As for the decay of authority, and diminution of respect for traditional opinions, this could not well be so far advanced among an ancient people—all whose political notions rest on an historical basis, and whose institutions themselves are built on prescription, and not on ideas of expediency—as in America, where the whole edifice of government was constructed within the memory of man upon abstract principles. But surely this change also is taking place as fast as could be expected under the circumstances. And even this effect, though it has a more direct connexion with Democracy, has not an exclusive one. Respect for old opinions must diminish wherever science and knowledge are rapidly progressive. As the people in general become aware of the recent date of the most important physical discoveries, they are liable to form a rather contemptuous opinion of their ancestors. The mere visible fruits of scientific progress in a wealthy society, the mechanical improvements, the steam-engines, the railroads, carry the feeling of admiration for modern and disrespect for ancient times down even to the wholly uneducated classes. For that other mental characteristic which M. de Tocqueville finds in America—a positive, matter-of-fact spirit—a demand that all things shall be made clear to each man’s understanding—an indifference to the subtler proofs which address themselves to more cultivated and systematically exercised intellects; for what may be called, in short, the dogmatism of common sense—we need not look beyond our own country. There needs no Democracy to account for this; there needs only the habit of energetic action, without a proportional development of the taste for speculation. Bonaparte was one of the most remarkable examples of it; and the diffusion of half-instruction, without any sufficient provision made by society for sustaining the higher cultivation, tends greatly to encourage its excess.
that Mill experienced after his mental crisis helped to shape the mould of his political thought in that turbulent and confused era of the 1830s. However much he strayed from the strict path of his father’s thought, he remained in agreement with the main legal and political reforms sought by James Mill and the Philosophic Radicals. In his journalism he still advocated extensive changes in the laws, the parliamentary system, and the whole system of government to reduce what, in his opinion, was the baneful influence of the aristocracy on the major aspects of British society. He endeavoured to arouse the Radicals in and out of parliament to form a powerful party that either alone or allied with progressive Whigs could shape public policies on reformist lines. In a letter to Edward Lytton Bulwer in March 1838 he summarized his political ambitions in the preceding years:
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Although wary about changes in the franchise, Mill supported many reforms in political machinery in harmony with orthodox Philosophic Radicalism: the secret ballot, triennial parliaments, publicity for parliamentary proceedings, payment of members and their professionalization, reduction in the size of the House of Commons to render it more efficient, and the creation of strong local government which he assumed would reduce the burdens of the national parliament. He also proposed a radical change in the House of Lords to destroy it as a rigid barrier to reforms fashioned in the Commons. He would abolish its hereditary principle and select its membership from the lower house. By such changes he hoped to transform Britain’s government from an aristocracy into a special kind of democracy led by an enlightened few.