James Mill Essay On Government 1820
The political thought of James Mill is not as well known as it should be. This online discussion attempts to reassess his contribution to classical liberal political theory via his dichotomy between the ruling “Few” (or what he also called at times “the sinister interest” and the subject “Many.” As an activist in the movement for political and economic reform in England during the 1820s and 1830s James Mill and his fellow Philosophic Radicals sought to analyse the British establishment, the source of their power, how they used it to benefit themselves at the expense of ordinary people, and how they might be dislodged from their privileged position by a combination of electoral reform by opening up the franchise to the middle class and economic reform by repealing the protectionist corn laws. In the course of these campaigns he thought deeply about the nature of political power and democracy which the participants in this discussion will discuss at greater length. The lead essay is by Sandra J. Peart at the University of Richmond and the response essays are by Terence Ball at Arizona State University, Andrew Farrant at Dickinson College, and Quentin P. Taylor at Rogers State University.
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James Mill on Liberty and Governance in the Context of the “Few” and the “Many” [September, 2014]
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Lead Essay: Sandra J. Peart, "James Mill on Liberty and Governance in the Context of the “Few” and the “Many” " [Posted: Sept 2, . 2014]
Responses and Critiques
- Terence Ball, "Professor Peart's Mill -- and Mine" [Posted: September 4, 2014]
- Quentin P. Taylor, "James Mill on Liberty and Governance: A Reply to Professor Peart" [Posted: Sept. 5, 2014
- Andrew Farrant, "James Mill: Of Faction, Sympathy, and Theodore Tugboat"[Posted: Sept. 8, 2014]
- Sandra Peart, "How James Might Have Been Improved Had John Stuart Mill Reviewed “On Government” before It Went to Press" [Posted: Sept. 10, 2014]
- Terence Ball, "Two James Mill Myths – Part I" [Posted: Sept. 18, 20124]
- Terence Ball, "Two James Mill Myths, Part II" [Posted: Sept. 18, 2014]
- Sandra Peart, "The Danger of Conformity" [Posted: Sept. 18, 2014]
- Andrew Farrant, "Buchanan and the Challenge of Unbiased Sympathy" [Posted: Sept. 22, 2014]
- Andrew Farrant, "Auto-Icon: Making the Greatest Happiness Principle Incentive-Compatible?" [Posted: Sept. 22, 2014]
- Quentin P. Taylor, "James Mill on Liberty and Governance: A Reply to Professor Ball" [Posted: Sept. 22, 2014]
- Terence Ball, "The Mills and Comte’s Religion of Humanity" [Posted: Sept. 24, 2014]
- Terence Ball, "My Dinner with Jeremy" [Posted: Sept. 25, 2014]
- Sandra J. Peart, "Three Additional Thoughts" [Posted: Sept. 25, 2014]
- Andrew Farrant, "The Golden Rule without the Sanction" [Posted: Sept. 26, 2014]
- Andrew Farrant, "On Self-Interest and Collective Interest" [Posted: Sept. 28, 2014
- Andrew Farrant, "An Alternative to the Auto-Icon" [Posted: Sept. 28, 2014
- Quentin P. Taylor, "James Mill on Governance and Liberty – Further Considerations" [Posted: Sept. 28, 2014]
- Quentin P. Taylor, "James Mill on Liberty and Governance: The Church of England and the Religion of Humanity" [Posted: Sept. 29, 2014]
- Andrew Farrant , "James Mill's Commonplace Books" [Posted: Sept. 29, 2014]
- Andrew Farrant, "Bentham Would Approve" [Posted: Sept. 29, 2014]
- Sandra J. Peart, "J. S. Mill Returns Political Economy to its Smithian Roots" [Posted: Sept. 30, 2014
- Sandra J. Peart, "Praise and Praise Worthiness" [Posted: Sept. 30, 2014]
Sandra J. Peart is dean of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. She is president of the International Adam Smith Society, co-director of the annual Summer Institute for the History of Economic Thought, and a former president of the History of Economics Society. She has written or edited eight books and more than 50 refereed articles. Her scholarly interests include constitutional political economy, leadership in experimental settings, and 19th-century economic thought.
Terence Ball is professor of political science and philosophy at Arizona State University. His previous postings include the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Minnesota, and UC San Diego. He is the author or editor of 16 books, including Reappraising Political Theory: Revisionist Studies in the History of Political Thought (1995), Transforming Political Discourse: Political Theory and Critical Conceptual History (1988), and a mystery novel, Rousseau’s Ghost (1998).
Andrew Farrant is associate professor of economics at Dickinson College. His scholarly interests include constitutional political economy, Hayek and the Attlee Government, classical liberalism and the Pinochet junta, and 19th-century economic thought.
Quentin P. Taylor is a professor of history and political science at Rogers State University in Claremore, Oklahoma. He has written widely on the political classics from Plato to Rawls. He is a recognized authority on the Federalist Papers and has been interviewed by the BBC, NPR, and MSNBC. Dr. Taylor was a Liberty Fund Resident Scholar in 2008-09.
LEAD ESSAY: Sandra J. Peart, "James Mill on Liberty and Governance in the Context of the “Few” and the “Many”" [Posted: 2 Sept. 2014]↩
It never ought to be forgotten, that, in every country, there is “a Few,” and there is “a Many;” that in all countries in which the government is not very good, the interest of “the Few” prevails over the interest of “the Many,” and is promoted at their expence. [James Mill] 
In recent years the “Coexist” bumper sticker has gained some popularity. I’ve wondered why my colleagues divide on this seemingly trivial matter: some display it with pride while others find the message annoying. Yet perhaps the divide reflects varied reactions to the problem that preoccupied James Mill: we all form relationships to groups that are stronger than our ties to the entirety of persons. The “Coexist” sticker exhorts us to be loyal to the full group and to downplay our ties to local groups.
For James Mill, the consequence of divided loyalties, especially when institutionalized in political structures, was that the Few would promote their interests at the expense of the Many. The key question in this essay is how Mill – and those before and after him – was sanguine about coexistence in a free society when he nonetheless recognized the dangers associated with the interests of smaller groups being overwhelmed by the desires and consequent actions of larger, more powerful groups, or factions. In Mill’s view, economists had much to say about this “most important” question, but they had received little credit for their analysis.  Sadly, notwithstanding the awarding of Nobel prizes in economic science to economists or political scientists such as James Buchanan, Douglass North, Elinor Ostrom, and Vernon Smith, whose work centered on arrangements that best align individual and group interests, the same might be said today.
The Self and Others
Economists have struggled for centuries with the relationship between the self and others. For those in the classical tradition of Adam Smith through James and then John Stuart Mill, the question was central to all economic analysis, to the wealth and flourishing of nations. Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments made the case that economic actors are not selfish or even simply self-interested, because they also sacrifice their own material or physical well-being to help others, even though they “derive nothing” from doing so, no promise of future reciprocity, no reputational gain, nothing but the pure joy associated with a praiseworthy act. For Smith, one becomes virtuous through the imaginative exchange of approbation, by learning what is praiseworthy as well as by obtaining well-deserved praise.
For Smith, James Mill, and his eldest son John Stuart Mill, economic activity is a means by which people acquire a sense of reciprocity, fairness, trust, duty, and altruism. In contrast with the modern economic turn that developed an economics of isolated actors unconnected to others by bonds of friendship or language, classical economists presupposed that people are embedded in social contexts. In this view, cooperation in economic and social activity emerged from the resulting interactions; as Smith put it, actors entered into a “great school of self-command” of language and self-sacrifice.
Classical economists held that all people are connected by bonds of sympathy that carry motivational force and generate a wide sphere of reciprocity. Yet they also recognized the strong tendency for people to form groups characterized by relative uniformity in social or economic dimensions. Here arose the danger of “factions,” of cooperative action within one group at the expense of another. Unlike the division of labor, where gains from specialization and trade accrue on both sides of a transaction, for Smith and, even more, for James Mill, factions are associated with zero-sum outcomes.
When small groups cooperate at the expense of large groups, the problem that greatly troubled James Mill, the outcome is deleterious. Smith believed that “Masters are always and every where in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is every where a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals.” 
Importantly, masters regard one another as “neighbours and equals”: they are close to each other in social and economic dimensions, and as a consequence they seek the approval of those within the group by taking steps that harm those outside the group.
While Smith focused on the economic problem of collusion, it was the political context of groups exploiting one another that especially troubled James Mill. In Mill’s view, such factions emerge out of and then rely on and reinforce political or economic power. Unchecked power is the means by which an individual or a group promotes its interest to the detriment of others:
[I]f one man has power over others placed in his hands, he will make use of it for an evil purpose; for the purpose of rendering those other men the abject instruments of his will.
