HOW FAR DID J.S. MILL LET LIBERALISM DOWN? DID HE EVER PREFER SOCIALISM TO LIBERALISM? Liberalism did not so much go out of fashion in the years after 1860 as to metamorphise into a neo-liberalism, that was the opposite of the pristine outlook and more like pristine Toryism than classical liberalism. Joseph Chamberlain was the major fellow in the Liberal Party who represented this metamorphosis, and it was clear to all that Gladstone was the last of the classical liberals whilst his successor would be of the new paradigm, and up till 1886, it looked as this successor would be Chamberlain, but in that year he left over Gladstone's adoption of Home rule for Ireland and joined the Tories, where much of the new paradigm had originated as pristine romantic Tory ideas some eighty years earlier.
But how far did Mill prepare the way for this change? A change that has led the liberals to call themselves libertarians to distinguish themselves from Chamberlain's epigones. J.S. Mill went from the enlightenment outlook of his father, and that of his own early days, to a romantic outlook influenced by the likes of Coleridge, Wordsworth and others, but did this abandon the liberal creed for the neo-liberalism pioneered by the founder of "municipal socialism" in Birmingham, that many might think of as being fairly near to full scale socialism? Whatever the sell out to socialism, Mill was a best seller in the 1860s and '70s and was seen by the public as being one of the main philosophers, if not the philosopher, behind liberalism at that time, and he has often been seen as such ever since. But did he actually prefer socialism? What did he understand by socialism, anyway? I will attempt to answer those questions below.
John Stuart Mill was born in London in 1806, son of James Mill [1773-1836], who was a leading liberal propagandist, philosopher, economist and senior official in the East India Company. J.S. Mill followed his father in all that, by the determined and deliberate design of his father. The son died at Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1873, a hundred years after the birth of his father.
Most of J.S. Mill's life was of the mind and of the world of letters, but he worked full time as an administrator in the East India Company from his late teens and from which he retired only when the Company's administrative functions in India were taken over by the British government following the Mutiny of 1857. The three books of his that are perhaps best known today are the _Autobiography (1873), published in the last year of his life but written off and on over the years, _On Liberty (1859), the acme of his liberal outlook and maybe still the top liberal book; though it now has many rivals, and _Utilitarianism (1861), but his essay on _ The Subjection of Women (1869) has revived since the Women's Lib' movement revived in 1969.
John Mill was home schooled, we could say hothoused, by his father aided by the interest of other philosophical radicals like Jeremy Bentham and Francis Place. The young J.S. Mill, as the first born child was, in turn, used to educate the rest of the family of his younger siblings and there were eight of them. James Mill knew early on that one may best learn by teaching and there must have been some excellent early revision for the boy. But we do not learn much of what became of his younger siblings. They do not seem to feature highly in the later life of their older brother, or to make much of a mark of their own on the world. J.S. Mill was hothoused and so, presumably were the rest of his family, but John was the only remarkable result of the process. As Richard Feynman, the late eminent physicist, reports of hothousing, it seemed to work on the leading boy but less well on the rest of the family. Feynman's father tried it on him and he later tried it on his son and then his daughter but it only really took with the first male sibling each time. However, like so many hothoused children, J.S. Mill was a prodigy and had learned Greek at 3 years old, Latin a little later; by the age of 12, he was a competent logician and by 16 a well-trained economist all revised on long walks with his father and later revised again as he passed it all on to his siblings.
All seemed to be going fine and seemed to outsiders, and maybe even to his family, to have continued to have gone on fine, but in his _Autobiography (1873), that came out in the year of his death, we get a very different story and one that has biased many against hothousing ever since. We are told there that in his twenty-first year Mill became depressed and demoralised. He suddenly felt he had never had a childhood, and was far from sure if the ideals that he had adopted from his mentors were truly worthwhile. He found himself entertaining the question that if all his theoretical ambitions were to become objectively attained then would he truly be any happier than he was at the moment, when they seemed to be rather remote, and the clear answer to this question seemed to be a resounding "No!" Yet was that the right question? After all, as the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-'94) would later remark, "it is better to travel than to arrive". Mill tended to think that it was the right question. Did this mean that it was all his ideals were inadequate? Mill thought that the answer to this could only be an equally resounding "Yes!" and he found that answer rather depressing. After all, the major doctrine of the philosophical radicals that he was propagating, first to his younger siblings, and later to the world, was utilitarianism, whereby happiness was all and the aim was "the greatest happiness of the greatest number". From then on he seems to have thought that this moral creed of utilitarianism, that for the radicals who were his mentors was the vital underpinning of liberalism itself, was rather inadequate but nevertheless he never did totally abandon it. Instead, he sought to supplement it by sheer romance from the anti-enlightenment outlook of the Newton-hating Goethe and his English epigones like Blake, Southey, Coleridge and Wordsworth. He later fell under the spell of other romantics like Auguste Comte, the coiner of the word "sociology", "altruism" and the founder of a secular religion that he called positivism. Mill was later still to react to this influence with the book _Auguste Comte and Positivism (1865) but he never did shed all his romance. So the message that Mill gave to the masses, from 1830 on to his death, was not quite that of a clone of his father but rather a synthesis of enlightenment and romance that the son deliberately pursued. The result was a hesitating fence-sitting style that was widely interpreted as being fair to both sides of any dispute that he dealt with. Much of romance was from an anti-liberal source and it had some anti-liberal implications. But Mill openly admitted that it was Tory, and he held as a major idea that there is a great deal that a truly radical movement can learn from sheer conservatism. So Mill was not just continuing to push pure enlightenment memes to the public, as his mentors had done before him, but he still did continue to propagate the need of the public to take a scientific approach to understanding social, political and economic affairs which many might have taken to be exactly the same as his father had done.
