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Macaulay Essays 2014 Tax

1. Life and works

Sources for Catharine Macaulay’s early life are scarce, and modern historians have relied on the account published by Mary Hays in her Female Biography (Hays 1803, 5.287–307; Hill 1992, 1–24). Hays represents Macaulay’s childhood as a romance of miraculous self-education. She was born Catharine Sawbridge on April 2, 1731 (March 23, 1730, old style) the second child of John Sawbridge and Dorothy Wanley, at Olantigh in Kent, a property that had been a gift from her grandfather, who had made a fortune, and then lost much of it as well as his reputation, as a result of his position as one of the directors of the South Sea Company. Having given birth to two daughters and two sons, John and Wanley, Catharine’s mother died leaving her and her siblings to the care of their father, who kept at best a neglectful eye on them. The girls were educated by “an antiquated, well-recommended, but ignorant governess,” who could not satisfy Catharine’s intellectual curiosity, and “having found her way into her father’s well-furnished library, she became her own purveyor, and rioted in intellectual luxury” (Hays 1803, 5.288–9). It is here, according to Hays, that she first became interested in the history of the Greeks and Romans, “their laws and manners interested her understanding, the spirit of patriotism seized her, and she became an enthusiast in the cause of freedom.” (Hays 1803, 5.289–90) While perhaps exaggerated, this rather romantic account can be accepted as in essence accurate, since Hay’s informant, “Mrs Arnold of Leicester” was the sister of Macaulay’s second husband. It echoes Macaulay’s own assertion, in the introduction to the first volume of her History of England that,

From my early youth I have read with delight those histories which exhibit Liberty in its most exalted state, the annals of the Roman and the Greek republics. Studies like these excite that natural love of Freedom which lies latent in the breast of every rational being. (Macaulay 1763–83, 1.7)

At the age of twenty-six, she spent an afternoon conversing with Elizabeth Carter, who was then soliciting subscriptions for her translation of Epictetus, and subscribed to her translation. This friend and correspondant of the Bluestocking, Elizabeth Montagu, initially represented Macaulay quite favourably as “more deeply learned than becomes a fine lady” who “between the Spartan laws, the Roman politics, the philosophy of Epicurus, and the wit of St Evremond” had formed “a most extraordinary system.” (Carter 1808, 2. 260; Hill 1992, 11)

Although Macaulay has been associated with the Bluestockings, and along with Montagu and Carter, was included in Richard Samuel’s, 1779, painting, “The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain”, she was too radical for their taste (Guest 2002; Eger and Peltz 2008; O’Brien 2009). This, despite the fact that Montagu and her sister, Sarah Scott, were acquainted with the Sawbridges, who were neighbours in Kent. On hearing of the publication of the first volume of Macaulay’s history, Montagu commented dismissively, “If she took her sentiments from her Father, & her language from Mrs Fuzzard it must be an extraordinary performance” (Elizabeth Montagu to Matthew Robinson-Morris, 2nd Baron Rokeby, 4 December 1763, Newcastle. Huntington Library MSS MO 4763). After her second marriage to the twenty-one year old William Graham, even Carter was shocked, dubbing her “a genius of [a] very eccentric a kind” while Sarah Scott wrote to her sister that they, being “pure virgins and virtuous matrons”, should “drown her in the Avon, and try if she can be purified by water” (Carter 1817, 3. 88-9; Sarah Scott to Elizabeth Montagu, 27 November 1778, Bath. Huntington Library, MSS MO 5391).

Macaulay was almost thirty when she married her first husband, a Scottish physician, George Macaulay, on 18 June 1760. Their marriage lasted only six years; he died in 1766. But during these years, Macaulay began to write her histories, with his encouragement. A manuscript of the first volume of the history may show his revisions, which, it has been claimed, tend to moderate her language (Geiger 1986, 161–4). The first volume of A History of England from the Accession of James I. to that of the Brunswick Line appeared in 1763, the following three volumes were published at regular intervals in 1765, 1767 and 1768; these were printed for the author and sold by various booksellers. There was then a gap in production. Volume five was published by Edward and Charles Dilly in 1771.Volume six and seven did not appear until ten years later, in 1781, and they were published with a slightly different title, A History of England from the Accession of James I. to the Revolution, as was the last volume, which came out in 1783. In 1767 she published her Loose remarks on certain positions to be found in Mr. Hobbes’s Philosophical Rudiments of Government and Society, and in 1770 her first attack on Edmund Burke, Observations on a Pamphlet entitled “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents”.

Macaulay’s brother John Sawbridge, a member of parliament, who was elected a London Alderman in 1769, became in the same year a founding member of the Society of the Gentleman Supporters of the Bill of Rights. This society was established with John Horne Tooke and others to support John Wilkes, who had been denied the parliamentary seat he had won for Middlesex, as a result of being outlawed for having published articles criticizing the ministry and the King (Hill 1992, 55–62). However, by 1771, Sawbridge and Tooke had left this society because of its too narrow focus on Wilkes’s interests. Macaulay’s early volumes of history constitute a thinly veiled critique of contemporary political events, and set out the broader principles of the Society of the Bill of Rights, by rehearsing the arguments for the rights of the parliament and the liberties of the people that fuelled the English Revolution.

During the decade in which she let her major history lapse, she lived for about two years at Bath in the house of a Reverend Wilson, who adopted her daughter, and had a statue made of the historian as Clio, which was controversially placed in the nave of the church of St Stephen’s Wolbrook. During this period her health was not good, and in 1777 she travelled to France with Elizabeth Arnold. While their aim was the South of France, they did not get further than Paris, where Macaulay enjoyed the vibrant cultural life, though she was shocked by the extent of French social inequality (Hays 1803, 5.295–96). She wrote A History of England, from the Revolution to the present time, in a series of letters to the Reverend Doctor Wilson during this period, but the friendship came to an abrupt, bitter end with her second marriage to twenty-one year old William Graham in 1778. Graham was the younger brother of Elizabeth Arnold and Dr James Graham, whose unconventional remedies Macaulay had followed as a cure for her continual ill health. This act brought a storm of gossip and recrimination; she was accused by Wilson and Wilkes of having had an affair with the older Graham, and generally ridiculed for marrying a man who was her inferior in status and twenty-six years her junior.

The years of her second marriage appear to have been happy and fruitful; during this period she completed her History of England and wrote the Treatise on the Immutability of Truth, which was published in 1783. With her husband she toured the United States, made a particular friend of Mercy Otis Warren, and visited George Washington at Mount Vernon. Her last works were The Letters on Education and her response to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France both of which appeared in 1790. She died on 22 June 1791.

2. Republican Liberty and The History of England

Although Macaulay did not write explicitly about the nature of freedom until quite late in life, her histories should be read as a contribution to the theory of republican liberty, though not quite as that idea has been outlined by Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit (Skinner 1998, 2008; Pettit 1997). Skinner argues that, as a result of his intention of refuting the political doctrines which lay behind the English Civil War, Thomas Hobbes made innovations in the concept of freedom of the will, and introduced the idea that one acts freely whenever one’s act is caused by one’s own deliberations, and is not impeded by some external constraint. Thus Hobbes simultaneously supported the metaphysical view, according to which freedom and causal determinism are compatible, and introduced the political concept of negative liberty, thought of as freedom from external constraint. He overthrew the then dominant metaphysical concept of human freedom—which had descended from Plato via the later Stoics, Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius— according to which we are unfree when our acts are caused by the passions, and free only when we act according to reason, as well as the view that political freedom involves freedom from arbitrary domination.

In opposition to Hobbes, John Locke, in his Two Treatises Concerning Government, reintroduced the idea that we are politically free only when governed by a rational law. He argued that the reason why a man only attains to the status of a freeman at the age of maturity is that to be free is to be guided by reason (Locke 1689[1967]). Thus political freedom corresponds to being governed by a rational law, which is the law of nature. However, Locke undermined the epistemological basis of his political principles, which require that there is a moral “law of nature” discoverable by reason, when he insisted, as part of his empiricism, that there is no innate knowledge of principles. While Locke himself thought that reason could discover the rational validity of the law of nature, by reflecting on ideas that we have acquired through sensation and reflection, only a few subsequent writers were convinced by his reasoning. Some, such as Shaftesbury and Hutcheson reintroduced a form of innate knowledge, which nevertheless seemed respectably empirical, by developing the idea of a moral sense. Others, such as the rather obscure Thomas Burnet, who published his objections anonymously, argued that the closest that an empiricist such as Locke could get to a moral doctrine was a form of Epicureanism, which would reduce morality to enlightened self-interest (Burnet 1989). Hume, following the logic of empiricism, would come to essentially the same conclusion, without seeing this as problematic. Burnet’s critique of Locke was answered by Catharine Trotter Cockburn, whose attempt to defend Locke was praised by him, but not ultimately fully worked out. Nevertheless, the position that Cockburn developed in later works has some similarities with that which Macaulay defends (Cockburn 1702; Green 2014, 34–39, 172–79). According to Macaulay, there is an immutable moral truth that can be discovered by reason, and as Cockburn will come to do, she uses the concept of “fitness” to explain this process of discovery. Macaulay’s language is also very close to Samuel Clarke’s. But, while Cockburn was directly influenced by Clarke (Bolton 1996; Sheridan 2007), Macaulay claims that she did not read his works until after she had completed her Treatise (Macaulay 1783, viii). She proposes that there is a rule of eternal right grounded in,

… a necessary and essential difference of things, a fitness and unfitness, a proportion and disproportion, a moral beauty and a moral deformity, an immutable right and wrong, necessary independent of the will of every being created or uncreated, explained by the philosopher Plato under the form of everlasting intellectual ideas, or moral entities, coeval with eternity, and residing in the divine mind; from whence, by irradiating rays, like the emitting of the sun-beams, they enlighten the understanding of all those intellectual beings, who, disregarding the objects of sense, give themselves up to the contemplation of the Deity; whilst modern philosophers, in a lower strain of reasoning, assert an abstract fitness of things perceived by the mind of God, and so interwoven in the nature of contemplative objects, as to be traced like other abstract truths, by those faculties of the mind which enable us to compare and perceive the agreement and disagreement of our sensitive and reflex ideas. (Macaulay 1783, 30–2)

Thus, a free people will be governed by a law that is not arbitrary, but rather corresponds to what is fit, and is able to be apprehended by reason. Her history is an account of the struggle of the English people to maintain their freedom in this sense, against the pretensions of Stuart absolutism and the imposition of arbitrary sway.

2.1 Macaulay’s republicanism

While it is clear that Macaulay was a supporter of some form of “republican” liberty, it is less clear whether she was an out and out supporter of republicanism, in the constitutional sense, according to which republicans are opposed to monarchy. In the context of James Boswell’s visit to Corsica, and his subsequent support of the leader of the Corsican independence movement, General Paoli, Macaulay outlined a republican constitution for Corsica, in a letter to Paoli, which she published with her reflections on Hobbes (Macaulay 1767). She does not seem to have thought that, in general, monarchical governments are incompatible with republican liberty, so long as the monarch is constrained by a constitution, governed by law, and the liberty of the people is protected by parliament. She was not opposed to the mixed English constitution, but her design for a republic is interesting for the principles on which she thought government should be founded.

Macaulay begins her letter to Paoli with a strong statement in favour of democracy,

Of all the various models of republics, which have been exhibited for the instruction of mankind, it is only the democratical system, rightly balanced, which can secure the virtue, liberty and happiness of society. (Macaulay 1767, 42)

Her use of the phrase “the democratical system, rightly balanced” suggests the influence of James Harrington’s The Commonwealth of Oceana on her thinking, and the Hills have suggested that one might consider her an “aristocratic republican” with similar views to Harrington (Hill and Hill 1967, 398; Hill 1992, 177). This does not, however, sit well with her general opposition to the inequalities of wealth and power consequent on aristocracy, which we will see are at the heart of her opposition to Burke. She is serious when she claims that,

The very nature of slavish dependence and proud superiority are equally baneful to the virtues inherent in mankind: the first, by sedulous attention and mean adulation to please its master, undermines, and at last subdues the innate generous principles of the soul; and the fond delights of superiority extinguish all the virtues which ennoble human nature, such as self-denial, general benevolence, and the exalted passion of sacrificing private views to public happiness.

