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ty.' He said that absolute power leads to such results, 'by infallible sequence, where power over a community is attained, and nothing checks.' The critic on the Mount never made a more palpable misquotation.
"The spirit of this misquotation runs through every part of the reply of the Edinburgh Review that relates to the Essay on Government, and is repeated in as many shapes as the Roman pork. The whole description of 'Mr. Mill's argument against despotism,' including the illustration from right-angled triangles and the square of the hypothenuse, is founded on this invention of saying what an author has not said, and leaving unsaid what he has."
We thought, and still think, for reasons which our readers will soon understand, that we represented Mr. Mill's principle quite fairly, and according to the rule of law and common-sense, ut res magis valeat quam pereat. Let us, however, give him all the advantage of the explanation tendered by his advocate, and see what he will gain by it.
The Utilitarian doctrine then is, not that despots and aristocracies will always plunder and oppress the people to the last point, but that they will do so if nothing checks them.
In the first place, it is quite clear that the doctrine thus stated is of no use at all, unless the force of the checks be estimated. The first law of motion is, that a ball once projected will fly on to all eternity with undiminished velocity, unless something checks. The fact is, that a ball stops in a few seconds after proceeding a few yards with very variable motion. Every man would wring his child's neck and pick his friend's pocket if nothing checked him. In fact, the principle thus stated means only that governments will oppress unless they abstain from oppressing. This is quite true, we own. But we might with equal propriety turn the maxim round, and lay it down, as the fundamental principle of government, that all rulers will govern well, unless some motive interferes to keep them from doing so.
If there be, as the Westminster Reviewer acknowledges, certain checks which, under political institutions the most arbitrary in seeming, sometimes produce good government, and almost always place some restraint on the rapacity and cruelty of the powerful, surely the knowledge of those checks, of their nature, and of their effect, must be a most important
part of the science of government. Does Mr. Mill say anything upon this part of the subject? Not one word.
The line of defence now taken by the Utilitarians evidently degrades Mr. Mill's theory of government from the rank which, till within the last few months, was claimed for it by the whole sect. It is no longer a practical system, fit to guide statesmen, but merely a barren exercise of the intellect, like those propositions in mechanics in which the effect of friction and of the resistance of the air is left out of the question; and which, therefore, though correctly deduced from the premises, are in practice utterly false. For, if Mr. Mill professes to prove only that absolute monarchy and aristocracy are pernicious without checks, if he allows that there are checks which produce good government even under absolute monarchs and aristocracies, and if he omits to tell us what those checks are, and what effects they produce under different circumstances, he surely gives us no information which can be of real utility.
But the fact is, and it is most extraordinary that the Westminster Reviewer should not have perceived it, that if once the existence of checks on the abuse of power in monarchies and aristocracies be admitted, the whole of Mr. Mill's theory falls to the ground at once. This is so palpable, that, in spite of the opinion of the Westminster Reviewer, we must acquit Mr. Mill of having intended to make such an admission. We still think that the words, "where power over a community is attained, and nothing checks," must not be understood to mean that under a monarchical or aristocratical form of government there can really be any check which can in any degree mitigate the wretchedness of the people.
For all possible checks may be classed under two general heads-want of will and want of power. Now, if a king or an aristocracy, having the power to plunder and oppress the people, can want the will, all Mr. Mill's principles of human nature must be pronounced unsound. He tells us "that the desire to possess unlimited power of inflicting pain upon others is an inseparable part of human nature," and that " & chain of inference, close and strong to a most unusual degree,"
leads to the conclusion that those who possess this power will always desire to use it. It is plain, therefore, that, if Mr. Mill's principles be sound, the check on a monarchical or an aristocratical government will not be the want of will to
If a king or an aristocracy, having, as Mr. Mill tells us that they always must have, the will to oppress the people with the utmost severity, want the power, then the government, by whatever name it may be called, must be virtually a mixed government or a pure democracy; for it is quite clear that the people possess some power in the State-some means of influencing the nominal rulers. But Mr. Mill has demonstrated that no mixed government can possibly exist, or at least that such a government must come to a very speedy end; therefore, every country in which people not in the service of the Government have, for any length of time, been permitted to accumulate more than the bare means of subsistence must be a pure democracy. That is to say, France before the revolution, and Ireland during the last century, were pure democracies. Prussia, Austria, Russia, all the Governments of the civilized world, are pure democracies. If this be not a reductio ad absurdum, we do not know what is.
