John Stuart Mill

Two very different ideas are usually confounded under the name democracy. The pure idea of democracy, according to its definition, is the government of the whole people by the whole people, equally represented. Democracy, as commonly conceived and hitherto practiced, is the government of the whole people by a mere majority of the people exclusively represented. The former is synonymous with the equality of all citizens; the latter, strangely confounded with it, is a government of privilege in favor of the numerical majority, who alone possess practically any voice in the state. This is the inevitable consequence of the manner in which the votes are now taken, to the complete disfranchisement of minorities.

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    Considerations on Representative Government

    by John Stuart Mill


    Chapter VII—Of True and False Democracy; Representation of All, and Representation of the Majority only.

    It has been seen that the dangers incident to a representative democracy are of two kinds: danger of a low grade of intelligence in the representative body, and in the popular opinion which controls it; and danger of class legislation on the part of the numerical majority, these being all composed of the same class. We have next to consider how far it is possible so to organize the democracy as, without interfering materially with the characteristic benefits of democratic government, to do away with these two great evils, or at least to abate them in the utmost degree attainable by human contrivance.

    The common mode of attempting this is by limiting the democratic character of the representation through a more or less restricted suffrage. But there is a previous consideration which, duly kept in view, considerably modifies the circumstances which are supposed to render such a restriction necessary. A completely equal democracy, in a nation in which a single class composes the numerical majority, can not be divested of certain evils; but those evils are greatly aggravated by the fact that the democracies which at present exist are not equal, but systematically unequal in favor of the predominant class. Two very different ideas are usually confounded under the name democracy. The pure idea of democracy, according to its definition, is the government of the whole people by the whole people, equally represented. Democracy, as commonly conceived and hitherto practiced, is the government of the whole people by a mere majority of the people exclusively represented. The former is synonymous with the equality of all citizens; the latter, strangely confounded with it, is a government of privilege in favor of the numerical majority, who alone possess practically any voice in the state. This is the inevitable consequence of the manner in which the votes are now taken, to the complete disfranchisement of minorities.

    The confusion of ideas here is great, but it is so easily cleared up that one would suppose the slightest indication would be sufficient to place the matter in its true light before any mind of average intelligence. It would be so but for the power of habit; owing to which, the simplest idea, if unfamiliar, has as great difficulty in making its way to the mind as a far more complicated one. That the minority must yield to the majority, the smaller number to the greater, is a familiar idea; and accordingly, men think there is no necessity for using their minds any further, and it does not occur to them that there is any medium between allowing the smaller number to be equally powerful with the greater, and blotting out the smaller number altogether. In a representative body actually deliberating, the minority must of course be overruled; and in an equal democracy (since the opinions of the constituents, when they insist on them, determine those of the representative body), the majority of the people, through their representatives, will outvote and prevail over the minority and their representatives. But does it follow that the minority should have no representatives at all? Because the majority ought to prevail over the minority, must the majority have all the votes, the minority none? Is it necessary that the minority should not even be heard? Nothing but habit and old association can reconcile any reasonable being to the needless injustice. In a really equal democracy, every or any section would be represented, not disproportionately, but proportionately. A majority of the electors would always have a majority of the representatives, but a minority of the electors would always have a minority of the representatives. Man for man, they would be as fully represented as the majority. Unless they are, there is not equal government, but a government of inequality and privilege: one part of the people rule over the rest: there is a part whose fair and equal share of influence in the representation is withheld from them, contrary to all just government, but, above all, contrary to the principle of democracy, which professes equality as its very root and foundation.

    The injustice and violation of principle are not less flagrant because those who suffer by them are a minority, for there is not equal suffrage where every single individual does not count for as much as any other single individual in the community. But it is not only a minority who suffer. Democracy, thus constituted, does not even attain its ostensible object, that of giving the powers of government in all cases to the numerical majority. It does something very different; it gives them to a majority of the majority, who may be, and often are, but a minority of the whole. All principles are most effectually tested by extreme cases. Suppose, then, that, in a country governed by equal and universal suffrage, there is a contested election in every constituency, and every election is carried by a small majority. The Parliament thus brought together represents little more than a bare majority of the people. This Parliament proceeds to legislate, and adopts important measures by a bare majority of itself. What guaranty is there that these measures accord with the wishes of a majority of the people? Nearly half the electors, having been outvoted at the hustings, have had no influence at all in the decision; and the whole of these may be, a majority of them probably are, hostile to the measures, having voted against those by whom they have been carried. Of the remaining electors, nearly half have chosen representatives who, by supposition, have voted against the measures. It is possible, therefore, and even probable, that the opinion which has prevailed was agreeable only to a minority of the nation, though a majority of that portion of it whom the institutions of the country have erected into a ruling class. If democracy means the certain ascendancy of the majority, there are no means of insuring that, but by allowing every individual figure to tell equally in the summing up. Any minority left out, either purposely or by the play of the machinery, gives the power not to the majority, but to a minority in some other part of the scale.

