but have considered it to be a business which might be played with in their hours of leisure from pursuits requiring intense exertion.

(Pp. 186-7.)

Political science is perhaps that department of intellectual exertion which requires the greatest powers of mind, and the intensest application. Its facts are multifarious and complicated, often anomalous and contradictory, and demanding the guidance of clear principles, its principles are many of them abstruse, and to be developed only by long and close processes of reasoning; and the application of these principles requires the sagacity of quick observation and long experience. The whole business calls for that familiarity of mind with the subject, which can be the result of nothing but habitual daily devotion to it.

In making laws, too, not only is there a demand for powers of mind to cope with the disorder and complication of facts, and the abstruseness of reasoning, but there ought to be also a complete mastery of language, that nice and delicate instrument of thought and communication, by the clumsy handling of which so much confusion and uncertainty is yearly produced in legislative enactments. Every word in a law is of importance; every sentence ought to exhibit that perfectness of expression which is to be looked for only from the skill and caution of undistracted minds. Well might Bentham observe, that the words of a law ought to be weighed like diamonds.

Is this, then, a matter to be dealt with by an exhausted professional man in what should be his hours of recreation? Can such a one be competent to a task hard enough for the mind which comes to it every day with all its vigour fresh, all its perspicacity undimmed, its spirit of activity unworn, and its feelings of interest unabsorbed? Is the refuse of an individual’s time and abilities what a people are to be content with from a representative to whom they confide the determination of measures in which their prosperity is deeply implicated? Is this sufficient for governing the destinies of a great nation?

(Pp. 184-6.)

Our author carries the practical application of this doctrine so far, as to propose (though, as he says, with some diffidence) that freedom from other business or professional avocation should be an indispensable qualification for being chosen a member of parliament. There is no doubt that it ought to be a strong recommendation, but we would not exact it by express law. It will occasionally happen, though, under a better system, much less Edition: current; Page: [37] often than at present, that half the time of one competitor is of more value than the whole time of another; and when the electoral body is rightly constituted, we know not why its choice should be fettered. We would not give power by handfuls with one hand, and take it back in spoonfuls with the other. If the people can be trusted at all, it is not in the estimation of these obvious grounds of disqualification that they are likely to be found deficient.* In the present state of society, the effect of the provision which our author desires to introduce would, we fear, be seriously mischievous: it would throw the whole business of legislation, and of control over the executive, into the hands of the idlers; excluding from parliament almost the only persons who bring habits of application and capacity for business into it. This objection, no doubt, would not exist, or at least not in the same degree, under the increased responsibility to the people which our author’s argument contemplates.

Neither would we, with our author [p. 181], require as a legal qualification “maturity of years,” beyond that which is now required. It will not, we suppose, be denied that a young man may render good service in Parliament; and if so, it may be that you have no other person who will render it as well. It might be proper enough to treat youth as a disqualification, if we were sure of finding old men suitable to our purpose: but considering the scarcity of fit men at any age, and the abundance of unfit men at all ages, we would not risk depriving ourselves of even one of the former for the sake of shutting out myriads of the latter. If your electors are likely persons to choose an unfit man, no sweeping rule of exclusion will prevent them from finding one. Nor do we see in so strong a light as our author the danger to be guarded against. It is not probable that, under any system but one of private nomination, very young men would ever compose any considerable proportion of the legislature: already the Reform Bill is understood to have excluded from the House most of the idle young men of family who formerly composed so large a portion of it: when, too, provincial assemblies, properly representative of the people, shall have been established, young men will serve their apprenticeship to public business there rather than in parliament. Those who Edition: current; Page: [38] are chosen in spite of so strong a ground of just prejudice, are likely to be among the ablest of their years; and, at least in an age of movement, it is not among young men that the greatest measure of political incapacity is usually found. It is true, as our author says, that “in legislation, as in other arts, there is a tact, a nicety of judgment, an intuitive apprehension of the relations of things, a wisdom which age, indeed, does not always bring, but which age alone can bestow.” [P. 180.] But the young members will not be called upon to be the actual framers of laws: they will only assist in judging of them. The general spirit and direction of the proceedings of the House will be determined by that immense majority of its members who will always be persons of mature years; and it would not be altogether useless to counteract the apathy and prejudice of age by a small infusion even of the conceit and dogmatism of youth. Age is naturally conservative, and unless some weight be placed in the other scale, there will be danger lest the timid and sluggish should give too much of their character to the entire mass.

Our author strongly condemns the degrading practice of canvassing. In a healthy state of moral feeling, to solicit an elector would be deemed an exactly similar insult to that of soliciting a juror.

If the moral sentiments of the community had not been debased on this point by the long prevalence of a corrupt practice, they would feel that there was something not only degrading but ludicrous in the procedure of a candidate, who circulates himself from house to house for the purpose of soliciting votes from electors as so many gracious boons. On the supposition that the candidate happens to be really the best man for the office, it is asking them to have the condescension and kindness to consult their own interest out of pure favour to him. On the supposition that he is otherwise, it is craving them to be so exceedingly liberal and obliging as to disregard their own interest, and give a preference to his. In the one case, the request bears no mark of wisdom; in the other, none of modesty: in both cases, it is utterly inconsistent with manly independence.

It is true, that what is called canvassing does not necessarily assume this form. A candidate, when personally visiting the electors at their own homes, may limit himself to an explanation of his opinions, and to a proper and dignified exposition of his qualifications for the office, without stooping to the ludicrousness or servility of craving as a boon what ought to be either withheld, or given because it is the interest at once and the duty of the elector to give it. But even in this case, mark the inefficiency, the uselessness, of a personal visit; consider in what degree the candidate can set forth his pretensions in the few minutes which he can dedicate to the task of enlightening the minds of the individual electors on the subject of his merits and opinions. How degrading soever the procedure may be, there is some purpose answered by visiting a man, even for a few minutes, with the view of prevailing on him to give a promise, a few minutes may suffice for obtaining from him a yes or a no: but to devote to him only so brief a period, with the view of enabling him to form a judgment of the qualifications of the candidate, is a fruitless sacrifice of time and labour, for a purpose which can be effectually accomplished by public addresses. Of this folly few, it may be presumed, are guilty. The usual object of a personal canvass is to sway the will, not Edition: current; Page: [39] to guide or enlighten the judgment; and it must be admitted to produce in general a considerable effect. The more servile the candidate shows himself to be, the freer from scruples, from dignity, and self-respect, the fuller of artifices in adapting himself to the feelings and prejudices of the electors, so much the greater is his success likely to prove.

In every way in which the system of canvassing can be regarded, it is evil: there is nothing to recommend it; and if it prevails in any country where public sentiment does not promise to put it down, it perhaps might be put down with advantage by a legal prohibition. The experiment of prohibiting candidates and their friends from canvassing has been tried by some public charitable institutions in the election of their officers, and has proved decidedly beneficial in the few instances which have occurred since the adoption of the rule.

(Pp. 305-8.)

We can add nothing to this masterly exposure.

Our author is no less decided in his condemnation of the practice of giving instructions to representatives, and of requiring pledges from candidates. We fully concur in his sentiments. The business of the constituency is to select as their representative the person best qualified, morally and intellectually, to form a sound judgment of his own on political questions; and having done this, they are not to require him to act according to their judgment, any more than they require a physician to prescribe for them according to their own notions of medicine.

Whenever we employ a man to do what his superior knowledge enables him to do better than ourselves, it is because the superiority of his knowledge, combined with his weaker disposition to promote our interest, will, on the whole produce a better result than our inferior knowledge, coupled with our stronger disposition. So it is when we appoint a political deputy: we can obtain the benefit of his services only by encountering the risk of trusting him. The advantage we look for at his hands is incompatible with retaining the direction of his conduct.

(P. 127.)

It is not, then, to the power of instructing their representative, that constituents are to look for an assurance that his efforts will be faithfully applied to the public service, for that would be inconsistent with the most enlightened legislation; but it is to the power of reducing him from the elevation to which their suffrages have raised him. What properly belongs to them is not a power of directing, but of checking, not a power of previous dictation, but a power of reward and punishment on a review of what he has done. The object to be obtained is not to compel the representative to decide agreeably to the opinions of his constituents, for that would be compelling him often to decide against his better judgment: but it is to force him to decide with a single view to the public good, and, at the same time, to obtain the full benefit of his intelligence. It is by leaving him unshackled with positive instructions, while he is subject to the ultimate tribunal of the opinion of his constituents, that the end in view is to be accomplished, of bringing into action, in the proceedings of the legislature, the greatest practicable quantity of intelligence, under the guidance of the purest disposition to promote the welfare of the community.

The relation between a representative and his constituents may be illustrated Edition: current; Page: [40] by a reference to the analogical relation which exists, and to which we have already slightly adverted, in the mutual circumstances of the physician and his patients. The security which patients have for the best application of the physician’s skill does not arise from any ability of theirs to direct his practice, but from the circumstance of having in their own hands the power of choice. In the nature of the case they must place great confidence in his conduct, if they would obtain the benefit of his knowledge. When they select him, they are guided by such evidence as is within their reach respecting his qualifications. They may not always make the wisest choice; because, not being competent judges of the science, they must depend, in a great measure, on collateral facts, or evidence of an indirect character, and are sometimes swayed by irrelevant motives; but the power of selection and dismissal is the most effectual means of securing the best services of those whom they choose; and there can be little doubt that, on the system of each individual selecting his own medical attendant, and trusting to his discretion, patients fare better than on any other plan. And although they cannot antecedently judge of the medical treatment necessary in their case, nor direct the curative process, yet after recovery they can frequently form a tolerable estimate of the skill which has been evinced, and can always appreciate the care and attention of the practitioner; whence there are evidently strong inducements acting on his mind to please and benefit his patients.

(Pp. 129-31.)

We consider this point, as we have intimated in a former passage, to be fundamental; and to constitute, in reality, the test whether a people be ripe for the sound exercise of the power of complete control over their governors, or not. The parallel holds exactly between the legislator and the physician. The people themselves, whether of the high or the low classes, are, or might be, sufficiently qualified to judge, by the evidence which might be brought before them, of the merits of different physicians, whether for the body politic or natural; but it is utterly impossible that they should be competent judges of different modes of treatment. They can tell that they are ill; and that is as much as can rationally be expected from them. Intellects specially educated for the task are necessary to discover and apply the remedy.

But though the principle that electors are to judge of men, and representatives of measures (as a king or a minister appoints a general, but does not instruct him when and how to fight) is of the very essence of a representative government, we cannot dissemble the fact, that it is a principle almost entirely inapplicable to the peculiar situation of this kingdom at the present moment. How can electors be required to repose in their representatives any trust which they can possibly withhold, when, for the purpose of purifying a political system which swarms with abuses, the circumstances of society oblige them to employ as their agents men of the very classes for whose benefit all abuses exist, and of whose disposition to reform any one particle of those abuses which it is possible to preserve they feel the most well-grounded doubts? Who can blame the exaction of pledges from such a man as the honorable member for St. Andrew’s,[*] under the circumstances Edition: current; Page: [41] in which those pledges were exacted?* We assume, of course, that the constituency had not the option of electing a better man. If they had, they have themselves to blame for not making use of it. For, in the words of a passage quoted by our author from Roscommon’s Letters for the Press—“When we have to employ our fellow-creatures in any office, we should in general act more wisely were we to choose those who possess qualities adapted to it, than were we to attempt to bend unsuitable qualities to our purposes, by the force of motives applied for the occasion.”[*] “There is one general consideration,” says our author, “which deserves to be urged on electors, in their choice of a representative: they must take the trouble to choose a fit man, and not expect a man to become fit for the situation by being placed in it.” (P. 427.)

In the chapter “On the Introduction of Changes in Political Institutions,” our author takes the opportunity of combating the celebrated doctrine of Lord Holland and Sir James Mackintosh, that “governments are not made, but grow.”[†] This maxim was probably suggested by the numerous examples of political reformers whose institutions have been ephemeral, for want of having a sufficient hold upon the respect of the people to command steady obedience, or upon their affections, to be defended with any zeal against assault. But because governments, like other works of human contrivance, may be constructed with insufficient foresight and skill, does it follow that foresight and skill are utterly unavailing, and that no governments can hope for the support of the people’s affections in times of civilization, but those produced by the fortuitous concourse of atoms in ages of barbarism? The doctrine is not only philosophically, but even historically false. The laws of Moses, those of Mahomet, were made, and did not grow: they had, it is true, Edition: current; Page: [42] the direct sanction of religious faith; but the laws of Lycurgus, the laws of Solon, were made, and were as durable as any laws which grew have hitherto been found. Those of Lycurgus, indeed, stand in history a monumentum ære perennius[*] of the practicability of Utopianism. Each of the North American colonies made a government: the whole of them confederated have also made a government—no bad example hitherto of adaptation to the wants of the people who live under it. Frederic of Prussia made a whole system of institutions, which still exists, and an excellent one. Bonaparte made another, which also in substance still exists, though an abominable one. All these governments, in so far as they have have had any stability, had it because they were adapted to the circumstances and wants of their age. That such adaptation can be made by preconceived and systematic design, every one of them is an example.

All that there is of truth in the favourite doctrine of Sir James Mackintosh amounts to a truism, which in theory has never been overlooked, howsoever in practice it may have been disregarded: That legislators and political reformers must understand their own age: That they must consider, not only what is best in itself, but what the people will bear; not only what laws to make, but how to make the people obey them: That they must forbear to establish any thing which, to make it work, requires the continued and strenuous support of the people themselves, unless, either in the ancient habits of the people, or at least in their durable and strenuous convictions, a principle exists which can be enlisted in favour of the new institution, and induce them to give it that hearty assistance without which it must speedily become inoperative. What has usually been wanting to the due observance of this maxim has been, not the recognition of it, but a sufficient practical sense, how great an element of stability that government wants which has not the authority of time:

lHowl very much of the really wonderful acquiescence of mankind in any government which they find established is the effect of mere habit and imagination, and therefore depends upon the preservation of something like continuity of existence in the institutions, and identity in their outward forms; cannot transfer itself easily to new institutions, even though in themselves preferable; and is greatly shaken when there occurs anything like a break in the line of historical duration—anything which can be termed the end of the old constitution and the beginning of a new one.m The very fact that a certain set of political institutions already Edition: current; Page: [43] exist, have long existed, and have become associated with all the historical recollections of a people, is in itself, as far as it goes, a property which adapts them to that people, and gives them a great advantage over any new institutions in obtaining that ready and willing resignation to what has once been decided by lawful authority, which alone renders possible those innumerable compromises between adverse interests and expectations, without which no government could be carried onn a year, and with difficulty even for a week.*

It is scarcely necessary to say that, in this country, and at this time, the danger is not lest such considerations as the above should have too little, but lest they should have too much, weight.

In the supplementary discourses of our author, on Political Equality, and on Rights, there are many just observations on the confusion which has been introduced into political reasoning by the use of vague and declamatory expressions as substitutes for a distinct appeal to the good of the community. Our author, however, while proposing to banish the words “natural rights” from philosophical discussion, makes an attempt, in which we do not think him quite successful, to discover a rational meaning for the phrase. Without doubt, as in the case of all other phrases which mankind use, there is something in their minds which they are endeavouring to express by it; but we hardly think that our author is looking for this in the right place. The subject, however, would lead us too far for the present occasion.

Having said so much of what the work before us does contain, we cannot conclude without drawing the author’s attention to one thing which it should have contained and does not. He has met and overthrown many of the fallacies by which the delivering over of the powers of government to partial interests is wont to be defended; but he has nowhere directly faced the master fallacy of all, the theory of class-representation, though it is one which attacks the very foundation of his doctrines. The theory in question maintains, that a good popular representation should represent, not the people, but all the various classes or interests among the people. The landed interest, it is said, should be represented, the mercantile interest should be represented; the monied, manufacturing, shipping interests, the lawyers, the clergy—each of these bodies should command the election of a certain number of members of the legislature; and the bulk of the people, it is commonly added, Edition: current; Page: [44] should also have the nomination of a certain small number of representatives. The essence of this system is, that it proposes to place a small fraction only of the ruling body under any inducements from their position to consult the general interest of the community; while it renders all the remainder the mere attorneys of certain small knots and confederacies of men, each of which, the theory itself admits, has a private interest of its own, which sinister interest, if it possessed the undivided control of the legislature, it would ruthlessly pursue, to the complete sacrifice of the general interest. The expectation then is, that because the ruling power is divided among several of these knots, instead of being wholly bestowed upon one of them, they, instead of combining, as they have the strongest motives to do, and sharing the benefits of misrule among them, will, with an incapacity of pursuing their obvious interest, unknown to any tribe of savages, employ their whole exertions in protecting the community against one another. Whether this be likely to be the fact let English history speak; for England has been ruled by a class-representation ever since the revolution. We subjoin an apologue, from a speech delivered in 1826, which shadows forth very faithfully what has been the course of history in this particular.*

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The ready answer to the doctrine of representation of interests is, that representation of separate and sinister interests we do not want. The only interest which we wish to be consulted is the general interest, and that, therefore, is the only one which we desire to see represented. How this, in the actual circumstances of a country, can best be accomplished, is the only question; and it must be decided by the considerations already adduced.

What, in contradistinction to a representation of classes, every rational person does wish to see exemplified in Parliament, is not the interests, but the peculiar position, and opportunities of knowledge, of all the classes whom the theory enumerates, and many more; not in order that partial interests may, but in order that they may not, be consulted. The first desideratum is, to place every member of the legislature under the most complete responsibility to the community at large, which the state of civilization of the community renders consistent with other necessary ends. The second is, to compose the legislature, in as large a proportion as possible, of persons so highly cultivated, intellectually and morally, as to be free from narrow or partial views, and from any peculiar bias. But as such persons are rarely to be found in sufficient numbers, it is doubtless desirable that the remainder of the body should be of as miscellaneous a composition as possible (consistently with accountability to the people), in order that the twist of one person may be neutralized by the contrary twist of another; and if the individuals must be biassed, the evil be at least avoided of having them all biassed one way. An indistinct perception of this truth, is what gives all its plausibility to the doctrine of class-representation. But the principle thus stated, needs Edition: current; Page: [46] no especial provision to be made for it in a scheme of representation. The diversity of local circumstances, and the varying spirit of local constituencies, provide for it sufficiently.

Recommending this important subject to the consideration of our author in his next edition, we take leave of him; cordially wishing that his country may be enriched with many similar productions from his pen, and regretting that he has not yet obtained the opportunity he sought, of proclaiming in the House of Commons the great principles which this work will contribute so largely to diffuse. That he failed to obtain that opportunity is anything but creditable, all circumstances considered, to the electors of the great and important town for which he offered himself as a candidate. We trust that, ere long, some liberal constituency will claim for itself the honour which his own townsmen knew not how to appreciate.

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London Review, I (Oct., 1835), 85-129 (equivalent to Westminster Review, XXX). Headed: “Art. IV. / De Tocqueville on Democracy in America. / 1. De la Démocratie en Amérique. Par Alexis de Tocqueville, / Avocat à la Cour Royal de Paris; l’un des auteurs du livre / intitulé Du Systême Pénitentiaire aux Etats-Unis. Orné / d’une Carte d’Amérique. [Paris: Gosselin,] 1835, 8vo. 2 vols. 2nd edition. / 2. Democracy in America. By Alexis de Tocqueville, Avocat / à la Cour Royale de Paris, &c. &c. Translated by Henry / Reeve, Esq. In 2 vols. Vol. I. [London:] Saunders and Otley, 1835.” Signed “A.” Running title: “De Tocqueville on Democracy in America.” Republished in part as second portion of “Appendix,” Dissertations and Discussions, I, 470-4, and in part in “De Tocqueville on Democracy in America [II],” ibid., II, 34-5 (see 650-3 and 174-5 below). Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A review of De Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America’ in the third number of the London Review (October 1835.)” (MacMinn, 45.) The copy of the article in the Somerville College Library has no corrections or emendations. Also in Somerville, without corrections or emendations, is a sewn, uncut offprint, paged 1-45, signed “A.”

For a discussion of the composition of this article, and JSM’s relations with Tocqueville, see the Textual Introduction, lxxii-lxxiv above.

The republication of part of the review (71-74n) as the concluding portion of “Appendix,” D&D, I, 470-4, led to some rewriting, as did the incorporation of parts of the review (see 78-9) in the final version of “De Tocqueville on Democracy in America [II]” in D&D, II, In the variant notes, “59” indicates D&D, I, 1st ed., 1859; “67” indicates D&D, 2nd ed., 1867.

References to both the original and to the Reeve translation are given for quotations from Vol. I of Tocqueville; for those from Vol. II, there are references only to the original, as evidently the second volume of Reeve was not available to JSM at the time.

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De Tocqueville on Democracy in America [I]

amongst the novel objects,” says M. de Tocqueville* in the opening of his work,

that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of conditions. I readily discovered the prodigious influence which this primary fact exercises on the whole course of society: it gives a certain direction to public opinion, and a certain character to the laws; it imparts new maxims to the governing powers, and peculiar habits to the governed. I speedily perceived that the influence of this fact extends far beyond the political character and the laws of the country, and that it has no less empire over private society than over the government: it creates opinions, engenders sentiments, suggests the ordinary practices of life, and modifies whatever it does not produce.

The more I advanced in the study of American society the more I perceived that the equality of conditions was the fundamental fact from which all others seemed to be derived, and the central point at which all my observations constantly terminated. I then turned my thoughts to our own hemisphere, and imagined that I discerned there also something analogous to the spectacle which the New World presented to me. I observed that the equality of conditions, though it has not yet reached, as in the United States, its extreme limits, is daily progressing towards them; and that the democracy which governs the American communities appears to be rapidly rising into power in Europe. From that moment I conceived the idea of the book which is now before the reader.[*]

To depict accurately, and to estimate justly, the institutions of the United States, have been therefore but secondary aims with the original and profound author of these volumes—secondary, we mean, in themselves, but indispensable to his main object. This object was, to inquire, what light is thrown, by the example of America, upon the question of democracy; which he considers as the great and paramount question of our age.

In turning to America for materials with which to discuss that question, M. de Tocqueville, it needs hardly be remarked, is not singular. All who write Edition: current; Page: [50] or speak on either side of the dispute, are prompt enough in pressing America into their service: but it is for purposes, in general, quite different from that of M. de Tocqueville.

America is usually cited by the two great parties which divide Europe, as an argument for or against democracy. Democrats have sought to prove by it that we ought to be democrats; aristocrats, that we should cleave to aristocracy, and withstand the democratic spirit.

It is not towards deciding this question, that M. de Tocqueville has sought to contribute, by laying before the European world the results of his study of America. He considers it as already irrevocably decided.

The crowd of English politicians, whether public men or public writers, who live in a truly insular ignorance of the great movement of European ideas, will be astonished to find, that a conclusion which but few among them, in their most far-reaching speculations, have yet arrived at, is the point from which the foremost continental thinkers begin theirs; and that a philosopher, whose impartiality as between aristocracy and democracy is unparalleled in our time, considers it an established truth, on the proof of which it is no longer necessary to insist, that the progress of democracy neither can nor ought to be stopped. Not to determine whether democracy shall come, but how to make the best of it when it does come, is the scope of M. de Tocqueville’s speculations.

That comprehensive survey of the series of changes composing the history of our race, which is now familiar to every continental writer with any pretensions to philosophy, has taught to M. de Tocqueville, that the movement towards democracy dates from the dawn of modern civilization, and has continued steadily advancing from that time. Eight centuries ago, society was divided into barons and serfs: the barons being everything, the serfs nothing. At every succeeding epoch this inequality of condition is found to have somewhat abated; every century has done something considerable towards lowering the powerful and raising the low. Every step in civilization—every victory of intellect—every advancement in wealth—has multiplied the resources of the many; while the same causes, by their indirect agency, have frittered away the strength and relaxed the energy of the few. We now find ourselves in a condition of society which, compared with that whence we have emerged, might be termed equality; yet not only are the same levelling influences still at work, but their force is vastly augmented by new elements which the world never before saw. For the first time, the power and the habit of reading begins to permeate the hitherto inert mass. Reading is power: not only because it is knowledge, but still more because it is a means of communication—because, by the aid of it, not only do opinions and feelings spread to the multitude, but every individual who holds them knows that they are held by the multitude; which of itself suffices, if they continue to be Edition: current; Page: [51] held, to ensure their speedy predominance. The many, for the first time, have now learned the lesson, which, once learned, is never forgotten—that their strength, when they choose to exert it, is invincible. And, for the first time, they have learned to unite for their own objects, without waiting for any section of the aristocracy to place itself at their head. The capacity of cooperation for a common purpose, heretofore a monopolized instrument of power in the hands of the higher classes, is now a most formidable one in those of the lowest. Under these influences it is not surprising that society makes greater strides in ten years, towards the levelling of inequalities, than lately in a century, or formerly in three or four.

M. de Tocqueville is unable to imagine that a progress, which has continued with uninterrupted steadiness for so many centuries, can be stayed now. He assumes that it will continue, until all artificial inequalities shall have disappeared from among mankind; those inequalities only remaining which are the natural and inevitable effects of the protection of property. This appears to him a tremendous fact, pregnant with every conceivable possibility of evil, but also with immense possibilities of good: leaving, in fact, only the alternative of democracy or despotism; and unless the one be practicable, the other, he is deliberately convinced, will be our lot.

The contemplation of the entirely new position into which mankind are entering, and of their supine insensibility to the new exigencies of that new position, fills our author with solemn and anxious emotions. We invite the attention of English readers to a long and deeply interesting passage from his introductory chapter, as a specimen of a mode of thinking concerning the great changes now in progress, which will be new to many of them:

The Christian nations of our age seem to me to present a fearful spectacle; the impulse which is bearing them forward is so strong that it cannot be stopped, but it is not yet so rapid that it cannot be guided: their fate is in their own hands; yet a little while, and it may be so no longer.

The first duty which is at this time imposed upon those who direct our affairs is to educate the democracy; to reanimate its faith, if that be possible; to purify its morals; to regulate its energies; to substitute for its inexperience a knowledge of business, and for its blind instincts an acquaintance with its true interests; to adapt its government to time and place, and to modify it in compliance with circumstances and characters.

A new science of politics is indispensable to a world which has become new. This, however, is what we think of least, launched in the middle of a rapid stream, we obstinately fix our eyes on the ruins which may still be descried upon the shore we have left, whilst the current sweeps us along, and drives us toward an unseen abyss.

In no country in Europe has the great social revolution which I have been describing made such rapid progress as in France; but it has always been borne on by chance. The heads of the State have never thought of making any preparation for it, and its victories have been obtained in spite of their resistance, or without their knowledge. The most powerful, the most intelligent, and the most Edition: current; Page: [52] moral classes of the nation have never attempted to connect themselves with it in order to guide it. Democracy has consequently been abandoned to its untutored instincts, and it has grown up like those outcasts who receive their education in the public streets, and who are unacquainted with aught of society but its vices and its miseries. The existence of a democracy was seemingly unknown, when on a sudden it took possession of the supreme power. Everything then servilely submitted to its smallest wish; it was worshipped as the idol of strength; until, when it was enfeebled by its own excesses, the legislator conceived the rash project of annihilating it, instead of instructing it and correcting its bad tendencies. No attempt was made to fit it to govern; the sole thought was of excluding it from the government.

The consequence of this has been, that the democratic revolution has been effected only in the material parts of society, without that concomitant change in laws, ideas, habits, and manners which was necessary to render such a revolution beneficial. We have gotten a democracy, severed from whatever would lessen its vices and render its natural advantages more prominent; and although we already perceive the evils it brings, we are yet ignorant of the benefits it might confer.

(Reeve, Vol. I, pp. xxii-xxiv; Tocqueville, Vol. I, pp. 10-12.)

M. de Tocqueville then rises into the following powerful delineation of the state of society which has passed never to return, and of the happier, though, in his opinion, less brilliant state, to which we ought now to aspire: of the good which democracy takes away, and of that which, if its natural capabilities are improved, it may bring.

While the power of the Crown, supported by the aristocracy, peaceably governed the nations of Europe, society possessed, in the midst of its wretchedness, several advantages which cannot easily be appreciated or conceived in our times.

The power of a part of his subjects set insurmountable barriers to the tyranny of the prince; and the monarch, who felt the almost divine character which he enjoyed in the eyes of the multitude, derived from the respect which he inspired, a motive for the just use of his power.

Although lifted so high above the people, the nobles, nevertheless, took that calm and kindly interest in its fate which the shepherd feels towards his flock; and without acknowledging the poor man as their equal, they watched over his destiny as a trust which Providence had confided to their care.

The people, never having conceived the idea of a state of society different from their own, and entertaining no expectation of ever becoming the rivals of their chiefs, accepted their benefits without discussing their rights. They felt attached to them when they were clement and just, and submitted without resistance or servility to their oppressions, as to inevitable visitations of the arm of God. Usages and manners had, moreover, created a species of law in the midst of violence, and established certain limits to oppression.

As the noble never suspected that any one would attempt to deprive him of privileges which he believed to be legitimate, and as the serf looked upon his own inferiority as a consequence of the immutable order of nature, it is easy to imagine that a sort of mutual good-will might arise between two classes so differently favoured by fate. Inequality and wretchedness were then to be found in society; but the souls of neither rank of men were degraded.

It is not by the exercise of power or by the habit of obedience that men are Edition: current; Page: [53] debased; it is by the exercise of a power which they believe to be illegitimate, and by obedience to a rule which they consider to be usurped and unjust.

On one side were wealth, strength, and leisure, accompanied by the refinements of luxury, the elegances of taste, the pleasures of intellect, and the culture of art. On the other were labour, rudeness, and ignorance; but in the midst of this coarse and ignorant multitude, it was not uncommon to meet with energetic passions, generous sentiments, profound religious convictions, and wild virtues. Society thus organized might possess stability, power, and, above all, glory.

But the scene is now changed, and gradually the two ranks mingle; the barriers which once severed mankind are lowered; properties are broken down, power is subdivided, the light of intelligence spreads, and the capacities of all classes are more equally cultivated; the state of society becomes democratic, and the empire of democracy is slowly and peaceably introduced into institutions and manners.

I can now conceive a society in which all, regarding the law as emanating from themselves, would give it their attachment and their ready submission; in which the authority of the State would be respected as necessary, though not as divine; and the loyalty of the subject to the chief magistrate would not be a passion, but a quiet and rational persuasion. Every individual being in the possession of rights, and feeling secure of retaining them, a kind of manly reliance and reciprocal courtesy would arise between all classes, alike removed from pride and meanness.

The people, well acquainted with their true interests, would allow, that, in order to profit by the advantages of society, it is necessary to submit to its burthens. In this state of things, the voluntary association of the citizens might supply the place of the individual power of the nobles, and the community would be alike protected from anarchy and from oppression.

I admit that, in a democratic state thus constituted, society will not be stationary; but the impulses of the social body may be duly regulated, and directed towards improvement. If there be less splendour than in the halls of an aristocracy, the contrast of misery will be less frequent also, enjoyments may be less intense, but comfort will be more general; the sciences may be less highly cultivated, but ignorance will be less common; the impetuosity of the feelings will be repressed, and the habits of the nation softened, there will be more vices, and fewer crimes.

In the absence of enthusiasm and of an ardent faith, great sacrifices may be obtained from the members of such a commonwealth by an appeal to their understandings and their experience. Each individual, being equally weak will feel an equal necessity for uniting with his fellow-citizens; and as he knows that he can obtain their good offices only by giving his, he will readily perceive that his personal interest is identified with the interest of the community.

The nation, taken as a whole, will be less brilliant, less glorious, and perhaps less powerful; but the majority of the citizens will enjoy a greater degree of prosperity, and the people will remain quiet, not because they despair of being better, but because they know that they are well.

If all the consequences of this state of things were not good or useful, society would at least have appropriated all such of them as were so; and having once and for ever renounced the social advantages of aristocracy, mankind would enter into possession of all the benefits which democracy can afford.

(Reeve. Vol. I, pp. xxiv-xxviii; Tocqueville, Vol. I, pp. 12-15.)

In the picture which follows, the author has had chiefly in view the state of France; and much of it would be grossly exaggerated as a description of Edition: current; Page: [54] England: but we may receive it as a warning of what we may in time expect, if our influential classes continue to forego the exercise of the faculty which distinguishes rational creatures from brutes, and either blindly resist the course of events, or allow them to rush on wildly without any aid from human foresight:

But we—what have we adopted in the place of those institutions, those ideas, and those customs of our forefathers which we have abandoned? The spell of royalty is broken, but it has not been succeeded by the majesty of the laws; the people have learned to despise all authority, but fear now extorts a larger tribute of obedience than that which was formerly paid by reverence and by love.

I perceive that we have destroyed those independent existences which were able to cope with tyranny single-handed: but the government has alone inherited the privileges of which families, corporations, and individuals have been deprived: to the strength, sometimes oppressive, but often conservative, of a few, has succeeded the weakness of all.

The division of property has lessened the distance which separated the rich from the poor; but the nearer they draw to each other, the greater seems their mutual hatred, and the more vehement the envy and the dread with which they resist each other’s claims to power, the notion of right is alike a stranger to both classes, and force is, in the eyes of both, the only argument for the present, and the only resource for the future.

The poor man retains the prejudices of his forefathers without their faith, and their ignorance without their virtues, he has adopted the doctrine of self-interest as the rule of his actions, without having acquired the knowledge which enlightens it, and his selfishness is no less blind than his devotedness was formerly.

If society is tranquil, it is not because it is conscious of its strength and of its well-being, but, on the contrary, because it believes itself weak and infirm, and fears that a single effort may cost it its life. Everybody feels the evil, but no one has courage or energy enough to seek the cure; the desires, the regrets, the sorrows, and the joys of the time produce no visible or permanent fruits.

We have, then, abandoned whatever advantages the old state of things afforded, without receiving the compensations naturally belonging to our present condition; we have destroyed an aristocratic society, and we seem inclined to survey its ruins with complacency, and to fix our abode in the midst of them.

(Reeve. Vol. I, pp. xxviii-xxx; Tocqueville, Vol. I, pp. 15-17.)

In quoting so much of this striking passage, we would not be understood as adopting the whole and every part of it, as the expression of our own sentiments. The good which mankind have lost, is coloured, we think, rather too highly, and the evils of the present state of transition too darkly; and we think, also, that more than our author seems to believe, of what was good in the influences of aristocracy, is compatible, if we really wish to find it so, with a well-regulated democracy. But though we would soften the colours of the picture, we would not alter them; M. de Tocqueville’s is, in our eyes, the true view of the position in which mankind now stand: and on the timely recognition of it as such, by the influential classes of our own and other countries, we believe the most important interests of our race to be greatly dependent.

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It is under the influence of such views that M. de Tocqueville has examined the state of society in America.

There is a country, says he, where the great change, progressively taking place throughout the civilized world, is consummated. In the United States, democracy reigns with undisputed empire; and equality of condition among mankind has reached what seems its ultimate limit.* The place in which to Edition: current; Page: [56] study democracy, must be that where its natural tendencies have the freest scope; where all its peculiarities are most fully developed and most visible. In America, therefore, if anywhere, we may expect to learn—first, what portion of human well-being is compatible with democracy in any form; and, next, what are the good and what the bad properties of democracy, and by what means the former may be strengthened, the latter controlled. We have it not in our power to choose between democracy and aristocracy; necessity and Providence have decided that for us. But the choice we are still called upon to make is between a well and an ill-regulated democracy; and on that depends the future well-being of the human race.

When M. de Tocqueville says, that he studied America, not in order to disparage or to vindicate democracy, but in order to understand it, he makes no false claim to impartiality. Not a trace of a prejudice, or so much as a previous leaning either to the side of democracy or aristocracy, shows itself in his work. He is indeed anything but indifferent to the ends, to which all forms of government profess to be means. He manifests the deepest and steadiest concern for all the great interests, material and spiritual, of the human race. But between aristocracy and democracy he holds the balance straight, with all the impassibility of a mere scientific observer. He was indeed most favourably placed for looking upon both sides of that great contest with an unbiassed judgment; for the impressions of his early education were royalist, while among the influences of society and the age liberalism is predominant. He has renounced the impressions of his youth, but he looks back to them with no aversion. It is indifferent to him what value we set upon the good or evil of aristocracy, since that in his view is past and gone. The good and evil of democracy, be they what they may, are what we must now look to; and for us the questions are, how to make the best of democracy, and what that best amounts to.

We have stated the purposes of M. de Tocqueville’s examination of America. We have now to add its result.

The conclusion at which he has arrived is, that this irresistible current, which cannot be stemmed, may be guided, and guided to a happy termination. Edition: current; Page: [57] The bad tendencies of democracy, in his opinion, admit of being mitigated; its good tendencies of being so strengthened as to be more than a compensation for the bad. It is his belief that a government, substantially a democracy, but constructed with the necessary precautions, may subsist in Europe, may be stable and durable, and may secure to the aggregate of the human beings living under it, a greater sum of happiness than has ever yet been enjoyed by any people. The universal aim, therefore, should be, so to prepare the way for democracy, that when it comes, it may come in this beneficial shape; not only for the sake of the good we have to expect from it, but because it is literally our only refuge from a despotism resembling not the tempered and regulated absolutism of modern times, but the tyranny of the Cæsars. For when the equality of conditions shall have reached the point which in America it has already attained, and there shall be no power intermediate between the monarch and the multitude; when there remains no individual and no class capable of separately offering any serious obstacle to the will of the government; then, unless the people are fit to rule, the monarch will be as perfectly autocratic as amidst the equality of an Asiatic despotism. Where all are equal, all must be alike free, or alike slaves.

The book, of which we have now described the plan and purpose, has been executed in a manner worthy of so noble a scheme. It has at once taken its rank among the most remarkable productions of our time; and is a book with which, both for its facts and its speculations, all who would understand, or who are called upon to exercise influence over their age, are bound to be familiar. It will contribute to give to the political speculations of our time a new character. Hitherto, aristocracy and democracy have been looked at chiefly in the mass, and applauded as good, or censured as bad, on the whole. But the time is now come for a narrower inspection, and a more discriminating judgment. M. de Tocqueville, among the first, has set the example of analysing democracy; of distinguishing one of its features, one of its tendencies, from another; of showing which of these tendencies is good, and which bad, in itself; how far each is necessarily connected with the rest, and to what extent any of them may be counteracted or modified, either by accident or foresight. He does this, with so noble a field as a great nation to demonstrate upon; which field he has commenced by minutely examining; selecting, with a discernment of which we have had no previous example, the material facts, and surveying these by the light of principles, drawn from no ordinary knowledge of human nature. We do not think his conclusions always just, but we think them always entitled to the most respectful attention, and never destitute of at least a large foundation of truth. The author’s mind, except that it is of a soberer character, seems to us to resemble Montesquieu most among the great French writers. The book is such as Montesquieu might have written, if to his genius he had superadded good sense, and the lights Edition: current; Page: [58] which mankind have since gained from the experiences of a period in which they may be said to have lived centuries in fifty years.

We feel how impossible it is, in the space of an article, to exemplify all the features of a work, every page of which has nearly as great a claim to citation as any other. For M. de Tocqueville’s ideas do not float thinly upon a sea of words; none of his propositions are unmeaning, none of his meanings superfluous; not a paragraph could have been omitted without diminishing the value of the work. We must endeavour to make a selection.

The first volume, the only one of which a translation has yet appeared, describes chiefly the institutions of the United States: the second, the state of society, which he represents to be the fruit of those institutions. We should have been glad to assume that the reader possessed a general acquaintance with the subject of the former volume, and to refer him, for details, to the work itself. But it so happens that in no one point has M. de Tocqueville rendered a greater service to the European public, than by actually giving them their first information of the very existence of some of the most important parts of the American constitution. We allude particularly to the municipal institutions; which, as our author shows, and as might have been expected, are the very fountain-head of American democracy, and one principal cause of all that is valuable in its influences; but of which English travellers, a race who have eyes and see not, ears and hear not,[*] have not so much as perceived the existence.

In the New England States, the part of the Union in which the municipal system which generally prevails through the whole, has been brought to the greatest perfection, the following are its leading principles. The country is parcelled out into districts called townships, containing, on an average, from two to three thousand inhabitants. Each township manages its local concerns within itself; judicial business excepted, which, more wisely than their English brethren, the Americans appear to keep separate from all other functions. The remaining part—that is, the administrative part of the local business—is not only under the complete control of the people—but the people themselves, convened in general assembly, vote all local taxes, and decide on all new and important undertakings. While the deliberative part of the administration is thus conducted directly by the people, the executive part is in the hands of a variety of officers, annually elected by the people, and mostly paid. The following details will be read with interest:

In New England the majority acts by representatives in the conduct of the public business of the state; but if such an arrangement be necessary in general affairs—in the townships, where the legislative and administrative action of the Edition: current; Page: [59] government is in more immediate contact with the governed, the system of representation is not adopted. There is no town-council; the body of electors, after having appointed its magistrates, directs them in everything that exceeds the mere execution of the laws.

This state of things is so contrary to our ideas, and so opposed to our habits, that it is necessary for me to adduce some examples to explain it thoroughly.

The public functions in the township are extremely numerous, and minutely divided, as we shall see further on; but the larger portion of the business of administration is vested in the hands of a small number of individuals, called the selectmen.

The general laws of the state impose a certain number of obligations on the selectmen, which they may fulfil without the authorization of the body they represent, and which if they neglect they are personally responsible. The law of the state obliges them, for instance, to draw up the list of electors in their townships; and if they omit this part of their functions, they are guilty of a misdemeanor. In all the affairs, however, which are left to be determined by the local authorities, the selectmen are the organs of the popular mandate, as in France the Maire executes the decree of the municipal council. They usually act upon their own responsibility, and merely put in practice principles which have been previously recognised by the majority. But if any change is to be introduced in the existing state of things, or if they wish to undertake any new enterprise, they are obliged to refer to the source of their power. If, for instance, a school is to be established, the selectmen convoke the whole body of electors on a certain day at an appointed place; they state the exigency of the case, they give their opinion on the means of satisfying it, on the probable expense, and the site which seems to be most favourable. The meeting is consulted on these several points; it adopts the principle, determines the site, votes the rate, and leaves the execution of its resolution to the selectmen.

The selectmen have alone the right of summoning a town-meeting; but they may be called upon to do so if ten landed proprietors are desirous of submitting a new project to the assent of the township, they may demand a general convocation of the inhabitants; the selectmen are obliged to comply, and retain only the right of presiding at the meeting.

The selectmen are elected every year, in the month of April or of May. The town-meeting chooses at the same time a number of other municipal officers, who are intrusted with important administrative functions. The assessors rate the township; the collectors receive the rate. A constable is appointed to keep the peace, to watch the streets, and to lend his personal aid to the execution of the laws, the town-clerk records the proceedings of the town-meetings, and keeps the register of births, deaths, and marriages, the treasurer keeps the funds; the overseer of the poor performs the difficult task of superintending the administration of the poor-laws; committee-men are appointed for the superintendence of the schools and public instruction; and the inspectors of roads, who take care of the greater and lesser thoroughfares of the township, complete the list of the principal functionaries. There are, however, still further subdivisions: amongst the municipal officers are to be found parish commissioners, who audit the expenses of public worship, different classes of inspectors, some of whom are to direct the efforts of the citizens in case of fire, tithing-men, listers, haywards, chimney-viewers, fence-viewers to maintain the bounds of property, timber-measurers, and inspectors of weights and measures.

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There are nineteen principal offices in a township. Every inhabitant is constrained, under a pecuniary penalty, to undertake these different functions; which, however, are almost all paid, in order that the poorer citizens may be able to give up their time without loss. In general the American system is not to grant a fixed salary to public functionaries. Every service has its price, and they are remunerated in proportion to what they have done.

(Reeve, Vol. I, pp. 75-8; Tocqueville, Vol. I, pp. 99-103.)

