John Stuart Mill and Representative Government

John Stuart Mill and Representative Government

Copyright Date: 1976
Pages: 256
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    John Stuart Mill and Representative Government
    Book Description:

    Although Mill regardedConsiderations on Representative Governmentas a mature statement of his theory of democracy, critics have tended to treat it less seriously than most of his other major works. Dennis Thompson argues that this neglect has led to inadequate interpretations of Mill's thought on democracy. Drawing where appropriate on other writings by Mill, the author restores a balanced view by studying the structure of the theory expounded inRepresentative Government.

    Representative Governmentis shown to be more coherent and systematic than has generally been assumed. In the first two chapters the author examines separately Mill's views of political participation and competence. He then considers the philosopher's effort to combine participation and competence at any particular time in a theory of government and to reduce conflict between them over time in a theory of development. Basic features of Mill's view are subjected to critical scrutiny, and modifications are suggested to overcome the deficiencies noted. Throughout, Mill's claims are compared with the ideas and findings of recent social science, leading to the conclusion that his theory remains a valuable resource for contemporary thinking about democracy.

    Originally published in 1979.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6858-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    This study examines John Stuart Mill’s theory of democracy as presented chiefly inConsiderations on Representative Government, a work often neglected by commentators but considered by Mill to embody his “matured views” on “the best form of a popular constitution.”¹ My principal aim is to explore the structure of Mill’s theory, indicating how it combines the values of participation and competence, and showing that it is more coherent and systematic than has generally been assumed. Mill does not present a theory completely free of internal tensions, but most of those that remain are a deliberate consequence of his goal of...

  4. 1 The Principle of Participation
    (pp. 13-53)

    Mill’s enthusiasm for participation pervades the third chapter ofRepresentative Government, where he seeks to show “that the only government which can fully satisfy all the exigencies of the social state, is one in which the whole people participate; [and] that any participation, even in the smallest public function, is useful.”¹ Mill so warms to the subject that the chapter approaches a vindication of direct democracy; not until the last sentence, which intrudes almost as an afterthought, does Mill dismiss that kind of democracy (because it is impracticable except in small towns). Mill of course resists direct democracy for another...

  5. 2 The Principle of Competence
    (pp. 54-90)

    The principle of competence expresses Mill’s belief that a democracy should give as much weight as possible to superior intelligence and virtue in the political process.¹ Ideally, greater participation would realize the aim of the principle of competence by making all citizens competent, but realistically Mill recognizes that special provisions must be made so that competence gets its due in the present operation and the future development of a democracy. Mill does not think that such provisions alter the “fundamentally democratic” character of a constitution; indeed, they are needed to sustain democratic participation itself.² And he places strict limits on...

  6. 3 The Theory of Government
    (pp. 91-135)

    Unless all citizens are equally and highly competent, the principles of participation and competence may conflict. If participation becomes more extensive, the influence of the competent minority may decrease; or if the influence of the competent remains strong, participation may not be very extensive. But Mill refuses to reject either principle. He in effect criticizes earlier theorists for failing to recognize that both these principles have an essential role in political theory. Plato’s strength, Mill writes, is his belief that government requires special skill or competence, but his weakness is his refusal to recognize the legitimacy of giving political power...

  7. 4 The Theory of Development
    (pp. 136-174)

    “[A]ny general theory or philosophy of politics,” Mill writes, “supposes a previous theory of human progress … [which] is the same thing with a philosophy of history.”¹ Although Mill never elaborates a theory of this kind inRepresentative Government, he implicitly relies on one at many crucial points in his argument, and he sometimes explicitly appeals to one as well. This chapter explains Mill’s view of the nature of such a theory and its significance for his democratic theory.

    Neither “progress” nor “history,” however, is a suitable designation for the theory as Mill uses it inRepresentative Government. There is...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 175-202)

    Now that the major components of Mill’s theory of democracy have been explored, the structure of that theory can be better appreciated. This chapter reviews the structure of the theory and its relation to recent social science and democratic theory. At the same time it presents some criticisms of basic features of the theory and suggests some modifications that could meet these criticisms. If Mill’s theory, even when amended, is not wholly satisfactory, it nevertheless stands, after more than a century, as a valuable source for contemporary theorizing about democracy.

    The structure of Mill’s theory of democracy follows the pattern...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-228)
  10. Index
    (pp. 229-241)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 242-242)