    The only answer which can possibly be made to this reasoning is, that as different opinions predominate in different localities, the opinion which is in a minority in some places has a majority in others, and on the whole every opinion which exists in the constituencies obtains its fair share of voices in the representation. And this is roughly true in the present state of the constituency; if it were not, the discordance of the House with the general sentiment of the country would soon become evident. But it would be no longer true if the present constituency were much enlarged, still less if made co-extensive with the whole population; for in that case the majority in every locality would consist of manual laborers; and when there was any question pending on which these classes were at issue with the rest of the community, no other class could succeed in getting represented any where. Even now, is it not a great grievance that in every Parliament a very numerous portion of the electors, willing and anxious to be represented, have no member in the House for whom they have voted? Is it just that every elector of Marylebone is obliged to be represented by two nominees of the vestries, every elector of Finsbury or Lambeth by those (as is generally believed) of the publicans? The constituencies to which most of the highly educated and public spirited persons in the country belong, those of the large towns, are now, in great part, either unrepresented or misrepresented. The electors who are on a different side in party politics from the local majority are unrepresented. Of those who are on the same side, a large proportion are misrepresented; having been obliged to accept the man who had the greatest number of supporters in their political party, though his opinions may differ from theirs on every other point. The state of things is, in some respects, even worse than if the minority were not allowed to vote at all; for then, at least, the majority might have a member who would represent their own best mind; while now, the necessity of not dividing the party, for fear of letting in its opponents, induces all to vote either for the first person who presents himself wearing their colors, or for the one brought forward by their local leaders; and these, if we pay them the compliment, which they very seldom deserve, of supposing their choice to be unbiassed by their personal interests, are compelled, that they may be sure of mustering their whole strength, to bring forward a candidate whom none of the party will strongly object to—that is, a man without any distinctive peculiarity, any known opinions except the shibboleth of the party. This is strikingly exemplified in the United States; where, at the election of President, the strongest party never dares put forward any of its strongest men, because every one of these, from the mere fact that he has been long in the public eye, has made himself objectionable to some portion or other of the party, and is therefore not so sure a card for rallying all their votes as a person who has never been heard of by the public at all until he is produced as the candidate. Thus, the man who is chosen, even by the strongest party, represents perhaps the real wishes only of the narrow margin by which that party outnumbers the other. Any section whose support is necessary to success possesses a veto on the candidate. Any section which holds out more obstinately than the rest can compel all the others to adopt its nominee; and this superior pertinacity is unhappily more likely to be found among those who are holding out for their own interest than for that of the public. Speaking generally, the choice of the majority is determined by that portion of the body who are the most timid, the most narrow-minded and prejudiced, or who cling most tenaciously to the exclusive class-interest; and the electoral rights of the minority, while useless for the purposes for which votes are given, serve only for compelling the majority to accept the candidate of the weakest or worst portion of themselves.

    That, while recognizing these evils, many should consider them as the necessary price paid for a free government, is in no way surprising; it was the opinion of all the friends of freedom up to a recent period. But the habit of passing them over as irremediable has become so inveterate, that many persons seem to have lost the capacity of looking at them as things which they would be glad to remedy if they could. From despairing of a cure, there is too often but one step to denying the disease; and from this follows dislike to having a remedy proposed, as if the proposer were creating a mischief instead of offering relief from one. People are so inured to the evils that they feel as if it were unreasonable, if not wrong, to complain of them. Yet, avoidable or not, he must be a purblind lover of liberty on whose mind they do not weigh; who would not rejoice at the discovery that they could be dispensed with. Now, nothing is more certain than that the virtual blotting out of the minority is no necessary or natural consequence of freedom; that, far from having any connection with democracy, it is diametrically opposed to the first principle of democracy, representation in proportion to numbers. It is an essential part of democracy that minorities should be adequately represented. No real democracy, nothing but a false show of democracy, is possible without it.