Indeed, in politics, and even in democratic theory, Mill showed that he was largely an epigone of Edmund Burke, who has been thought of as the founder of conservatism, but who continued to call himself a Whig after the French Revolution of 1789, as he had before it. This is obfuscated by Mill usually being dead set against tradition that Burke eulogised. In an article in the Examiner 4 July 1832 p. 417 [cited in _Mill (1969) Ed. J.B. Schneewind in an essay by J.H. Burns "J.S. Mill and Democracy" p280ff. Page numbers below, on this theme, will refer to this Mill reader.] Mill wrote: "The new idea of popular representation is not that the people govern in their own persons but that they choose their governors. In a good government public questions are not referred to the suffrages of the people themselves, but to those of the most judicious persons whom the people can find. The sovereignty of the people is essentially a delegated sovereignty. Here Mill clearly means "representative" in Burke's sense rather than "delegative" as in Paine's. Government must be performed by the few, for the benefit of the many: and the security of the many consists in being governed by those who possess the largest share of their confidence, and no longer than while that confidence lasts" (p284). The House of Commons does not need actual workers of every trade in it but the wisest and best men in the nation, or those thought to be such by the electorate. Mill says it is merely silly to vote for a government of such men and then expect it to pander to what the ordinary voter thinks is right. That would be no government at all. Mill showed himself here to be in favour of actual government and to see an incoherence in Painite delegated democracy, one it had adopted from John Locke, that does not really want to be governed at all, but instead rather absurdly obeyed! This, many might take to be a conservative stance, as it is clearly a Burkean one that openly rejects the tradition of Paine. Mill goes on to develop the Burkean outlook, he holds that people need the division of labour in those things and we should choose a legislator as we would a physician; no man would be silly enough to instruct his doctor as to how to cope with the disease and getting politicians to pander to what the people want is equally foolhardy. Mill might have just finished reading Burke's address to the Bristol electors for this repeats what Burke told them. Mill was, clearly, no anarcho-liberal. But then nor were most liberals, though some of them were Painite delegative democrats. Mill preferred Burkean representation
Mill embraced the principle, to be found in Hobbes and then, in a change of terminology [as in so many memes in British philosophy], re-emerged in Locke and on in turn to Hume, whereby power rests on authority/tacit consent/opinion rather than vice versa. Joseph Priestley had thought this should mean that politics ought to concern itself with the utility, or well being, of the people and Bentham took this up and developed it as his major idea of utilitarianism. Mill felt this meant basically that we should have democracy, but he held out for the Burkean paradigm rather than the Painite one. Thus he says: "We know that the will of the people, even of the numerical majority, must be supreme..…but in spite of that, the rest of what is right in politics is not the will of the people, but the good of the people, and our object is, not to compel but to persuade the people to impose, for the sake of their own good, some restraint on the immediate and unlimited exercise of their own will…. (p.285; citing a second article of 15 July 1832).
Mill was of the opinion that the working classes were the growing and future main force in society and this idea could be a factor in the reason why liberalism lost out to neo-liberalism and socialism. He repeatedly said that it was folly to simply ignore the new ideas. As an idea, if never as an actuality, class was all the rage in nineteenth century Britain, and it is greatly exaggerated even today. [See the late and much lamented Lord Peter Bauer on this idea: "Class on the Brian" p26ff in _Equality, The Third World and Economic Delusion (1982)]. Mill took to this fashionable hyperbole as thoughtlessly as did Marx, and they both adopted it about as automatically as the regular teenager conforms to whatever the latest fashion in dress is. Given this delusion, Mill thought it folly for the philosophical radicals not to put themselves at the service of the working class, though he, oddly, also rather realistically thought that that it was no different from the general interest! He held it as an axiom from the beginning that, apart from privilege and under-privilege artificially imposed on society by chance, there was simply the general interest of all in society. Marx on class at least held that there was an essential class conflict that made sense of this need to gear a policy to the favoured class, even if he was more unrealistic than Mill on this class interest idea. To this imagined end, Mill urged the radicals in 1835 to attempt to lead the workers as: "A Radical party which does not rest upon the masses is no better than a nonentity" (p.289). This is an idea that the Libertarian Alliance rejected in its early years. An idea that might have a future need only be a trickle or a stream to begin with, and it may become a great river later on. We thought it best to choose principle over popularity in the short run. [Our policy statement can be found amongst theFree Life's on the Website]. Many of the Chartist memes 1838-'48 show us the slow progress of ideas in that the payment of Members of Parliament that they urged in the late 1830s, and that Mill had long since held, only came to pass in 1911. Similarly, the acme of the Anti-Corn Law League's propaganda for free trade in the late 1830s and early '40s, featuring Cobden and Bright as the leading speakers, did not reach its acme until the General Election of 1906. But Mill felt that the radicals should serve and attempt to direct the masses as soon as possible. To this end, he urged them to back all the ideas, that later became the Chartist aims, though Mill, amongst others, in the 1830s thought that the Chartists demands from 1838 should be inclusive of women also, they should be for universal rather than simply manhood suffrage. He thought that the radicals in parliament should "until Universal Suffrage shall be possible, to do everything for the good of the working classes, which it would be necessary to do if there were Universal Suffrage" (p. 289). This all rather seems to be a stepping back in 1835 on the Burkean need for government he was concerned with as against Painite pandering in 1832. However, in a review of Bailey's _Rationale of Political Representation (1835) , [Bailey was one of those philosophical radicals of Mill's circle who also favoured female franchise], Mill affirmed his Burkean outlook by referring to that "master fallacy of all, the theory of class -representation. …The ready answer to the doctrine of the representation of interests is, that representation of separate and sinister interests we do not want. The only interest which we wish to be consulted is the general interest, and that, therefore, is the only one which we desire to see represented " (p.293). So Mill, maybe, overlooked that there was a clash here for if only the general interest matters then there is no need for the radicals to align to the particular working class interest. Moreover, if there were no such interest then it could hardly be overlooked by the philosophical radicals.
But Mill was still concerned with class, despite thinking that it was basically a delusion, that there was no real class interest but only the general interest. He had the thesis that the advance of culture meant that the individual matters less and the group, or class, matters more as progress was made. This certainly seems, on the face of it, an idea that is almost bound to take him away from pristine liberalism, that is just the individualistic philosophy, though also a social philosophy as it is concerned with all individuals. He thought he saw that democracy was bound to triumph not owing to "the opinion of any individual or set of individuals that it ought to triumph , but upon the natural laws of progress of wealth, upon the diffusion of reading, and the increase of the faculties of human intercourse……..he must be a poor politician who does not know, that whatever is the growing power in society will force its way into the government, by fair means or foul. The distribution of constitutional power cannot long continue very different from that of real power, without a convulsion" (p. 297). He felt that individuals matters less and the mass, qua mass, more. On reading and reviewing both volumes of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America (I:1835; II: 1840), Mill became aware of the idea of the tyranny of the majority, of the mass, and from then on, he felt himself draw ever closer to de Tocqueville's outlook. This was to think that less government was needed anyway, says Mill [_Autobiography (1989 Penguin Ed. by John Robson, p. 150].
Mill thought that a two party system was intrinsic to democracy. "But we well know that the Reform party of the empire ought not to be, cannot be, Radical in any narrow or sectarian sense. There may be many coteries in a country, but there could be only two parties. What we must have to oppose the Conservative party is the whole Liberal party, not some mere section of it….[it is]..a phalanx stretching from the Whig -Radicals at one extremity to the Ultra-Radicals and the Working Classes on the other" (p. 300). As against the chance of democratic tyranny, Mill seems to fall back under the influence of de Tocqueville who held that there was a large area where government is not needed, owing to the proper use of liberty by the middle class. It is to them, and to their need for a large part of society to be apolitical, that Mill from about 1835 tends to look to as a barrier to the threat of tyranny that de Tocqueville introduced him to. Here again Mill tends to be Burkean, as Burke also held that we can dispense with government if, and only if, the people behave well enough to allow us to do so. So now Mill basis his hopes on the middle class rather than on the emerging working classes, as he had done just a few years earlier. "No practical and judicious statesman could….take his stand anywhere but on the middle class …..it does not follow, that he is obliged to take their policy; it follows only that, he must be able to take them with him…"(p300). He seemed to see them as an educated cultural social group rather than as an economic interest group. But he still urged the need for universal suffrage, and he thought this might come by force if not achieved peacefully beforehand. This meme, that the masses are going to force their way onto the political stage, was sheer romance, as is the idea that the march of what are called "rights" has more to do with felt need, or the desperate demands from the masses, than with mere fashion among the ruling groups. Mill, despite getting a bit more realistic about what politics could do under the influence of de Tocqueville, nevertheless, remained for the most part a romantic.
By the time of his second review of de Tocqueville's book in 1840, Mill had come to think that the big danger was not from too much liberty but from too little, but he rejected the criticism of equality that de Tocqueville put forward as a cause of tyranny preferring to see it, as Burns says in his article, to be down to the industrial revolution and to the general progress of civilisation itself (p. 306). Here Mill exaggerates the pressure from mere public opinion, also a major fault in his _On Liberty (1859). Mill here becomes rather like a typical Guardian reader in seeing mere commercial society as a menace to proper morality and to civilisation, but Burns seems to think it is a good insight, and he thinks that it is a good thing that Mill called for a check on the influence of commerce from some opposition to it from amongst the better educated people (p.307). Mill saw this as being the role of the rural aristocracy: "they are an agricultural class, a leisured class, and a learned class" (p.397). This shows a sharp contrast with his other idea, repeated in his book on economics, that an idle class was a sign of corruption in society. The old aristocratic warmongering outlook that Smith felt dominated this land owing class to the extent that they were too keen on war to the extent that they did not even look after the land as they might if they were more commercially minded, was, by the 1840s, Mill rather thought, a thing of the past. Cobden, by contrast, was then still full of the fear of war from the aristocrats he was and citing Smith to show it, rather as a fundamentalist Christian might cite the Bible.