In this system of municipal self-government, coeval with the first settlement of the American colonies—a system which the herd of English travellers either have not observed, or have not thought worth mentioning, classing it doubtless in point of importance with their own parish affairs at home—our author beholds the principal instrument of that political education of the people, which alone enables a popular government to maintain itself, or renders it desirable that it should. It is a fundamental principle in his political philosophy, as it has long been in ours, that only by the habit of superintending their local interests can that diffusion of intelligence and mental activity, as applied to their joint concerns, take place among the mass of a people, which can qualify them to superintend with steadiness or consistency the proceedings of their government, or to exercise any power in national affairs except by fits, and as tools in the hands of others.

“The commune,” says M. de Tocqueville (we borrow the French word, because there is no English word which expresses the unit of the body politic, whether that unit be a town or a village)—

The commune is the only association which has so completely its foundation in nature, that wherever a number of human beings are collected, a commune arises of itself.

The commune, therefore, must necessarily exist in all nations, whatever may be their laws and customs; monarchies and republics are creations of man, the commune seems to issue directly from the hands of God. But although the existence of the commune is coeval with that of man communal freedom is rare, and difficult to be maintained. A nation is always able to establish great political assemblies, because it is sure to contain a certain number of persons whose intellectual cultivation stands them to a certain extent instead of practical experience. But the commune is composed of rude materials, which are often not to be fashioned by the legislator. The difficulty of introducing municipal freedom is apt to increase, instead of diminishing, with the increased enlightenment of the people. A highly civilized community can ill brook the first rude attempts of village independence; is disgusted at the multitude of blunders; and is apt to despair of success before the experiment is completed.

Again, no immunities are so ill protected against the encroachments of the supreme power, as those of municipal bodies. Left to themselves, these local liberties are ill able to maintain themselves against a strong or an enterprising government: to resist successfully, they must have attained their fullest development, and have become identified with the habits and ways of thinking of the Edition: current; Page: [61] people. Thus, until municipal freedom is amalgamated with the manners of a people, it is easily destroyed, and only after a long existence in the laws can it be thus amalgamated.

Municipal freedom, therefore, is not, if I may so express myself, the fruit of human device. Accordingly it is rarely created, but is, as it were, of spontaneous growth, developed almost in secret, in the midst of a semi-barbarous state of society. The long-continued action of laws and of manners, favourable circumstances, and, above all, time, can alone consolidate it. Of all the nations of the continent of Europe, we may affirm that there is not one which has any knowledge of it.

Nevertheless, it is in the commune that the strength of a free people resides. Municipal institutions are to liberty what primary schools are to knowledge; they bring it within the reach of the people, give them a taste for its peaceable exercise, and practice in its use. Without municipal institutions, a nation may give itself a free government, but it has not the spirit of freedom. Transient passions, momentary interests, or the chance of circumstances, may give it the outward forms of independence; but the despotic principle, which has been driven back into the interior of the body politic, will sooner or later re-appear at the surface.*

Nor is the salutary influence of this invaluable part of the American constitution seen only in creating, but at least equally so in regulating, the spirit of interference in public affairs. This effect, together with the influence of the same cause in generating patriotism and public spirit, are instructively delineated in the following passage:

The township of New England possesses two advantages which infallibly secure the attentive interest of mankind, namely, independence and power. Its sphere is indeed small and limited, but within that sphere its action is unrestrained: and its independence gives to it a real importance which its extent and population would not always insure.

It is to be remembered that the affections of men seldom attach themselves but where there is power. Patriotism is not durable in a conquered nation. The New Englander is attached to his township, not so much because he was born in it, as because it constitutes a free and powerful corporation, of which he is a member, and of which to influence the government is an object worth exerting himself for.

In Europe the absence of local public spirit is a frequent subject of regret even to governments themselves, for every one agrees that there is no surer guarantee of order and tranquillity, but nobody knows how to create it. They fear that if the localities were made powerful and independent, the authorities of the nation might be disunited, and the state exposed to anarchy. Yet, deprive the locality of power and independence, it may contain subjects, but it will have no citizens.

Another important fact is, that the township of New England is so constituted as to excite the warmest of human affections, without arousing strongly the ambitious passions of the heart of man. The officers of the county are not elective, Edition: current; Page: [62] and their authority is very limited. Even the state is only a second-rate community, whose tranquil and obscure administration offers no inducement to most men, sufficient to draw them away from the centre of their private interests into the turmoil of public affairs. The federal government confers power and honour on the men who conduct it; but these can never be very numerous. The high station of the Presidency can only be reached at an advanced period of life; and the other federal offices of a high order are generally attained, as it were accidentally, by persons who have already distinguished themselves in some other career. Their attainment cannot be the permanent aim of an ambitious life. In the township, therefore, in the centre of the ordinary relations of life, become concentrated the desire of public esteem, the thirst for the exercise of influence, and the taste for authority and popularity; and the passions which commonly embroil society, change their character when they find a vent so near the domestic hearth and the family circle.

In the American States power has been disseminated with admirable skill, for the purpose of interesting the greatest possible number of persons in the common weal. Independently of the electors, who are from time to time called to take a direct share in the government, there are innumerable functionaries who all, in their several spheres, represent the same powerful whole in whose name they act. The local administration thus affords an unfailing source of profit and interest to a vast number of individuals.

The American system, while it divides the local authority among so many citizens, does not scruple to multiply the obligations imposed by the township upon its members. For in the United States it is believed, and with truth, that patriotism is a kind of devotion which is strengthened by ritual observance.

In this manner, every person is continually reminded that he belongs to the community; his connexion with it is daily manifested in the fulfilment of a duty, or the exercise of a right; and a constant though gentle motion is thus kept up in society, which animates without disturbing it.

The American attaches himself to the state for the same reason which makes the mountaineer cling to his hills; because he finds in his country more marked features, a more decided physiognomy than elsewhere.

The existence of the townships of New England is in general a happy one. Their government is suited to their tastes and chosen by themselves. In the midst of the profound peace and general comfort which reign in America, the commotions of municipal discord are unfrequent. The conduct of local business is easy. Besides, the political education of the people has long been complete; say rather that it was complete when the people first set foot upon the soil. In New England the distinction of ranks does not exist even in memory, no portion of the community, therefore, is tempted to oppress the remainder, and acts of injustice which injure isolated individuals, are forgotten in the general contentment which prevails. If the government is defective, (and it would no doubt be easy to point out its deficiencies,) yet so long as it contrives to go on, the fact that it really emanates from those it governs, casts the protecting spell of a parental pride over its faults. Besides, they have nothing to compare it with. England formerly ruled over the aggregation of the colonies, but the people always managed their own local affairs. The sovereignty of the people is, in the commune, not only an ancient but a primitive state.

The native of New England is attached to his township, because it is independent and powerful, he feels interested in it, because he takes part in its management: Edition: current; Page: [63] the prosperity he enjoys in it makes it an object of his attention: he centres in it his ambition and his hopes. He takes a part in every occurrence in the place; he practises the art of government in the small sphere within his reach; he accustoms himself to those forms, without which liberty can only take the shape of revolution; he imbibes their spirit; he acquires a taste for order, comprehends the mutual play of concurrent authorities, and collects clear practical notions on the nature of his duties and the extent of his rights.

(Reeve, Vol. I, pp. 82-6; Tocqueville, Vol. I, pp. 107-11.)

These considerations are of the highest importance. It is not without reason that M. de Tocqueville considers local democracy to be the school as well as the safety-valve of democracy in the state,—the means of training the people to the good use of that power, which, whether prepared for it or not, they will assuredly in a short time be in the full exercise of. There has been much said of late—and truly not a word too much—on the necessity, now that the people are acquiring power, of giving them education, meaning school instruction, to qualify them for its exercise. The importance of school instruction is doubtless great; but it should also be recollected, that what really constitutes education is the formation of habits; and as we do not learn to read or write, to ride or swim, by being merely told how to do it, but by doing it, so it is only by practising popular government on a limited scale, that the people will ever learn how to exercise it on a larger.

M. de Tocqueville does not pretend, nor do we, that local self-government should be introduced into Europe in the exact shape in which it exists in New England. An assembly of the rateable inhabitants of a district, to discuss and vote a rate, would usually be attended only by those who had some private interest to serve, and would in general, as is proved by the experience of open vestries, only throw the cloak of democratic forms over a jobbing oligarchy. In a country like America, of high wages and high profits, every citizen can afford to attend to public affairs, as if they were his own; but in England it would be useless calling upon the people themselves to bestow habitually any larger share of attention on municipal management than is implied in the periodical election of a representative body. This privilege has recently been conferred, though in an imperfect shape, upon the inhabitants of all our considerable towns; but the rural districts, where the people are so much more backward, and the system of training so forcibly described by M. de Tocqueville is proportionally more needed,—the rural districts are not yet empowered to elect officers for keeping their own jails and highways in repair: that is still left where the feudal system left it, in the hands of the great proprietors; the tenants at will, so dear to aristocracy, being thought qualified to take a share in no elections save those of the great council of the nation. But some of the greatest political benefits ever acquired by mankind have been the accidental result of arrangements devised for Edition: current; Page: [64] quite different ends; and thus, in the unions of parishes formed under the new poor law,[*] and the boards of guardians chosen by popular election to superintend the management of those unions, we see the commencement of an application of the principle of popular representation, for municipal purposes, to extensive rural districts, and the creation of a machinery which, if found to work well, may easily be extended to all other business for which local representative bodies are requisite.

M. de Tocqueville, though he is not sparing in pointing out the faults of the institutions of the United States, regards those institutions on the whole with no inconsiderable admiration. The federal constitution, in particular, (as distinguished from the various state constitutions,) he considers as a remarkable monument of foresight and sagacity. The great men by whom, during two years’ deliberation, that constitution was constructed, discerned, according to him, with great wisdom, the vulnerable points both of democracy and of federal government, and did nearly everything which could have been done, in their circumstances, to strengthen the weak side of both.

Our space will not allow us to follow our author through the details of the American institutions; but we cannot pass without particular notice his remarks on one general principle which pervades them.

Two modes, says M. de Tocqueville, present themselves for keeping a government under restraint: one is to diminish its power; the other, to give power liberally, but to subdivide it among many hands.

There are two methods of diminishing the force of the government in any country:—

The first is, to weaken the supreme power in its very principle, by forbidding or preventing society from acting in its own defence under certain circumstances. To weaken authority in this manner, is what is generally termed in Europe to establish political freedom.

The second manner of diminishing the influence of the government does not consist in stripping society of any of its rights, nor in paralysing its efforts, but in distributing the exercise of its privileges among various hands, and in multiplying functionaries, to each of whom all the power is intrusted which is necessary for the performance of the task specially imposed upon him. There may be nations whom this distribution of social powers might lead to anarchy, but in itself it is not anarchical. The power of government, thus divided, is indeed rendered less irresistible and less perilous, but it is not destroyed.

The revolution of the United States was the result of a calm and considerate love of freedom, and not of a vague and indefinite craving for independence. It contracted no alliance with the turbulent passions of anarchy; its course was marked, on the contrary, by an attachment to order and legality.

It was never assumed in the United States, that the citizen of a free country has a right to do whatever he pleases; on the contrary, social obligations were there imposed upon him, more various than anywhere else. No idea was entertained of calling in question or limiting the rights or powers of society; but the Edition: current; Page: [65] exercise of those powers was divided among many hands, to the end that the office might be powerful and the officer insignificant, and that the community should be at once regulated and free.

(Reeve, Vol. I, pp. 89-90; Tocqueville, Vol. I, pp. 115-16.)

The principle of sharing the powers of government among a great variety of functionaries, and keeping these independent of one another, is the mainspring of the American institutions. The various municipal officers are independent of each other, and of the general government of the state. The state governments, within their lawful sphere, are wholly independent of the federal government, and the federal government of them.* Each of the state governments consists of two chambers and a governor; and the federal government consists of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the President of the United States. Of each of these tripartite bodies the three branches are mutually independent, and may, and frequently do, place themselves in direct opposition to one another.

In what manner is harmony maintained among these jarring elements? How is so minute a division of the governing power rendered compatible with the existence of government? Since the concurrence of so many wills is necessary to the working of the machine, by what means is that concurrence obtained? The town-officers, for instance, are often the sole agency provided for executing the laws made or orders issued by the federal or by the state government; but those authorities can neither dismiss them if they disobey, nor promote them to a higher post in their department, for zealous service. How, then, is their obedience secured?

The securities are of two kinds. First, all those functionaries who are made independent of each other within their respective spheres, depend upon, for they are periodically elected by, a common superior—the People. No one, therefore, likes to venture upon a collision with any co-ordinate authority, unless he believes that, at the expiration of his office, his conduct will be approved by his constituents.

This check, however, cannot suffice for all cases; for, in the first place, the authorities may be accountable to different constituencies. In a dispute, for instance, between the officers of a township and the state government, or between the federal government and a state, the constituents of each party may support their representatives in the quarrel. Moreover, the check often operates too slowly, and is not of a sufficiently energetic character for the graver delinquencies.

The remedy provided for all such cases is the interference of the courts of justice.

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The share of the tribunals in the government of the United States is of a most extensive and important kind. The tribunals are the supreme arbiters between each member of the sovereignty and every other. Not only are all executive officers amenable to them for acts done in their public capacity, but the legislatures themselves are so. They cannot, indeed, punish a legislature for having overstepped its authority, but they can set aside its acts. They are avowedly empowered to refuse to enforce any law, whether enacted by the federal or by the state legislatures, which they consider unconstitutional.

Two questions will naturally be asked: First—does not this remarkable provision render the constitution of the United States, what the French constitution affects to be, unalterable? And, secondly, are not the judges, who thus wield without responsibility the highest power in the state, an impediment to good government, analogous and almost equal to our House of Lords?

We answer both questions in the negative.

The constitution, though it cannot be altered by the ordinary legislature, may be solemnly revised by an assembly summoned for the purpose, in the forms prescribed by the constitution itself. Before such an authority, the tribunals would of course be powerless. Their control, in the mean time, prevents the letter and spirit of the constitution from being infringed upon, indirectly and by stealth, by authorities not lawfully empowered to alter it.

The other danger, that of the irresponsible power conferred upon the judges by making them in some sort the legislators in the last resort, is chimerical. We agree with M. de Tocqueville in thinking that the founders of the American constitution have nowhere manifested, more than in this provision, the practical sagacity which distinguished them. They saw that where both the laws and the habits of the people are thoroughly impregnated with the democratic principle, powers may safely be intrusted to the judges, which it would be most dangerous to confide to them in any other circumstances. A judge is one of the most deadly instruments in the hands of a tyranny of which others are at the head; but, while he can only exercise political influence through the indirect medium of judicial decisions, he acts within too confined a sphere for it to be possible for him to establish a despotism in his own favour. The Americans saw that courts of justice, without a monarchy or an aristocracy to back them, could never oppose any permanent obstacle to the will of the people; and knowing that aversion to change was not likely to be the fault of their government, they did not deem it any serious objection to an institution, that it rendered organic changes rather more difficult. In short, as in every government there must be some supreme arbiter, to keep the peace among the various authorities, and as, consistently with the spirit of the American institutions, that supreme arbiter could not be the federal government, the founders of the constitution deemed Edition: current; Page: [67] that this moderating power, which must exist somewhere, was nowhere so safe as in the hands of the courts of justice.

The Americans have retained, [says our author,] all the ordinary characteristics of judicial authority, and have carefully restricted its action to the ordinary circle of its functions.

The first characteristic of judicial power in all nations is, that its function is that of an arbitrator. To warrant the interference of a tribunal, there must be a dispute: before there can be a judgment, somebody must bring an action. As long, therefore, as an enactment gives rise to no lawsuit, the judicial authority is not called upon to discuss it, and it may exist without being perceived. When a judge, in a given case, attacks a law relating to that case, he extends the circle of his customary duties, without however stepping beyond it; since he is in some measure obliged to decide upon the law, in order to decide the case. But if he pronounces upon a law without resting upon a case, he clearly steps beyond his sphere, and invades that of the legislative authority.

The second characteristic of judicial power is, that it pronounces upon special cases, and not upon general principles. If a judge in deciding a particular case destroys a general principle, by showing that every other consequence of the principle will be annulled in a similar manner, he remains within the ordinary limits of his functions. But if he directly attacks a general principle, and sets it aside, without having a particular case in view, he quits the circle in which all nations have agreed to confine his authority, he assumes a more important, and perhaps a more useful part than that of the magistrate, but he ceases to be a representative of the judicial power.

The third characteristic of the judicial power is its inability to act until it is appealed to—until a case is brought before it. This characteristic is less universal than the other two: but notwithstanding the exceptions. I think it may be regarded as essential. The judicial power is in its own nature devoid of action, it cannot act without an impulse from without. When a criminal is brought before it to be tried, it will convict and punish him; when called upon to redress a wrong, it is ready to redress it, when an act requires interpretation, it is prepared to interpret it; but it does not pursue criminals hunt out wrongs, or inquire into facts, of its own accord. A judicial functionary who should take the initiative, and erect himself into a censor of the laws, would in some measure do violence to this passive nature of his authority.

The Americans have retained these three distinguishing characteristics of the judicial power. An American judge can only pronounce a decision when litigation has arisen: he can only pronounce upon an individual case, and he cannot act until the cause has been duly brought before the court.

(Reeve, Vol. I, pp. 136-8; Tocqueville, Vol. I, pp. 164-6.)

The political power which the Americans have intrusted to their courts of justice is therefore immense, but the dangers of this power are considerably diminished by debarring them from the use of any except strictly judicial means. If the judge had been empowered to contest the laws in a sweeping and general way; if he had been enabled to take the initiative, and to pass a censure on the legislator, he would have played a prominent part in the political sphere, and as the champion or the antagonist of a party, he would have arrayed the hostile passions of the nation in the conflict. But when a judge contests a law, in an Edition: current; Page: [68] obscure proceeding, and in some particular application, the importance of his attack is partly concealed from the public gaze; his decision is aimed directly only at the interest of an individual, and if the law is wounded, it is only as it were by accident. Moreover, although it be censured it is not abolished; its moral force may be diminished, but its cogency is by no means suspended; and its final destruction can only be accomplished by the reiterated attacks of the tribunals. It will, moreover, be readily understood that by leaving it to private interests to call the veto of the tribunals into action, and by closely uniting the attack upon the law with a suit against an individual, the laws are protected from wanton assailants, and from the daily aggressions of party-spirit. The errors of the legislator are exposed only in obedience to an exigency which is actually felt; it is always a positive and appreciable fact which serves as the basis of a prosecution.

I am inclined to believe this practice of the American courts to be the most favourable to liberty as well as to public order.

If the judge could only attack the legislator openly and directly, he would sometimes be afraid to oppose any resistance to his will; and at other moments party spirit might encourage him to brave it at every turn. The laws would consequently be attacked when the power from which they emanate is weak, and obeyed when it is strong. That is to say, when it would be useful to respect them, they would be contested; and when it would be easy to convert them into an instrument of oppression, they would be respected. But the American judge is brought into the political arena independently of his own will. He only judges the law because he is obliged to judge a case. The political question which he is called upon to resolve is connected with the interest of the parties, and he cannot refuse to decide it without being guilty of a denial of justice. He performs his functions as a citizen by fulfilling the precise duties which belong to his profession as a magistrate. It is true that upon this system the judicial censorship which is exercised by the courts of justice over the acts of the legislature cannot extend to all laws indefinitely, inasmuch as some of them can never give rise to that formal species of contestation which is termed a lawsuit; and even when such a contestation is possible, it may happen that no one is inclined to carry it into a court of justice.

The Americans have often felt this disadvantage, but they have left the remedy incomplete, lest they should give it an efficacy which might in some cases prove dangerous.

Even within these limits, the power vested in the American courts of justice of pronouncing a statute to be unconstitutional, forms one of the most powerful barriers which has ever been devised against the tyranny of political assemblies.

(Reeve, Vol. I, pp. 142-4; Tocqueville, Vol. I, pp. 170-2.)

Having concluded his description of the institutions of the United States, M. de Tocqueville, in the second volume, proceeds to an examination of the practical working of those institutions; the character actually exhibited by democratic government in the American republic, and the inferences to be thence drawn as to the tendencies of democracy in general. The following is his statement of the question between democracy and aristocracy:

We ought carefully to distinguish between the end which the laws have in view, and the manner in which they pursue it; between their absolute goodness, and their goodness considered only as means to an end.

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Suppose that the purpose of the legislator is to favour the interest of the few at the expense of the many; and that his measures are so taken as to attain the result he aims at, in the shortest time, and with the least effort possible. The law will be well made, but its purpose will be evil; and it will be dangerous in the direct ratio of its efficiency.

The laws of a democracy tend in general to the good of the greatest number; for they emanate from the majority of the entire people, which may be mistaken, but which cannot have an interest contrary to its own interest.

The laws of an aristocracy tend, on the contrary, to monopolize wealth and power in the hands of the small number; because an aristocracy is, in its very nature, a minority.

We may therefore lay it down as a maxim, that the intentions of a democracy, in its legislation, are more beneficial to mankind than those of an aristocracy.

There, however, its advantages terminate.

Aristocracy is infinitely more skilful in the art of legislation than democracy can be. She is not subject to passing entrainements; she forms distant projects, and matures them until the favourable opportunity arrives. Aristocracy proceeds scientifically; she understands the art of making the aggregate force of all her laws converge at the same time to one and the same point.

It is otherwise with democracy, her laws are almost always defective or ill-timed.

The means, therefore, employed by democracy are more imperfect than those of aristocracy; often, without intending it, she labours to defeat herself; but her ends are more useful.

Conceive a society which nature, or its own constitution, has so organized, that it can sustain the temporary agency of bad laws, and is able, without perishing, to await the result of the general tendency of the laws, and you will perceive that democratic government, in spite of its defects, is the fittest government to make that society prosperous.

This is precisely the case of the United States. As I have elsewhere observed, it is the great privilege of the Americans that they can commit reparable mistakes.

Something of the same sort may be said as to the appointment of public functionaries.

It is easy to see that the American democracy is often mistaken in choosing the men to whom it confides public trusts; but it is not so easy to say why the state prospers in their hands.

Observe, in the first place, that in a democratic state, if the governors are less honest or less able, the governed are more enlightened and more vigilant.

The people, in a democracy, being incessantly occupied with their affairs, and jealous of their rights, restrain their representatives from wandering out of a certain general direction, which the interest of the people points out.

Observe, moreover, that if the magistrate in a democracy uses his power worse than in another government, he generally possesses it a shorter time.

But there is a more general, and a more satisfactory, reason than this.

It is, no doubt, of importance to a nation that its rulers should have virtues or talents; but what is perhaps of still greater importance to them is, that the rulers shall not have interests contrary to those of the great mass of the governed. For, in that case, their virtues might become almost useless, and their talents fatal. . . .

Those who, in the United States, are appointed to the direction of public affairs, are often inferior in capacity and in morality to those whom aristocracy would Edition: current; Page: [70] raise to power. But their interest is blended and identified with that of the majority of their fellow-citizens. They may therefore commit frequent breaches of trust, and serious errors; but they will never systematically adopt a tendency hostile to the majority; and it can never happen to them to give an exclusive or a dangerous character to their measures of government.

Besides, the bad administration of a magistrate in a democracy is an insulated fact, which has influence only during his brief continuance in office. Corruption and incapacity are not common interests, capable of producing a permanent alliance among men. A corrupt or incapable functionary will not unite his efforts with another functionary, for no reason but because he too is incapable and corrupt, and for the purpose of making corruption and incapacity flourish in future generations. On the contrary, the ambition and the manœuvres of the one will serve to unmask the other. The vices of the magistrate in democracies are in general wholly personal to himself.

But under an aristocratic government, public men have a class interest, which, if sometimes in harmony with that of the multitude, is often distinct from it. That interest forms among them a permanent tie: it prompts them to ally themselves together, and combine their efforts, for a purpose which is not always the happiness of the many; and it not only binds the rulers to one another, it unites them also with a considerable portion of the governed; for many citizens, without holding any employment, form a part of the aristocracy. The aristocratic magistrate, therefore, meets with a constant support in society itself, as well as in the government.

This common object, which in aristocracies allies the magistrates with the interests of a portion of their cotemporaries, also identifies them with that of future generations. They labour for futurity as well as for the present. The aristocratic functionary is, therefore, pushed in one and the same direction by the passions of the governed, by his own, and I might almost say, by the passions of his posterity.

What wonder, if he does not withstand them? Accordingly, in aristocracies, we often see the class spirit governing even those whom it does not corrupt, and making them unconsciously strive to accommodate society to their use, and to leave it as a patrimony to their descendants. . . .

In the United States, where public functionaries have no class interest to give predominance to—the general and permanent working of the government is beneficial, although the governors are often unskilful, and sometimes despicable.

There is, therefore, in democratic institutions, a hidden tendency, which often makes men instrumental to the general prosperity in spite of their vices or their blunders; while in aristocratic institutions there is sometimes discovered a secret leaning, which, in spite of talents and virtues, draws them to contribute to the misery of their fellow-creatures. It is thus that in aristocracies public men sometimes do ill without meaning it; and in democracies they produce good without having any thought of it.

(Tocqueville, Vol. II, pp. 108-11.)

These ideas are considerably expanded, and some others added to them, in other parts of the volume.

In a general way, the following may be given as a summary of M. de Tocqueville’s opinion on the good and bad tendencies of democracy.

On the favourable side, he holds, that alone among all governments its Edition: current; Page: [71] systematic and perpetual end is the good of the immense majority. Were this its only merit, it is one, the absence of which could ill be compensated by all other merits put together. Secondly, no other government can reckon upon so willing an obedience, and so warm an attachment to it, on the part of the people at large. And, lastly, as it works not only for the people, but, much more extensively than any other government, by means of the people, it has a tendency which no other government has in the same degree, to call forth and sharpen the intelligence of the mass.

The disadvantages which our author ascribes to democracy are chiefly two:—First, that its policy is much more hasty and short-sighted than that of aristocracy. In compensation, however, he adds, that it is more ready to correct its errors, when experience has made them apparent. The second is, that the interest of the majority is not always identical with the interest of all; and hence the sovereignty of the majority creates a tendency on their part to abuse their power over all minorities.

To commence with the unfavourable side: we may remark, that the evils which M. de Tocqueville represents as incident to democracy, can only exist in so far as the people entertain an erroneous idea of what democracy ought to be. If the people entertained the right idea of democracy, the mischief of hasty and unskilful legislation would not exist; and the omnipotence of the majority would not be attended with any evils.

The difference between the true and the false idea of a representative democracy, is a subject to which we have drawn attention in a recent Article.* and it cannot be too often recurred to. All the dangers of democracy, and all that gives any advantage to its enemies, turn upon confounding this distinction.

aThe idea of a rational democracy is, not that the people themselves govern, but that they have bsecurityb for good government. This security they cannot have, by any other means than by retaining in their own hands the ultimate control. If they renounce this, they give themselves up to tyranny. A governing class not accountable to the people are sure, in the main, to sacrifice the people to the pursuit of separate interests and inclinations of their own. Even their feelings of morality, even their ideas of excellence, have reference, not to the good of the people, but to their own good; their very virtues are class virtues—their noblest acts of patriotism and self-devotion are but the sacrifice of their private interests to the interests of their class. The heroic public virtue of a Leonidas was quite compatible with the existence Edition: current; Page: [72] of Helots. In no government will the interests of the people be the object, except where the people are able to dismiss their rulers as soon as the devotion of those rulers to the interests of the people becomes questionable. But this is the only cpurpose for which it is good to intrust power to the peoplec. Provided good intentions can be secured, the best government, (need it be said?) must be the government of the wisest, and these must always be a few. The people ought to be the masters, but they are masters who must employ servants more skilful than themselves: like a ministry when they employ a military commander, or the military commander when he employs an army-surgeon. When the minister ceases to confide in the commander, he dismisses him, and appoints another; but he does not dsend him instructions when and where to fight. He holds him responsible only for eresults. The people must do the same. This does not render the control of the people nugatory. The control of a government over the commander of fitsf army is not nugatory. A man’s control over his physician is not nugatory, galthoughg he does not direct his physician what medicine to administer. hHe either obeys the prescription of his physician, or, if dissatisfied with him, takes another. In that consists his security. In that consists also the people’s security; and with that it is their wisdom to be satisfied.h

But in government, as in everything else, the danger is, lest those who can do whatever they will, may will to do more than is for their ultimate interest. The interest of the people is, to choose for their rulers the most instructed and the ablest persons who can be found, and having done so, to allow them to exercise their knowledge and ability for the good of the people ifreely, or with the least possible controli—as long as it is the good of the people, and not some private end, that they are aiming at. A democracy thus administered, would unite all the good qualities ever possessed by any government. Not only would its ends be good, but its means would be as well chosen as the wisdom of the age would allow; and the omnipotence of the majority would be exercised through the agency and jat the discretionj of an enlightened minority, accountable to the majority in the last resort.

But it is not possible that the constitution of the democracy itself should provide adequate security for its being understood and administered in this spiritk, and not according to the erroneous notion of democracyk. This rests Edition: current; Page: [73] with the good sense of the people themselves. If the people can remove their rulers for one thing, they can for another. That ultimate control, without which they cannot have security for good government, may, if they please, be made the means of themselves interfering in the government, and making their legislators mere delegates for carrying into execution the preconceived judgment of the majority. If the people do this, they mistake their interest; and such a government, though better than most aristocracies, is not the kind of democracy which wise men desire.*

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The substitution of delegation for representation is therefore the one and only danger of democracy. What is the amount of this danger?

In America, according to M. de Tocqueville, it is not only a great but a growing danger. “A custom,” says he, “is spreading more and more in the United States, which tends ultimately to nullify the securities of representative government. It happens very frequently that the electors, in naming a representative, lay down a plan of conduct for him, and impose on him a certain number of positive injunctions, from which he is by no means to deviate. Tumult excepted, it is exactly as if the majority itself were to deliberate in general meeting.”*

The experience of America is, in our author’s opinion, equally unfavourable to the expectation that the people in a democracy are likely to select as their rulers the ablest men:

Many people in Europe believe without asserting, or assert without believing, that one of the great advantages of universal suffrage consists in calling to the direction of public affairs men worthy of public confidence. The people, it is affirmed, cannot themselves govern, but they always sincerely desire the public good; and they have an instinct which seldom fails to point out to them those who are actuated by a similar desire, and who are the best qualified for the possession of power.

For myself, I am obliged to say, what I have seen in America does not warrant me in believing this to be the case. On my arrival in America I was struck with surprise in discovering to what a degree merit is common among the governed, and how rare it is among the governors. It is an unquestionable fact that in our day, in the United States, the most distinguished men are seldom called to public functions, and one is forced to acknowledge that this has been more and more the case as democracy has more and more overstepped her ancient limits. It is manifest that the race of American statesmen has decidedly dwarted within the last half-century.

Several causes may be indicated for this phenomenon. It is impossible, do what we will, to raise the instruction of the people beyond a certain level. In vain Edition: current; Page: [75] do you facilitate the access to knowledge, improve the methods of teaching, and render science cheap, you will never enable persons to instruct themselves, and to develope their intelligence, without devoting time to it.

The greater or less facility which the people enjoy of living without labour, constitutes therefore the necessary limit of their intellectual advancement. That limit is placed higher in some countries, lower in others, but, for it not to exist, the people must no longer be under the necessity of occupying themselves with physical labour—that is, they must cease to be the people. It would be as difficult, therefore, to imagine a society in which all mankind were highly enlightened, as one in which they were all rich. I will readily admit that the mass of the people very sincerely desire the good of the country: I will go farther, and say that the interior classes appear to me generally to mix with that desire fewer schemes of personal interest than the higher ranks; but what is always more or less wanting to them, is the art of judging of the means, even while sincerely aiming at the end. How long a study, what a variety of ideas are necessary for forming an accurate conception of the character of a single person! The greatest geniuses commit mistakes in the attempt: can it be expected that the multitude should succeed? The people never have the time or the means to go through this labour. They are obliged always to judge in haste, and to fasten on the most salient points. Hence it is that charlatans of all sorts know so well the secret of pleasing them, while their real friends most frequently fail.

Besides, what prevents the democracy from choosing persons of merit is not always want of the capacity, but want of the desire and the inclination.

It cannot be dissembled that democratic institutions develope, to a very high degree, the feeling of envy in the human breast. This is not so much because those institutions offer to every one the means of rising to the level of others, but because those means are perpetually tried and found wanting Democratic institutions call forth and flatter the passion for equality, without ever being able to give it complete satisfaction.

Many persons imagine that the secret instinct which, with us, leads the interior classes to exclude the superior as much as they can from the direction of their affairs, is seen only in France. This is an error. The instinct is not a French, but a democratic instinct. Our political circumstances may have given it a peculiar character of bitterness, but they are not the cause of it.

In the United States the people have no hatred for the higher classes of society, but they feel little good-will towards those classes, and exclude them carefully from the government. They are not afraid of great talents, but they have little relish for them. In general it may be remarked, that whatever raises itself without the people’s assistance, finds little favour in their eyes.

I am satisfied that those who consider universal suffrage as a security for a good choice, are under a complete illusion. Universal suffrage has other advantages, but it has not that.

(Tocqueville, Vol. II, pp. 43-7.)

Considered as matter of evidence—as the testimony of a highly-qualified observer—these statements deserve the utmost attention. It is for that reason that we quote them. For ourselves, we see much to be said in qualification of them; and this, too, our author’s own pages in part supply. A little farther on, after remarking that in America, from the frequent changes in the persons raised to office by the elective principle, a public function cannot, as in Edition: current; Page: [76] Europe, be considered a provision for life, he adds, as a consequence of this fact—

Hence it follows that in quiet times public functions offer little allurement to ambition. In the United States it is those who are moderate in their desires that engage in public business. The men of great talents and great passions usually abandon the pursuit of power, and engage in that of riches; and it often happens that the person who undertakes to direct the concerns of the public, is he who feels himself little capable of successfully conducting his own.

It is to these causes, as much as to the bad choice of the people, that we must ascribe the great number of inferior men who occupy public situations. I know not whether the people of the United States would choose superior men if they sought to be chosen, but it is certain that they do not seek it.

(Tocqueville, Vol. II, pp. 58-9.)

The fact that the ablest men seldom offer themselves to the people’s suffrages, is still more strongly stated by our author in another place, and is a point on which there is a striking concurrence of testimony. It may be said that they do not present themselves because they know that they would not be chosen; but a reason less discreditable to the American people was given to our author’s fellow-traveller, M. de Beaumont,* by an American: “Comment voulez-vous qu’un médecin se montre habile, si vous mettez entre ses mains un homme bien portant?” The truth is that great talents are not needed for carrying on, in ordinary times, the government of an already well-ordered society. In a country like America little government is required: the people are prosperous, and the machinery of the state works so smoothly, by the agency of the people themselves, that there is next to nothing for the government to do. When no great public end is to be compassed; when no great abuse calls for remedy, no national danger for resistance, the mere everyday business of politics is an occupation little worthy of any mind of first-rate powers, and very little alluring to it. In a settled state of things, the commanding intellects will always prefer to govern mankind from their closets, by means of literature and science, leaving the mechanical details of government to mechanical minds.

In national emergencies, which call out the men of first-rate talents, such men always step into their proper place, M. de Tocqueville admits, that during the struggle for independence, and the scarcely less difficult struggle which succeeded it, to keep the confederacy together, the choice of the people fell almost invariably upon the first men in the country. Such a body of men as composed the assembly which framed the federal constitution, never were Edition: current; Page: [77] brought together at any period of history. No wonder that, when compared with them, the present generation of public men appear like dwarfs. But are they such when compared with the present race of English statesmen? Which of these could have drawn such a state paper as President Jackson’s address to the people of South Carolina, or framed Mr. Livingston’s Draught of a Penal Code?[*]

M. de Tocqueville also states that the tendency, which he deems inherent in democracy, to be satisfied with a bad choice, manifests itself in a very mitigated degree in the older and more civilized states:

In New England, where education and liberty are the outgrowth of morality and religion—where society, already old and long-established, has been able to form habits and maxims—the people, while quite independent of all the superiorities which were ever created among mankind by riches or birth, have accustomed themselves to respect intellectual and moral superiorities, and to submit to them without reluctance. Accordingly we see that in New England the democracy makes a far better choice of public functionaries than any where else.

In proportion as we descend towards the south, and reach the states in which the bonds of society are less ancient and less strong—where instruction is less diffused—and where the principles of morality of religion and of liberty, are less happily combined, we may perceive that talents and virtues become more and more rare among public men.

When we penetrate at length to the new states in the south-west, where the social union is but of yesterday, and presents as yet only an agglomeration of adventurers or speculators, one is confounded at the sight of the hands in which the powers of government are placed: and one asks oneself by what force, independent of legislation and of the ruling power, the state is able to advance and the people to prosper.

(Tocqueville, Vol. II. pp. 49-50.)

In these important statements, our author bears testimony to the effects not merely of national education, but of mere lapse of time, and the growth of population and wealth, in correcting more and more the liability of the people to make a mistaken choice of representatives.

But put these evils at their worst: let them be as great as it is possible they should be in a tolerably educated nation: suppose that the people do not choose the fittest men, and that whenever they have an opinion of their own, they compel their representatives, without the exercise of any discretion, merely to give execution to that opinion—thus adopting the false idea of democracy propagated by its enemies, and by some of its injudicious friends—the consequence would no doubt be abundance of unskilful legislation. But would the abundance, after all, be so much greater than in most aristocracies? In the English aristocracy there has surely been, at all periods, Edition: current; Page: [78] vwcrude and ill-considered legislation enough. Thisw is the character of all governments whose laws are made, and acts of administration performed, impromptu, not in pursuance of a general design, but from the pressure of some present occasion: of all governments, in which the ruling power is to any great extent exercised by persons not trained to government as a business.v

In attributing, as general characteristics, prudence and steadiness to aristocratic governments, our author has, we think, generalized on an insufficient examination of the facts on which his conclusion is founded. The only steadiness which aristocracy never fails to manifest, is tenacity in clinging to its own privileges. Democracy is equally tenacious of the fundamental maxims of its own government. In all other matters, xythey opinion of a zruling class is as fluctuating, as liable to be wholly given up to immediate impulses, as the opinion of the people. Witness the whole course of English history. All our laws have been made upon temporary impulses. In awhat country has the course of legislation been less directed to any steady and consistent purpose?ax—except, indeed, that of perpetually adding to the power and privileges of the rich; and that, not because of the deep-laid schemes, but because of the passions, of the ruling class. And as for the talents and virtues of those whom aristocracy chooses for its leaders, read Horace Walpole or Bubb Doddington, that you may know what to think of them.

M. de Tocqueville has, we think, affirmed of aristocracy in general, what should have been predicated only of some particular aristocracies. bIt is true that the governments which have been celebrated for their profound policy have generally been aristocracies. But they have been very narrow aristocracies: consisting of so few members, that every member could personally participate in the business of administration. These are the governments which have a natural tendency to be administered steadily—that is, according to fixed principles. Every member of the governing body being trained to government as a profession, like other professions, they respect precedent, transmit their experience from generation to generation, acquire and preserve a set of traditions, and, all being competent judges of each other’s Edition: current; Page: [79] merits, the ablest easily rises to his proper level. The governments c(so unlike in other respects)c of ancient Rome, and modern Venice, were of this character; and, as all know, for ages conducted the affairs of those states with admirable constancy and skill, upon fixed principles, often unworthy enough, but always eminently adapted to the ends of dthesed governments.b

These aristocracies, however, which manifest the most skill in adapting their means to their ends, are distinguished even beyond other aristocracies in the badness of their ends. So narrow an aristocracy is cut off, even more completely than a more numerous one, from fellow-feeling with the people; and any other aristocracy, we conceive, has not the advantages ascribed to that government by M. de Tocqueville.

eWhen the governing body, whether it fconsistf of the many or of a privileged class, is so numerous, that the large majority of it do not and cannot make the practice of government the main occupation of their lives, it is gutterlyg impossible that there should be wisdom, foresight, and caution in the governing body itself. These qualities must be found, if found at all, not in the body, but in those whom the body trust.e If the people in America, or the higher classes in England or France, make a practice of themselves dictating and prescribing the measures of government, it is impossible that those countries should be otherwise than ill administered. There has been ample proof of this in the government of England, where we have had, at all times, the clumsiness of an ill-regulated democracy, with a very small portion indeed of her good intentions.

In a numerous aristocracy, as well as in a democracy, the sole chance for considerate and wise government lies not in the wisdom of the democracy or of the aristocracy themselves, but in their willingness to place themselves under the guidance of the wisest among them. And it would be difficult for democracy to exhibit less of this willingness than has been shown by the English aristocracy in all periods of their history, or less than is shown by them at this moment.

But, while we do not share all the apprehensions of M. de Tocqueville from the unwillingness of the people to be guided by superior wisdom, and while this source of evil tells for very little with us in the comparison between democracy and aristocracy, we consider our author entitled to applause and gratitude for having probed this subject so unsparingly, and given us so striking a picture of his own impressions; and we are clearly of opinion that his fears, whether excessive or not, are in the right place. If democracy should Edition: current; Page: [80] disappoint any of the expectations of its more enlightened partisans, it will be from the substitution of delegation for representation; of the crude and necessarily superficial judgment of the people themselves, for the judgment of those whom the people, having confidence in their honesty, have selected as the wisest guardians whose services they could command. All the chances unfavourable to democracy lie here; and whether the danger be much or little, all who see it ought to unite their efforts to reduce it to the minimum.

We have no space to follow M. de Tocqueville into the consideration of any of the palliatives which may be found for this evil tendency. We pass to that which he regards as the most serious of the inconveniences of democracy, and that to which, if the American republic should perish, it will owe its fall. This is, the omnipotence of the majority.

M. de Tocqueville’s fears from this source are not of the kind which haunt the imaginations of English alarmists. He finds, under the American democracy, no tendency on the part of the poor to oppress the rich—to molest them in their persons or in their property. That the security of person and property are the first social interests not only of the rich but of the poor, is obvious to common sense. And the degree of education which a well-constituted democracy ensures to all its citizens, renders common sense the general characteristic. Truths which are obvious, it may always be expected that the American democracy will see. It is true, no one need expect that, in a democracy, to keep up a class of rich people living in splendour and affluence will be treated as a national object, which legislation should be directed to promote, and which the rest of the community should be taxed for. But there has never been any complaint that property in general is not protected in America, or that large properties do not meet with every protection which is given to small ones. Not even in the mode of laying on taxes have we seen any complaint that favour is shown to the poor at the expense of the rich.

But when we put inequalities of property out of the question, it is not easy to see what sort of minority it can be, over which the majority can have any interest in tyrannizing. The only standing and organized minority which exists in any community, constituted as communities usually are, is the rich. All other minorities are fluctuating, and he who is in the majority to-day is in the minority to-morrow: each in his turn is liable to this kind of oppression; all, therefore, are interested in preventing it from having existence.

The only cases which we can think of, as forming possible exceptions to this rule, are cases of antipathy on the part of one portion of the people towards another: the antipathies of religion, for example, or of race. Where these exist, iniquity will be committed, under any form of government, aristocratic or democratic, unless in a higher state of moral and intellectual improvement than any community has hitherto attained.

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M. de Tocqueville’s fears, however, are not so much for the security and the ordinary worldly interests of individuals, as for the moral dignity and progressiveness of the race. It is a tyranny exercised over opinions, more than over persons, which he is apprehensive of. He dreads lest all individuality of character, and independence of thought and sentiment, should be prostrated under the despotic yoke of public opinion.

When we come to examine in what condition, in the United States, is the exercise of thought, it is then that we see clearly how far the power of the majority surpasses any power which we know in Europe.

Thought is an invisible and almost unconfinable force, which laughs at all tyrannies. In our time, the most absolute princes of Europe cannot prevent certain ideas, hostile to their authority, from circulating underhand in their dominions, and even in the midst of their courts. It is otherwise in America: as long as the majority is in doubt, there is discussion; but as soon as it has irrevocably decided, all hold their peace; and friends and enemies seem equally to yoke themselves to its car. The reason is simple. No monarch, however absolute, can concentrate in his own hands all the influences of society, and vanquish all resistance, as a majority, invested with the power of making and executing the laws, can do.

