has changed German politics - SPIEGEL ONLINE

Looking at only the last of these characteristics, one may say, in justification of republication, that our view of utility includes an opportunity to assess the development of the views expressed in the “more mature writings” here included. At the very least, these essays were important to Mill when they were written and reveal some of his attitudes towards contemporary opinions, and also towards the purposes of a radical review. For example, in a letter of 15 April, 1835, Mill asked Joseph Blanco White to tell James Martineau, who had offered to review Bailey’s that “after a good deal of deliberation among the three or four persons who take most share in the conduct of the review, it has appeared to us that a subject involving so directly and comprehensively all the political principles of the review, should be retained in the hands of the conductors themselves . . .” ( XII, 258; cf. 263).

Stability used to define Germany's political system

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. In “Coleridge” and he had viewed nationality as an essential condition for a stable political society, but emphasized that he did not mean nationality in the vulgar sense. In the interval between these writings and the appearance of Mill saw nationality in Europe grow stronger in influence, more militant, and more uncompromising. 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. “But the strongest of all is identity of political antecedents: the possession of a national history, and consequent community of recollections; collective pride and humiliation, pleasure and regret, connected with the same incidents in the past” (546). 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.


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Mill’s increased sympathy for socialism is not evident in Since this work is strongly intended to foster individuality, it is perhaps hardly to be expected that it would pay tribute to the collectivist idea. In the last part of the essay he summarizes his principal objections to government intervention, apart from cases where it is intended to protect the liberty of individuals (305-10). He opposes it in matters which can be managed more effectively by private individuals than by the government, because they have a deeper interest in the outcome. He also opposes it when individuals may be less competent than public servants, but can acquire an invaluable public education in providing the service. Thus they strengthen their faculties, their judgment, and their grasp of joint and diverse interests that deeply concern themselves and society. He finds examples of these in jury service, participation in local administration, and conduct of voluntary philanthropic or industrial activities. Without such practical experience and education, no people can be adequately equipped for success in political freedom. It is the role of the central government, not to engage directly in these activities, but to act for them as a central depository, diffusing the diverse experience gathered in the many experiments of civic activity.


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Mill believes that neither theory alone explains the nature of politics. Each has elements of truth; each in itself can mislead. But both together help to further political comprehension. For him the essential fact is that political institutions, as the work of men, depend on will and thought, and are subject to the errors as well as the wisdom of human judgment. Unlike trees, which once planted grow while men sleep, they are controlled by the constant decisions and participation of individuals, exposed to a host of influences. “It is what men think, that determines how they act” (382). He rejects the idea that any people is capable of operating any type of political system. A bewildering medley of circumstances usually determines the nature and outlook of a country’s government. For a system to be successful, the people must be willing to accept it, do whatever ensures its survival, and strive to fulfil its purposes. Representative government makes heavy demands on the energy and initiative of citizens, requiring in particular self-discipline, moderation, and a spirit of compromise. It can succeed only when, in a favourable environment, the citizens have the qualities requisite to operate it. Mill admits that until relatively recent times a free and popular government was rarely possible outside a city community because physical conditions failed to permit the emergence and propagation of a cohesive public opinion. These views were not new to him in the 1860s. In his he relates that some thirty years earlier he had seen representative democracy as a question of time, place, and circumstance.