Advertisement

Class, Nation, and Character in Nineteenth-Century Liberal Thought

  • Katherine Smits

Abstract

John Stuart Mill’s work is a key point of origin for modern liberal pluralism—but it is a much more complex origin than is generally acknowledged. Mill has been claimed as a “founding father” for both liberal moral pluralism and multiculturalism, but in fact the fundamental source of pluralism for him was what we now call membership in social groups, structured in relations of power. Mill’s liberalism is designed for a society in which individuals are deeply influenced by their group membership, the identity politics of his time; it is later theorists who shift liberalism away from acknowledging any social membership except for national culture. In this chapter I examine Mill’s identity pluralism and the trajectory liberal thought takes after Mill. As we shall see, identity is transformed into interest, and as a result the stage is set for moral pluralism, interest pluralism, and multiculturalism to dominate modern liberal theory.

Keywords

Group Membership Common Good National Culture Moral Belief Voluntary Association 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    See Isaiah Berlin’s essays: “Two Concepts of Liberty” and “John Stuart Mill and the Ends of Life,” in Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 118–72 and 173–206. Some critics have claimed that Mill in fact asserted a paternalistic moralism, in which liberty was less important than, and less instrumental in, the achievement of social progress and reform. For a recent statement, seeGoogle Scholar
  2. Joseph Hamburger, John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999). I do no more than note these arguments here, as my own are centered not on the ultimate value of liberty for Mill, but on his views concerning the relationship between group membership and moral belief.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Will Kymlicka, Liberalism, Community and Culture (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 208–9.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Shirley Robin Letwin, The Pursuit of Certainty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 252. See also Graeme Duncan, who refers to Mill’s liberal politics as “democratic—or even bourgeois democratic—Platonism,” because of the emphasis he gives to the guiding role of the intellectual elite.Google Scholar
  5. Graeme Duncan, Marx and Mill: Two Views of Social Conflict and Social Harmony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 259.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    Bhikhu Parekh, Rethinking Multiculturalism (New York: St. Martins Press, 2000), 43–4.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Gerald Gaus argues that the liberalisms articulated by Locke and James Mill “share a vision of men as essentially independent, private and competitive beings who see civil association mainly as a framework for the pursuit of their own interests.” See Gaus, The Modern Liberal Theory of Man (London: Croom Helm, 1983), 7.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Stefan Collini, “The Idea of ‘Character’ in Victorian Political Thought,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series, 35 (1983), 33.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Anthony Appiah distinguishes these as the collective and personal dimensions of identity, in “Identity, Authenticity, Survival: Multicultural Societies and Social Reproduction,” in Multiculturalism, ed. Amy Gutmann (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 151.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    In “On Liberty,” e.g., Mill asserts that only people sharing in a specific national character—that of advanced Western societies—are fit to enjoy the liberties ensured by democratic government. See J.S. Mill, “On Liberty,” in On Liberty and Other Writings, ed. Stefan Collini (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 13–14.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    C.B. Macpherson makes this argument in Democratic Theory: Essays in Retrieval (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), 32. For a more sympathetic discussion, seeGoogle Scholar
  12. Nancy L. Rosenblum, Another Liberalism: Romanticism and the Reconstruction of Liberal Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), especially 15–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 14.
    Wendy Donner discusses the Aristotelian aspects of Mill’s thought on character. See W Donner, The Liberal Self. John Stuart Mill’s Moral and Political Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 120–1.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Richard Bellamy, “Introduction,” in Victorian Liberalism: Nineteenth-Century Political Thought and Practice, ed. Richard Bellamy (London: Routledge, 1990), 9.Google Scholar
  15. See also Michael Freeden, The New Liberalism: An Ideology of Social Reform (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 170–2.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Richard Ashcraft, “Class Conflict and Constitutionalism in J.S. Mill’s Thought,” in Liberalism and the Moral Life, ed. Nancy L. Rosenblum (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 107. As Ashcraft argues in a later essay, Mill’s criticism of Bentham here forms part of his more general reorientation of political theory to reflect social structures and the distribution of power within society.Google Scholar
  17. See Richard Ashcraft, “John Stuart Mill and the Theoretical Foundations of Democratic Socialism,” in Mill and the Moral Character of Liberalism, ed. Eldon J. Eisenach (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998), 171.Google Scholar
  18. 17.
    See John Stuart Mill, “Bentham,” in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, 33 volumes, ed. J.M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974–1991), vol. X, 77–115.Google Scholar
  19. 29.
    Georgios Varouxakis discusses these two aspects of the relationship between national character and political institutions in “National Character in John Stuart Mill’s Thought,” History of European Ideas, 24, 6 (1998): 376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 31.
