John Stuart Mill’s Concept of Democracy and What is DemocracyJune 27, 2021
John Stuart Mill’s understanding of democracy was shaped around his views on utilitarian philosophy, freedom, equality, and the nature of political participation.
Mill laid out his most fundamental views on this subject in his book Considerations on Representative Government. The essence of this book, in which it discusses many details from the number of parliaments to the duration of the legislature, from the functioning of national organs to the functioning of local organs, is the idea that “the most ideal form of government is representative government”, which Mill also uses as the title of a chapter. In a sense, Mill draws a roadmap for representative government by discussing the aforementioned details. His Considerations on Representative Government develops an institutional and practical concept for representative democracy, in particular institutionalizing in a sense the ideas he theorized in “On Liberty” and his other books. Again, his article called Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform is another basic work that reveals the understanding of political participation and democracy.
The participation of all citizens in the political process is the most basic principle in Mill’s thought. In this context, Mill identifies citizenship with participation in the political process. According to him, “a person who is excluded from all processes of political participation is not a citizen. Such an individual does not have the feelings and thoughts that a citizen has.” (Mill, 1977, p. 322)
Again, Mill (1977, p. 323) states that “all governments and administrations are incomplete and flawed until each individual has a say in the administration and decision-making process” and states that political participation is the complement of the “ideal” administration approach.
Emphasizing the importance of political participation for individuals, Mill heavily criticizes people who keep themselves away from political processes even though they are given the opportunity, and states that political participation is a result of the sense of belonging and interest people feel for their own country and city.
Taking an active interest in politics in modern times is the first thing that raises the mind to more important issues and thoughts, it is the first step to break free from the narrow patterns of individual and family selfishness, to open up for the first time from everyday preoccupations. A person who has no interest in politics, although it is not prohibited in a free country, must be extremely apathetic, extremely stupid, or extremely selfish. It shows that the individual is not interested in anything else unless it directly concerns himself and his personal connections. It is impossible for a person who feels a sense of common interest to his own country and city not to be interested in politics. (Mill, 1977, pp. 322-323)
In Mill’s thought, political participation has an educational quality. He also argues that people’s participation in social and public activities will develop their intellectual and moral capacities.
People’s participation in the decision-making process, having political and other electoral rights and exercising these rights is one of the most basic tools that educate people’s popular mind both morally and intellectually (Mill, 1977, p. 323).
Mill does not limit political participation to just participating in national elections. Mill advocates that citizens participate in local politics and decision-making, and cooperatives (Zakaras, 2007, p. 200).
Stating that political participation is “obligatory” rather than a “good” thing, Mill states that men and women need political rights in order not to be ruled badly rather than being governed, as if reminiscent of the Mecelle’s provision “def-i mefâsid celb-i menâfi” (Mill, 2009a). , p. 214).
While Mill states that political participation is a phenomenon that raises the virtue of individuals and makes them valuable, he does not mean the direct self-government of individuals. As stated above, Mill states that the most ideal government system is representative democracy.
Ideally, there is no difficulty in showing that the best form of government is one in which sovereignty or the ultimate controlling power is ultimately reserved for the entire community. Not every citizen has only a say in the exercise of said ultimate sovereignty; they also have the opportunity to take an active part in local or general public activities at least from time to time (Mill, 2009a, p. 69).
Mill argues that the scope and intensity of his political participation should be as broad as possible; however, it highlights representative democracy because it is not possible for all people to personally participate in public activities.
It is clear that the only form of administration that can fully meet all the requirements of the social state is the administration that allows the participation of all people. Any participation, even in the smallest public activity, is beneficial. Participation should everywhere be as large as the general degree of development of society allows. There is nothing more desirable than accepting that everyone is part of the sovereign power of the state. However, it is not possible for everyone to personally participate in the conduct of all public activities.