A king, besides, wields only a physical power, which controls the actions but cannot influence the inclinations, but the majority is possessed of a power at once physical and moral, which acts upon the will as much as upon the conduct, and restrains at once the act and the desire to perform it.

I am acquainted with no country in which there reigns, in general, less independence of mind, and real freedom of discussion, than in America.

There is no theory, religious or political, which cannot be freely promulgated in the constitutional states of Europe, or which does not penetrate into the others; for there is no country in Europe so completely subjected to one power, that he who wishes to speak the truth may not find a support sufficient to protect him against the consequences of his independence. If he has the misfortune to live under an absolute monarchy, he often has the people with him; if he inhabits a free country, he can, in case of need, shelter himself under the royal authority. The aristocratic fraction of society sustains him in the democratic countries, and the democracy in the others. But in a democracy organized like that of the United States, there exists only one power, one single source of influence and success, and nothing beyond its limits.

In America, the majority traces a formidable circle around the province of thought. Within that boundary the writer is free, but woe to him if he dare to overstep it. He needs not indeed fear an auto-da-fe; but he is a mark for every-day persecutions, and subject to an infinity of chagrins. To him the career of politics is closed; he has offended the sole power which could admit him into it. All is refused to him, even glory. Before he published his opinions, he fancied that he had partisans; now, when he has discovered himself to all, he seems to have them no longer; for those who disapprove blame him openly, and those who think with him, without having his courage, are silent and keep aloof. He yields, he bends at last under the burden of daily efforts, and is again silent, as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth. . . .

In the proudest nations of the old world, books have been published destined to depict faithfully the vices and the ridicules of the age. La Bruyère lived in the Edition: current; Page: [82] palace of Louis XIV when he composed his chapter sur les grands;[*] and Molière satirized the court in pieces written to be represented before the courtiers. But the power which is predominant in the United States will not be thus trifled with. The slightest reproach offends it; the smallest trait of piquant truth excites its anger; everything must be lauded, from the turn of its phraseology to its most solid virtues. No writer, whatever his renown, is exempted from this obligation of offering incense to his countrymen. The majority, therefore, lives in a perpetual adoration of itself. Foreigners only, or experience, can make certain truths reach the ears of the Americans.

If America has not yet had great writers, we need not look farther for the reason. There is no literary genius but where there is freedom of thought, and there is no freedom of thought in America.

(Tocqueville, Vol. II, pp. 149-53.)

M. de Tocqueville complains that the courtier-spirit, which in other governments is confined to those who immediately surround the persons of the powerful, is universal in America, because there every one has access to the sovereign’s ear.

In free countries, where every one is called upon, more or less, to give his opinion on affairs of state; in democratic republics, where public and private life are intimately blended, where the sovereign is everywhere accessible, and to reach his ear one has only to raise one’s voice, many more persons are tempted to speculate upon the sovereign’s weaknesses, and live at the expense of his passions, than in absolute monarchies. It is not that men are naturally worse there than elsewhere; but the temptation is stronger, and offers itself to more persons at once. There results a much more general degradation of soul.

Democratic republics bring the courtier-spirit within the reach of almost everybody, and make it penetrate into all classes at once. This is one of their greatest inconveniences.

This is more particularly true in democratic states constituted like the American republics, where the majority possesses an empire so absolute and so irresistible, that whoever quits the path it has traced out must in a manner renounce the rights of citizenship, and almost those of humanity.

Among the immense multitude who, in the United States, crowd into the career of politics. I have seen very few who evinced that manly candour, that vigorous independence of thought, which has often distinguished the Americans of former times, and which, wherever it is found, is as it were the salient feature of a great character. At first sight one would say that in America all intellects have been cast in the same mould, so exactly do they all follow the same paths. A foreigner, indeed, occasionally encounters Americans who emancipate themselves from the yoke of the prescribed opinions, these sometimes deplore the defects of the laws, the versatility of the democracy, and its want of enlightened wisdom; they even go so far as to remark the faults of the national character, and point out the means which might be taken to correct them, but nobody, except yourself, is within hearing, and you, to whom they confide these secret thoughts, are but a foreigner, and about to depart. They willingly make you a present of truths which are to you of no use, and when they address the public they hold quite a different language.

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If these lines ever reach America, I feel assured of two things: the one, that all my readers will raise their voices in condemnation of me; the other, that many of them will acquit me in the secrecy of their conscience.

I have heard Americans talk of the love of their country, I have met with real patriotism in the mass of the people; I have often looked for it in vain in those by whom the people are led. This is intelligible by analogy. Despotism is much more depraving to those who submit to it than to those who impose it. In an absolute monarchy, the king often has great virtues, but the courtiers are always vile.

It is true that the courtiers in America do not say, Sire, and Your Majesty—a grand and capital distinction! But they talk incessantly of the natural judgment of their master: they do not propose, as a prize-question, to determine which of the prince’s virtues merits the greatest admiration: for they declare that he possesses all virtues, without having learned them, and almost independently of his own will: they do not offer to him their wives and daughters, that he may deign to raise them to the rank of his mistresses: but in sacrificing their opinions to him, they prostitute themselves.

Moralists and philosophers are not obliged, in America, to wrap up their opinions in the cloak of an allegory: but, before risking a disagreeable truth, they say, “We know that we are addressing a people too superior to human weaknesses not to remain always master of itself. We should not hold such a language were we not speaking to men whom their virtues and their instruction render alone, among all nations, worthy to remain free.”

What could the flatterers of Louis XIV do more?

(Tocqueville, Vol. II, pp. 155-8.)

This picture, whether overcharged or not, exhibits evils, the liability to which is inherent in human nature itself. Whatever be the ruling power, whether the One, the Few, or the Many, to that power all who have private interests to serve, or who seek to rise by mean arts, will habitually address themselves. In a democracy, the natural resource of all such persons will be to flatter the inclination towards substituting delegation for representation. All who have a bad cause will be anxious to carry it before the least discerning tribunal which can be found. All individuals and all classes who are aiming at anything, which, in a government where the most instructed had the ascendancy, they would not be allowed to have, will of course in a democracy, as they do in the English aristocracy, endeavour to bring superior instruction into disrepute; and to persuade the many, that their own common sense is quite sufficient, and that the pretenders to superior wisdom are either dreamers or charlatans.

From this tendency it cannot be expected that, in any government, great evils should not arise. Mankind must be much improved before we obtain a democracy not characterised by the absence of enlarged and commanding views. But, without pretending ourselves competent to judge whether our author overstates the evils as they exist in America, we can see reasons for thinking that they would exist in a far inferior degree in Europe.

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America is not only destitute of the very equivocal advantage so strongly dwelt upon by our author, the existence of classes having a private interest in protecting opinions contrary to those of the majority; she labours, also, under a much more serious deficiency. In America there is no highly instructed class; no numerous body raised sufficiently above the common level, in education, knowledge, or refinement, to inspire the rest with any reverence for distinguished mental superiority, or any salutary sense of the insufficiency of their own wisdom. Our author himself was struck with the general equality of intelligence and mental cultivation in America. He has, moreover, fully accounted for the fact.

The equality which exists in America is not confined to fortune; it extends, in a certain degree, to intellects themselves.

I do not believe, that in any country in the world there are found, in proportion to the population, so few uninstructed persons, or fewer persons who are highly instructed.

Elementary instruction is within the reach of everybody: superior instruction is hardly attainable by any.

This is easily intelligible; it is the almost necessary result of the facts already stated.

Almost all Americans are in easy circumstances, they can therefore easily procure the first elements of human knowledge.

In America, few persons are rich; almost all the Americans are therefore obliged to engage in a profession. But all professions require an apprenticeship. The Americans, therefore, can only give their earliest years to the general cultivation of their intellects. At fifteen they enter into the business of life; and their education usually ends where ours may be said to begin. If it continues farther, it is directed only to some special and money-getting end. They study a science as they learn a trade, and attend to none of its applications but those which tend to an immediate practical object.

In America, most rich people were originally poor; nearly all the people of leisure were in their youth people of business. The consequence is, that when they might have a taste for study they have not time for it; and when they have acquired the leisure, they have ceased to have the inclination.

There exists, therefore, in America, no class, in which the relish for intellectual pleasures is transmitted along with hereditary affluence and leisure, and which holds in honour the labours of the intellect.

Accordingly, both the will and the power to undertake those labours are wanting in America.

There has established itself in America, in respect to knowledge, a certain level of mediocrity. All intellects have approximated themselves to this level; some have risen up to it; others have come down to it.

There are therefore found an immense multitude of individuals possessing very nearly the same number of ideas in religion, in history, in the sciences, in political economy, in legislation, and in government.*

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When all are in nearly the same pecuniary circumstances, all educated nearly alike, and all employed nearly alike, it is no wonder if all think nearly alike; and where this is the case, it is but natural, that when here and there a solitary individual thinks differently, nobody minds him. These are exactly the circumstances in which public opinion is generally so unanimous, that it has most chance to be in reality, and is sure to be in appearance, intolerant of the few who happen to dissent from it.

M. de Tocqueville has himself told us, that there is no indisposition in the Many of the United States to pay deference to the opinions of an instructed class, where such a class exists, and where there are obvious signs by which it may be recognized. He tells us this, by what he says of the extraordinary influence of the lawyers—in his opinion one of the great causes which tend to restrain the abuse of the power of the majority. We recommend especial attention to the section devoted to this topic. (Tocqueville, Vol. II, p. 165.)

The faults incident to the character of a lawyer, in our author’s opinion, happily counterbalance those to which democracy is liable. The lawyer is naturally a lover of precedent; his respect for established rules and established formalities is apt to be unreasonable; the spirit of his profession is everywhere a stationary spirit. He usually has in excess the qualities in which democracy is apt to be deficient. His influence, therefore, is naturally exerted to correct that deficiency.

If the minds of lawyers were not, both in England and America, almost universally perverted by the barbarous system of technicalities—the opprobrium of human reason—which their youth is passed in committing to memory, and their manhood in administering,—we think with our author that they are the class in whom superiority of instruction, produced by superior study, would most easily obtain the stamp of general recognition; and that they would be the natural leaders of a people destitute of a leisured class.

But in countries which, if in some respects worse, are in the other respects far more happily situated than America; in countries where there exist endowed institutions for education, and a numerous class possessed of hereditary leisure, there is a security, far greater than has ever existed in America, against the tyranny of public opinion over the individual mind. Even if the profession of opinions different from those of the mass were an exclusion from public employment—to a leisured class offices moderately paid, and without a particle of irresponsible authority, hold out little allurement, and the diminution of their chance of obtaining them would not be severely felt. A leisured class would always possess a power sufficient not only to protect in themselves, but to encourage in others, the enjoyment of Edition: current; Page: [86] individuality of thought; and would keep before the eyes of the many, what is of so much importance to them, the spectacle of a standard of mental cultivation superior to their own. Such a class, too, would be able, by means of combination, to force upon the rest of the public attention to their opinions. In America, all large minorities exercise this power; even, as in the case of the tariff, to the extent of electing a convention, composed of representatives from all parts of the country, which deliberates in public, and issues manifestoes in the name of its party. A class composed of all the most cultivated intellects in the country; of those who, from their powers and their virtues, would command the respect of the people, even in combating their prejudices—such a class would be almost irresistible in its action on public opinion. In the existence of a leisured class, we see the great and salutary corrective of all the inconveniences to which democracy is liable. We cannot, under any modification of the laws of England, look forward to a period when this grand security for the progressiveness of the human species will not exist.

While, therefore, we see in democracy, as in every other state of society or form of government, possibilities of evil, which it would ill serve the cause of democracy itself to dissemble or overlook; while we think that the world owes a deep debt to M. de Tocqueville for having warned it of these, for having studied the failings and weaknesses of democracy with the anxious attention with which a parent watches the faults of a child, or a careful seaman those of the vessel in which he embarks his property and his life; we see nothing in any of these tendencies, from which any serious evil need be apprehended, if the superior spirits would but join with each other in considering the instruction of the democracy, and not the patching of the old worn-out machinery of aristocracy, the proper object henceforth of all rational exertion. No doubt, the government which will be achieved will long be extremely imperfect, for mankind are as yet in a very early stage of improvement. But if half the exertions were made to prepare the minds of the majority for the place they are about to take in their own government, which are made for the chimerical purpose of preventing them from assuming that place, mankind would purchase at a cheap price safety from incalculable evils, and the benefit of a government indefinitely improveable; the only possible government which, to ensure the greatest good of the community subject to it, has only to take an enlightened view of its own.

We shall conclude this article with some striking passages from M. de Tocqueville, illustrative of the collateral benefits of democracy, even in the imperfect form in which he states it to exist in America; where the people, not content with security for good government, are to a great degree the government itself.

After mankind have outgrown the child-like, unreflecting, and almost Edition: current; Page: [87] instinctive love of country, which distinguishes a rude age, patriotism and public spirit, as a sentiment diffused through the community, can only exist under a democracy:

There is a love of country which takes its rise principally in the unreflecting, disinterested, and undefinable sentiment which attaches the heart of man to the place of his birth. This instinctive affection is blended with the taste for old customs, with the respect for ancestors, and with historical recollections; those who experience it cherish their country with a feeling resembling the love of our paternal home. They love the tranquillity which they enjoy in it, they relish the peaceful habits which they have contracted in it, they are attached to the recollections it affords them, and even find some pleasure in passing in it a life of obedience. This love of country often acquires a still more energetic character from religious zeal, and then it performs wonders. It is itself a kind of religion, it does not reason, it believes, feels, and acts. Nations have been known to personify their country (if we may so speak) in the person of their prince. They have then transferred to him a part of the sentiments of which patriotism is composed, they have been proud of his power, and elated by his triumph. There was a time, under the old monarchy, when Frenchmen felt a kind of joy in feeling themselves irredeemably subject to the arbitrary power of the monarch, they said with pride. “We live under the most powerful monarch in the world.”

Like all unreflecting passions, this love of country excites to great temporary efforts rather than to continuous exertion. After saving the country in a time of emergency, it often allows it to perish by inches in the midst of peace.

While mankind are as yet simple in their manners, and firm in their belief—while society rests quietly upon old-established social arrangements, of which the legitimacy is not contested—this instinctive love of country is in its vigour.

There is another kind of patriotism, more reasoning than the former, less generous, less ardent, perhaps, but more fruitful and more durable. This feeling is the result of instruction; it unfolds itself by aid of the laws, it grows with the exercise of political rights, and ends by becoming in a manner, identified with personal interest. The individual comprehends the influence which the good of the country has over his own good, he knows that the law permits him to bear his part in producing that good, and he takes interest in the prosperity of his country, first, as a thing useful to himself, and next, as in part the result of his own efforts.

But there sometimes comes a time in the history of nations, when old customs are changed, old habits destroyed old convictions shaken; when the prestige of the past disappears, and when, nevertheless, instruction is still incomplete, and political rights ill secured or restricted. Mankind then see their country through a dim and uncertain medium they no longer place it in the mere soil, which to them has become inanimate earth, nor in the usages of their ancestors, which they have been taught to consider as a yoke, nor in their religion of which they have begun to doubt: nor in the laws, which are not of their own making, nor in the legislator, whom they dread and despise. They see it, therefore, nowhere: neither where it is, nor where it is not and they retire within a narrow and unenlightened self-interest. Men in this state of things throw off prejudices, without recognizing the empire of reason, they have neither the instinctive patriotism of monarchy, nor the reflecting patriotism of a republic, they have stopped short betwixt the two, in confusion and wretchedness.

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What is then to be done? To go back? But a people can no more return to the feelings of their youth, than a man to the innocent pleasures of his infantine years, they may regret, but cannot revive them. There is nothing for us but to go forward, and hasten to identify in the minds of the people individual interest with the public interest: the disinterested love of country is gone, not to return.

I am assuredly far from pretending, that to arrive at this result political rights should be suddenly extended to all mankind. But I say that the most potent, and perhaps the only means which remain, of interesting the whole people in the fate of their country, is to make them participate in its government. In our times, the feelings of a citizen seem to me to be inseparable from the exercise of political rights; and I think that henceforth we shall see in Europe the number of good citizens increase or diminish, in proportion to the extension of those rights.

Whence comes it, that in the United States, where the inhabitants have arrived but yesterday on the soil which they occupy; where they have brought with them neither usages nor recollections; where they meet each other for the first time without knowing each other; where, to say all in one word, the instinct of country can hardly exist; whence comes it that every one is as interested in the affairs of his township, of his district, and of the state itself, as he is in his private concerns? It is because every one, in his sphere, takes an active part in the government of society.

The man of the lowest class, in the United States, has taken into his mind the influence which the general prosperity has on his own happiness, a notion so simple, and yet so little known to the people. More than this,—he is accustomed to regard that prosperity as partly his own work. He sees, therefore, in the fortunes of the public his own fortunes, and he co-operates for the good of the state, not merely from pride, or from a sense of duty, but I might almost say from cupidity.

(Tocqueville, Vol. II, pp. 114-17.)

In a democracy only can there ever again be, on the part of the community generally, a willing and conscientious obedience to the laws:

It is not always expedient to call the entire people, either directly or indirectly, to contribute to the framing of the law, but it cannot be denied, that, when this is practicable, the law acquires thereby a great authority. That popular origin, which is often injurious to the goodness and wisdom of legislation, augments in a remarkable degree its power.

There is in the expression of the will of a whole people a prodigious force; and when this force displays itself in open day, the imaginations even of those who would willingly resist it are, as it were, overwhelmed by it.

The truth of this is well known to political parties. Accordingly, we find them contesting the majority, wherever it is contestable. When they have it not among those who have voted, they insist that they would have had it among those who have abstained from voting; and when it escapes them even there, they claim it again among those who had not the right of voting.

In the United States, excepting slaves, menial servants, and the paupers maintained by the townships, there is no man who is not an elector, and who in that capacity has not an indirect influence in making the law. Those, therefore, who wish to attack the laws are reduced to do ostensibly one of two things—they must either change the opinion of the nation, or be able to trample upon its will.

To this first reason is to be added another, more direct and more powerful. In Edition: current; Page: [89] the United States every one has a kind of personal interest in a universal obedience to the law; for he who to-day is not in the majority, will perhaps form part of it to-morrow; and the respect he now professes for the will of the legislator, he may soon have occasion to exact for his own. The inhabitant of the United States submits, therefore, to the law, (however disagreeable to him,) not only as the work of the majority, but also as his own; he looks at it in the light of a contract, to which he is a party.

We do not, therefore, see in the United States a numerous and always turbulent crowd, who, regarding the law as their natural enemy, view it with no eyes but those of fear and suspicion. It is impossible, on the contrary, not to see that the mass of the people evince a great confidence in the legislation which governs the country, and feel for it a sort of paternal affection.

(Vol. II, pp. 123-5.)

Of the general activity, and the diffusion of intelligence, which are the fruits of democracy,

It is incontestable, that the people often direct public affairs very ill: but the people cannot meddle in public affairs without the circle of their ideas being extended, and their minds emancipated from their ordinary routine. The man of the lower class, who exercises a part in the government of society, conceives a certain esteem for himself. As he is then a power in the state, intellects of a high order of instruction devote themselves to the service of his intellect. He sees on all sides of him people address themselves to him, courting his support: and in seeking to deceive him in a thousand different ways, they enlighten him. In politics he takes part in undertakings which have not originated with himself, but which give him a general taste for enterprises. Every day there are suggested to him new improvements to be made in the common property and he feels his desire sharpened to ameliorate that which is his own. He is neither more virtuous nor happier, perhaps, but he is more enlightened and more active than his predecessors. I am satisfied that democratic institutions, combined with the physical character of the country, are the cause—not, as so many people say, the direct, but the indirect cause—of the prodigious industrial prosperity observable in the United States. The laws do not generate it, but the people learn to produce it in making the laws.

When the enemies of democracy affirm that a single person does better what he undertakes, than the government of All, they seem to me to be in the right. The government of One, if we suppose on both sides equality of instruction, has more suite in its undertakings than the multitude, it shows more perseverance, a more comprehensive plan, more perfection in the details, a juster discernment in the selection of individuals. Those who deny these things have never seen a democratic republic, or have judged of it from a small number of examples. Democracy, even where local circumstances and the state of the people’s minds permit it to subsist, does not present a spectacle of administrative regularity and methodical order in the government—that is true. Democratic freedom does not execute each of its enterprises with the same perfection as an intelligent despotism. It often abandons them without having reaped their fruit, or undertakes such as are perilous. But in the long run it produces greater results, it does less well each particular thing, but it does a greater number of things. Under its empire, what is truly great is, not what the public administration does, but what is done without it, and independently of its aid. Democracy does not give to the people the most Edition: current; Page: [90] skilful government, but it does what the most skilful government is often unable to do,—it diffuses through all society a restless activity, a superabundance of force, an energy, which never exist where democracy is not, and which, wherever circumstances are at all favourable, may give birth to prodigies. Therein consist its true advantages.

(Tocqueville, Vol. II, pp. 130-2.)

We must here pause. We have left many interesting parts of the book altogether unnoticed; and among the rest two most instructive chapters—“On the Causes which maintain Democracy in America,” (among the foremost of these he places the religious spirit, and among the chief causes which maintain that spirit, the removal of religion from the field of politics by the entire separation of church and state,) and “On the Condition and Prospects of the three Races,” black, white, and red. We have preferred giving the reader a full idea of part of M. de Tocqueville’s work, rather than a mere abstract of the whole. But we earnestly recommend the study of the entire work, both to the philosophical statesman and to the general reader; and to facilitate its reaching the latter, we greatly rejoice at its appearance in an English dress.

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London Review, II (Jan., 1836), 365-89 (equivalent to Westminster Review, XXXI). Headed: “Art V. / State of Society in America. / 1. Marie; ou l’Esclavage aux Etats Unis, Tableau de Mœurs / Américaines; par Gustave de Beaumont, l’un des Auteurs de / l’Ouvrage [sic] intitulé: Du Systême Pénitentiaire aux Etats / Unis. Seconde Edition, revue et corrigée [Paris: Gosselin], 1835. 2 vols. / 2. Journal of a Residence and Tour in the United States of North America, from April, 1833, to October, 1834. By E. / S. Abdy, Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. 1835. 3 vols. [London:] Murray. / 3. The Rambler in North America: 1832-1833. By Charles / Joseph Latrobe, author of the ‘Alpenstock,’ &c. 1835. / 2 vols. [London:] Seeley and Burnside. / 4. The Stranger in America: comprising Sketches of the Manners, Society, and National Peculiarities of the United / States: in a Series of Letters to a Friend in Europe. By / Francis Lieber, Editor of the Encyclopædia Americana. / 1835. 2 vols. [London:] Bentley. / 5. [Alexander Hill Everett,] A Review of Men and Manners in America. By [Thomas Hamilton,] the author of ‘Cyril Thornton.’ Reprinted from the North American Review [XXXVIII]. 1834. [London:] Miller, Henrietta Street.” Signed “A.” Running title: “State of Society in America.” Not republished. Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “An article entitled ‘State of Society in America,’ being a review of works on the United States; in the fourth number of the London Review.” (MacMinn, 46.) The copy of the article in the Somerville College Library has no corrections or emendations. There are no references to the writing of the article in the Autobiography or extant letters.

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State of Society in America

two sources of instruction, which, however highly appreciated in name, have remained, till near the present time, almost entirely useless in fact, are beginning at length to be turned to some account: we mean, history and travelling. Intelligent investigation into past ages, and intelligent study of foreign countries, have commenced: both processes being substantially the same—with only this difference, that for the latter we have more ample materials—it was natural that they should commence about the same time. Both are yet in their infancy. Neither historians nor travellers in any former age, and few even in the present, have had a glimmering of what it is to study a people.

We would not exaggerate the value of either of these sources of knowledge. They are useful in aid of a more searching and accurate experience, not in lieu of it. No one learns any thing very valuable either from history or from travelling, who does not come prepared with much that history and travelling can never teach. No one can know other people so well as he may know himself, nor other ages and countries so well as he may know his own age and country: and the wisdom acquired by the study of ourselves, and of the circumstances which surround us, can alone teach us to interpret the comparatively little which we know of other persons and other modes of existence; to make a faithful picture of them in our own minds, and to assign effects to their right causes. Even to the philosopher, the value both of history and of travelling is not so much positive as negative; they teach little, but they are a protection against much error. Nations, as well as individuals, until they have compared themselves with others, are apt to mistake their own idiosyncracies for laws of our common being, and the accidents of their position, for a part of the destiny of our race. The type of human nature and of human life with which they are familiar, is the only one which presents itself to their imagination; and their expectations and endeavours continually presupposes, as an immutable law, something which, perhaps, belongs only to the age and state of society through which they are rapidly passing.

The correction of narrowness is the main benefit derived from the study of various ages and nations: of narrowness, not only in our conceptions of what is, but in our standard of what ought to be. The individualities of nations Edition: current; Page: [94] are serviceable to the general improvement, in the same manner as the individualities of persons: since none is perfect, it is a beneficial arrangement that all are not imperfect in the same way. Each nation, and the same nation in every different age, exhibits a portion of mankind, under a set of influences, different from what have been in operation anywhere else: each, consequently, exemplifies a distinct phasis of humanity; in which the elements which meet and temper one another in a perfect human character are combined in a proportion more or less peculiar. If all nations resembled any one nation, improvement would be apt to take place only within the limits of the peculiar type of imperfection which that nation would be sure to exhibit. But when each nation beholds in some other a model of the excellencies corresponding to its own deficiencies; when all are admonished of what they want, by what others have (as well as made to feel the value of what they have by what others want), they no longer go on confirming themselves in their defects by the consciousness of their excellencies, but betake themselves, however tardily, to profiting by each other’s example.

Omitting former ages, there are in the present age four great nations, England, France, Germany, and the United States. Each of these possesses, either in its social condition, in its national character, or in both, some points of indisputable and pre-eminent superiority over all the others. Each again has some deep-seated and grievous defects from which the others are comparatively exempt. The state of society in each, and the type of human nature which it exhibits, are subjects of most instructive study to the others: and whoever, in the present age, makes up his system of opinions from the contemplation of only one of them, is in imminent danger of falling into narrow and one-sided views.

The tendency, therefore, now manifesting itself on the continent of Europe, towards the philosophic study of past and of foreign civilizations, is one of the encouraging features of the present time. It is a tendency not wholly imperceptible even in this country, the most insular of all the provinces of the republic of letters. In France and Germany it has become a characteristic of the national intellect; and such works as M. Guizot’s Lectures, reviewed in our present, and M. de Tocqueville’s America, in our last Number, are among its results.[*]

The four nations which we have named, have all contributed their part towards the collection of works on America, the titles of which stand prefixed to the present article. They comprise the testimony of one Frenchman, two Edition: current; Page: [95] Englishmen, and one German, respecting the United States, and the reply of an American to the hostile criticisms of another Englishman. All are interesting; and more than one, of distinguished merit.

The first on the list is the most attractive to the general reader. The author, M. Gustave de Beaumont, the friend and fellow-traveller of M. de Tocqueville, has thrown his impressions of America into a form which combines the authenticity of a book of travels with the attractions of a well-conceived and well-executed work of fiction. Out of a few incidents and characters, and those of the simplest description, he has constructed, without affectation or straining, one of the most pathetic stories of our time; which, as a mere novel, would have entitled the author to no small literary reputation, but which is also a highly impressive picture of American life; while the facts and remarks, which are partly interspersed through it, and partly appended in the form of notes and dissertations, superadd to its merits as a pictorial delineation, the value of a formal treatise.

M. de Beaumont is no aristocrat, but a warm friend to the American Government, and to popular institutions generally. Nevertheless, we have read no book which has represented American social life in such sombre colours, or which is more calculated to deter persons of highly-cultivated faculties and lofty aspirations, from making that country their abode. A part of this disagreeable impression is, no doubt, a consequence of the melancholy colouring given by that deplorable feature in American life on which the interest of the fictitious narrative chiefly turns—the inhuman antipathy against the negro race. The heroine of the story of Marie is a girl of colour—or at least is reputed such, for the brand of degradation attaches not to colour, but to pedigree. Undistinguishable by any outward mark from women of purely European descent—the daughter of a man of weight and consideration in the State to which he belongs—she grows up to womanhood in ignorance of the defect in her genealogy, and with the feelings of a highly-educated and sensitive girl. At this period, by the malice of an enemy, it is bruited abroad, that, two or three generations before, a drop of negro blood had mingled itself with that of one of her ancestors, and had been transmitted to her. The remainder of the story is occupied with the misery brought upon this unfortunate girl, upon her brave and high-spirited brother, her father, and her lover, by the effects of that direful prejudice, so lamentable that we hardly know how to call it detestable.

Even independently of this dark spot in the character and destiny of the Americans, M. de Beaumont’s representation of them is not flattering. There is, however, a caution to be observed by an English reader, lest he should draw from the terms in which M. de Beaumont expresses himself, inferences never intended by the author. M. de Beaumont’s is a picture of American life as it appears to a Frenchman. But to a Frenchman, English life would, as Edition: current; Page: [96] to many of its features, appear in a light very similar, and not much less unfavourable. In many things which strike M. de Beaumont with the force of novelty, and of which he speaks with strong, and possibly well-grounded, dislike, an Englishman would see merely the peculiarities of his own country and people a little heightened; but being probably unaware of the degree in which things so familiar to him may appear strange and repulsive to foreigners, he will be in danger of measuring the divergence of America from the English standard, by the strong terms in which M. de Beaumont expresses her distance from the French. The picture thus mentally heightened would become a ridiculous caricature. Even a work of a far higher order of philosophy than M. de Beaumont’s, the Democracy in America of M. de Tocqueville, will be apt, if read without this necessary caution, to convey a conception of America, in many respects very wide of the truth.

In Mr. Abdy’s, still more than in M. de Beaumont’s book, the main topic is the condition and treatment of the negro and mixed races; of whose cause Mr. Abdy is an enthusiastic advocate, and of whose wrongs even M. de Beaumont’s fiction scarcely gives so appalling a conception as Mr. Abdy’s accumulation of facts. But into this painful subject, which is almost wholly unconnected with any of the other features of society in America, we shall at this time refrain from entering; and the more willingly, as, in the present state of our knowledge, we are quite unable either to suggest a remedy, or even to hazard a conjecture as to the solution which fate has in reserve for that terrible problem.

Mr. Abdy, in respect of his political opinions, is an enlightened Radical; and in respect of understanding and acquirements, appears a very competent observer and witness, as to the state of things in America. Few books of travels in that country, which have fallen under our notice, have a greater number of useful and interesting facts and observations scattered through them. The real and great interest, however, in Mr. Abdy’s mind, is the condition of the coloured population; and his sympathy with them gives him, in spite of his radicalism, a decided bias against the Americans. The contrary is the case with Mr. Latrobe. This gentleman seems, with respect to his native country, England, to be a Tory, or at least a decided antireformer. But we are acquainted with no traveller whose sentiments as to home politics have less influenced his judgment or feelings respecting foreign countries. Being, as he evidently is, of an amiable and highly sociable disposition; meeting, like all other travellers, not merely with hospitality, but with the most remarkable kindness and sociability throughout the United States, and deriving the keenest enjoyment from the sublime natural objects which he witnessed, and of which he has furnished some of the most attractive descriptions we ever read; Mr. Latrobe has seen all objects illuminated by his own feelings of pleasure: and the impression which he communicates Edition: current; Page: [97] of America and the Americans is highly favourable. In this work, as in the others, we have found some judicious and valuable remarks; but its greatest merit lies in its pictures of scenery, in which department it ranks among the first productions of our day, and may probably engage some further share of our attention in another article.

Dr. Lieber’s work is the least valuable of the set. The author is a German, permanently settled in the United States, where he has acquired, we believe, a respectable position as a man of letters, and is the same who has recently published, in this country, his Reminiscences of Niebuhr the historian.[*] His book contains something about America, with which he is in the highest good humour, and something about every other subject whatsoever, especially about the author himself, of whose adventures in the campaign of Waterloo we have a long, and it must be admitted, interesting narrative, à propos of nothing at all. It is a book of lively and rather clever gossip, which adds something, though not much, to our knowledge of America; and has, for that reason, been deemed worthy of a place at the head of this article.

Our list is closed by a paper reprinted in this country from the North American Review, in which one of the most smooth-tongued of the detractors of America, the author of Cyril Thornton, is gently, but most effectually demolished.[†] The exposure of the incompetency and presumption of the travelling Tory is complete. As to the subject itself, the reviewer endeavours to make out, in behalf of his country, more points than, judging from other authorities, we incline to think he can succeed in; but he is well entitled to a hearing, and we eagerly expect the judgment of the same writer on M. de Tocqueville, and on the various authors reviewed in our present article.

For ourselves, we are less desirous of transferring to our pages (for which, indeed, we have not room) a selection of the most interesting passages from these various works, than of stating the opinion which, from these and from all other sources of information, we have formed as to the manner in which America has usually been judged.

Scarcely any one has looked at the United States with any other apparent purpose than to find arguments for and against popular government. America has been discussed, as if she were nothing but a democracy: a society, differing from other human societies in no essential point, except the popular character of her institutions. The friends or enemies of parliamentary reform have been more or less in the habit of ascribing to democracy whatever of Edition: current; Page: [98] good or evil they have found or dreamed of in the United States. One class of writers, indeed, the political economists, have taken notice of a second circumstance, namely, that population in America does not press upon the means of subsistence—and have traced the consequences of this as far as high wages, but seldom further; while the rest of the world, if their partialities happened to lie that way, have gone on ascribing even high wages to the government; which we are informed is the prevalent opinion among the Americans themselves, of all ranks and parties. But the Government is only one of a dozen causes which have made America what she is. The Americans are a democratic people: granted; but they are also a people without poor; without rich; with a “far west” behind them; so situated as to be in no danger of aggressions from without; sprung mostly from the Puritans; speaking the language of a foreign country; with no established church; with no endowments for the support of a learned class; with boundless facilities to all classes for “raising themselves in the world;” and where a large family is a fortune.

Without analysing minutely the effects of all these causes, let us glance at some few of the numerous considerations which they suggest.

America, then, is a country in which there are no poor. This is not the effect of the government. There are, indeed, governments in the world which would make any people poor; but to such governments, a people as civilized as the Americans never would submit. Where there is sufficient protection of property, and sufficient freedom from arbitrary exaction, to enable capital to accumulate with rapidity, and where population does not increase still more rapidly, no one who is willing to work can possibly be poor. Where there is no poverty, there will be a remarkable freedom from the vices and crimes which are the consequences of it. It is remarkable how much of those national characteristics which are supposed to be peculiarly the result of democracy, flow directly from the superior condition of the people—and would exist under any government, provided the competition of employers for labourers were greater than that of labourers for employment. The personal independence, for example, of the labouring classes; their distaste for menial occupations, and resolute taking of their own way in the manner of performing them, contrasted with that absolute and blind obedience to which European employers are accustomed: what are these but the result of a state of the labour-market, in which to consent to serve another is doing a sort of favour to him, and servants know that they, and not the masters, can dictate the conditions of the contract?* The unpleasant peculiarities which are complained of by travellers, in the manners of the most numerous class in America, along with the substantial kindness to which every traveller bears testimony, would be manifested by the English peasantry if they were in the same circumstances—satisfied with their condition, and therefore Edition: current; Page: [99] evincing the degree of social feeling and mutual good will which a prosperous people always exhibit; but freed from the necessity of servility for bread, and, consequently, at liberty to treat their superiors exactly as they treat one another.

If we add to this, that the original founders of the colonies, from whom the present race of Americans are descended, were of the middle class, were people who could read, and who valued reading as the means of being instructed in their religion, we shall not wonder that this well-paid people are also a reading people; and that this well-paid and reading people are a democratic people. High wages and universal reading are the two elements of democracy; where they co-exist, all government, except the government of public opinion, is impossible. While the thirteen states were dependent colonies of Great Britain, they were, as to internal government, nearly as complete democracies as they now are; and we know what was the consequence of attempting to impose burdens upon them without their own consent.

But, secondly, there are not only no poor, there are scarcely any rich—and no hereditary rich. Here again is a fact over which the government has some indirect influence, but of which it cannot be considered the cause. There are no laws to keep large fortunes together; but neither are there laws, as in France, to divide them. If the rich chose to leave all their property to their eldest sons, there is nothing in the institutions of any of the states of America to prevent them; it is only in case of intestacy that the law interferes, and in most of the states effects an equal distribution. Public opinion seems to enjoin, in most cases, equality of division; but it enforces its mandates only by a moral sanction.*

Here, then, is a circumstance of immense influence on the civilization of any country; an influence on which in our article on M. de Tocqueville’s America we have enlarged, and which is further dwelt upon in the first article of our present Number.[*] That important portion of a people, who are its natural leaders in the higher paths of social improvement—a leisured class, a class educated for leisure—is wanting in America. It is not necessary, it is not even desirable, that this class should possess enormous incomes. The Edition: current; Page: [100] class exists largely in France and Germany, where the standard of incomes is very low. But in America there is no class exempted from the necessity of bestowing the best years of life on the acquisition of a subsistence. To say nothing of the refinements and elegancies of social life—all distinguished eminence in philosophy, and in the nobler kinds of literature, is in a manner denied to America by this single circumstance. There may, indeed, be writers by profession, and these may drive a thriving trade; but, in no state of society ever known, could the writings which were addressed to the highest order of minds, and which were in advance of their age, have afforded a subsistence to their authors. These have been produced by persons who had at least the means of supporting life, independently of their literary labours; and even the few works of a high order, which have been written in the intervals of a life devoted to other business, have commonly been addressed to a leisured class.*

We do not remember to have seen it noticed by any writer except the author of England and America;[*] but it is a most significant fact, that a large majority of all the Americans who are known out of their own country, and five of her seven presidents, including Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, were from the slave states. The reason is manifest: there, and there alone, was there a leisured class.

To the absence of such a class must be added another circumstance, to which due weight has scarcely yet been assigned—this is, that, to all intents except government, the people of America are provincials. Politically, the United States are a great and independent nation; but in all matters social or literary, they are a province of the British empire. This peculiarity of position, to which even their descent contributes, is indissolubly fixed by the identity of language.

The characteristic of provincialism, in society and literature, is imitation: provincials dare not be themselves; they dare do nothing for which they have not, or think they have not, a warrant from the metropolis. In regard to society, this remark is too hacknied to need illustration. It is equally true in respect to literature. In the one, as in the other, the provinces take their tone from the capital. It rarely happens that a book has any success in the provinces, unless a reputation acquired in the capital has preceded its arrival. But, in regard to literature, Boston and New York are as much provincial cities as Norwich or Liverpool, and much more so than Edinburgh (which Edition: current; Page: [101] indeed is a kind of literary and social metropolis in itself, and partakes but partially of the provincial character). There has been a Franklin, and there has been a Burns: there will always be persons of extraordinary genius, or extraordinary energy, capable of making their way against one kind of obstacle as against another. But, of the illustrious men of letters in France and England, though a majority have been provincials by birth, nearly all have spent their best years in the capital, and their works have been written in and for London and Paris. The courage which has made them dare trust to their own inspirations, either in thought or in language, as well as the modesty which has saved them from (what stops the progress of most aspirants in a very early stage) the misfortune of being too easily pleased with their own performances—have been learned in the literary metropolis of the nation, and in contact with the direct influence of its leading minds.

Subtract from the British empire London and Edinburgh, and all or nearly all who are born to independence; leave at the summit of this frustum of the social pyramid the merchants of Liverpool, the manufacturers of Manchester, the bar of London spread over the whole of England, and the physicians, attorneys, and dissenting clergy: then raise the working classes to the enjoyment of ample wages—give them universally the habit of reading, and an active interest in public affairs; and you will have a society constituted almost identically with that of the United States, and the only standard with which this last can either be likened or contrasted.* The present government of France has been called la monarchie des épiciers; America is a republic peopled with a provincial middle class.

The virtues of a middle class are those which conduce to getting rich—integrity, economy, and enterprise—along with family affections, inoffensive conduct between man and man, and a disposition to assist one another, whenever no commercial rivalry intervenes. Of all these virtues the Americans appear to possess a large share. And the qualities of a more questionable description, which there seems to be most ground for ascribing to them, are the same which are seen to be characteristic of a middle class in other countries: a general indifference to those kinds of knowledge and mental culture which cannot be immediately converted into pounds, shillings, and pence; very little perception or enjoyment of the beautiful, either in nature or in the productions of genius, along with great occasional affection of it; the predominant passion that of money—the passion of those who have Edition: current; Page: [102] no other; indifference to refinements and elegancies for their own sake, but a vehement desire to possess what are accounted such by others.

Another circumstance which has important consequences, both as to society and national character, is the unrivalled industrial prosperity of the United States. This circumstance enables the country to do with less government than any other country in existence. It is easy to keep the peace among a people all of whom are not only well off, but have unlimited means of making themselves still better off without injury to any one. The facilities of acquiring riches are such, that according to M. de Tocqueville, that is the career which engrosses all the ambitious spirits.[*] But this same industrial prosperity has some undesirable effects. Both wages and profits being higher than in any other part of the world, the temptation is strong to all classes (but especially to those who, as managers of their own capital, can unite both sources of emolument) to enter into life, as it is called, in other words, to plunge into money-getting, at the earliest possible age. It is affirmed that hardly any American remains at a place of general education beyond the age of fifteen. Here again we recognise the habits and ways of thinking of a middle class; the very causes which are accountable for the comparative failure of the London University. Further, the chances of rapid gain, combined with the facility of recovering after a fall, offer a temptation to hazardous speculations greater than in any other country. In Europe, a person who loses his all, falls into beggary; in America, only into a condition from whence, in a few years, he may emerge restored to affluence. A most adventurous spirit may, therefore, be expected to prevail in the conduct of business. Not only does this appear to be the fact, but the sympathy of the public generally with that adventurous spirit, seems to produce extraordinary indulgence even to its ill success. It is a remarkable circumstance, that although the power is expressly reserved to Congress, of framing a general law of bankruptcy for the United States, public opinion has never permitted any such law to be enacted. The laws of some of the states are lenient to excess towards even fraudulent bankruptcy;* and failures inflict no discredit in the opinion of society. One cause of this indulgence towards bankruptcies may be their extreme frequency. “A short time,” says M. de Beaumont (Vol. I, pp. 284-6),

after my arrival in America, as I entered a salon, which contained the élite of the society of one of the principal cities of the Union, a Frenchman, long settled in the country, said to me, “Be sure to say nothing disparaging of bankrupts.” I took his advice, very fortunately as it happened: for, among all the rich personages to whom I was presented, there was not one who had not failed once, or more Edition: current; Page: [103] than once, before making his fortune. All Americans being in business, and all having failed once or oftener, it follows that to have been a bankrupt in the United States is nothing at all. The indulgence towards bankruptcy comes, in the first place, from its being the common case, but principally from the extreme facility with which the insolvent can re-establish his fortunes. If he were ruined for ever, he would perhaps be left to his fate; but mankind are more indulgent to one who is in misfortune, when they know that he will not always be so

M. de Beaumont adds, with discriminating candour. “Because the Americans are tolerant of bankruptcy, it does not follow that they approve of it. Self-interest, observes Chateaubriand, is the greatest vice of the Mussulmans,[*] and yet liberality is the virtue they hold in highest esteem. In like manner, these traders, who continually violate their engagements, applaud and honour good faith.”

It is, in fact, evident that in such bankruptcies the creditor has nothing to complain of; as he loses by others, so others are in constant danger of losing by him; and losses by bankruptcy are counted among the ordinary risks of trade. The proof is, that notwithstanding the frequency of failures, in no country is credit given more profusely and readily. “The system of trading upon credit,” says Mr. Abdy (Vol. II, p. 130), “has been carried to a ruinous extent. The facility with which bills are indorsed, and mutual accommodation procured, has exposed commerce to reverses and expedients unknown in the old world; and the tendency to erect mercantile enterprise on the basis of borrowing, is such as to present the spectacle of a nation, composed in a great degree of individuals who have mortgaged their bones and muscles to the exigencies and speculations of the moment.”*

Another circumstance in American society has been noticed by almost all travellers; and M. de Beaumont, Mr. Latrobe and Dr. Lieber bear strong Edition: current; Page: [104] testimony to it:—the uninfluential position of married women, their seclusion from society, and the housemaid-like drudgery which appears to fill up their lives. There have not been wanting persons who have seen, even in this, one of the “degrading influences of democracy.” It is, however, an obvious consequence of that state of the labour-market, which renders early marriages and numerous families universal. Such a state of society naturally produces what, by rather a pedantic use of the term, is called regularity of morals; but when the boundlessness of the field of employment, compared with the numbers to be employed, renders a large family a fortune instead of a burden, women are likely, in their present relation to men (and while in such matters they have as little of a will of their own as everywhere, except in France, they seem to have), to be little else than machines for bringing forth and nursing multitudes of children. And it is evident, that where such is their destiny as wives, and where they become wives almost before they are women, they are likely to be sufficiently inferior in mental endowments, fully to justify, in the eyes of men, the inferiority of their social position.*

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On looking back to the foregoing observations, some readers will perhaps be surprised to find, that nearly all which has ever been complained of as bad in America, and a great part of what is good, are accounted for independently of democracy. This would have been still more obvious, if, instead of confining our attention, as we have hitherto done, to the northern and eastern states, we had extended it to the whole Union. So far as the slave-states are concerned, it is a mere perversion of terms to call the government a democracy. The entire white population of these states are an aristocracy; and from all credible accounts, appear to have a large share of all the personal qualities which belong everywhere to those who rule by force, and are supported by the labour of others.* Little could probably be traced among them of the influences either of democracy or of any other of the general features of American society, were it not for that incessant and rapid communication, which brings into daily contact the inhabitants of all parts of the Union, and has helped to produce throughout its whole extent a similarity of personal character, not, indeed, so complete as is often supposed, but greater than could have been produced by any other circumstance among so diversified a population.

We have equally left out of our consideration the back-woods, and have not thought it necessary to justify democracy from being in any way accessary to “Lynch-law.” We have not forgotten Sir Robert Peel’s Tamworth speech;[*] but (we must say) we think that speech chiefly remarkable as a specimen of what the conservative baronet thought would go down with his Tamworth auditory, or, we may perhaps add, with his party. There are Tories enough, probably, who are ignorant of the difference between the state of Mississippi and the state of New York; but we much doubt his being one of them. Sir Robert Peel is not so ignorant as to suppose, Edition: current; Page: [106] that any government could establish good order and obedience to law, in countries which count nearly as many square miles as inhabitants. He must have read Mr. Crawford’s report;[*] from which he might have learnt that in the back settlements not more than one crime in a hundred either is, or possibly can be, made the subject of legal redress; and each person consequently retains the right of self-defence which belongs to man in a state of nature.* Least of all can Sir Robert Peel be sincere in laying the blame upon democracy, of lawless proceedings which are exclusively confined to the south-western states, where all the bad passions arising from slavery, are blended with the vices natural to a country colonized almost exclusively, as M. de Tocqueville says, by adventurers and speculators.[†] Even Lynch-law, which, though it occasionally sanctions its mandates by death, limits them in the first instance to removal from the neighbourhood, is probably a real improvement upon the state of society previously existing, in which every man’s rifle was his own protector and avenger.

Nothing is farther from our intention than to say that the experience of America throws no light upon principles of government, or that America is not a proper theatre in which to study the tendencies of democracy. Whoever has read our review of M. de Tocqueville’s book,[‡] knows that we think the contrary. Democracy may be studied in America—but studied it must be; its effects are not apparent on the mere surface of the facts; a greater power of discriminating essentials from non-essentials than travellers or politicians usually possess, is required for deducing from the phenomena of American society inferences of any kind with respect to democracy. The facts themselves must first be sifted, more carefully than they ever are by any but a most highly-qualified observer. Next, we have to strike off all such of the facts as, from the laws of human nature, democracy can have nothing to do with, and all those which are sufficiently accounted for by other causes. Edition: current; Page: [107] The residuum alone can, by even a plausible conjecture, be traced home to democracy.

One truth, at least, we think, sufficiently manifest. The Tory writers have said, and said truly, that tranquillity and prosperity, in a country placed in the peculiar physical circumstances of America, proves little for the safety of democratic institutions among the crowded population, the innumerable complications and causes of dissatisfaction, which exist in older countries. Had they stopped there, every rational person would have been of their opinion. But when they proceed to argue as if the experiment of democracy had been tried in America under circumstances wholly favourable, they are totally mistaken. America is, in many important points, nearly the most unfavourable field in which democracy could have been tried. With regard, indeed, to the vulgar apprehensions which haunt vulgar minds, of agrarian laws, and schemes of sweeping confiscation, the circumstances of the experiment are undoubtedly as favourable as could be desired. But these are the fears only of those to whom omne ignotum is terrible. In everything which concerns the influences of democracy on intellect and social life, its virtues could nowhere be put upon a harder trial than in America; for no civilized country is placed in circumstances tending more to produce mediocrity in the one, or dullness and inelegance in the other. Everything in the position of America tends to foster the spirit of trade, the passion of money-getting, and that almost alone.

We should not wonder if it were found that, in point of fact, the Americans exhibit, not more, but less, of these undesirable characteristics, than is the natural result of circumstances independent of their government: and that, instead of evidence against democracy, there is a balance to be set down in its favour, as an actual counteractive of many of the unfavourable influences to which some other circumstances in the position of America tend to subject her.

If so, unquestionably the condition of America must be regarded as highly promising and hopeful: for, of all the circumstances in her position which have appeared to us calculated to produce unfavourable effects upon her national character, there is not one which has not a tendency to disappear. Her greatest deficiency—the absence of a leisured class—the mere progress of accumulation must be gradually supplying. If indeed the deleterious influence in America were democracy, her case would be hopeless, for that is an influence which must be strengthened, and not weakened, by the natural course of events. But of every other element of evil she will in time get rid. Accordingly there is valuable testimony to the existence of a tendency to improvement in those very points in which it seems to be most needed. The North American Review, January, 1833, p. 47, a work attached to the federalist, not the democratic party, says, “We rejoice to have it in our power Edition: current; Page: [108] to assure the friends of liberty in England, that they have nothing to fear for the charities and ornaments of life in the progress of reform. Improvement was never in any country or age more active, more visibly diffusing itself, than in the United States at this time. Schools of all kinds are multiplying, sound learning in all its branches is more and more cultivated, the polite arts are in a state of creditable progress, and all these good influences are producing their natural good effects.”[*]

The same Review, in the article on Colonel Hamilton’s Men and Manners in America, contains the following passages, which it is but justice in us to insert, having so recently extracted from M. de Tocqueville the expression of opinions directly contrary on the points alluded to. Future observers must decide which statement is nearest to the truth.

The devotion to literary—or to speak more generally—intellectual power, that prevails in this country, is, in fact, one of the remarkable traits in the national character, and is much more deep and fervent,—whatever our author may think of it,—than that which is paid to wealth. Mere wealth commands in this country,—as it must, and when tolerably well administered, ought to command every where,—consideration and respect, but creates no feeling of interest in its owner. Intellectual eminence, especially when accompanied by high moral qualities, seems to operate like a charm upon the hearts of the whole community. This effect is much more perceptible here than in Europe, where the intellectual men are overshadowed by an hereditary privileged class, who regard them every where as inferior, and in some countries refuse to associate with them at all. The highest professional or literary distinction gives no admission to most of the courts of Europe, and only on a very unequal footing to the fashionable circles. A lawyer or a clergyman of talent is occasionally allowed a seat at the foot of a nobleman’s table, but to aspire to the hand of his daughter would be the height of presumption. At the close of a long life of labour he takes his seat, too late to receive any great satisfaction from his new position, in the House of Lords, as Chancellor, Chief-Justice, or Bishop. Through the whole active period of his life he has moved, as a matter of course, in a secondary sphere. With us, on the contrary, great wealth, the only accidental circumstance that confers distinction, is commonly the result of a life of labour. The intellectual men assume at once, and maintain through life, a commanding position among their contemporaries,—give the tone in the first social circles,—and, at the maturity of their powers and influence, receive from their fellow-citizens demonstrations of attachment and respect, which have rarely, if ever, been shown before to the eminent men of any other country. The Presidentships and the Governorships, the places in the cabinet, and on the bench of justice, in Congress and in the State Legislatures,—the commissions in the Army and Navy,—the foreign embassies,—elsewhere the monopoly of a few privileged families,—are here the rewards of intellectual preeminence. Lord Brougham, though certainly in every way one of the most illustrious and truly deserving public characters that have appeared in England in modern times, has never received from his countrymen any proof of approbation half so flattering, Edition: current; Page: [109] as the sort of civic triumph with which Mr. Clay and Mr. Webster were lately welcomed on their respective visits to the East and the West Mr. Irving, since his late return from Europe, has been the object of more attention of a public kind, than was shown through the whole course of his life to Sir Walter Scott, undoubtedly the most popular British writer of the last century.

This respect for intellectual power, which forms so remarkable a feature in the national character, ought not to have escaped the attention of a traveller, whose pretensions to notice are founded entirely upon that basis, and who had experienced the operation of it so favourably in his own person. It has often been evinced, in a very pleasing way, in the testimonials of regard shown to the memory of distinguished literary men, even of foreign countries. At the late lamented decease of the illustrious British poet just alluded to, the public feeling of regret was evidently quite as strong in this country as in England. Subscriptions were raised at New York, to aid in the purchase of Abbotsford for his family; and a monument to his memory is now in preparation at Albany. We regret to learn that the object, in which the New York subscriptions were intended to aid, is not likely to be effected. The marble tablet that covers the remains of Henry Kirke White, in the churchyard of Nottingham in England, was placed there by a gentleman of this city, no otherwise interested in his memory, than by the pleasure he had taken in reading his poems.[*]

This view of the matter receives confirmation from the hostile testimony of Colonel Hamilton himself. If the Americans are so vain of their distinguished intellectual characters, as that gentleman affirms, most assuredly they must be anything but indifferent to the value of intellect itself.

On the capacity and disposition of the people to make a good selection of persons to fill the highest offices, the American reviewer, though attached to what is esteemed the aristocratic party, is so far from agreeing with M. de Tocqueville, that he considers the experience of his country to be not only favourable, but decisively so.

So far as the office of President of the United States is concerned, which our author appears to have had particularly in view, we had supposed it to be generally acknowledged, not that the experiment had failed, but that it had succeeded a good deal better than perhaps could reasonably have been expected. Of the seven Presidents who have been elected under it, the six first, viz. Washington, the two Adamses, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe,—though certainly far from being on a level in point of qualifications for the office,—were all, by general acknowledgment, among the most eminent and best qualified persons in the country. Mr. Monroe, the least conspicuous of the number, is yet spoken of by our author, deservedly, in very handsome terms, and was as much superior to the hereditary rulers of the ordinary European standard, as Washington was to him. As to the qualifications of the present incumbent, which are still the subject of party controversy, there would no doubt be a difference of opinion. A large and respectable portion of the citizens who opposed his election would probably say, that in his case, the system has in fact failed. But were this even admitted, it might Edition: current; Page: [110] still be pertinently asked, whether any system can be expected to produce the best possible results oftener than six times out of seven. On the other hand, the large majority of the citizens who elected General Jackson look upon him as the very Phœnix of Presidents, and from the tone of our author’s remarks upon the subject, we should have supposed that he inclined to this opinion. He certainly, if his account may be believed, “retired from the interview he had with General Jackson, with sentiments of very sincere respect for the intellectual and moral qualities of the American President.” We doubt whether he could have said as much as this of a majority of the hereditary rulers of Europe. Add to this, that in the innumerable instances in which the same system has been applied in the several States, it has brought out, almost uniformly, men of great respectability,—often the very first men in the country, such as Jefferson, Dewitt Clinton, and Jay,—and in no one case, as far as we are informed, any person notoriously incapable. We cannot but think, that instead of having grossly failed, it must be regarded, on the whole, as having in a remarkable manner succeeded. In fact, the capacity of the people at large to elect the principal political functionaries, is considered, by competent judges, as one of the least questionable points in the theory of government. Montesquieu, at least as high an authority on a political question as the author of Cyril Thornton, tells us that “the people are admirably well qualified to elect those who are to be intrusted with any portion of their power. If there were a doubt of this, we need only to recollect the continual succession of astonishing elections that were made by the Athenians and the Romans, which certainly cannot be attributed to chance.”[*] The history of the United States, so far as we have proceeded, will be regarded by future political philosophers, as furnishing another example, not less striking than those of Athens and Rome.[†]

There are two or three obvious mistakes in this reasoning. Athens and Rome were not democracies, but altogether, and exclusively, governments by a leisured class: their experience, therefore, though it throws light upon many of the effects of free institutions in general, cannot be quoted as evidence on the subject of democracy. The Presidents of America, too, should have been contrasted, not with the hereditary kings of the various countries of Europe, who generally have little to do in the government of those countries, but with the prime ministers. That comparison, however, is anything but unfavourable to America; and the reviewer is warranted in his triumphant appeal to the distinguished merit of the seven Presidents who have been elected by the people of the United States.

A question to which we should be more anxious to have the reviewer’s answer, would be, why the Washingtons and Jeffersons have left no successors? Why, in an age so far superior in intellectual facilities and resources to that in which those eminent men were educated, the man whom common opinion even now apparently places at the head of the public men of the Edition: current; Page: [111] United States, is the survivor of President Jefferson’s cabinet, Mr. Albert Gallatin?*

We are the more desirous to have this question answered by the reviewer, as we can ourselves suggest an answer for his consideration. The great men alluded to were sprung from a leisured class. The families which gave birth to Washington and Jefferson, and, we believe, to Madison and Monroe, belonged to a class of proprietors maintained by the labour of slaves, and enjoying hereditary landed possessions in the then flourishing and opulent state of Virginia. From causes not satisfactorily explained in any of the works before us, but which are apparently connected with vicissitudes of cultivation and markets, the prosperity of that state has greatly declined, and nearly the whole of these families are bankrupt. We are much mistaken if this be not part of the solution of the mystery. The stream has ceased to flow, because its fountain is dried up. Why a corresponding number of examples of like excellence have not been produced in the other slave states we cannot pretend to say. Were we perfectly versed in the history and local circumstances of those states, the fact might admit of explanation. We do not affirm that wherever there is a leisured class there will be high mental culture. But we contend that the existence of such a class is a necessary condition of it.

As to the general standard of mental cultivation and acquirements in the United States, the testimony of all travellers confirms the assertion of M. de Tocqueville, that a certain “niveau mitoyen” has established itself, which few either fall below or soar above.[*] “It is probable,” says Mr. Abdy, (Vol. I, p. 13.) “that the average of literary accomplishments is higher among our brethren in the new world, than among ourselves, while the extremes at either end are less distant from the middle point of the scale.” “The instruction given to children,” says M. de Beaumont,

is purely practical; it does not aim at the cultivation of the higher moral and intellectual faculties, but seeks only to form men fitted for the business of social life: all are able to speak and write, but without talent, though not without pretension. . . . That purely intellectual existence which withdraws from the trivialities of outward life, and feeds upon ideas—for which meditation is a want, science a duty, Edition: current; Page: [112] and literary creation a delightful enjoyment—is unknown in America. That country is ignorant of the very existence of the modest man of science, who keeping aloof from political life and the struggle to rise, devotes himself to study, loving it for its own sake, and enjoys, in silence, its honourable leisure. . . . Europeans, who admire Cooper, fancy that the Americans must adore him; but the fact is not so. The Walter Scott of America finds in his own country neither fortune nor renown. He earns less by his writings than a dealer in stuffs; the latter therefore is a greater man than the dealer in ideas. This reasoning is unanswerable.

(Vol. I, pp. 252-3, 261-3.)

There is one topic on which we desire to say a few words, particularly as it is one on which the testimony of travellers is not uniform—the inordinate national vanity of which the Americans are accused, and their imputed excess of sensitiveness to criticism. On these points the testimony of M. de Tocqueville, M. de Beaumont, and Mr. Abdy, is extremely unfavourable. They all agree in representing the mass of Americans as not only offended by any disparagement of their country, even in the most unessential particular, but dissatisfied with any moderate praise; and as nourishing the most extravagant ideas of the superiority of their country over all others. All these authors agree also in ascribing this national weakness to the fulsome flattery heaped on the nation en masse by nearly all their politicians and writers: flattery, of which Mr. Abdy (who excels almost any traveller we remember in the abundance of specific facts with which he usually substantiates his general observations) produces a number of very ludicrous instances.

Mr. Latrobe does not appear to have seen these peculiarities (except, indeed, the sensitiveness) in quite so strong a light. The North American Review altogether denies them. “We aver upon our consciences,” says the reviewer of Mrs. Trollope,[*]

that we do not remember an occasion on which a good-natured joke, from any quarter, on any part of America, has been taken amiss. By whom has Mr. Irving’s Knickerbocker,[†] two entire volumes of satire on the Dutch of New York, been more keenly relished than by his countrymen; and where is Mr. Hacket more warmly greeted than at Boston? But we go farther than this. Not only has no offence, that we know of, been taken at well-meant pleasantry, but that which was not well-meant, the ribaldry, the exaggerations, the falsehoods of the score of tourists in this country, who have published their journals, seasoned to the taste for detraction prevailing in England, [among the English aristocracy, he should have said,] and in order to find reimbursement in the sale for the expense of the tour; we say the abuse of this race of travellers has never, that we recollect, in itself, moved the ire of the public press in this country. Not one of these travellers has been noticed, till his libels had been endorsed by the Quarterly, and, we are Edition: current; Page: [113] grieved to add, sometimes by the Edinburgh Review, or by some other responsible authority. Then, when the leading journals in Europe had done their best to authenticate the slander, we have thought it sometimes deserving refutation.

([Edward Everett, “Prince Pückler Muscau and Mrs. Trollope,”] North American Review for January, 1833, p. 42.)

Dr. Lieber is of the same opinion.

You may little expect to hear an assertion of this kind, after having read so many charges to the contrary; yet I must be permitted to state, that I consider the Americans eminently good-natured, and disposed to allow any one to speak with perfect freedom of America and her institutions. Of such a thing as taking amiss, as it is termed, they hardly know. That those of them who have seen little of the world are often conceited in regard to their country is natural; every villager, all over the world, thinks his steeple the highest, and assures you that the bottom of his pond has never been found yet. But even such as these among the Americans will allow you freely to make your remarks upon their country, laugh heartily with you, and never get angry on account of your free remarks. I have found this so constantly, and in so striking instances, that I do not hesitate to state it as a fact. If a man in the west asks you, “How do you like our country?” or a Bostonian. “Don’t you think, after all, our climate very fine?” you must not forget that, perhaps, the remark is made from a kind disposition, and that, in this, as in all similar cases, it is but one that bothers you, while a hundred others remain silent, and you remember only the one who may have troubled you, if you are so sensitive as to call this troubling. It is certainly a fact worth notice, that the severest books against the United States sell rapidly, and often run through several editions: and when I once conversed with one of the first publishers as to a work on the United States, he said, “Any one who writes on this country ought to know, that the severer he is, the better his book will sell. I am convinced of this fact by repeated experience.”* Which is no encouraging prospect for all those who wish to say what they think and know, that eagles soar high, and geese cackle loud all over the world.

That this good-natured equanimity of the Americans may be somewhat disturbed when a gentleman travels tout le temps en maître d’école, all the time pronouncing his opinion ex cathedrâ, finding fault and ridiculing, might be supposed; though I have, even then, seen the Americans, almost without exception, pertinaciously good-natured.

(Vol. II, pp. 77-9.)

This is the testimony of a trustworthy witness, who, during a far longer residence in the country than that of Mr. Abdy, or MM de Tocqueville and de Beaumont, has enjoyed ample opportunities of observation. The discrepancy may be easily reconciled. It is but natural to suppose that the Americans, like all other people, will bear more from one person than from another; and that so warm an admirer as Dr. Lieber may have met with a more good-humoured Edition: current; Page: [114] reception for his small criticisms, than is given to the strictures of men who, like the other three gentlemen, have opinions which place them at direct variance with some of the strongest prejudices and most prominent characteristics of the American people.

As for their inordinate conceit of the superiority of their country, all the nations of Europe had the like, until they began to know one another; and the cure for it, in America as elsewhere, is greater intercourse with foreigners. Nor must it be forgotten that, to a stranger, both the conceit and the sensitiveness to criticism are likely to appear greater than they are. He sees the Americans in their awkwardest aspect—when they are attempting to do the honours of their country to a foreigner. They are not at their ease with him. They have the feelings as a nation, which we usually see in an individual whose position in society is not fixed. Their place in the estimation of the civilized world is not yet settled. They have but recently come to their importance, and they cannot yet afford to despise affronts. On this subject the liberal remarks of Mr. Latrobe deserve attention. He says, (Vol. I, p. 68.)—

The English have not, as a nation, whatever may be supposed by those who gather their estimate of national feeling from the Reviews, much sympathy with this kind of sensitiveness. We have arrived at that happy pitch of national self-esteem, and our national pride is so little disturbed by unwelcome surmises or suspicions that in this or that particular we are really emulated or surpassed by our neighbours, that we calmly set down any one who comes amongst us, and tells us that, in certain matters. John Bull is surpassed by other nations, or an object of ridicule to them, as an ignorant or spiteful twaddler at once, and do not suffer the national temper to be ruffled. Having now, for so many years, been accustomed to have justice done to us by our neighbours on all main points, however unwillingly, we can even afford to be satirized, or, as we would say, caricatured in some minor particulars, and can magnanimously laugh at the same. But not so with America. She feels, and with reason, that justice has not always been done her in essentials, and by Britain in particular. She knows that there has been a spirit abroad having a tendency to keep the truth and her real praise away from the eye of the world, shrouded behind a vein of coarse ribaldry, and detail of vulgarities which, if not positively untrue, were at least so invidiously chosen, and so confirmatory of prejudice, and so far caricature, when applied to the people as a mass, as almost to bear the stigma of untruth. She has felt that the progress made in a very limited period of time, and amidst many disadvantages, in reclaiming an immense continent from the wilderness, in covering it with innumerable flourishing settlements; her success in the mechanic arts; her noble institutions in aid of charitable purposes; the public spirit of her citizens; their gigantic undertakings to facilitate interior communication; their growing commerce in every quarter of the globe; the indomitable perseverance of her sons; the general attention to education, and the reverence for religion, wherever the population has become permanently fixed; and the generally mild and successful operation of their government, have been overlooked, or only casually mentioned: while the failings, rawness of character, and ill-harmonised state of society in many parts; the acts of lawless individuals, and the slang and language of the vulgar, Edition: current; Page: [115] have been held prominently forward to excite scorn, provoke satire, and strengthen prejudice. In short, she has felt that her true claims upon respect and admiration have been either unknown or undervalued in Europe; and that especially that nation with whom she had the greatest national affinity, was inclined to be the most perseveringly unjust.—Hence partly arises, it may be surmised, the querulous state of sensitiveness, to which allusion has been made, and also that disposition to swagger and exaggerate, which has been laid to the charge of many Americans, not without reason.

It must be said, to the honour of the Quarterly Review, that these and similar remarks of Mr. Latrobe have extorted from that journal (or perhaps only afforded it an opportunity for) an acknowledgment of error, accompanied with expressions of regret for the tone of former articles;[*] an example of candour which, though it does not cancel the turpitude of the previous offence, is highly laudable, and almost new in the morality of the periodical press.

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Dissertations and Discussions, I (2nd ed., 1867), 160-205, where the title is footnoted, “London and Westminster Review, April 1836.” Reprinted from L&WR, III & XXV (April, 1836), 1-28, where it is headed, “Art. I. / Civilization,” and has right running title “Civilization” and left running title “Signs of the Times.” Signed “A.” Original article identified in JSM’s bibliography as “An article entitled ‘Civilization—Signs of the Times’ in the London and Westminster Review for April, (No 5 and 48.)” (MacMinn, 47.) No corrections or emendations in the copy in the Somerville College Library.

For comment on the essay, see the Textual Introduction, lxxiv-lxxvi above.

The following text, taken from the 2nd ed. of D&D (the last in JSM’s lifetime) is collated with that in D&D, 1st ed. (London: Parker, 1859), and that in L&WR. In the footnoted variants, “67” indicates D&D, 2nd ed.; “59” indicates D&D, 1st ed.; “36” indicates L&WR.

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The word civilization, like many other terms of the philosophy of human nature, is a word of double meaning. It sometimes stands for ahuman improvementa in general, and sometimes for bcertain kindsb of improvement in particular.

We are accustomed to call a country more civilized if we think it more improved; more eminent in the best characteristics of Man and Society; cfartherc advanced in the road to perfection; happier, nobler, wiser. This is one sense of the word civilization. But in another sense it stands for that kind of improvement only, which distinguishes a wealthy and dpowerfuld nation from savages or barbarians. It is in this sense that we may speak of the vices or the miseries of civilization, and that the question has been seriously propounded, whether civilization is on the whole a good or an evil? Assuredly, we entertain no doubt on this point, we hold that civilization is a good, that it is the cause of much good, ande not incompatible with any, but we think there is other good, much even of the highest good, which civilization in this sense does not provide for, and some which it has a tendency (though that tendency may be counteracted) to impede.

The inquiry into which these considerations would leadf, is calculated to throw light upon many of the characteristic features of our time. The present era is pre-eminently the era of civilization in the narrow sense; whether we consider what has already been achieved, or the rapid advances making towards still greater achievements. We do not regard the age as either equally advanced or equally progressive in many of the other kinds of improvement. In some it appears to us stationary, in some even retrograde. Moreover,g the irresistible consequences of a state of advancing civilization; the new position in which that advance has placed, and is every day more and more placing, mankind, the entire inapplicability of old rules to this new position, and the necessity, if we would either realize the benefits of the new state or preserve those of the old, that we should adopt many new rules, and new courses of Edition: current; Page: [120] action; are topics which seem to require a more comprehensive examination than they have usually received.

We shall hon the present occasionh use the word civilization ionly in the restrictedi sense: not that in which it is synonymous with improvement, but that in which it is the direct converse or contrary of rudeness or barbarism. Whatever be the characteristics of what we call savage life, the contrary of these, orj the qualities which society puts on as it throws off these, constitute civilization. Thus, a savage tribe consists of a handful of individuals, wandering or thinly scattered over a vast tract of country: a dense population, therefore, dwelling in fixed habitations, and largely collected together in towns and villages, we term civilized. In savage life there is no commerce, no manufactures, no agriculture, or next to none: a country rich in the fruits of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures, we call civilized. In savage communities each person shifts for himself; except in war (and even then very imperfectly), we seldom see any joint operations carried on by the union of many; nor do savagesk, in general,k find much pleasure in each other’s society. Wherever, therefore, we find human beings acting together for common purposes in large bodies, and enjoying the pleasures of social intercourse, we term them civilized. In savage life there is little or no law, or administration of justice; no systematic employment of the collective strength of society, to protect individuals against injury from one another; every one trusts to his own strength or cunning, and where that fails, he is lgenerallyl without resource. We accordingly call a people civilized, where the arrangements of society, for protecting the persons and property of its members, are sufficiently perfect to maintain peace among them; i.e. to induce the bulk of the community to rely for their security mainly uponm social arrangements, and renounce for the most part, and in ordinary circumstances, the vindication of their interests (whether in the way of aggression or of defence) by their individual strength or courage.

These ingredients of civilization are various, but consideration will satisfy us that they are not improperly classed together. History, and their own nature, alike show that they begin together, always co-exist, and accompany each other in their growth. Wherever there has narisenn sufficient knowledge of the arts of life, and sufficient security of property and person, to render the progressive increase of wealth and population possible, the community becomes and continues progressive in all the elements which we have just enumerated. oTheseo elements exist in modern Europe, and especially in Edition: current; Page: [121] Great Britain, in a more eminent degree, and in a state of more rapid progression, than at any other place or time. We ppropose to considerp some of the consequences which that high and progressive state of civilization has already produced, and of the further ones which it is hastening to produce.

The most remarkable of those consequences of advancing civilization, which the state of the world is now forcing upon the attention of thinking minds, is this: that power passes more and more from individuals, and small knots of individuals, to masses: that the importance of the masses becomes constantly greater, that of individuals less.

The causes, evidences, and consequences of this law of human affairs, well deserve attention.

There are two elements of importance and influence among mankind: the one is, property; the other, powers and acquirements of mind. Both of these, in an early stage of civilization, are confined to a few persons. In the beginnings of society, the power of the masses does not exist; because property and intelligence have no existence beyond a very small portion of the community, and even if they had, those who possessed the smaller portions would be, from their incapacity of co-operation, unable to cope with those who possessed the larger.

qIn the more backward countries of the present time, and in all Europe at no distant date, we see property entirely concentrated in a small number of hands; the remainder of the people being, with few exceptions, either the military retainers and dependents of the possessors of property, or serfs, stripped and tortured at pleasure by one master, and pillaged by a hundred. At no period could it be said that there was literally no middle class—but that class was extremely feeble, both in numbers and in power: while the labouring people, absorbed in manual toil, with difficulty earned, by the utmost excess of exertion, a more or less scanty and always precarious subsistence. The character of this state of society was the utmost excess of poverty and impotence in the masses; the most enormous importance and uncontrollable power of a small number of individuals, each of whom, within his own sphere, knew neither law nor superior.

We must leave to history to unfold the gradual rise of the trading and manufacturing classes, the gradual emancipation of the agricultural, the tumults and bouleversements which accompanied these changes in their course, and the extraordinary alterations in institutions, opinions, habits, and the whole of social life, which they brought in their train. We need only ask the reader to form a conceptionr of all that is implied in the words, growth of a middle class; and then stos reflect on the immense increase of Edition: current; Page: [122] the numbers and property of that class throughout Great Britain, France, Germany, and other countries, in every successive generation, and the novelty of a labouring class receiving such wages as are now commonly earned by nearly the whole of the manufacturing, that is, of the most numerous portion of the operative classes of this country—and ask himself whether, from causes so unheard-of, unheard-of effects ought not to be expected to flow. It must at least be evident, that if, as civilization advances, property and intelligence become thus widely diffused among the millions, it must also be an effect of civilization, that the portion of either of these which can belong to an individual must have a tendency to become less and less influential, and all results must more and more be decided by the movements of masses; provided that the power of combination among the masses keeps pace with the progress of their resources. And that it does so, who can doubt? There is not a more accurate test of the progress of civilization than the progress of the power of co-operation.

tConsidert the savage: he has bodily strength, he has courage, enterprise, and is often not without intelligence; what makes all savage communities poor and feeble? The same cause which prevented the lions and tigers from long ago extirpating the race of men—incapacity of co-operation. It is only civilized beings who can combine. All combination is compromise: it is the sacrifice of some portion of individual will, for a common purpose. The savage cannot bear to sacrifice, for any purpose, the satisfaction of his individual will. His usocial cannot even temporarily prevail over his selfish feelings, nor his impulsesu bend to his calculations. Look again at the slave: he is used indeed to make his will give way; but to the commands of a master, not to a superior purpose of his own. He is wanting in intelligence to form such a purpose; above all, he cannot frame to himself the conception of a fixed rule: nor if he could, has he the capacity to adhere to it; he is habituated to control, but not to self-control; when a driver is not standing over him with a vwhipv, he is found more incapable of withstanding any temptation, or wrestrainingw any inclination, than the savage himself.

We have taken extreme cases, that the fact we seek to illustrate might stand out more conspicuously. But the remark itself applies universally. As any people approach to the condition of savages or of slaves, so are they incapable of acting in concert. xConsider evenx war, the most serious business of a barbarous people; see what a figure rude nations, or semi-civilized and enslaved nations, have made against civilized ones, from Marathon downwards. Why? Because discipline is more powerful than numbers, and discipline, that is, perfect co-operation, is an attribute of civilization. To come to Edition: current; Page: [123] our own times, ythe whole history of the Peninsular War bears witness to the incapacity of an imperfectly civilized people fory co-operation. Amidst all the enthusiasm of the Spanish znationz struggling against Napoleon, no one leader, military or political, could act in concert with another; no one would sacrifice one iota of his consequence, his authority, or his opinion, to the most obvious demands of the common cause; neither generals nor soldiers could observe the simplest rules of the military art. If there be an interest which one might expect to act forcibly upon the minds even of savages, it is the desire of simultaneously crushing a formidable neighbour whom none of them are strong enough to resist single-handed; yet none but civilized nations have ever been capable of forming an alliance. The native states of India have been conquered by the English one by one; Turkey made peace with Russia in the very moment of her invasion by France; the nations of the world never could form a confederacy against the Romans, but were swallowed up in succession, some of them being always ready to aid in the subjugation of the rest. Enterprises requiring the voluntary co-operation of many persons independent of one another, in the hands of all but highly civilized nations, have always failed.

It is not difficult to see why this incapacity of organized combination characterizes savages, and disappears with the growth of civilization. Co-operation, like other difficult things, can be learnt only by practice: and to be capable of it in great things, a people must be gradually trained to it in small. Now, the whole course of advancing civilization is a series of such training. The labourer in a rude state of society works singly, or if several are brought to work together by the will of a master, they work side by side, but not in concert; one man digs his piece of ground, another digs a similar piece of ground close by him. In the situation of an ignorant labourer, tilling even his own field with his own ahandsa, and bassociating withb no one except his wife and his children, what is there that can teach him to co-operate? The division of employments—the accomplishment by the combined labour of several, of tasks which could not be achieved by any number of persons singly—is the great school of co-operation. What a lesson, for instance, is navigation, as soon as it passes out of its first simple stage; the safety of all, constantly depending upon the vigilant performance by each, of the part peculiarly allotted to him in the common task. Military operations, when not wholly undisciplined, are a similar school; so are all the operations of commerce and manufactures which require the employment of many hands upon Edition: current; Page: [124] the same thing at the same time. By these operations, mankind learn the value of combination; they see how much and with what ease it accomplishes, which never could be accomplished without it; they learn a practical lesson of submitting themselves to guidance, and subduing themselves to act as interdependent parts of a complex whole. A people thus progressively trained to combination by the business of their lives, become capable of carrying the same habits into new things. For it holds universally, that the one only mode of learning to do anything, is actually doing something of the same kind under easier circumstances. Habits of discipline once acquired, qualify human beings to accomplish all other things for which discipline is needed. No longer either spurning control, orc incapable of seeing its advantages; whenever any object presents itself which can be attained by co-operation, and which they see or believe to be beneficial, they are ripe for attaining it.

The characters, then, of a state of high civilization being the diffusion of property and intelligence, and the power of co-operation; the next thing to observe is the dunexampledd development which all these elements have assumed of late years.

The rapidity with which property has accumulated and is accumulating in the principal countries of Europe, but especially in this island, is obvious to every one. The capital of the industrious classes overflows into foreign countries, and into all kinds of wild speculations. The amount of capital annually exported from Great Britain alone, surpasses probably the whole wealth of the most flourishing commercial republics of antiquity. But ethise capital, collectively so vast, is fmainly composedf of small portions; very generally so small that the owners cannot, without other means of livelihood, subsist on the profits of them. While such is the growth of property in the hands of the mass, the circumstances of the higher classes have undergone nothing like a corresponding improvement. Many large fortunes have, it is true, been accumulated, but many others have been wholly or partially dissipated; for the inheritors of immense fortunes, as a class, always live at least up to their incomes when at the highest, and the unavoidable vicissitudes of those incomes are always sinking them deeper and deeper into debt. gA large proportion of theg English landlords, as they themselves are constantly telling us, are hso overwhelmed with mortgages, that they have ceased to be the real owners of the bulk of their estatesh. In other countries the large properties have very generally been broken down; in France, by revolution, Edition: current; Page: [125] and the revolutionary law of inheritance; in Prussia, by successive edicts of that substantially democratic, though iformallyi absolute government.

With respect to knowledge and intelligence, it is the truism of the age, that the masses, both of the middle and even of the working classes, are treading upon the heels of their superiors.

If we now consider the progress made by those same masses in the capacity and habit of co-operation, we find it equally surprising. At what period were the operations of productive industry carried on upon anything like their present scale? Were so many hands ever before employed at the same time upon the same work, as now in all the principal departments of manufactures and commerce? To how enormous an extent is business now carried on by joint-stock companies—in other words, by many small capitals thrown together to form one great one. The country is covered with associations. There are societies for political, societies for religious, societies for philanthropic purposes. But the greatest novelty of all is the spirit of combination which has jgrown upj among the working classes. The present age has seen the commencement of benefit societies, and they now, as well as the more questionable Trades Unions, overspread the whole country. A more powerful, though not so ostensible, instrument of combination than any of these, has but lately become universally accessible—the newspaper. The newspaper carries khome the voice of the manyk to every individual among them; by the newspaper each learns thatl others are feeling as he feels, and that if he is ready, he will find them also prepared to act upon what they feel. The newspaper is the telegraph which carries the signal throughout the country, and the flag round which it rallies. Hundreds of newspapers speaking in the same voice at once, and the rapidity of communication afforded by improved means of locomotion, were what enabled the whole country to combine in that simultaneous energetic demonstration of determined will which carried the Reform Act. Both these facilities are on the increase, every one may see how rapidly; and they will enable the people on all decisive occasions to form a collective will, and render that collective will irresistible.

To meet this wonderful development of physical and mmentalm power on the part of the masses, can it be said that there has been any corresponding quantity of intellectual power or moral energy unfolded among those individuals or classes who have enjoyed superior advantages? No one, we think, will affirm it. There is a great increase of humanity, a decline of bigotry, nas well as of arrogance and the conceit of casten, among our conspicuous classes, Edition: current; Page: [126] but there is, to say the least, no increase of shining ability, and a very marked decrease of vigour and energy. With all the advantages of this age, its facilities for mental cultivation, the incitements ando rewards which it holds out to exalted talents, there can scarcely be pointed out in the European annals any stirring times which have brought so little that is distinguished, either morally or intellectually, to the surface.

That this, too, is no more than was to be expected from the tendencies of civilization, when no attempt is made to correct them, we shall have occasion to show presently. But even if civilization did nothing to lower the eminences, it would produce an exactly similar effect by raising the plains. When the masses become powerful, an individual, or a small band of individuals, can paccomplish nothing considerablep except by influencing the masses; and to do this becomes daily more difficult,q from the constantly increasing number of those who are vying with one another to attract the public attention. Our position, therefore, is established, that by the natural growth of civilization, power passes from individuals to masses, and the weight and importance of an individual, as compared with the mass, sink into greater and greater insignificance.

The change which is thus in progress, and to a great extent consummated, is the greatest ever recorded in rsocialr affairs; the most complete, the most fruitful in consequences, and the most irrevocable. Whoever can meditate on it, and not see that so great a revolution vitiates all existing rules of government and policy, and renders all practice and all predictions grounded only on prior experience worthless, is wanting in the very first and most elementary principle of statesmanship in these times.

“Il faut,” as M. de Tocqueville has said, “une science politique nouvelle à un monde tout nouveau.”[*] The whole face of society is reversed—all the natural elements of power have definitively changed places, and there are people who talks of standing up for ancient institutions, and the duty of sticking to the British Constitution settled in 1688! What is still more extraordinary, these are the people who accuse others of disregarding variety of circumstances, and imposing their abstract theories upon all states of society without discrimination.

We put it to those who call themselves Conservatives, whether, when the tchieft power in society is passing into the hands of the masses, they really think it possible to prevent the masses from making that power predominant as well in the government as elsewhere? The triumph of democracy, or, in Edition: current; Page: [127] other words, of the government of public opinion, does not depend upon the opinion of any individual or set of individuals that it ought to triumph, but upon the natural laws of the progress of wealth, upon the diffusion of reading, and the increase of the facilities of human intercourse. If Lord Kenyon or the Duke of Newcastle could stop these, they might accomplish something. There is no danger of the prevalence of democracy in Syria or Timbuctoo. But he must be a poor politician who does not know, that whatever is the growing power in society will force its way into the government, by fair means or foul. The distribution of constitutional power cannot long continue very different from that of real power, without a convulsion. Nor, if the institutions which impede the progress of democracy could be by any miracle preserved, could even they do more than render that progress a little slower. Were the Constitution of Great Britain to remain henceforth unaltered, we are not the less under the dominion, becoming every day more irresistible, of public opinion.

With regard to the advance of democracy, there are two different positions which it is possible for a rational person to take up, according as he thinks the masses prepared, or unprepared, to exercise the control which they are acquiring over their destiny, in a manner which would be an improvement upon what now exists. If he thinks them prepared, he will aid the democratic movement: or if he deem it to be proceeding fast enough without him, he will at all events refrain from resisting it. If, on the contrary, he thinks the masses unprepared for complete control over their government—seeing at the same time that, prepared or not, they cannot ulongu be prevented from acquiring it—he will exert his utmost efforts in contributing to prepare them, using all means, on the one hand, for making the masses themselves wiser and better; on the other, for so rousing the slumbering energy of the opulent and lettered classes, so storing the youth of those classes with the profoundest and most valuable knowledge, so calling forth whatever of individual greatness exists or can be raised up in the country, as to create a power which might partially rival the mere power of the masses, and might exercise the most salutary influence over them for their own good. When engaged earnestly in works like these, one can understand how a rational person might think that in order to give more time for the performance of them, it were well if the current of democracy, which can in no sort be stayed, could be prevailed upon for a time to flow less impetuously. With Conservatives of this sort, all vdemocratsv of corresponding enlargement of waimsw could fraternize as frankly and cordially as with xmostx of their own friends; and we speak from an extensive knowledge of the wisest and most high-minded of that body, when we take upon ourselves to answer for them, that they Edition: current; Page: [128] would never push forward their own political projects in a spirit or with a violence which could tend to frustrate any rational endeavours towards the object nearest their hearts, the instruction of the understandings and the elevation of the characters of all classes of their countrymen.

But who is there among the political party calling themselves Conservatives, that professes to have any such object in view? yDo they seeky to employ the interval of respite which ztheyz might hope to gain by withstanding democracy, in qualifying the people to wield the democracy more wisely when it comes? aWould theya not far rather resist any such endeavour, on the principle that knowledge is power, and that its further diffusion would make the dreaded evil come sooner? bDo the leading Conservatives in either house of parliament feelb that the character of the higher classes needs renovating, to qualify them for a more arduous task and a keener strife than has yet fallen to their lot? Is not the character of a Tory lord or country gentleman, or a Church of England parson, perfectly satisfactory to them? Is not the existing constitution of the two Universities—those bodies whose especial duty it was to counteract the debilitating influence of the circumstances of the age upon individual character, and to send forth into society a succession of minds, not the creatures of their age, but capable of being its improvers and regenerators—the Universities, by whom this their especial duty has been basely neglected, until, as is usual withc neglected duties, the very consciousness of it as a duty has faded from their remembrance,—is not, we say, the existing constitution and the whole existing system of these Universities, down to the smallest of their abuses, the exclusion of Dissenters, a thing for which every Tory, though he may not, as he pretends, die in the last ditch, will at least vote in the last division? The Church, professedly the other great instrument of national culture, long since perverted (we speak of rules, not exceptions) into da grand instrument for discouraging all culture inconsistent with blindd obedience to established maxims and constituted authorities—what Tory has a scheme in view for any changes in this body, but such as may pacify assailants, and make the institution wear a less disgusting appearance to the eye? What political Tory will not resist to the very last moment any alteration in that Church, which ewoulde prevent its livings from being the provision for a family, its dignities the reward of political or of private services? The Tories, those at least connected with parliament or office, do not aim at having good institutions, or even at preserving the present ones: their object is to profit by them while they exist.

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We scruple not to express our belief that a truer spirit of fconservationf, as to everything good in the principles and professed objects of our old institutions, lives in many who are determined enemies of those institutions in their present state, than in most of those who call themselves Conservatives. But there are many well-meaning people who always confound attachment to an end, with gpertinaciousg adherence to any set of means by which it either is, or is pretended to be, already pursued; and have yet to learn, that bodies of men who live in honour and importance upon the pretence of fulfilling ends which they never honestly seek, are the great hindrance to the attainment of those ends; and hthath whoever has the attainment really at heart, must iexpect a war of extermination with all such confederaciesi.

Thus far as to the political effects of Civilization. Its moral effects, which as yet we have only glanced at, demand further elucidation. They may be considered under two heads: the direct influence of Civilization itself upon individual character, and the moral effects produced by the insignificance into which the individual falls in comparison with the masses.

One of the effects of a high state of civilization upon character, is a relaxation of individual energy: or rather, the concentration of it within the narrow sphere of the individual’s money-getting pursuits. As civilization advances, every person becomes dependent, for more and more of what most nearly concerns him, not upon his own exertions, but upon the general arrangements of society. In a rude state, each man’s personal security, the protection of his family, his property, his liberty itself, jdependj greatly upon his bodily strength and his mental energy or cunning: in a civilized state, all this is secured to him by causes extrinsic to himself. The growing mildness of manners is a protection to him against much that he was before exposed to, while for the remainder he may rely with constantly increasing assurance upon the soldier, the policeman, and the judge, and (where the efficiency or purity of those instruments, as is usually the case, lags behind the general march of civilization) upon the advancing strength of public opinion. There remain, as inducements to call forth energy of character, the desire of wealth or of personal aggrandizement, the passion of philanthropy, and the love of active virtue. But the objects to which these various feelings point are matters of choice, not of necessity, nor do the feelings act with anything like equal force upon all minds. The only one of them which can be considered as anything like universal, is the desire of wealth; and wealth being, in the case of the majority, the most accessible means of gratifying all their other desires, Edition: current; Page: [130] nearly the whole of the energy of character which exists in highly civilized societies concentrates itself on the pursuit of that object. In the case, however, of the most influential classes—those whose energies, if they had them, might be exercised on the greatest scale and with the most considerable result—the desire of wealth is already sufficiently satisfied, to render them averse to suffer pain or incur kmuchk voluntary labour for the sake of any further increase. The same classes also enjoy, from their station alone, a high degree of personal consideration. Except the high offices of the lStatel, there is hardly anything to tempt the ambition of men in their circumstances. Those offices, when a great nobleman could have them for asking for, and keep them with less trouble than he could manage his private estate, were, no doubt, desirable enough possessions for such persons; but when they become posts of labour, vexation, and anxiety, and besides cannot be had without paying the price of some previous toil, experience shows that among men unaccustomed to sacrifice their amusements and their case, the number upon whom these high offices operate as incentives to activity, or in whom they call forth any vigour of character, is extremely limited. Thus it happens that in highly civilized countries, and particularly among ourselves, the energies of the middle classes are almost confined to money-getting, and those of the higher classes are nearly extinct.

There is another circumstance to which we may trace much both of the good and of the bad qualities which distinguish our civilization from the rudeness of former times. One of the effects of civilization (not to say one of the ingredients in it) is, that the spectacle, and even the very idea, of pain, is kept more and more out of the sight of those classes who enjoy in their fulness the benefits of civilization. The state of perpetual personal conflict, rendered necessary by the circumstances ofm former times, and from which it was hardly possible for any person, in whatever rank of society, to be exempt, necessarily habituated every one to the spectacle of harshness, rudeness, and violence, to the struggle of one indomitable will against another, and to the alternate suffering and infliction of pain. These things, consequently, were not as revolting even to the best and most actively benevolent men of former days, as they are to our own; and we find the recorded conduct of those men frequently such as would be universally considered very unfeeling in a person of our own day. They, however, thought less of the infliction of pain, because they thought less of pain altogether. When we read of actions of the Greeks and Romans, or nofn our own ancestors, denoting callousness to human suffering, we must not think that those who committed these actions were as cruel as we must become before we could do the like. The pain which they inflicted, they were in the habit of voluntarily undergoing Edition: current; Page: [131] from slight causes; it did not appear to them as great an evil, as it appears, and as it really is, to us, nor did it in any way degrade their minds. In our own time the necessity of personal collision between one person and another is, comparatively speaking, almost at an end. All those necessary portions of the business of society which oblige any person to be the immediate agent or ocular witness of the infliction of pain, are delegated by common consent to peculiar and narrow classes; to the judge, the soldier, the surgeon, the butcher, and the executioner. To most people in easy circumstances, any pain, except that inflicted upon the body by accident or disease, and oupon the mind by the inevitable sorrows of lifeo, is rather a thing known of than actually experienced. This is much more emphatically true in the more refined classes, and as refinement advances; for it is in pavoiding the presence not only of actual pain, but of whatever suggests offensive or disagreeable ideas, that a great part ofp refinement consists. We may remark too, that this is possible only by a perfection of mechanical arrangements impracticable in any but a high state of civilization. Now, most kinds of pain and annoyance appear much more unendurable to those who have little experience of them, than to those who have much. The consequence is that, compared with former times, there is in the qmore opulentq classes of modern civilized communities much more of the amiable and humane, and much less of the heroic. The heroic essentially consists in being ready, for a worthy object, to do and to suffer, but especially to do, what is painful or disagreeable; and whoever does not early learn rto be capable ofr this, will never be a great character. There has crept over the refined classes, over the whole class of gentlemen in England, a moral effeminacy, an inaptitude for every kind of struggle. They shrink from all effort, from everything which is troublesome and disagreeable. sThe same causes which render them sluggish and unenterprising, make them, it is true, for the most part, stoical under inevitable evils.s But heroism is an active, not a passive quality; and when it is necessary not to bear pain but to seek it, little needs be expected from the men of the present day. They cannot undergo labour, they cannot tbrook ridicule, they cannot bravet evil tongues; they have not hardihood to say an unpleasant thing to any one whom they are in the habit of seeing, or to face, even with a nation at their back, the coldness of some little ucoterieu which Edition: current; Page: [132] surrounds them. This torpidity and cowardice, as a general characteristic, is new in the world; but (modified by the different temperaments of different nations) it is a natural consequence of the progress of civilization, and will continue until met by a system of cultivation adapted to counteract it.

If the source of great virtues thus dries up, great vices are placed, no doubt, under considerable restraint. The régime of public opinion is adverse to at least the indecorous vices; and as that restraining power gains strength, and certain classes or individuals cease to possess a virtual exemption from it, the change is highly favourable to the outward decencies of life. Nor can it be denied that the diffusion of even such knowledge as civilization naturally brings, has no slight tendency to rectify, though it be but partially, the standard of public opinion; to undermine many of those prejudices and superstitions which vmadev mankind hate each other for things not really odious; to make them take a juster measure of the tendencies of actions, and weigh more correctly the evidence on which they condemn or applaud their fellow-creatures; to make, in short, their approbation direct itself more correctly to good actions, and their disapprobation to bad. What are the limits to this natural improvement in public opinion, when there is no other sort of cultivation going on than that which is the accompaniment of civilization, we need not at present inquire. It is enough that within those limits there is an extensive range; that as muchw improvement in the general understanding, softening of the feelings, and decay of pernicious errors, as naturally attends the progress of wealth and the spread of reading, suffices to render the judgment of the public upon actions and persons, so far as evidence is before them, much more discriminating and correct.

But here presents itself another ramification of the effects of civilization, which it has often surprised us to find so little attended to. The individual becomes so lost in the crowd, that though he depends more and more upon opinion, he is apt to depend less and less upon well-grounded opinion; upon the opinion of those who know him. An established character becomes at once more difficult to gain, and more easily to be dispensed with.

It is in a small society, where everybody knows everybody, that public opinion, xso far asx well directed, exercises its most salutary influence. Take the case of a tradesman in a small country town: to every one of his customers he is long and yaccuratelyy known; their opinion of him has been formed after repeated trials; if he could deceive them once, he cannot hope to go on deceiving them in the quality of his goods; he has no other customers to look zforz if he loses these, while, if his goods are really what they aprofessa to be, he may hope, among so few competitors, that this also will be known Edition: current; Page: [133] and recognised, and that he will acquire the character, bindividually and professionallyb, which his conduct entitles him to. Far different is the case of a man setting up in business in the crowded streets of a great city. If he trust solely to the quality of his goods, to the honesty and faithfulness with which he performs what he undertakes, he may remain ten years without a customer; be he ever so honest, he is driven to cry out on the housetops that his wares are the best of wares, past, present, and to come; while, if he proclaim this, choweverc false, with sufficient loudness to excite the curiosity of passers by, and can give his commodities d“a gloss, a saleable look,”d not easily to be seen through at a superficial glance, he may drive a thriving trade though no customer ever enter his shop twice. There has been much complaint of late years, of the growth, both in the world of trade and in that of intellect, of quackery, and especially of puffing; but nobody seems to have remarked, that these are the inevitable efruitse of immense competition; of a state of society where any voice, not pitched in an exaggerated key, is lost in the hubbub. Success, in so crowded a field, depends not upon what a person is, but upon what he seems: mere marketable qualities become the object instead of substantial ones, and a man’s labour and capital are expended less in fdoingf anything, than in persuading other people that he has done it. Our own age has seen this evil brought to its consummation. Quackery there always was, but it once was a test of the absence of sterling qualities: there was a proverb that good wine needed no bush. It is our own age which has seen the honest dealer driven to quackery, by hard necessity, and the certainty of being undersold by the dishonest. For the first time, arts for attracting public attention form a necessary part of the qualifications even of the deserving: and skill in these goes farther than any other quality towards ensuring success. The same intensity of competition drives the trading public more and more to play high for success, to throw for all or nothing; and this, together with the difficulty of sure calculations in a field of commerce so widely extended, renders bankruptcy no longer disgraceful, because no longer gan almost certain presumption of eitherg dishonesty or imprudence: the discredit which it still incurs belongs to it, alas! mainly as an indication of poverty. Thus public opinion loses another of those simple criteria of desert, which, and which alone, it is capable of correctly applying; and the very cause which has rendered it omnipotent in the gross, weakens the precision and force with which its judgment is brought home to individuals.

It is not solely on the private virtues, that this growing insignificance of the individual in the mass is productive of mischief. It corrupts the very fountain of the improvement of public opinion itself; it corrupts public Edition: current; Page: [134] teaching; it weakens the influence of the more cultivated few over the many. Literature has suffered more than any other human production by the common disease. When there were few books, and when few read at all save those who had been accustomed to read the best authors, books were written with the well-grounded expectation that they would be read carefully, and if they deserved it, would be read often. A book of sterling merit, when it came out, was sure to be heard of, and might hope to be read, by the whole reading class; it might succeed by its real hexcellences, thoughh not got up to strike at once; and even if so got up, unless it had the support of genuine merit, it fell into oblivion. The rewards were then for him who wrote well, not much; for the laborious and learned, not the crude and ill-informed writer. But now the case is reversed.

iThis is a reading age; and precisely because it is so reading an age, any book which is the result of profound meditation is, perhaps, less likely to be duly and profitably read than at a former period. The world reads too much and too quickly to read well. When books were few, to get through one was a work of time and labour: what was written with thought was read with thought, and with a desire to extract from it as much of the materials of knowledge as possible. But when almost every person who can spell, can and will write, what is to be done? It is difficult to know what to read, except by reading everything; and so much of the world’s business is now transacted through the press, that it is necessary to know what is printed, if we desire to know what is going on. Opinion weighs with so vast a weight in the balance of events, that ideas of no value in themselves are of importance from the mere circumstance that they are ideas, and have a bonâ fide existence as such anywhere out of Bedlam. The world, in consequence, gorges itself with intellectual food, and in order to swallow the more, holts it. Nothing is now read slowly, or twice over. Books are run through with no less rapidity, and scarcely leave a more durable impression, than a newspaper article. It is for this, among other causes, that so few books are produced of any value. The lioness in the fable boasted that though she produced only one at a birth, that one was a lion. But if each lion only counted for one, and each leveret for one, the advantage would all be on the side of the hare. When every unit is individually weak, it is only multitude that tells. jWhat wonderj that the newspapers should carry all before them? A book produces khardly ak greater effect than an article, and there can be 365 of these in one year. He, therefore, who should and would write a book, and write it in the proper manner of writing a book, now dashes down his first hasty thoughts, or what he mistakes for thoughts, in a periodical. And the public is in the predicament of an indolent man, who cannot bring himself to apply his mind vigorously to his own affairs, and over whom, therefore, not he who speaks most wisely, but he who speaks most frequently, obtains the influence.*

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Hence we see that literature is becoming more and more ephemeral: books, of any solidity, are malmostm gone by; even reviews are not now considered sufficiently light; the attention cannot sustain itself on any serious subject, even for the space of a review-article. In the more attractive kinds of literature, nnovels and magazines, thoughn the demand has so greatly increased, the supply has so outstripped it, that even a novel is seldom a lucrative speculation. It is only under circumstances of rare attraction that a bookseller will now give anything to an author for copyright. As the difficulties of success thus progressively increase, all other ends are more and more sacrificed for the attainment of it: literature becomes more and more a mere reflection of the current sentiments, and has almost entirely abandoned its mission as an enlightener and improver of them.

There are now in this country, we may say, but two modes left in which an individual mind can hope to produce much direct effect upon the minds and destinies of his countrymen generally; as a member of parliament, or an editor of a London newspaper. In both these capacities much may still be done by an individual, because, while the power of the collective body is very great, the number of participants in it does not admit of much increase. One of these monopolies will be opened to competition when the newspaper stamp is taken off;[*] whereby the importance of the newspaper press in the aggregate, considered as the voice of public opinion, will beo increased, and the influence of any one writer in helping to form that opinion pnecessarilyp diminished. This we might regret, did we not remember to what ends that influence is now used, and is sure to be so while newspapers are a mere investment of capital for the sake of mercantile profit.

Is there, then, no remedy? Are the decay of individual energy, the weakening of the influence of superior minds over the multitude, the growth of qcharlatanerieq, and the diminished efficacy of public opinion as a restraining power,—are these the price we necessarily pay for the benefits of civilization; and can they only be avoided by checking the diffusion of knowledge, discouraging the spirit of combination, prohibiting improvements in the arts of life, and repressing the further increase of wealth and of production? Assuredly not. Those advantages which civilization cannot give—which in its uncorrected influence it has even a tendency to destroy—may yet coexist with civilization; and it is only when joined to civilization that they can produce Edition: current; Page: [136] their fairest fruits. All that we are in danger of losing we may preserve, all that we have lost we may regain, and bring to a perfection hitherto unknown; but not by slumbering, and leaving things to themselves, no more than by ridiculously trying our strength against their irresistible tendencies: only by establishing counter-tendencies, which may combine with those tendencies, and modify them.

The evils are, that the individual is lost and becomes impotent in the crowd, and that individual character itself becomes relaxed and enervated. For the first evil, the remedy is, greater and more perfect combination among individuals; for the second, national institutions of education, and forms of polity, calculated to invigorate the individual character.

The former of these rdesideratar, as its attainment depends upon a change in the habits of society itself, can only be realized by degrees, as the necessity becomes felt; but circumstances are even now to a certain extent forcing it on. In Great Britain especially (which so far surpasses the rest of the solds world in the extent and rapidity of the accumulation of wealth) the fall of profits, consequent upon the vast increase of population and capital, is rapidly extinguishing the class of small dealers and small producers, from the impossibility of living on their diminished profits, and is throwing business of all kinds more and more into the hands of large capitalists—whether these be rich individuals, or joint-stock companies formed by the aggregation of many small capitals. We are not among those who believe that this progress is tending to the complete extinction oft competition, or that the entire productive resources of the country will within any assignable number of ages, if ever, be administered by, and for the benefit of, a general association of the whole community. But we believe that the multiplication of competitors in all branches of business and in all professions—which renders it more and more difficult to obtain success by merit alone, more and more easy to obtain it by plausible pretence—will find a limiting principle in the progress of the spirit of co-operation; that in every overcrowded department there will arise a tendency among individuals so to unite their ulabour or their capitalu, that the purchaser or employer will have to choose, not among innumerable individuals, but among a few groups. Competition will be as active as ever, but the number of competitors will be brought within manageable bounds.

Such a spirit of co-operation is most of all wanted among the intellectual classes and professions. The amount of human labour, and labour of the most precious kind, now wasted, and wasted too in the cruelest manner, for want of combination, is incalculable. What a spectacle, for instance, does the medical profession present! One successful practitioner burthened with Edition: current; Page: [137] more work than mortal man can perform, and which he performs so summarily that it were often better let alone;—in the surrounding streets twenty unhappy men, each of whom has been as laboriously and expensively trained as he has to do the very same thing, and is possibly as well qualified, wasting their capabilities and starving for want of work. Under better arrangements these twenty would form a corps of subalterns marshalled under their more successful leader; who (granting him to be really the ablest physician of the set, and not merely the most successful imposter) is wasting time in physicking people for headaches and heartburns, which he might with better economy of mankind’s resources turn over to his subordinates, while he employed his maturer powers and greater experience in studying and treating those more obscure and difficult cases upon which science has not yet thrown sufficient light, and to which ordinary knowledge and abilities would not be adequate. By such means every person’s capacities would be turned to account, and the highest minds being kept for the highest things, these would make progress, while ordinary occasions would be no losers.

But it is in literature, above all, that a change of this sort is of most pressing urgency. There the system of individual competition has fairly worked itself out, and things vcan hardlyv continue much longer as they are, Literature is a province of exertion upon which more, of the first value to human nature, depends, than upon any other; a province in which the highest and most valuable order of works, those which most contribute to form the opinions and shape the characters of subsequent ages, are, more than in any other class of productions, placed beyond the possibility of appreciation by those who form the bulk of the purchasers in the book-market; insomuch that, even in ages when these were a far less numerous and more select class than now, it was an admitted point that the only success which writers of the first order could look to was the verdict of posterity. That verdict could, in those times, be confidently expected by whoever was worthy of it; for the good judges, though few in number, were sure to read every work of merit which appeared; and as the recollection of one book was not in those days immediately obliterated by a hundred others, they remembered it, and kept alive the knowledge of it to subsequent ages. But in our day, from the immense multitude of writers (which is now not less remarkable than the multitude of readers), and from the manner in which the people of this age are obliged to read, it is difficult for what does not strike during its novelty, to strike at all: a book either misses fire altogether, or is so read as to make no permanent impression; and the wgood equally with the worthlessw are forgotten by the next day.

For this there is no remedy, while the public have no guidance beyond Edition: current; Page: [138] booksellers’ advertisements, and the xill-considered and hasty criticismsx of newspapers and small periodicals, to direct them in distinguishing what is not worth reading from what is. The resource must in time be, some organized co-operation among the leading intellects of the age, whereby works of first-rate merit, of whatever class, and of whatever tendency in point of opinion, might come forth with the stamp on them, from the first, of the approval of those whose ynamesy would carry authority. There are many causes why we must wait long for such a combination; but (with enormous defects, both in plan and in execution) the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge was as considerable a step towards it, as could be expected in the present state of men’s minds, and in a first attempt. Literature has had in this country two ages; it must now have a third. The age of patronage, as Johnson a century ago proclaimed, is gone. The age of booksellers, it has been proclaimed zby Mr. Carlyle, hasz well nigh died out.[*] In the first there was nothing intrinsically base, nor in the second anything inherently independent and liberal. Each has done great things; both have had their day. The time is aperhapsa coming when authors, as a collective guild, bwillb be their own patrons and their own booksellers.

These things must bide their time. But the other of the two great cdesideratac, the regeneration of individual character among our lettered and opulent classes, by the adaptation to that purpose of our institutions, and, above all, of our educational institutions, is an object of more urgency, and for which more might be immediately accomplished, if the will and the understanding were not alike wanting.

This, unfortunately, is a subject on which, for the inculcation of rational views, everything is yet to be done; for, all that we would inculcate, all that we deem of vital importance, all upon which we conceive the salvation of the next and all future ages to rest, has the misfortune to be almost equally opposed to the most popular doctrines of our own time, and to the prejudices of those who cherish the empty husk of what has descended from ancient times. We are at issue equally with the admirers of Oxford and Cambridge. Eton and Westminster, and with the generality of their professed reformers. We regard the system of those institutions, as dadministered for two centuries Edition: current; Page: [139] pastd, with sentiments little short of utter abhorrence. But we do not conceive that their vices would be cured by bringing their studies into a closer connexion with what it is the fashion to term “the business of the world;” by dismissing the logic and classics which are still eprofessedlye taught, to substitute modern languages and experimental physics. We would have classics and logic taught far more really and deeply than at present, and we would add to them other studies more alien than any which yet exist to the “business of the world,” but more germane to the great business of every rational being—the strengthening and enlarging of his own intellect and character. The empirical knowledge which the world demands, which is the stock in trade of money-getting-life, we would leave the world to provide for itself; content with infusing into the youth of our country a spirit, and training them to habits, which would ensure their acquiring such knowledge easily, and using it well. These, we know, are not the sentiments of the vulgar; but we believe them to be those of the best and wisest of all parties: and we are glad to corroborate our opinion by a quotation from a work written by a friend to the Universities, and by one whose tendencies are rather Conservative than Liberal; a book which, though really, and not in form merely, one of fiction, contains much subtle and ingenious thought, and the results of much psychological experience, combined, we are compelled to say, with much caricature, and very provoking (though we are convinced unintentional) distortion and misinterpretation of the opinions of some of those with whose philosophy that of the author does not agree.

“You believe” (a clergyman loquitur) “that the University is to prepare youths for a successful career in society: I believe the sole object is to give them that manly character which will enable them to resist the influences of society. I do not care to prove that I am right, and that any university which does not stand upon this basis will be rickety in its childhood, and useless or mischievous in its manhood; I care only to assert that this was the notion of those who founded Oxford and Cambridge. I fear that their successors are gradually losing sight of this principle—are gradually beginning to think that it is their business to turn out clever lawyers and serviceable Treasury clerks—are pleased when the world compliments them upon the goodness of the article with which they have furnished it—and that this low vanity is absorbing all their will and their power to create great men, whom the age will scorn, and who will save it from the scorn of the times to come.”

“One or two such men,” said the Liberal, “in a generation, may be very useful; but the University gives us two or three thousand youths every year. I suppose you are content that a portion shall do week-day services.”

“I wish to have a far more hard-working and active race than we have at present,” said the clergyman: “men more persevering in toil, and less impatient of reward; but all experience, a thing which the schools are not privileged to despise, though the world is—all experience is against the notion, that the means to procure a supply of good ordinary men is to attempt nothing higher I know Edition: current; Page: [140] that nine-tenths of those whom the University sends out must be hewers of wood and drawers of water; but, if I train the ten-tenths to be so, depend upon it the wood will be badly cut, the water will be spilt. Aim at something noble; make your system such that a great man may be formed by it, and there will be a manhood in your little men of which you do not dream. But when some skilful rhetorician, or lucky rat, stands at the top of the ladder—when the University, instead of disclaiming the creature, instead of pleading, as an excuse for themselves, that the healthiest mother may, by accident, produce a shapeless abortion, stands shouting, that the world may know what great things they can do, ‘we taught the boy!’—when the hatred which worldly men will bear to religion always, and to learning whenever it teaches us to soar and not to grovel, is met, not with a frank defiance, but rather with a deceitful argument to show that trade is the better for them; is it wonderful that a puny beggarly feeling should pervade the mass of our young men? that they should scorn all noble achievements, should have no higher standard of action than the world’s opinion, and should conceive of no higher reward than to sit down amidst loud cheering, which continues for several moments?”*

Nothing can be more just or more forcible than the description here given of the objects which University education should aim at: we are at issue with the writer, only on the proposition that these objects ever were attained, or ever could be so, consistently with the principle which has always been the foundation of the English Universities; a principle, unfortunately, by no means confined to them. The difficultyg which continues to oppose either such reform of our old academical institutions, or the establishment of such new ones, as shall give us an education capable of forming great minds, is, that in order to do so it is necessary to begin by eradicating the idea which nearly all the upholders and nearly all the impugners of the Universities rootedly entertain, as to the objects not merely of academical education, but of education itself. What is this idea? That the object of education is, not to qualify the pupil for judging what is true or what is right, but to provide that he shall think true what we think true, and right what we think right—that hto teach, means to inculcate our own opinions, and that our business is not to make thinkers or inquirers, but disciplesh. This is the deep-seated error, the inveterate prejudice, which the real reformer of English education has to struggle against. Is it astonishing that great minds are not produced, in a country where the test of a great mind is, agreeing in the opinions of the small minds? where every institution for spiritual culture which the country has—the Church, the Universities, and almost every dissenting community—are Edition: current; Page: [141] constituted on the following as their avowed principle: that the object is, not that the individual should go forth determined and qualified to seek truth ardently, vigorously, and disinterestedly; not that he be furnished at setting out with the needful aids and facilities, the needful materials and instruments for that search, and then left to the unshackled use of them; not that, by a free communion with the thoughts and deeds of the great minds which preceded him, he be inspired at once with the courage to dare all which truth andi conscience require, and the modesty to weigh well the grounds of what others think, before adopting contrary opinions of his own: not this—no; but that the triumph of the system, the merit, the excellence in the sight of God which it possesses, or which it can impart to its pupil, is, that his speculations shall terminate in the adoption, in words, of a particular set of opinions. That provided he adhere to these opinions, it matters little whether he receive them from authority or from examination; and worse, that it matters little by what temptations of interest or vanity, by what voluntary or involuntary sophistication with his intellect, and deadening of his noblest feelings, that result is arrived at; that it even matters comparatively little whether to his mind the words are mere words, or the representatives of realities—in what sense he receives the favoured set of propositions, or whether he attaches to them any sense at all. Were ever great minds thus formed? jNever.j The few great minds which this country has produced have been formed in spite of nearly everything which could be done to stifle their growth. And all thinkers, much above the common order, who have grown up in the Church of England, or in any other Church, have been produced in latitudinarian epochs, or while the impulse of intellectual emancipation which gave existence to the Church had not quite spent itself. The flood of burning metal which issued from the furnace, flowed on a few paces before it congealed.

That the English Universities have, throughout, proceeded on the principle, that the intellectual association of mankind must be founded upon articles, i.e. upon a promise of belief in certain opinions; that the scope of all they do is to prevail upon their pupils, by fair means or foul, to acquiesce in the opinions which are set down for them; that the abuse of the human faculties so forcibly denounced by Locke under the name of “principling” their pupils,[*] is their sole method in religion, politics, morality, or philosophy—is vicious indeed, but the vice is equally prevalent without and within their pale, and is no farther disgraceful to them than inasmuch as a better doctrine has been taught for a century past by the superior spirits, Edition: current; Page: [142] with whom in point of intelligence it was their duty to maintain themselves on a level. But, that when this object was attained they cared for no other; that if they could make churchmen, they cared not to make religious men; that if they could make Tories, whether they made patriots was indifferent to them; that if they could prevent heresy, they cared not if the price paid were stupidity—this constitutes the peculiar baseness of those bodies. Look at them. While their sectarian character, while the exclusion of all who will not sign away their freedom of thought, is contended for as if life depended upon it, there is khardlyk a trace in the system of the Universities that any other object whatever is seriously cared for. Nearly all the professorships have degenerated into sinecures. Few of the professors ever deliver a lecture. One of the few great scholars who have issued from either University for a century (and he was such before he went thither), the Rev. Connop Thirlwall, has published to the world that in his University at least, even ltheology—even Church of England theologyl—is not taught;[*] and his dismissal, for this piece of honesty, from the tutorship of his college, is one among the daily proofs how much safer it is for twenty men to neglect their duty, than for one man to impeach them of the neglect. The only studies really encouraged are classics and mathematics; mboth of them highly valuable studiesm, though the last, as an nexclusiven instrument for fashioning the mental powers, greatly overrated; but Mr. Whewell, a high authority against his own University, haso published a pamphlet,[†] chiefly to prove that the kind of mathematical attainment by which Cambridge honours are gained, expertness in the use of the calculus, is not that kind which has any tendency to produce superiority of intellect.* The mere shell and husk of the syllogistic Edition: current; Page: [143] logic at the one University, the wretchedest smattering of Locke and Paley at the other, are all of moral or psychological science that is taught at either.* As a means of educating the many, the Universities are absolutely null. The youth of England are not educated. The attainments rof any kindr required for taking all the degreess conferred by these bodies are, at Cambridge, utterly contemptible; at Oxford, we believe, of late years, somewhat higher, but still very low. Honours, indeed, are not gained but by a severe struggle; tand if even the candidates for honours were mentally benefited, the systemt would not be worthless. But what have the senior wranglers done, even in mathematics? Has Cambridge producedu, since Newton, one great mathematical geniusu? vWe do not say an Euler, a Laplace, or a Lagrange, but such as France has produced a score of during the same period.v How many books which have thrown light upon the history, antiquities, philosophy, art, or literature of the ancients, have the two Universities sent forth since the Reformation? Compare them not merely with Germany, but even with Italy or France. When a man is pronounced by them to have excelled in their studies, what do the Universities do? They give him an income, not for continuing to learn, but for having learnt, not for doing anything, but for what he has already done: on condition solely of living like a monk, and putting on the livery of the Church at the end of seven years. They bribe men by high rewards to get their arms ready, but do not require them to fight.

Are these the places xof educationx which are to send forth minds capable of maintaining a victorious struggle with the debilitating influences of the age, and strengthening the yweakery side of Civilization by the support of a higher Cultivation? This, however, is what we require from these institutions; or, in their default, from others which zshouldz take their place. And Edition: current; Page: [144] the very first step towards their reform ashoulda be to unsectarianize them wholly—not by the paltry measure of allowing Dissenters to come and be taught orthodox sectarianism, but by putting an end to sectarian teaching altogether. The principle itself of dogmatic religion, dogmatic morality, dogmatic philosophy, is what requires to be rooted out; not any particular manifestation of that principle.

The very corner-stone of an education intended to form great minds, must be the recognition of the principle, that the object is to call forth the greatest possible quantity of intellectual power, and to inspire the intensest love of truth: and this without a particle of regard to the results to which the exercise of that power may lead, even though it should conduct the pupil to opinions diametrically opposite to those of his teachers. We say this, not because we think opinions unimportant, butb because of the immense importance which we attach to them; for in proportion to the degree of intellectual power and love of truth which we succeed in creating, is the certainty that (whatever may happen in any one particular instance) in the aggregate of instances true opinions will be the result; and intellectual power and practical love of truth are alike impossible where the reasoner is shown his conclusions, and informed beforehand that he is expected to arrive at them.

We are not so absurd as to propose that the teacher should not cset forthc his own opinions as the true ones, and exert his utmost powers to exhibit their truth in the strongest light. To abstain from this would be to nourish the worst intellectual habit of all, that of not finding, and not looking for, certainty in anything. But the teacher himself should not be held to any creed; nor should the question be whether dhis own opinionsd are the true ones, but whether he eis well instructed in those of other peoplee, and, in enforcing his own, states the arguments for all conflicting opinions fairly. In this spirit it is that all the great subjects are taught from the chairs of the German and French Universities. fAs a general rule, thef most distinguished teacher is selected, whatever be his particular views, and he consequently teaches in the spirit of free inquiry, not of dogmatic imposition.g

Such is the principle of all academical instruction which aims at forming great minds. The details hcannot be too various and comprehensive.h Ancient Edition: current; Page: [145] literature would fill a large place in such a course of instruction; because it ibringsi before us the thoughts and actions of many great minds, minds of many various orders of greatness, and these related and exhibited in a manner tenfold more impressive, tenfold more calculated to call forth jhighj aspirations, than in any modern literature. Imperfectly as these impressions are made by the current modes of classical teaching, it is incalculable what we owe to this, the sole ennobling feature in the slavish, mechanical thing which the moderns call education. Nor is it to be forgotten among the benefits of familiarity with the monuments of antiquity, and especially those of Greece, that we are taught by it to appreciate and to admire intrinsic greatness, amidst opinions, habits, and institutions most remote from ours; and are thus trained to that large and catholic toleration, which is founded on understanding, not on indifference—and to a habit of free, open sympathy with powers of mind and nobleness of character, howsoever exemplified. Were but the languages and literature of antiquity so taught that the glorious images they present might stand before the student’s eyes as living and glowing realities—that, instead of lying a caput mortuum at the bottom of his mind, like some foreign substance in no way influencing the current of his thoughts or the tone of his feelings, they might circulate through it, and become assimilated, and be part and parcel of himself!—then should we see how little these studies have yet done for us, compared with what they have yet to do.

An important place in the system of education which we contemplate would be occupied by history:k because it is the record of alll great things which have been achieved by mankind, andm because when philosophically studied it gives a certain largeness of conception to the student, and familiarizes him with the action of great causes. In no other way can he so completely realize in his own mind (howsoever he may be satisfied with the proof of them as abstract propositions) the great principles by which the progress of man and the condition of society are governed. Nowhere else will the infinite varieties of human nature be so vividly brought home to him, and anything cramped or one-sided in his own standard of it so effectually corrected; and nowhere else will he behold so strongly exemplified the astonishing pliability of our nature,[*] and the vast effects which may under good guidance be produced upon it by honest endeavour. The literature of our own and other modern nations should be studied along with the history, or rather asn part of the history.

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In the department of pure intellect, the highest place will belong to logic and the philosophy of mind: the one, the instrument for the cultivation of all sciences; the other, the root from which they all grow. It scarcely needs be said that the former oought not too be taught as a mere system of technical rules, nor the latter as a set of concatenated abstract propositions. The tendency, so strong everywhere, is strongest of all here, to receive opinions into the mind without any real understanding of them, merely because they seem to follow from certain admitted premises, and to let them lie there as forms of words, lifeless and void of meaning. The pupil must be led to interrogate his own consciousness, to observe and experiment upon himself: of the mind, by any other process, little will he ever know.

With these should be joined all those sciences, in which great and certain results are arrived at by mental processes of some length or nicety: not that all persons should study all these sciences, but that some should study all, and all some. These may be divided into sciences of mere ratiocination, as mathematics; and sciences partly of ratiocination, and partly of what is far more difficult, comprehensive observation and analysis. Such are, in their rationale, even the sciences to which pmathematical processes are applicable:p and such are all those which relate to human nature. The philosophy of morals, of government, of law, of political economy, of poetry and art, should form subjects of systematic instruction, under the most eminent professors who could be found; these being chosen, not for the particular doctrines they might happen to profess, but as being those who were most likely to send forth pupils qualified in point of disposition and attainments to choose doctrines for themselves. And why should not religion be taught in the same manner? Not quntil then will one step be made towards the healing of religious differences: not untilq then will the spirit of English religion become catholic instead of sectarian, favourable instead of hostile to freedom of thought and the progress of the human mind.

rWith regard to the changes, in forms of polity and social arrangements, which in addition to reforms in education, we conceive to be required for regenerating the character of the higher classes; to express them even summarily would require a long discourse. But the general idea from which they all emanate, may be stated briefly.r Civilization has brought about a degree of security and fixity in the possession of all advantages once acquired, which Edition: current; Page: [147] has rendered its possible for a rich man to lead the life of a Sybarite, and nevertheless enjoy throughout life a degree of power and consideration which could formerly be earned or retained only by personal activity. We cannot undo what civilization has done, and again stimulate the energy of the higher classes by insecurity of property, or danger of life or limb. The only adventitious motive it is in the power of society to hold out, is reputation and consequence; and of this as much use as possible should be made for the encouragement of desert. The main thing which social changes can do for the improvement of the higher classes—and it is what the progress of democracy is insensibly but certainly accomplishing—is gradually to put an end to every kind of unearned distinction, and let the only road open to honour and ascendancy be that of personal qualities.

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London and Westminster Review, XXXIV (Sept., 1840), 518-19, in “Philosophy and Legislation” section, headed “Essays on Government, 1839. [London:] Effingham Wilson.” Signed “A.” Not republished Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A short notice of a book entitled ‘Essays on Government’ in the same number of the same review.” (I.e., in the same number as his review of Milnes’s Poetry for the People, the previous item in the bibliography.) (MacMinn, 52.) No copy in the Somerville College Library. There are no references to this brief review in JSM’s Autobiography or letters.

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Essays on Government

this little volume is unquestionably the production of a thinker, though of one who has not yet thought with much originality or depth. It is, however, interesting, as indicative of the ideas which thinkers of a numerous and increasing class are now becoming possessed of, and eagerly turning to use.

For instance, the author’s first fundamental principle is, that the successive changes which take place in human affairs are no more left to chance “in the moral than in the physical world, but that the progress of society, social, moral, and political, together with the whole train of events which compose the history of the human race, are as much the effect of certain fixed laws as the motions of the planets or the rotation of the seasons.” [P. 2] His second principle is, that the changes in political institutions are the effects of previous changes in the condition of society and of the human mind. It may truly be said, that whoever knows these two principles, possesses more of the science of politics than was known even to eminent thinkers fifty years ago.

Setting out from this starting point, our author ends his inquiries in the common conclusions of radicalism; but shows less acquaintance than might be wished with the real difficulties of the subject, and with the point which the discussion has now reached among political philosophers. He lays it down as a maxim that there is everywhere a natural aristocracy, that is, a class who are looked up to by the community generally; that, in a rude age, nobles, or priests, or persons of large property, form this class; in an enlightened period, it consists of the persons most distinguished for wisdom and virtue. In every age, unless the natural aristocracy be the power which governs, there will be growing disaffection to the government, and at length either a peaceable or a violent change. Having established that the natural aristocracy in a highly civilised society is the aristocracy of personal qualities, he affirms, and has little difficulty in showing, that neither an aristocracy of birth nor one of wealth affords any guarantee for the existence of these qualities. He therefore recommends, wherever the community is sufficiently advanced to admit of it, a republican government by universal suffrage and ballot, as a means of selecting and installing the natural aristocracy. But this part of his doctrine, which is the part most likely to be assailed with objections, Edition: current; Page: [152] is unfortunately that which he has taken least pains to fortify against them. That the people in a democracy would know where to find the natural aristocracy, or would wish to be governed by them, is the point to be proved, not assumed. We cannot find that anything is said to prove it by our author. He thinks, indeed, that the people cannot themselves govern, but can only choose their governors, and will prefer, as they must choose somebody, to choose those to whom they already look up. “Democracy may cause its feelings and opinions to be attended to and respected, but it can never govern.” [P. 169.] We think that democracy can govern: it can make its legislators its mere delegates, to carry into effect its preconceived opinions. We do not say that it will do so. Whether it will, appears to us the great question which futurity has to resolve; and on the solution of which it depends whether democracy will be that social regeneration which its partisans expect, or merely a new form of bad government, perhaps somewhat better, perhaps somewhat worse, than those which preceded it.

There seems to be something wavering and undecided in our author’s conception of what constitutes the test of good government. He continually enumerates among the requisites of government that it should be conformable to the opinions of the governed. He insists, as often, upon another requisite, that the governors shall be the wisest and best persons in the community. But the wisest and best members of the community very often would not consent to govern in conformity with the opinions of the less wise portion: our author must elect, therefore, which of the two requisites he will in that case dispense with. Perhaps he will say that, by a government in conformity to the opinions of the people, he does not mean one which implicitly obeys public opinion, but one which pays that degree of regard to it as an existing fact, which the best and wisest government must pay, and which would be paid to any other fact of equal importance. If so, the test is unexceptionable; but then, he is on the other horn of the dilemma: is this that kind and degree of deference to their opinions which a democratic people, electing their rulers by universal suffrage, will be likely to be content with?

After all, our author’s practical conclusions fall short of what his speculative principles would seem to warrant, since he is for constituting the legislative body of two elective chambers, the one representative of numbers, the other of property. We believe that this would be theoretically the best form of government for a state of society like that of modern Europe; subject to the two conditions, that it were possible to introduce it, and that, if introduced, it would work without a civil war between the two houses. Perhaps when the two great classes, the propertied and non-propertied, shall have tried their strength and found their inability to conquer one another, this, as a possible mode of peaceable compromise, may in time suggest itself to the wiser leaders of both.

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Dissertations and Discussions, II (2nd ed.), 1-83, where it is headed “M. de Tocqueville on Democracy in America,” the title footnoted: “Edinburgh Review, October 1840.” Reprinted from ER, LXXII (Oct., 1840), 1-47, where it is unsigned, and headed: “Art. I.—1. De la Democratie en Amérique. Par Alexis de Tocqueville, Membre de l’Institut. 4 vols. 8vo. Paris: [Gosselin,] 1835-40. / 2. Democracy in America. By Alexis de Tocqueville, Member of the Institute of France. Translated by Henry Reeve, Esq., Barrister-at-Law. 4 vols. 8vo. London: [Saunders and Otley,] 1835-40.” Running title: “Democracy in America.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A review of Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America’ in the Edinburgh Review for October 1840 (No. 145.)” (MacMinn, 52.) In the copy of the Edinburgh article in the Somerville College Library JSM has indicated three changes: two of them (see 163t-t and 192x-x, the latter being a correction of a typographical error) were adopted in the revised text; the third (164w-w) was further rewritten.

For comment on the composition of this article and JSM’s relations with Tocqueville, see the Textual Introduction, lxxvi-lxxviii above.

The following text, taken from D&D, II, 2nd ed., is collated with that in D&D, 1st ed., and that in the Edinburgh. In two places (174-5 and 200-4) JSM adapts parts of his “De Tocqueville on Democracy in America [I]” and “Duveyrier’s Political Views of French Affairs” (1846); these passages have been collated with their originals. In the footnoted variants, “67” indicates D&D, 2nd ed.; “59” indicates D&D, 1st ed.; “40” indicates Edinburgh Review; “Source” indicates Reeve’s translation of Tocqueville; “35” indicates “De Tocqueville on Democracy in America [I]”; and “46” indicates “Duveyrier’s Political Views.”

In the references to De la Démocratie en Amérique, both Reeve’s translation and the original (identified as Tocqueville) are cited.

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De Tocqueville on Democracy in America [II]

it has been the rare fortune of M. de Tocqueville’s book to have achieved an easy triumph, both over the indifference of our at once busy and indolent public to profound speculation, and over the particular obstacles which oppose the reception of speculations from a foreign, and above all from a French source. There is some ground for the remark often made upon us by foreigners, that the character of our national intellect is insular. The general movement of the European mind sweeps past us without our being drawn into it, or even looking sufficiently at it to discover in what direction it is tending; and if we had not a tolerably rapid original movement of our own, we should long since have been left in the distance. The French language is almost universally cultivated on this side of the Channel; a flood of human beings perpetually ebbs and flows between London and Paris; national prejudices and animosities are becoming numbered among the things that were; yet the revolution which has taken place in the tendencies of French thought, which has changed the character of the higher literature of France, and almost that of the French language, seems hitherto, as far as the English public are concerned, to have taken place in vain. At a time when the prevailing tone of French speculation is one of exaggerated reaction against the doctrines of the eighteenth century, French philosophy, with us, is still synonymous with Encyclopedism. The Englishmen may almost be numbered who are aware that France has produced any great names in prose literature since Voltaire and Rousseau; and while modern history has been receiving a new aspect from the labours of men who are not only among the profoundest thinkers, but the clearest and most popular writers of their age, even those of their works which are expressly dedicated to the history of our own country remain mostly untranslated, and in almost all cases unread.

To this general neglect M. de Tocqueville’s book forms, however, as we have already said, a brilliant exception. Its reputation was as sudden, and is as extensive, in this country as in France, and in that large part of Europe which receives its opinions from France. The progress of political dissatisfaction, and the comparisons made between the fruits of a popular constitution on one side of the Atlantic, and of a mixed government with a preponderating aristocratic element on the other, had made the working of Edition: current; Page: [156] American institutions a party question. For many years, every book of travels in America had been a party pamphlet, or had at least fallen among partisans, and been pressed into the service of one party or of the other. When, therefore, a new book, of a grave and imposing character, on Democracy in America, made its appearance even on the other side of the British Channel, it was not likely to be overlooked, or to escape an attempt to convert it to party purposes. If ever political writer had reason to believe that he had laboured successfully to render his book incapable of such a use, M. de Tocqueville was entitled to think so. But though his theories are of an impartiality without example, and his practical conclusions lean towards Radicalism, some of his phrases are susceptible of a Tory application. One of these is “the tyranny of the majority.”[*] This phrase was forthwith adopted into the Conservative dialect, and trumpeted by Sir Robert Peel in his Tamworth oration, when, as booksellers’ advertisements have since frequently reminded us, he “earnestly requested the perusal” of the book by all and each of his audience.[†] And we believe it has since been the opinion of the country gentlemen that M. de Tocqueville is one of the pillars of Conservatism, and his book a definitive demolition of America and of Democracy. The error has done more good than the truth would perhaps have done; since the result is, that the English public now know and read the first philosophical book ever written on Democracy, as it manifests itself in modern society; a book, the essential doctrines of which it is not likely that any future speculations will subvert, to whatever degree they may modify them; while its spirit, and the general mode in which it treats its subject, constitute it the beginning of a new era in the scientific study of politics.

The importance of M. de Tocqueville’s speculations is not to be estimated by the opinions which he has adopted, be these true or false. The value of his work is less in the conclusions, than in the mode of arriving at them. He has applied to the greatest question in the art and science of government, those principles and methods of philosophizing to which mankind are indebted for all the advances made by modern times in the other branches of the study of nature. It is not risking too much to affirm of these volumes, that they contain the first analytical inquiry into the ainfluences of Democracya. For the first time, that phenomenon is treated of as something which, being a reality in nature, and no mere mathematical or metaphysical abstraction, manifests itself by innumerable properties, not by some one only; and must be looked at in many aspects before it can be made the subject Edition: current; Page: [157] even of that modest and conjectural judgment, which is alone attainable respecting a fact at once so great and so new. Its consequences are by no means to be comprehended in one single description, nor in one summary verdict of approval or condemnation. So complicated and endless are their ramifications, that he who sees furthest into them willb, in general,b longest hesitate before finally pronouncing whether the good or the evil of its influence, on the whole, preponderates.

M. de Tocqueville has endeavoured to ascertain and discriminate the various properties and tendencies of Democracy, the separate relations in which it stands towards the different interests of society, and the different moral and social requisites of human nature. In the investigation he has cof necessity left much undone,c and much which will be better done by those who come after him, and build upon his foundations. But he has earned the double honour of being the first to make the attempt, and of having done more towards the success of it than probably will ever again be done by any one individual. His method is, as that of a philosopher on such a subject must be—a combination of deduction with induction: his evidences are, laws of human nature, on the one hand; the example of America, and France, and other modern nations, so far as applicable, on the other. His conclusions never rest on either species of evidence alone, whatever he classes as an effect of Democracy, he has both ascertained to exist in those countries in which the state of society is democratic, and has also succeeded in connecting with Democracy by deductions à priori, dtending to showd that such would naturally be its influences upon beings constituted as mankind are, and placed in a world such as we know ours to be. If this be not the true Baconian and Newtonian method applied to society and government; if any better, or even any other be possible, M. de Tocqueville would be the first to say, candidus imperti: if not, he is entitled to say to political theorists, whether calling themselves philosophers or practical men, his utere mecum.[*]

That part of Democracy in America which was first published, professes to treat of the political effects of Democracy: the seconde is devoted to its influence on society in the widest sense; on the relations of private life, on intellect, morals, and the habits and modes of feeling which constitute national character. The last is both a newer and a more difficult subject of inquiry than the first; there are fewer who are competent, or who will even think themselves competent, to judge M. de Tocqueville’s conclusions. But, Edition: current; Page: [158] we believe, no one, in the least entitled to an opinion, will refuse to him the praise of having probed the subject to a depth which had never before been sounded; of having carried forward the controversy into a wider and a loftier region of thought; and pointed out many questions essential to the subject which had not been before attended to: questions which he may or may not have solved, but of which, in any case, he has greatly facilitated the solution.

The comprehensiveness of M. de Tocqueville’s views, and the impartiality of his feelings, have not led him into the common infirmity of those who see too many sides to a question—that of thinking them all equally important. He is able to arrive at a decided opinion. Nor has the more extensive range of considerations embraced in his Second Part, affected practically the general conclusions which resulted from his First. They may be stated as follows:—That Democracy, in the modern world, is inevitable; and that it is on the whole desirable; but desirable only under certain conditions, and those conditions capable, by human care and foresight, of being realized, but capable also of being missed. The progress and ultimate ascendancy of the democratic principle has in his eyes the character of a law of nature. He thinks it an inevitable result of the tendencies of a progressive civilization; by which expressions he by no means intends to imply either praise or censure. No human effort, no accident even, unless one which should throw back civilization itself, can avail, in his opinion, to defeat, or even very considerably to retard, this progress. But though the fact itself appears to him removed from human control, its salutary or baneful consequences do not. Like other great powers of nature, the tendency, though it cannot be counteracted, may be guided to good. Man cannot turn back the rivers to their source;[*] but it rests with himself whether they shall fertilize or lay waste his fields. Left to its spontaneous course, with nothing done to prepare before it that set of circumstances under which it can exist with safety, and to fight against its worse by an apt employment of its better peculiarities, the probable effects of Democracy upon human well-being, and upon whatever is best and noblest in human character, appear to M. de Tocqueville extremely formidable. But with as much of wise effort devoted to the purpose as it is not irrational to hope for, most of what is mischievous in its tendencies may, in his opinion, be corrected, and its natural capacities of good so far strengthened and made use of, as to leave no cause for regret in the old state of society, and enable the new one to be contemplated with calm contentment, if without exultation.

It is necessary to observe that by Democracy M. de Tocqueville does not in general mean any particular form of government. He can conceive a Democracy under an absolute monarch. Nay, he entertains no small dread Edition: current; Page: [159] lest in some countries it should actually appear in that form. By Democracy, M. de Tocqueville understands equality of conditions; the absence of all aristocracy, whether constituted by political privileges, or by superiority in individual importance and social power. It is towards Democracy in this sense, towards equality between man and man, that he conceives society to be irresistibly tending. fTowardsf Democracy in the other, and more common sense, it may or may not be travelling. Equality of conditions tends naturally to produce a popular government, but not necessarily. Equality may be equal freedom, or equal servitude. America is the type of the first; France, he thinks, is in danger of falling into the second. The latter country is in the condition which, of all that civilized societies are liable to, he regards with the greatest alarm—a democratic state of society without democratic institutions. For, in democratic institutions, M. de Tocqueville sees not an aggravation, but a corrective, of the most serious evils incident to a democratic state of society. No one is more opposed than he is to that species of democratic radicalism, which would admit at once to the highest of political franchises, untaught masses who have not yet been experimentally proved fit even for the lowest. But the ever-increasing intervention of the people, and of all classes of the people, in their own affairs, he regards as a cardinal maxim in the modern art of government: and he believes that the nations of civilized Europe, though not all equally advanced, are all advancing, towards a condition in which there will be no distinctions of political rights, no great or very permanent distinctions of hereditary wealth; when, as there will remain no classes nor individuals capable of making head against the government, unless all are, and are fit to be, alike citizens, all will ere long be equally slaves.

The opinion that there is this irresistible tendency to equality of conditions, is, perhaps, of all the leading doctrines of the book, that which most stands in need of confirmation to English readers. M. de Tocqueville devotes but little space to the elucidation of it. To French readers, the historical retrospect upon which it rests is familiar; and facts known to every one establish its truth, so far as relates to that country. But to the English public, who have less faith in irresistible tendencies, and who, while they require for every political theory an historical basis, are far less accustomed to link together the events of history in a connected chain, the proposition will hardly seem to be sufficiently made out. Our author’s historical argument is, however, deserving of their attention.

Let us recollect the situation of France seven hundred years ago, when the territory was divided amongst a small number of families, who were the owners of the soil and the rulers of the inhabitants: the right of governing descended with the family inheritance from generation to generation; force was the only Edition: current; Page: [160] means by which man could act on man; and landed property was the sole source of power.

Soon, however, the political power of the clergy was founded, and began to extend itself: the clergy opened its ranks to all classes, to the poor and the rich, the villein and the lord; equality penetrated into the government through the church, and the being who as a serf must have vegetated in perpetual bondage, took his place as a priest in the midst of nobles, and not unfrequently above the heads of kings.

The different relations of men became more complicated and more numerous, as society gradually became more stable and more civilized. Thence the want of civil laws was felt; and the order of legal functionaries soon rose from the obscurity of gtheirg tribunals and their dusty chambers, to appear at the court of the monarch, by the side of the feudal barons in their ermine and their mail.

Whilst the kings were ruining themselves by their great enterprises, and the nobles exhausting their resources by private wars, the lower orders were enriching themselves by commerce. The influence of money began to be perceptible in state affairs. The transactions of business opened a new road to power, and the financier rose to a station of political influence, in which he was at once flattered and despised.

Gradually the spread of mental acquirements, and the increasing taste for literature and the arts, opened chances of success to talent, knowledge became a means of government, intelligence became a social power, and the man of letters took a part in the affairs of the state.

The value attached to the privileges of birth decreased, in the exact proportion in which new paths were struck out to advancement. In the eleventh century nobility was beyond all price; in the thirteenth it might be purchased: it was conferred for the first time in 1270; and equality was thus introduced into the government through aristocracy itself.

In the course of these seven hundred years, it sometimes happened that, in order to resist the authority of the crown, or to diminish the power of their rivals, the nobles granted a certain share of political rights to the people. Or, more frequently, the king permitted the inferior orders to enjoy a degree of power, with the intention of lowering the aristocracy.

As soon as land was held on any other than a feudal tenure, and personal property began in its turn to confer influence and power, every improvement which was introduced in commerce or manufactures was a fresh element ofh equality of conditions. Henceforward every new discovery, every new want which igrew upi, and every new desire which craved satisfaction, was a step towards the universal level. The taste for luxury, the love of war, the sway of fashion, the most superficial as well as the deepest passions of the human heart, co-operated to enrich the poor and to impoverish the rich.

From the time when the exercise of the intellect became a source of jpowerj and of wealth, it is impossible not to consider every addition to science, every fresh truth, every new idea, as a germ of power placed within the reach of the people. Poetry, eloquence, and memory, the grace of wit, the glow of imagination, the depth of thought, and all the gifts which are bestowed by Providence without respect of persons, turned to the advantage ofk democracy; and even Edition: current; Page: [161] when they were in the possession of its adversaries, they still served its cause, by lbringingl into relief the natural greatness of man; its conquests spread, therefore, with those of civilization and knowledge; and literature became an arsenal, where the poorest and the weakest could always find weapons to their hand.

In perusing the pages of our history, we shall scarcely meet with a single great event, in the lapse of seven hundred years, which has not turned to the advantage of equality.

The Crusades, and the wars with the English, decimated the nobles and divided their possessions; the erection of corporate towns introduced an element of democratic liberty into the bosom of feudal monarchy; the invention of fire-arms equalized the villein and the noble on the field of battle; printing opened the same resources to the minds of all classes; the post was established, so as to bring the same information to the door of the poor man’s cottage and to the gate of the palace; and Protestantism proclaimed that all men are alike able to find the road to heaven. The discovery of America offered a thousand new paths to fortune, and placed riches and power within the reach of the adventurous and the obscure.

If we examine what mwas happeningm in France at intervals of fifty years, beginning with the eleventh century, we shall invariably perceive that a twofold revolution has taken place in the state of society. The noble has gone down on the social ladder, and the roturier has gone up; the one descends as the other rises. Every half century brings them nearer to each other.

Nor is this phenomenon at all peculiar to France Whithersoever we turn our eyes, we witness the same continual revolution throughout the whole of Christendom.

Everywhere the various occurrences of national existence have turned to the advantage of democracy; all men have aided it by their nexertions. Thosen who have intentionally laboured in its cause, and those who have served it unwittingly; those who have fought for it, and those who have declared themselves its opponents—have all been driven along in the same otracko, have all laboured to one end, some ignorantly and some unwillingly; all have been blind instruments in the hands of God.

The gradual development of the equality of conditions is therefore a providential fact, and possesses all the characteristics of a Divine decree; it is universal, it is durable, it constantly eludes all human interference, and all events as well as all men contribute to its progress.

Would it be wise to imagine that a social impulse which dates from so far back, can be checked by the efforts of a generation? Is it credible that the democracy which has annihilated the feudal system, and vanquished kings, will respect the pbourgeoisp and the capitalist? Will it stop now that it is grown so strong, and its adversaries so weak?

It is not necessary that God himself should speak, in order to disclose to us the unquestionable signs of his will. We can discern them in the habitual course of nature, and in the invariable tendency of events.

The Christian nations of our age seem to me to present a most alarming spectacle. The impulse which is bearing them along is so strong that it cannot be stopped, but it is not yet so rapid that it cannot be guided. Their fate is in their Edition: current; Page: [162] hands; yet a little while, and it may be so no longer.

(Introduction to the First Part.) [Reeve, Vol. I, pp. xv-xxii; Tocqueville, Vol. I, pp. 4-10.]q

That such has been the actual course of events in modern history, nobody can doubt, and as truly in England as in France. Of old, every proprietor of land was sovereign over its inhabitants, while the cultivators could not call even their bodily powers their own. It was by degrees only, and in a succession of ages, that their personal emancipation was effected, and their labour became theirs, to sell for whatever they could obtain for it. They became the rich men’s equals in the eye of the law; but the rich had still the making of the law, and the administering of it; and the equality was at first little more than nominal. The poor, however, could now acquire property; the path was open to them to quit their own class for a higher; their rise even to a considerable station, gradually became a common occurrence; and to those who acquired a large fortune, the other powers and privileges of aristocracy were successively opened, until hereditary honours have become less a power in themselves, than a symbol and ornament of great riches. While individuals thus continually rose from the mass, the mass itself multiplied and strengthened; the towns obtained a voice in public affairs; the many, in the aggregate, became even in property more and more a match for the few; and the nation became a power, distinct from the small number of individuals who once disposed even of the crown, and determined all public affairs at their pleasure. The Reformation was the dawn of the government of public opinion. Even at that early period, opinion was not formed by the higher classes exclusively; and while the publicity of all rStater transactions, the liberty of petition and public discussion, the press—and of late, above all, the periodical press—have rendered public opinion more and more the supreme power, the same causes have rendered the formation of it less and less dependent upon the initiative of the higher ranks. Even the direct participation of the people at large in the government had, in various ways, been greatly extended, before the political events of the last few years, when democracy has given so signal a proof of its progress in society, by the inroads it has been able to make into the political constitution. And in spite of the alarm which has been taken by the possessors of large property, who are far more generally opposed than they had been within the present generation to any additional strengthening of the popular element in the House of Commons, there is at this moment a much stronger party for a further parliamentary reform, than many good observers thought there was, twelve years ago, for that which has already taken place.

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But there is a surer mode of deciding the point than any historical retrospect. Let us look at the powers which are even now at work in society itself.

To a superficial glance at the condition of our own country, nothing can seem more unlike any tendency to equality of condition. The inequalities of property are apparently greater than in any former period of history. Nearly all the land is parcelled out in great estates, among comparatively few families; and it is not the large, but the small properties, which are in process of extinction. A hereditary and titled nobility, more potent by their vast possessions than by their social precedency, are constitutionally and really one of the great powers in the state. To form part of their order is sthat whichs every ambitious man aspires ttot, as the crowning glory of a successful career. The passion for equality of which M. de Tocqueville speaks almost as if it were the great moral lever of modern times, is hardly known in this country even by name. On the contrary, all ranks seem to have a passion for inequality. The hopes of every person are directed to rising in the world, not to pulling the world down to him. The greatest enemy of the political conduct of the House of Lords, submits to their superiority of rank as he would to the ordinances of nature; and often thinks any amount of toil and watching repaid by a nod of recognition from one of their number.

We have put the case as strongly as it could be put by an adversary, and have stated as facts some things which, if they have been facts, are giving visible signs that they will not always be so. If we look back even twenty years, we shall find that the popular respect for the higher classes is by no means the thing it was; and uthoughu all who are rising wish for the continuance of advantages which they themselves hope to share, there are among those who do not expect to rise, increasing indications that a levelling spirit is abroad, and political discontents, in whatever manner originating, show an increasing tendency to take that shape. But it is the less necessary to dwell upon these things, as well shall be satisfied with making out, in respect to the tendency to equality in England, much less than M. de Tocqueville contends for. We do not maintain that the time is drawing near when there will be no distinction of classes; but we do contend that the power of the higher classes, both in government and in society, is diminishing; while that of the middle and even the lower classes is increasing, and likely to increase.

The constituent elements of political importance are property, intelligence, and the power of combination. In every one of these elements, is it the higher classes, or the other vportionsv of society, that have lately made and are continuing to make the most rapid advances?

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Even with regard to the element of property, there cannot be room for more than a momentary doubt. The class who are rich by inheritance, are so far from augmenting their fortunes, that it is much if they can be said to keep them up. A territorial aristocracy always live up to their means—generally beyond them. Our own is no exception to the rule; and as their control over the taxes becomes every day more restricted, and the liberal professions more overcrowded, they are condemned more and more to bear the burden of their own large families; which wit is not easy to do, compatibly with leavingw to the heir the means of keeping up, without becoming embarrassed, the old family establishments. It is matter of notoriety how severely the difficulty of providing for younger sons is felt even in the highest rank; and that, as a provision for daughters, alliances are now courted which would not have been endured a generation ago. The additions to the “money-power” of the higher ranks, consist of the riches of the novi homines[*] who are continually aggregated to that class from among the merchants and manufacturers, and occasionally from the professions. But many of these are merely successors to the impoverished owners of the land they buy; and the fortunes of others are taken, in the way of marriage, to pay off the mortgages of older families. Even with these allowances, no doubt the number of wealthy persons is steadily on the increase; but what is this to the accumulation of capitals and growth of incomes in the hands of the middle class? It is that class which furnishes all the accessions to the aristocracy of wealth; and for one who makes a large fortune, fifty acquire, without exceeding, a moderate competency, and leave their children to work, like themselves, at the labouring oar.

In point of intelligence, it can still less be affirmed that the higher classes maintain the same proportional ascendancy as of old. They have shared with the rest of the world in the diffusion of information. They have improved, like all other classes, in the decorous virtues. Their humane feelings and refined tastes form in general a striking contrast to the coarse habits of the same class a few generations ago. But it would be difficult to point out what new idea in speculation, what invention or discovery in the practical arts, what useful institution, or what permanently valuable book. Great Britain has owed for the last hundred years to her hereditary aristocracy, titled or untitled;*—what great public enterprise, what important national movement in religion or politics, those classes have originated, or xhave so much as Edition: current; Page: [165] taken in itx the principal share. Considered in respect to active energies and laborious habits, to the stirring qualities which fit men for playing a considerable part in the affairs of mankind, few will say that our aristocracy have not deteriorated. It is, on the other hand, one of the commonplaces of the age, that knowledge and intelligence are spreading, in a degree which was formerly thought impossible, to the lower, and down even to the lowest rank. And this is a fact, not accomplished, but in the mere dawn of its accomplishment, and which has shown hitherto but a slight promise of its future fruits. It is easy to scoff at the kind of intelligence which is thus diffusing itself; but it is intelligence still. The knowledge which is power, is not the highest description of knowledge only: any knowledge which gives the habit of forming an opinion, and the capacity of expressing that opinion, constitutes a political power; and if combined with the capacity and habit of acting in concert, a formidable one.

It is in this last element, the power of combined action, that the progress of the Democracy has been the most gigantic. What combination can do has been shown by an experiment, of now many years duration, among a people the most backward in civilization (thanks to English misgovernment) between the Vistula and the Pyrenees. Even on this side of the Irish Channel we have seen something of what could be done by Political Unions, Anti-Slavery Societies, and the like; to say nothing of the less advanced, but already powerful organization of the working classes, the progress of which has been suspended only by the temporary failure arising from the manifest impracticability of its present objects. And these various associations are not the machinery of democratic combination, but the occasional weapons which that spirit forges as it needs them. The real Political Unions of England are the Newspapers. It is these which tell every person what all other persons are feeling, and in what manner they are ready to act: it is by these that the people learn, it may truly be said, their own wishes, and through these that they declare them. The newspapers and the railroads are solving the problem of bringing the democracy of England to vote, like that of Athens, simultaneously in one agora; and the same agencies are rapidly effacing those local distinctions which rendered one part of our population strangers to another; and are making us more than ever (what is the first condition of a powerful public opinion) a homogeneous people. If America has been said to prove that in an extensive country a popular government may exist, England seems destined to afford the proof that after a certain stage in civilization it must; for as soon as the numerically stronger have the same advantages, in means of combination and celerity of movement, as the smaller number, they are the masters; and, except by their permission, no government can any longer exist.

It may be said, doubtless, that though the aristocratic class may be no longer in the ascendant, the power by which it is succeeded is not that of the Edition: current; Page: [166] numerical majority; that the middle class in this country is as little in danger of being outstripped by the democracy below, as of being kept down by the aristocracy above; and that there can be no difficulty for that class, aided as it would be by the rich, in making head by its property, intelligence, and power of combination, against any possible growth of those elements of importance in the inferior classes; and in excluding the mass of mere manual labourers from any share in political rights, unless such a restricted and subordinate one as may be found compatible with the complete ascendancy of property.

We are disposed partially to agree in this opinion. Universal suffrage is never likely to exist yand maintain itselfy where the majority are prolétaires; and we are not unwilling to believe that a labouring class in abject poverty, like za greatz part of our rural population, or which expends its surplus earnings in gin or in waste, like so much of the better paid population of the towns, may be kept politically in subjection, and that the middle classes are safe from the permanent rule of such a body, though perhaps not from its Swing outrages, or Wat Tyler insurrections. But this admission leaves the fact of a tendency towards democracy practically untouched. There is a democracy short of pauper suffrage; the working classes themselves contain a middle as well as a lowest class. Not to meddle with the vexata quæstio, whether the lowest class is or is not improving in condition, it is certain that a larger and larger body of manual labourers are rising above that class, and acquiring at once decent wages and decent habits of conduct. A rapidly increasing multitude of our working people are becoming, in point of condition and habits, whata the American working people are. And if our boasted improvements are of any worth, there must be a growing tendency in society and government to make this condition of the labouring classes the general one. The nation must be most slenderly supplied with wisdom and virtue, if it cannot do something to improve its own physical condition, to say nothing of its moral. It is something gained, that well-meaning persons of all parties now at length profess to have this end in view. But in proportion as it is approached to—in proportion as the working class becomes, what all proclaim their desire that it should be—well paid, well taught, and well conducted; in the same proportion will the opinions of that class tell, according to its numbers, upon the affairs of the country. Whatever portion of the class succeeds in thus raising itself, becomes a part of the ruling body; and if the suffrage be necessary to make it so, it will not be long without the suffrage.

Meanwhile, we are satisfied if it be admitted, that the government of Edition: current; Page: [167] England is progressively changing from the government of a few, to the government, not indeed of the many, but of many;—from an aristocracy with a popular infusion, to the régime of the middle class. To most purposes, in the constitution of modern society, the government of a numerous middle class is democracy. Nay, it not merely is democracy, but the only democracy of which there is yet any example; what is called universal suffrage in America arising from the fact that America is all middle class; the whole people being in a condition, both as to education and pecuniary means, corresponding to the middle class here. The consequences which we would deduce from this fact will appear presently, when we examine M. de Tocqueville’s view of the moral, social, and intellectual influences of democracy. This cannot be done until we have briefly stated his opinions on the purely political branch of the question. To this part of our task we shall now proceed; with as much conciseness as is permitted by the number and importance of the ideas which, holding an essential place among the grounds of his general conclusions, have a claim not to be omitted even from the most rapid summary.

We have already intimated that M. de Tocqueville recognises such a thing as a democratic state of society without a democratic government; a state in which the people are all equal, and subjected to one common master, who selects indiscriminately from all of them the instruments of his government. In this sense, as he remarks, the government of the Pasha of Egypt is a specimen of democracy; and to this type (with allowance for difference of civilization and manners) he thinks that all nations are in danger of approximating, in which the equalization of conditions has made greater progress than the spirit of liberty.[*] Now, this he holds to be the condition of France. The kings of France have always been the greatest of levellers; Louis XI, Richelieu, Louis XIV, alike laboured to break the power of the noblesse, and reduce all intermediate classes and bodies to the general level. After them came the Revolution, bringing with it the abolition of hereditary privileges, the emigration and dispossession of half the great landed proprietors, and the subdivision of large fortunes by the revolutionary law of inheritance. While the equalization of conditions was thus rapidly reaching its extreme limits, no corresponding progress of public spirit was taking place in the people at large. No institutions capable of fostering an interest in the details of public affairs were created by the Revolution: it swept away even those which despotism had spared; and if it admitted a portion of the population to a voice in the government, gave it them only on the greatest but rarest occasion—the election of the great council of the state. A political act, to be done only once in a few years, and for which nothing in the daily habits of the citizen has prepared him, leaves his intellect and moral dispositions very Edition: current; Page: [168] much as it found them; and the citizens not being encouraged to take upon themselves collectively that portion of the business of society which had been performed by the privileged classes, the central government easily drew to itself not only the whole local administration, but much of what, in countries like ours, is performed by associations of individuals. Whether the government was revolutionary or counter-revolutionary made no difference; under the one and the other, everything was done for the people, and nothing by the people. In France, consequently, the arbitrary power of the magistrate in detail is almost without limit. And when of late some attempts have been made to associate a portion of the citizens in the management of local affairs, comparatively few have been found, even among those in good circumstances, (anywhere but in the large towns,) who could be induced willingly to take any part in that management; who, when they had no personal object to gain, felt the public interest sufficiently their own interest, not to grudge every moment which they withdrew from their occupations or pleasures to bestow upon it. With all the eagerness and violence of party contests in France, a nation more passive in the hands of any one who is uppermost does not exist. M. de Tocqueville has no faith in the virtues, nor even in the prolonged existence, of a superficial love of freedom, in the face of a practical habit of slavery; and the question whether the French are to be a free people, depends, in his opinion, upon the possibility of creating a spirit and a habit of local self-government.

M. de Tocqueville sees the principal source and security of American freedom, not so much in the election of btheb President and Congress by popular suffrage, as in the administration of nearly all the business of society by the people themselves. This it is which, according to him, keeps up the habit of attending to the public interest, not in the gross merely, or on a few momentous occasions, but in its dry and troublesome details. This, too, it is which enlightens the people; which teaches them by experience how public affairs must be carried on. The dissemination of public business as widely as possible among the people, is, in his opinion, the only means by which they can be fitted for the exercise of any share of power over the legislature; and generally also the only means by which they can be led to desire it.

For the particulars of this education of the American people by means of political institutions, we must refer to the work itself; of which it is one of the minor recommendations, that it has never been equalled even as a mere statement and explanation of the institutions of the United States. The general principle to which M. de Tocqueville has given the sanction of his authority, merits more consideration than it has yet received from the professed labourers in the cause of national education. It has often been said, and requires to be repeated still oftener, that books and discourses alone are Edition: current; Page: [169] not education; that life is a problem, not a theorem: that action can only be learnt in action. A child learns to write its name only by a succession of trials; and is a man to be taught to use his mind and guide his conduct by mere precept? What can be learnt in schools is important, but not all-important. The main branch of the education of human beings is their habitual employment; which must be either their individual vocation, or some matter of general concern, in which they are called to take a part. The private money-getting occupation of almost every one is more or less a mechanical routine; it brings but few of his faculties into action, while its exclusive pursuit tends to fasten his attention and interest exclusively upon himself, and upon his family as an appendage of himself; making him indifferent to the public, to the more generous objects and the nobler interests, and, in his inordinate regard for his personal comforts, selfish and cowardly. Balance these tendencies by contrary ones; give him something to do for the public, whether as a vestryman, a juryman, or an elector; and, in that degree, his ideas and feelings are taken out of this narrow circle. He becomes acquainted with more varied business, and a larger range of considerations. He is made to feel that besides the interests which separate him from his fellow-citizens, he has interests which connect him with them, that not only the common weal is his weal, but that it partly depends upon his exertions. Whatever might be the case in some other constitutions of society, the spirit of a commercial people will be, we are persuaded, essentially mean and slavish, wherever public spirit is not cultivated by an extensive participation of the people in the business of government in detail; nor will the desideratum of a general diffusion of intelligence among either the middle or lower classes be realized, but by a corresponding dissemination of public functions and a voice in public affairs.

Nor is this inconsistent with obtaining a considerable share of the benefits (and they are great) of what is called centralization. The principle of local self-government has been undeservedly discredited, by being associated with the agitation against the new poor-law.[*] The most active agency of a central authority in collecting and communicating information, giving advice to the local bodies, and even framing general rules for their observance, is no hindrance, but an aid, to making the local liberties an instrument of educating the people. The existence of such a central agency allows of intrusting to the people themselves, or to local bodies representative of them, many things of too great national importance to be committed unreservedly to the localities; and completes the efficacy of local self-government as a means of instruction, by accustoming the people not only to judge of particular facts, but to understand, and apply, and feel practically the value of, principles. The mode of administration provided for the English poor-laws by Edition: current; Page: [170] the late Act seems to us to be in its general conception almost theoretically perfect. And the extension of a similar mixture of central and local management to several other branches of administration, thereby combining the best fruits of popular intervention with much of the advantage of skilled supervision and traditional experience, would, we believe, be entitled to no mean rank in M. de Tocqueville’s list of correctives to the inconveniences of cDemocracyc.

In estimating the effects of ddemocratic governmentd as distinguished from a edemocratic condition of societye. M. de Tocqueville assumes the state of circumstances which exists in America—a popular government in the fStatef, combined with popular local institutions. In such a government he sees great advantages, balanced by no inconsiderable evils.

Among the advantages, one which figures in the foremost rank is that of which we have just spoken, the diffusion of intelligence; the remarkable impulse given by democratic institutions to the active faculties of that portion of the community who in other circumstances are the most ignorant, passive, and apathetic. These are characteristics of America which strike all travellers. Activity, enterprise, and a respectable amount of information, are not the qualities of a few among the American citizens, nor even of many, but of all. There is no class of persons who are the slaves of habit and routine. Every American will carry on his manufacture, or cultivate his farm, by the newest and best methods applicable to the circumstances of the case. The poorest American understands and can explain the most intricate parts of his country’s institutions; can discuss her interests, internal and foreign. Much of this may justly be attributed to the universality of easy circumstances, and to the education and habits which the first settlers in America brought with them; but our author is certainly not wrong in ascribing a certain portion of it to the perpetual exercise of the faculties of every man among the people, through the universal practice of submitting all public questions to his judgment.

It is incontestable that the people frequently conduct public business very ill; but it is impossible that the people should take a part in public business without extending the circle of their ideas, and without quitting the ordinary routine of their mental goccupationsg. The humblest individual who is called upon to co-operate in the government of society, acquires a certain degree of self-respect; and, as he possesses power, minds more enlightened than his own offer him their services. He is canvassed by a multitude of claimants who need his support; and who, seeking to deceive him in a thousand different ways, instruct him hduring the Edition: current; Page: [171] processh. He takes a part in political undertakings which did not originate in his own conception, but which give him a igeneral taste for such undertakingsi. New ameliorations are daily suggested to him in the property which he holds in common with others, and this gives him the desire of improving that property which is peculiarly his own. He is, perhaps, neither happier nor better than those who came before him; but he is better informed and more active. I have no doubt that the democratic institutions of the United States, joined to the physical constitution of the country, are the cause (not the direct, as is so often asserted, but the indirect cause) of the prodigious commercial activity of the inhabitants. It is not engendered by the laws, but it proceeds from habits acquired through participation in making the laws.

When the opponents of Democracy assert that a single individual performs the functions which he undertakes better than the government of the people at large, it appears to me that they are perfectly right. The government of an individual, supposing an equal degree of instruction on either side, has more constancy, more perseverance, than that of a multitude; more combination in its plans, and more perfection in its details; and is better qualified judiciously to discriminate the characters of the men it employs. If any deny this, they have never seen a democratic government, or have formed their opinion only upon a few instances. It must be conceded that even when local circumstances and the disposition of the people allow democratic institutions to subsist, they never display a regular and methodical system of government. Democratic liberty is far from accomplishing all the projects it undertakes with the skill of an jintelligentj despotism. It frequently abandons them before they have borne their fruits, or risks them when the consequences may prove dangerous; but in the end it produces greater results than any absolute government. It does fewer things well, but it does a greater number of things. Not what is done by a democratic government, but what is done under a democratic government by private agency, is really great. Democracy does not confer the most skilful kind of government upon the people, but it produces that which the most skilful governments are frequently unable to awaken, namely, an all-pervading and restless activity—a superabundant force—an energy which is never seen elsewhere, and which may, under favourable circumstances, beget the most amazing benefits. These are the true advantages of democracy.

The other great political advantage which our author ascribes to Democracy, requires less illustration, because it is more obvious, and has been oftener treated of; that the course of legislation and administration tends always in the direction of the interest of the lgreatestl number. Although M. de Tocqueville is far from considering this quality of Democracy as the mpanaceam in politics which it has sometimes been supposed to be, he expresses his sense of its importance, if in measured, in no undecided terms. America does not exhibit to us what we see in the best mixed constitutions—the class interests of small minorities wielding the powers of legislation, in Edition: current; Page: [172] opposition both to the general interest and to the general opinion of the community; still less does she exhibit what has been characteristic of most representative governments, and is only gradually ceasing to characterize our own—a standing league of class interests—a tacit compact among the various knots of men who profit by abuses, to stand by one another in resisting reform. Nothing can subsist in America that is not recommended by arguments which, in appearance at least, address themselves to the interest of the many. However frequently, therefore, that interest may be mistaken, the direction of legislation towards it is maintained in the midst of the mistakes; and if a community is so situated or so ordered that it can “support the transitory action of bad laws, and can await without destruction the result of the general tendency of the laws,” that country, in the opinion of M. de Tocqueville, will prosper more under a democratic government than under any other.[*] But in aristocratic governments, the interest, or at best the honour and glory, of the ruling class, is considered as the public interest; and all that is most valuable to the individuals composing the subordinate classes, is apt to be immolated to that public interest with all the rigour of antique patriotism.

The men who are intrusted with the direction of public affairs in the United States are frequently inferior, both in point of capacity and of morality, to those whom aristocratic institutions would raise to power. But their interest is identified and confounded with that of the majority of ntheirn fellow-citizens. They may frequently be faithless and frequently mistaken, but they will never systematically adopt a line of conduct hostile to the majority; and it is impossible that they should give a dangerous or an exclusive character to the government.

The mal-administration of a democratic magistrate is, moreover, a mere isolated fact, the effects of which do not last beyond the short period for which he is elected. Corruption and incapacity do not act as common interests, which oconnect men permanently with one another. A corrupt or an incapable magistrate will not concert his measures with another magistrate, simply because that individual is corrupt and incapable like himself; and these two men will never unite their endeavours to promote or screen the corruption or inaptitude of their remote posterity. The ambition and the manœuvres of the one will serve, on the contrary, to unmask the other. The vices of the magistrate in democratic states are usually those of his individual character.

But, under aristocratic governments, public men are swayed by the interest of their order, which, if it is sometimes blended with the interests of the majority, is frequently distinct from them. This interest is a common and lasting bond which unites them together. It induces them to coalesce, and combine their efforts towards attaining an end which is not always the happiness of the greatest number; and it not only connects the persons in authority with each other, but links them also to a considerable portion of the governed, since a numerous body of Edition: current; Page: [173] citizens belongs to the aristocracy, without being invested with official functions. The aristocratic magistrate, therefore, finds himself supported in his own natural tendencies by a portion of society itself, as well as by the government of which he is a member.

The common object which connects the interest of the magistrates in aristocracies with that of a portion of their pcotemporariesp, identifies it also with future generations of their order. They labour for ages to come as well as for their own time. The aristocratic magistrate is thus urged towards the same point by the passions of those who surround him, by his own, and, I might almost say, by those of his posterity. Is it wonderful that he should not resist? And hence it is that the class spirit often hurries along with it those whom it does not corrupt, and makes them unintentionally fashion society to their own particular ends, and qpre-fashionq it for their descendants.

(Reeve, Vol. II, pp. 118-19; Tocqueville, Vol. II, pp. 111-13.)[*]

These, then, are the advantages ascribed by our author to a democratic government. We are now to speak of its disadvantages.

According to the opinion which is prevalent among the more cultivated advocates of democracy, one of its greatest recommendations is that by means of it the wisest and worthiest are brought to the head of affairs. The people, it is said, have the strongest interest in selecting the right men. It is presumed that they will be sensible of that interest; and, subject to more or less liability of error, will in the main succeed in placing a high, if not the highest, degree of worth and talent in the highest situations.

M. de Tocqueville is of another opinion. He was forcibly struck with the general want of merit in the members of the American legislatures, and other public functionaries. He accounts for this, not solely by the people’s incapacity to discriminate merit, but partly also by their indifference to it. He thinks there is little preference for men of superior intellect, little desire to obtain their services for the public; occasionally even a jealousy of them, especially if they be also rich. They, on their part, have still less inclination to seek any such employment. Public offices are little lucrative, confer little power, and offer no guarantee of permanency: almost any other career holds out better pecuniary prospects to a man of ability and enterprise; nor will instructed men stoop to those mean arts, and those compromises of their private opinions, to which their less distinguished competitors willingly resort. The depositaries of power, after being chosen with little regard to merit, are, partly perhaps for that very reason, frequently changed. The rapid return of elections, and even a taste for variety, M. de Tocqueville thinks, on the part of electors (a taste not unnatural wherever little regard is paid to qualifications), produces a rapid succession of new men in the rlegislaturer, and Edition: current; Page: [174] in all public posts. Hence, on the one hand, great instability in the laws—every new comer desiring to do something in the short time she has before hims; while, on the other hand, there is no political carrière—statesmanship is not a profession. There is no body of persons educated for public business, pursuing it as their occupation, and who transmit from one to another the results of their experience. There are no traditions, no science or art of public affairs. A functionary knows little, and cares less, about the principles on which his predecessor has acted; and his successor thinks as little about his. Public transactions are therefore conducted with a reasonable share indeed of the common sense and common information which are general in a democratic community, but with little benefit from specific study and experience; without consistent system, long-sighted views, or persevering pursuit of distant objects.

This is likely enough to be a true picture of the American Government, but can scarcely be said to be peculiar to it: there are now few governments remaining, whether representative or absolute, of which something of the same sort might not be said. In no country where the real government resides in the minister, and where there are frequent changes of ministry, are far-sighted views of policy likely to be acted upon; whether the country be England or France, in the eighteenth century or in the nineteenth.* tuvCrude and ill-considered legislationv is the character of all governments whose laws are made and acts of administration performed impromptu, not in pursuance of a general design, but from the pressure of some present occasion; of all governments in which the ruling power is to any great extent exercised by persons not trained to government as a business.u w It is true that the governments which have been celebrated for their profound policy, have generally been aristocracies. But they have been very narrow aristocracies, consisting of so few members, that every member could personally participate in the business of administration. These are the governments which have a natural tendency to be administered steadily—that is, according to fixed principles. Every member of the governing body being trained to government as a profession, like other professions they respect precedent, transmit their experience Edition: current; Page: [175] from generation to generation, acquire and preserve a set of traditions, and all being competent judges of each other’s merits, the ablest easily rises to his proper level. The governmentsx of ancient Rome and modern Venice were of this character; and as all know, for ages conducted the affairs of those states with admirable constancy and skill, on fixed principles, often unworthy enough, but always eminently adapted to the ends of ythosey governments.w zWhen the governing body, whether it aconsistsa of the many or of a privileged class, is so numerous, that the large majority of it do not and cannot make the practice of government the main occupation of their lives, it isb impossible that there should be wisdom, foresight, and caution in the governing body itself. These qualities must be found, if found at all, not in the body, but in those whom the body trust.z cdThed opinion of a enumerouse ruling class is as fluctuating, as liable to be wholly given up to immediate impulses, as the opinion of the people. Witness the whole course of English history. All our laws have been made on temporary impulses. In fno country has the course of legislation been less directed to any steady and consistent purpose.fct

gIn so far as it is true that there is a deficiency of remarkable merit in hAmerican public men (and our author allows that there is a large number of exceptions), the fact may perhaps admit of a less discreditable explanation. America needs very little government. She has no wars, no neighbours, no complicated international relations; no old society with its thousand abuses to reform; no half-fed and untaught millions iin want ofi food and guidance. Society in America requires little but to be let alone. The current affairs which her jgovernmentj has to transact can seldom demand much more than average capacity; and it may be in the Americans a wise economy, not to pay the price of great talents when common ones will serve their purpose. We make these remarks by way of caution, not of controversy. Like many other parts of our author’s doctrines, that of which we are now speaking affords work for a succession of thinkers and of accurate observers, and must in the main depend on future experience to confirm or refute it.

We now come to that one among the dangers of Democracy, respecting which so much has been said, and which our author designates as “the despotism of the majority.”

It is perhaps the greatest defect of M. de Tocqueville’s book, that from the scarcity of examples, his propositions, even when derived from observation, Edition: current; Page: [176] have the air of mere abstract speculations. He speaks of the tyranny of the majority in general phrases, but gives hardly any instances of it, nor much information as to the mode in which it is practically exemplified. The omission was in the present instance the more excusable, as the despotism complained of was, at that time, politically at least, an evil in apprehension more than in sufferance; and he was uneasy rather at the total absence of security against the tyranny of the majority, than at the frequency of its actual exertion.

Events, however, which have occurred since the publication of the First Part of M. de Tocqueville’s work, give indication of the shape which tyranny is most likely to assume when exercised by a majority.

It is not easy to surmise any inducements of interest, by which, in a country like America, the greater number could be led to oppress the smaller. When the majority and the minority are spoken of as conflicting interests, the rich and the poor are generally meant; but where the rich are content with being rich, and do not claim as such any political privileges, their interest and that of the poor are kgenerallyk the same: complete protection to property, and freedom in the disposal of it, are alike important to both. When, indeed, the poor are so poor that they can scarcely be worse off, respect on their part for rights of property which they cannot hope to share, is never safely to be calculated upon. But where all have property, either in enjoyment or in reasonable hope, and an appreciable chance of acquiring a large fortune; and where every man’s way of life proceeds on the confident assurance that, by superior exertion, he will obtain a superior reward; the importance of inviolability of property is not likely to be lost sight of. It is not affirmed of the Americans that they make laws against the rich, or unduly press upon them in the imposition of taxes. If a labouring class, less happily circumstanced, could prematurely force themselves into influence over our own legislature, there might then be danger, not so much of violations of property, as of undue interference with contracts; unenlightened legislation for the supposed interest of the many; laws founded on mistakes in political economy. A minimum of wages, or a tax on machinery, might be attempted: as silly and as inefficacious attempts might be made to keep up wages by law, as were so long made by the British legislature to keep them down by the same means. We have no wish to see the experiment tried, but we are fully convinced that experience would correct the one error as it has corrected the other, and in the same way; namely, by lcompletel practical failure.