According to Macaulay, inequality is one of the factors which militates against a populace being motivated to act in accordance with the immutable moral truths. And, she will later call monarchy supported by aristocracy “the very worst species of government” (Macaulay 1778, 311). A democratical system requires not simply constitutional arrangements, but also mechanisms to ensure that the populace are sufficiently virtuous so as not to be motivated to undermine those arrangements. This will lead to her later interest in education. But in the letter to Paoli she suggests only economic and procedural mechanisms in order to protect the democratic constitution from dissolution.

Her model for a democratic constitution is a bicameral government made up of a senate and a house of representatives. The relatively small senate, of about fifty members, debates and proposes laws. The larger house of representatives, elected by the people, from the people, also debates but does not propose, but rather rejects or accepts the proposals of the senate. The members of the senate are elected, by the representatives, from among their number, for three-year terms, with no re-election within a three-year lapse of time. One third of the senate is replaced yearly. Generals, admirals, magistrates and other civil officers are to sit in the Senate and vote, but are elected by the representatives to one-year terms from among those who have achieved senatorial rank. The two houses of Parliament are also to act as courts of appeal for the administration of justice. Two mechanisms are proposed to prevent the corruption of the constitution by the accumulation of power in individual hands: the strict rotation of functions, and the “right balancing” of wealth.

Macaulay argues that it was the failure to guard against the growth of inequalities in wealth that led to the downfall of the Roman republics.

Had the Agrarian been ever fixed on a proper balance, it must have prevented that extreme disproportion in the circumstances of her citizens, which gave such weight of power to the aristocratical party, that it enabled them to subvert the fundamental principles of the government, and introduce those innovations which ended in anarchy. Anarchy produced its natural effect, viz. absolute monarchy (Macaulay 1767, 35).

The right balancing of wealth is to be ensured by estates being equally divided among sons, and if there are none living, between the closest male relatives. She suggests no female inheritance, and the abolition of dowries, though unmarried women are to be supported by annuities provided by their brothers (Macaulay 1767, 37). Since this appears to deprive women of any economic power, and presumably excludes them from parliamentary representation, this feature of her proposals has been disappointing to feminists, and it has been claimed that she was no defender of women’s rights (Staves 1989). Her later works show that she was nevertheless sympathetic to women’s plight, and she might be excused, in a context in which women’s power was closely associated with luxury and aristocratic privilege, for sacrificing women’s apparent interests for the sake of equality.

2.2 Macaulay’s History and her response to Hobbes

Macaulay has been called a “patriot historian” and her history is certainly intended to praise the English “patriots” who stood up for their fundamental rights against the absolutist tendencies of James I and Charles I (Pocock 1998). Her account of the years leading up to the Civil War constitutes a litany of acts of illegal taxation, abuses of power, arbitrary arrest and inhumane punishments. She praises in particular Sir John Elliot, “as the first martyr to the pre-eminent cause of liberty,” mentioning in particular a manuscript by him in which he argues that kings are subject to laws (Macaulay 1763–83, 2.81). But she is not simply a blind defender of the ancient constitution, or committed to English liberty for its own sake. She believes in the possibility of moral progress, and, as is already clear from her letter to Paoli, she sees the maintenance of a just political constitution, and the development of individual virtue, as inseparably intertwined. Thus she asserts in her response to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France that English liberties are not simply grounded in customs associated with the English monarchy.

I have myself always considered the boasted birthright of an Englishman, as an arrogant pretension, built on a beggarly foundation. It is an arrogant pretension, because it intimates a kind of exclusion to the rest of mankind from the same privileges; and it is beggarly, because it rests our legitimate freedom on the alms of our princes. (Macaulay 1790, 31–2)

In her Loose remarks on certain positions to be found in Mr. Hobbes’s Philosophical Rudiments of Government and Society she rebuts Hobbes’s purely political conception of the state, countering it with her own more moralised conception of the nature of political authority, which also informs her account of the Civil War (Gunther-Canada 2006).

She begins with Hobbes’s claim that humans are not sociable by nature, which she renders as his denial of the proposition that “man is a creature born fit for society.” According to Hobbes, as she represents his doctrine,

… man cannot desire society from love, but through hope of gain: therefore, says he, the original of all great and lasting societies consisted, not in the mutual good will men had toward each other, but of the mutual fear they had of each other. (Macaulay 1767, 1)

But she accuses Hobbes of contradicting himself, because, according to what he also accepts, man is a creature fit for society. Hobbes allows that there is a law of nature, which is the law of right reason. This is the same law of nature that Locke recognises, and is fundamentally the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Humans need only to acquire reason in order to be able to recognise this rule. And while they may not be born with the capacity to reason, just as they are not born with the capacity to walk, they are born with the means to acquire that capacity. Macaulay concludes:

Therefore man, by being born with the necessary means, is born a creature apt for reason; and a creature apt for reason is a creature fit for society. (Macaulay 1767, 3)

Since moral principles are immutable truths grounded in the nature of things, and discoverable by reason, humans as rational creatures are born capable of discovering these truths, and while their natural rationality may need to be developed by education, this potential for rationality is all that is needed for humans to be deemed naturally sociable.

Macaulay moves on to criticize Hobbes’s strange doctrine in relation to contracts, according to which the people contract with each other to be governed by the sword of an absolute monarch. Implicitly relying on the moral conception of a just contract, Macaulay argues that a contract requires at least two parties. If one of those parties were to dissolve after the contract, as Hobbes suggests the sovereign people do, then the contract would be null and void (Macaulay 1767, 6–7). While this response may not satisfy defenders of Hobbes, it allows us to understand Macaulay’s conception of the social contract as an implicit or explicit contract between the people and some individual or assembly, according to which the people transfer a limited power for the sake of the common good, and retain the right to declare the contract null, in case the other party fails to keep up their end of the bargain. It is in this light that she represents the execution of Charles I.

That the government is the ordinance of man; that, being the mere creature of human invention, it may be changed or altered according to the dictates of experience, and the better judgment of men; that it was instituted for the protection of the people, for the end of securing, not overthrowing the rights of nature; that it is a trust either formally admitted or supposed; and that the magistracy is consequently accountable; will meet with little contradiction in a country enlightened with the unobstructed ray of rational learning. (Macaulay 1763–83, 430–1)

Her text at this point is liberally sprinkled with references to Locke, one of her major sources for the doctrine of republican liberty, which underpins the people’s right to overthrow a monarch who has made himself a tyrant, and in effect reinstituted a state of nature.

She objects also to Hobbes’s claim that there are no natural moral rights and obligations which connect parents and children. Parents have an obligation to care for their children which derives from the nature of the relationship between them,

…reason and morality strongly urges the care and preservation of an existence by themselves occasioned as a duty never to be omitted; by the law of justice, therefore, they, being thus bound to this act, cannot have it in their option whether they will do it or not: but Mr. Hobbes will rather advance any absurdity, than own that power has its rights from reasonable causes. (Macaulay 1767, 10)

Children’s obligations to parents, by contrast, are grounded in gratitude, which is appropriate in relation to the benefits conferred, and so are not binding if parents have not fulfilled their duties to their children.

The bulk of the rest of Macaulay’s response to Hobbes consists in arguments against his defence of monarchy. In general these do not add much to the principles that she has already laid down, but they do add some practical reasons for thinking that monarchical governments will nearly always be defective, which are echoed in Macaulay’s histories. She points out that it is almost impossible to give advice to absolute monarchs, and they are likely to be surrounded by favourites, placemen and flatterers. In her histories she provides many examples of the inconveniences that accompany monarchical power. Commenting on the death of Buckingham she points to him as

… an everlasting monument of the contemptible government that magnanimous nations must submit to, who groan under the mean, though oppressive yoke of an arbitrary sway.

For, as a result of the power of individual monarchs, he

… with no other eminent qualities than what were proper to captivate the hearts of the weakest parts of the female sex, had been raised by these qualities to be the scourge of three kingdoms; and, by his pestilent intrigues, the chief cause of that distress which the French protestants at this time languished under. (Macaulay 1763–83, 2.7–8)

Elsewhere she sums up the reign of Queen Anne with the comment that she

… was a glaring example to shew the ticklish state in which society is involved, whose welfare depends on the conduct of an individual; since a high share of virtue and understanding, those choicest gifts of heaven, are dispensed by the Creator with so sparing a hand, that we find a very few individuals in any age whom we can in this respect mark as the favourites of heaven. (Macaulay 1778, 271)

2.3 Macaulay’s History as a response to Hume

It has often been noticed that Macaulay’s history was read as a response to the popular history of the period published by David Hume, and certainly, Macaulay’s understanding of the significance of the English Civil War, the virtues of the republicans, and the grounds of morality, challenge Hume. Their ideas belong to two diametrically opposed strands of Enlightenment thought. Her religious and ethical views belong to the “moderate enlightenment”, as characterised by Jonathan Israel, while her politics are radical. By contrast, Hume is a naturalist and sceptic whose religious views are in line with those that Israel associates with the “radical enlightenment”, yet he is a political conservative (Israel 2010, 2011; Green 2011). As mentioned above, a tension exists in Locke’s philosophy between his political ideals, which propose the existence of a natural law, which can be known by reason, and his general commitment to an empiricist epistemology. Hume develops Locke’s empiricism in the direction of its sceptical implications, resulting in rejection of the existence of God, immutable moral truth and causal necessity. By contrast, Macaulay follows Locke the political philosopher, and accepts the existence of God, and immutable moral truth, without concerning herself too deeply with regard to the question of how it is that an “abstract fitness of things” can “enable us to compare and perceive the agreement and disagreement of our sensitive and reflex ideas”.

Famously, Hume had criticised those moral theorists whose doctrines Macaulay continued to assert,

… who affirm that virtue is nothing but a conformity to reason; that there are eternal fitnesses and unfitnesses of things, which are the same to every rational being that considers them; that the immutable measure of right and wrong impose an obligation, not only on human creatures, but also on the Deity himself: (Hume 1964, 2.234–5)

He goes on to argue that moral injunctions motivate, and that since only the passions can motivate, moral injunctions must be grounded in the passions. Ultimately, for Hume, what is good is what is useful, a modern version of the Epicureanism, which Burnet had argued, follows from empiricism. For Hume, political constitutions are not grounded in immutable truths, but are based in convention. Since the functioning of a set of conventions depends on people agreeing to abide by certain rules, which are in themselves arbitrary, it is important that people revere authority. For him, the execution of Charles I was a tragedy, brought about by deluded enthusiasts. And he comments in relation to this act:

Government is instituted, in order to restrain the fury and injustice of the people; and being always founded on opinion, not on force, it is dangerous, by these speculations, to weaken the reverence, which the multitude owe to authority, and to instruct them before-hand, that the case can ever happen, when they may be free’d from their duty of allegiance. (Hume 1754, 1.470)

Macaulay’s fundamental attitude to Hume’s history is evident in a short correspondence, which took place in 1764, after a copy of the first volume of her history had been sent to him. Here Macaulay succinctly argues that Hume’s conventionalism implies an obligation to conservatism. Hume suggests that he and Macaulay do not differ as to the facts, but rather on the interpretation that they place on them and he continues:

I look upon all kinds of subdivision of power, from the monarchy of France to the freest democracy of some Swiss cantons, to be equally legal, if established by custom and authority. (“Account of the Life” 1783, 331)

Macaulay’s response is:

Your position, that all governments established by custom and authority carry with them obligations to submission and allegiance, does, I am afraid, involve all reformers in unavoidable guilt, since opposition to established error must needs be opposition to authority.

As a serious reformer, she believed in objective universal standards of justice, which were not being upheld in the Great Britain of her day, just as they had not been during the period that led up to the Civil War.