By the 1850s Mill was touching on liberal anarchy when he wrote: "We must never lose sight of the truth, that the suffrage for a member of Parliament is power over others, and that to power over others no right can possibly exist" (p319). Burns says that in the wake of saying this, Mill abandoned his quest for the ballot seeing it as being a great evil rather than as a boon, as he had held up till then. It would seem that in one person we had the whole journey from the supreme optimism for an extension of liberty from the ballot that we can find in James Mill and in Francis Place to the later twentieth century fear of democracy that Schumpeter expressed in his _Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942). But Mill had the eventual solution of giving more votes to the educated people.
Mill's major discussion of socialism, though he touches on it now and again elsewhere, is in his _ Principles of Political Economy (1848), that was the leading work on economics for a about a decade and with the wider public maybe right up to Alfred Marshall's _Principles of Economics (1890), a work that similarly sough to be eclectic and was similarly aimed at the general reader. Mill attempted to return to the more popular writing of Adam Smith, that he though Richardo, and other economists, had almost abandoned for the specialist reader. Mill had the paradoxical idea that economic progress never made things better for the working man. He accepted Malthus and so he thought there was a dire need to limit population growth. However, he also accepted that Ricardo was right on the falling rate of profits that might bring the recent progress of what was later to be called the industrial revolution to an end as capital would get increasingly difficult to foster. The result would be a rather stable economy where progress, if any, would be very slow. This would effectively end the threat from population growth, that Malthus warned people of, as the motor of progress would have effectively run out of steam. Like so many Malthusians, Mill thought this was far better than the rapid innovation that had been witnessed since about 1750 or so. He also thought it rather favoured what he thought of as socialism.
Mill was basically the last of the classical economists and he died just as the change to the marginal paradigm got underway in the 1870s. This tripartite innovation in England with Stanley Jevons, in Switzerland with Leon Walras and in Austria with Carl Menger replaced the labour theory of value, that few writers on economics did not have some element of before 1870. Yet there were some before 1870, like Nassau Senior and H. H. Gossen, who were forerunners of marginal theory. Marx, who coined the term "classical economists", saw those forerunners as contemptible and he called them "the vulgar economists", but they ended his basic outlook on economics, and reduced his epigones to backing up a defunct paradigm as through they were cranks; but the best amongst them make some sort of compromise, rather like an enlightened vicar compromises towards Darwinian evolution. The change of the 1870s rendered many of Mill's ideas defunct, as well as all of Marx's; in economic theory but not in the wider society. It was not easy to hang onto many of Mil's pet ideas after that, for the idea that distribution was not really part of production, or that much labour was unproductive which leads to the popular idea of a manufacturing base, to cite but two of Mill's pet ideas was not even retained by Marshall, who attempted, as far as possible, to marry the older theory to the 1870s theory. By sharp contrast, Philip Henry Wicksteed, who wanted to clear away the old and replace it fully with the new marginalist theory made it abundantly clear how poor the old economics was. [See his _Common Sense of Political Economy (1910)]. Yet many of those pet ideas of Mill were also the major ideas in the heads of the socialists, maybe put there by Mill's propagation, and they remain popular with the general public today. Even the House of Lords tends to adamantly hang onto them, as Nigel Lawson found out when he failed to get the basic idea over to them that they were harbouring crass economic fallacies in a much publicised visit to the upper House when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1980s.
One idea that Mill made famous was that of "Economic Man". This sprung from his idea that economics was but a small part of social science as a whole. There were other aspects of life, Mill thought, especially the moral or ethical side, that were not only worthy of consideration but way more worthy than were mere economics. The marginal paradigm, especially in the hands of Wicksteed, rendered this idea utterly inept, even if it is still far from being defunct even today; especially amongst socialists and, maybe a bit more generally, amongst Guardian readers. As Wicksteed's best known pupil, [whom nevertheless stuck to socialist ideas, if no longer Marxist ones, in the wake of his lessons from Wicksteed] G.B. Shaw, pointed out: "economics is the art of life". Soon the Austrian meme of opportunity cost [introduced by Friedrich von Wieser (1851-1926)] made Wicksteed's outlook clear and today many textbooks define economics as "the logic of choice". It applies to the whole of life, to anything we choose, rather than to just one aspect of life. Opportunity cost is not only to do with money options, but with any choice.
Mill began by holding that socialism was unworkable in 1848, but under protest and pressure from Harriet Taylor, Mill soon reasoned himself into holding that this was going too far. Indeed, by 1849 he was under the impression that socialism was inextinguishable, and that it was bound to make progress. [Letter to Harriet Taylor 31 March 1849, cited in _John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor (1951) F. A. Hayek p. 147ff] In later editions of his book on economics, Mill held that economics could show no such thing as the unfeasibility of socialism, that he seemed to hold was just worker ownership, or of communism, that he saw as a state monopoly, ipso facto. However, he still hung on to the idea that competition was an economic boon, an idea central to his father's outlook and that he was loath to give up. But he did eulogise the co-operatives owned by the workers as long as they dodged the dangers of monopoly, and openly competed with each other.
