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John Staurt Mill - Electronic Democracy

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There is no difficulty in showing that the ideally best form of government is that in which the sovereignty, or supreme controlling power in the last resort, is vested in the entire aggregate of the community; every citizen not only having a voice in the exercise of that ultimate sovereignty, but being, at least occasionally, called on to take an active part in the government, by the personal discharge of some public function, local or general

John Stuart Mill agreed that democracy was the form of government that could best secure the happiness of all. But the end is not just well-being, as earlier utilitarians argued, though it is that. The end that recommends it is the tendency to foster self-development and individuality. Representative government, is particular, he defended as that form which best encourages individuality. It leads people to take a more active and intelligent participation in society. It provides moral training and encourages the development of natural human sympathies. The result is the habit of looking at social questions from an impersonal perspective rather than that of self-interest. But Mill's defense of democracy was much qualified. To be sure, he was, like the earlier utilitarians, sympathetic to the fall of the ancient regime and to the ends of the French Revolution. He strove to liberalize the press still severely bound by an absurd libel law that excluded effective social criticism. But influenced by Coleridge he had come to see that there were virtues in social systems, even out-dated ones, else why would not have survived so long. He therefore came to appreciate the conservative arguments that unrestrained freedom is dangerous. Mill argued, reasonably on utilitarian grounds, that social institutions need to be adapted to the time and place where they operate. He even suggests that, since people must be properly fit if democracy is to function well, a despotic form of government, if well-run with this aim in mind, might prepare its people for the exercise of responsibilities of a free electorate. In his thinking about how best to administer a state as a whole, Mill argued that the best administration was one that relied upon professional skills.

In a representative democracy, if you can control the majority, then you can control everyone. Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant -- society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it -- its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs as protection against political despotism. Mill was concerned to provide a form of government with as much education as feasible,

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