The errors of Mr. Mill proceed principally from that radical vice in his reasoning which, in our last number, we described in the words of Lord Bacon. The Westminster Reviewer is unable to discover the meaning of our extracts from the Novum Organum, and expresses himself as follows:
"The quotations from Lord Bacon are misapplications, such as anybody may make to anything he dislikes. There is no more resemblance between pain, pleasure, motives, etc., and substantia, generatio, corruptio, elementum, materia, than between lines, angles, magnitudes, etc., and the same."
It would, perhaps, be unreasonable to expect that a writer who cannot understand his own English should understand Lord Bacon's Latin. We will, therefore, attempt to make our meaning clearer.
What Lord Bacon blames in the schoolmen of his time is this that they reasoned syllogistically on words which had
not been defined with precision; such as moist, dry, generation, corruption, and so forth. Mr. Mill's error is exactly of the same kind. He reasons syllogistically about power, pleasure, and pain, without attaching any definite notion to any one of those words. There is no more resemblance, says the Westminster Reviewer, between pain and substantia than between pain and a line or an angle. By his permission, in the very point to which Lord Bacon's observations applies, Mr. Mill's subjects do resemble the substantia and elementum of the schoolmen, and differ from the lines and magnitudes of Euclid. We can reason à priori on mathematics, because we can define with an exactitude which precludes all possibility of confusion. If a mathematician were to admit the least laxity into his notions, if he were to allow himself to be deluded by the vague sense which words bear in popular use, or by the aspect of an ill-drawn diagram, if he were to forget in his reasonings that a point was indivisible, or that the definition of a line excluded breadth, there would be no end to his blunders. The schoolmen tried to reason mathematically about things which had not been, and perhaps could not be, defined with mathematical accuracy. We know the result. Mr. Mill has in our time attempted to do the same. He talks of power, for example, as if the meaning of the word power were as determinate as the meaning of the word circle. But when we analyze his speculations, we find that his notion of power is, in the words of Bacon, "phantastica et male terminata."
There are two senses in which we may use the word power, and those words which denote the various distributions of power, as, for example, monarchy; the one sense popular and superficial, the other more scientific and accurate. Mr. Mill, since he chose to reason à priori, ought to have clearly pointed out in which sense he intended to use words of this kind, and to have adhered inflexibly to the sense on which he fixed. Instead of doing this, he flies backward and forward from the one sense to the other, and brings out conclusions at last which suit neither.
The state of those two communities to which he has him
self referred, the kingdom of Denmark and the empire of Rome, may serve to illustrate our meaning. Looking merely at the surface of, things, we should call Denmark a despotic monarchy, and the Roman world, in the first century after Christ, an aristocratical republic. Caligula was, in theory, nothing more than a magistrate elected by the senate, and subject to the senate. That irresponsible dignity which, in the most limited monarchies of our time, is ascribed to the person of the sovereign, never belonged to the earlier Cæsars. The sentence of death which the great council of the commonwealth passed on Nero was strictly according to the theory of the Constitution. Yet, in fact, the power of the Roman emperors approached nearer to absolute dominion than that of any prince in modern Europe. On the other hand, the King of Denmark, in theory the most despotic of princes, would in practice find it most perilous to indulge in cruelty and licentiousness. Nor is there, we believe, at the present moment a single sovereign in our part of the world who has so much real power over the lives of his subjects as Robespierre, while he lodged at a chandler's and dined at a restaurateur's, exercised over the lives of those whom he called his fellow-citizens.
Mr. Mill and the Westminster Reviewer seem to agree that there cannot long exist in any society a division of power between a monarch, an aristocracy, and the people, or between any two of them. However the power be distributed, one of the three parties will, according to them, inevitably monopolize the whole. Now, what is here meant by power? If Mr. Mill speaks of the external semblance of power-of power recognized by the theory of the Constitution - he is palpably wrong. In England, for example, we have had for ages the name and form of a mixed government, if nothing more. Indeed, Mr. Mill himself owns that there are appearances which have given color to the theory of the balance, though he maintains that these appearances are delusive. But if he uses the word power in a deeper and philosophical sense, he is, if possible, still more in the wrong than on the former supposition. For, if he had considered in what the