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Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The People’s Will, Sovereignty, and Inequality

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) had little formal education but achieved notoriety as a philosopher, novelist, musician, and moralist in an age of social transformation and political upheaval. He was born in Geneva and grew up in an artisanal milieu that deeply affected his understanding of politics. Following Rousseau’s conversion to Roman Catholicism, he briefly served as a tutor, gaining a lifelong interest in education. He set out for Paris in 1742 and quickly became involved with the leading figures of the Enlightenment, such as Diderot, and was a contributor to the Encyclopedia. Rousseau’s political contributions to the debates taking place in Paris were numerous, including The Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts (1750), which attacked the idea that learning and virtue were one. Rousseau continued his critique of society in a series of literary and political works, notably The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755); Julie, or The Nouvelle Heloise (1761), a best seller that purported to tell the aristocracy how to reform itself; Emile (1762), a treatise on education; and his The Social Contract (1762). Rousseau believed that moral life for man begins with the emergence of society, yet he saw the problem of freedom in society as central and vigorously denounces tyranny in the public sphere. His goal was to find a form of association in which “each one uniting with all obeys, however, only himself and remains as free as before.” Rousseau believed that sovereignty must always reside in the people as a whole. He distinguished the supreme political power of citizens from the government, which is a power delegated by the people.

On the Social Contract

Book I

I want to inquire whether there can be a legitimate and reliable rule of administration in the civil order, taking men as they are and laws as they can be. I shall try always to reconcile in this research what right permits with what interest prescribes, so that justice and utility are not at variance.

I start in without proving the importance of my subject. It will be asked if I am a prince or a legislator to write about politics. I reply that I am neither, and that is why I write about politics. If I were a prince or a legislator, I would not waste my time saying what has to be done. I would do it, or keep silent.

Born a citizen of a free State, and a member of the sovereign, the right to vote there is enough to impose on me the duty of learning about public affairs, no matter how feeble the influence of my voice may be. And I am happy, every time I meditate about governments, always to find in my research new reasons to love that of my country!


Man was/is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One who believes himself the master of others is nonetheless a greater slave than they. How did this change occur? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? I believe I can answer this question.

If I were to consider only force and the effect it produces, I would say that as long as a people is constrained to obey and does so, it does well; as soon as it can shake off the yoke and does so, it does even better. For in recovering its freedom by means of the same right used to steal it, either the people is justified in taking it back, or those who took it away were not justified in doing so. But the social order is a sacred right that serves as a basis for all the others. However, this right does not come from nature; it is therefore based on conventions. The problem is to know what these conventions are. Before coming to that, I should establish what I have just asserted.


I assume that men have reached the point where obstacles to their self-preservation in the state of nature prevail by their resistance over the forces each individual can use to maintain himself in that state. Then that primitive state can no longer subsist and the human race would perish if it did not change its way of life.

Now since men cannot engender new forces, but merely unite and direct existing ones, they have no other means of self-preservation except to form, by aggregation, a sum of forces that can prevail over the resistance; set them to work by a single motivation; and make them act in concert.

This sum of forces can arise only from the cooperation of many. But since each man’s force and freedom are the primary instruments of his self-preservation, how is he to engage them without harming himself and without neglecting the cares he owes to himself? In the context of my subject, this difficulty can be stated in these terms:

“Find a form of association that defends and protects the person and goods of each associate with all the common force, and by means of which each one, uniting with all, nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as free as before.” This is the fundamental problem which is solved by the social contract.

The clauses of this contract are so completely determined by the nature of the act that the slightest modification would render them null and void. So that although they may never have been formally pronounced, they are everywhere the same, everywhere tacitly accepted and recognized, until the social compact is violated, at which point each man recovers his original rights and resumes his natural freedom, thereby losing the conventional freedom for which he renounced it.

Properly understood, all of these clauses come down to a single one, namely the total alienation of each associate, with all his rights, to the whole community. For first of all, since each one gives his entire self, the condition is equal for everyone, and since the condition is equal for everyone, no one has an interest in making it burdensome for the others.

Furthermore, as the alienation is made without reservation, the union is as perfect as it can be, and no associate has anything further to claim. For if some rights were left to private individuals, there would be no common superior who could judge between them and the public. Each man being his own judge on some point would soon claim to be so on all; the state of nature would subsist and the association would necessarily become tyrannical or ineffectual.

Finally, as each gives himself to all, he gives himself to no one; and since there is no associate over whom one does not acquire the same right one grants him over oneself, one gains the equivalent of everything one loses, and more force to preserve what one has.