It is not from the separate interests, real or imaginary, of the majority, that minorities are in danger: but from its antipathies of religion, political Edition: current; Page: [177] party, or race; and experience in America seems to confirm what theory rendered probable, that the tyranny of the majority would not take the shape of tyrannical laws, but that of a dispensing power over all laws. The people of Massachusetts passed no law prohibiting Roman Catholic schools, or exempting Protestants from the penalties of incendiarism; they contented themselves with burning the Ursuline convent to the ground, aware that no jury would be found to redress the injury. In the same reliance the people of New York and Philadelphia sacked and destroyed the houses of the Abolitionists, and the schools and churches of their black fellow-citizens, while numbers who took no share in the outrage amused themselves with the sight. The laws of Maryland still prohibit murder and burglary; but in 1812, a Baltimore mob, after destroying the printing office of a newspaper which had opposed the war with England, broke into the prison to which the editors had been conveyed for safety, murdered one of them, left the others for dead; and the criminals were tried and acquitted. In the same city, in 1835, a riot which lasted four days, and the foolish history of which is related in M. Chevalier’s Letters,[*] was occasioned by the fraudulent bankruptcy of the Maryland Bank. It is not so much the riots, in such instances, that are deplorable; these might have occurred in any country: it is the impossibility of obtaining aid from an executive dependent on the mob, or justice from juries which formed part of it: it is the apathetic cowardly truckling of disapproving lookers-on; almost a parallel to the passive imbecility of the people of Paris, when a handful of hired assassins perpetrated the massacres of September. For where the majority is the sole power, and a power issuing its mandates in the form of riots, it inspires a terror which the most arbitrary monarch often fails to excite. The silent sympathy of the majority may support on the scaffold the martyr of one man’s tyranny; but if we would imagine the situation of a victim of the majority itself, we must look to the annals of religious persecution for a parallel.

Yet, neither ought we to forget that even this lawless violence is not so great, because not so lasting, an evil, as tyranny through the medium of the law. A tyrannical law remains; because, so long as it is submitted to, its existence does not weaken the general authority of the laws. But in America, tyranny will seldom use the instrument of law, because mthere is in generalm no permanent class to be tyrannized over. The subjects of oppression are casual objects of popular resentment, who cannot be reached by law, but only by occasional acts of lawless power; and to tolerate these, if they ever became frequent, would be consenting to live without law. Already, in the United States, the spirit of outrage has raised a spirit of resistance to outrage; Edition: current; Page: [178] of moral resistance first, as was to be wished and expected: if that fail, physical resistance will follow. The majority, like other despotic powers, will be taught by experience that it cannot enjoy both the advantages of civilized society, and the barbarian liberty of taking men’s lives and property at its discretion. Let it once be generally understood that minorities will fight, and majorities will be shy of provoking them. The bad government of which there is any permanent danger under modern civilization, is in the form of bad laws and bad tribunals: government by the sic volo either of a king or a mob belongs to past ages, and can no more existn, for long together,n out of the pale of Asiatic barbarism.

The despotism, therefore, of the majority within the limits of civil life, though a real evil, does not appear to us to be a formidable one. The tyranny which we fear, and which M. de Tocqueville principally dreads, is of another kind—a tyranny not over the body, but over the mind.

It is the complaint of M. de Tocqueville, as well as of other travellers in America, that in no country does there exist less independence of thought. In religion, indeed, the varieties of opinion which fortunately prevailed among those by whom the colonies were settled, ohaveo produced a toleration in law and in fact extending to the limits of Christianity. If by ill fortune there had happened to be a religion of the majority, the case would probably have been different. On every other subject, when the opinion of the majority is made up, hardly any one, it is affirmed, dares to be of any other opinion, or at least to profess it. The statements are not clear as to the nature or amount of the inconvenience that would be suffered by any one who presumed to question a received opinion. It seems certain, however, that scarcely any person has that courage; that when public opinion considers a question as settled, no further discussion of it takes place; and that not only nobody dares (what everybody may venture upon in Europe) to say anything disrespectful to the public, or derogatory to its opinions, but that its wisdom and virtue are perpetually celebrated with the most servile adulation and sycophancy.

These considerations, which were much dwelt on in the author’s First Part, are intimately connected with the views promulgated in his Second, respecting the influence of Democracy on pintellectp.

The Americans, according to M. de Tocqueville, not only profess, but carry into practice, on all subjects except the fundamental doctrines of Christianity and Christian ethics, the habit of mind which has been so often inculcated as the one sufficient security against mental slavery—the rejection of authority, and the assertion of the right of private judgment. They regard Edition: current; Page: [179] the traditions of the past merely in the light of materials, and as “a useful study for doing otherwise and better.”[*] They are not accustomed to look for guidance either to the wisdom of ancestors, or to eminent qcotemporaryq wisdom, but require that the grounds on which they act shall be made level to their own comprehension. And, as is natural to those who govern themselves by common-sense rather than by science, their cast of mind is altogether unpedantic and practical; they go straight to the end, without favour or prejudice towards any set of means, and aim at the substance of things, with something like a contempt for form.

From such habits and ways of thinking, the consequence which would be apprehended by some would be a most licentious abuse of individual independence of thought. The fact risr the reverse. It is impossible, as our author truly remarks, that mankind in general should form all their opinions for themselves: an authority from which they mostly derive them may be rejected in theory, but it always exists in fact. That law above them, which older societies have found in the traditions of antiquity, or in the dogmas of priests or philosophers, the Americans find in the opinions of one another. All being nearly equal in circumstances, and all nearly alike in intelligence and knowledge, the only authority which commands an involuntary deference is that of numbers. The more perfectly each knows himself the equal of every single individual, the more insignificant and helpless he feels against the aggregate mass, and the more incredible it appears to him that the opinion of all the world can possibly be erroneous. “Faith in public opinion,” says M. de Tocqueville, “becomes in such countries a species of religion, and the majority its prophet.”[†] The idea that the things which the multitude believe are still disputable, is no longer kept alive by dissentient voices; the right of private judgment, by being extended to the incompetent, ceases to be exercised even by the competent, and speculation becomes possible only within the limits traced, not as of old by the infallibility of Aristotle, but by that of “our free and enlightened citizens,” or “our free and enlightened age.”

On the influence of Democracy upon the cultivation of science and art, the opinions of M. de Tocqueville are highly worthy of attention. There are many who, partly from theoretic considerations, and partly from the marked absence in America of original efforts in literature, philosophy, or the fine arts, incline to believe that modern democracy is fatal to them, and that wherever its spirit spreads they will take flight. M. de Tocqueville is not of this opinion. The example of America, as he observes, is not to the purpose, because America is, intellectually speaking, a province of England: a province Edition: current; Page: [180] in which the great occupation of the inhabitants is making money, because for that they have peculiar facilities, and are therefore, like the people of Manchester or Birmingham, for the most part contented to receive the higher branches of knowledge ready-made from the capital. In a democratic nation, which is also free, and generally educated, our author is far from thinking that there will be no public to relish or remunerate the works of science and genius. Although there will bes great shifting of fortunes, and no hereditary body of wealthy persons sufficient to form a class, there will be, he thinks, from the general activity and the absence of artificial barriers, combined with the inequality of human intelligence, a far greater number of rich individuals (infiniment plus nombreux) than in an aristocratic society.[*] There will be, therefore, though not so complete a leisure, yet a leisure extending perhaps to more persons; while from the closer contact and greater mutual intercourse between classes, the love of intellectual pleasures and occupations will spread downward very widely among those who have not the same advantages of leisure. Moreover, ttalentst and knowledge being in a democratic society the only means of rapid improvement in fortune, they will be, in the abstract at least, by no means undervalued; whatever measure of them any person is capable of appreciating, he will also be desirous of possessing. Instead, therefore, of any neglect of science and literature, the eager ambition which is universal in such a state of society takes that direction as well as others, and the number of those who cultivate these pursuits becomes “immense.”[†]

It is from this fact—from the more active competition in the products of intellect, and the more numerous public to which they are addressed—that M. de Tocqueville deduces the defects with which the products themselves will be chargeable. In the multiplication of their quantity he sees the deterioration of their quality. Distracted by so great a multitude, the public can bestow but a moment’s attention on each; they will be adapted, therefore, chiefly for striking at the moment. Deliberate approval, and a duration beyond the hour, become more and more difficult of attainment. What is written for the ujudgmentu of a highly instructed few, amidst the abundance of writings may very probably never reach them; and their suffrage, which never gave riches, does not now confer even glory. But the multitude of buyers affords the possibility of great pecuniary success and momentary notoriety, for the work which is made up to please at once, and to please the many. Literature thus becomes not only a trade, but is carried on by the Edition: current; Page: [181] maxims usually adopted by other trades which live by the number, rather than by the quality, of their customers; that much pains need not be bestowed on commodities intended for the general market, and that what is saved in the workmanship may be more profitably expended in self-advertisement. There will thus be an immense mass of third and fourth-rate productions, and very few first-rate. Even the turmoil and bustle of a society in which every one is striving to get on, is in itself, our author observes, not favourable to meditation. “Il règne dans le sein de ces nations un petit mouvement incommode, une sorte de roulement incessant des hommes les uns sur les autres, qui trouble et distrait l’esprit sans l’animer et l’élever.”[*] Not to mention that the universal tendency to action, and to rapid action, directs the taste to applications rather than principles, and hasty approximations to truth rather than scientific accuracy in it.

Passing now from the province of intellect to that of vsentiments and moralsv, M. de Tocqueville is of opinion that the general softening of manners, and the remarkable growth, in modern times, of humanity and philanthropy, are in great part the effect of the gradual progress of social equality. Where the different classes of mankind are divided by impassable barriers, each may have intense sympathies with his own class, more intense than it is almost possible to have with mankind in general; but those who are far below him in condition are so unlike himself, that he hardly considers them as human beings; and if they are refractory and troublesome, will be unable to feel for them even that kindly interest which he experiences for his more unresisting domestic cattle. Our author cites a well-known passage of Madame de Sévigné’s Letters, in exemplification of the want of feeling exhibited even by good sort of persons towards those with whom they have no fellow-feeling.[†] In America, except towards the slaves (an exception which proves the rule,) he finds the sentiments of philanthropy and compassion almost universal, accompanied by a general kindness of manner and obligingness of disposition, without much of ceremony and punctilio. As all feel that they are not above the possible need of the good-will and good offices of others, every one is ready to afford his own. The general equality penetrates also into the family relations: there is more intimacy, he thinks, than in Europe, between parents and children, but less, except in the earliest years, of paternal authority, and the filial respect which is founded on it. wThis, however, isw among the topics which we must omit, as well as the connexion which our author attempts to trace between equality of conditions Edition: current; Page: [182] and strictness of domestic morals, and some other remarks on domestic society in America, which do not appear to us to be of any considerable value.

M. de Tocqueville is of opinion, that one of the tendencies of a democratic state of society is to make every one, in a manner, retire within himself, and concentrate his interests, wishes, and pursuits within his own business and household.

The members of a democratic community are like the sands of the seashore, each very minute, and no one adhering to any other. There are no permanent classes, and therefore no esprit de corps; few hereditary fortunes, and therefore few local attachments, or outward objects consecrated by family feeling. A man feels little connexion with his neighbours, little with his ancestors, little with his posterity. There are scarcely any ties to connect any two men together, except the common one of country. Now, the love of country is not, in large communities, a passion of spontaneous growth. When a man’s country is his town, where his ancestors have lived for generations, of which he knows every inhabitant, and has recollections associated with every street and building—in which alone, of all places on the earth, he is not a stranger—which he is perpetually called upon to defend in the field, and in whose glory or shame he has an appreciable share, made sensible by the constant presence and rivalry of foreigners; in such a state of things patriotism is easy. It was easy in the ancient republics, or in modern Switzerland. But in great communities an intense interest in public affairs is scarcely natural, except to a member of an aristocracy, who alone has so conspicuous a position, and is so personally identified with the conduct of the government, that his credit and consequence are essentially connected with the glory and power of the nation he belongs to; its glory and power (observe,) not the well-being of the bulk of its inhabitants. It is difficult for an obscure person like the citizen of a xdemocracyx, who is in no way involved in the responsibility of public affairs, and cannot hope to exercise more than the minutest influence over them, to have the sentiment of patriotism as a living and earnest feeling. There beingy no intermediate objects for his attachments to fix upon, they fasten themselves on his own private affairs; and, according to national character and circumstances, it becomes his ruling passion either to improve his condition in life, or to take his ease and pleasure by the means which it already affords him.

As, therefore, the state of society becomes more democratic, it is more and more necessary to nourish patriotism by artificial means; and of these none are so efficacious as free institutions—a large and frequent intervention of the citizens in the management of public business. Nor does the love of Edition: current; Page: [183] country alone require this encouragement, but every feeling which connects men either by interest or sympathy with their neighbours and fellow-citizens. Popular institutions are the great means of rendering general in a people, and especially among the richer classes, the desire of being useful in their generation; useful to the public, or to their neighbours without distinction of rank; as well as courteous and unassuming in their habitual intercourse.

When the public is supreme, there is no man who does not feel the value of public good-will, or who does not endeavour to court it by drawing to himself the esteem and affection of those amongst whom he is to live. Many of the passions which congeal and keep asunder human hearts, are then obliged to retire, and hide below the surface. Pride must be dissembled; disdain does not break out; selfishness is afraid of itself. Under a free government, as most public offices are elective, the men whose elevated minds or aspiring hopes are too closely circumscribed in private life, constantly feel that they cannot do without the population which surrounds them. Men learn at such times to think of their fellow-men from ambitious motives, and they frequently find it, in a manner, their interest, to be forgetful of self.

I may here be met by an objection, derived from electioneering intrigues, the meannesses of candidates, and the calumnies of their opponents. These are opportunities of animosity which occurz oftener, the more frequent elections become. Such evils are, doubtless, great, but they are transient, whereas the benefits which attend them remain. The desire of being elected may lead some men for a time to mutual hostility; but this same desire leads all men, in the long run, mutually to support each other; and if it happens that an election accidentally severs two friends, the electoral system brings a multitude of citizens permanently together who would always have remained unknown to each other. Freedom engenders private animosities, but despotism gives birth to general indifference. . . .

A brilliant achievement may win for you the favour of a people at one stroke; but to earn the love and respect of the population which surrounds you, requires a long succession of little services and obscure good offices, a constant habit of kindness, and an established reputation for disinterestedness. Local freedom, then, which leads a great number of citizens to value the affections of their neighbours, and of those with whom they are in contact, perpetually draws men back to one another, in spite of the propensities which sever them; and forces them to render each other mutual assistance.

In the United States, the more opulent citizens take great care not to stand aloof from the people, on the contrary, they constantly keep on easy terms with them; they listen to them; they speak to them every day. They know that the rich, in democracies, always stand in need of the poor; and that in democratic times a poor man’s attachment depends more on manner than on benefits conferred. The very magnitude of such benefits, by setting the difference of conditions in a strong light, causes a secret irritation to those who reap advantage from them; but the charm of simplicity of manners is almost irresistible. . . . This truth does not penetrate at once into the minds of the rich. They generally resist it as long as the democratic revolution lasts, and they do not acknowledge it immediately after that revolution is accomplished. They are very ready to do good Edition: current; Page: [184] to the people, but they still choose to keep them at arm’s length; they think that is sufficient, but they are mistaken. They might spend fortunes thus, without warming the hearts of the population around them; that population does not ask them for the sacrifice of their money, but of their pride.

It would seem as if every imagination in the United States were on the stretch to invent means of increasing the wealth and satisfying the wants of the public. The best informed inhabitants of each district are incessantly using their information to discover new means of augmenting the general prosperity; and, when they have made any such discoveries, they eagerly surrender them to the mass of the people. . . .

I have often seen Americans make great and real sacrifices to the public welfare; and I have a hundred times remarked that, in case of need, they hardly ever fail to lend faithful support to each other. The free institutions which the inhabitants of the United States possess, and the political rights of which they make so much use, remind every citizen, and in a thousand ways, that he ais a member ofa society. They batb every instant impress upon his mind the notion that it is the duty as well as the interest of men to make themselves useful to their fellow-creatures; and as he sees no particular reason for disliking them, since he is never either their master or their slave, his heart readily leans to the side of kindness. Men attend to the interests of the public, first by necessity, afterwards by choice; what was calculation becomes an instinct; and, by dint of working for the good of one’s fellow-citizens, the habit and the taste for serving them is at length acquired.

Many people in France consider equality of conditions as one evil, and political freedom as a second. When they are obliged to yield to the former, they strive at least to escape from the latter. But I contend that, in order to combat the evils which equality may produce, there is only one effectual remedy—c political freedom.

With regard to the tone of moral sentiment characteristic of democracy, M. de Tocqueville holds an opinion which we think deserves the attention of moralists. Among a class composed of persons who have been born into a distinguished position, the habitual springs of action will be very different from those of a democratic community. Speaking generally, (and making abstraction both of individual peculiarities, and of the influence of moral culture,) it may be said of the first, that their feelings and actions will be mainly under the influence of pride; of the latter, under that of interest. Now, as in an aristocratic society the elevated class, though small in number, sets the fashion in opinion and feeling, even virtue will, in that state of society, seem to be most strongly recommended by arguments addressing themselves to pride; in a democracy, by those which address themselves to self-interest. In the one, we hear chiefly of the beauty and dignity of virtue, Edition: current; Page: [185] the grandeur of self-sacrifice; in the other, of honesty the best policy, the value of character, and the common interest of every individual in the good of the whole.

Neither the one nor the other of these modes of feeling, our author is well aware, constitutes moral excellence; which must have a deeper foundation than either the calculations of self-interest, or the emotions of self-flattery. But as an auxiliary to that higher principle, and as far as possible a substitute for it when it is absent, the latter of the two, in his opinion, though the least sentimental, will stand the most wear.

The principle of enlightened self-interest is not a lofty one, but it is clear and sure. It does not aim at mighty objects, but it attains, without impracticable efforts, all those at which it aims. As it lies within the reach of all capacities, every one can without difficulty apprehend and retain it. By its adaptation to human weaknesses, it easily obtains great dominion; nor is its dominion precarious, since it employs self-interest itself to correct self-interest, and uses, to direct the passions, the very instrument which excites them.

The doctrine of enlightened self-interest produces no great acts of self-sacrifice, but it suggests daily small acts of self-denial. By itself it cannot suffice to make a virtuous man, but it disciplines a multitude of citizens in habits of regularity, temperance, moderation, foresight, self-command; and if it does not at once lead men to virtue by their will, it draws them gradually in that direction by their habits. If the principle of “interest rightly understood” were to sway the whole moral world, extraordinary virtues would doubtless be more rare; but I think that gross depravity would then also be less common. That principle, perhaps, prevents some men from rising far above the level of mankind, but a great number of others, who were falling below that level, are caught and upheld by it. Observe some few individuals, they are lowered by it; survey mankind, it is raised.

I am not afraid to say, that the principle of enlightened self-interest appears to me the best suited of all philosophical theories to the wants of the men of our time; and that I regard it as their chief remaining security against themselves. Towards it, therefore, the minds of the moralists of our age should turn, even should they judge it incomplete, it must nevertheless be adopted as necessary.

No power upon earth can prevent the increasing equality of conditions from impelling the human mind to seek out what is useful, or from inclining every member of the community to concentrate his affections on himself. It must therefore be expected that personal interest will become more than ever the principal, if not the sole, spring of men’s actions; but it remains to be seen how each man will understand his personal interest.

I do not think that the doctrine of self-interest, as it is professed in America, is self-evident in all its parts, but it contains a great number of truths so evident, that men, if they are but instructed, cannot fail to see them. Instruct them, then, at all hazards; for the age of implicit self-sacrifice and instinctive virtues is already flying far away from us, and the time is fast approaching when freedom, public peace, and social order itself, will not be able to exist without instruction.

Edition: current; Page: [186]

M. de Tocqueville considers a democratic state of society as eminently tending to give the strongest impulse to the fdesire off physical well-being. He ascribes this, not so much to the equality of conditions as to their mobility. In a country like America every one may acquire riches; no one, at least, is artificially impeded in acquiring them; and hardly any one is born to them. Now, these are the conditions under which the passions which attach themselves to wealth, and to what wealth can purchase, are the strongest. Those who are born in the midst of affluence are generally more or less gblasésg to its enjoyments. They take the comfort or luxury to which they have always been accustomed, as they do the air they hbreathe. Ith is not le but de la vie, but une manière de vivre. An aristocracy, when put to the proof, has in general showni wonderful facility in enduring the loss of riches and of physical comforts. The very pride, nourished by the elevation which they owed to wealth, supports them under the privation of it. But to those who have chased riches laboriously for half their lives, to lose it is the loss of all; une vie manquée; a disappointment greater than can be endured. In a democracy, again, there is no contented poverty. No one being forced to remain poor; many who were poor daily becoming rich, and the comforts of life being apparently within the reach of all, the desire to appropriate them descends to the very lowest rank. Thus,

The desire of acquiring the comforts of the world haunts the imagination of the poor, and the dread of losing them that of the rich. Many scanty fortunes spring up; those who possess them have a sufficient share of physical gratifications to conceive a taste for those pleasures—not enough to satisfy it. They never procure them without exertion, and they never indulge in them without apprehension. They are therefore always straining to pursue or to retain gratifications so precious, so incomplete, and so fugitive.

If I inquire what passion is most natural to men who are at once stimulated and circumscribed by the obscurity of their birth or the mediocrity of their fortune, I can discover none more peculiarly appropriate to them than this love of physical prosperity. The passion for physical comforts is essentially a passion of the middle classes; with those classes it grows and spreads, and along with them it becomes preponderant. From them it mounts into the higher orders of society, and descends into the mass of the people.

I never met in America with any citizen so poor as not to cast a glance of hope and longing towards the enjoyments of the rich, or whose imagination did not indulge itself by anticipation in those good things which fate still obstinately withheld from him.

On the other hand, I never perceived, amongst the wealthier inhabitants of the United States, that proud contempt of the indulgences of riches, which is sometimes to be met with even in the most opulent and dissolute aristocracies. Most of these wealthy persons were once poor; they have felt the stimulus of privation, they have long struggled with adverse fortune; and now that the victory is won, Edition: current; Page: [187] the passions which accompanied the contest have survived it; their minds are, as it were, intoxicated by the petty enjoyments which they have pursued for forty years.

Not but that in the United States, as elsewhere, there are a certain number of wealthy persons, who, having come into their property by inheritance, possess, without exertion, an opulence they have not earned. But even these are not less devotedly attached to the pleasures of material life. The love of physical comfort jhasj become the predominant taste of the nation; the great current of man’s passions runs in that channel, and sweeps everything along in its course.

A regulated sensuality thus lestablishedl itself—the parent of effeminacy rather than of debauchery; paying respect to the social rights of other people and to the opinion of the world; not “leading men away in search of forbidden enjoyments, but absorbing them in the pursuit of permitted ones. This spirit is frequently combined with a species of religious morality; men wish to be as well off as they can in this world, without foregoing their chance of another.”[*]

From the preternatural stimulus given to the desire of acquiring and of enjoying wealth, by the intense competition which necessarily exists where an entire population are the competitors, arises the restlessness so characteristic of American life.

It is strange to see with what feverish ardour the Americans pursue their own welfare; and to watch the vague dread that constantly torments them lest they should not have chosen the shortest path which may lead to it. A native of the United States clings to this world’s goods as if he were certain never to die, and is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach, that one would suppose he was constantly afraid of not living long enough to enjoy them. He clutches everything, he holds nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications. . . .

At first sight there is something surprising in this strange unrest of so many happy men, uneasy in the midst of abundance. The spectacle is, however, as old as the world; the novelty is to see a whole people furnish an example of it. . . .

When all the privileges of birth and fortune are abolished, when all professions are accessible to all, and a man’s own energies may place him at the top of any one of them, an easy and unbounded career seems open to his ambition, and he will readily persuade himself that he is born to no vulgar destinies. But this is an erroneous notion, which is corrected by daily experience. The same equality which allows every citizen to conceive these lofty hopes, renders all the citizens individually feeble. It circumscribes their powers on every side, while it gives freer scope to their desires. Not only are they restrained by their own weakness, but they are met at every step by immense obstacles which they did not at first perceive. They have swept away the privileges of some of their fellow-creatures Edition: current; Page: [188] which stood in their way; mbut they have nowm to encounter the competition of all. The barrier has changed its shape rather than its place. When men are nearly alike, and all follow the same track, it is very difficult for any one individual to get on fast, and cleave a way through the homogeneous throng which surrounds and presses upon him. This constant strife between the wishes springing from the equality of conditions and the means it supplies to satisfy them, harasses and wearies the mind.

And hence, according to M. de Tocqueville,o while every one is devoured by ambition, hardly any one is ambitious on a large scale. Among so many competitors for but a few great prizes, none of the candidates starting from the vantage ground of an elevated social position, very few can hope to gain those prizes, and they not until late in life. Men in general, therefore, do not look so high. A vast energy of passion in a whole community is developed and squandered in the petty pursuit of petty advancements in fortune, and the hurried snatching of petty pleasures.

To sum up our author’s opinion of the dangers to which mankind are liable as they advance towards equality of condition; his fear, both in government and in intellect and morals, is not of too great liberty, but of too ready submission; not of anarchy, but of servility, not of too rapid change, but of Chinese stationariness. As democracy advances, the opinions of mankind on most subjects of general interest will become, he believes, as compared with any former period, more rooted and more difficult to change; and mankind are more and more in danger of losing the moral courage and pride of independence, which make them deviate from the beaten path, either in speculation or in conduct. Even in politics, it is to be apprehended plestp, feeling their personal insignificance, and conceiving a proportionally vast idea of the importance of society at large, being jealous, moreover, of one another, but not jealous of the central power which derives its origin from the majority, or which at least is the faithful representative of its desire to annihilate every intermediate power—they should allow that central government to assume more and more control, engross more and more of the business of society; and, on condition of making itself the organ of the general mode of feeling and thinking, should suffer it to relieve mankind from the care of their own interests, and keep them under a kind of tutelage; trampling meanwhile with considerable recklessness, as often as convenient, upon the rights of individuals, in the name of society and the public good.

Against these political evils the corrective to which our author looks is popular education, and, above all, the spirit of liberty, fostered by the extension and dissemination of political rights. Democratic institutions, therefore, Edition: current; Page: [189] are his remedy for the worst mischiefs to which a democratic state of society is exposed. As for those to which democratic institutions are themselves liable, these, he holds, society must struggle with, and bear with so much of them as it cannot find the means of conquering. For M. de Tocqueville is no believer in the reality of mixed governments. There is, he says, always and everywhere, a strongest power: in every government either the king, the aristocracy, or the people, have an effective predominance, and can carry any point on which they set their heart. “When a community really comes to have a mixed government, that is, to be equally divided between two adverse principles, it is either falling into a revolutionary state or into dissolution.”[*] M. de Tocqueville believes that the preponderant power, which must exist everywhere, is most rightly placed in the body of the people. But he thinks it most pernicious that this power, whether residing in the people or elsewhere, should be “checked by no obstacles which may retard its course, and force it to moderate its own vehemence.”[†] The difference, in his eyes, is great between one sort of democratic institutions and another. That form of democracy should be sought out and devised, and in every way endeavoured to be carried into practice, which, on the one hand, most exercises and cultivates the intelligence and mental activity of the majority; and, on the other, breaks the headlong impulses of popular opinion, by delay, rigour of forms, and adverse discussion. “The organization and the establishment of democracy” on these principles “is the great political problem of our time.”[‡]

And when this problem is solved, there remains an equally serious one; to make head against the tendency of democracy towards bearing down individuality, and circumscribing the exercise of the human faculties within narrow limits. To sustain the higher pursuits of philosophy and art; to vindicate and protect the unfettered exercise of reason, and the moral freedom of the individual—these are purposes to which, under a democracy, the superior spirits, and the government so far as it is permitted, should devote their utmost energies.

I shall conclude by one general idea, which comprises not only all the particular ideas which have been expressed in the present chapter, but also most of those which it is the object of this book to treat of.

In the ages of aristocracy which preceded our own, there were private persons of great power, and a social authority of extreme weakness. The principal efforts of the men of those times were required, to strengthen, aggrandize, and secure the supreme power, and, on the other hand, to circumscribe individual independence within narrower limits, and to subject private interests toq public. Other perils and other cares await the men of our age. Amongst the greater part of Edition: current; Page: [190] modern nations, the government, whatever may be its origin, its constitution, or its name, has become almost omnipotent, and private persons are falling, more and more, into the lowest stage of weakness and dependence.

The general character of roldr society was diversity; unity and uniformity were nowhere to be met with. In modern society, all things threaten to become so much alike, that the peculiar characteristics of each individual will be entirely lost in the uniformity of the general aspect. Our forefathers were ever prone to make an improper use of the notion, that private rights ought to be respected; and we are naturally prone, on the other hand, to exaggerate the idea, that the interest of an individual ought to bend to the interest of the many.

The political world is metamorphosed; new remedies must henceforth be sought for new disorders. To lay down extensive, but distinct and immovable limits to the action of the ruling power; to confer certain rights on private persons, and secure to them the undisputed enjoyment of their rights; to enable individual man to maintain whatever independence, strength, and originality he still possesses: to raise him by the side of society at large, and uphold him in that position:—these appear to me the main objects for the legislator in the age upon which we are now entering.

It would seem as if the rulers of our time sought only to use men in order to effect great things: I wish that they would try a little more to make great men; that they would set less value upon the work, and more upon the workman; that they would never forget that a nation cannot long remain strong when every man belonging to it is individually weak: and that no form or combination of social polity has yet been devised to make an energetic people, out of a community of citizens personally feeble and pusillanimous.

If we were here to close this article, and leave these noble speculations to produce their effect without further comment, the reader probably would not blame us. Our recommendation is not needed in their behalf. That nothing on the whole comparable in profundity to them thast yet been written on uDemocracyu, will scarcely be disputed by any one who has read even our hasty abridgment of them. We must guard, at the same time, against attaching to these conclusions, or to any others that can result from such inquiries, a character of scientific certainty that can never belong to them. Democracy is too recent a phenomenon, and of too great magnitude, for any one who now lives to comprehend its consequences. A few of its more immediate tendencies may be perceived or surmised; what other tendencies, destined to overrule or to combine with these, lie behind, there are not grounds even to conjecture. If we revert to any similar fact in past history, any change in human affairs approaching in greatness to what is passing before our eyes, we shall find that no prediction which could have been made at the time, or for many generations afterwards, would have borne Edition: current; Page: [191] any resemblance to what has actually been the course of events. When the Greek commonwealths were crushed, and liberty in the civilized world apparently extinguished by the Macedonian invaders; when a rude unlettered people of Italy stretched their conquests and their dominion from one end to the other of the known world; when that people in turn lost its freedom and its old institutions, and fell under the military despotism of one of its own citizens;—what similarity is there between the effects we now know to have been produced by these causes, and anything which the wisest person could then have anticipated from them? When the Roman empire, containing all the art, science, literature, and industry of the world, was overrun, ravaged, and dismembered by hordes of barbarians, everybody lamented the destruction of civilization, in an event which is now admitted to have been the necessary condition of its renovation. When the Christian religion had existed but for two centuries—when the Pope was only beginning to assert his ascendancy—what philosopher or statesman could have foreseen the destinies of Christianity, or the part which has been acted in history by the Catholic Church? It is thus with all other really great historical facts—the invention of gunpowder for instance, or of the printing-press: even when their direct operation is as exactly measurable, because as strictly mechanical, as these were, the mere scale on which they operate gives birth to endless consequences, of a kind which would have appeared visionary to the most far-seeing vcotemporaryv wisdom.

It is not, therefore, without a deep sense of the uncertainty attaching to such predictions, that the wise would hazard an opinion as to the fate of mankind under the new democratic dispensation. But without pretending to judge confidently of remote tendencies, those immediate ones which are already developing themselves require to be dealt with as we treat any of the other circumstances in which we are placed;—by encouraging those which are salutary, and working out the means by which such as are hurtful may be counteracted. To exhort men to this, and to aid them in doing it, is the end for which M. de Tocqueville has written; and in the same spirit we will now venture to make one criticism upon him;—to point out one correction, of which we think his views stand in need; and for want of which they have occasionally an air of over-subtlety and false refinement, exciting the distrust of common readers, and making the opinions themselves appear less true, and less practically important, than, it seems to us, they really are.

M. de Tocqueville, then, has, at least apparently, confounded the effects of Democracy with the effects of Civilization. He has bound up in one abstract idea the whole of the tendencies of modern commercial society, and given them one name—Democracy; thereby letting it be supposed that he ascribes to equality of conditions, several of the effects naturally arising Edition: current; Page: [192] from the mere progress of national prosperity, in the form in which that progress manifests itself in modern times.

It is no doubt true, that among the tendencies of commercial civilization, a tendency to the equalization of conditions is one, and not the least conspicuous. When a nation is advancing in prosperity—when its industry is expanding, and its capital rapidly augmenting—the number also of those who possess capital increases in at least as great a proportion: and though the distance between the two extremes of society may not be much diminished, there is a rapid multiplication of those who occupy the intermediate positions. There may be princes at one end of the scale and paupers at the other; but between them there will be a respectable and well-paid class of artisans, and a middle class who combine property and industry. This may be called, and is, a tendency to equalization. But this growing equality is only one of the features of progressive civilization; one of the incidental effects of the progress of industry and wealth: a most important effect, and one which, as our author shows, re-acts in a hundred ways upon the other effects, but not therefore to be confounded with the cause.

So far is it, indeed, from being admissible, that mere equality of conditions is the mainspring of those moral and social phenomena which M. de Tocqueville has characterized, that when some unusual chance exhibits to us equality of conditions by itself, severed from that commercial state of society and that progress of industry of which it is the natural concomitant, it produces few or none of the moral effects ascribed to it. Consider, for instance, the French of Lower Canada. Equality of conditions is more universal there than in the United States; for the whole people, without exception, are in easy circumstances, and there are not even that considerable number of rich individuals who are to be found in all the great towns of the American Republic. Yet do we find in Canada that wgo-ahead spiritw—that restless, impatient eagerness xforx improvement in circumstances—that mobility, that shifting and fluctuating, now up now down, now here now there—that absence of classes and class-spirit—that jealousy of superior attainments—that want of deference for authority and leadership—that habit of bringing things to the rule and square of each man’s own understanding—which M. de Tocqueville imputes to the same cause in the United States? In all these respects the very contrary qualities prevail. We by no means deny that where the other circumstances which determine these effects exist, equality of conditions has a very perceptible effect in corroborating them. We think M. de Tocqueville has shown that it has. But that it is the exclusive, or even the principal cause, we think the example of Canada goes far to disprove.

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For the reverse of this experiment, we have only to look at home. Of all countries in a state of progressive commercial civilization, Great Britain is that in which the equalization of conditions has made least progress. The extremes of wealth and poverty are wider apart, and there is a more numerous body of persons at each extreme, than in any other commercial community. From the habits of the population in regard to marriage, the poor have remained poor; from the laws which tend to keep large masses of property together, the rich have remained rich: and often, when they have lost the substance of riches, have retained its social advantages and outward trappings. Great fortunes are continually accumulated, and seldom redistributed. In this respect, therefore, England is the most complete contrast to the United States. But in commercial prosperity, in the rapid growth of industry and wealth, she is the next after America, and not very much inferior to her. Accordingly we appeal to all competent observers, whether, in nearly all the moral and intellectual features of American society, as represented by M. de Tocqueville, this country does not stand next to America? whether, with the single difference of our remaining respect for aristocracy, the American people, both in their good qualities and in their defects, resemble anything so much as an exaggeration of our own middle class? whether the spirit, which is gaining more and more the ascendant with us, is not in a very great degree American? and whether all the moral elements of an American state of society are not most rapidly growing up?

For example, that entire unfixedness in the social position of individuals—that treading upon the heels of one another—that habitual dissatisfaction of each with the position he occupies, and eager desire to push himself into the next above it—has not this become, and is it not becoming more and more, an English characteristic? In England, as well as in America, it appears to foreigners, and even to Englishmen recently returned from a foreign country, as if everybody had but one wish—to improve his condition, never to enjoy it, as if no Englishman cared to cultivate either the pleasures or the virtues corresponding to his station in society, but solely to get out of it as quickly as possible, or if that cannot be done, and until it is done, to yseemy to have got out of it. “The hypocrisy of luxury,” as M. de Tocqueville calls the maintaining an appearance beyond one’s real expenditure, he considers as a democratic peculiarity.[*] It is surely an English one. The highest class of all, indeed, is, as might be expected, comparatively exempt from these bad peculiarities. But the very existence of such a class, whose immunities and political privileges are attainable by wealth, tends to aggravate the struggle of the other classes for the possession of that passport to all other importance; Edition: current; Page: [194] and it perhaps required the example of America to prove that the “sabbathless pursuit of wealth”[*] could be as intensely prevalent, where there were no aristocratic distinctions to tempt to it.

Again, the mobility and fluctuating nature of individual relations—the absence of permanent ties, local or personal; how often has this been commented on as one of the organic changes by which the ancient structure of English society is becoming dissolved? Without reverting to the days of clanship, or to those in which the gentry led a patriarchal life among their tenantry and neighbours, the memory of man extends to a time when the same tenants remained attached to the same landlords, the same servants to the same zhousehold. Butz this, with other old customs, after progressively retiring to the remote corners of our island, has nearly taken flight altogether; and it may now be said that in all the relations of life, except those to which law and religion have given apermanencea, change has become the general rule, and constancy the exception.

The remainder of the tendencies which M. de Tocqueville has delineated, may mostly be brought under one general agency as their immediate cause; the growing insignificance of individuals in comparison with the mass. Now, it would be difficult to show any country in which this insignificance is more marked and conspicuous than in England, or any incompatibility between that tendency and aristocratic institutions. It is not because the individuals composing the mass are all equal, but because the mass itself has grown to so immense a size, that individuals are powerless in the face of it; and because the mass, having, by mechanical improvements, become capable of acting simultaneously, can compel not merely any individual, but any number of individuals, to bend before it. The House of Lords is the richest and most powerful collection of persons in Europe, yet they not only could not prevent, but were themselves compelled to pass, the Reform Bill. The daily actions of every peer and peeress are falling more and more under the yoke of bourgeois opinion; they feel every day a stronger necessity of showing an immaculate front to the world. When they do venture to disregard common opinion, it is in a body, and when supported by one another; whereas formerly every nobleman acted on his own notions, and dared be as eccentric as he pleased. No rank in society is now exempt from the fear of being peculiar, the unwillingness to be, or to be thought, in any respect original. Hardly anything now depends upon individuals, but all upon classes, and among classes mainly upon the middle class. That class is now the power in society, the arbiter of fortune and success. Ten times more money is made Edition: current; Page: [195] by supplying the wants, even the superfluous wants, of the middle, nay of the lower classes, than those of the higher. It is the middle class that now rewards even literature and art; the books by which most money is made are the cheap books; the greatest part of the profit of a picture is the profit of the engraving from it. Accordingly, all the intellectual effects which M. de Tocqueville ascribes to Democracy, are taking place under the bdemocracyb of the middle class. There is a greatly augmented number of moderate successes, fewer great literary and scientific reputations. Elementary and popular treatises are immensely multiplied, superficial information far more widely diffused; but there are fewer who devote themselves to thought for its own sake, and pursue in retirement those profounder researches, the cresultsc of which can only be appreciated by a few. Literary productions are seldom highly finished—they are got up to be read by many, and to be read but once. If the work sells for a day, the author’s time and pains will be better laid out in writing a second, than in improving the first. And this is not because books are no longer written for the aristocracy: they never were so. The aristocracy (saving individual exceptions) never were a reading class. It is because books are now written for a numerous, and therefore an unlearned public; no longer principally for scholars and men of science, who have knowledge of their own, and are not imposed upon by half-knowledge—who have studied the great works of genius, and can make comparisons.*

As for the decay of authority, and diminution of respect for traditional opinions, this could not well be so far advanced among an ancient people—all whose political notions rest on an historical basis, and whose institutions themselves are built on prescription, and not on ideas of expediency—as in America, where the whole edifice of government was constructed within Edition: current; Page: [196] the memory of man upon abstract principles. But surely this change also is taking place as fast as could be expected under the circumstances. And even this effect, though it has a more direct connexion with Democracy, has not an exclusive one. Respect for old opinions must diminish wherever science and knowledge are rapidly progressive. As the people in general become aware of the recent date of the most important physical discoveries, they are liable to form a rather contemptuous opinion of their ancestors. The mere visible fruits of scientific progress in a wealthy society, the mechanical improvements, the steam-engines, the railroads, carry the feeling of admiration for modern and disrespect for ancient times down even to the wholly uneducated classes. For that other mental characteristic which M. de Tocqueville finds in America—a positive, matter-of-fact spirit—a demand that all things shall be made clear to each man’s understanding—an indifference to the subtler proofs which address themselves to more cultivated and systematically exercised intellects; for what may be called, in short, the dogmatism of common sense—we need not look beyond our own country. There needs no Democracy to account for this; there needs only the habit of energetic action, without a proportional development of the taste for speculation. Bonaparte was one of the most remarkable examples of it; and the diffusion of half-instruction, without any sufficient provision made by society for sustaining the higher cultivation, tends greatly to encourage its excess.

Nearly all those moral and social influences, therefore, which are the subject of M. de Tocqueville’s second part, are shown to be in full operation in aristocratic England. What connexion they have with equality is with the growth of the middle class, not with the annihilation of the extremes. They are quite compatible with the existence of peers and prolétaires; nay, with the most abundant provision of both those varieties of human nature. If we were sure of gretainingg for ever our aristocratic institutions, society would no less have to struggle against all these tendencies; and perhaps even the loss of those institutions would not have so much effect as is supposed in accelerating theirh triumph.

The evil is not in the preponderance of a democratic class, but of any class. The defects which M. de Tocqueville points out in the American, and which we see in the modern English mind, are the ordinary ones of a commercial class. The portion of society which is predominant in America, and that which is attaining predominance here, the American Many, and our middle class, agree in being commercial classes. The one country is affording a complete, and the other a progressive exemplification, that whenever any variety of human nature becomes preponderant in a community, it imposes upon all the rest of society its own type; forcing all, either to submit to it or to imitate it.

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It is not in China only that a homogeneous community is naturally a stationary community. The unlikeness of one ipersoni to another is not only a principle of improvement, but would seem almost to be the only principle. It is profoundly remarked by M. Guizot, that the short duration or stunted growth of the earlier civilizations arose from this, that in each of them some one element of human improvement existed exclusively, or so preponderatingly as to overpower all the others, whereby the community, after accomplishing rapidly all which that one element could do, either perished for want of what it could not do, or came to a halt, and became immoveable.[*] It would be an error to suppose that such could not possibly be our fate. In the generalization which pronounces the “law of progress” to be an inherent attribute of human nature, it is forgotten that, among the inhabitants of our earth, the European family of nations is the only one which has ever jyetj shown any capability of spontaneous improvement, beyond a certain low level. Let us beware of supposing that we owe this peculiarity to any ksuperiorityk of nature, and not rather to combinations of circumstances, which have existed nowhere else, and may not exist for ever among ourselves. The spirit of commerce and industry is one of the greatest instruments not only of civilization in the narrowest, but of improvement and culture in the widest sense: to it, or to its consequences, we owe nearly all that advantageously distinguishes the present period from the middle ages. So long as other coordinate elements of improvement existed beside it, doing what it left undone, and keeping its exclusive tendencies in equipoise by an opposite order of sentiments, principles of action, and modes of thought—so long the benefits which it conferred on humanity were unqualified. But example and theory alike justify the expectation, that with its complete preponderance would commence an era either of stationariness or of decline.

If to avert this consummation it were necessary that the class which wields the strongest power in society should be prevented from exercising its strength, or that those who are powerful enough to overthrow the government should not claim a paramount control over it, the case of civilized nations would be almost hopeless. But human affairs are not entirely governed by mechanical laws, nor men’s characters wholly and irrevocably formed by their situation in life. Economical and social changes, though among the greatest, are not the only forces which shape the course of our species; ideas are not always the mere signs and effects of social circumstances, Edition: current; Page: [198] they are themselves a power in history. Let the idea take hold of the more generous and cultivated minds, that the most serious danger to the future prospects of mankind is in the unbalanced influence of the commercial spirit—let the wiser and better-hearted politicians and public teachers look upon it as their most pressing duty, to protect and strengthen whatever, in the heart of man or in his outward life, can form a salutary check to the exclusive tendencies of that spirit—and we should not only have individual testimonies against it, in all the forms of genius, from those who have the privilege of speaking not to their own age merely, but to all time; there would also gradually shape itself forth a national education, which, without overlooking any other of the requisites of human well-being, would be adapted to this purpose in particular.

