In all states of human improvement ever yet attained, the nature and degree of authority exercised over individuals, the distribution of power, and the conditions of command and obedience, are the most powerful of the influences, except their religious belief, which make them what they are, and enable them to become what they can be. There is no such thing in morals as a right to power over others; and the electoral suffrage is that power. The aristocracy in question, being men of independent means, can afford to devote themselves to public life; whilst men whose time and thoughts are absorbed by their private affairs, cannot give themselves thoroughly to the concerns of the nation. He advocated democracy-limiting legislative measures to preserve the role of merit and intelligence against the danger of a low grade of intelligence in the representative body and in the popular opinion which controls it. The majorities also would be brought under inducements to make a more careful choice.
All these difficulties are sure to be ignored by a representative assembly which attempts to decide on special acts of administration. In doing this it merely recognises the fact that a certain person is the candidate of the party whose general policy commands its support. In such a case, a civilised government, to be really advantageous to them, will require to be in a considerable degree despotic: to be one over which they do not themselves exercise control, and which imposes a great amount of forcible restraint upon their actions. Of what avail is the most broadly popular representative system if the electors do not care to choose the best member of parliament, but choose him who will spend most money to be elected? All this was conducted under the strict daily supervision of his father—with young John holding primary responsibility for the education of his siblings Reeves 2007: 11—27. They exercise no will in respect to their collective interests. They are not represented even as a class, unless they are the majority of the constituency, and if they are, nobody else is represented.
When all have votes, it will be both just in principle and necessary in fact, that some mode be adopted of giving greater weight to the suffrage of the more educated voter; some means by which the more intrinsically valuable member of society, the one who is more capable, more competent for the general affairs of life, and possesses more of the knowledge applicable to the management of the affairs of the community, should, as far as practicable, be singled out, and allowed a superiority of influence proportioned to his higher qualifications. In our brief exposition we have given a much more adequate idea of Mr. How, again, can government, or any joint concern, be carried on in a tolerable manner by people so envious that, if one among them seems likely to succeed in anything, those who ought to cooperate with him form a tacit combination to make him fail? A just distribution of burthens, by holding up to every citizen an example of morality and good conscience applied to difficult adjustments, and an evidence of the value which the highest authorities attach to them, tends in an eminent degree to educate the moral sentiments of the community, both in respect of strength and of discrimination. Were there no improvement to be hoped for, life would not be the less an unceasing struggle against causes of deterioration; as it even now is. We shall discuss this claim further below.
Some of these chapters will likely seem odd to modern scholars as Mill's proposals vacillate between items that we take as common sense today and proposals that seem relatively bizarre and largely speculative. A person must be blind to all the signs of the times, who could think that the middle classes are as subservient to the higher, or the working classes as dependent on the higher and middle, as they were a quarter of a century ago. It is therefore just as important to hear counterarguments to the truth as its re-articulation. Their religion, which enabled persons of genius and a high religious tone to be regarded and to regard themselves as inspired from heaven, gave existence to an inestimably precious unorganized institution—the Order if it may be so termed of Prophets. In a country not under the dominion of foreigners, the only cause adequate to producing similar benefits is the rare accident of a monarch of extraordinary genius.
For Progress includes Order, but Order does not include Progress. If we intend to comprise in the idea of Order all that society requires from its government which is not included in the idea of Progress, we must define Order as the preservation of all kinds and amounts of good which already exist, and Progress as consisting in the increase of them. The British government is thus a representative government in the correct sense of the term: and the powers which it leaves in hands not directly accountable to the people can only be considered as precautions which the ruling power is willing should be taken against its own errors. It is both more favourable to present good government, and promotes a better and higher form of national character, than any other polity whatsoever. Deductive or a priori reasoning, Mill thinks, is similarly empty.
But though a necessary condition, this is not the object of government. To which we may answer, that whenever it ceases to be true that mankind, as a rule, prefer themselves to others, and those nearest to them to those more remote, from that moment Communism is not only practicable, but the only defensible form of society; and will, when that time arrives, be assuredly carried into effect. In this, Mill's theories mirror the philosophy of the United States: that majority should rule but that the minority should always be protected. The failure of any of these conditions renders a form of government, whatever favourable promise it may otherwise hold out, unsuitable to the particular case. But the distinction is nevertheless real, because this is only one of the means by which political institutions improve or deteriorate the human mind, and the causes and modes of that beneficial or injurious influence remain a distinct and much wider subject of study. All arguments grounded on probable dangers fall dead and meaningless on the minds of those who have the physical force.
Their improvement cannot come from themselves, but must be superinduced from without. A much weaker party in all other elements of power may greatly preponderate when the powers of government are thrown into the scale; and may long retain its predominance through this alone: though, no doubt, a government so situated is in the condition called in mechanics unstable equilibrium, like a thing balanced on its smaller end, which, if once disturbed, tends more and more to depart from, instead of reverting to, its previous state. They may be stopped short at any point in their progress by defective adaptation of their government to that particular stage of advancement. He rejects a mixed government as being driven by corruption. In the modern Kingdom of Greece, for example, it can hardly be doubted, that the placehunters who chiefly compose the representative assembly, though they contribute little or nothing directly to good government, nor even much temper the arbitrary power of the executive, yet keep up the idea of popular rights, and conduce greatly to the real liberty of the press which exists in that country. And vice versâ, all errors in finance and taxation which obstruct the improvement of the people in wealth and morals, tend also, if of sufficiently serious amount, positively to impoverish and demoralize them. A certificate of having passed through a complete course of instruction at any place of education publicly recognised as one where the higher branches of knowledge are taught, should confer a plurality of votes; and there ought to be an organization of voluntary examinations throughout the country agreeably to the precedent set by the middle-class examinations so wisely and virtuously instituted by the University of Oxford at which any person whatever might present himself, and obtain, from impartial examiners, a certificate of his possessing the acquirements which would entitle him to any number of votes, up to the largest allowed to one individual.
Moral law is always valid, though not always kept. All these evils have been, and many of them still are, produced by the sinister interests of kings and aristocracies, where their power is sufficient to raise them above the opinion of the rest of the community; nor is it rational to expect, as a consequence of such a position, any other conduct. But, at Venice, though the privileged order was numerous, the actual management of affairs was rigidly concentrated in a small oligarchy within the oligarchy, whose whole lives were devoted to the study and conduct of the affairs of the state. Conduciveness to Progress, thus understood, includes the whole excellence of a government. Austin has claims to an attentive hearing which cannot be lightly estimated. No considerable section of existing political men desire more; and the active force out of doors is wanting to enable them to carry it if they did.