When one is “lifted high above” others, one need not earn the approval of the ruled; instead one is afforded a “powerful means of obtaining their services” whether one acts in a deserving manner or not, “altogether independent of his conduct.”
James Mill followed Smith in using sympathetic considerations to explain group formation, organization, and persistence. For Mill, as for Smith, affection for others is motivational: “that important class of Motives which arise from the contemplation of our fellow-creatures, as the cause of our Pleasures, and Pains.”  Small groups are especially effective if they contain those who are sympathetically connected:
Where the inhabitants of a country are divided into classes, a Ruling Class, and a Subject Class, the members of the Ruling Class have hardly any sympathies, except with one another; in other words, have agreeable associations with the pleasures, and removal of the pains, of hardly any persons, but those who belong to the same class.
Groups are characterized by and reinforce “associations” that carry motivational weight, with “terrible” effects. One practical example Mill offered of the results of faction was Ireland, whose “misfortune” was that it was ruled by an aristocracy that aligned itself with the aristocracy of England rather than the people of Ireland.
The problem with small groups is that instead of trying to be praiseworthy by doing what’s best for the widest possible group, people in small groups are motivated to obtain praise from those like them, their colleagues. Obtaining praise, of course, depends upon the group to which an individual happens to belong. As this is often a matter of happenstance, of birth, there is no reason to believe that motivation by praise will serve ends beyond that the immediate group. For the Few to act in such a way as to benefit the largest group possible, the concerns of the largest group must serve as motivation. What links Smith and the two Mills is their laser-like focus on praiseworthiness as motivation.
For James Mill, the rulers and the ruled are the principal example of factions. This division in turn reflected a deep divide between rich and poor, one that left the laboring classes rightly “suspicious” of the ruling class
It is not duly considered by the upper ranks of the population, how inseparable from human nature are the suspicions of those who are weak, toward those who are strong; the suspicions of those who are liable to be hurt, towards those who are capable of hurting them. And it is only the blindness of self-love, and our inattention to evils in which we are not called to participate, that leave us ignorant of the actual grounds in practice, whence, even in this country, the institutions of which are so much more favourable than those of most other countries to the poor, the weak have reason to dread the interference of the strong.
While factions form as a result of common interests and sympathetic bonds of association, control of knowledge helps them persist:
It will be decidedly the interest of the knowing class to maintain as much ignorance as possible among the rest of the community, that they may be able the more easily to turn and wind them conformable to their own purposes; and, for that end, to study, not real knowledge, not the means of making mankind wiser and happier, but the means of deluding and imposing upon them; the arts of imposture.
After control of knowledge, Mill points to fear as a means by which factions are abetted. Indeed, much “political evil” is the result of “the facility with which mankind are governed by their fears; and the degree of constancy with which, under the influence of that passion, they are governed wrong.” The few use the fears of the many to justify the creation of “large standing armies; enormous military establishments; and all the evils which follow in their train,” all of which impoverish the many and increase the likelihood of war. Colonial conquest and expansion were the predictable results of “the few” exploiting “the many”; elites in colonial countries find easy access to “the precious matter with which to influence; the other, the precious matter with which to be influenced.” 
What to do? A number of partial remedies follow from Mill’s analysis. Government being “the means” to secure freedom of contract and property rights, the question, first, was what form of government? In line with his worry about the many being exploited by the few, Mill argued for dispersed power through the representative system, “the grand discovery of modern times,” the means by which the community can check the power of individuals to follow their partial interest: “All the evils of misgovernment, which we suffer, and to which we are liable, cumulated with all the evils of that horrid immorality which results from the giving and suborning prostitute votes, arise from this; -- that the people of England do not choose the members of parliament, that the majority of them are chosen by a small number of men.” To further disperse power, Mill argued that representatives be chosen by a wider – though not fully inclusive – set of voters.
Since control of information was essential to maintaining the close associations among the exploiting “few,” Mill argued strenuously in favor of rich information and he just as vigorously opposed any form of monopoly in the provision of knowledge. Ignorance being “the necessary principle of all the evils which have afflicted society,” Mill argued for freedom of inquiry. More than this, he defended the freedom to examine, discuss, and contradict,
as evidence can spring from nothing but adequate examination, from the necessity of that evidence clearly follows the necessity of examination; from the necessity of examination clearly follows the necessity of the greatest possible liberty of contradiction; and in addition to that liberty, the existence of all those political institutions which are required to give to evidence its greatest possible publicity.
The need was especially pressing in politics, where “the very foundation of a good choice [of representative] is knowledge” and “the fuller and more perfect the knowledge, the better the chance, where all sinister interest is absent, of a good choice.” Here, the printing press had produced “a perfect revolution” in which Mill placed great faith for the reduction of fraud, influence peddling, and the use of force. 
Mill placed great hope in education as a measure to reduce the effectiveness of factions. He regarded education as the principal means by which people come to identify with a larger group:
[T]here can be no real Patriotism, no pointing of the Affection, the Motive, and Disposition, steadily to the good of the whole, without preference of any particular part; except, either in men of elevated minds and affections, in whom the larger associations, generated by a good Education, control the narrow associations, growing out of a particular position; or, in men whose position is such as to give them pleasurable associations chiefly with individuals of the general mass, whose good has this happy quality, that it is always identified with that of the community at large.
The challenge for education is to widen sympathy so that its motivational force pertains to all, instead of the small group.
When T. B. Macaulay reviewed Mill’s “On Government” in the Edinburgh Review, he did not know Mill’s Human Mind, published that year, 1829, in which Mill laid out the empirical claims from which his worries about faction flowed. Macaulay provided a powerful objection to Mill’s argument about the Many and the Few:
If all men preferred the moderate approbation of their neighbours, to any degree of wealth or grandeur, or sensual pleasure, government would be unnecessary. If all men desired wealth so intensely as to be willing to brave the hatred of their fellow creatures for sixpence, Mr Mill’s argument against monarchies and aristocracies would be true to the full extent. But the fact is, that all men have some desires which impel them to injure their neighbours, and some desires which impel them to benefit their neighbours. 
Yet if we think of a ruling group rather than a ruling individual, then Mill’s argument lays out the case of a group that is generous and benevolent inside the group but hawkish toward those outside the group. This fills in the detail that Macaulay rightly found missing in the case of individuals.
In Mill’s view, freedom of property (in the self and the fruits of one’s labor) was a means to obtain “the greatest possible abundance of the things adapted for human enjoyment.”
Government exists as the means to ensure freedom. Since government itself created a division into the Many and the Few, with government came the danger of faction and the necessity of guarding as best we can against the powerfully corrupting influence of small groups. For Mill society guards against those dangers through free and open discussion of the differences among us, the issues that divide us, the problems we seek to solve, and the proposed remedies. Only by strict examination and rich discussion, within an institutional framework that yields places to representatives of all sorts, might we hope to avoid one group exploiting another.
It is worth noting that despite some key differences with his father, in his review of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America,J. S. Mill developed the argument that democratic electoral competition provides the sort of education that widens one’s sympathies. In On Liberty, J. S. Mill also, as is well known, championed discussion, including, significantly, discussion amidst diversity, difference, and idiosyncrasy, as the means by which we might best coexist. Accordingly, perhaps the conclusion to draw from the foregoing is that the bumper sticker of choice might be, “Discuss!”
[1.] James Mill, “Colony,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica in The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 2013). </titles/2520#Mill_1624_632>. All references henceforth are to the Liberty Fund anthology of The Poltiical Writings of James Mill unless otherwise indicated.
[2.] James Mill, “Economists,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_672>.
[3.] Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments; or, An Essay towards an Analysis of the Principles by which Men naturally judge concerning the Conduct and Character, first of their Neighbours, and afterwards of themselves. To which is added, A Dissertation on the Origins of Languages. New Edition. With a biographical and critical Memoir of the Author, by Dugald Stewart (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853). TMS Part I, Sect. 1, Chap. 1 "Of Sympahty" </titles/2620#Smith_1648_157>.
[4.] This argument, including the historical claim about 20th-century developments in economics is laid out more fully in Sandra J. Peart, “Entering the ‘Great School of Self-Command’: The Moralizing Influence of Markets, Language and Imagination,” in Robert F. Garnett, Paul Lewis, and Lenore Ealy, eds., Commerce and Community: Ecologies of Social Cooperation (London and New York: Routledge, 2015).
[5.] Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, edited with an Introduction, Notes, Marginal Summary and an Enlarged Index by Edwin Cannan (London: Methuen, 1904). Vol. 1. Book I, Chap. VIII "Of the wages of Labour" </titles/237#Smith_0206-01_296>.
[6.] James Mill, “Government,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_992>. Here Mill was in line with Smith: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations. Book III, Chap. IV "How the Commerce of the Towns contributed to the Improvement of the Country" </titles/237#Smith_0206-01_1045>.