In chapter seven of his book, Mill looks to how the workers may develop in the future. I cite from the 1905 edition put out by George Routledge and Sons Limited, so the page numbers for quotations from Mill below relate to that edition. He says he was urged to add this extra chapter on the future of labour to the book by Mrs Taylor. Mill saw production and distribution is distinct and thereby endorsed the idea that many jobs were unproductive, despite the earlier work of Nassau Senior that we only had services that was a cogent attack on that idea, and indeed a demolition of it.
Mill begins (p. 490ff) by saying that his earlier chapter gave a false idea of society in that they tended to overrate production, distribution and remuneration. After a certain amount has been produced it is hardly of much interest to anyone worth their salt to concern themselves with increasing production. A stationary state is just as good as more economic growth. This all seems to be most unrealistic, but Mill felt very confident of this set of ideas.
Mill feels there is a non labouring class and that it is a great evil. This contrasts starkly with his educated leisured class that would be a counter to the tyranny of the majority. Moreover, Mill says, after lots of discussion in the literature since about 1800, many authors now think that basic conditions for working class are most unsatisfactory. Some Tories think that the workers ought to be dependent and protected whilst others, Whigs, think they ought to be self dependent or independent. The former idea is that the workers should not think for themselves but be looked after by the upper class, whilst the latter outlook holds the workers ought to think for themselves. The former theory is a bit like the one that stands for inequality between the sexes. It calls for gratitude on the part of the inferiors and paternalism on the part of the rich class. It means that the workers are to be treated rather like children. But both sides are ideals of the future, and neither have been fully realised hitherto, says Mill. In reality, the top class works for its own gains rather than paternalistically for others, as the Tories pretend. Mill seems to forget his idea that the great classes were not really economic interest groups for the moment. He presses on that nor can that selfishness of the top class be ever realistically eradicated. But the idea of protecting a lower class has an appeal, even if it is unrealistic, confesses Mill. It seems far better to most than the rather callous relations of self interest, which is the reality. Chivalry on the one side repaid by loyalty on the other, can be elevated into passions. Mill says he is not against this sort of thing but that it can have no role when there is no longer any actual inferior class to protect. That already is the case in modern society, says Mill. The workers need no such protection, beyond what they get from the law.
If anything, it is the upper class from whom the lower class needs protection. Similarly, Mill thinks that husbands pick on wives, and parents on children. The police know this, but do nothing to prevent the atrocities that they know of, and that is a disgrace. The Tory idea that the people in power protect those they rule over and that they are therefore owed, and should get, loyalty in return, is very unrealistic in many cases; but it nevertheless does have an appeal as a myth. Realistically, those relationships do not have much of a future. As all get ever greater access to education, now that all can read, and that newspapers daily inform them as well as they inform any superiors they may have, we should expect all in modern societies to realise that the people were all basically independent. The public, Mill says, are already all, more or less, on par, in a rough equality. It is not the case that most are in a position of subordination to a minority class of superiors. As women are becoming more independent of men, so workers are becoming more independent of their employers, and the whole of industry should be open to both sexes. It is a flagrant injustice that industry has not been open to women long since. It has held back moral, social, and even intellectual improvement, says Mill.
The workers might even think that thee are opposing interests at times, but at any rate, they are independent. Leaving women only to go as wives, brings us into the great danger that Malthus pointed out of overpopulation. Workers can now change their employers almost as easy as changing their coats, and they are even free to go to Australia, or to the United States of America, where they might be self employed. It is not likely that religious education can reverse this, as many Tories seem to hope. Now that the masses can read and write they have the means that they need to think for themselves, and they will do that in religion, as in other things. Their education is going on spontaneously and it is greatly accelerated by artificial aids like newspapers and pamphlets or tracts, even if the content is not solid or first rate reading matter. It is way better than nothing according to Mill.
In industrial disputes, the newspapers are used by the workers not only as readers but also as a means of managing the dispute from their side of it by the trade unions. They will be able to do this sort of thing even better as better educated youngsters grow up to join them. It will be a continual growth of intelligence amongst the workers. We can expect them not to be lead by others, or to think too much about any supposed superiority to them that others are supposed to have. They will want to be self governed. They will naturally accept some others as authoritative, but will want to freely decide whom that is to be for themselves.
Deference will go first in the towns, predicted Mill, and maybe last of all in the rural south, where good pay and constant employment smoothes relations over as if the old order was retained. But if times get rough then the deference will break down in the rural south also. Whenever the Poor Law needs to be enforced, the deference will soon disappear.
The reality is that the workers are no longer like children and the old patriarchal society is at an end. Modern nations need to realise this fact, says Mill. Nowadays the workers and the employers are roughly equal and any advice given to them should be as to equals. But the progress towards realising this basic reality is rather slow.
When the workers do realise their potential, says Mill, they will hardly settle for remaining mere wage workers. They will want a share in the government, but on the economic front they will want to be in control of what they do. They may take on the role of employees for a time but it will hardly be good enough for them to stick to for life. To hold them back would need great censorship, such as ending free speech and freedom of the press. It is no good attempting any such thing for employers any more than it is for employees. Times have changed and employers now need to adjust. Going on as children and adults was unrealistic for both sides, and dysfunctional in one side being irresponsible and the other posing as being the arbiters of all things, or being treated as such. There was an unreality and injustice on both sides in this charade. Currently, the workers have no pride in what they do and they seek to do as little as possible for as much pay as they can get. The employers do not welcome this hostility.