    Those who have seen and felt, in some degree, the force of these considerations, have proposed various expedients by which the evil may be, in a greater or less degree, mitigated. Lord John Russell, in one of his Reform Bills, introduced a provision that certain constituencies should return three members, and that in these each elector should be allowed to vote only for two; and Mr. Disraeli, in the recent debates, revived the memory of the fact by reproaching him for it, being of opinion, apparently, that it befits a Conservative statesman to regard only means, and to disown scornfully all fellow-feeling with any one who is betrayed, even once, into thinking of ends. [3] Others have proposed that each elector should be allowed to vote only for one. By either of these plans, a minority equalling or exceeding a third of the local constituency, would be able, if it attempted no more, to return one out of three members. The same result might be attained in a still better way if, as proposed in an able pamphlet by Mr. James Garth Marshall, the elector retained his three votes, but was at liberty to bestow them all upon the same candidate. These schemes, though infinitely better than none at all, are yet but makeshifts, and attain the end in a very imperfect manner, since all local minorities of less than a third, and all minorities, however numerous, which are made up from several constituencies, would remain unrepresented. It is much to be lamented, however, that none of these plans have been carried into effect, as any of them would have recognized the right principle, and prepared the way for its more complete application. But real equality of representation is not obtained unless any set of electors amounting to the average number of a constituency, wherever in the country they happen to reside, have the power of combining with one another to return a representative. This degree of perfection in representation appeared impracticable until a man of great capacity, fitted alike for large general views and for the contrivance of practical details—Mr. Thomas Hare—had proved its possibility by drawing up a scheme for its accomplishment, embodied in a Draft of an Act of Parliament; a scheme which has the almost unparalleled merit of carrying out a great principle of government in a manner approaching to ideal perfection as regards the special object in view, while it attains incidentally several other ends of scarcely inferior importance.

    According to this plan, the unit of representation, the quota of electors who would be entitled to have a member to themselves, would be ascertained by the ordinary process of taking averages, the number of voters being divided by the number of seats in the House; and every candidate who obtained that quota would be returned, from however great a number of local constituencies it might be gathered. The votes would, as at present, be given locally; but any elector would be at liberty to vote for any candidate, in whatever part of the country he might offer himself. Those electors, therefore, who did not wish to be represented by any of the local candidates, might aid by their vote in the return of the person they liked best among all those throughout the country who had expressed a willingness to be chosen. This would so far give reality to the electoral rights of the otherwise virtually disfranchised minority. But it is important that not those alone who refuse to vote for any of the local candidates, but those also who vote for one of them and are defeated, should be enabled to find elsewhere the representation which they have not succeeded in obtaining in their own district. It is therefore provided that an elector may deliver a voting paper containing other names in addition to the one which stands foremost in his preference. His vote would only be counted for one candidate; but if the object of his first choice failed to be returned, from not having obtained the quota, his second perhaps might be more fortunate. He may extend his list to a greater number in the order of his preference, so that if the names which stand near the top of the list either can not make up the quota, or are able to make it up without his vote, the vote may still be used for some one whom it may assist in returning. To obtain the full number of members required to complete the House, as well as to prevent very popular candidates from engrossing nearly all the suffrages, it is necessary, however many votes a candidate may obtain, that no more of them than the quota should be counted for his return; the remainder of those who voted for him would have their votes counted for the next person on their respective lists who needed them, and could by their aid complete the quota. To determine which of a candidate’s votes should be used for his return, and which set free for others, several methods are proposed, into which we shall not here enter. He would, of course, retain the votes of all those who would not otherwise be represented; and for the remainder, drawing lots, in default of better, would be an unobjectionable expedient. The voting papers would be conveyed to a central office, where the votes would be counted, the number of first, second, third, and other votes given for each candidate ascertained, and the quota would be allotted to every one who could make it up, until the number of the House was complete; first votes being preferred to second, second to third, and so forth. The voting papers, and all the elements of the calculation, would be placed in public repositories, accessible to all whom they concerned; and if any one who had obtained the quota was not duly returned, it would be in his power easily to prove it.

    These are the main provisions of the scheme. For a more minute knowledge of its very simple machinery, I must refer to Mr. Hare’s “Treatise on the Election of Representatives” (a small volume Published in 1859), and to a pamphlet by Mr. Henry Fawcett, published in 1860, and entitled “Mr. Hare’s Reform Bill simplified and explained.” This last is a very clear and concise exposition of the plan, reduced to its simplest elements by the omission of some of Mr. Hare’s original provisions, which, though in themselves beneficial, we’re thought to take more from the simplicity of the scheme than they added to its practical advantages. The more these works are studied, the stronger, I venture to predict, will be the impression of the perfect feasibility of the scheme and its transcendant advantages. Such and so numerous are these, that, in my conviction, they place Mr. Hare’s plan among the very greatest improvements yet made in the theory and practice of government.