[7.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind. In ed. John Stuart Mill. (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer  1869), vol. 2, p. 270.
[8.] Ibid., p. 275.
[9.] James Mill, “Summary Review of the Conduct and Measures of the Seventh Imperial Parliament” in Parliamentary History and Review (London, 1826). </titles/2520#Mill_1624_1826>.
[10.] Experimental evidence has demonstrated that groups are collectively more self-regarding and competitive than individuals. See Makowsky, Orman, and Peart, forthcoming; <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214804314000895>.
[11.] John Stuart Mill emphasized this point in his father’s work: “This paragraph, unexplained, might give the idea that the author regarded praiseworthiness and blameworthiness as having the meaning not of deserving praise or blame, but merely of being likely to obtain it. But what [James Mill] meant is, that the idea of deserving praise is but a more complex form of the association between our own or another person’s acts or character, and the idea of praise.” See J. S. Mill’s editorial comments in James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, vol. 2, p. 298.
[12.] James Mill, “Banks for Savings,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_185>.
[13.] James Mill, “Caste,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_498>.
[14.] Ibid. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_633>.
[15.] James Mill, “Liberty of the Press,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_2858>. To mitigate against the accumulation of power by representatives, Mill urged that limits be placed on the duration of time in office. See Mill, “Government,” in Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#lf1624_head_015>.
[16.] Mill famously argued that the interests of women aligned nearly perfectly with those of their fathers or husbands; hence they might be excluded from the franchise. Macaulay took issue with the argument. See T. B. Macaulay, “Mill’s Essay on Government: Utilitarian Logic and Politics,” 1829, in Utilitarian Logic and Politics, edited by Jack Lively and John Rees (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), p. 116. Online version: "Mill on Government. (March 1829)" in Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay, The Miscellaneous Writings of Lord Macaulay, vol. 1, (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860). </titles/99#lf1228-01_head_036>.
[17.] “Economists,” Supplement to Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_695>.
[18.] “Liberty of the Press,” Supplement to Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_1317>.
[19.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, vol. 2, p. 276.
[20.] Ibid., p. 278.
[21.] T. B. Macaulay, “Mill’s Essay on Government: Utilitarian Logic and Politics,” 1829, in Utilitarian Logic and Politics, edited by Jack Lively and John Rees (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), p. 107. See online: "Mill on Government. (March 1829)" in Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay, The Miscellaneous Writings of Lord Macaulay, vol. 1, (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860). </titles/99#lf1228-01_head_036>. Quote: </titles/99#Macaulay_1228-01_790>.
[22.] James Mill, “Economists,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_674>.
[23.] John Stuart Mill, “De Tocqueville on Democracy in America,” London Review I, 1835; The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, vol. 18 – Essays on Politics and Society, Part I, ed. John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977). </titles/233#lf0223-18_head_033>.
RESPONSES AND CRITIQUES↩
1. Terence Ball, "Professor Peart's Mill -- and Mine" [Posted: September 4, 2014]↩
Introduction and Overview
Sandra Peart has written a fine essay which has given me much food for thought. Since my differences with her views are more matters of emphasis and attention than of substance, my brief contribution to this symposium is meant to complement and supplement hers. I propose to proceed in the following way. I begin by noting a fact that Peart -- oddly, to my mind -- never mentions that Mill was a Utilitarian and an ally -- some would say "disciple" -- of Jeremy Bentham, and that this colors everything he ever thought or wrote. Next I consider Mill’s idea of the “middle rank,” which at first sight seems to run counter to the self-consciously and conspicuously egalitarian character of Utilitarianism. I then discuss the import of "political economy" in Mill's economic and political theorizing. "Politics" and "economics" are inseparable in his thinking, and in his and Bentham's "protectionist theory" of democracy in particular. Then I turn to Mill's conception of representation and representative government, paying particular attention to a concept -- viz., gender -- to which Peart pays only passing attention but which I believe to be deserving of greater notice, for reasons I try to spell out.
The Few and the Many
The theme of "the Few" and "the Many" runs like a red thread through Peart's essay, and for good reason. Mill favored the interest of the Many not so much because he was a dyed-in-the wool democrat as because he was a Utilitarian devoted to promoting "the greatest happiness of the greatest number." This pertinent fact is strangely slighted by Professor Peart. It was certainly noted by Mill's contemporaries. Macaulay, for one, was more accurate than arch when he began his "famous attack" (as J.S. Mill called it) in the Edinburgh Review with these words: "Of those philosophers who call themselves Utilitarians and whom others generally call Benthamites, Mr. Mill is, with the exception of the illustrious founder of the sect [i.e., Bentham], by far the most distinguished." And Mill, like Bentham, believed that the day of the Many had finally arrived and that a new moral and political philosophy -- Utilitarianism -- is the first to take that fact into account.
Utilitarianism is the moral and political philosophy of the Common Man – a fact noted and excoriated by aristocratic critics. And yet Mill himself was no thoroughgoing egalitarian; he had his own conception of a new kind of nonhereditary aristocracy.
The “Middle Rank”
Professor Peart reminds us that Mill took a dim view of class divisions, and most especially the division between “a Ruling Class and a Subject Class.” And yet, according to some critics, Mill has his own conception of an exalted class. This I believe to be a misunderstanding of Mill’s view; but first, some background.
Political thinkers as different as Burke and Jefferson believed that there is a “natural aristocracy,” not of birth but of talent, aptitude, and education. Without ever using that much-misunderstood and maligned term, Mill has his own version, which he calls the “middle rank, . . . that intelligent and virtuous rank . . . which gives to science, to art, and to legislation itself, their most distinguished ornaments, and is the chief source of all that has exalted and refined human nature . . . .” It is to this middle rank that common laborers look for advice, inspiration, and guidance. Mill makes it clear that this middle rank is not a “class” (which, as Peart notes, is for Mill a term of opprobrium); it is instead a group of people of particular intellectual and moral merit, whose value and position are made possible by education. As more people become better educated, the middle rank will grow and will eventually constitute a majority. To say that Mill set great store by education – he liked to quote Helvetius’s dictum l’education peut tout – is a gross and grievous understatement. Education exalts and refines our minds and enriches our relations with others.
The Self and Others
Peart is certainly correct in contending that "Economists have struggled for centuries with the relationship between the self and others." To this I would add the adjective "political" before "economists," as "political economy" was the term used by Adam Smith, David Ricardo (whom James Mill persuaded to write On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation), and of course James Mill himself in his Elements of Political Economy (1821). The adjective is important inasmuch as it recognizes the central role that the state plays in the economy, and perhaps particularly in protecting private property. This is the thrust of Mill's most explicit essay on political theory, “Government” (1820).
As Professor Peart reminds us, Mill maintains that the purpose of government is to promote the aggregate happiness of the community and of its individual members. Those individuals are motivated by self-interest, and particularly -- as Jeremy Bentham was not the first to note -- by their interest in experiencing pleasure and avoiding pain. (Peart rightly emphasizes the centrality of Adam Smith in Mill's thought -- his mind never lost the impress of his Scottish education -- but, surprisingly, not Bentham, who doesn't even merit a mention in her essay.) It is the nature of human beings not only to desire happiness but to expend as little energy and effort as possible in obtaining it. Labor being the means of obtaining happiness, and our own labor being painful to us, we will, unless prevented, try to live off the labor of others. Government exists to prevent this outcome by protecting the fruits of our labor -- that is, our property -- from the predations of others. This, in brief outline, is the argument advanced in support of the so-called "protectionist theory" of democracy to which Bentham and the elder Mill subscribed.
As for "the Few" and "the Many," in most previously existing political regimes, the former ruled and rode roughshod over the interests the latter. But representative democracy is different. For the first time in human history -- ancient Athenian democracy doesn't count, since so few were citizens -- it is in Mill's view possible to truly represent the interests of the many as against those of the few. Representation is for him "the grand discovery of modern times."
But of course representation is a multivocal concept, with many mutually conflicting meanings. In Mill's view representative government is both necessary and desirable. And that is because direct democracy would require citizens to expend undue effort and energy -- and time -- away from productive labor. Since, according to the Bentham-Mill protectionist theory, the point and purpose of government is to protect private property and the persons who acquire and own it, direct democracy runs counter to government's very raison d'être. Yet Mill's main target is not direct democracy but the claim -- advanced and defended by Burke and later by Sir James Mackintosh, T.B. Macaulay, and other Whigs -- that the Many may be well represented by the Few even if the former are not fully enfranchised. This conception of "virtual representation" was in Mill's view a sham and a smokescreen to cover the "sinister interests" of the Few, without recognizing or representing the legitimate interests of the Many.
Mill assumes without argument that each individual is the best, perhaps even the only, judge of what is or is not in his (yes, his: see below) interest. To argue otherwise, as defenders of virtual representation do, is not only factually false but morally outrageous. And yet, as William Thompson was the first to point out (Macaulay came later, and almost copied Thompson), Mill catches himself in this very snare.
Gender: Mill's Moral and Logical Lapse
In what his eldest son called "the worst [paragraph] he ever wrote," Mill said that
One thing is pretty clear, that all those individuals whose interests are indisputably included in those of other individuals, may be struck off without inconvenience. In this light may be viewed all children, up to a certain age, whose interests are involved in those of their parents. In this light, also, women may be regarded, the interest of almost all of whom is involved either in that of their fathers or in that of their husbands.
Thompson, and later Macaulay, pounced on Mill for condemning advocates of virtual representation while, at the same time, holding that the interests of women could be represented virtually by their husbands and/or fathers. This, says Thompson, is tantamount to letting "one half the human race" -- men -- decide what is or is not in the interest of the other half.
What might account for Mill's logical lapse? His son suggests an answer: his father was not writing "a scientific treatise on politics" but was instead advancing "an argument for parliamentary reform." Advocating the extensive enlargement of the male franchise was one thing, and radical enough in its own right; to add to that a proposal for the enfranchisement of women was quite another, and a bridge too far, for purely political reasons.
But this well-meant exercise of filial piety won't wash, inasmuch as the elder Mill viewed his “Government” as a contribution to scientific theorizing about politics. It was a sketch or "skeleton map," a "comprehensive outline" in which "the principles of human nature" and their political and institutional implications were briefly and boldly traced. Moreover, Mill maintained that any adequate "argument for political reform" must be based on science, not mere belief or opinion. Sometimes a contradiction is just a contradiction. And, at least where gender is concerned, Mill was quite capable of contradicting himself.
[24.] T.B. Macaulay, “Mill on Government,” Edinburgh Review, March 1829; reprinted in Terence Ball, ed., James Mill: Political Writings (Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 271. Hereinafter cited as PW. [See also Liberty Fund’s online edition of The Political Writings of James Mill </titles/2520>. Quote .]
[25.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, 2nd ed., ed. J.S. Mill and Alexander Bain (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer), vol. II, p. 275.
[26.] James Mill, “Government,” PW, pp. 41-42. [Online quote.]
[27.] Ibid.; “Education,” PW; “Schools for All,” in James Mill on Education, ed. W.H. Burston (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1969).
[28.]PW, p. 21. [Online quote.]
[29.] See Hanna Fenichel Pitkin, The Concept of Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967). For a defense of the claim that there are multiple and competing concepts of representation, see Andrew Rehfeld, “The Concepts of Representation,” American Political Science Review, August 2011, pp. 1-11
[30.] William Thompson, Appeal of One Half the Human Race (London: Longman, Hurst, Bees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1825). The two Mills’, Bentham’s, and Thompson’s views on enfranchisement are analyzed in Terence Ball, Reappraising Political Theory: Revisionist Studies in the History of Political Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), ch. 8.
[31.] J.S. Mill, The Early Draft of John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, ed. Jack Stillinger (Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1961), p. 98. This cutting criticism was excised from the revised version of Mill’s Autobiography. [See online: Volume I – Autobiography and Literary Essays in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981). Quote.]
[32.] Mill, “Government,” PW, p. 27. Peart takes note of this paragraph in passing (n. 16) but does not pursue it further. [Online quote.]
[33.] J.S. Mill, Early Draft, p. 134; see also Ball, Reappraising, p. 185. [Online version: The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I – Autobiography and Literary Essays. Quote.]
[34.] James Mill to Macvey Napier, May 11, 1820, British Library Add. MSS 34612, fol. 354; JM to Etienne Dumont, 8 June 1821, Bibliotheque Publique et Universitaire (Geneva), MS 76, fol. 21.
2. Quentin P. Taylor, "James Mill on Liberty and Governance: A Reply to Professor Peart" [Posted: Sept. 5, 2014]↩
The problem of the “few” and the “many” is a perennial theme in political thought, and one grappled with at length by such luminaries as Aristotle, Machiavelli, and John Adams. In her essay, Professor Peart explores how James Mill, the utilitarian reformer, defined and attempted to resolve this problem in early 19th-century England. As Peart indicates, Mill’s ideal resolution would go well beyond a mere willingness of distinct groups and classes to simply “coexist.” Strictly speaking, the notion of “coexistence” entails little more than mutual tolerance or forbearance, such as the “peaceful coexistence” that marked the Cold War. As a zealous reformer with a utopian bent, Mill hoped to transcend mere “coexistence” and usher in an era of social unity, harmony, and beneficence.
But how? Professor Peart suggests that Mill believed the divisions, or “factions,” in society could be overcome through a combination of economic liberty, representative government, an extended franchise, education, and open discussion. This is accurate at the level of generality. Mill did vigorously champion these measures as well as numerous other reforms that would enter into the mainstream of the Liberal tradition. On closer inspection, however, there are aspects in Mill’s body of thought that fit rather uneasily into this legacy. Let us first examine his “solution” to the problem of the “few” and the “many.” At the political level, Mill thought he found a civic elixir in representative government, “the grand discovery of modern times. . . .” He believed that frequent elections based on a broad franchise would almost magically transform the political landscape. It would not only serve as a check on the “few” (who, unchecked, are always corrupt and abusive) but align the interests of the “few” with the interests of the “many.” This is not a vision of “interest group” or “broker” politics, but a plan to nearly abolish politics altogether! Mill’s solution was the creation of an “identity of interests” among social groups and classes, one not unlike the solution provided by Plato. Yet to give everyone the same interests or opinions in a free society is impossible. Apparently, Mill had not read Madison’s Federalist No. 10.
It is also notable that Mill rejected the idea of “mixed government,” the alleged hallmark of the much-admired British Constitution. While the actual workings of the system were quite different from popular (and sometimes learned) conceptions, Mill had no use for a regime that purported to achieve balance and stability through institutional checks and rivalries. Nor did he believe in the separation of legislative and executive power, not even in theory. Had it been politically feasible he would have advocated abolition of the House of Lords and the monarchy (something even Bentham understood was not practical) and leave Britain with a unicameral legislature possessed of full sovereignty. Anything less would be to tolerate a kind of imperium in imperio, “two authorities in a state, the one capable of barring whatever the other would do.” As it was, Mill advanced a plan to limit the ability of the Lords to obstruct legislation passed in the Commons: a measure passed three times in the Commons would be law without the consent of the Lords.
It should be noted that Mill wrote very little about the specifics of institutional reform or political architecture. One will search his writings in vain for anything like his son’s extended treatment of these in Considerations on Representative Government. Yet given the elder Mill’s doctrine of “identity of interests,” there was little need to engage in such discussions. His one political treatise, “Government,” has long been a byword for what Leslie Stephen called “simple-minded audacity.” Accordingly, Mill has little to offer the student of political theory in terms of substance, and his place in histories of political thought is correspondingly thin. This is not entirely fair to Mill, who fancied himself a philosopher and theorist, but is perhaps better described as a polemicist, an advocate, and a publicist in the cause of “radical” reform. In this capacity he was far more distinguished and successful than as a political thinker. Moreover, almost every major reform he championed was eventually adopted. Slavery was abolished, education extended, criminal law reformed, Catholics emancipated, prisons humanized, the franchise expanded, representation equalized, the press freed, trade liberalized, and the Lords, monarch, and Church reduced to ciphers. Of course, Britain witnessed other developments in the century after Mill’s death far less in accord with his reformist vision. Yet it remains an impressive record.
If there was little confusion and contradiction in Mill’s practical commitments this cannot be said of his theorizing. Professor Peart notes that Mill adopted Adam Smith’s view of man’s social nature as portrayed in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and there is certainly evidence of this influence in Mill’s economic and educational writings. Yet elsewhere, such as in the essay “Government,” man qua man is portrayed as an inherently selfish and vicious creature lacking even the “diffidence” of Hobbes’s odious Yahoo. Many of Mill’s expositors have observed this seeming contradiction. Some have attempted to extenuate his inconsistency with reference to Hume’s dictum that when considering politics, every man should be counted a knave. Yet the tension remains. As Leslie Stephen writes, Mill, “who has been laying down as a universal law that the strong will always plunder the weak, and that all rulers will reduce their subjects to abject slavery, is absolutely convinced, it seems, of the possibility of somehow transmuting selfishness into public spirit, justice, generosity, and devotion to truth.”
Hobbes, in advocating absolutism, would seem to have been more consistent with his view of human nature than Mill, who advanced popular government. Yet Mill had a far more elastic view than Hobbes. On Mill’s view, human beings are capable of overcoming much of their selfishness and greed through proper training on one hand and institutional arrangements on the other. The former accounts for Mill’s great emphasis on education, anchored in a psychology that allowed for an indefinite malleability of character to the point of human perfection. However ill-founded this idea, it does serve to mitigate the charge that his view of human nature was wholly contradictory. It may be that Mill’s two versions of human nature, the reprobate and the redeemed, mirror the two sides of his animus: one, his hatred for the greed and stupidity of the Establishment (particularly the aristocracy and the Church), and two, his cherished vision of a reformed and enlightened humanity. Mill was, after all, much like a secular Calvinist.
It would appear that like Plato, Rousseau, Jefferson, and Dewey, Mill looked to moral and mental instruction as the master-key to social and political improvement and mankind’s future felicity. Yet in his essay “Education” just the reverse seems to be the case. Here “political education” (as opposed to “domestic,” “technical,” and “social”) is hailed as “the key-stone of the arch; the strength of the whole depends upon it.” As Professor Peart rightly observes, Mill placed a great deal of confidence in the power of social approbation (and disapprobation) to motivate individuals to act in socially desirable ways. For the purposes of ordinary life, the family, school, and local society (properly arranged) are sufficient to provide the appropriate sanctions to encourage correct conduct. Yet to attain “the grand objects of desire,” viz., approbation on a grand scale, it is necessary to enlist what Mill somewhat ominously calls the “political machine.” The following passage is the soaring crescendo of the essay “Education.”
Now this is certain, that the means by which the grand objects of desire may be attained, depend almost entirely upon the political machine. When the political machine is such, that the grand objects of desire are seen to be the natural prizes of great and virtuous conduct – of high services to mankind, and of the generous and amiable sentiments from which great endeavors in the service of mankind naturally proceed – it is natural to see diffused among mankind a generous ardour in the acquisition of all those admirable qualities which prepare a man for admirable actions; great intelligence, perfect self-command, and overruling-benevolence.
This, one of the most inspired passages in Mill’s vast writings, is distinctly at odds with the popular image of James Mill as a dry, passionless, prosaic philosopher of hedonism. This speaks to another incongruity in Mill’s thought – one recapitulated in that of his son: the coexistence of Benthamite hedonism with high-minded idealism. As W. H. Burston has written, for Mill “the pursuit of personal happiness meant almost precisely the reverse of what we would call a life of pleasure . . . .” The passage from “Education” cited above certainly captures Mill’s idealist side, but it also raises questions about the role of the state (“political machine”) in shaping the values and directing the conduct of citizens. (It could easily be mistaken for a quote on behalf of Napoleon’s Legion of Honor.) In conjunction with Mill’s views on labor, leisure, and leadership, it reinforces the charge that Mill was a “democratic elitist.” If so, this is hardly the worst of his sins, if a sin at all. Mill may have deceived himself regarding the capacity of education to transform character and for charter to transform society, but in adhering to the view that even a reformed society would remain an intellectual pyramid, he remained fast-anchored in abiding reality.
[35.] “Government,” in Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1825; </titles/mill-government> also </titles/mill-the-political-writings-of-james-mill-1815-1836#lf1624_head_015>.
[36.] The comparison may seem far-fetched but I am not alone in drawing it. See W. H. Burston, James Mill on Philosophy and Education (London: The Athlone Press, 1973), p. 236, and Leslie Stephen, The English Utilitarians, vol. 2 (London: Duckworth & Co., 1900), p. 89. Mill was a great admirer of Plato and betrayed signs of Plato’s “intellectual politics” throughout his career.
[37.] “24o security for good government can be found in an organization of counter-forces, or a balance in the constitution . . . ,” “Economists,” in James Mill, The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Liberty Fund, 2013); /titles/2520#lf1624_head_013. See also “Government.”
[38.] “[T]he legislative and the executive powers cannot by possibility exist in any but the same hands . . . ,” “Economists.”
[39.] “Aristocracy, ” London Review, April-July 1835 </titles/2520#lf1624_label_391>. See also “Economists” </titles/2520#lf1624_head_013>.
[40.] In John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIX – Essays on Politics and Society Part II, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Alexander Brady (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977); </titles/234>.
[41.] Stephen, EnglishUtilitarians, p. 85.
[42.] Ibid., p. 83.
[43.] “Education,” in Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica </titles/2520#lf1624_head_014>.
[44.] Burston, James Mill, p. 230.
[45.] See Robert A. Fenn, James Mill’s Political Thought (New York: Garland Publishing, 1987), p. 153.
3. Andrew Farrant, "James Mill: Of Faction, Sympathy, and Theodore Tugboat"[Posted: Sept. 8, 2014]↩
In the late 1970s, James M. Buchanan told a Portuguese audience that he had been “reading a very interesting book … [an early 19th-century] debate between James Mill and [T. B.] Macaulay” that provided a “view of the institutional process” that greatly differed “from what you find anywhere today.” Indeed, Buchanan noted that he favored a “kind of return to the thinking of that period, in thinking about institutional rules.” Needless to say, aspects of James Mill’s famous 1820 essay “Government” have much similarity to Buchanan’s worst-case philosophy of constitutional political economy. For Mill, the paradigmatic example of worst-case government is one where government is a slave-driver: The “ruling One [i.e., monarchy], or the ruling Few [i.e., aristocracy], would, if checks did not operate in the way of prevention, reduce the great mass of the people subject to their power ... to the condition of negroes in the West Indies” (emphasis added). As Mill noted, those who would deny the empirical relevance of his prima facie implausible worst-case model of government would do well to meditate upon the “decisive” experiment afforded by the way in which the “English gentleman … a favourable specimen of civilization, of knowledge, of humanity, of all the qualities, in short, that make human nature estimable” had readily made slaves of his “fellow creatures” in the West Indies: Indeed, Mill insisted that “Wherever the same [unchecked] motives [i.e., the desire for power and wealth] exist, the same conduct as is displayed by the English gentleman may be expected to follow.… 24ot one item in the motives that led English Gentlemen to make slaves of their fellow-creatures, and to reduce them to the very worst condition in which the negroes have been found in the West Indies, can be shown to be wanting, or to be less strong in the set of motives which universally operate upon the men who have power over their fellow creatures.”
As is well known, T. B. Macaulay was (to put it mildly) less than persuaded by the adequacy of Mill’s worst-case reasoning and wrote a devastating 1829 response to Mill. (Macaulay’s brilliant essay was published in the Edinburgh Review.) Indeed, Macaulay was equally scathing when he became embroiled in a heated and highly entertaining “bare-knuckle” debate over the merits of Mill’s essay with T. Perronet Thompson (the controversy raged in the pages of the Edinburgh Review and the Westminster Review.) Macaulay is generally considered to have amply demolished Mill’s worst-case logic and to have left the rather hapless Thompson (“defending” Mill on behalf of the Westminster Review) bloody-nosed and flat on his back in the dust. As Sandra Peart has rightly noted in her essay, however, Macaulay appears to have greatly underrated the vital importance that Mill’s worst-case analytics implicitly placed on the associationist psychology that he would later set out in much detail in his 1829 Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind. Indeed, one of Macaulay’s vehement complaints – there were many – about Mill’s 1820 theory of government was that Mill had seemingly “left” the way in which “sympathy” might check the abuse of power wholly “out of consideration.” Nevertheless, as Sandra Peart justifiably notes, Mill’s assessment of the way in which sympathetic bias and partiality induced by exposure to “bad trains of association” warp our behavior may provide relatively solid foundations for what might otherwise appear as Mill’s rather implausible worst-case analytics.  (“Bad” trains of association induce us to engage in blameworthy but profitable behavior.)
Of course, Macaulay did not deny Thompson’s charge that the “planter and the slave-driver” no more sympathized with their “negro” slaves than did the “epicure” sympathize with or care one jot about “the sentiments of oysters.” Nevertheless, Macaulay took Mill’s worst-case axioms at face value and promptly and brilliantly hoisted Mill with his very own “democratic” petard. As Mill’s Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind makes abundantly clear, however, his earlier analysis of the worst-case consequences of unchecked government power has rather more plausibility when we take into account Mill’s analysis of the way in which the desire for wealth and power conjunct with sympathetic partiality can lead to a narrowly self-interested “community of Interest” with the fellow members of one’s “Party, or class,” thereby assuring incessant demands for “Privileges … conferred by Legislative act.”