If, then, everything that is not of the essence of the social compact is set aside, one will find that it can be reduced to the following terms. Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will; and in a body we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.

Instantly, in place of the private person of each contracting party, this act of association produces a moral and collective body, composed of as many members as there are voices in the assembly, which receives from this same act its unity, its common self, its life, and its will. This public person, formed then, when the voice of duty replaces physical impulse and right replaces appetite, does man, who until that tune only considered himself, find himself forced to act upon other principles and to consult his reason before heeding his inclinations. Although in this state he deprives himself of several advantages given him by nature, he gains such great ones, his faculties are exercised and developed, his ideas broadened, his feelings ennobled, and his whole soul elevated to such a point that if the abuses of this new condition did not often degrade him beneath the condition he left, he ought ceaselessly to bless the happy moment that tore him away from it forever, and that changed him from a stupid, limited animal into an intelligent being and a man.

Let us reduce the pros and cons to easily compared terms. What man loses by the social contract is his natural freedom and an unlimited right to everything that tempts him and that he can get; what he gains is civil freedom and the proprietorship of everything he possesses. In order not to be mistaken about these compensations, one must distinguish carefully between natural freedom, which is limited only by the force of the individual, and civil freedom, which is limited by the general will; and between possession, which is only the effect of force or the right of the first occupant, and property, which can only be based on a positive title.

To the foregoing acquisitions of the civil state could be added moral freedom, which alone makes man truly the master of himself. For the impulse of appetite alone is slavery, and obedience to the law one has prescribed for oneself is freedom. But I have already said too much about this topic, and the philosophic meaning of the word freedom is not my subject here. . . .

Book II


The first and most important consequence of the principles established above is that the general will alone can guide the forces of the State according to the end for which it was instituted, which is the common good. For if the opposition of private interests made the establishment of societies necessary, it is the agreement of these same interests that made it possible. It is what these different interests have in common that forms the social bond, and if there were not some point at which all the interests are in agreement, no society could exist. Now it is uniquely on the basis of this common interest that society ought to be governed.

I say, therefore, that sovereignty, being only the exercise of the general will, can never be alienated, and that the sovereign, which is only a collective being, can only be represented by itself. Power can perfectly well be transferred, but not will.

Indeed, though it is not impossible for a private will to agree with the general will on a given point, it is impossible, at least, for this agreement to be lasting and unchanging. For the private will tends by its nature toward preferences, and the general will toward equality. It is even more impossible for there to be a guarantee of this agreement even should it always exist. It would not be the result of art, but of chance. The sovereign may well say, “I currently want what a particular man wants, or at least what he says he wants.” But it cannot say, “What that man will want tomorrow, I shall still want,” since it is absurd for the will to tie itself down for the future and since no will can consent to anything that is contrary to the good of the being that wills. Therefore, if the people promises simply to obey, it dissolves itself by that act; it loses the status of a people. The moment there is a master, there is no longer a sovereign, and from then on the body politic is destroyed.

This is not to say that the commands of leaders cannot pass for expressions of the general will, as long as the sovereign, being free to oppose them, does not do so. In such a case, one ought to presume the consent of the people from universal silence. This will be explained at greater length.


For the same reason that sovereignty is inalienable, it is indivisible. Because either the will is general or it is not. It is the will of the people as a body, or of only apart. In the first case, this declared will is an act of sovereignty and constitutes law. In the second case, it is merely a private will or an act of magistracy; it is at most a decree.


From the foregoing it follows that the general will is always right and always tends toward the public utility. But it does not follow that the people’s deliberations always have the same rectitude. One always wants what is good for oneself, but one does not always see it. The people is never corrupted, but it is often fooled, and only then does it appear to want what is bad.

There is often a great difference between the will of all and the general will. The latter considers only the common interest; the former considers private interest, and is only a sum of private wills. But take away from these same wills the pluses and minuses that cancel each other out, and the remaining sum of the difference is the general will.

If, when an adequately informed people deliberates, the citizens were to have no communication among themselves, the general will would always result from the large number of small differences, and the deliberation would always be good. But when factions, partial associations at the expense of the whole, are formed, the will of each of these associations becomes general with reference to its members and particular with reference to the State. One can say, then, that there are no longer as many voters as there are men, but merely as many as there are associations. The differences become less numerous and produce a result that is less general. Finally, when one of these associations is so big that it prevails over all the others, the result is no longer a general will, and the opinion that prevails is merely a private opinion.