    Uday Mehta, Liberalism and Empire: A Study in Nineteenth-Century British Liberal Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  21. 36.
    As C.B. Macpherson has pointed out, the existence of a working-class dependent solely on the sale of their labor underpinned Bentham’s prescribed economic system. Moreover, Bentham assumed differences between categories of people, such as the different sensibilities of the sexes and social classes. But he made no attempt formally to incorporate group membership into his system of ethics or political representation. See C.B. Macpherson, The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 28, 30.Google Scholar
  22. 41.
    J.W. Burrow, Whigs and Liberals: Continuity and Change in English Political Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 106.Google Scholar
  23. 56.
    Ibid., 405. Mill’s views on the necessity for representation of minorities are discussed by Bruce Baum in “Freedom, Power and Public Opinion: J.S. Mill on the Public Sphere,” History of Political Thought, XXII, 3 (Autumn 2001), 508–10.Google Scholar
  24. 57.
    Janice Carlisle, “Mr. J. Stuart Mill, M.P., and the Character of the Working Classes,” in Mill and the Moral Character of Liberalism, ed. Eldon J. Eisenach, (College Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 143–67.Google Scholar
  25. 68.
    The dominance of this Romantic conception in later liberal thought is clear from Rawls’s reference to it in the form of a “plan of life.” Rawls derives the term from the American Idealist Josiah Royce, who was himself a disciple of T.H. Green. See John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1971), 408.Google Scholar
  26. 71.
    John Stuart Mill, “Autobiography,” in A. Ryan, Autobiography and Other Writings, ed. Jack Stillinger (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969), 93. Alan Ryan discusses the failures of Mill’s attempt thus to reconcile free will and determinism in John Stuart Mill (New York: Pantheon, 1970) and in “Mill’s Political Thought,” in A Cultivated Mind: Essays on J.S. Mill Presented to John M. Robson, ed. John M. Robson and Michael Laine (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 135.Google Scholar
  27. 76.
    See Martin Pugh, State and Society: A Social and Political History of Britain, 1870–1997, second edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), ch. 3.Google Scholar
  28. 77.
    This is well discussed by Ian Bradley in I. Bradley, The Optimists: Themes and Personalities in Victorian Liberalism (London: Faber and Faber, 1980), 82—4. Many (emerging) liberals earlier in the century had supported Greek independence, although not all; Fred Rosen argues that an “authoritarian” (or paternalistic) strand of liberal thinking developed in India was in fact opposed to Greek self-determination.Google Scholar
  29. See Fred Rosen, Bentham, Byron and Greece (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 149–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 79.
    Steven Lukes, Individualism (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1973), 20–1.Google Scholar
  31. 80.
    G.W.F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1991), 39.Google Scholar
  32. 81.
    T.H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics (Oxford: Kraus, 1969), 218.Google Scholar
  33. 86.
    T.H. Green, “Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation,” in Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation and Other Writings, ed. Paul Harris and John Morrow (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 97.Google Scholar
  34. 90.
    Andrew Vincent and Raymond Plant, Philosophy, Politics and Citizenship: The Life and Thought of the British Idealists (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984), 29.Google Scholar
  35. 92.
    L.T. Hobhouse, The Metaphysical Theory of the State (London: Allen and Unwin, 1918), 29–30.Google Scholar
  36. 93.
    L.T. Hobhouse, “Liberalism,” in Liberalism and Other Writings, ed. James Meadowcroft (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 95.
    L.T. Hobhouse, “Sociology,” in Sociology and Philosophy: A Centenary Collection of Essays and Articles, intr. Morris Ginsberg (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), 39.Google Scholar
  38. 99.
    L.T. Hobhouse, Social Development (London: Allen and Unwin, 1924), 154–5.Google Scholar
  39. 102.
    Stefan Collini, Liberalism and Sociology: L. T Hobhouse and Political Argument in England 1880–1924 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 97.Google Scholar
  40. 107.
    For discussions of the attitudes of later nineteenth-century liberals toward the women’s suffrage movement, see Martin Pugh, “Liberals and Women’s Suffrage, 1867–1914,” in Citizenship and Community, ed. Eugenio Biagini (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 45–65, andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Peter Clarke, Liberals and Social Democrats (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 108.
    John Morrow argues that Bosanquet regarded class identity as serving the larger social whole. Collective solidarity amongst the working class promoted social identification, and was a desirable end in spite of its possible implications for liberal conceptions of property rights under capitalism. See John Morrow, “Community, Class and Bosanquet’s ‘New State,’ ” History of Political Thought, XXI, 3 (Autumn 2000): 495.Google Scholar
  43. 110.
    Christopher Kent, Brains and Numbers: Elitism, Comtism and Democracy in Mid-Victorian England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978), xi–xii;Google Scholar
  44. Christopher Harvie, The Lights of Liberalism: University Liberals and the Challenge of Democracy 1860–86 (London: Allen Lane, 1976), 11–15.Google Scholar
  45. 112.
    Joseph Raz, The Morality of Freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 398.Google Scholar
  46. 114.
    Iris Marion Young addresses this issue in Inclusion and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 81–120.Google Scholar
  47. See also Melissa Williams, Voice, Trust, and Memory; Marginalized Groups and the Failings of Liberal Representation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Katherine Smits 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine Smits

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations