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contemplation of abstract truth and the study of principles, fail to see that their purest theories are directly and strongly aided by thousands of men who never heard them stated ; – as in this case, in spite of the common prejudice against eccentricity, there is no community in which people may not be found, who, disregarding the common voice, do habitually assert their independence of thought and speech, and encourage others to do the same. Throughout this work, indeed we might almost say throughout all Mr. Mill's writings, we scarcely remember a single recognition of any improvement or growtla in the public mind, — in the intelligence and capacity of the people ; though there are many instances of the gravest doubts as to their future progress and destiny. Thus, in a review of M. Guizot's “ Essays on History," printed originally in the Edinburgh Review, and republished in the “Dissertations and Discussions,” occurs the following passage :
In like manner, if what seems to be the tendency of things in the United States should proceed for some generations unrestrained, if the power of numbers, the opinions and instincts of the mass, should acquire and retain the absolute government of society, and impose silence on all voices which dissent from its decisions or dispute its authority, we should expect that in such countries the condition of human nature would become as stationary as in China, and perhaps at a still lower point of elevation in the scale.” – Diss. and Disc., Vol. II. p. 238.
This fear that the nations of Europe and America are about to imitate the retrogression of China seems to have taken a singularly strong and permanent hold on the author's mind. We find it appearing first in a review of De Tocqueville, in the Edinburgh Review, as early as 1840:
“ The portion of society which is predominant in America and that which is attaining predominance here — the American many and our middle class — agree in being commercial classes. The one country is affording a complete and the other a progressive exemplification, that, whenever any variety of human nature becomes preponderant in a community, it imposes upon all the rest of society its own type, forcing all either to submit to it, or to imitate it.” – Ibid., Vol. II. p. 71.
The same idea reappears nearly twenty years later in this essay on Liberty, as follows:
“We have a warning example in China ; a nation of much talent, and in some respects even wisdom, owing to the rare good fortune of having been provided at an early period with a particularly good set of customs, — the work, in some measure, of men to whom even the most enlightened European must accord, under certain limitations, the title of sages and philosophers. They are remarkable, too, in the excellence of their apparatus for impressing as far as possible the best wisdom they possess upon every mind in the community, and securing that those who have appropriated most of it shall occupy the posts of honor and power. Surely the people who did this have discovered the secret of human progressiveness, and must have kept themselves steadily at the head of the movement of the world? On the contrary, they have become stationary, have remained so for thousands of years, and if they are ever to be farther improved, it must be by foreigners. They have succeeded beyond all hope in what English philanthropists are so industriously working at, — in making a people all alike, — all governing their thoughts and conduct by the same maxims and rules; and these are the fruits. The modern régime of public opinion is, in an unorganized form, what the Chinese educational and political systems are in an organized; and unless individuality shall be able to assert itself successfully against this yoke, Europe, notwithstanding its noble antecedents and its professed Christianity, will tend to become another China.” — pp. 128 - 130.
Such dismal apprehensions are very astonishing in a philosopher whose depth and breadth of view are as great as those of Mr. Mill. Of the signs of the times in his own country he is doubtless better able to judge than we, but his fears for the future of our own people are apparently based on a too ready belief in the foolish falsehoods of book-makers. Witness this passage from the same work:
“ There is confessedly a strong tendency in the modern world towards a democratic constitution of society, accompanied or not by popular political institutions. It is affirmed that, in the country where this tendency is most completely realized, where both society and the government are most democratic, — the United States, — the feeling of the majority, to whom any appearance of a more showy or costly style of living than they can hope to rival is disagreeable, operates as a tolerably effectual sumptuary law; and that in many parts of the Union it is really difficult for a man possessing a very large income to find any mode of spending it which will not incur popular disapprobation. Though such statements as these are doubtless much exaggerated, as a representation of existing facts, the state of things they describe is not only a conceivable and possible, but a probable result of democratic feeling combined with a notion that the public has a right to a veto on the manner in which individuals shall spend their incomes.” -- p. 157.