What is requisite in politics for the same end, is not that public opinion should not be, what it is and must be, the ruling power; but that, in order to the formation of the best public opinion, there should exist somewhere a great social support for opinions and sentiments different from those of the mass. The shape which that support may best assume is a question of time, place, and circumstance; but (in a commercial country, and an age when, happily for mankind, the military spirit is gone by) there can be no doubt about the elements which must compose it: they are, an agricultural class, a leisured class, and a learned class.

The natural tendencies of an agricultural class are in many respects the reverse of those of a manufacturing and commercial. In the first place, from their more scattered position, and less exercised activity of mind, they have usually a greater willingness to look up to, and accept of, guidance. In the next place, they are the class who have local attachments; and it is astonishing how much of character depends upon this one circumstance. If the agricultural spirit is not felt in America as a counterpoise to the commercial, it is because American agriculturists have no local attachments; they range from place to place, and are to all intents and purposes a commercial class. But in an old country, where the same family has long occupied the same land, the case will naturally be different. From attachment to places, follows attachment to persons who are associated with those places. Though no longer the permanent tie which it once was, the connexion between tenants and landlords is one not llightlyl broken off;—one which both parties, when they enter into it, desire and hope mwillm be permanent. Again, with attachment to the place comes generally attachment to the occupation: a farmer seldom becomes anything but a farmer. The rage of money-getting can scarcely, in agricultural occupations, reach any dangerous height: except where bad laws have aggravated the natural fluctuations of price, there is Edition: current; Page: [199] little room for gambling; the rewards of industry and skill are nsuren but moderate; an agriculturist can rarely make a large fortune. A manufacturer or merchant, unless he can outstrip others, knows that others will outstrip him, and ruin him, while, in the irksome drudgery to which he subjects himself as a means, there is nothing agreeable to dwell on except the ultimate end. But agriculture is in itself an interesting occupation, which few wish to retire from, and which men of property and education often pursue merely for their amusement. Men so occupied are satisfied with less gain, and are less impatient to realize it. Our town population, it has long been remarked, is becoming almost as mobile ando uneasy as the American. It ought not to be so with our agriculturists; they ought to be the counterbalancing element in our national character; they should represent the type opposite to the commercial,—that of moderate wishes, tranquil tastes, cultivation of the excitements and enjoyments near at hand, and compatible with their existing position.

To attain this object, how much alteration may be requisite in the system of rack-renting and tenancy at will, we cannot undertake to show in this place. It is sufficiently obvious also that the corn-laws[*] must disappear: there must be no feud raging between the commercial class and that by whose influence and example its excesses are to be tempered: men are not prone to adopt the characteristics of their enemies. Nor is this all. In order that the agricultural population should count for anything in politics, or contribute its part to the formation of the national character, it is absolutely necessary that it should be educated. And let it be remembered that, in an agricultural people, the diffusion of information and intelligence must necessarily be artificial;—the work of government, or of the superior classes. In populous towns, the mere collision of man with man, the keenness of competition, the habits of society and discussion, the easy access to reading—even the dulness of the ordinary occupations, which drives men to other excitements—produce of themselves a certain development of intelligence. The least favoured class of a town population are seldom actually stupid, and have often in some directions a morbid keenness and acuteness. It is otherwise with the peasantry. Whatever it is desired that they should know, they must be taught, whatever intelligence is expected to grow up among them, must first be implanted, and sedulously nursed.

It is not needful to go into a similar analysis of the tendencies of the other two classes—a leisured, and a learned class. The capabilities which they possess for controlling the excess of the commercial spirit by a contrary spirit, are at once apparent. We regard it as one of the greatest advantages Edition: current; Page: [200] of this country over America, that it possesses both these classes; and we believe that the interests of the time to come are greatly dependent upon preserving them; and upon their being rendered, as they much require to be, better and better qualified for their important functions.

If we believed that the national character of England, instead of reacting upon the American character and raising it, was gradually assimilating itself to those points of it which the best and wisest Americans see with most uneasiness, it would be no consolation to us to think that we might possibly avoid pthe institutions of Americap; for we should have all the effects of her institutions, except those which are beneficial. The American Many are not essentially a different class from our ten-pound householders; and if the middle class are left to the mere habits and instincts of a commercial community, we shall have a “tyranny of the majority,” not the less irksome because most of the tyrants may not be manual labourers. For it is a chimerical hope to overbear or outnumber the middle class; whatever modes of voting, whatever redistribution of the constituencies, are really necessary for placing the government in their hands, those, whether we like it or not, they will assuredly obtain.

The ascendancy of the commercial class in modern society and politics is inevitable, and, under due limitations, ought not to be regarded as an evil. That class is the most powerful: but it needs not therefore be all-powerful. Now, as ever, the great problem in government is to prevent the strongest from becoming the only power; and repress the natural tendency of the instincts and passions of the ruling body, to sweep away all barriers which are capable of resisting, even for a moment, their own tendencies. Any counterbalancing power can henceforth exist only by the sufferance of the commercial class; but that it should tolerate some such limitation, we deem as important as that it should not itself be held in vassalage.

* * * * *

qAs a specimen of the contrivances for “organizing democracy,” which, without sacrificing any of its beneficial tendencies, are adapted to counter-balance and correct its characteristic infirmities, an extract is subjoined from another paper by the author, published in 1846, being a review of the Lettres Politiques[*] of M. Charles Duveyrier;[†] a book which among many Edition: current; Page: [201] other valuable suggestions, anticipated Sir Charles Trevelyan in the proposal to make admission into the service of government in all cases the prize of success in a public and competitive examination.[*]

Every peopler. [says M. Duveyrier.]r comprises, and probably will always comprise, two societies, an administration and a public: the one, of which the general interest is the supreme law, where positions are not hereditary, but the principle is that of classing its members according to their merit, and rewarding them according to their works; and where the moderation of salaries is compensated by their fixity, and especially by honour and consideration. The other, composed of landed proprietors, of capitalists, of masters and workmen, among whom the supreme law is that of inheritance, the principal rule of conduct is personal interest, competition and struggle the favourite elements.

These two societies serve mutually as a counterpoise, they continually act and react upon one another. The public tends to introduce into the administration the stimulus naturally wanting to it, the principle of emulation. The administration, conformably to its appointed purpose, tends to introduce more and more into the mass of the public, elements of order and forethought. In this twofold direction, the administration and the public have rendered and do render daily to each other, reciprocal services.[†]

The Chamber of Deputies (he proceeds to say) represents the public and its tendencies. The Chamber of Peers represents, or from its constitution is fitted to represent, those who are or have been public functionaries: whose appointed duty and occupation it has been to look at questions from the point of view not of any mere local or sectional, but of the general interest: and who have the judgment and knowledge resulting from labour and experience. To a body like this, it naturally belongs to take the initiative in all legislation, not of a constitutional or organic character. If, in the natural course of things, well-considered views of policy are anywhere to be looked for, it must be among such a body. To no other acceptance can such views, when originating elsewhere, be so appropriately submitted—through no other organ so fitly introduced into the laws.

We shall not enter into the considerations by which the author attempts to impress upon the Peers this elevated view of their function in the commonwealth. On a new body, starting fresh as a senate, those considerations might have influence. But the senate of France is not a new body. It set out on the discredited foundation of the old hereditary chamber: and its change of character only takes place gradually, as the members die off. To redeem a lost position is more difficult than to create a new one. The new members, Edition: current; Page: [202] joining a body of no weight, become accustomed to political insignificance; they have mostly passed the age of enterprise, and the Peerage is considered little else than an honourable retirement for the invalids of the public service. M. Duveyrier’s suggestion has made some impression upon the public, it has gained him the public ear, and launched his doctrines into discussion; but we do not find that the conduct of the Peers has been at all affected by it. Energy is precisely that quality which, if men have it not of themselves, cannot be breathed into them by other people’s advice and exhortations. There are involved, however, in this speculation, some ideas of a more general character; not unworthy of the attention of those who concern themselves about the social changes which the future must produce.

There are, we believe, few real thinkers, of whatever party, who have not reflected with some anxiety upon the views which have become current of late, respecting the irresistible tendency of modern society towards democracy. The sure, and now no longer slow, advance, by which the classes hitherto in the ascendant are merging into the common mass, and all other forces sares giving way before the power of mere numbers, is well calculated to inspire uneasiness, even in those to whom democracy per se presents nothing alarming. It is not the uncontrolled ascendancy of popular power, but of any power, which is formidable. There is no one power in society, or capable of being constituted in it, of which the influences do not become mischievous as soon as it reigns uncontrolled—as soon as it becomes exempted from any necessity of being in the right, by being able to make its mere will prevail, without the condition of a previous struggle. To render its ascendancy safe, it must be fitted with correctives and counteractives, possessing the qualities opposite to its characteristic defects. Now, the defects to which the government of numbers, whether in the pure American or in the mixed English form, is most liable, are precisely those of a public, as compared with an administration. Want of appreciation of distant objects and remote consequences; where an object is desired, want both of an adequate sense of practical difficulties, and of the sagacity necessary for eluding them; disregard of traditions, and of maxims sanctioned by experience; an undervaluing of the importance of fixed rules, when immediate purposes require a departure from them—these are among the acknowledged dangers of popular government: and there is the still greater, though less recognised, danger, of being ruled by a spirit of suspicious and intolerant mediocrity. Taking these things into consideration, and also the progressive decline of the existing checks and counterpoises, and the little probability there is that the influence of mere wealth, still less of birth, will be sufficient hereafter to restrain the tendencies of the growing power by mere passive resistance; we do not think Edition: current; Page: [203] that a nation whose historical tantecedentst give it any choice, could select a fitter basis upon which to ground the counterbalancing power in the State, than the principle of the French Upper House. The defects of urepresentative assembliesu are, in substance, those of unskilled politicians. The mode of raising a power most competent to their correction, would be an organization and combination of the skilled. History affords the example of a government carried on for centuries with the greatest consistency of purpose, and the highest skill and talent, ever realized in public affairs; and it was constituted on this very principle. The Roman Senate was a Senate for life, composed of all who had filled high offices in the State, and were not disqualified by a public note of disgrace. The faults of the Roman policy were in its ends; which, however, were those of all the vstatesv of the ancient world. Its choice of means was consummate. This government, and others distantly approaching to it, have given to aristocracy all the credit which it has obtained for constancy and wisdom. A Senate of some such description, composed of persons no longer young, and whose reputation is already gained, will necessarily lean to the Conservative side, but not with the blind, merely instinctive spirit of conservatism, generated by mere wealth or social importance unearned by previous labour. Such a body would secure a due hearing and a reasonable regard for precedent and established rule. It would disarm jealousy, by its freedom from any class interest, and while it never could become the really predominant power in the State, still, since its position would be the consequence of recognised merit and actual services to the public, it would have as much personal influence, and excite as little hostility, as is compatible with resisting in any degree the tendencies of the really strongest power.

There is another class of considerations connected with wrepresentative governmentsw, to which we shall also briefly advert. In proportion as it has been better understood what legislation is, and the unity of plan as well as maturity of deliberation which are essential to it, thinking persons have asked themselves the question—Whether a popular body of 658 or 459 members, not specially educated for the purpose, having served no apprenticeship, and undergone no examination, and who transact business in the forms and very much in the spirit of a debating society, can have as its peculiarly appropriate office to make laws? Whether that is not a work certain to be spoiled by putting such a superfluous number of hands upon it? Whether it is not essentially a business for one, or a very small number, of most carefully prepared Edition: current; Page: [204] and selected individuals? And whether the proper office of a Representative Body, (in addition to controlling the public expenditure, and deciding who shall hold office,) be not that of discussing all national interests, of giving expression to the wishes and feelings of the country; and granting or withholding its consent to the laws which others make, rather than themselves framing, or even altering them? The law of this and most other nations is already such a chaos, that the quality of what is yearly added, does not materially affect the general mass; but in a country possessed of a real Code or Digest, and desirous of retaining that advantage, who could think without dismay of its being tampered with at the will of a body like the House of Commons, or the Chamber of Deputies? Imperfect as is the French Code, the inconveniences arising from this cause are already strongly felt; and they afford an additional inducement for associating with the popular body a skilled Senate, or Council of Legislation, which, whatever might be its special constitution, must be grounded upon some form of the principle which we have now considered.q

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“Papers relating to the Re-organisation of the Civil Service,” Parliamentary Papers, 1854-55, XX, 92-8. Originally headed: “Mr. John Stuart Mill, / May 22, 1854.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A paper on the proposed Reform of the Civil Service, included among those printed in a Collection of papers thereupon, laid before Parliament in the Session of 1854/5.” (MacMinn, 88.) In the Somerville College Library there is a copy of the pamphlet reprint of the paper (Paper on the Re-organisation of the Civil Service. By Mr. John Stuart Mill, London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1855; paged 1-9).

For comment on the circumstances surrounding Mill’s writing of the paper, see the Textual Introduction, lxxviii above.

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Reform of the Civil Service

the proposal to select candidates for the Civil Service of Government by a competitive examination[*] appears to me to be one of those great public improvements the adoption of which would form an era in history. The effects which it is calculated to produce in raising the character both of the public administration and of the people can scarcely be over-estimated.

It has equal claims to support from the disinterested and impartial among conservatives and among reformers. For its adoption would be the best vindication which could be made of existing political institutions, by showing that the classes who under the present constitution have the greatest influence in the government, do not desire any greater share of the profits derivable from it than their merits entitle them to, but are willing to take the chances of competition with ability in all ranks: while the plan offers to liberals, so far as the plan extends, the realization of the principal object which any honest reformer desires to effect by political changes, namely, that the administration of public affairs should be in the most competent hands, which, as regards the permanent part of the administrative body, would be ensured by the proposed plan, so far as it is possible for any human contrivance to secure it.

When we add to this consideration the extraordinary stimulus which would be given to mental cultivation in its most important branches, not solely by the hope of prizes to be obtained by means of it, but by the effect of the national recognition of it as the exclusive title to participation in the conduct of so large and conspicuous a portion of the national affairs, and when we further think of the great and salutary moral revolution, descending to the minds of almost the lowest classes, which would follow the knowledge that Government (to people in general the most trusted exponent of the ways of the world) would henceforth bestow its gifts according to merit, and not to favour; it is difficult to express in any language which would not appear exaggerated, the benefits which, as it appears to me, would ultimately be the consequences of the successful execution of the scheme.

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The objections usually heard, or seen in print, against this great improvement, are either grounded on imperfect apprehension, or, when examined, are found to bear involuntary testimony to the existing need of such a change.

For example, it has been called, in Parliament and elsewhere, a scheme for taking patronage from the Crown and its officers, and giving it to a body of examiners.[*] This objection ignores the whole essence of the plan. As at present conducted, the bestowal of appointments is patronage. But the conferring of certificates of eligibility by the Board of Examiners would not be patronage, but a judicial act. The examiners for honours at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, or London, have not the patronage of honours; nor has the Lord Chancellor, when he decrees an estate to one person instead of another, the patronage of the estate. If it be meant that the examiners would not be capable and impartial, the objection is intelligible. But capable and impartial examiners are found for university purposes, and for the purposes of the educational department of the Privy Council; and they will be found for the present purpose, supposing that there is a sincere desire to find them. The idea that an examination test is likely to be merely nominal, is grounded on the experience of a different kind of examination from that proposed. It is derived from examinations without competition. When the only object is to ascertain whether the candidate possesses a certain minimum of acquirement, it is usually thought that this minimum should be placed low enough to give a chance to all; and however low it may be placed, good nature interferes to prevent it from being rigidly enforced against any but absolute dunces, whilst the other candidates are willing to encourage and applaud this relaxation of duty, and even to connive at frauds on the part of the incompetent. The feelings of all concerned are very different, when the question to be resolved is, who among the candidates that present themselves are the most qualified. Indulgence to one, is then injustice to others, and wears a very different aspect to the conscience from that, falsely thought more venial, laxity, by which the public alone is damaged. In this case, too, the interests and feelings of the other competitors are enlisted in favour of preventing and detecting fraud. With a honest choice of examiners, a competitive examination is as unlikely to fail, as a mere test is unlikely to succeed.

Another objection is, that if appointments are given to talent, the Public Offices will be filled with low people, without the breeding or the feelings of gentlemen. If, as this objection supposes, the sons of gentlemen cannot be expected to have as much ability and instruction as the sons of low people, it would make a strong case for social changes of a more extensive character. If the sons of gentlemen would not, even under the stimulus of competition, maintain themselves on an equality of intellect and attainments with youths Edition: current; Page: [209] of a lower rank, how much more below the mark must they be with their present monopoly; and to how much greater an extent than the friends of the measure allege, must the efficiency of the Public Service be at present sacrificed to their incompetency. And more: if, with advantages and opportunities so vastly superior, the youth of the higher classes have not honour enough, or energy enough, or public spirit enough, to make themselves as well qualified as others for the station which they desire to maintain, they are not fit for that station, and cannot too soon step out of it and give place to better people. I have not this unfavourable opinion of them: I believe that they will fairly earn their full share of every kind of distinction, when they are no longer able to obtain it unearned.

Another objection is, that no examination can test more than a part of the qualities required in a Public Servant; that it is a test of book knowledge, but neither of moral qualities, nor of those which form the foundation of ability in the practical conduct of life. And it is added, that the proposed examination would have excluded Wellington, Nelson, and many more of those who have most distinguished themselves in public functions.

With regard to practical talents, it may be very true that Nelson or Wellington could not have passed a literary examination. But if such an examination had been required in their day for entering the army or navy, can any one suppose that young men of their energy and capacity would not have qualified themselves for it; or that even they would have derived no benefit from it? The assumption, besides, is gratuitous, that the examination would be solely literary. It is proposed that it should be also scientific; and this should include the practical applications of science: and there would be great propriety in allowing persons to offer themselves for a competitive examination in any kind of knowledge which can be useful in any department whatever of the Public Service, such number of marks being assigned to each of these special acquirements, compared with the more general ones, as in the judgment of the Examining Board might correspond to their value. Above all, however, it ought to be remembered, that the worth of the examination is as a test of powers and habits of mind, still more than of acquirements; for talent and application will be sure to acquire the positive knowledge found necessary for their profession, but acquirements may be little more than a dead weight if there is not ability to turn them to use.

With regard to moral qualities, undoubtedly no examination can directly test them; but indirectly it must do so in no inconsiderable degree; for it is idleness, and not application, which is “the mother of vice;” and a well cultivated intellect will seldom be found unaccompanied by prudence, temperance, and justice, and generally by the virtues which are of importance in our intercourse with others. Whatever means of judging of the moral character of the applicants may be adopted, I will venture to express a hope that Edition: current; Page: [210] they may be of a different kind from those suggested by Mr. Jowett;[*] who would demand from every candidate for examination a certificate of baptism [Jowett, p. 24; pp. 654-5 below], thus excluding even the Christian sects which do not practise that rite, and would require, among other references, one to a clergyman or a dissenting minister [Jowett, p. 25; p. 655 below]; which, as they would of course give their recommendations only to those whose religious character they approved of, would amount to the severest penalty for non-attendance on some church or minister of religion, and would be in fact a religious test, excluding many highly qualified candidates. If by requiring a statement of the “school or college” where the young man has been educated [Jowett, p. 24; p. 655 below], it be meant that he must have been educated at a school or college, this is another unjust and injudicious limitation (by which, among others, the writer of this letter would have been excluded, having never been at either school or college). Above all, I would point out the terrible principle brought in by the truly inquisitor-like proceeding recommended by Mr. Jowett, of “confidential” inquiries, and rejection “absolute and without reasons.” [Jowett, p. 25; p. 655 below.] A youth who has passed all the previous years of his life in fitting himself for examination, is, according to Mr. Jowett’s notions of justice, to find himself, in consequence of a secret accusation, rejected, he knows not why, and without the possibility of clearing his character from the unknown imputation! If any young man is rejected on moral grounds, it ought, I conceive, to be on a definite charge, which he has had a full opportunity of answering.[†] I would also suggest reconsideration of the (as it appears to me) very questionable principle of excluding youths otherwise qualified, by requiring a medical examination.[‡] It would be easy to find other means of preventing a public appointment from being made a means of obtaining a provision in the form of a pension without having rendered service sufficient to earn it.

In the preceding observations I have assumed, as requiring no proof, that the object proposed is in itself desirable; that it would be a public benefit if the Public Service, or all that part of it the duties of which are of an intellectual character, were composed of the most intelligent and instructed persons who could be attracted to it. If there be any who maintain a contrary doctrine, and say that the world is not made only for persons of ability, and that mediocrity also ought to have a share in it; I answer, certainly, but not in managing the affairs of the State. Mediocrity should betake itself to those things in which few besides itself will be imperilled by its deficiences,—to Edition: current; Page: [211] mechanical labour, or the mechanical superintendence of labour, occupations as necessary as any others, and which no person of sense considers disparaging. There will be, assuredly, ample space for the mediocrities, in employments which require only mediocrity, when all who are beyond mediocrity have found the employment in which their talents can be of most use.

I do not overlook the fact that the great majority, numerically speaking, of public employments, can be adequately filled by a very moderate amount of ability and knowledge; and I assume, that a proper distinction is made between these and the others. It would be absurd to subject a tide-waiter, a letter-carrier, or a simple copyist, to the same test as the confidential adviser of a Secretary of State; nor would the former situation be an object to any one capable of competing for the latter. The competition for the inferior posts must be practically limited to acquirements which are attainable by the persons who seek such employments; but it is by no means a consequence that it should be confined to such things as have a direct connexion with their duties. The classes which supply these branches of the Public Service are among those on whom it is most important to inculcate the lesson, that mental cultivation is desirable on its own account, and not solely as a means of livelihood or worldly advancement; that whatever tends to enlarge or elevate their minds, adds to their worth as human beings, and that the Government considers the most valuable human being as the worthiest to be a Public Servant, and is guided by that consideration in its choice, even when it does not require his particular attainments or accomplishments for its own use. A man may not be a much better postman for being able to draw, or being acquainted with natural history; but he who in that rank possesses these acquirements, has given evidence of qualities which it is important for the general cultivation of the mass that the State should take every fair opportunity of stamping with its approbation.

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4th ed. London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1869. Reprinted from 3rd ed. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, 1864; 2nd ed. London: Parker, 1859; and 1st ed. London: Parker, 1859. Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “ ‘On Liberty’ a small volume post 8vo, published in February, 1859” (MacMinn, 92). For an account of the composition of On Liberty and related matters, see the Textual Introduction, lxxviii-lxxxiii above.

The text below, that of the 4th edition (the last in JSM’s lifetime), has been collated with those of the 3rd, 2nd, 1st, and People’s Editions. In the footnoted variants, the 3rd edition is indicated by “64”, the 2nd by “592”, and the 1st by “591”. Substantive variants between the People’s Edition and the 4th edition are given in Appendix D.

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“The grand, leading principle, towards which every argument unfolded in these pages directly converges, is the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity.”

Wilhelm von Humboldt, Sphere and Duties of Government.

[Trans. Joseph Coulthard (London: Chapman, 1854), p. 65.]

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To the beloved and deplored memory of her who was the inspirer, and in part the author, of all that is best in my writings—the friend and wife whose exalted sense of truth and right was my strongest incitement, and whose approbation was my chief reward—I dedicate this volume. Like all that I have written for many years, it belongs as much to her as to me; but the work as it stands has had, in a very insufficient degree, the inestimable advantage of her revision; some of the most important portions having been reserved for a more careful re-examination, which they are now never destined to receive. Were I but capable of interpreting to the world one half the great thoughts and noble feelings which are buried in her grave, I should be the medium of a greater benefit to it, than is ever likely to arise from anything that I can write, unprompted and unassisted by her all but unrivalled wisdom.

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CHAPTER I: Introductory

the subject of this Essay is not the so-called Liberty of the Will, so unfortunately opposed to the misnamed doctrine of Philosophical Necessity; but Civil, or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual. A question seldom stated, and hardly ever discussed, in general terms, but which profoundly influences the practical controversies of the age by its latent presence, and is likely soon to make itself recognised as the vital question of the future. It is so far from being new, that, in a certain sense, it has divided mankind, almost from the remotest ages; but in the stage of progress into which the more civilized portions of the species have now entered, it presents itself under new conditions, and requires a different and more fundamental treatment.

The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature in the portions of history with which we are earliest familiar, particularly in that of Greece, Rome, and England. But in old times this contest was between subjects, or some classes of subjects, and the aGovernmenta. By liberty, was meant protection against the tyranny of the political rulers. The rulers were conceived (except in some of the popular governments of Greece) as in a necessarily antagonistic position to the people whom they ruled. They consisted of a governing One, or a governing tribe or caste, who derived their authority from inheritance or conquest, who, at all events, did not hold it at the pleasure of the governed, and whose supremacy men did not venture, perhaps did not desire, to contest, whatever precautions might be taken against its oppressive exercise. Their power was regarded as necessary, but also as highly dangerous; as a weapon which they would attempt to use against their subjects, no less than against external enemies. To prevent the weaker members of the community from being preyed upon by innumerable vultures, it was needful that there should be an animal of prey stronger than the rest, commissioned to keep them down. But as the king of the vultures would be no less bent upon preying on the flock than any of the minor harpies, it was indispensable to be in a perpetual attitude of defence against his beak and claws. The aim, therefore, of patriots was to set limits Edition: current; Page: [218] to the power which the ruler should be suffered to exercise over the community; and this limitation was what they meant by liberty. It was attempted in two ways. First, by obtaining a recognition of certain immunities, called political liberties or rights, which it was to be regarded as a breach of duty in the ruler to infringe, and which, if he did infringe, specific resistance, or general rebellion, was held to be justifiable. A second, and generally a later expedient, was the establishment of constitutional checks, by which the consent of the community, or of a body of some sort, supposed to represent its interests, was made a necessary condition to some of the more important acts of the governing power. To the first of these modes of limitation, the ruling power, in most European countries, was compelled, more or less, to submit. It was not so with the second; and, to attain this, or when already in some degree possessed, to attain it more completely, became everywhere the principal object of the lovers of liberty. And so long as mankind were content to combat one enemy by another, and to be ruled by a master, on condition of being guaranteed more or less efficaciously against his tyranny, they did not carry their aspirations beyond this point.

A time, however, came, in the progress of human affairs, when men ceased to think it a necessity of nature that their governors should be an independent power, opposed in interest to themselves. It appeared to them much better that the various magistrates of the State should be their tenants or delegates, revocable at their pleasure. In that way alone, it seemed, could they have complete security that the powers of government would never be abused to their disadvantage. By degrees this new demand for elective and temporary rulers became the prominent object of the exertions of the popular party, wherever any such party existed; and superseded, to a considerable extent, the previous efforts to limit the power of rulers. As the struggle proceeded for making the ruling power emanate from the periodical choice of the ruled, some persons began to think that too much importance had been attached to the limitation of the power itself. That (it might seem) was a resource against rulers whose interests were habitually opposed to those of the people. What was now wanted was, that the rulers should be identified with the people; that their interest and will should be the interest and will of the nation. The nation did not need to be protected against its own will. There was no fear of its tyrannizing over itself. Let the rulers be effectually responsible to it, promptly removable by it, and it could afford to trust them with power of which it could itself dictate the use to be made. Their power was but the nation’s own power, concentrated, and in a form convenient for exercise. This mode of thought, or rather perhaps of feeling, was common among the last generation of European liberalism, in the Continental section of which it still apparently predominates. Those who admit any limit to what a government may do, except in the case of such governments Edition: current; Page: [219] as they think ought not to exist, stand out as brilliant exceptions among the political thinkers of the Continent. A similar tone of sentiment might by this time have been prevalent in our own country, if the circumstances which for a time encouraged it, had continued unaltered.

But, in political and philosophical theories, as well as in persons, success discloses faults and infirmities which failure might have concealed from observation. The notion, that the people have no need to limit their power over themselves, might seem axiomatic, when popular government was a thing only dreamed about, or read of as having existed at some distant period of the past. Neither was that notion necessarily disturbed by such temporary aberrations as those of the French Revolution, the worst of which were the work of an usurping few, and which, in any case, belonged, not to the permanent working of popular institutions, but to a sudden and convulsive outbreak against monarchical and aristocratic despotism. In time, however, a democratic republic came to occupy a large portion of the earth’s surface, and made itself felt as one of the most powerful members of the community of nations; and elective and responsible government became subject to the observations and criticisms which wait upon a great existing fact. It was now perceived that such phrases as “self-government,” and “the power of the people over themselves,” do not express the true state of the case. The “people” who exercise the power are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised; and the “self-government” spoken of is not the government of each by himself, but of each by all the rest. The will of the people, moreover, practically means the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people; the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently, may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed against this as against any other abuse of power. The limitation, therefore, of the power of government over individuals loses none of its importance when the holders of power are regularly accountable to the community, that is, to the strongest party therein. This view of things, recommending itself equally to the intelligence of thinkers and to the inclination of those important classes in European society to whose real or supposed interests democracy is adverse, has had no difficulty in establishing itself; and in political speculations “the tyranny of the majority”[*] is now generally included among the evils against which society requires to be on its guard.

Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant—society collectively, over the separate individuals who compose it—its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the Edition: current; Page: [220] hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.

But though this proposition is not likely to be contested in general terms, the practical question, where to place the limit—how to make the fitting adjustment between individual independence and social control—is a subject on which nearly everything remains to be done. All that makes existence valuable to any one, depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other people. Some rules of conduct, therefore, must be imposed, by law in the first place, and by opinion on many things which are not fit subjects for the operation of law. What these rules should be, is the principal question in human affairs; but if we except a few of the most obvious cases, it is one of those which least progress has been made in resolving. No two ages, and scarcely any two countries, have decided it alike; and the decision of one age or country is a wonder to another. Yet the people of any given age and country no more suspect any difficulty in it, than if it were a subject on which mankind had always been agreed. The rules which obtain among themselves appear to them self-evident and self-justifying. This all but universal illusion is one of the examples of the magical influence of custom, which is not only, as the proverb says, a second nature, but is continually mistaken for the first. The effect of custom, in preventing any misgiving respecting the rules of conduct which mankind impose on one another, is all the more complete because the subject is one on which it is not generally considered necessary that reasons should be given, either by one person to others, or by each to himself. People are accustomed to believe, and have been encouraged in the belief by some who aspire to the character of philosophers, that their feelings, on subjects of this nature, are better than reasons, and render reasons unnecessary. The practical principle which Edition: current; Page: [221] guides them to their opinions on the regulation of human conduct, is the feeling in each person’s mind that everybody should be required to act as he, and those with whom he sympathizes, would like them to act. No one, indeed, acknowledges to himself that his standard of judgment is his own liking; but an opinion on a point of conduct, not supported by reasons, can only count as one person’s preference; and if the reasons, when given, are a mere appeal to a similar preference felt by other people, it is still only many people’s liking instead of one. To an ordinary man, however, his own preference, thus supported, is not only a perfectly satisfactory reason, but the only one he generally has for any of his notions of morality, taste, or propriety, which are not expressly written in his religious creed; and his chief guide in the interpretation even of that. Men’s opinions, accordingly, on what is laudable or blameable, are affected by all the multifarious causes which influence their wishes in regard to the conduct of others, and which are as numerous as those which determine their wishes on any other subject. Sometimes their reason—at other times their prejudices or superstitions: often their social affections, not seldom their antisocial ones, their envy or jealousy, their arrogance or contemptuousness: but most commonly, their desires or fears for themselves—their legitimate or illegitimate self-interest. Wherever there is an ascendant class, a large portion of the morality of the country emanates from its class interests, and its feelings of class superiority. The morality between Spartans and Helots, between planters and negroes, between princes and subjects, between nobles and roturiers, between men and women, has been for the most part the creation of these class interests and feelings: and the sentiments thus generated, react in turn upon the moral feelings of the members of the ascendant class, in their relations among themselves. Where, on the other hand, a class, formerly ascendant, has lost its ascendancy, or where its ascendancy is unpopular, the prevailing moral sentiments frequently bear the impress of an impatient dislike of superiority. Another grand determining principle of the rules of conduct, both in act and forbearance, which have been enforced by law or opinion, has been the servility of mankind towards the supposed preferences or aversions of their temporal masters, or of their gods. This servility, though essentially selfish, is not hypocrisy; it gives rise to perfectly genuine sentiments of abhorrence; it made men burn magicians and heretics. Among so many baser influences, the general and obvious interests of society have of course had a share, and a large one, in the direction of the moral sentiments: less, however, as a matter of reason, and on their own account, than as a consequence of the sympathies and antipathies which grew out of them: and sympathies and antipathies which had little or nothing to do with the interests of society, have made themselves felt in the establishment of moralities with quite as great force.

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The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law or opinion. And in general, those who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling, have left this condition of things unassailed in principle, however they may have come into conflict with it in some of its details. They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred endeavouring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of freedom, with heretics generally. The only case in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, by any but an individual here and there, is that of religious belief: a case instructive in many ways, and not least so as forming a most striking instance of the fallibility of what is called the moral sense: for the odium theologicum, in a sincere bigot, is one of the most unequivocal cases of moral feeling. Those who first broke the yoke of what called itself the Universal Church, were in general as little willing to permit difference of religious opinion as that church itself. But when the heat of the conflict was over, without giving a complete victory to any party, and each church or sect was reduced to limit its hopes to retaining possession of the ground it already occupied; minorities, seeing that they had no chance of becoming majorities, were under the necessity of pleading to those whom they could not convert, for permission to differ. It is accordingly on this battle field, almost solely, that the rights of the individual against society have been asserted on broad grounds of principle, and the claim of society to exercise authority over dissentients, openly controverted. The great writers to whom the world owes what religious liberty it possesses, have mostly asserted freedom of conscience as an indefeasible right, and denied absolutely that a human being is accountable to others for his religious belief. Yet so natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they really care about, that religious freedom has hardly anywhere been practically realized, except where religious indifference, which dislikes to have its peace disturbed by theological quarrels, has added its weight to the scale. In the minds of almost all religious persons, even in the most tolerant countries, the duty of toleration is admitted with tacit reserves. One person will bear with dissent in matters of church government, but not of dogma; another can tolerate everybody, short of a Papist or an Unitarian; another, every one who believes in revealed religion; a few extend their charity a little further, but stop at the belief in a God and in a future state. Wherever the sentiment of the majority is still genuine and intense, it is found to have abated little of its claim to be obeyed.

In England, from the peculiar circumstances of our political history, Edition: current; Page: [223] though the yoke of opinion is perhaps heavier, that of law is lighter, than in most other countries of Europe; and there is considerable jealousy of direct interference, by the legislative or the executive power, with private conduct; not so much from any just regard for the independence of the individual, as from the still subsisting habit of looking on the government as representing an opposite interest to the public. The majority have not yet learnt to feel the power of the government their power, or its opinions their opinions. When they do so, individual liberty will probably be as much exposed to invasion from the government, as it already is from public opinion. But, as yet, there is a considerable amount of feeling ready to be called forth against any attempt of the law to control individuals in things in which they have not hitherto been accustomed to be controlled by it; and this with very little discrimination as to whether the matter is, or is not, within the legitimate sphere of legal control; insomuch that the feeling, highly salutary on the whole, is perhaps quite as often misplaced as well grounded in the particular instances of its application. There is, in fact, no recognised principle by which the propriety or impropriety of government interference is customarily tested. People decide according to their personal preferences. Some, whenever they see any good to be done, or evil to be remedied, would willingly instigate the government to undertake the business; while others prefer to bear almost any amount of social evil, rather than add one to the departments of human interests amenable to governmental control. And men range themselves on one or the other side in any particular case, according to this general direction of their sentiments; or according to the degree of interest which they feel in the particular thing which it is proposed that the government should do, or according to the belief they entertain that the government would, or would not, do it in the manner they prefer; but very rarely on account of any opinion to which they consistently adhere, as to what things are fit to be done by a government. And it seems to me that in consequence of this absence of rule or principle, one side is at present as often wrong as the other; the interference of government is, with about equal frequency, improperly invoked and improperly condemned.

The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear Edition: current; Page: [224] because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We are not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury. For the same reason, we may leave out of consideration those backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage. The early difficulties in the way of spontaneous progress are so great, that there is seldom any choice of means for overcoming them; and a ruler full of the spirit of improvement is warranted in the use of any expedients that will attain an end, perhaps otherwise unattainable. Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate as to find one. But as soon as mankind have attained the capacity of being guided to their own improvement by conviction or persuasion (a period long since reached in all nations with whom we need here concern ourselves), compulsion, either in the direct form or in that of pains and penalties for non-compliance, is no longer admissible as a means to their own good, and justifiable only for the security of others.

It is proper to state that I forego any advantage which could be derived to my argument from the idea of abstract right, as a thing independent of utility. I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions: but it must be utility in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being. Those interests, I contend, authorize the subjection of individual spontaneity to external control, only in respect to those actions of each, which concern the interest of other people. If any one does an act hurtful to others, there is a primâ facie case for punishing him, by law, or, where legal penalties are not safely applicable, by general disapprobation. There are also many positive acts for the benefit of others, which he may Edition: current; Page: [225] rightfully be compelled to perform; such as, to give evidence in a court of justice; to bear his fair share in the common defence, or in any other joint work necessary to the interest of the society of which he enjoys the protection; and to perform certain acts of individual beneficence, such as saving a fellow-creature’s life, or interposing to protect the defenceless against illusage, things which whenever it is obviously a man’s duty to do, he may rightfully be made responsible to society for not doing. A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury. The latter case, it is true, requires a much more cautious exercise of compulsion than the former. To make any one answerable for doing evil to others, is the rule; to make him answerable for not preventing evil, is, comparatively speaking, the exception. Yet there are many cases clear enough and grave enough to justify that exception. In all things which regard the external relations of the individual, he is de jure amenable to those whose interests are concerned, and if need be, to society as their protector. There are often good reasons for not holding him to the responsibility; but these reasons must arise from the special expediencies of the case: either because it is a kind of case in which he is on the whole likely to act better, when left to his own discretion, than when controlled in any way in which society have it in their power to control him; or because the attempt to exercise control would produce other evils, greater than those which it would prevent. When such reasons as these preclude the enforcement of responsibility, the conscience of the agent himself should step into the vacant judgment seat, and protect those interests of others which have no external protection: judging himself all the more rigidly, because the case does not admit of his being made accountable to the judgment of his fellow-creatures.

But there is a sphere of action in which society, as distinguished from the individual, has, if any, only an indirect interest; comprehending all that portion of a person’s life and conduct which affects only himself, or if it also affects others, only with their free, voluntary, and undeceived consent and participation. When I say only himself, I mean directly, and in the first instance: for whatever affects himself, may affect others bthroughb himself; and the objection which may be grounded on this contingency, will receive consideration in the sequel. This, then, is the appropriate region of human liberty. It comprises, first, the inward domain of consciousness; demanding liberty of conscience, in the most comprehensive sense; liberty of thought and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral, or theological. The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions may seem to fall under a different principle, since it belongs to that part of the conduct of an individual which Edition: current; Page: [226] concerns other people; but, being almost of as much importance as the liberty of thought itself, and resting in great part on the same reasons, is practically inseparable from it. Secondly, the principle requires liberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our life to suit our own character; of doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow: without impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong. Thirdly, from this liberty of each individual, follows the liberty, within the same limits, of combination among individuals; freedom to unite, for any purpose not involving harm to others: the persons combining being supposed to be of full age, and not forced or deceived.

No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified. The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.

Though this doctrine is anything but new, and, to some persons, may have the air of a truism, there is no doctrine which stands more directly opposed to the general tendency of existing opinion and practice. Society has expended fully as much effort in the attempt (according to its lights) to compel people to conform to its notions of personal, as of social excellence. The ancient commonwealths thought themselves entitled to practise, and the ancient philosophers countenanced, the regulation of every part of private conduct by public authority, on the ground that the State had a deep interest in the whole bodily and mental discipline of every one of its citizens; a mode of thinking which may have been admissible in small republics surrounded by powerful enemies, in constant peril of being subverted by foreign attack or internal commotion, and to which even a short interval of relaxed energy and self-command might so easily be fatal, that they could not afford to wait for the salutary permanent effects of freedom. In the modern world, the greater size of political communities, and above all, the separation between spiritual and temporal authority (which placed the direction of men’s consciences in other hands than those which controlled their worldly affairs), prevented so great an interference by law in the details of private life; but the engines of moral repression have been wielded more strenuously against divergence from the reigning opinion in self-regarding, than even in social matters; religion, the most powerful of the elements which have entered into the formation of moral feeling, having almost always been governed either by the ambition of a hierarchy, seeking control over every Edition: current; Page: [227] department of human conduct, or by the spirit of Puritanism. And some of those modern reformers who have placed themselves in strongest opposition to the religions of the past, have been noway behind either churches or sects in their assertion of the right of spiritual domination: M. Comte, in particular, whose social system, as unfolded in his cSystèmec de Politique Positive,[*] aims at establishing (though by moral more than by legal appliances) a despotism of society over the individual, surpassing anything contemplated in the political ideal of the most rigid disciplinarian among the ancient philosophers.

Apart from the peculiar tenets of individual thinkers, there is also in the world at large an increasing inclination to stretch unduly the powers of society over the individual, both by the force of opinion and even by that of legislation: and as the tendency of all the changes taking place in the world is to strengthen society, and diminish the power of the individual, this encroachment is not one of the evils which tend spontaneously to disappear, but, on the contrary, to grow more and more formidable. The disposition of mankind, whether as rulers or as fellow-citizens, to impose their own opinions and inclinations as a rule of conduct on others, is so energetically supported by some of the best and by some of the worst feelings incident to human nature, that it is hardly ever kept under restraint by anything but want of power; and as the power is not declining, but growing, unless a strong barrier of moral conviction can be raised against the mischief, we must expect, in the present circumstances of the world, to see it increase.

It will be convenient for the argument, if, instead of at once entering upon the general thesis, we confine ourselves in the first instance to a single branch of it, on which the principle here stated is, if not fully, yet to a certain point, recognised by the current opinions. This one branch is the Liberty of Thought: from which it is impossible to separate the cognate liberty of speaking and of writing. Although these liberties, to some considerable amount, form part of the political morality of all countries which profess religious toleration and free institutions, the grounds, both philosophical and practical, on which they rest, are perhaps not so familiar to the general mind, nor so thoroughly appreciated by many even of the leaders of opinion, as might have been expected. Those grounds, when rightly understood, are of much wider application than to only one division of the subject, and a thorough consideration of this part of the question will be found the best introduction to the remainder. Those to whom nothing which I am about to say will be new, may therefore, I hope, excuse me, if on a subject which for now three centuries has been so often discussed, I venture on one discussion more.

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CHAPTER II: Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion

the time, it is to be hoped, is gone by, when any defence would be necessary of the “liberty of the press” as one of the securities against corrupt or tyrannical government. No argument, we may suppose, can now be needed, against permitting a legislature or an executive, not identified in interest with the people, to prescribe opinions to them, and determine what doctrines or what arguments they shall be allowed to hear. This aspect of the question, besides, has been so often and so triumphantly enforced by preceding writers, that it needs not be specially insisted on in this place. Though the law of England, on the subject of the press, is as servile to this day as it was in the time of the Tudors, there is little danger of its being actually put in force against political discussion, except during some temporary panic, when fear of insurrection drives ministers and judges from their propriety;* and, speaking Edition: current; Page: [229] generally, it is not, in constitutional countries, to be apprehended, that the government, whether completely responsible to the people or not, will often attempt to control the expression of opinion, except when in doing so it makes itself the organ of the general intolerance of the public. Let us suppose, therefore, that the government is entirely at one with the people, and never thinks of exerting any power of coercion unless in agreement with what it conceives to be their voice. But I deny the right of the people to exercise such coercion, either by themselves or by their government. The power itself is illegitimate. The best government has no more title to it than the worst. It is as noxious, or more noxious, when exerted in accordance with public opinion, than when in opposition to it. If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

It is necessary to consider separately these two hypotheses, each of which has a distinct branch of the argument corresponding to it. We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be