3. The History in Letters and Macaulay as a critic of Burke

Her criticism of contemporary politics is the subject of A History of England, from the Revolution to the present time, in a series of letters to the Reverend Doctor Wilson in which she argues that, far from having been an advance in English constitutional arrangements, the Revolution of 1688 was a missed opportunity. Although

… the power of the Crown was acknowledged to flow from no other fountain than of a contract with the people … the new monarch retained the old regal power over parliaments in its full extent; he was left at liberty to convoke, adjourn, or dissolve them at his pleasure; he was able to influence elections, and oppress corporations; he possessed the right of chusing his own council, of nominating all the great officers of the state, the household, the army, the navy, and the church; the absolute command over the militia was reserved to the crown; and so totally void of improvement was the Revolution system, that the reliques of the star chamber was retained in the office of the Attorney-General, who in the case of libels has the power of lodging a vexatious, and even false information, without being subjected to the penalty of cost or damage. (Macaulay 1778, 4–5)

The argument developed in this history is that without appropriate constraints on the power of the crown, parliament had inevitably become a tool of court policy. In the second volume of her eight-volume history, she had given an extended account of Wentworth’s manipulation of the Irish parliament, during Charles I’s reign, commenting that it showed “that parliaments are noxious things when they become the dupes of ministers” (Macaulay 1763–83, 2.184–5). The relevance of this reflection for contemporary politics would not have been lost on her readers, and she had anticipated the argument developed in A History of England, from the Revolution to the present time in her first response to Burke.

3.1 Response to Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents

Burke’s pamphlet was prompted by two proposed pieces of legislation, which he argued would, if passed, have undermined the independence of Parliament. One, a consequence of the controversy concerning Wilkes, would have allowed Parliament to expel any of its members at its pleasure. The other committed the Parliament to paying the debts accumulated in the Civil List. These bills, he suggested “must establish such a fund of rewards and terrors as will make Parliament the best appendage and support of arbitrary power that ever was invented by the wit of man” (Burke 1770, 94). He looks back with some nostalgia to the time of Queen Anne, when the Whig party had control of the parliament, and argues that it is only through the power of parties, grounded in aristocratic influence, that the parliament can exercise an effective control over the executive (Burke 1770, 109). Macaulay does not disagree with Burkes’ analysis of the contemporary situation, nor that the increasing dominance of the court was in effect making parliament a tool of court policy, but she rounds on Burke for his inadequate analysis of the causes of the contemporary state of affairs. It was in fact the aristocratic factions, jostling for power, which had enabled the court to deprive the parliament of effective means of controlling the monarch. The Whigs had played a more destructive role in this process than the Tories, because they had concealed their desire for power under the rhetoric of liberty.

A system of corruption began at the very period of the Revolution, and growing from its nature with increasing vigor, was the policy of every succeeding administration. To share the plunder of a credulous people, cabals were formed between the representatives and the ministers. Parliament, the great barrier of our much boasted constitution, while it preserved its forms, annihilated its spirit; and, from a controuling power over the executive parts of government, became a mere instrument of regal administration. (Macaulay 1770, 13)

What is required, according to Macaulay, in order to restore some independence and authority to parliament, is triennial elections, in place of the septennial ones, which had been brought in during William’s reign, and which placed parliamentarians in a position to accumulate too much power of patronage, as well as “a more extended and equal power of election” (Macaulay 1770, 28).

3.2 Response to Reflections on the Revolution in France

Macaulay’s last published work goes to the heart of her disagreement with Burke over the source of political legitimacy. Although Burke did not share Hume’s religious scepticism, like Hume he claimed government to be grounded in opinion, tradition, and respectful awe of superiority, and he wrote his Reflections to lament the way in which the French revolutionaries had debased the monarchy, in terms reminiscent of Hume’s accusation that the Civil War levelers had, “weakened the reverence, which the multitude owe to authority”. Burke’s immediate target was a sermon preached by Richard Price at the Old Jewry, on the anniversary of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which Price declared that the king of Great Britain owes his crown to the choice of the people (Burke 2004, 96–7). Against this, Burke argues that the intention of the Declaration of Right, which established William II on the throne, was to declare the rights and liberties of the subjects of Great Britain, and to settle the succession of the crown. So, despite a small deviation in the line of succession, British kings continued to owe their crowns to inheritance in the royal line (Burke 2004, 100). He quotes the earlier Petition of Right to show that it is inherited custom that grounds and legitimizes the government.

In the famous law of the 3d of Charles I. called the Petition of Right, the parliament says to the king, “your subjects have inherited this freedom,” claiming their franchises not on abstract principles “as the rights of men,” but as the rights of Englishmen, and as a patrimony derived from their forefathers.

Macaulay responds that, if the rights of Englishmen are not ultimately grounded in abstract right, they are no rights at all. For if they ultimately rest on the weakness or generosity of previous kings, then they can with equal right be overturned by subsequent powerful or less kindly monarchs (Macaulay 1790, 30–1). So, if there are rights they must be grounded in universal rights.

Just as she had done in her earlier response to Burke, Macaulay attacks his claim that an aristocracy is necessary for civilized society, and necessary in order to defend the state. There is no need to have an opulent class for there to be elements in the population who care about the nation, for “every citizen who possesses ever so small a share of property, is equally as tenacious of it as the most opulent member of society” (Macaulay 1790, 40–1). Inequality, she argues, in fact leads to envy, and ultimately civil disturbance. And while she agrees that different classes have different interests she asserts:

… I know of no rational objection; nor can I think of any expedient to remove the well-grounded apprehensions of the different interests which compose a commonwealth, than a fair and equal representation of the whole people; (Macaulay 1790, 48)

The French have moved far closer to this ideal, with a broad franchise, than the English, with their pocket boroughs, which can be bought and sold, and their very limited representation.

Macaulay concludes her pamphlet with a dilemma for all those who claim that authority resides in conventions, which cannot be questioned or overthrown.

For if we say that lawful governments are formed on the authority of conventions, it will be asked, who gave these conventions their authority? If we grant that they derived their authority from the assent of the people, how came the people, it will be said, to exert such an authority at one period of society, and not at another? If we say it was necessity that recovered to the social man the full rights of his nature, it will be asked, who is to be the judge of this necessity? why certainly the people.

Thus, in every light in which we can place the argument, in every possible mode of reasoning, we shall be driven back to elect either the first or the second of these propositions; either that an individual, or some privileged persons, have an inherent and indefeasible right to make laws for the community, or that this authority rests in the unalienable and indefeasible rights of man. (Macaulay 1790, 94–5)

Since she takes it as accepted that the doctrine of the indefeasible right of kings is dead, she is able to conclude that, government, “can have no legitimate force, but in thewill of the people” (Macaulay 1790, 95).

4. Macaulay and America

Applying the principle that rights, if they exist at all, are universal, it is not surprising that Macaulay attempted to get her fellow country-men to see that injustice of taxing the colonies, while they were not given any representation in the British Parliament. In her Address to the people of England, Scotland and Ireland on the present important crisis of affairs, she called on the British people to support the rights of the Americans, and to join with them in order to protect themselves from the encroachment of their own liberties. She held out to Britons what a loss it would be if, as a result of a war of Independence they were to be deprived of all the commercial advantages that flowed from the Empire, and were left possessing only their own “foggy islands” (Macaulay 1775, 27). But her fundamental appeal is not to the self-interest of her country-men, who she suspects may think that their own burden of taxation is lightened by that placed on the Americans, but to the principle that it is only by supporting the rights of others that one can in the long run support one’s own rights. For her pains she was represented in the Westminster Magazine as a dagger-wielding hybrid of Roman matron and Indian chief, about to plunge her weapon into Britannia’s breast (Davies 2005, 152).

During this period she corresponded with John and Abigail Adams, James Otis and Mercy Otis Warren, Benjamin Franklin and Sarah Prince-Gill, among numerous other colonists (Davies 2005, 127–9; Letzring 1976). In the second edition of her Loose Remarks she printed an exchange of letters with Benjamin Rush, in which he praised her political principles as well as offering some minor criticisms. Macaulay concludes her response to him by promoting to the Americans “the general principles of the rights of mankind inculcated in my great work” (Macaulay 1769, 35). Indeed, it is clear that the first five volumes of her eight volume history very clearly spell out the principles that justified the War of Independence, and she was feted when she travelled through nine of the thirteen states with her second husband. Despite her support for the Americans, as the actual Constitution was developed, she was not convinced that it would not be corrupted, and in a correspondence with Mary Otis Warren the two women expressed, with some prescience, their concerns that the arrangements did not sufficiently protect against tendencies which would allow aristocratic wealth, and the consequent corruption of the principles of liberty, to re-emerge (Hay 1994, 314).

5. Thoughts on progress, liberty and education

Macaulay believed in the existence of moral truths, which are “interwoven in the nature of contemplative objects” and which exist independently of God or human will. Like other abstract truths, they can be discovered through the use of reason. She defends this intellectualism in her Treatise on the immutability of moral truth, and also sets out to refute the libertarian account of freedom of the will developed by Dr William King in his Concerning the Origin of Evil, as well as the philosophy set out in Bolingbroke’s Philosophical Works.

In The Treatise she also puts forward her objections to all those theories of the source of moral injunctions, which, like Bolingbroke’s account, attempt to reduce them to rules which are in our rational self-interest, arguing that “… those who only regard virtue as a principle, convenient for general use, will discard it whenever that general interest comes in opposition to self” (Macaulay 1783, 77). Against such views she argues that the genuine rational interest of a rational being is to act in accordance with the dictates of reason. Had God intended us simply to maximise our own selfish pleasures in this life, he would have given us appropriate instincts, for

… that power of combining and generalizing his ideas, in such a manner as to apprehend truths of the most abstract nature, with the power of memory in the large extent in which it is found in human existence, are superfluous and mischievous gifts on the principle of human mortallity. (Macaulay 1783, 98)

But the fact that we have reason, and can appreciate the abstract principles of right, implies that our true self-interest is to act in accordance with the principles of reason, which are the principles of moral obligation.

Independent of those pleasurable sensations which attend the refined affections, and the elevated sentiments and passions, there is a principle of rational agency, which corresponds with the precise admeasurement of every action, with a rule of right; although the conduct it directs, militates against natural inclination, against the interest of natural affection, and where every pleasurable sensation is sacrificed to the conviction of judgement, and to the rigid dictates of a well informed understanding. (Macaulay 1783, 129)

She concludes that, by considering what a rational moral being would desire, “we gain an idea of rational interest which must ever attend on rational nature …” (Macaulay 1783, 130).

Rather than solving the problem of evil by allowing that there are uncaused choices, Macaulay attempts two alternative solutions. One involves the thought, which she also attributes to Addison, that since we cannot be assured that virtue is rewarded in this world, we should deduce the existence of a future state of happiness in which the apparent injustices in this world are made good (Macaulay 1783, 94–6). The other rests on her understanding of the circumstances necessary for the perfectibility of humanity. Man, she claims

… is placed on this terrestrial globe, as in a nursery, or soil aptly fitted to give strength and vigour, and a more advanced maturity to his young and infirm reason; that he is placed on this terrestrial globe as in a school adapted to the advantages of a practical experience; and that he is surrounded with difficulties and hostile powers, for the purpose of enlarging his experience, and inducing a state of trial of that virtue which his reason and his experience enables him to acquire. (Macaulay 1783, 234)

However, she is forced ultimately to admit that neither of these doctrines entirely relieves God of the responsibility for evil, and consoles herself with the observation that the believers in arbitrary free will are in no better position than those who accept the doctrine of the will which she calls, “moral necessity” (Macaulay 1783, 232).

