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About James Ostrowski. James Ostrowski. Books by James Ostrowski. Even in the progressive democracies many men are content to be passive in public affairs.
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Absorbed in private cares and satisfactions, they patiently endure social evils and surrender to the pressure of circumstances. Usually present, however, are an energetic and active few who express thought, advocate innovations, and encourage provocative debate, thus making progress possible. Representative institutions enable these few to thrash out differences and reach workable agreements for the common good. Enterprise, the desire to keep moving, to be trying and accomplishing new things for our own benefit or that of others, is the parent even of speculative, and much more of practical, talent.
The character which improves human life is that which struggles with natural powers and tendencies, not that which gives way to them. In Representative Government, Mill is principally concerned with three institutional features: the electoral machinery, the structure of a responsible national government, and the paramount role of a professional and expert class in administration and law-making. The first of these themes, which he had earlier explored in articles, emphasizes his distinction between true and false democracy.
True democracy represents all, and not merely the majority. In it the different interests, opinions, and grades of intellect are heard, and by weight of character and strength of argument influence the rest. Mill believes that the expansion of democratic rights in itself exerts a pervasive educational influence. He strongly holds this view, although in earlier essays on the United States he also acknowledged in the American electorate a narrow and intolerant mentality. Although Mill at times fluctuates between trust and distrust of democracy, he always believes in its potentiality to improve men.
Active citizenship can usually nourish the qualities that good citizenship demands, draw out human resources otherwise dormant, and advance the lot of mankind. In discussing the executive in the representative system, Mill is the empiricist and Benthamite, who is eager to accept innovations but clearly places a high value on what has been tested by experience. He sanctions the parliamentary executive, which the British developed through common sense and the accidents of a long history.
Indeed, he gives scant attention to any other system except the American, which affords him merely a basis for contrasts. With brevity and acumen he discusses precepts that must govern a responsible and effective executive. But it is equally true that in many counsellors there is wisdom. A single individual even in his own business seldom judges right, and still less in that of the public.
These and related points, he thinks, are woven into the fabric of British parliamentary practice. Distinguishing between policy and administration, he is anxious that in the latter highly trained minds should save democracy from errors. He fears that the popular tolerance of mediocrity impairs the competence and quality of the state.
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In defending the Northcote-Trevelyan Report on the civil service he had advocated the recruitment of officials through competitive examinations from the ablest brains in the country, irrespective of social class. This case he confidently argues afresh in Representative Government and defends it for every democratic state. Critical of British complacency and aristocratic casualness, he constantly extols the professional and the expert above the amateur and the dilettante.
His zeal for professional skills extends from administration to lawmaking. In his opinion a large and unwieldy parliament can no more legislate than administer. His Benthamite conscience was hurt by the haphazard and often dilatory manner in which British laws were made, with little concern for whether they fitted logically into the existing legal structure.
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His remedy was a legislative commission, composed of those who from assiduous study and long experience acquired an expertise in drafting bills which parliament could pass, reject, or return for further consideration He suggests that on their appointment members of the commission should become life peers and thus enlarge the element of expertise in the House of Lords.
In his chapter on second chambers, however, he emphasizes that the House of Lords should not be considered the main instrument for tempering the ascendancy of the majority in the lower house, a task better achieved through the electoral reforms that he and Thomas Hare advocated.
His sympathy always seemed stronger for the men in Whitehall than for those in Westminster, for the officials rather than the politicians. More than a quarter of Representative Government is devoted to four topics that may seem somewhat marginal to the main subject of the book. But because for Mill they are important and illustrate cardinal features of his liberalism they merit separate discussion.
In both On Liberty and Representative Government Mill extols local institutions as essential for the welfare and education of the people. They permit citizens to acquire invaluable experience in working for common ends, introduce them to the skills and ethics of collaboration, and are an indispensable preparatory school for the democratic state. In Britain, moreover, such Edition: current; Page: [ xl ] institutions are a necessary auxiliary to the national parliament itself, which otherwise would become harassed and strained by tasks better left to local bodies, visible and sensitive to local electorates and directly accountable to them.
A robust municipal system, Mill believed, would nourish a responsible public spirit and foster among the citizenry the political enlightenment essential for an extended franchise and a viable democracy.
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In these views Mill was faithful to the utilitarian and radical tradition, drawing inspiration from Bentham who had emphasized the inherent value of local government and the necessity for its overhaul in England. He shared an early and lifelong friendship with Edwin Chadwick, a zealous and energetic Benthamite and the chief architect of municipal reform in the s and s. The two men freely consulted, exchanged general ideas, and usually agreed on policy.
When in Mill came to write his chapter on local government he surveyed a scene of increasing complexity and baffling confusion. The rapid growth of industry and population had created massive urban concentrations of people clamouring for new and varied services. The different municipal bodies launched in the s and s were busily trying to cope with the problems of a social cauldron.
The Boards of Poor Law Guardians, the borough councils, and the numerous ad hoc boards and commissions responsible for specific services all attempted to give a new meaning to municipal rule in a changing society. But in the counties the ancient system of appointed justices of the peace meeting in Quarter Sessions still survived. On this institution Mill as a faithful Radical is caustic:. The mode of formation of these bodies is most anomalous, they being neither elected, nor, in any proper sense of the term, nominated, but holding their important functions, like the feudal lords to whom they succeeded, virtually by right of their acres.
The institution is the most aristocratic in principle which now remains in England: far more so than the House of Lords, for it grants public money and disposes of important public interests, not in conjunction with a popular assembly, but alone.
He would correct the deficiencies of county government through elected county councils to replace the Quarter Sessions, a reform not achieved until Mill also attacks the cluttering proliferation of boards and commissions which needlessly fragmented and confused English civic life. In brief, he recommends for all the local business of a town one body, whose members should be chosen only by ratepayers. He criticizes the subdivision of London into several independent units, each jealously clinging to responsibility for providing the same services, and thus preventing co-operation.
Action must be localized, though knowledge, to be useful to all citizens in the kingdom, should be centralized. In the public interest a close partnership between the two levels of government is imperative. The central government should designate a specific department to act as a responsible guardian, adviser, and critic, scrutinizing everything done in local areas and making its fund of special knowledge available to those who need it. It should in particular supervise those matters of national interest left to local administration, but its power should be limited to compelling local officers to obey the laws enacted for their guidance.
His chief example for this type of supervision is that of the Poor Law Board over the Local Guardians.
In these ideas he demonstrates his type of utilitarian thought Edition: current; Page: [ xlii ] at its best, especially in taking traditional English institutions and adapting them to the necessities of a new industrial age. But in the wider perspective of her relations with continental Europe it was important. His chapter on the subject is brief, little more than half the length of that on local government, perhaps too brief for him to render full justice to the magnitude and complexity of the theme.
It was manifested in a people through a powerful sense of community and an anxiety to live under one government. It was fostered by a variety of influences, such as identity of race, a common homeland, common language, common religion, and a common sense of history.
This passage has been quoted and requoted. Yet in his brief sketch Mill does not explain precisely how, why, and when the actual unifying sense of a common national history arises, especially in cases like Germany and Italy, where for generations deep political divergences expressed in a plethora of small states seemed more conspicuous than unity. Mill took a definite position on the relations of nationality to democracy.