    In the first place, it secures a representation, in proportion to numbers, of every division of the electoral body: not two great parties alone, with perhaps a few large sectional minorities in particular places, but every minority in the whole nation, consisting of a sufficiently large number to be, on principles of equal justice, entitled to a representative. Secondly, no elector would, as at present, be nominally represented by some one whom he had not chosen. Every member of the House would be the representative of a unanimous constituency. He would represent a thousand electors, or two thousand, or five thousand, or ten thousand, as the quota might be, every one of whom would have not only voted for him, but selected him from the whole country; not merely from the assortment of two or three perhaps rotten oranges, which may be the only choice offered to him in his local market. Under this relation the tie between the elector and the representative would be of a strength and a value of which at present we have no experience. Every one of the electors would be personally identified with his representative, and the representative with his constituents. Every elector who voted for him would have done so either because he is the person, in the whole list of candidates for Parliament, who best expresses the voter’s own opinions, or because he is one of those whose abilities and character the voter most respects, and whom he most willingly trusts to think for him. The member would represent persons, not the mere bricks and mortar of the town—the voters themselves, not a few vestrymen or parish notabilities merely. All, however, that is worth preserving in the representation of places would be preserved. Though the Parliament of the nation ought to have as little as possible to do with purely local affairs, yet, while it has to do with them, there ought to be members specially commissioned to look after the interests of every important locality; and these there would still be. In every locality which contained many more voters than the quota (and there probably ought to be no local consitituency which does not), the majority would generally prefer to be represented by one of themselves; by a person of local knowledge, and residing in the locality, if there is any such person to be found among the candidates, who is otherwise eligible as their representative. It would be the minorities chiefly, who, being unable to return the local member, would look out elsewhere for a candidate likely to obtain other votes in addition to their own.

    Of all modes in which a national representation can possibly be constituted, this one affords the best security for the intellectual qualifications desirable in the representatives. At present, by universal admission, it is becoming more and more difficult for any one who has only talents and character to gain admission into the House of Commons. The only persons who can get elected are those who possess local influence, or make their way by lavish expenditure, or who, on the invitation of three or four tradesmen or attorneys, are sent down by one of the two great parties from their London clubs, as men whose votes the party can depend on under all circumstances. On Mr. Hare’s system, those who did not like the local candidates would fill up their voting papers by a selection from all the persons of national reputation on the list of candidates with whose general political principles they were in sympathy. Almost every person, therefore, who had made himself in any way honorably distinguished, though devoid of local influence, and having sworn allegiance to no political party, would have a fair chance of making up the quota, and with this encouragement such persons might be expected to offer themselves in numbers hitherto undreamed of. Hundreds of able men of independent thought, who would have no chance whatever of being chosen by the majority of any existing constituency, have by their writings, or their exertions in some field of public usefulness, made themselves known and approved by a few persons in almost every district of the kingdom; and if every vote that would be given for them in every place could be counted for their election, they might be able to complete the number of the quota. In no other way which it seems possible to suggest would Parliament be so certain of containing the very élite of the country.

    And it is not solely through the votes of minorities that this system of election would raise the intellectual standard of the House of Commons. Majorities would be compelled to look out for members of a much higher calibre. When the individuals composing the majority would no longer be reduced to Hobson’s choice, of either voting for the person brought forward by their local leaders, or not voting at all; when the nominee of the leaders would have to encounter the competition not solely of the candidate of the minority, but of all the men of established reputation in the country who were willing to serve, it would be impossible any longer to foist upon the electors the first person who presents himself with the catchwords of the party in his mouth, and three or four thousand pounds in his pocket. The majority would insist on having a candidate worthy of their choice, or they would carry their votes somewhere else, and the minority would prevail. The slavery of the majority to the least estimable portion of their numbers would be at an end; the very best and most capable of the local notabilities would be put forward by preference; if possible, such as were known in some advantageous way beyond the locality, that their local strength might have a chance of being fortified by stray votes from elsewhere. Constituencies would become competitors for the best candidates, and would vie with one another in selecting from among the men of local knowledge and connections those who were most distinguished in every other respect.