Mill thought that the state of a peasant proprietor was far superior to that of an agricultural
labourer in Britain, or any other developed country. All those who worked on farms seemed to be less alienated from the realities of life to Mill, and he also thought that they would be more aware of the great Malthusian problem in rural areas, and that was a problem that he always thought was basic. Mill tended to favour all workers, similarly, having a stake in their place of work. The universal self employment of workers might fit the bill, and if this did come about then it would be a post capitalist society as far as Marxism is concerned, as Marxism holds the employer/employee relationship to be intrinsic to capitalism.
Mill urged peasant proprietorship for Ireland. He thought it would be way better than hired wage labour but he feared that, once people were established in large scale industry, it would not be easy to scale down. That labour was unquestionably more productive on a system of large industrial enterprises was one reason why it would not be too easy to abandon it once it was adopted, and all too soon many lives would depend on this greater output; that Malthusian problem again.
Mill did not think much of the family. He thought it reified male dominance. It also made people insular as they tended to neglect the wider community as they built up their family cocoons. He thought it was less morally good than a more communal life, and that the moral aspect of life was way more important than the economic aspect in any case. A family man was a grasping and an acquisitive man, out to be imperialist on behalf of his family, that was his own little empire, Mill thought.
Independence and liberty does not mean a lack of co-operation in the quest of societal and self improvement. We can only truly get excellence in society. Liberalism is a social philosophy and Mill hints that there might be a distinction between social liberty, that is scotched by crime, and the brute freedom that Hobbes held that we all had in a state of nature. Hitherto, in the economic realm, there has been either self employment or the employer/employee relationship where the former has been the master and the latter has had no real interest in the work, but, as education improves, one and all should expect this latter to change for the better, it is bound to at least reform in the future. We have realised that since the eighteen century, and events since the 1820s have seemed to be towards the reform of the employer/employee relationship into one nearer that of equality. Soon only the very dull among us will go as hired labour, and most economic projects will be more like a partnership then the quasi-slavery we have had hitherto. But Mill thought the future norm might be workers co-operatives rather than self employment.
Already in 1848 there are many economic projects where the workers risk their funds and take a share of the profits. " In the American ships trading to China, it has long been the custom for every sailor to have an interest in the profits of the voyage; and to this has been ascribed the general good conduct of those seamen, and the extreme rarity of any collision between them and the government or people of the country" (p.505). It also occurs in the Cornish mines. Gangs of miners there take out a joint contract with an agent who stands in for the owner for two months at a time and are then renegotiated as to whether the men feel they want to take on another two months. This means the workers live on credit that is a disadvantage but it has advantages in that it develops character and independence that more than compensates for the extra risk. They meet their employers on equal terms. They tend to own their own homes, or have out mortgages on them and savings in the bank.
Charles Babbage says that whaling ships on the south coast of England are run on a similar principle.
Mill here cites the book that Hayek holds [in _The Fatal Conceit (1988) p.87] was one of the first places that the economic calculation argument [eca] emerged viz. _Economy of Machinery and Manufacturers (1832) but at no time does that seem to become germane to anything that Mill advocates, though he suggests that communism is also possible. Babbage advocates this sort of gang contract work for industry generally. Mill cites a profit sharing scheme in painting and decorating in France run by Le Claire, an experimental employer (p.508). He began by paying higher wages to get better work but it was not easy to relax inspection of the work done, for when he did, the standards tended to drop, despite the higher pay. The workers were doing only about two thirds of what they could do. This leads employers into thinking that the workers are out to cheat them. They depend only on the workers sense of duty. But the employers has all the uncertainty of risk, as to whether the project will pay off. However, Le Claire only included selected workers in this profit sharing scheme, whereas Mill wanted it to be universal. Profit sharing tends to share the risk somewhat, and offset the anxiety of the employer going it alone, and of checking up on the workers. An annual division of profits achieves that end, but a decision is also needs to be made about what is needed for reinvestment, sick funds, and the like. The passing of the Limited Liability Act eases this sort of co-operation, for now the workers can be associated with the profits without being liable for any losses over and above deliberately invested sums, but before that their homes would have been put at risk. Mill cites firms in Yorkshire that also profit share and hopes this to spread in the future.
Mill sees this attempt at workers co-operatives gathering their own capital as socialism. Most profit sharing organisations have adopted piece work rather than payment by the hour (p.509). There were more than a hundred of them in France, says Mill. They do not exist so much for profit as for the co-operative as a cause. They seek to extend their membership at every opportunity, as if making converts. It is a movement. Generally, new members need only bring their labour, but they will need to be with it a few years before they get onto equal shares as the founders, or longer serving members. They must agree to abandon any claim on the capital of the association if they choose to leave it; which they are free to do at any time. If the firm breaks up the capital needs to be devoted to a public cause, or a charity, rather than to be divided up.