5.1 Freedom of the will

Those who have published commentaries on Macaulay’s views on freedom of the will are divided over exactly how the doctrine she develops fits into standard categories. Martina Reuter has argued that what Macaulay offers is a version of rationalist compatibilism, while others have presumed that she is a hard determinist or modern Calvinist (Reuter 2007; Hilton 2007, 67–72; O’Brien 2009, 168; Green and Weekes,2013). Part of the difficulty of understanding Macaulay’s position stems from the fact that she writes in opposition to those who make free choice arbitrary, and so concentrates on establishing that choices are caused by motives, thus seeming to be committed to compatibilism, as is Hobbes, and yet she also wants to accept, with Plato and the Stoics, that we are only truly free when our acts are caused by reason, rather than by ill-conceived passion. She understands individual moral progress as involving the strengthening of reason, so that it can guide the passions, and lead the individual to virtue. Political progress is intertwined with this individual progress. Political structures compatible with the rationally perceptible moral law would be upheld were people virtuous, so education for virtue becomes a necessary means for effecting political progress, yet at the same time, the effects of faulty constitutions militate against the capacity of people to attain virtue, since in circumstances of excessive inequality, or where corruption is endemic, both the poor and the rich are subject to overwhelming temptations to vice.

According to Macaulay the necessitarian takes freedom to reside in,

… those distinctions which the mind frames on the essential difference which lies in those objects which present themselves to her perception, and which form the objects of her volition: else why have schools to train our youth in knowledge and in habits of virtue? (Macaulay 1783, 194)

So education is necessary in order to help people distinguish the essential differences between things, but she argues that it is also necessary in order to counter the development of unhelpful associations, and to train the mind to curb its passions, for Macaulay is heavily influenced by the associationist psychology of Edward Hartley, Joseph Priestley and Jonathan Edwards. These metaphysical and psychological views inform her Letters on Education.

5.2 Thoughts on Education

The Letters on Education is a rather loosely structured work that contains, as well as letters on the appropriate form of education, discussion of vegetarianism, and our duties to animals, a significant portion of the Treatise on the Immutability of Moral Truth, which takes up all of the third part of the later work. In the Letters Macaulay sets out her rather sensible prescriptions for raising robust children, who are neither rendered too timid nor too bold, and she argues that given the differences in individual character, educators may have to take different approaches depending on the temperament of the child. She suggests that, although she has dreamed of schemes of public education, she has come to the conclusion that the government of her time could not be trusted to provide appropriate care, and so she advises a private education in which boys and girls are educated together and taught exactly the same curriculum, with some concessions to sexual difference in the choice of exercise and sports.

The educational advice that Macaulay offers is remarkably practical. She recommends that those who can afford it should have their children taught dancing from a young age, as a means of acquiring grace, but she also observes that in order for the lessons to be effective they should be a pastime, not a task. Similarly, if children are given the impression that being allowed to read is a privilege and entertainment, they will be happy to acquire the skill. While dancing and music are excellent sources of amusement, they should not take up too much time, and there are other amusements that Macaulay considers beneficial, such as needlework for girls and handicrafts for boys. She disapproves of punishments and practices that are intended to terrorize children, such as “shutting up in dark closets”, or being told tales of ghosts and ghouls who are coming to get them. Children should be encouraged to be as independent as possible, since self-sufficiency is a great source of confidence and peace of mind. Her prescriptions for the early education of children concentrate on making them physically and emotionally robust, and on avoiding both the extremes of timidity and cruel insensitivity. Up to the age of twelve formal learning should be made pleasant and involve writing, arithmetic, Latin grammar, geography, French learnt by the simple method of hiring some French domestic servants, and as much physics as can be easily understood by children.

As children mature, Macaulay recommends a more formidable curriculum. Among her recommended reading there is Plutarch’s Lives, Rollin’s Ancient History in French, and Livy, works which were surely early influences on her own thought. She puts off learning Greek until fifteen, and moral philosophy in the form of works by Cicero, Plutarch, Seneca and Epictetus until sixteen, but expects her pupils, by the age of eighteen to be reading Plato, Demosthenes, Sophocles, Euripides and Homer in Greek, as well as Caesar and Cicero in Latin. Among modern philosophical texts she recommends two by James Harris, his Philosophical Arrangements and Hermes an inquiry into universal grammar, Lord Monboddo on language and Epea pteroenta by John Horne Tooke, her and her brother’s friend. Political philosophy in the form of the works of James Harrington, Algernon Sidney, Locke and Hobbes is left until the age of nineteen. There are two striking omissions from her curriculum; novels and the Scripture. The second she leaves until the student has reached the age of twenty-one and after she or he has been introduced to metaphysics through reading Ralph Cudworth, Plato and more Monboddo. She argues that early reading of the Scripture is likely to lead to scepticism, and it is only after one has appreciated the morality of the ancients that one can truly understand the moral advances of Christianity. To cap off this education she particularly recommends The Light of Nature Pursued by Abraham Tucker.

Macaulay does not approve of the popularity of novels, because of their concentration on the passion of love, and her suspicion that by reading them, young people, who are susceptible to this passion in any case, will be encouraged to pursue it too early. Few novelists, she thinks, really accurately portray human sentiments, and she is particularly critical of Samuel Richardson. But she by no means intends to deny the reading of novels for entertainment. Her position is simply that they do not in general provide a solid moral foundation.

The whole of this educational program is grounded on her understanding of the foundations of morality and moral psychology. Education can teach the moral truths, but it also has to take account of unhelpful associations, and those emotional characteristics which result in weakness of will, in order to form individuals who can act in accordance with the dictates of reason. Macaulay also comments on the need for public education and the abolition of spectacles such as public executions and animal slaughter, which brutalize and corrupt people’s emotional responses.

5.3 Feminism

One reason why Catharine Macaulay’s work has not received as much attention as it arguably deserves, is that contemporary interest in the writings of historical women has tended to be motivated by feminism, and some earlier commentators suggested that Macaulay was uninterested in the rights of women (Staves 1989). More recently, her educational views, commitment to acknowledging the influence of historical women, and recognition of her influence on Wollstonecraft is resulting in a fairer assessment of her importance to the history of English feminism (Gunther-Canada 1998, 2003; Hicks 2002; Hill 1995; Titone 2004; Berges 2013).

In speaking of the education of girls, Macaulay asserts, “my pride and my prejudices lead me to regard my sex in a higher light than as the mere objects of sense” (Macaulay 1790, 62). Indeed, she believes that both sexes ought to aspire to virtue, which, since it involves understanding and acting on moral principles discernable by reason, is the same for both sexes. In order to justify the egalitarian educational program that she proposes, she argues against Rousseau that there are no characteristic differences between the sexes, that most of what is observed is the result of education, and, turning Pope’s words around, that “A perfect man is a woman formed after a courser mold” (Macaulay 1790, 204). Against Rousseau’s attempt to make a single moral person out of the union of the two sexes, she asserts that it outdoes, for contradiction and absurdity, “every metaphysical riddle that was ever formed in the schools” (Macaulay 1790, 206).

Mary Wollstonecraft favourably reviewed Macaulay’s Letters on Education in November 1790, commenting on Macaulay’s chapter titled, “No characteristic difference in sex” that “the observations on this subject might have been carried much farther” (Wollstonecraft 1989, 7.31; Hill 1995). Her Vindication of the Rights of Women does exactly that, extending Macaulay’s critique of Rousseau, and adding a great deal of further material criticising other authors who had contributed to rendering women objects of contempt. She echoes in her formulations the arguments which Macaulay had given for providing an equal education, according to which “there is but one rule of right for the conduct of all rational beings … that true wisdom … is as useful to women as men” and that, as in the next world “our state of happiness may possibly depend on the degree of perfection we have attained in this, we cannot justly lessen, in one sex or the other, the means by which perfection … is acquired” (Macaulay 1790, 201–2).

Macaulay’s belief that moral truth is not a matter of mere custom or convention is central to her rejection of the contemporary situation of women. For despite the near universal custom of the subjection of women to the arbitrary power of men, she argues that

… justice, in its more abstract or general sense, should be little considered, or little understood, by those who can believe that it is agreeable to the wisdom and goodness of an all-perfect Being to form two species of creatures of equal intelligence and similar feelings, and consequently capable of an equal degree of suffering under injuries, and should consign one of these species as a kind of property to a different species of their fellow-creatures, not endowed with any qualities of mind sufficient to prevent the enormous abuse of such a power. (Macaulay 1783, 158)

Thus, although feminist rhetoric was not central to her histories and earlier pamphlets, she was fully convinced that the subjection of women to men was not compatible with rational principles of justice. Indeed, her assertion, in her response to Burke, that there should be “a fair and equal representation of the whole people” could be interpreted as implying that she believed in the representation of women, for her choice in this instance of sex-neutral language is surely intentional.

6. Conclusion

Catharine Macaulay was a significant contributor to eighteenth century debates over human rights and republican liberty, who was celebrated and influential during her lifetime, but her histories and political works had fallen into obscurity by the first half of the twentieth century. Interest in her was stimulated by Lucy Donnelly’s pioneering article and research by Florence and William Boos, Christopher and Bridget Hill, and Lynne Withey (Donnelly 1949; Boos 1976; Boos and Boos 1980; Hill and Hill 1967; Hill 1992; Withey 1976). Recognition of the influence of her educational and political ideas has since grown considerably (Hay 1995; Waithe 1987-95, 3.217-22; Looser 2000, 2003; Wiseman 2001; Schnorrenberg 1979, 1990; Hutton 2005, 2007, 2009; Gunther-Canada 1998, 2003; Gardner 1998; Gardner 2000; Hicks 2002; Titone 2004; Hammersley 2010). Nevertheless, although beginning to be better known, she is usually only mentioned in passing in standard accounts of the development of democratic theory and feminism. Her moralised understanding of the grounds of human rights and justification for democracy provide an important counter-balance to Hobbesian versions of the social contract and deserve a far more central place in the history of liberal political theory than is currently the case (Green 2012b).


Primary texts

  • “Account of the Life and Writings of Mrs. Catharine Macaulay Graham,” 1783, The European Magazine, 4: 330–4.
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  • Wiseman, Susan, 2001, “Catharine Macaulay: history, republicanism and the public sphere,” in Women, Writing and the Public Sphere, 1700–1830, E. Eger, C. Grant, C. Ó Gallchoir and P. Warburton (eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Withey, Lynne E., 1976, “Catherine Macaulay and the Uses of History: Ancient Rights, Perfectionism, and Propaganda,” Journal of British Studies, 16(1): 59–83.

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.

See the Archive of Liberty Matters.




James Mill on Liberty and Governance in the Context of the “Few” and the “Many” [September, 2014]



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The Debate

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

  1. Terence Ball, "Professor Peart's Mill -- and Mine" [Posted: September 4, 2014]
  2. Quentin P. Taylor, "James Mill on Liberty and Governance: A Reply to Professor Peart" [Posted: Sept. 5, 2014
  3. Andrew Farrant, "James Mill: Of Faction, Sympathy, and Theodore Tugboat"[Posted: Sept. 8, 2014]

The Conversation

  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]
  2. Terence Ball, "Two James Mill Myths – Part I" [Posted: Sept. 18, 20124]
  3. Terence Ball, "Two James Mill Myths, Part II" [Posted: Sept. 18, 2014]
  4. Sandra Peart, "The Danger of Conformity" [Posted: Sept. 18, 2014]
  5. Andrew Farrant, "Buchanan and the Challenge of Unbiased Sympathy" [Posted: Sept. 22, 2014]
  6. Andrew Farrant, "Auto-Icon: Making the Greatest Happiness Principle Incentive-Compatible?" [Posted: Sept. 22, 2014]
  7. Quentin P. Taylor, "James Mill on Liberty and Governance: A Reply to Professor Ball" [Posted: Sept. 22, 2014]
  8. Terence Ball, "The Mills and Comte’s Religion of Humanity" [Posted: Sept. 24, 2014]
  9. Terence Ball, "My Dinner with Jeremy" [Posted: Sept. 25, 2014]
  10. Sandra J. Peart, "Three Additional Thoughts" [Posted: Sept. 25, 2014]
  11. Andrew Farrant, "The Golden Rule without the Sanction" [Posted: Sept. 26, 2014]
  12. Andrew Farrant, "On Self-Interest and Collective Interest" [Posted: Sept. 28, 2014
  13. Andrew Farrant, "An Alternative to the Auto-Icon" [Posted: Sept. 28, 2014
  14. Quentin P. Taylor, "James Mill on Governance and Liberty – Further Considerations" [Posted: Sept. 28, 2014]
  15. Quentin P. Taylor, "James Mill on Liberty and Governance: The Church of England and the Religion of Humanity" [Posted: Sept. 29, 2014]
  16. Andrew Farrant , "James Mill's Commonplace Books" [Posted: Sept. 29, 2014]
  17. Andrew Farrant, "Bentham Would Approve" [Posted: Sept. 29, 2014]
  18. Sandra J. Peart, "J. S. Mill Returns Political Economy to its Smithian Roots" [Posted: Sept. 30, 2014
  19. 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.

