Essay On The Principle Of Population

Mill, because of his rationalism, has an extravagant confidence in education as a meliorative force, including it with population control as one of two major remedies for existing social ills. Yet he repudiates the idea that the state should provide instruction. Here he apparently makes a concession to parents who for many reasons, usually religious, hold diverse views on the substance of education and the values it should inculcate. In any case, however, he has his own pronounced reason for rejecting state instruction. He fears it as a ready instrument for moulding citizens to be exactly alike, thus shattering his ambition for the proper cultivation of individuality. A common mould would be created for the convenience and advantage of the dominant power, whether an absolute monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or a majority in a democracy. “An education established and controlled by the State,” he writes, “should only exist, if it exists at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of example and stimulus, to keep the others up to a certain standard of excellence” (302). To this rule he makes one exception: if the society is so backward and impoverished that citizens cannot afford a proper education, then the government must provide it.

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On the issue of the ballot, Mill in publicly expressed for the first time his volte-face from a position stoutly held in the 1830s. In the earlier period, he, like other Philosophic Radicals, had extolled the ballot as scarcely less important than an extended franchise in overthrowing the ruling oligarchy in Britain. Without it the franchise might mean little. For him and his associates it became virtually a symbol of their radicalism. Secret voting, once established, was expected to demolish the political power of the aristocracy and privileged classes, and hence open the road for the march of the Radical party. It would protect tenants from coercion by landlords, customers from coercion by shopkeepers and vice versa, employees from coercion by employers, and the general public from coercion by miscellaneous and often sinister interests of every kind. It would benefit the people in that comprehensive way so dear to the Radicals. In 1837 Mill told Tocqueville with simplistic assurance that with the ballot “reform will have finally triumphed: the aristocratical principle will be completely annihilated, & we shall enter into a new era of government.” He then believed that in the country there was a deep radicalism which without the ballot was repressed. Two years later, in a letter to John M. Kemble, he wrote in more moderate terms, but still considered the ballot essential for the success of the radical cause.


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John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XVIII - Essays on Politics and Society Part I (On Liberty) [1977]

The question of making the sale of these commodities a more or less exclusive privilege, must be answered differently, according to the purposes to which the restriction is intended to be subservient. All places of public resort require the restraint of a police, and places of this kind peculiarly, because offences against society are especially apt to originate there. It is, therefore, fit to confine the power of selling these commodities (at least for consumption on the spot) to persons, of known or vouched-for respectability of conduct; to make such regulations respecting hours of opening and closing as may be requisite for public surveillance, and to withdraw the licence if breaches of the peace repeatedly take place through the connivance or incapacity of the keeper of the house, or if it becomes a rendezvous for concocting and preparing offences against the law. Any further restriction I do not conceive to be, in principle, justifiable. The limitation in number, for instance, of beer and spirit houses, for the express purpose of rendering them more difficult of access, and diminishing the occasions of temptation, not only exposes all to an inconvenience because there are some by whom the facility would be abused, but is suited only to a state of society in which the labouring classes are avowedly treated as children or savages, and placed under an education of restraint, to fit them for future admission to the privileges of freedom. This is not the principle on which the labouring classes are professedly governed in any free country; and no person who sets due value on freedom will give his adhesion to their being so governed, unless after all efforts have been exhausted to educate them for freedom and govern them as freemen, and it has been definitively proved that they can only be governed as children. The bare statement of the alternative shows the absurdity of supposing that such efforts have been made in any case which needs be considered here. It is only because the institutions of this country are a mass of inconsistencies, that things find admittance into our practice which belong to the system of despotic, or what is called paternal, government, while the general freedom of our institutions precludes the exercise of the amount of control necessary to render the restraint of any real efficacy as a moral education.