That twenty of those co-operatives have survived in France, despite anti-socialist reaction, shows how viable the idea is says Mill. That they have come through hard times suggests to Mill that they have a brilliant future. "It is not in France alone that these associations have commenced a career of prosperity. To say nothing at present of Germany, Piedmont, and Switzerland" (p.510 ) and we can add that England is doing as well as France. Robert Owen has led the way in England. Also co-operative stores have been set up. " Among these are already many instances of remarkable prosperity, the most signal of which are the Leeds Flour Mill, and the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers." (p.510) They have grown apace up to 1864 and beyond. Holyoake has written a history of the movement. In addition to co-op stores there has been formed a " Wholesale Society, to dispense with the services of the wholesale merchant as well as of the retail dealer, and extend to the Societies the advantage which each society gives to its own members, by an agency for co-operative purchases, of foreign as well as domestic commodities, direct from the producers. It is hardly possible to take any but a hopeful view of the prospects of mankind, when, in two leading countries of the world, the obscure depths of society contain simple working men whose integrity, good sense, self-command, and honourable confidence in one another, have enabled them to carry these noble experiments to the triumphant issue which the facts recorded in the preceding pages attest" (p.510)
This should spur progress, even in productivity as there are two reasons why output should increase. Unproductive distributors should be reduced in numbers and they are a far bigger cause of the wealth not getting to the workers than the capitalists ever were, says Mill! There are always too many of them. That can only mean that there is less for the real workers! We can see at once that Mill sees inefficiency on the division of labour of his day as a result of his primitive economic analysis . The same has certainly been the case with socialists hitherto. Mill adds whimsically that the extra workers employed in distribution rarely even cheapen the process of it. Those laid off may get jobs as producers thus becoming a boon in the economy rather than a burden to it.
The other great economy is to overcome the lack of interest that all workers have in the work they do when they have no stake in it, but think it as working for somebody else. They will cease to do as little as they can, and, instead, make more of an effort and that should boost productivity. What the workers suppose to be the class struggle will end, and will be replaced by friendly rivalry in the market place. This will make society far better morally, apart from any economic gains to be had. But to gain those ends firms need to be run for all who work in them, rather than just a few at the top. "Associations which, when they have been successful, renounce the essential principle of the system, and become joint-stock companies of a limited number of shareholders, who differ from those of other companies only in being working men; associations which employ hired labourers without any interest in the profits (and I grieve to say that the Manufacturing Society even of Rochdale has thus degenerated) are, no doubt, exercising a lawful right in honestly employing the existing system of society to improve their position as individuals, but it is not from them that anything need be expected towards replacing that system by a better." Nor will such firms last long against ordinary competition, as an individual manager will be at an advantage against a committee if the other advantages of the co-op movement are allowed to ebb. An individual will be willing to risk trying out new things where a committee is bound to find many obstacles. They will weight the obstacles up as great that a single owner will more likely think is worth the risk. "Co-operation has but one thing to oppose to those advantages -- the common interest of all the workers in the work" (p511). Mill suggests that it might even pay co-ops to have one man that takes most of the gains and the losses when making big innovation is needed, so that the advantages from the unity of decision making is gained.
Mill admired the Rochdale schemes as they gave women full membership with full voting rights.
When the co-ops growth, ordinary firms will tend to think about profit sharing as it is not likely that the best workers will choose to ne merely hired hands when they can get a better deal from the co-ops. In this way, Mill holds that socialism will outpace capitalism by direct and open competition. "Eventually, and in perhaps a less remote future than may be supposed, we may, through the
co-operative principle, see our way to a change in society, which would combine the freedom and independence of the individual, with the moral, intellectual, and economical advantages of
aggregate production; and which, without violence or spoliation, or even any sudden disturbance of existing habits and expectations, would realise, at least in the industrial department, the best aspirations of the democratic spirit, by putting an end to the division of society into the industrious and the idle,
and effacing all social distinctions but those fairly earned by personal services and exertions. Associations like those which we have described, by the very process of their success, are a course of education in those moral and active qualities by which alone success can be either deserved or attained. As associations multiplied, they would tend more and more to absorb all work-people, except those who have too little understanding, or too little virtue, to be capable of learning to act on any other
system than that of narrow selfishness. As this change proceeded, owners of capital would gradually find it to their advantage, instead of maintaining the struggle of the old system with work-people of only the worst description, to lend their capital to the associations; to do this at a diminishing rate
of interest, and at last, perhaps, even to exchange their capital for terminable annuities. In this or some such mode, the existing accumulations of capital might honestly, and by a kind of spontaneous process, become in the end the joint property of all who participate in their productive employment: a
transformation which, thus effected, (and assuming of course that both sexes participate equally in the rights and in the government of the association) would be the nearest approach to social justice, and the most beneficial ordering of industrial affairs for the universal good, which it is possible at present to
foresee"(p.512). And this seems to be what Mill thought of as socialism. He thought that communism was distinct, being central planning and full ownership, thus a monopoly by the state that necessarily excluded competition, a thing that Mill thought to be an aspect of the socialist outlook that had no merit whatsoever. Thus no Marxist would consider that Mill was a socialist.
Yet he did later say "whenever it ceases to be true that mankind, as a rule, prefer themselves to
others, and those nearest to them to those more remote, from that moment Communism is not only practicable, but the only defensible form of society; and will, when that time arrives, be assuredly carried into effect. For my own part, not believing in universal selfishness, I have no difficulty in
admitting that Communism would even now be practicable among the elite of mankind, and may become so among the rest." J.S. Mill _Considerations on Representative Government (1861), Chapter 3 (p..209). So if Mill did read an account of the eca in Babbage he seems not to have understood it, as human nature is hardly germane to it, and to suppose that all were perfectly altruistic would hardly help in solving it for communism even one iota.