I imagine that Sandra would supplement what I say above about Mill’s sympathy-based class analytics by rightly reiterating her very important point about the immense weight that Mill and his eldest son (and Adam Smith too) placed on the vitally important distinction between actual praise and blame and praiseworthiness and blameworthiness per se, and her point about the way in which praise and praiseworthiness often don’t map onto one another or march in tandem (with the way in which the allure of actual praise trumps the desire to be praiseworthy having detrimental consequences for humanity writ large). As Sandra notes, Mill’s worst-case analysis of faction, party, and class posits a sharp cleavage between the individual’s desire to truly merit the epithet praiseworthy (and not be blameworthy) and his or her far stronger response (far stronger because of their repeated exposure to “bad” trains of association) to the incentives provided by the allure of actual praise and the disincentive of actual blame (incentives which are intensified by sympathetic biases with “class” and “party”). As Sandra notes, moral education may provide a solution. Indeed, James Mill argued that “ [I]n minds happily trained, the love of Praiseworthiness, the dread of Blameworthiness, is a stronger feeling, than the love of actual Praise, the Dread of actual Blame” (emphasis added). Hence J. S. Mill’s noting of his father’s heavy emphasis on the importance of high-quality moral education, which could potentially provide an adequately countervailing weight to the “direct motive of obtaining praise where it is to be obtained by other means than desert.” Of course, moral education may prove a rather weak and non-robust reed when we try to engineer a collective switch from an inferior faction-ridden equilibrium (one where narrow self-interest and pervasive sympathetic biases work hand in all-too ugly hand) to a far superior “community interest writ large” equilibrium. Nevertheless, the Mills’ wager might well be the best “bet” in town (and is much preferred to the foolish option of placing a wager on a supposedly “benevolent” dictator). I leave this aside, however, and probably wisely so (space constraints and the terrors of a harsh editorial pen – even a pen wielded by praiseworthy “word-count liberals” – are not always to be bemoaned!).
All in all, and as Sandra aptly notes, Mill’s “Government” was not meant to be read as a standalone essay but in conjunction with his other essays (e.g., the wonderful essay “Liberty of the Press”), and his defense of representative institutions presupposes a well-informed electorate, a truly free press (“publicity” provided the “principle of life and strength to all other [electoral and constitutional] securities”), and a “democracy-induced” absence of sympathetic biases. Nevertheless, I wonder what happens under Mill’s set of mutually reinforcing institutions (democracy, a free press, etc.) when praise and praiseworthiness do not march in tandem. Are faction and sympathetic failure exacerbated? A free but ideologically polarized press may pander to actual and faction-biased praise and blame and may attack the moderation of praiseworthiness while praising blameworthy behavior, thus inducing a far greater cleavage between praise and praiseworthiness and much intensifying underlying factional biases and enmity (Fox News anyone?). This may well further reinforce an undesirable equilibrium and make our collective escape to something better much harder.
As Sandra notes, Macaulay devastatingly homed in on Mill’s flagrantly best-case argument that sympathy would assure an identity of interest between fathers and their offspring (with men under 40, let alone their wives, daughters, or single women, consequently having no need whatsoever of a vote). Unsurprisingly, Macaulay tore Mill’s argument into confetti and charged Mill with having all-too “placidly” dogmatized “away the interests of one half of the human race.” As noted earlier, Buchanan was very interested in the Mill-Macaulay debate and Mill’s worst-case analytics. Nevertheless, I cannot imagine Buchanan ever making the all-too-best-case statement that “an interest identical with that of the whole community, is to be found in the aggregate males of an age to be regarded as sui juris.” I wonder, however, whether some of Buchanan’s readers tend to miss the role that unbiased sympathy (or something very similar) plays in Buchanan’s constitutional project in much the same way that it can be all too easily overlooked when assessing the merits of Mill’s worst-case thinking. For instance, Buchanan can be found arguing for constitutional rules “that will make it a relatively trivial matter as to the personal characteristics of those who happen to be selected as governors.” Elsewhere, however, Buchanan notes that “historical experience … [more than amply suggests that] constitutions can be reformed without being effectively enforced,” and he adds that “[p]erhaps more important than formal constitutional changes are changes in ethical attitudes that would make attempted reforms workable. . . . There must be some general understanding that exploitation implemented through politics is just as immoral as exploitation implemented in the private sector.” Thus, for Buchanan, as for James Mill, we need a far tighter alignment between that which is praiseworthy (and blameworthy) and behavior that is generally viewed as worthy of praise (or meriting blame). Peter Boettke often describes Buchanan’s constitutional project as a clarion call for a “politics which displays neither dominion nor discrimination” (e.g., no off-diagonals allowed). Perhaps praiseworthy choice is the only choice available when political equals make unanimous political choices behind a Rawls-type veil of ignorance.
Of course, real-world in-period politics is a complex mix of praiseworthiness and blameworthiness, and Sandra Peart rightly urges us all to reconsider our priors, try and set aside our biases (and narrow self-interest), and do our utmost to be praiseworthy. Again, however, how might we get from “here” to “there”? Similarly, what does “there” look like? For one thing, John Stuart Mill – working with much the same analytical toolkit as had his father – provided a very different assessment of what society might ultimately look like when juxtaposed with the vision of the future provided by his father. Ultimately, Sandra provides a most welcome defense of Millian democratic discussion – and by extension of Millian institutional experimentation – and she concludes by suggesting that the bumper sticker of choice might be “Discuss!” I have an alternative sticker to suggest. It is much less pithy than Sandra’s suggestion (and I will not hold my breath waiting for my royalty check) but one in keeping with the spirit of her suggestion: “Frank Knight was right (as were J. S. Mill and Buchanan). Pass it on!” This, of course, may presuppose that you drive an all-too-blameworthy gas-guzzling SUV rather than use a mode of transportation that is rather more praiseworthy.
[46.] James M. Buchanan, "Constitutional Design and Construction: An Economic Approach,” in Choice, Contract, and Constitutions (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund  2001), p. 109. Vol. 16 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan (not available onine).
[47.] James Mill, “Government,” in James Mill, The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Liberty Fund, 2013). </titles/2520#lf1624_head_015>.
[48.] Indeed, Geoffrey Brennan and Buchanan acknowledge that their Leviathan model of government marks something of a return to the worst-case “spirit of the classical political economists.” Geoffrey Brennan and James M. Buchanan, The Power to Tax (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund,  2000), vol. 9 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, p. 220; </titles/2114#Buchanan_0102-09_570>.
[49.] Mill, “Government.” Bentham provides a similar worst-case assessment of government: “[T]ake the case of Negro slavery.… The Slave-holder – it may be said – for it is continually said – has an interest in common with that of his slaves. True: and so has the Mail-Coach Contractor in common with that of his horses. While working them, and so long as they appear able to work, he accordingly allows them food. Yet, somehow or other, notwithstanding this community of interest, so it is that but too often Negro as well as horse are worked to the very death. – How happens this? – How? – but because in the same breast with the conjunct interest is lodged a separate and sinister interest, which is too strong for it … [Hence] the condition of the poor people is day by day approaching nearer and nearer to the condition of the Negro and the horse” (Jeremy Bentham, “Plan of Parliamentary Reform,” London: R. Hunter, 1817, xxvi-xxvii). See online the Bowring edition of Bentham's Works </titles/1922#Bentham_0872-03_4982>. Mill (“Government”) is much taken by Montesquieu’s expression of this “important truth … ‘C'est une expérience éternelle que tout homme qui a du pouvoir est porté à en abuser; il va jusqu'à ce qu'il trouve des limites’” </titles/2520#lf1624_footnote_nt015>. This translates as “Experience constantly proves that every man who has power is impelled to abuse it; he goes on till he is pulled up by some limits.” See C. T. Ramage, ed., Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors: With English Translations and Lives of the Authors, an English Index of Subjects Analytically Arranged, Also Numerous References to Parallel Passages from Latin, Greek, and English Authors (Liverpool: Edward Howell, 1866); http://bit.ly/1n8WyfT or the OLL online version Book XI "Of the Laws which establish Political Liberty" Chap. IV </titles/2520#lf1624_footnote_nt015>. Brennan and Buchanan use the same maxim as an epigraph to The Power to Tax </titles/2114#Buchanan_0102-09_22>.
[50.] For Buchanan, the worst-case does not necessarily have empirical relevance, but is the contingency we truly want to avoid (see David M. Levy, “Robust Institutions,” Review of Austrian Economics,2002, 15 (2-3), pp. 131-42). Also see James Mill, “Government.”
[51.] Macaulay’s wonderful “Mill’s Essay on Government: Utilitarian Logic and Politics,” is reprinted in Jack Lively and John Rees, eds., Utilitarian Logic and Politics, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), pp. 99-129. See also online </titles/99#lf1228-01_head_036>.
[52.] The entire fascinating debate is reprinted in Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics.