Additional Reading


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] [1]


In recent years the “Coexist” bumper sticker has gained some popularity.  I’ve wondered why my colleagues divide on this seemingly trivial matter: some display it with pride while others find the message annoying. Yet perhaps the divide reflects varied reactions to the problem that preoccupied James Mill: we all form relationships to groups that are stronger than our ties to the entirety of persons. The “Coexist” sticker exhorts us to be loyal to the full group and to downplay our ties to local groups.

For James Mill, the consequence of divided loyalties, especially when institutionalized in political structures, was that the Few would promote their interests at the expense of the Many. The key question in this essay is how Mill – and those before and after him – was sanguine about coexistence in a free society when he nonetheless recognized the dangers associated with the interests of smaller groups being overwhelmed by the desires and consequent actions of larger, more powerful groups, or factions. In Mill’s view, economists had much to say about this “most important” question, but they had received little credit for their analysis. [2]  Sadly, notwithstanding the awarding of Nobel prizes in economic science to economists or political scientists such as James Buchanan, Douglass North, Elinor Ostrom, and Vernon Smith, whose work centered on arrangements that best align individual and group interests, the same might be said today.

The Self and Others

Economists have struggled for centuries with the relationship between the self and others. For those in the classical tradition of Adam Smith through James and then John Stuart Mill, the question was central to all economic analysis, to the wealth and flourishing of nations. Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments made the case that economic actors are not selfish or even simply self-interested, because they also sacrifice their own material or physical well-being to help others, even though they “derive nothing”[3] from doing so, no promise of future reciprocity, no reputational gain, nothing but the pure joy associated with a praiseworthy act.  For Smith, one becomes virtuous through the imaginative exchange of approbation, by learning what is praiseworthy as well as by obtaining well-deserved praise.

For Smith, James Mill, and his eldest son John Stuart Mill, economic activity is a means by which people acquire a sense of reciprocity, fairness, trust, duty, and altruism. In contrast with the modern economic turn that developed an economics of isolated actors unconnected to others by bonds of friendship or language, classical economists presupposed that people are embedded in social contexts. In this view, cooperation in economic and social activity emerged from the resulting interactions; as Smith put it, actors entered into a “great school of self-command” of language and self-sacrifice.[4]

The Problem

Classical economists held that all people are connected by bonds of sympathy that carry motivational force and generate a wide sphere of reciprocity. Yet they also recognized the strong tendency for people to form groups characterized by relative uniformity in social or economic dimensions.  Here arose the danger of “factions,” of cooperative action within one group at the expense of another.  Unlike the division of labor, where gains from specialization and trade accrue on both sides of a transaction, for Smith and, even more, for James Mill, factions are associated with zero-sum outcomes. 

When small groups cooperate at the expense of large groups, the problem that greatly troubled James Mill, the outcome is deleterious. Smith believed that “Masters are always and every where in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is every where a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals.” [5]

Importantly, masters regard one another as “neighbours and equals”: they are close to each other in social and economic dimensions, and as a consequence they seek the approval of those within the group by taking steps that harm those outside the group. 

While Smith focused on the economic problem of collusion, it was the political context of groups exploiting one another that especially troubled James Mill. In Mill’s view, such factions emerge out of and then rely on and reinforce political or economic power. Unchecked power is the means by which an individual or a group promotes its interest to the detriment of others:

[I]f one man has power over others placed in his hands, he will make use of it for an evil purpose; for the purpose of rendering those other men the abject instruments of his will.[6]

When one is “lifted high above” others, one need not earn the approval of the ruled; instead one is afforded a “powerful means of obtaining their services” whether one acts in a deserving manner or not, “altogether independent of his conduct.”

James Mill followed Smith in using sympathetic considerations to explain group formation, organization, and persistence. For Mill, as for Smith, affection for others is motivational: “that important class of Motives which arise from the contemplation of our fellow-creatures, as the cause of our Pleasures, and Pains.” [7]  Small groups are especially effective if they contain those who are sympathetically connected:

Where the inhabitants of a country are divided into classes, a Ruling Class, and a Subject Class, the members of the Ruling Class have hardly any sympathies, except with one another; in other words, have agreeable associations with the pleasures, and removal of the pains, of hardly any persons, but those who belong to the same class.[8]

Groups are characterized by and reinforce “associations” that carry motivational weight, with “terrible” effects. One practical example Mill offered of the results of faction was Ireland, whose “misfortune” was that it was ruled by an aristocracy that aligned itself with the aristocracy of England rather than the people of Ireland.[9]

The problem with small groups is that instead of trying to be praiseworthy by doing what’s best for the widest possible group, people in small groups are motivated to obtain praise from those like them, their colleagues.[10] Obtaining praise, of course, depends upon the group to which an individual happens to belong. As this is often a matter of happenstance, of birth, there is no reason to believe that motivation by praise will serve ends beyond that the immediate group. For the Few to act in such a way as to benefit the largest group possible, the concerns of the largest group must serve as motivation. What links Smith and the two Mills is their laser-like focus on praiseworthiness as motivation[11].

For James Mill, the rulers and the ruled are the principal example of factions. This division in turn reflected a deep divide between rich and poor, one that left the laboring classes rightly “suspicious” of the ruling class

It is not duly considered by the upper ranks of the population, how inseparable from human nature are the suspicions of those who are weak, toward those who are strong; the suspicions of those who are liable to be hurt, towards those who are capable of hurting them. And it is only the blindness of self-love, and our inattention to evils in which we are not called to participate, that leave us ignorant of the actual grounds in practice, whence, even in this country, the institutions of which are so much more favourable than those of most other countries to the poor, the weak have reason to dread the interference of the strong.[12]

While factions form as a result of common interests and sympathetic bonds of association, control of knowledge helps them persist:

It will be decidedly the interest of the knowing class to maintain as much ignorance as possible among the rest of the community, that they may be able the more easily to turn and wind them conformable to their own purposes; and, for that end, to study, not real knowledge, not the means of making mankind wiser and happier, but the means of deluding and imposing upon them; the arts of imposture.[13]

After control of knowledge, Mill points to fear as a means by which factions are abetted. Indeed, much “political evil” is the result of “the facility with which mankind are governed by their fears; and the degree of constancy with which, under the influence of that passion, they are governed wrong.” The few use the fears of the many to justify the creation of “large standing armies; enormous military establishments; and all the evils which follow in their train,” all of which impoverish the many and increase the likelihood of war. Colonial conquest and expansion were the predictable results of “the few” exploiting “the many”; elites in colonial countries find easy access to “the precious matter with which to influence; the other, the precious matter with which to be influenced.” [14]


What to do? A number of partial remedies follow from Mill’s analysis. Government being “the means” to secure freedom of contract and property rights, the question, first, was what form of government? In line with his worry about the many being exploited by the few, Mill argued for dispersed power through the representative system, “the grand discovery of modern times,” the means by which the community can check the power of individuals to follow their partial interest: “All the evils of misgovernment, which we suffer, and to which we are liable, cumulated with all the evils of that horrid immorality which results from the giving and suborning prostitute votes, arise from this; -- that the people of England do not choose the members of parliament, that the majority of them are chosen by a small number of men.”[15] To further disperse power, Mill argued that representatives be chosen by a wider – though not fully inclusive – set of voters.[16]

Since control of information was essential to maintaining the close associations among the exploiting “few,” Mill argued strenuously in favor of rich information and he just as vigorously opposed any form of monopoly in the provision of knowledge.  Ignorance being “the necessary principle of all the evils which have afflicted society,” Mill argued for freedom of inquiry. More than this, he defended the freedom to examine, discuss, and contradict, 

as evidence can spring from nothing but adequate examination, from the necessity of that evidence clearly follows the necessity of examination; from the necessity of examination clearly follows the necessity of the greatest possible liberty of contradiction; and in addition to that liberty, the existence of all those political institutions which are required to give to evidence its greatest possible publicity.[17]

The need was especially pressing in politics, where “the very foundation of a good choice [of representative] is knowledge” and “the fuller and more perfect the knowledge, the better the chance, where all sinister interest is absent, of a good choice.” Here, the printing press had produced “a perfect revolution” in which Mill placed great faith for the reduction of fraud, influence peddling, and the use of force. [18]

Mill placed great hope in education as a measure to reduce the effectiveness of factions. He regarded education as the principal means by which people come to identify with a larger group:

[T]here can be no real Patriotism, no pointing of the Affection, the Motive, and Disposition, steadily to the good of the whole, without preference of any particular part; except, either in men of elevated minds and affections, in whom the larger associations, generated by a good Education, control the narrow associations, growing out of a particular position; or, in men whose position is such as to give them pleasurable associations chiefly with individuals of the general mass, whose good has this happy quality, that it is always identified with that of the community at large.[19]

The challenge for education is to widen sympathy so that its motivational force pertains to all, instead of the small group.[20]

When T. B. Macaulay reviewed Mill’s “On Government” in the Edinburgh Review, he did not know Mill’s Human Mind, published that year, 1829, in which Mill laid out the empirical claims from which his worries about faction flowed. Macaulay provided a powerful objection to Mill’s argument about the Many and the Few:

If all men preferred the moderate approbation of their neighbours, to any degree of wealth or grandeur, or sensual pleasure, government would be unnecessary. If all men desired wealth so intensely as to be willing to brave the hatred of their fellow creatures for sixpence, Mr Mill’s argument against monarchies and aristocracies would be true to the full extent. But the fact is, that all men have some desires which impel them to injure their neighbours, and some desires which impel them to benefit their neighbours. [21]

Yet if we think of a ruling group rather than a ruling individual, then Mill’s argument lays out the case of a group that is generous and benevolent inside the group but hawkish toward those outside the group. This fills in the detail that Macaulay rightly found missing in the case of individuals.


In Mill’s view, freedom of property (in the self and the fruits of one’s labor) was a means to obtain “the greatest possible abundance of the things adapted for human enjoyment.”[22]

Government exists as the means to ensure freedom. Since government itself created a division into the Many and the Few, with government came the danger of faction and the necessity of guarding as best we can against the powerfully corrupting influence of small groups. For Mill society guards against those dangers through free and open discussion of the differences among us, the issues that divide us, the problems we seek to solve, and the proposed remedies. Only by strict examination and rich discussion, within an institutional framework that yields places to representatives of all sorts, might we hope to avoid one group exploiting another. 

It is worth noting that despite some key differences with his father, in his review of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America,J. S. Mill developed the argument that democratic electoral competition provides the sort of education that widens one’s sympathies.[23] In On Liberty, J. S. Mill also, as is well known, championed discussion, including, significantly, discussion amidst diversity, difference, and idiosyncrasy, as the means by which we might best coexist. Accordingly, perhaps the conclusion to draw from the foregoing is that the bumper sticker of choice might be, “Discuss!”


[1.] James Mill, “Colony,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica in The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 2013). </titles/2520#Mill_1624_632>. All references henceforth are to the Liberty Fund anthology of The Poltiical Writings of James Mill unless otherwise indicated.

[2.] James Mill, “Economists,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_672>.

[3.] Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments; or, An Essay towards an Analysis of the Principles by which Men naturally judge concerning the Conduct and Character, first of their Neighbours, and afterwards of themselves. To which is added, A Dissertation on the Origins of Languages. New Edition. With a biographical and critical Memoir of the Author, by Dugald Stewart (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853). TMS Part I, Sect. 1, Chap. 1 "Of Sympahty" </titles/2620#Smith_1648_157>.