    The natural tendency of representative government, as of modern civilization, is towards collective mediocrity: and this tendency is increased by all reductions and extensions of the franchise, their effect being to place the principal power in the hands of classes more and more below the highest level of instruction in the community. But, though the superior intellects and characters will necessarily be outnumbered, it makes a great difference whether or not they are heard. In the false democracy which, instead of giving representation to all, gives it only to the local majorities, the voice of the instructed minority may have no organs at all in the representative body. It is an admitted fact that in the American democracy, which is constructed on this faulty model, the highly-cultivated members of the community, except such of them as are willing to sacrifice their own opinions and modes of judgment, and become the servile mouthpieces of their inferiors in knowledge, do not even offer themselves for Congress or the State Legislatures, so certain is it that they would have no chance of being returned. Had a plan like Mr. Hare’s by good fortune suggested itself to the enlightened and disinterested founders of the American Republic, the federal and state assemblies would have contained many of these distinguished men, and democracy would have been spared its greatest reproach and one of its most formidable evils. Against this evil the system of personal representation proposed by Mr. Hare is almost a specific. The minority of instructed minds scattered through the local constituencies would unite to return a number, proportioned to their own numbers, of the very ablest men the country contains. They would be under the strongest inducement to choose such men, since in no other mode could they make their small numerical strength tell for any thing considerable. The representatives of the majority, besides that they would themselves be improved in quality by the operation of the system, would no longer have the whole field to themselves. They would indeed outnumber the others, as much as the one class of electors outnumbers the other in the country: they could always outvote them, but they would speak and vote in their presence, and subject to their criticism. When any difference arose, they would have to meet the arguments of the instructed few by reasons, at least apparently, as cogent; and since they could not, as those do who are speaking to persons already unanimous, simply assume that they are in the right, it would occasionally happen to them to become convinced that they were in the wrong. As they would in general be well-meaning (for thus much may reasonably be expected from a fairly-chosen national representation), their own minds would be insensibly raised by the influence of the minds with which they were in contact, or even in conflict. The champions of unpopular doctrines would not put forth their arguments merely in books and periodicals, read only by their own side; the opposing ranks would meet face to face and hand to hand, and there would be a fair comparison of their intellectual strength in the presence of the country. It would then be found out whether the opinion which prevailed by counting votes would also prevail if the votes were weighed as well as counted. The multitude have often a true instinct for distinguishing an able man when he has the means of displaying his ability in a fair field before them. If such a man fails to obtain any portion of his just weight, it is through institutions or usages which keep him out of sight. In the old democracies there were no means of keeping out of sight any able man: the bema was open to him; he needed nobody’s consent to become a public adviser. It is not so in a representative government; and the best friends of representative democracy can hardly be without misgivings that the Themistocles or Demosthenes whose councils would have saved the nation, might be unable during his whole life ever to obtain a seat. But if the presence in the representative assembly can be insured of even a few of the first minds in the country, though the remainder consist only of average minds, the influence of these leading spirits is sure to make itself insensibly felt in the general deliberations, even though they be known to be, in many respects, opposed to the tone of popular opinion and feeling. I am unable to conceive any mode by which the presence of such minds can be so positively insured as by that proposed by Mr. Hare.

    This portion of the assembly would also be the appropriate organ of a great social function, for which there is no provision in any existing democracy, but which in no government can remain permanently unfulfilled without condemning that government to infallible degeneracy and decay. This may be called the function of Antagonism. In every government there is some power stronger than all the rest; and the power which is strongest tends perpetually to become the sole power. Partly by intention and partly unconsciously, it is ever striving to make all other things bend to itself, and is not content while there is any thing which makes permanent head against it, any influence not in agreement with its spirit. Yet, if it succeeds in suppressing all rival influences, and moulding every thing after its own model, improvement, in that country, is at an end, and decline commences. Human improvement is a product of many factors, and no power ever yet constituted among mankind includes them all: even the most beneficent power only contains in itself some of the requisites of good, and the remainder, if progress is to continue, must be derived from some other source. No community has ever long continued progressive but while a conflict was going on between the strongest power in the community and some rival power; between the spiritual and temporal authorities; the military or territorial and the industrious classes; the king and the people; the orthodox and religious reformers. When the victory on either side was so complete as to put an end to the strife, and no other conflict took its place, first stagnation followed, and then decay. The ascendancy of the numerical majority is less unjust, and, on the whole, less mischievous than many others, but it is attended with the very same kind of dangers, and even more certainly; for when the government is in the hands of One or a Few, the Many are always existent as a rival power, which may not be strong enough ever to control the other, but whose opinion and sentiment are a moral, and even a social support to all who, either from conviction or contrariety of interest, are opposed to any of the tendencies of the ruling authority. But when the democracy is supreme, there is no One or Few strong enough for dissentient opinions and injured or menaced interests to lean upon. The great difficulty of democratic government has hitherto seemed to be, how to provide in a democratic society—what circumstances have provided hitherto in all the societies which have maintained themselves ahead of others—a social support, a point d’appui, for individual resistance to the tendencies of the ruling power; a protection, a rallying-point, for opinions and interests which the ascendant public opinion views with disfavor. For want of such a point d’appui, the older societies, and all but a few modern ones, either fell into dissolution or became stationary (which means slow deterioration) through the exclusive predominance of a part only of the conditions of social and mental well-being.