In order for the general will to be well expressed, it is therefore important that there be no partial society in the State, and that each citizen give only his own opinion. Such was the unique and sublime system instituted by the great Lycurgus. If there are partial societies, their number must be multiplied and their inequality prevented, as was done by Solon, Numa, and Servius. These precautions are the only valid means of ensuring that the general will is always enlightened and that the people is not deceived.

The engagements that bind us to the social body are obligatory only because they are mutual, and their nature is such that in fulfilling them one cannot work for someone else without also working for oneself. Why is the general will always right and why do all constantly want the happiness of each, if not because there is no one who does not apply this word each to himself, and does not think of himself as he votes for all? Which proves that the equality of right, and the concept of justice it produces, are derived from each man’s preference for himself and consequently from the nature of man; that the general will, to be truly such, should be general in its object as well as in its essence; that it should come from all to apply to all; and that it loses its natural rectitude when it is directed toward any individual, determinate object. Because then, judging what is foreign to us, we have no true principle of equity to guide us.

Indeed, as soon as it is a matter of fact or a particular right concerning a point that has not been regulated by a prior, general convention, the affair is in dispute. It is a lawsuit where the interested private individuals constitute one party and the public the other, but in which I see neither what law must be followed nor what judge should decide. In this case it would be ridiculous to want to turn to an express decision of the general will, which can only be the conclusion of one of the parties and which, for the other party, is consequently only a foreign, private will, showing injustice on this occasion and subject to error. Thus just as a private will cannot represent the general will, the general will in turn changes its nature when it has a particular object; and as a general will it cannot pass judgment on either a man or a fact. When the people of Athens, for example, appointed or dismissed its leaders, awarded honors to one or imposed penalties on another, and by means of a multitude of particular decrees performed indistinguishably all the acts of government, the people then no longer had a general will properly speaking. It no longer acted as sovereign, but as magistrate. This will appear contrary to commonly held ideas, but you must give me time to present my own.


[W]hen the entire people enacts something concerning the entire people, it considers only itself, and if a relationship is formed then, it is between the whole object viewed in one way and the whole object

viewed in another, without any division of the whole. Then the subject matter of the enactment is general like the will that enacts. It is this act that I call a law.

When I say that the object of the laws is always general, I mean that the law considers the subjects as a body and actions in the abstract, never a man as an individual or a particular action. Thus the law can very well enact that there will be privileges, but it cannot confer them on anyone by name. The law can create several classes of citizens, and even designate the qualities determining who has a right to these classes, but it cannot name the specific people to be admitted to them. It can establish a royal government and hereditary succession, but it cannot elect a king or name a royal family. In short, any function that relates to an individual object does not belong to the legislative power.

Given this idea, one sees immediately that it is no longer necessary to ask who should make laws, since they are acts of the general will; nor whether the prince is above the laws, since he is a member of the State; nor whether the law can be unjust, since no one is unjust toward himself; nor how one is free yet subject to the laws, since they merely record our wills.

Furthermore, one sees that since the law combines the universality of the will and that of the object, what any man, whoever he may be, orders on his own authority is not a law. Whatever is ordered even by the sovereign concerning a particular object is not a law either, but rather a decree; nor is it an act of sovereignty, but of magistracy.

I therefore call every State ruled by laws a republic, whatever the form of administration may be, for then alone the public interest governs and the commonwealth really exists. Every legitimate government is republican. I shall explain later what government is.


The discovery of the best rules of society suited to nations would require a superior intelligence, who saw all of men’s passions yet experienced none of them; who had no relationship at all to our nature yet knew it thoroughly; whose happiness was independent of us, yet who was nevertheless willing to attend to ours; finally one who, preparing for himself a future glory with the passage of time, could work in one century and enjoy the reward in another. Gods would be needed to give laws to men.

The legislator is an extraordinary man in the State in all respects. If he should be so by his genius, he is no less so by his function. It is not magistracy, it is not sovereignty. This function, which constitutes the republic, does not enter into its constitution. It is a particular and superior activity that has nothing in common with human dominion. For if one who has authority over men should not have authority over laws, one who has authority over laws should also not have authority over men. Otherwise his laws, ministers of his passions, would often only perpetuate his injustices, and he could never avoid having private views alter the sanctity of his work.

When Lycurgus gave his homeland laws, he began by abdicating the throne. It was the custom of most Greek cities to entrust the establishment of their laws to foreigners. The modern republics of Italy often imitated this practice. The republic of Geneva did so too, with good results. During its finest period Rome saw all the crimes of tyranny revived in its midst, and nearly perished as a result of combining legislative authority and sovereign power in the same hands.