[53.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, (London: Baldwin and Cradock,1829). As John Stuart Mill later noted, James Mill’s “fundamental doctrine [in psychology] was the formation of all human character by circumstances, through the universal Principle of Association, and the consequent unlimited possibility of improving the moral and intellectual condition of mankind by education. Of all his doctrines none was more important than this, or needs more to be insisted on.” John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I – Autobiography and Literary Essays, ed. John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981); </titles/242#Mill_0223-01_367>.
[54.] Macaulay, “Utilitarian Theory of Government.” See Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics, p. 216. Also online </titles/99#lf1228-01_head_039>.
[55.] “A very general idea, such as that of Mankind, is an indistinct idea; and no strong association is formed with it, except by the means of Education. In the common run of men, the narrow sympathies, alone, act with any considerable force. Such men can sympathize with … their own Family, or their own class … [T]o sympathize with mankind at large, or even with the body of the people in their own country, exceeds the bounds of their contracted affections.” James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, vol. 2, pp. 231-32. (Emphasis added.)
[56.] T. Perronet Thompson, “‘Greatest Happiness’ Principle.” See Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics, p. 136.
[57.] Macaulay charged that Mill’s democratic legislature – composed of “private men” who were “zealous for the interests of the community” – would necessarily have a worst-case interest once elected, an interest “opposite to the interests of the community,” and “according to Mr. Mill … [thus] produce measures opposite to the interests of the community (Macaulay “Mill’s Essay on Government,” Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics,pp. 114-15). And online </titles/99#Macaulay_1228-01_817>. Nevertheless, Mill presupposed that democratically elected representatives who are answerable to a wide and informed electorate will sympathize with the wider interest of the community writ large and not with a narrow self-interested and frequently pocket-borough owning aristocratic class.
[58.] “There is no Love of Class … but in a Privileged Order.” Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, p. 188. For Mill, a class proper is any faction or group that has an interest “in common … which is not in common to the rest of the community” (p. 187). Mill’s 1829 analysis of “class” leaves aside the “associations … the members of a governing class have with one another” other than the “associations connected with privilege” (p. 188).
[59.] Mill and Buchanan are much taken by Hume’s famous dictum “that, in contriving any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controuls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave.” As Hume goes on to explain, however, this dictum may well apply “in the case of politics” yet not in “fact” (“men are generally more honest in their private than in their public capacity”) because of “sympathetic biases.” Men will “go to greater lengths to serve a party, than when their own private interest is alone concerned. Honour is a great check upon mankind: But where a considerable body of men act together, this check is, in a great measure, removed; since a man is sure to be approved of by his own party, for what promotes the common interest; and he soon learns to despise the clamours of adversaries. To which we may add, that every court or senate is determined by the greater number of voices; so that, if self-interest influences only the majority, (as it will always do) the whole senate follows the allurements of this separate interest, and acts as if it contained not one member, who had any regard to public interest and liberty.” David Hume, Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary. Indianapolis, Ind. : Liberty Fund, 1977 </titles/704#Hume_0059_147>. I think it very noteworthy that Mill quotes these particular passages in his delightfully titled surrogate response to Macaulay (directed at Sir James Mackintosh). See Mill, A Fragment on Mackintosh: Strictures on Some Passages in the Dissertation by Sir James Mackintosh, Prefixed to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: Baldwin and Cradock, 1835, pp. 280-81).
[60.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, p. 249. As J.S. Mill himself (in editorial notes to the 1869 edition of this work of his father’s 1829 work explained, moral education – favorable “circumstances” – would generate a powerful association “between deserving praise and obtaining it” (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, vol. 2, pp. 298-99, emphasis added). (J.S. Mill's notes are available onlin, James Mill's Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (1869) in John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXXI – Miscellaneous Writings, ed. John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1989). </titles/238#lf0223-31_head_024>.) As James Mill explained, a “happily” trained mind would view “the secondary feeling [desire to be praiseworthy per se] … [as by far] more powerful than the primary [desire for praise per se].” (James Mill, 1829, p. 249).
[61.] See J. S. Mill’s 1869 editorial notes, p. 299. As James Mill explained, a “happily” trained mind would view “the secondary feeling [desire to be praiseworthy per se] … [as by far] more powerful than the primary [desire for praise per se]” (Mill, 1829, p/ 249).
[62.] Levy, “Robust Institutions.”
[63.] As J. S. Mill noted in 1879, any requisite improvements in moral education are “necessarily very gradual. . . . [T]he future generation is educated by the present, and the imperfections of the teachers set an invincible limit to the degree in which they can train their pupils to be better than themselves.” In Chapters on Socialism (1879) "The Difficulties of Socialism" </titles/232#Mill_0223-05_1338>.
John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume V – Essays on Economics and Society Part II, ed. John M. Robson, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967); </titles/232#Mill_0223-05_1338>.
Indeed, Mill – writing to Harriet Taylor in 1849 – noted that he could not “persuade” himself that she did “not greatly overrate the ease of making people unselfish. Granting that in ‘ten years’ the children of a community might by teaching be made ‘perfect’ it seems to me that to do so there must be perfect people to teach them.” John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume III – The Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy (Books III-V and Appendices), ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by V.W. Bladen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965); </titles/243#Mill_0223-03_1124>.
[64.] James Mill, “Liberty of the Press,” in James Mill, The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Liberty Fund, 2013); </titles/2520#Mill_1624_1211>.
[65.] “[W]omen have always been, and still are, over the greater part of the globe, humble companions, playthings, captives, menials, beasts of burden.” Macaulay, “Mill’s Essay on Government,” in Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics, p. 116. Also on.ine at </titles/99#Macaulay_1228-01_822>.
[66.] “Government.” Indeed, he continues, “The great principle of security here is, that the men of forty have a deep interest in the welfare of the younger men.” As Mill explains in the Human Mind, however, the sympathetic “father regards the son somewhat in the light of another self” (p. 178). </titles/2520#Mill_1624_1003>.
[67.] James M. Buchanan, “Constitutional Restrictions on the Power of Government,” In Choice, Contract, and Constitutions (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund,  2001), p. 47.
[68.] James M. Buchanan, “Distributional Politics and Constitutional Design,” in Choice, Contract, and Constitutions, p. 275.
[69.] Buchanan’s vision of a nondiscriminatory politics is something over which all manner of folk can legitimately disagree when it comes to deciding what counts as nondiscrimination and nondominion. There is a very good reason why Buchanan and Rawls found each other so fascinating.
[70.] Is this a call for the Fox News viewer to sometimes watch Link TV and vice versa? I would argue that Smith-Mill lessons about praiseworthiness and blameworthiness are better taught by an hour or so watching the very best PBS kids shows (e.g., Arthur and Theodore Tugboat).
1. Sandra Peart, "How James Might Have Been Improved Had John Stuart Mill Reviewed “On Government” before It Went to Press" [Posted: Sept. 10, 2014]↩
James Mill (born James Milne, 6 April 1773 – 23 June 1836) was a Scottish historian, economist, political theorist, and philosopher. He is counted among the founders of the Ricardian school of economics. His son, John Stuart Mill, was also a noted philosopher of liberalism, utilitarianism and the civilizing mission of the British Empire.
Although he never set foot in India at any time in his life, James Mill took upon himself the task of writing the monumental History of British India, a classic of colonial self-congratulation which contains a complete denunciation and rejection of Indian culture and civilisation and which both exhorts and extolls the civilizing mission of the British in the subcontinent. He was the first writer to divide Indian history into three parts: Hindu, Muslim and British, a classification which has proved surpassingly influential in the field of Indian historical studies, but which is seen in recent decades as being deeply problematic.
James Milne, later known as James Mill, was born at Northwater Bridge, in the parish of Logie Pert, Angus, Scotland, the son of James Milne, a shoemaker and small farmer. His mother, Isabel Fenton, of a family that had suffered from connection with the Stuart rising[which?], resolved that he should receive a first-rate education, and sent him first to the parish school and then to the Montrose Academy, where he remained until the unusual age of seventeen and a half. He then entered the University of Edinburgh, where he distinguished himself as a Greek scholar.
In October 1798, he was ordained as a minister of the Church of Scotland, but met with little success. According to John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, his father though "educated in the creed of Scotch Presbyterianism, had by his own studies and reflections been early led to reject not only the belief in Revelation but the foundations of what is commonly called Natural Religion." From 1790 to 1802, in addition to holding various tutorships, he occupied himself with historical and philosophical studies. Finding little prospect of a career in Scotland, in 1802 he went to London, England, in company with Sir John Stuart of Fettercairn, then member of parliament for Kincardineshire, and devoted himself to literary work. From 1803 to 1806, he was editor of an ambitious periodical called the Literary Journal, which professed to give a summary view of all the leading departments of human knowledge. During this time he also edited the St James's Chronicle, belonging to the same proprietor. In 1804, he wrote a pamphlet on the corn trade, arguing against a bounty on the exportation of grain. In 1805, he published a translation (with notes and quotations) of An Essay on the Spirit and Influence of the Reformation of Luther, a C.F. Villers's work on the Reformation, an attack on the alleged vices of the papal system. About the end of this year he began his The History of British India, which he took twelve years to complete, instead of three or four, as had been expected.
