What is John Stuart Mill’s Conception of an Ideal Political Order?June 27, 2021
Mill focused on the problems caused by the progress of industrial society, increasing social equality, the gradual spread of the right to vote, the rise of political parties, the tense relations between equality on the one hand and freedom and democracy on the other, and the beginning of the political mobilization of the middle classes and lower social strata (Schmidt 2001: 91).
Mill moves from the understanding of human nature in his views on politics as well as his thoughts on freedom. It draws attention to the difference between despotic government and popular government for individuals and proposes a management approach in which people’s abilities can develop in the highest and most harmonious way towards a complete and coherent whole (Mill 2000: 79). Mill does not consider democratic government alone sufficient for this, because a democracy without liberal values and virtues of moral culture leads to tyranny. The evolution of the administration from tyranny to democracy is not sufficient for a correct administration where freedoms are dominant. In a democratic government, tyranny can manifest itself in different ways. The proper functioning of democracy requires a competent society that has assimilated liberal values.
In this framework, Mill argues that the political system that makes freedom possible is a democracy that belongs to the people. “Ideally the best form of government is where the sovereignty, or ultimately the supreme control, is in the whole community of society, and every citizen not only has a say in the exercise of that ultimate sovereignty, but at least occasionally performs a local or general public office personally. It is the government in which it is called upon to take on a real task in government, to fulfill it” (Mill 2008: 87). The best form of government is that which produces the greatest quantity of beneficial results. The government is made up of people’s actions, if this structure consists only of ignorant and ignorant people, bad results will arise as ignorance will gain political power. Therefore, the minority that is most wanted to be represented is the free-thinking and talented elite of the country. By educating the majority with wise laws and messages, they can control the crude and egotistical desires of the masses. The best political system is one that has the structure and political process that allows such guided participation (Tannenbaum and Schultz 2005: 327). Mill calls this system representative government.
Mill, who now sees ideal government as rule by the people, sees the need for protection of the majority in power against the interests of others to the detriment of others, no less than other despotic governments. In any situation against the tyranny of the majority, it is not only necessary to defend the minority but also to ensure their active contribution to politics. This concept, which entered the political literature as the “tyranny of the majority”, points to a threat that can be seen in democratic governments. As it is known, the person who first introduced the concept of the tyranny of the majority was Alexis de Tocqueville, who had a very important influence on Mill. In his work De la democratie en Amerique (Democracy in America), Tocqueville sees the rule of America and the democracy that developed there as the historical-universal principle of modernity that changed the structure of aristocratic society and improved equality. Tocqueville states that the shortcomings of democracy can cause a conflict between equality and freedom in general, and between majority democracy and freedom in particular. The advancement of freedom endangers equality and brings with it the danger of democracy turning into despotism. The absolute power of the majority includes the tyranny of the majority. Therefore, Tocqueville thinks that the problem of democracy lies in its structural principle, namely, the rule of numerical majority on behalf of the people (Schmidt 2001: 85-86). While agreeing with these thoughts, Mill draws attention to the changing role of freedom. While the concept of freedom expresses a tension between the state and the individual in despotic governments, as the governments democratize, the concept also refers to the relationship between the minorities who can no longer find the opportunity to represent the majority who hold power. Mill, stating that the democratic government does not guarantee the freedom of the individual, suggests that freedom should also be secured against the oppression of the majority.
He, then, advocates proportional representation, first introduced in Thomas HARE’s Treatise on the Election of Representatives in 1859, in order to avoid the tyranny of the majority and to ensure the broadest expression of the opinion of the minority in the legislature. Mill wishes the diversity of thought in society to be expressed through reasonable debate and legislative activity (Tannenbaum and Schultz 2005: 328). In the 19th century, with the proportional voting system, which emerged as a reaction to the antidemocratic nature of the current electoral system, it also led to elites whose numbers were few among the people and who were thought to have more contributions to political life.