    Now, this great want the system of Personal Representation is fitted to supply in the most perfect manner which the circumstances of modern society admit of. The only quarter in which to look for a supplement, or completing corrective to the instincts of a democratic majority, is the instructed minority; but, in the ordinary mode of constituting democracy, this minority has no organ: Mr. Hare’s system provides one. The representatives who would be returned to Parliament by the aggregate of minorities would afford that organ in its greatest perfection. A separate organization of the instructed classes, even if practicable, would be invidious, and could only escape from being offensive by being totally without influence. But if the élite of these classes formed part of the Parliament, by the same title as any other of its members—by representing the same number of citizens, the same numerical fraction of the national will—their presence could give umbrage to nobody, while they would be in the position of highest vantage, both for making their opinions and councils heard on all important subjects, and for taking an active part in public business. Their abilities would probably draw to them more than their numerical share of the actual administration of government; as the Athenians did not confide responsible public functions to Cleon or Hyperbolus (the employment of Cleon at Pylos and Amphipolis was purely exceptional), but Nicias, and Theramenes, and Alcibiades were in constant employment both at home and abroad, though known to sympathize more with oligarchy than with democracy. The instructed minority would, in the actual voting, count only for their numbers, but as a moral power they would count for much more, in virtue of their knowledge, and of the influence it would give them over the rest. An arrangement better adapted to keep popular opinion within reason and justice, and to guard it from the various deteriorating influences which assail the weak side of democracy, could scarcely by human ingenuity be devised. A democratic people would in this way be provided with what in any other way it would almost certainly miss—leaders of a higher grade of intellect and character than itself. Modern democracy would have its occasional Pericles, and its habitual group of superior and guiding minds.

    With all this array of reasons, of the most fundamental character, on the affirmative side of the question, what is there on the negative? Nothing that will sustain examination, when people can once be induced to bestow any real examination upon a new thing. Those indeed, if any such there be, who, under pretense of equal justice, aim only at substituting the class ascendancy of the poor for that of the rich, will of course be unfavorable to a scheme which places both on a level. But I do not believe that any such wish exists at present among the working classes of this country, though I would not answer for the effect which opportunity and demagogic artifices may hereafter have in exciting it. In the United States, where the numerical majority have long been in full possession of collective despotism, they would probably be as unwilling to part with it as a single despot or an aristocracy. But I believe that the English democracy would as yet be content with protection against the class legislation of others, without claiming the power to exercise it in their turn.

    Among the ostensible objectors to Mr. Hare’s scheme, some profess to think the plan unworkable; but these, it will be found, are generally people who have barely heard of it, or have given it a very slight and cursory examination. Others are unable to reconcile themselves to the loss of what they term the local character of the representation. A nation does not seem to them to consist of persons, but of artificial units, the creation of geography and statistics. Parliament must represent towns and counties, not human beings. But no one seeks to annihilate towns and counties. Towns and counties, it may be presumed, are represented when the human beings who inhabit them are represented. Local feelings can not exist without somebody who feels them, nor local interests without somebody interested in them. If the human beings whose feelings and interests these are have their proper share of representation, these feelings and interests are represented in common with all other feelings and interests of those persons. But I can not see why the feelings and interests which arrange mankind according to localities should be the only one thought worthy of being represented; or why people who have other feelings and interests, which they value more than they do their geographical ones, should be restricted to these as the sole principle of their political classification. The notion that Yorkshire and Middlesex have rights apart from those of their inhabitants, or that Liverpool and Exeter are the proper objects of the legislator’s care, in contradistinction the population of those places, is a curious specimen of delusion produced by words.

    In general, however, objectors cut the matter short by affirming that the people of England will never consent to such a system. What the people of England are likely to think of those who pass such a summary sentence on their capacity of understanding and judgment, deeming it superfluous to consider whether a thing is right or wrong before affirming that they are certain to reject it, I will not undertake to say. For my own part, I do not think that the people of England have deserved to be, without trial, stigmatized as insurmountably prejudiced against any thing which can be proved to be good either for themselves or for others. It also appears to me that when prejudices persist obstinately, it is the fault of nobody so much as of those who make a point of proclaiming them insuperable, as an excuse to themselves for never joining in an attempt to remove them. Any prejudice whatever will be insurmountable if those who do not share it themselves truckle to it, and flatter it, and accept it as a law of nature. I believe, however, that of prejudice, properly speaking, there is in this case none except on the lips of those who talk about it, and that there is in general, among those who have yet heard of the proposition, no other hostility to it than the natural and healthy distrust attaching to all novelties which have not been sufficiently canvassed to make generally manifest all the pros and cons of the question. The only serious obstacle is the unfamiliarity: this, indeed, is a formidable one, for the imagination much more easily reconciles itself to a great alteration in substance than to a very small one in names and forms. But unfamiliarity is a disadvantage which, when there is any real value in an idea, it only requires time to remove; and in these days of discussion and generally awakened interest in improvement, what formerly was the work of centuries often requires only years.