If Mr. Mill had ever lived, even for the space of a single season, in any one of the large American cities, he would probably have been astonished at more than one example of the impunity with which this terrible tyrant, the public, is braved. We confess at once that there are many men in this as in every other country who would be glad to fetter both speech and action, so far as they opposed their own ideas of expediency or interest. But these are exceptional characters, men soured . by personal spite, men whom the public with sure instinct have rejected as base, and who, from what Mr. Mill elsewhere calls “ inbred toryism,” are alike incapable of noble speech or action themselves, and intolerant of it in others. That theirs is not the spirit of the masses is evidenced by the history of every reform movement, whether genuine or spurious, which has ever been set on foot. Takc, for example, that which has been the most unpopular of all, – the Antislavery movement. Rarely in any country or age has any body of men been more bitterly hated and more virulently abused than the Abolitionists of the United States for a full generation past. The rancor of Christian for Jew, of Spaniard for Moor, of Catholic for Lutheran, of Austrian for revolutionist, are all repeated in the flood of contumely and insult which has been unceasingly poured out upon them, not from the Slave States alone, but throughout the Free States to an almost cqual extent. Governors have recommended imprisonment, editors have invoked the mob, Senators have fulminated wild threats from the halls of Congress. Surely Englishmen of the present generation have never seen in their own country any parallel to such antagonism. It is difficult to believe that its like will ever again be witnessed in ours. Yet in the face of this universal and apparently deadly hostility, they have pursued their object without apprehension and without concession, in perfect safety and with ever increasing facility and freedom, for more than thirty years ; nor excepting in occasional instances, when influential “conservatives” have succeeded in inciting disturbances at their meetings, has the “power of numbers” ever been able to “acquire and retain the absolute government” over them, to “ impose silence” on their voices, or to substitute the opinions and instincts of the mass for their own. It is not unreasonable to hope, that if, in the country continually cited as that in which the power and temper of the masses is most to be dreaded, they have, while acted upon by passions so powerful, possessed a sufficient appreciation of the advantages of freedom of speech and opinion to enable them to control those passions and refrain from practical interference with these hated reformers, the condition of society is in no immediate danger of falling to the Chinese level; and we must think it unfortunate that a philosopher whose insight into principles is so profound and so clear, should share to some extent with shallower reasoners that misapprehension of the people which makes it competent for men to correct him on these points who would hesitate long before venturing to question his theoretical conclusions.
Mr. Mill quotes a passage from Wilhelm von Humboldt in which that author “points out two things as necessary conditions of human development, because necessary to render people unlike one another; namely, freedom, and a variety of situations."
“ The second of these two conditions," says Mr. Mill, "is in this country every day diminishing. The circumstances which surround different classes and individuals, and shape their character, are daily becoming more and more assimilated. Formerly different ranks, different neighborhoods, different trades and professions, lived in what might be called different worlds; at present, to a great degree in the same. Comparatively speaking, they now read the same things, listen to the same things, see the same things, go to the same places, have their hopes and fears directed to the same objects, have the same rights and liberties, and the same means of asserting them. Great as are the differences of position wbich remain, they are nothing to those which have ceased. And the assimilation is still proceeding. All the political changes of the age promote it, since they all tend to raise the low, and to lower the high. Every extension of education promotes it, because education brings people under common influences, and gives them access to the general stock of facts and sentiments. Improvements in the means of communication promote it, by bringing the inhabitants of distant places into personal contact and keeping up a rapid flow of changes of residence between one place and another. The increase of commerce and manufactures promotes it, by diffusing more widely the advantages of easy circumstances, and opening all objects of ambition, even the highest, to general competition, whereby the desire of rising becomes no longer the character of a particular class, but of all classes. ..... The combination of all these causes forms so great a mass of influences hostile to individuality, that it is not easy to see how it can stand its ground. It will do so with increasing difficulty.” — On Liberty, pp. 131, 132.
This extreme of apprehension seems to us morbid. The influences which Mr. Mill enumerates he would himself confess to be among the most beneficent of the age, and unless he is willing, for the sake of encouraging individual dissimilarity of character, to restore the inequalities of station which existed in the Middle Ages, to limit the extension of popular education, to restore the old method of communication, to check the growth of commerce and manufactures, and to substitute the arrogant dictation of powerful individuals for the will of the people, it seems to us illogical as well as morbid to entertain such grave apprehensions in regard to the effects of our later civilization. Mr. Mill lack's faith. The age has tendencies beside those which lie on the surface, which are too obscure even for his philosoplıy to discover, but which may well be believed to balance and compensate for those which he fears. New conditions of society develop new directions for human energy. We can even see in the present age the individuality which formerly expended itself in selfish political scheming for the acquisition of irresponsible power, deprived in great measure of its opportunities by that very change in the position of the masses which Mr. Mill laments, and passing into the busy brains of the inventors who are giving to the century its distinguishing character. The change is so far by no means a bad one; but if not easy to see, it should not be difficult to believe, that in the future every evil tendency will be balanced, and more than balanced, by a beneficent one, and that, however much the form and direc