Friday, October 10, 2014

Representative Government - Mill

[This covers the first six chapters only.]

Mill is always an interesting read and 'Considerations on Representative Government' is no exception.  This was published in 1861, before democracy became widely acclaimed.  One of the interesting things about 'Representative Government' is that it's not an argument for everyone to drop their current system and switch.  In fact, Mill says:
...forms of government are not a matter of choice. We must take them, in the main, as we find them. Governments can not be constructed by premeditated design. They "are not made but grow." Our business with them, as with the other facts of the universe, is to acquaint ourselves with their natural properties, and adapt ourselves with them.
And even if the 'organic' opportunity occurs, it may not last.
But there are also cases in which, though not averse to a form of government-possibly even desiring it-a people may be unwilling or unable to fulfill its conditions. They may be incapable of fulfilling such of them as are necessary to keep the government even in nominal existence. Thus a people may prefer a free government, but if, from indolence or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit, they are unequal to the exertions necessary for preserving it; if they will not fight for it when it is directly attacked; if they can be deluded by the artifices used to cheat them out of it; if by momentary discouragement, or temporary panic, or a fit of enthusiasm for an individual, they can be induced to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions - in all these cases they are more or less unfit for liberty...
While reading this, I couldn't help but think about the trouble that we've had encouraging democracy to bloom in Iraq.  And I wondered if Mill would think that we've failed on his last point and elevated the Presidency and trusted him "with powers which enable him to subvert [our] institutions". 

No comments:

Post a Comment