  2. shinichi Post author

    John Stuart Mill

    John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873), usually cited as J. S. Mill, was a British philosopher, political economist, and civil servant. One of the most influential thinkers in the history of classical liberalism, he contributed widely to social theory, political theory, and political economy. Dubbed “the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century”, Mill’s conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state and social control.

    Mill was a proponent of utilitarianism, an ethical theory developed by his predecessor Jeremy Bentham. He contributed to the investigation of scientific methodology, though his knowledge of the topic was based on the writings of others, notably William Whewell, John Herschel, and Auguste Comte, and research carried out for Mill by Alexander Bain. Mill engaged in written debate with Whewell.

    A member of the Liberal Party and author of the early feminist work The Subjection of Women, he was also the second Member of Parliament to call for women’s suffrage after Henry Hunt in 1832.

    On Representative Government

    by John Stuart Mill


    Ch. VI: Of the Infirmities and Dangers to Which Representative Government Is Liable (p. 234)

    A bureaucracy always tends to become a pedantocracy.

  3. shinichi Post author

    Tyrannie de la majorité

    La tyrannie de la majorité est une conséquence indésirable de la démocratie par laquelle une majorité démocratique peut opprimer une minorité si la démocratie n’est pas accompagnée de la reconnaissance de certains droits pour protéger les minorités. Ces risques ont en particulier été évoqués par les penseurs libéraux.




    数の暴力(tyranny of the majority)とは、ある集団が、特定の思想において大多数の支持を得ていることをもって、その集団が絶対的な正義であると錯覚することで(衆人に訴える論証)、自分達の思想に賛同しない、または賛同出来ない他の少数派の集団を排除・批判・抑圧することを指す。

  4. shinichi Post author

    Benjamin Constant

    Le philosophe franco-suisse Benjamin Constant est l’un des premiers à mettre en avant ce risque dans ses Principes de politique (1806), tout en défendant la nécessité d’un régime représentatif :

    « L’erreur de ceux qui, de bonne foi dans leur amour de la liberté, ont accordé à la souveraineté du peuple un pouvoir sans bornes, vient de la manière dont se sont formées leurs idées en politique. Ils ont vu dans l’histoire un petit nombre d’hommes, ou même un seul, en possession d’un pouvoir immense, qui faisait beaucoup de mal ; mais leur courroux s’est dirigé contre les possesseurs du pouvoir, et non contre le pouvoir même. Au lieu de le détruire, ils n’ont songé qu’à le déplacer[1]. »

    Alexis de Tocqueville

    Dans son ouvrage De la démocratie en Amérique (1835), Alexis de Tocqueville traite du risque de la tyrannie de la majorité (ou « despotisme de la majorité »)[2]. Il affirme :

    « Les démocraties sont naturellement portées à concentrer toute la force sociale dans les mains du corps législatif. Celui-ci étant le pouvoir qui émane le plus directement du peuple, est aussi celui qui participe le plus de sa toute-puissance. On remarque donc en lui une tendance habituelle qui le porte à réunir toute espèce d’autorité dans son sein. Cette concentration des pouvoirs, en même temps qu’elle nuit singulièrement à la bonne conduite des affaires, fonde “le despotisme de la majorité”[2]. »

    Il ajoute :

    « Mais la majorité elle-même n’est pas toute-puissante. Au-dessus d’elle, dans le monde moral, se trouvent l’humanité, la justice et la raison ; dans le monde politique, les droits acquis. La majorité reconnaît ces deux barrières, et s’il lui arrive de les franchir, c’est qu’elle a des passions, comme chaque homme, et que, semblable à eux, elle peut faire le mal en discernant le bien[3]. »

    « Le pouvoir accordé aux tribunaux de se prononcer sur l’inconstitutionnalité des lois, forme encore une des plus puissantes barrières qu’on ait jamais élevée contre la tyrannie des assemblées politiques[4]. »

    Pour conclure :

    « Qu’est-ce donc qu’une majorité prise collectivement, sinon un individu qui a des opinions et le plus souvent des intérêts contraires à un autre individu qu’on nomme la minorité ? Or, si vous admettez qu’un homme revêtu de la toute-puissance peut en abuser contre ses adversaires, pourquoi n’admettez-vous pas la même chose pour une majorité ? Les hommes en se réunissant, ont-ils changé de caractère ? Sont-ils devenus plus patients dans les obstacles en devenant plus forts ? Pour moi, je ne saurais le croire ; et le pouvoir de tout faire, que je refuse à un seul de mes semblables, je ne l’accorderai jamais à plusieurs[5]. »