In that year he also married Harriet Burrow, whose mother, a widow, kept what was then known as an establishment for lunatics in Hoxton. He then took a house in Pentonville, where his eldest son, John Stuart Mill, was born in 1806.
In 1808, he became acquainted with Jeremy Bentham, and was for many years his chief companion and ally. He adopted Bentham's principles in their entirety, and determined to devote all his energies to bringing them before the world. Between 1806 and 1818, he wrote for the Anti-Jacobin Review, the British Review and The Eclectic Review; but there is no means of tracing his contributions. In 1808, he began to write for the Edinburgh Review, to which he contributed steadily till 1813, his first known article being "Money and Exchange." He also wrote on Spanish America, China, Francisco de Miranda, the East India Company, and the Liberty of the Press. In the Annual Review for 1808 two articles of his are traced—a "Review of Fox's History", and an article on "Bentham's Law Reforms", probably his first published notice of Bentham. In 1811 he co-operated with William Allen (1770–1843), a Quaker and chemist, in a periodical called the Philanthropist. He contributed largely to every issue – his principal topics being Education, Freedom of the Press, and Prison Discipline (under which he expounded Bentham's Panopticon). He made powerful onslaughts on the Church in connection with the Bell and Lancaster controversy, and took a part in the discussions that led to the foundation of the University of London in 1825. In 1814 he wrote a number of articles, containing an exposition of utilitarianism, for the supplement to the fifth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, the most important being those on "Jurisprudence", "Prisons", "Government" and "Law of Nations".
In 1818, The History of British India was published, and obtained a great and immediate success. It brought about a change in the author's fortunes. The year following he was appointed an official in the India House, in the important department of the examiner of Indian correspondence. He gradually rose in ranks until he was appointed, in 1830, head of the office, with a salary of £1900, raised in 1836 to £2000. His great work, the Elements of Political Economy, appeared in 1821 (3rd and revised ed. 1825).
From 1824 to 1826, Mill contributed to the Westminster Review, started as the organ of his party, a number of articles in which he attacked the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews and ecclesiastical establishments. In 1829 appeared the Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind. From 1831 to 1833, Mill was largely occupied in the defence of the East India Company, during the controversy attending the renewal of its charter, he being in virtue of his office the spokesman of the court of directors. For the London Review, founded by Sir William Molesworth in 1834, he wrote a notable article entitled "The Church and its Reform", which was much too sceptical for the time, and injured the Review. Mill, himself was an atheist. His last published book was the Fragment on Mackintosh (1835).
The History of British India
Main article: The History of British India
Mill preferred to take a more theoretical approach to social subjects than the empirical one common at the time. His best known literary work is his History of British India, in which he describes the acquisition of the Indian Empire by England and later the United Kingdom. He also brings political theory to bear on the delineation of the Hindu civilization, and subjects the conduct of the actors in the successive stages of the conquest and administration of India to severe criticism. The work itself, and the author's official connection with India for the last seventeen years of his life, effected a complete change in the whole system of governance in the country. Mill never visited the Indian colony, relying solely on documentary material and archival records in compiling his work. This fact has led to severe criticism of Mill's History of India by notable economist Amartya Sen.
According to Thomas Trautmann, "James Mill's highly influential History of British India (1817) – most particularly the long essay 'Of the Hindus' comprising ten chapters – is the single most important source of British Indophobia and hostility to Orientalism". In the chapter titled General Reflections in "Of the Hindus", Mill wrote "under the glosing exterior of the Hindu, lies a general disposition to deceit and perfidy". According to Mill, "the same insincerity, mendacity, and perfidy; the same indifference to the feelings of others; the same prostitution and venality" were the conspicuous characteristics of both the Hindoos and the Muslims. The Muslims, however, were perfuse, when possessed of wealth, and devoted to pleasure; the Hindoos almost always penurious and ascetic; and "in truth, the Hindoo like the eunuch, excels in the qualities of a slave". Furthermore, similar to the Chinese, the Hindoos were "dissembling, treacherous, mendacious, to an excess which surpasses even the usual measure of uncultivated society". Both the Chinese and the Hindoos were "disposed to excessive exaggeration with regard to everything relating to themselves". Both were "cowardly and unfeeling". Both were "in the highest degree conceited of themselves, and full of affected contempt for others". And, above all, both were "in physical sense, disgustingly unclean in their persons and houses".
Mill also played a great part in British politics, and was a dominant figure in the establishment of what was called "philosophic radicalism". His writings on government and his personal influence among the Liberal politicians of his time determined the change of view from the French Revolution theories of the rights of man and the absolute equality of men to the claiming of securities for good government through a wide extension of the franchise. It was under this banner that the Reform Bill was fought and won. His Elements of Political Economy followed up the views of his friend David Ricardo. By 1911, the Encyclopædia Britannica described it as being of mainly historical interest, "an accurate summary of views that are now largely discarded". Among the more important of its theses are:
- that the chief problem of practical reformers is to limit the increase of population, on the assumption that capital does not naturally increase at the same rate as population (ii. § 2, art. 3)
- that the value of a thing depends entirely on the quantity of labour put into it; and
- that what is now known as the "unearned increment" of land is a proper object for taxation.
By his Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind and his Fragment on Mackintosh Mill acquired a position in the history of psychology and ethics. He took up the problems of mind very much after the fashion of the Scottish Enlightenment, as then represented by Thomas Reid, Dugald Stewart and Thomas Brown, but made a new start, due in part to David Hartley, and still more to his own independent thinking. He carried out the principle of association into the analysis of the complex emotional states, as the affections, the aesthetic emotions and the moral sentiment, all which he endeavoured to resolve into pleasurable and painful sensations. But the salient merit of the Analysis is the constant endeavour after precise definition of terms and clear statement of doctrines. He had a great effect on Franz Brentano who discussed his work in his own empirical psychology. The Fragment on Mackintosh severely criticizes the alleged flimsiness and misrepresentations of Sir James Mackintosh's Dissertation on the Progress of Ethical Philosophy (1830), and discusses the foundations of ethics from the author's utilitarian point of view.
- An Essay on the Impolicy of a Bounty on the Exportation of Grain, 1804.
- "Lord Lauderdale on Public Wealth", 1804, Literary Journal
- Commerce Defended, 1808.
- Thomas Smith on Money and Exchange, 1808
- The History of British India, 3 vols., 1817 (and many later editions)
- "Government", 1820, Encycl. Britannica
- Elements of Political Economy, 1821
- "Liberty of the Press", 1823
- Essays on Government, Jurisprudence, Liberty of the Press, Education, and Prisons and Prison Discipline, 1823.
- An Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, 2 vols., 1829.
- Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind. 1869.
- Essay on the Ballot  and Fragment on Mackintosh , 1830.
- "Whether Political Economy is Useful", 1836
- The Principles of Toleration, 1837.
- ^ abJames Mill (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
- ^The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes, Chapter 1, Footnote 1
- ^Mill, James (1817), The History of British India (1 ed.), London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, retrieved 2012-12-11
- ^Mill, James (1821), Elements of Political Economy (First ed.), London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, retrieved 2012-12-11
- ^Amartya Sen's address given to the Millennium Session of the Indian History Congress 
- ^Trautmann, Thomas R. (2006) . Aryans and British India (2nd Indian ed.). New Delhi: YODA Press. p. 117. ISBN 81-902272-1-1.
- ^Mill, James (1858). The History of British India. Madden.
- ^Dharampal, The Beautiful Tree.
- ^Franz Brentano: Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt. Ed. Oskar Kraus, 2 vols. Leipzig: Meiner, 1924–25; ed. Mauro Antonelli. Heusenstamm: Ontos, 2008
- ^Essay on the Ballot. 1830.
- ^A Fragment on Mackintosh. 1835.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Mill, James". Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 453–454. Endnotes:
- Stephen, Leslie (1900). The English Utilitarians. ii.
- Stephen, Leslie (1894). "Mill, James (1773–1836)". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 37. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 382–388.
- Bain, Alexander (1882). James Mill, A Biography (1 ed.). London: Logmans, Green & Co.
- Bower, G.S. (1881). Hartley and James Mill.
- McCosh, James (1885). Scottish Philosophy.
- Mill, J.S. (1873). Autobiography.
- Ribot, Théodule-Armand (1873) . La Psychologie anglaise (Eng. trans. ed.).
- Morley, John (1882). "?". Fortnightly Review. xxxvii.
- Wallas, Graham (1898). The Life of Francis Place.