He who drafts the laws, therefore, does not or should not have any legislative right. And the people itself cannot, even if it wanted to, divest itself of this incommunicable right, because according to the fundamental compact, only the general will obligates private individuals, and one

can never be assured that a private will is in conformity with the general will until it has been submitted to the free vote of the people. I have already said this, but it is not useless to repeat it.

Thus one finds combined in the work of legislation two things that seem incompatible: an undertaking beyond human force and, to execute it, an authority that amounts to nothing.

This is what has always forced the fathers of nations to have recourse to the intervention of heaven and to attribute their own wisdom to the Gods; so that the peoples, subjected to the laws of the State as to those of nature, and recognizing the same power in the formation of man and of the City, might obey with freedom and bear with docility the yoke of public felicity.

It is this sublime reason, which rises above the grasp of common men, whose decisions the legislator places in the mouth of the immortals in order to convince by divine authority those who cannot be moved by human prudence. But it is not every man who can make the Gods speak or be believed when he declares himself their interpreter. The legislator’s great soul is the true miracle that should prove his mission. Any man can engrave stone tablets, buy an oracle, pretend to have a secret relationship with some divinity, train a bird to talk in his ear, or find other crude ways to impress the people. One who knows only that much might even assemble, by chance, a crowd of madmen, but he will never found an empire, and his extravagant work will soon die along with him. False tricks can form a fleeting bond; wisdom alone can make it durable. The Jewish law, which is still in existence, and the law of the son of Ishmael, which has ruled half the world for ten centuries, still bear witness today to the great men who formulated them. And whereas proud philosophy or blind partisan spirit regards them merely as lucky imposters, the true political theorist admires in their institutions that great and powerful genius which presides over lasting establishments.

One must not conclude from all this, as Warburton does, that politics and religion have a common object for us, but rather that at the origin of nations, one serves as an instrument of the other.


Just as an architect, before putting up a big building, observes and tests the ground to see whether it can bear the weight, so the wise founder does not start by drafting laws that are good in themselves, but first examines whether the people for whom he intends them is suited to bear them. For this reason, Plato refused to give laws to the Arcadians and Cyrenians, knowing that these two peoples were rich and could not tolerate equality. For this reason, there were good laws and wicked men in Crete, because Minos had disciplined only a people full of vices.

A thousand nations that have flourished on earth could never have tolerated good laws, and even those that could were only so disposed for a very short time during their entire existence. Most peoples, like men, are docile only in their youth. They become incorrigible as they grow older. Once customs are established and prejudices have taken root, it is a dangerous and foolhardy undertaking to want to reform them. The people cannot even tolerate having their ills touched for the purpose of destroying them, like those stupid and cowardly patients who tremble at the sight of a doctor.

To be sure, just as men’s minds are unhinged and their memory of the past erased by some illnesses, so there sometimes occur during the lifetime of States violent periods when revolutions have the same effect on peoples as do certain crises on individuals; when horror of the past is equivalent to amnesia, and when the State, set afire by civil wars, is reborn so to speak from its ashes and resumes the vigor of youth by escaping from death’s clutches. Sparta in the time of Lycurgus and

Rome after the Tarquins were like this, and among us so were Holland and Switzerland after the expulsion of the tyrants.

But these events are rare; they are exceptions that can always be explained by the particular constitution of the exceptional State. They cannot even occur twice for the same people; for it can liberate itself as long as it is merely barbarous, but can no longer do so when the civil machinery is worn out. Then, disturbances can destroy it, but revolutions cannot reestablish it, and as soon as its chains are broken, it falls apart and no longer exists. Henceforth it must have a master and not a liberator. Free peoples, remember this maxim: Freedom can be acquired, but it can never be recovered.

Youth is not childhood. For nations as for men there is a time of youth, or maturity if you prefer, that must be awaited before subjecting them to laws. But the maturity of a people is not always easy to recognize, and if it is anticipated, the work is ruined. One people is capable of discipline at birth, another is not after ten centuries. The Russians will never be truly civilized because they were civilized too early. Peter had the genius of imitation. He did not have true genius, the kind that creates and makes everything from nothing. A few of the things he did were good; most were out of place. He saw that his people was barbarous; he did not see that it was not ripe for a political order. He wanted to make it cultured when it only needed to be made warlike. He wanted first to make Germans and Englishmen, whereas it was necessary to begin by making Russians. He prevented his subjects from ever becoming what they could be by convincing them that they were what they are not. It is like the way a French tutor molds his pupil to shine briefly during his childhood and thereafter never to amount to anything. The Russian empire would like to subjugate Europe and will itself be subjugated. The Tartars, its subjects or its neighbors, will become its masters and ours. This revolution appears inevitable to me. All the kings of Europe are working together to hasten it. . . .