[4.] This argument, including the historical claim about 20th-century developments in economics is laid out more fully in Sandra J. Peart, “Entering the ‘Great School of Self-Command’: The Moralizing Influence of Markets, Language and Imagination,” in Robert F. Garnett, Paul Lewis, and Lenore Ealy, eds., Commerce and Community: Ecologies of Social Cooperation (London and New York:  Routledge, 2015).

[5.] Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, edited with an Introduction, Notes, Marginal Summary and an Enlarged Index by Edwin Cannan (London: Methuen, 1904). Vol. 1. Book I, Chap. VIII "Of the wages of Labour" </titles/237#Smith_0206-01_296>.

[6.] James Mill, “Government,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_992>. Here Mill was in line with Smith:  “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations. Book III, Chap. IV "How the Commerce of the Towns contributed to the Improvement of the Country" </titles/237#Smith_0206-01_1045>.

[7.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind. In ed. John Stuart Mill. (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer [1829] 1869), vol. 2, p. 270.

[8.] Ibid., p. 275.

[9.] James Mill, “Summary Review of the Conduct and Measures of the Seventh Imperial Parliament” in Parliamentary History and Review (London, 1826). </titles/2520#Mill_1624_1826>.

[10.] Experimental evidence has demonstrated that groups are collectively more self-regarding and competitive than individuals. See Makowsky, Orman, and Peart, forthcoming; <>.

[11.] John Stuart Mill emphasized this point in his father’s work:  “This paragraph, unexplained, might give the idea that the author regarded praiseworthiness and blameworthiness as having the meaning not of deserving praise or blame, but merely of being likely to obtain it. But what [James Mill] meant is, that the idea of deserving praise is but a more complex form of the association between our own or another person’s acts or character, and the idea of praise.” See J. S. Mill’s editorial comments in James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, vol. 2, p. 298.

[12.] James Mill, “Banks for Savings,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_185>.

[13.] James Mill, “Caste,” Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. </titles/2520#Mill_1624_498>.

[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>.



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."[24] And Mill, like Bentham, believed that the day of the Many had finally arrived and that a new moral and political philosophy -- Utilitarianism -- is the first to take that fact into account.

Utilitarianism is the moral and political philosophy of the Common Man – a fact noted and excoriated by aristocratic critics. And yet Mill himself was no thoroughgoing egalitarian; he had his own conception of a new kind of nonhereditary aristocracy.

The “Middle Rank”

Professor Peart reminds us that Mill took a dim view of class divisions, and most especially the division between “a Ruling Class and a Subject Class.”[25] And yet, according to some critics, Mill has his own conception of an exalted class. This I believe to be a misunderstanding of Mill’s view; but first, some background.

Political thinkers as different as Burke and Jefferson believed that there is a “natural aristocracy,” not of birth but of talent, aptitude, and education. Without ever using that much-misunderstood and maligned term, Mill has his own version, which he calls the “middle rank, . . . that intelligent and virtuous rank . . . which gives to science, to art, and to legislation itself, their most distinguished ornaments, and is the chief source of all that has exalted and refined human nature . . . .”[26] It is to this middle rank that common laborers look for advice, inspiration, and guidance. Mill makes it clear that this middle rank is not a “class” (which, as Peart notes, is for Mill a term of opprobrium); it is instead a group of people of particular intellectual and moral merit, whose value and position are made possible by education. As more people become better educated, the middle rank will grow and will eventually constitute a majority.[27] To say that Mill set great store by education – he liked to quote Helvetius’s dictum l’education peut tout – is a gross and grievous understatement. Education exalts and refines our minds and enriches our relations with others.

The Self and Others

Peart is certainly correct in contending that "Economists have struggled for centuries with the relationship between the self and others." To this I would add the adjective "political" before "economists," as "political economy" was the term used by Adam Smith, David Ricardo (whom James Mill persuaded to write On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation), and of course James Mill himself in his Elements of Political Economy (1821). The adjective is important inasmuch as it recognizes the central role that the state plays in the economy, and perhaps particularly in protecting private property. This is the thrust of Mill's most explicit essay on political theory, “Government” (1820).

As Professor Peart reminds us, Mill maintains that the purpose of government is to promote the aggregate happiness of the community and of its individual members. Those individuals are motivated by self-interest, and particularly -- as Jeremy Bentham was not the first to note -- by their interest in experiencing pleasure and avoiding pain. (Peart rightly emphasizes the centrality of Adam Smith in Mill's thought -- his mind never lost the impress of his Scottish education -- but, surprisingly, not Bentham, who doesn't even merit a mention in her essay.) It is the nature of human beings not only to desire happiness but to expend as little energy and effort as possible in obtaining it. Labor being the means of obtaining happiness, and our own labor being painful to us, we will, unless prevented, try to live off the labor of others. Government exists to prevent this outcome by protecting the fruits of our labor -- that is, our property -- from the predations of others. This, in brief outline, is the argument advanced in support of the so-called "protectionist theory" of democracy to which Bentham and the elder Mill subscribed.

Representative Democracy

As for "the Few" and "the Many," in most previously existing political regimes, the former ruled and rode roughshod over the interests the latter. But representative democracy is different. For the first time in human history -- ancient Athenian democracy doesn't count, since so few were citizens -- it is in Mill's view possible to truly represent the interests of the many as against those of the few. Representation is for him "the grand discovery of modern times."[28]

But of course representation is a multivocal concept, with many mutually conflicting meanings.[29] In Mill's view representative government is both necessary and desirable. And that is because direct democracy would require citizens to expend undue effort and energy -- and time -- away from productive labor. Since, according to the Bentham-Mill protectionist theory, the point and purpose of government is to protect private property and the persons who acquire and own it, direct democracy runs counter to government's very raison d'être. Yet Mill's main target is not direct democracy but the claim -- advanced and defended by Burke and later by Sir James Mackintosh, T.B. Macaulay, and other Whigs -- that the Many may be well represented by the Few even if the former are not fully enfranchised. This conception of "virtual representation" was in Mill's view a sham and a smokescreen to cover the "sinister interests" of the Few, without recognizing or representing the legitimate interests of the Many.

Mill assumes without argument that each individual is the best, perhaps even the only, judge of what is or is not in his (yes, his: see below) interest. To argue otherwise, as defenders of virtual representation do, is not only factually false but morally outrageous. And yet, as William Thompson was the first to point out (Macaulay came later, and almost copied Thompson), Mill catches himself in this very snare.[30]

Gender: Mill's Moral and Logical Lapse

In what his eldest son called "the worst [paragraph] he ever wrote,"[31] Mill said that

One thing is pretty clear, that all those individuals whose interests are indisputably included in those of other individuals, may be struck off without inconvenience. In this light may be viewed all children, up to a certain age, whose interests are involved in those of their parents. In this light, also, women may be regarded, the interest of almost all of whom is involved either in that of their fathers or in that of their husbands.[32]

Thompson, and later Macaulay, pounced on Mill for condemning advocates of virtual representation while, at the same time, holding that the interests of women could be represented virtually by their husbands and/or fathers. This, says Thompson, is tantamount to letting "one half the human race" -- men -- decide what is or is not in the interest of the other half.

What might account for Mill's logical lapse? His son suggests an answer: his father was not writing "a scientific treatise on politics" but was instead advancing "an argument for parliamentary reform."[33] Advocating the extensive enlargement of the male franchise was one thing, and radical enough in its own right; to add to that a proposal for the enfranchisement of women was quite another, and a bridge too far, for purely political reasons.

But this well-meant exercise of filial piety won't wash, inasmuch as the elder Mill viewed his “Government” as a contribution to scientific theorizing about politics. It was a sketch or "skeleton map," a "comprehensive outline" in which "the principles of human nature" and their political and institutional implications were briefly and boldly traced.[34] Moreover, Mill maintained that any adequate "argument for political reform" must be based on science, not mere belief or opinion. Sometimes a contradiction is just a contradiction. And, at least where gender is concerned, Mill was quite capable of contradicting himself.


[24.] T.B. Macaulay, “Mill on Government,” Edinburgh Review, March 1829; reprinted in Terence Ball, ed., James Mill: Political Writings (Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 271. Hereinafter cited as PW. [See also Liberty Fund’s online edition of The Political Writings of James Mill </titles/2520>. Quote .]

[25.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, 2nd ed., ed. J.S. Mill and Alexander Bain (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer), vol. II, p. 275.

[26.] James Mill, “Government,” PW, pp. 41-42. [Online quote.]

[27.] Ibid.; “Education,” PW; “Schools for All,” in James Mill on Education, ed. W.H. Burston (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1969).

[28.]PW, p. 21. [Online quote.]

[29.] See Hanna Fenichel Pitkin, The Concept of Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967). For a defense of the claim that there are multiple and competing concepts of representation, see Andrew Rehfeld, “The Concepts of Representation,” American Political Science Review, August 2011, pp. 1-11

[30.] William Thompson, Appeal of One Half the Human Race (London: Longman, Hurst, Bees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1825). The two Mills’, Bentham’s, and Thompson’s views on enfranchisement are analyzed in Terence Ball, Reappraising Political Theory: Revisionist Studies in the History of Political Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), ch. 8.

[31.] J.S. Mill, The Early Draft of John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, ed. Jack Stillinger (Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1961), p. 98. This cutting criticism was excised from the revised version of Mill’s Autobiography. [See online: Volume I – Autobiography and Literary Essays in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981). Quote.]

[32.] Mill, “Government,” PW, p. 27. Peart takes note of this paragraph in passing (n. 16) but does not pursue it further. [Online quote.]

[33.] J.S. Mill, Early Draft, p. 134; see also Ball, Reappraising, p. 185. [Online version: The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I – Autobiography and Literary Essays. Quote.]

[34.] James Mill to Macvey Napier, May 11, 1820, British Library Add. MSS 34612, fol. 354; JM to Etienne Dumont, 8 June 1821, Bibliotheque Publique et Universitaire (Geneva), MS 76, fol. 21.


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. . . .”[35] He believed that frequent elections based on a broad franchise would almost magically transform the political landscape. It would not only serve as a check on the “few” (who, unchecked, are always corrupt and abusive) but align the interests of the “few” with the interests of the “many.” This is not a vision of “interest group” or “broker” politics, but a plan to nearly abolish politics altogether! Mill’s solution was the creation of an “identity of interests” among social groups and classes, one not unlike the solution provided by Plato.[36] Yet to give everyone the same interests or opinions in a free society is impossible. Apparently, Mill had not read Madison’s Federalist No. 10.

It is also notable that Mill rejected the idea of “mixed government,” the alleged hallmark of the much-admired British Constitution. While the actual workings of the system were quite different from popular (and sometimes learned) conceptions, Mill had no use for a regime that purported to achieve balance and stability through institutional checks and rivalries.[37] Nor did he believe in the separation of legislative and executive power, not even in theory.[38] Had it been politically feasible he would have advocated abolition of the House of Lords and the monarchy (something even Bentham understood was not practical) and leave Britain with a unicameral legislature possessed of full sovereignty. Anything less would be to tolerate a kind of imperium in imperio, “two authorities in a state, the one capable of barring whatever the other would do.”[39] As it was, Mill advanced a plan to limit the ability of the Lords to obstruct legislation passed in the Commons: a measure passed three times in the Commons would be law without the consent of the Lords.

It should be noted that Mill wrote very little about the specifics of institutional reform or political architecture. One will search his writings in vain for anything like his son’s extended treatment of these in Considerations on Representative Government.[40] Yet given the elder Mill’s doctrine of “identity of interests,” there was little need to engage in such discussions. His one political treatise, “Government,” has long been a byword for what Leslie Stephen called “simple-minded audacity.”[41] Accordingly, Mill has little to offer the student of political theory in terms of substance, and his place in histories of political thought is correspondingly thin. This is not entirely fair to Mill, who fancied himself a philosopher and theorist, but is perhaps better described as a polemicist, an advocate, and a publicist in the cause of “radical” reform. In this capacity he was far more distinguished and successful than as a political thinker. Moreover, almost every major reform he championed was eventually adopted. Slavery was abolished, education extended, criminal law reformed, Catholics emancipated, prisons humanized, the franchise expanded, representation equalized, the press freed, trade liberalized, and the Lords, monarch, and Church reduced to ciphers. Of course, Britain witnessed other developments in the century after Mill’s death far less in accord with his reformist vision. Yet it remains an impressive record.

If there was little confusion and contradiction in Mill’s practical commitments this cannot be said of his theorizing. Professor Peart notes that Mill adopted Adam Smith’s view of man’s social nature as portrayed in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and there is certainly evidence of this influence in Mill’s economic and educational writings. Yet elsewhere, such as in the essay “Government,” man qua man is portrayed as an inherently selfish and vicious creature lacking even the “diffidence” of Hobbes’s odious Yahoo. Many of Mill’s expositors have observed this seeming contradiction. Some have attempted to extenuate his inconsistency with reference to Hume’s dictum that when considering politics, every man should be counted a knave. Yet the tension remains. As Leslie Stephen writes, Mill, “who has been laying down as a universal law that the strong will always plunder the weak, and that all rulers will reduce their subjects to abject slavery, is absolutely convinced, it seems, of the possibility of somehow transmuting selfishness into public spirit, justice, generosity, and devotion to truth.”[42]

Hobbes, in advocating absolutism, would seem to have been more consistent with his view of human nature than Mill, who advanced popular government. Yet Mill had a far more elastic view than Hobbes. On Mill’s view, human beings are capable of overcoming much of their selfishness and greed through proper training on one hand and institutional arrangements on the other. The former accounts for Mill’s great emphasis on education, anchored in a psychology that allowed for an indefinite malleability of character to the point of human perfection. However ill-founded this idea, it does serve to mitigate the charge that his view of human nature was wholly contradictory. It may be that Mill’s two versions of human nature, the reprobate and the redeemed, mirror the two sides of his animus: one, his hatred for the greed and stupidity of the Establishment (particularly the aristocracy and the Church), and two, his cherished vision of a reformed and enlightened humanity. Mill was, after all, much like a secular Calvinist.            

It would appear that like Plato, Rousseau, Jefferson, and Dewey, Mill looked to moral and mental instruction as the master-key to social and political improvement and mankind’s future felicity. Yet in his essay “Education” just the reverse seems to be the case. Here “political education” (as opposed to “domestic,” “technical,” and “social”) is hailed as “the key-stone of the arch; the strength of the whole depends upon it.”[43] As Professor Peart rightly observes, Mill placed a great deal of confidence in the power of social approbation (and disapprobation) to motivate individuals to act in socially desirable ways. For the purposes of ordinary life, the family, school, and local society (properly arranged) are sufficient to provide the appropriate sanctions to encourage correct conduct. Yet to attain “the grand objects of desire,” viz., approbation on a grand scale, it is necessary to enlist what Mill somewhat ominously calls the “political machine.” The following passage is the soaring crescendo of the essay “Education.”

Now this is certain, that the means by which the grand objects of desire may be attained, depend almost entirely upon the political machine. When the political machine is such, that the grand objects of desire are seen to be the natural prizes of great and virtuous conduct – of high services to mankind, and of the generous and amiable sentiments from which great endeavors in the service of mankind naturally proceed – it is natural to see diffused among mankind a generous ardour in the acquisition of all those admirable qualities which prepare a man for admirable actions; great intelligence, perfect self-command, and overruling-benevolence.

This, one of the most inspired passages in Mill’s vast writings, is distinctly at odds with the popular image of James Mill as a dry, passionless, prosaic philosopher of hedonism. This speaks to another incongruity in Mill’s thought – one recapitulated in that of his son: the coexistence of Benthamite hedonism with high-minded idealism. As W. H. Burston has written, for Mill “the pursuit of personal happiness meant almost precisely the reverse of what we would call a life of pleasure . . . .”[44] The passage from “Education” cited above certainly captures Mill’s idealist side, but it also raises questions about the role of the state (“political machine”) in shaping the values and directing the conduct of citizens. (It could easily be mistaken for a quote on behalf of Napoleon’s Legion of Honor.) In conjunction with Mill’s views on labor, leisure, and leadership, it reinforces the charge that Mill was a “democratic elitist.”[45] If so, this is hardly the worst of his sins, if a sin at all. Mill may have deceived himself regarding the capacity of education to transform character and for charter to transform society, but in adhering to the view that even a reformed society would remain an intellectual pyramid, he remained fast-anchored in abiding reality.


[35.] “Government,” in Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1825; </titles/mill-government> also </titles/mill-the-political-writings-of-james-mill-1815-1836#lf1624_head_015>.

[36.]  The comparison may seem far-fetched but I am not alone in drawing it. See W. H. Burston, James Mill on Philosophy and Education (London: The Athlone Press, 1973), p. 236, and Leslie Stephen, The English Utilitarians, vol. 2 (London: Duckworth & Co., 1900), p. 89. Mill was a great admirer of Plato and betrayed signs of Plato’s “intellectual politics” throughout his career.

[37.] “85o 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.”[46] Needless to say, aspects of James Mill’s famous 1820 essay “Government”[47] have much similarity to Buchanan’s worst-case philosophy of constitutional political economy.[48] For Mill, the paradigmatic example of worst-case government is one where government is a slave-driver: The “ruling One [i.e., monarchy], or the ruling Few [i.e., aristocracy], would, if checks did not operate in the way of prevention, reduce the great mass of the people subject to their power ... to the condition of negroes in the West Indies” (emphasis added).[49] As Mill noted, those who would deny the empirical relevance of his prima facie implausible worst-case model of government would do well to meditate upon the “decisive” experiment afforded by the way in which the “English gentleman … a favourable specimen of civilization, of knowledge, of humanity, of all the qualities, in short, that make human nature estimable” had readily made slaves of his “fellow creatures” in the West Indies: Indeed, Mill insisted that “Wherever the same [unchecked] motives [i.e., the desire for power and wealth] exist, the same conduct as is displayed by the English gentleman may be expected to follow.… 85ot one item in the motives that led English Gentlemen to make slaves of their fellow-creatures, and to reduce them to the very worst condition in which the negroes have been found in the West Indies, can be shown to be wanting, or to be less strong in the set of motives which universally operate upon the men who have power over their fellow creatures.”[50]

As is well known, T. B. Macaulay was (to put it mildly) less than persuaded by the adequacy of Mill’s worst-case reasoning and wrote a devastating 1829 response to Mill. (Macaulay’s brilliant essay was published in the Edinburgh Review.[51]) Indeed, Macaulay was equally scathing when he became embroiled in a heated and highly entertaining “bare-knuckle” debate over the merits of Mill’s essay with T. Perronet Thompson (the controversy raged in the pages of the Edinburgh Review and the Westminster Review.[52]) Macaulay is generally considered to have amply demolished Mill’s worst-case logic and to have left the rather hapless Thompson (“defending” Mill on behalf of the Westminster Review) bloody-nosed and flat on his back in the dust. As Sandra Peart has rightly noted in her essay, however, Macaulay appears to have greatly underrated the vital importance that Mill’s worst-case analytics implicitly placed on the associationist psychology that he would later set out in much detail in his 1829 Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind.[53] Indeed, one of Macaulay’s vehement complaints – there were many – about Mill’s 1820 theory of government was that Mill had seemingly “left” the way in which “sympathy” might check the abuse of power wholly “out of consideration.”[54] Nevertheless, as Sandra Peart justifiably notes, Mill’s assessment of the way in which sympathetic bias and partiality induced by exposure to “bad trains of association” warp our behavior may provide  relatively solid foundations for what might otherwise appear as Mill’s rather implausible worst-case analytics. [55] (“Bad” trains of association induce us to engage in blameworthy but profitable behavior.)

Of course, Macaulay did not deny Thompson’s charge that the “planter and the slave-driver” no more sympathized with their “negro” slaves than did the “epicure” sympathize with or care one jot about “the sentiments of oysters.”[56] Nevertheless, Macaulay took Mill’s worst-case axioms at face value and promptly and brilliantly hoisted Mill with his very own “democratic” petard.[57] As Mill’s Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind makes abundantly clear, however, his earlier analysis of the worst-case consequences of unchecked government power has rather more plausibility when we take into account Mill’s analysis of the way in which the desire for wealth and power conjunct with sympathetic partiality can lead to a narrowly self-interested “community of Interest” with the fellow members of one’s “Party, or class,” thereby assuring incessant demands for “Privileges … conferred by Legislative act.”[58]

I imagine that Sandra would supplement what I say above about Mill’s sympathy-based class analytics by rightly reiterating her very important point about the immense weight that Mill and his eldest son (and Adam Smith too) placed on the vitally important distinction between actual praise and blame and praiseworthiness and blameworthiness per se, and her point about the way in which praise and praiseworthiness often don’t map onto one another or march in tandem (with the way in which the allure of actual praise trumps the desire to be praiseworthy having detrimental consequences for humanity writ large). As Sandra notes, Mill’s worst-case analysis of faction, party, and class posits a sharp cleavage between the individual’s desire to truly merit the epithet praiseworthy (and not be blameworthy) and his or her far stronger response (far stronger because of their repeated exposure to “bad” trains of association) to the incentives provided by the allure of actual praise and the disincentive of actual blame (incentives which are intensified by sympathetic biases with “class” and “party”).[59] As Sandra notes, moral education may provide a solution. Indeed, James Mill argued that “ [I]n minds happily trained, the love of Praiseworthiness, the dread of Blameworthiness, is a stronger feeling, than the love of actual Praise, the Dread of actual Blame” (emphasis added).[60] Hence J. S. Mill’s noting of his father’s heavy emphasis on the importance of high-quality moral education, which could potentially provide an adequately countervailing weight to the “direct motive of obtaining praise where it is to be obtained by other means than desert.”[61] Of course, moral education may prove a rather weak and non-robust reed[62] when we try to engineer a collective switch from an inferior faction-ridden equilibrium (one where narrow self-interest and pervasive sympathetic biases work hand in all-too ugly hand) to a far superior “community interest writ large” equilibrium. Nevertheless, the Mills’ wager might well be the best “bet” in town (and is much preferred to the foolish option of placing a wager on a supposedly “benevolent” dictator). I leave this aside, however, and probably wisely so (space constraints and the terrors of a harsh editorial pen – even a pen wielded by praiseworthy “word-count liberals” – are not always to be bemoaned!).[63]

All in all, and as Sandra aptly notes, Mill’s “Government” was not meant to be read as a standalone essay but in conjunction with his other essays (e.g., the wonderful essay “Liberty of the Press”), and his defense of representative institutions presupposes a well-informed electorate, a truly free press (“publicity” provided the “principle of life and strength to all other [electoral and constitutional] securities”), and a “democracy-induced” absence of sympathetic biases.[64] Nevertheless, I wonder what happens under Mill’s set of mutually reinforcing institutions (democracy, a free press, etc.) when praise and praiseworthiness do not march in tandem. Are faction and sympathetic failure exacerbated? A free but ideologically polarized press may pander to actual and faction-biased praise and blame and may attack the moderation of praiseworthiness while praising blameworthy behavior, thus inducing a far greater cleavage between praise and praiseworthiness and much intensifying underlying factional biases and enmity (Fox News anyone?). This may well further reinforce an undesirable equilibrium and make our collective escape to something better much harder.

As Sandra notes, Macaulay devastatingly homed in on Mill’s flagrantly best-case argument that sympathy would assure an identity of interest between fathers and their offspring (with men under 40, let alone their wives, daughters, or single women, consequently having no need whatsoever of a vote). Unsurprisingly, Macaulay tore Mill’s argument into confetti and charged Mill with having all-too “placidly” dogmatized “away the interests of one half of the human race.”[65] As noted earlier, Buchanan was very interested in the Mill-Macaulay debate and Mill’s worst-case analytics. Nevertheless, I cannot imagine Buchanan ever making the all-too-best-case statement that “an interest identical with that of the whole community, is to be found in the aggregate males of an age to be regarded as sui juris.”[66] I wonder, however, whether some of Buchanan’s readers tend to miss the role that unbiased sympathy (or something very similar) plays in Buchanan’s constitutional project in much the same way that it can be all too easily overlooked when assessing the merits of Mill’s worst-case thinking.  For instance, Buchanan can be found arguing for constitutional rules “that will make it a relatively trivial matter as to the personal characteristics of those who happen to be selected as governors.”[67] Elsewhere, however, Buchanan notes that “historical experience … [more than amply suggests that] constitutions can be reformed without being effectively enforced,” and he adds that “[p]erhaps more important than formal constitutional changes are changes in ethical attitudes that would make attempted reforms workable. . . . There must be some general understanding that exploitation implemented through politics is just as immoral as exploitation implemented in the private sector.”[68] Thus, for Buchanan, as for James Mill, we need a far tighter alignment between that which is praiseworthy (and blameworthy) and behavior that is generally viewed as worthy of praise (or meriting blame). Peter Boettke often describes Buchanan’s constitutional project as a clarion call for a “politics which displays neither dominion nor discrimination” (e.g., no off-diagonals allowed). Perhaps praiseworthy choice is the only choice available when political equals make unanimous political choices behind a Rawls-type veil of ignorance.[69]

Of course, real-world in-period politics is a complex mix of praiseworthiness and blameworthiness, and Sandra Peart rightly urges us all to reconsider our priors, try and set aside our biases (and narrow self-interest), and do our utmost to be praiseworthy.[70] Again, however, how might we get from “here” to “there”? Similarly, what does “there” look like? For one thing, John Stuart Mill – working with much the same analytical toolkit as had his father – provided a very different assessment of what society might ultimately look like when juxtaposed with the vision of the future provided by his father. Ultimately, Sandra provides a most welcome defense of Millian democratic discussion – and by extension of Millian institutional experimentation – and she concludes by suggesting that the bumper sticker of choice might be “Discuss!” I have an alternative sticker to suggest. It is much less pithy than Sandra’s suggestion (and I will not hold my breath waiting for my royalty check) but one in keeping with the spirit of her suggestion: “Frank Knight was right (as were J. S. Mill and Buchanan). Pass it on!” This, of course, may presuppose that you drive an all-too-blameworthy gas-guzzling SUV rather than use a mode of transportation that is rather more praiseworthy.


[46.] James M. Buchanan, "Constitutional Design and Construction: An Economic Approach,” in Choice, Contract, and Constitutions (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund [1979] 2001), p. 109. Vol. 16 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan (not available onine).

[47.] James Mill, “Government,” in James Mill, The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Liberty Fund, 2013). </titles/2520#lf1624_head_015>.

[48.] Indeed, Geoffrey Brennan and Buchanan acknowledge that their Leviathan model of government marks something of a return to the worst-case “spirit of the classical political economists.” Geoffrey Brennan and James M. Buchanan, The Power to Tax (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, [1980] 2000), vol. 9 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, p. 220; </titles/2114#Buchanan_0102-09_570>.

[49.] Mill, “Government.” Bentham provides a similar worst-case assessment of government: “[T]ake the case of Negro slavery.… The Slave-holder – it may be said – for it is continually said – has an interest in common with that of his slaves. True: and so has the Mail-Coach Contractor in common with that of his horses. While working them, and so long as they appear able to work, he accordingly allows them food. Yet, somehow or other, notwithstanding this community of interest, so it is that but too often Negro as well as horse are worked to the very death. – How happens this? – How? – but because in the same breast with the conjunct interest is lodged a separate and sinister interest, which is too strong for it … [Hence] the condition of the poor people is day by day approaching nearer and nearer to the condition of the Negro and the horse” (Jeremy Bentham, “Plan of Parliamentary Reform,” London: R. Hunter, 1817, xxvi-xxvii). See online the Bowring edition of Bentham's Works </titles/1922#Bentham_0872-03_4982>. Mill (“Government”) is much taken by Montesquieu’s expression of this “important truth … ‘C'est une expérience éternelle que tout homme qui a du pouvoir est porté à en abuser; il va jusqu'à ce qu'il trouve des limites’” </titles/2520#lf1624_footnote_nt015>. This translates as “Experience constantly proves that every man who has power is impelled to abuse it; he goes on till he is pulled up by some limits.” See C. T. Ramage, ed., Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors: With English Translations and Lives of the Authors, an English Index of Subjects Analytically Arranged, Also Numerous References to Parallel Passages from Latin, Greek, and English Authors (Liverpool: Edward Howell, 1866); or the OLL online version Book XI "Of the Laws which establish Political Liberty" Chap. IV </titles/2520#lf1624_footnote_nt015>. Brennan and Buchanan use the same maxim as an epigraph to The Power to Tax </titles/2114#Buchanan_0102-09_22>.

[50.] For Buchanan, the worst-case does not necessarily have empirical relevance, but is the contingency we truly want to avoid (see David M. Levy, “Robust Institutions,” Review of Austrian Economics,2002, 15 (2-3), pp. 131-42). Also see James Mill, “Government.”

[51.] Macaulay’s wonderful “Mill’s Essay on Government: Utilitarian Logic and Politics,” is reprinted in Jack Lively and John Rees, eds., Utilitarian Logic and Politics, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), pp. 99-129. See also online </titles/99#lf1228-01_head_036>.

[52.] The entire fascinating debate is reprinted in Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics.

[53.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, (London: Baldwin and Cradock,1829). As John Stuart Mill later noted, James Mill’s “fundamental doctrine [in psychology] was the formation of all human character by circumstances, through the universal Principle of Association, and the consequent unlimited possibility of improving the moral and intellectual condition of mankind by education. Of all his doctrines none was more important than this, or needs more to be insisted on.” John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I – Autobiography and Literary Essays, ed. John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981); </titles/242#Mill_0223-01_367>.

[54.] Macaulay, “Utilitarian Theory of Government.” See Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics, p. 216. Also online </titles/99#lf1228-01_head_039>.

[55.] “A very general idea, such as that of Mankind, is an indistinct idea; and no strong association is formed with it, except by the means of Education. In the common run of men, the narrow sympathies, alone, act with any considerable force. Such men can sympathize with … their own Family, or their own class … [T]o sympathize with mankind at large, or even with the body of the people in their own country, exceeds the bounds of their contracted affections.” James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, vol. 2, pp. 231-32. (Emphasis added.)

[56.] T. Perronet Thompson, “‘Greatest Happiness’ Principle.” See Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics, p. 136.

[57.] Macaulay charged that Mill’s democratic legislature – composed of “private men” who were “zealous for the interests of the community” – would necessarily have a worst-case interest once elected, an interest “opposite to the interests of the community,” and “according to Mr. Mill … [thus] produce measures opposite to the interests of the community (Macaulay “Mill’s Essay on Government,” Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics,pp. 114-15). And online </titles/99#Macaulay_1228-01_817>. Nevertheless, Mill presupposed that democratically elected representatives who are answerable to a wide and informed electorate will sympathize with the wider interest of the community writ large and not with a narrow self-interested and frequently pocket-borough owning aristocratic class.

[58.] “There is no Love of Class … but in a Privileged Order.” Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, p. 188. For Mill, a class proper is any faction or group that has an interest “in common … which is not in common to the rest of the community” (p. 187). Mill’s 1829 analysis of “class” leaves aside the “associations … the members of a governing class have with one another” other than the “associations connected with privilege” (p. 188). 

[59.] Mill and Buchanan are much taken by Hume’s famous dictum “that, in contriving any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controuls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave.” As Hume goes on to explain, however, this dictum may well apply “in the case of politics” yet not in “fact” (“men are generally more honest in their private than in their public capacity”) because of “sympathetic biases.” Men will “go to greater lengths to serve a party, than when their own private interest is alone concerned. Honour is a great check upon mankind: But where a considerable body of men act together, this check is, in a great measure, removed; since a man is sure to be approved of by his own party, for what promotes the common interest; and he soon learns to despise the clamours of adversaries. To which we may add, that every court or senate is determined by the greater number of voices; so that, if self-interest influences only the majority, (as it will always do) the whole senate follows the allurements of this separate interest, and acts as if it contained not one member, who had any regard to public interest and liberty.” David Hume, Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary. Indianapolis, Ind. : Liberty Fund, 1977 </titles/704#Hume_0059_147>. I think it very noteworthy that Mill quotes these particular passages in his delightfully titled surrogate response to Macaulay (directed at Sir James Mackintosh). See Mill, A Fragment on Mackintosh: Strictures on Some Passages in the Dissertation by Sir James Mackintosh, Prefixed to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: Baldwin and Cradock, 1835, pp. 280-81). 

[60.] James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, p. 249. As J.S. Mill himself (in editorial notes to the 1869 edition of this work of his father’s 1829 work explained, moral education – favorable “circumstances” – would generate a powerful association “between deserving praise and obtaining it” (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, vol. 2, pp. 298-99, emphasis added). (J.S. Mill's notes are available onlin, James Mill's Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (1869) in John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXXI – Miscellaneous Writings, ed. John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1989). </titles/238#lf0223-31_head_024>.) As James Mill explained, a “happily” trained mind would view “the secondary feeling [desire to be praiseworthy per se] … [as by far] more powerful than the primary [desire for praise per se].” (James Mill, 1829, p. 249).

[61.] See J. S. Mill’s 1869 editorial notes, p. 299. As James Mill explained, a “happily” trained mind would view “the secondary feeling [desire to be praiseworthy per se] … [as by far] more powerful than the primary [desire for praise per se]” (Mill, 1829, p/ 249).

[62.] Levy, “Robust Institutions.”

[63.] As J. S. Mill noted in 1879, any requisite improvements in moral education are “necessarily very gradual. . . . [T]he future generation is educated by the present, and the imperfections of the teachers set an invincible limit to the degree in which they can train their pupils to be better than themselves.” In Chapters on Socialism (1879) "The Difficulties of Socialism" </titles/232#Mill_0223-05_1338>.

John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume V – Essays on Economics and Society Part II, ed. John M. Robson, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967); </titles/232#Mill_0223-05_1338>.  

Indeed, Mill – writing to Harriet Taylor in 1849 – noted that he could not “persuade” himself that she did “not greatly overrate the ease of making people unselfish. Granting that in ‘ten years’ the children of a community might by teaching be made ‘perfect’ it seems to me that to do so there must be perfect people to teach them.” John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume III – The Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy (Books III-V and Appendices), ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by V.W. Bladen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965); </titles/243#Mill_0223-03_1124>.

[64.] James Mill, “Liberty of the Press,” in James Mill, The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Liberty Fund, 2013); </titles/2520#Mill_1624_1211>.

[65.] “[W]omen have always been, and still are, over the greater part of the globe, humble companions, playthings, captives, menials, beasts of burden.” Macaulay, “Mill’s Essay on Government,” in Lively and Rees, Utilitarian Logic and Politics, p. 116. Also on.ine at </titles/99#Macaulay_1228-01_822>.

[66.] “Government.” Indeed, he continues, “The great principle of security here is, that the men of forty have a deep interest in the welfare of the younger men.” As Mill explains in the Human Mind, however, the sympathetic “father regards the son somewhat in the light of another self” (p. 178).  </titles/2520#Mill_1624_1003>.

[67.] James M. Buchanan, “Constitutional Restrictions on the Power of Government,” In Choice, Contract, and Constitutions (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, [1981] 2001), p. 47.

[68.] James M. Buchanan, “Distributional Politics and Constitutional Design,” in Choice, Contract, and Constitutions, p. 275.

[69.] Buchanan’s vision of a nondiscriminatory politics is something over which all manner of folk can legitimately disagree when it comes to deciding what counts as nondiscrimination and nondominion. There is a very good reason why Buchanan and Rawls found each other so fascinating.

[70.] Is this a call for the Fox News viewer to sometimes watch Link TV and vice versa? I would argue that Smith-Mill lessons about praiseworthiness and blameworthiness are better taught by an hour or so watching the very best PBS kids shows (e.g., Arthur and Theodore Tugboat).



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]↩