However, Mill thought that violence was not a good means to furthering progress and he also thought the socialists and communists were simply silly on condemning competition. By sharp contrast, they thought that was essential to their aims and that Mill put down to their ignorance of economic conditions. Mill realised that they tended to think all sorts of evils follow from this aspect of economic activity. Moreover, he saw that the socialists tended to overlook that the alternative to competition is monopoly, which he said is way worse than they imagine competition to be. Monopoly almost amounts to plunder, says Mill. The socialists also overlook that the gains from competition go to one and all in the form of cheaper wares, even though in the workplace some individual workers may lose out by not being up to the mark. There is the Malthusian problem of too many workers, thought Mill, but in that case not even socialism can hope to avoid a low income. Moreover, if the co-ops became universal then the actual competition between the workers would end, and that remaining between the rival firms would be for the benefit of the consumers, scilicet, of one and all.
Mill thinks that there is something to the complaints against competition, or, as Gibbon might say, he pretends to, when he holds that it does have costs as well as benefits, but if competition has its evils, it prevents greater evils. "It is the common error of Socialists to overlook the natural indolence of mankind; their tendency to be passive, to be the slaves of habit, to persist indefinitely in a course once chosen. Let them once attain any state of existence which they consider tolerable, and the danger to be apprehended is that they will thenceforth stagnate; will not exert themselves to improve, and by letting their faculties rust, will lose even the energy required to preserve them from deterioration. Competition may not be the best conceivable stimulus, but it is at present a necessary one, and no one can foresee the time when it will not be indispensable to progress." It is only through the knowledge of superior methods, discovered by the piecemeal trial and error, that we get from many firms trying out new things under the direction of the entrepreneur, that shows rival firms that need to adapt, what needs to be done to keep up, but as Mill sees, no committee is gong "to submit to the trouble and inconvenience of altering their habits by adopting some new and promising invention, unless their knowledge of the existence of rival associations made them apprehend that what they would not consent to do, others would, and that they would be left behind in the race" (p513). It is mere folly to think, as most socialists do, that competition is the bane of society, for it is always to the good of all; even if at a short run cost of readjustment. So Mill concludes that it needs to be fostered as much as it can be if we are not to stagnate. " To be protected against competition is to be protected in idleness, in mental dullness; to be saved the necessity of being as active and as intelligent as other people; and if it is also to be protected against being underbid for employment by a less highly paid class of labourers, this is only where old custom, or local and partial monopoly, has placed some particular class of artisans in a privileged position as compared with the rest; and the time has come when the interest of universal improvement is no longer promoted by prolonging the privileges of a few" (p.514). Competition ends practices that can only benefit the few, if anyone at all, and it does so by changing things thus that they serve the general public.
It would seem that J.S. Mill did not really see that socialism truly clashed with liberalism. Thus he never did prefer it to liberalism. He did let the liberal idea down but by default: by thinking that there were laws of history that were due to lessen the liberty of the individual in the future and by having various ideas in economics that have since been shown to be bogus, but not yet to socialist thinkers. Many of them were even refuted before Mill wrote in 1848, like that of unproductive labour and the overpopulation problem, both rejected and effectively refuted by Nassau Senior in the 1830s. See his _An Outline of the Science of Political Economy (1836).
All along, he did think that the liberals ought to take more heed of the Tories, or rather of the conservatives, that he thought would provide a reality check on, maybe, unrealistic schemes of progress. Mill always thought that the way forward was in the interests of one and all, not that the conservatives were a different tribe; though he did make a few tribal-like comments to fellow radicals. Mill was a Whig, in holding to the Whig interpretation of history, and, like all the founding fathers of sociology, he thought in terms of great epochs, and of objective laws of history. All this is now often thought of as particular to Marxism, but it was merely fashionable ideas of the day that Marx adopted, and like all the other sociologists of his day and about a hundred years beforehand, he merely adapted them to his own idiom, but not really to a greater extent than any one of the Scottish Enlightenment pioneers of sociology. If anything, Mill was less of an epoch-man than most of his rivals were, but Marx was not, particularly, more of one.
What Mill seemed to mainly object to in capitalism was the idea of the master/servant relationship that he thought was inherent in the employer/employee relationship, or in all hired labour. He seemed to see co-ops as a means of bringing all that to an end, so that we would all be roughly equal before the law. This he called socialism. But clearly there was nothing at all illiberal about it.
Mill was not an anarchist. Nor were any of the liberals before him. Priestley grants de jure totalitarianism, i.e. the right of the state to interfere in any aspect of life, in that all power and all legality to be rightfully belonging to the state, and then, having granted that, Priestley proceeds to make out a case, nevertheless, for de facto liberty, for the state to do very little and next to nothing so that all can prosper from free trade. Most eighteenth century liberals had a similar approach, and Mill did not particularly see the state itself as the foremost violator of liberty; as the Libertarian Alliance has always done. But he haply might have begun on the road that led to those ideas after reading de Tocqueville. However, at first he began simply to see public opinion as the great danger to liberty. Yet he did not seem to think of the state as an aid to preserving it. Rather he thought of the educated, or the middle class in general, as being a modifying force that might, by its influence on general culture, create a civil society where liberty could thrive.