    Herbert Spencer

    Dans Le Droit d’ignorer l’État (1850), Herbert Spencer pointe également ce problème :

    « Des superstitions politiques auxquelles il a été fait allusion précédemment, aucune n’est aussi universellement répandue que l’idée selon laquelle les majorités seraient toutes-puissantes. »

    Il développe ainsi à travers des exemples :

    « Supposez un instant que, frappée de quelque panique malthusienne, une puissance législative représentant dûment l’opinion publique projetât d’ordonner que tous les enfants à naître durant les dix années futures soient noyés. Personne pense-t-il qu’un tel acte législatif serait défendable ? Sinon, il y a évidemment une limite au pouvoir d’une majorité. Supposez encore que de deux races vivant ensemble – Celtes et Saxons par exemple, – la plus nombreuse décidât de faire des individus de l’autre race ses esclaves. L’autorité du plus grand nombre, en un tel cas, serait-elle valide ? Sinon, il y a quelque chose à quoi son autorité doit être subordonnée. Supposez, une fois encore, que tous les hommes ayant un revenu annuel de moins de 50 livres sterling résolussent de réduire à ce chiffre tous les revenus qui le dépassent et d’affecter l’excédent à des usages publics. Leur résolution pourrait-elle être justifiée ? Sinon, il doit être une troisième fois reconnu qu’il est une loi à laquelle la voix populaire doit déférer. Qu’est-ce donc que cette loi, sinon la loi de pure équité, – la loi d’égale liberté ? Ces limitations, que tous voudraient mettre à la volonté de la majorité, sont exactement les limitations fixées par cette loi. Nous nions le droit d’une majorité d’assassiner, d’asservir ou de voler, simplement parce que l’assassinat, l’asservissement et le vol sont des violations de cette loi, – violations trop flagrantes pour être négligées. Mais si de grandes violations de cette loi sont iniques, de plus petites le sont aussi. Si la volonté du grand nombre ne peut annuler le premier principe de moralité en ces cas-là, non plus elle ne le peut en aucun autre. De sorte que, quelque insignifiante que soit la minorité et minime la transgression de ses droits qu’on se propose d’accomplir, aucune transgression de ce genre ne peut être permise[6]. »

    Puis d’affirmer clairement :

    « La domination du grand nombre par le petit nombre, nous l’appelons tyrannie : la domination du petit nombre par le grand nombre est tyrannie aussi, mais d’une nature moins intense[6]. »

    John Stuart Mill

    Influencé par Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill affirme dans son ouvrage De la liberté (1859), que « la tyrannie de la majorité » est l’un des maux contre lesquels la société doit se protéger. Il affirme : « La volonté du peuple signifie en pratique la volonté du plus grand nombre […] Il est donc possible que les « gens du peuple » soient tentés d’opprimer une partie des leurs ; aussi est-ce un abus de pouvoir dont il faut se prémunir au même titre qu’un autre. C’est pourquoi il demeure primordial de limiter le pouvoir du gouvernement sur les individus […] Ainsi range-t-on aujourd’hui, dans les spéculations politiques, la tyrannie de la majorité au nombre de ces maux contre lesquels la société doit se protéger[7]. »

    Isaiah Berlin

    Dans l’introduction d’Éloge de la liberté (1958) (ouvrage dans lequel se trouve la distinction de l’auteur entre la « liberté positive » et la « liberté négative »), Isaiah Berlin affirme :

    « Certains de mes critiques protestent avec indignation à l’idée qu’un homme puisse, en ce sens, avoir une plus grande liberté “négative” sous la férule d’un despote tolérant ou inefficace que sous une intraitable démocratie égalitariste. Mais assurément, Socrate aurait eu plus de liberté — d’expression et même d’action — si, comme Aristote, il avait fui Athènes et sa démocratie, au lieu d’en accepter les lois, bonnes et mauvaises, édictées et appliquées par lui et ses concitoyens. De même, un homme peut se sentir étouffé dans une démocratie authentiquement et vigoureusement “participative” à cause des pressions sociales ou politiques qu’elle engendre et choisir de vivre sous un climat où il y a peut-être moins de participation à la vie publique, mais plus de place pour la vie privée, des formes d’organisation sociale moins dynamiques, moins grégaires, mais aussi moins de surveillance. Cela peut paraître inadmissible pour ceux qui considèrent qu’avoir peu de goût pour la chose publique ou la société est le signe d’un malaise ou d’une profonde aliénation, mais les tempéraments diffèrent, et trop d’enthousiasme pour des normes collectives peut conduire à l’intolérance et au mépris de la vie intérieure de chacun. »[citation nécessaire]


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