What is the nature of Constant’s distinction between ancient and modern liberty and how does this distinction inform the constitutional recommendations Constant makes in his Principles of Politics? How important do you think Constant’s arguments are?
John Stuart Mill and Political Economy
1. John Stuart Mill, ‘The Spirit of the Age’ (1831): ‘The first of the leading peculiarities of the present age is that it is an age of transition. Mankind have outgrown old institutions and old doctrines, and have yet acquired new ones’.
2. What were these signs of transition? The decline of religion; political instability; economic transformation; the rise of the masses.
3. Mill’s response to the dominance of pigs and fools draws heavily upon Tocqueville’s fear of the tyranny of the majority. Foresees the likely dominance of the ‘commercial class’ and ‘the unbalanced influence of the commercial spirit’.
4. Advocates proportional representation and plural voting.
5. On Liberty sets out his most important response: the definition of when it is appropriate for government to interfere in the life of the individual: the distinction between ‘Self-regarding’ and ‘other-regarding’ actions. Is this the ‘simple’ principle that Mill took it to be? Liberty produces a more flourishing society composed of flourishing individuals.
6. Big question: can or should the law be separated from morality?
7. Next big question: what is the legitimate role of the government intervention in the economy? Set out in The Principles of Political Economy. Overall picture is that ‘industrial progress’ produces ‘increase of capital, increase of population, and improvements in production’ but it ‘the great class at the base of the whole might increase in numbers only, and not in comfort or civilisation’. Also the tendency of profits to fall to a minimum.
8. We will soon reach ‘the stationary state’. This leads Mill to consider the ‘probable’ future of the ‘Labouring Classes’. Capitalism will gradually transform itself. The growth of partnership and cooperation.
9. But this leads to a discussion of the role of government. Similarity of his position to that set out in On Liberty. ‘the great majority of things are worse done by the intervention of government’: ‘Laissez-faire should be the general practice, every departure from it, unless required by some great good, is a certain evil’.
10. When should this principle be departed from? Mill makes a distinction between the ‘necessary’ and ‘optional’ functions of government. The first category proves to be very extensive, and thus Mill tips the balance towards State intervention.
11. Conclusion: in his later writings Mill moves towards a willingness to consider the benefits of socialism: ‘the terrible case which Socialists are able to make out against the present economic order of society demands a full consideration of all means by which the institution may have a chance of being made to work in a manner more beneficial to that large proportion of society which at present enjoys the least share of its direct benefits’.
12. Did this represent a break with the fundamental principles of nineteenth century liberalism as set out by the ‘Manchester school’? ‘Our rulers will best promote the improvement of the people by strictly confining themselves to their own legitimate duties…. Let the Government do this – the People will assuredly do the rest’ (T.B. Macaulay). The great triumph of ‘free trade’ liberalism was the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.