Various relations have to be considered in order to organize the whole or give the commonwealth the best possible form. First the action of the entire body acting upon itself—that is, the relationship of the whole to the whole, or of the sovereign to the State; and this relationship is composed of the relationship of intermediary terms, as we shall see later.

The laws that regulate this relationship are named political laws, and are also called fundamental laws, not without a degree of reason if these laws are wise. For if there is only one correct way to organize each State, the people that has found it should abide by it; but if the established order is bad, why should one accept, as fundamental, laws that prevent it from being good? Besides, in any event a people is always the master to change its laws—even the best laws; for if it wishes to do itself harm, who has the right to prevent it from doing so?

The second relation is that of the members to each other or to the entire body. And this relationship should be as small as possible with respect to the former and as large as possible with respect to the latter, so that each citizen is in a position of perfect independence from all the others and of excessive dependence upon the City. This is always achieved by the same means, because only the force of the State creates the freedom of its members. It is from this second relationship that civil laws arise.

It is possible to consider a third type of relation between man and the law, namely that of disobedience and penalty. And this gives rise to the establishment of criminal laws, which are

basically not so much a particular type of law as a sanction for all the others. To these three types of laws is added a fourth, the most important of all; which is not engraved on

marble or bronze, but in the hearts of the citizens; which is the true constitution of the State; which gains fresh force each day; which, when other laws age or die out, revives or replaces them, preserves a people in the spirit of its institution, and imperceptibly substitutes the force of habit for that of authority. I am speaking of mores, customs, and especially of opinion—a part of the laws unknown to our political theorists, but on which the success of all the others depends; a part to which the great legislator attends in secret while appearing to limit himself to the particular regulations that are merely the sides of the arch of which mores, slower to arise, form at last the unshakable keystone.

Among these various classes, political laws, which constitute the form of government, are the only ones relevant to my subject. . . .

Book III

Before discussing the various forms of government, let us try to define the precise meaning of this word, which has not yet been very well explained.


. . . We have seen that the legislative power belongs to the people and can belong only to it. It is easy to see, on the contrary, by the principles already established, that the executive power cannot belong to the general public in its legislator’s or sovereign capacity, because this power consists solely of particular acts which are not within the jurisdiction of the law, nor consequently of the sovereign, all of whose acts can only be laws.

The public force must therefore have its own agent, which unites it and puts it into operation according to the directions of the general will; which serves as a means of communication between the State and the sovereign; and which does in a sense for the public person what the union of the soul and the body does in man. This is the reason why, in the State, there is government, which has been incorrectly confounded with the sovereign, of which it is only the minister.

What is the government then? An intermediate body established between the subjects and the sovereign for their mutual communication, and charged with the execution of the laws and the maintenance of civil as well as political freedom.

The members of this body are called magistrates or kings, that is to say governors; and the body as a whole bears the name prince. Thus those who claim that the act by which a people subjects itself to leaders is not a contract are entirely right. It is absolutely nothing but a commission, a function in which, as simple officers of the sovereign, they exercise in its name the power that has been entrusted to them by the sovereign, and that the sovereign can limit, modify, and take back whenever it pleases, since the alienation of such a right is incompatible with the nature of the social body and contrary to the goal of the association.

I therefore give the name government or supreme administration to the legitimate exercise of the executive power, and Prince or magistrate to the man or the body charged with that administration. . . .


In the preceding chapter, we have seen why the various kinds or forms of governments are distinguished by the number of members composing them. It remains to be seen in this chapter how this classification is made.

The sovereign can, in the first place, entrust the government to the entire people or to the majority of people, so that there are more citizens who are magistrates than citizens who are simply private individuals. This form of government is given the name democracy.

Or else it can restrict the government to the hands of a small number, so that there are more simple citizens than magistrates; and this form bears the name aristocracy.

Finally, it can concentrate the whole government in the hands of a single magistrate from whom all the others derive their power. This third form is the most common, and is called monarchy or royal government.

People have always argued a great deal over the best form of government, without considering that each of them is the best in certain cases, and the worst in others.

If the number of supreme magistrates in different States ought to be in inverse proportion to the number of citizens, it follows that in general democratic government is suited to small States, aristocratic to medium-sized ones, and monarchical to large ones. This rule is derived directly from the principle; but countless circumstances can furnish exceptions.


He who makes the law knows better than anyone else how it ought to be executed and interpreted. It therefore seems that there could be no better constitution than one in which the executive power is combined with the legislative. But it is this very thing that makes such a government inadequate in certain respects, because the things that ought to be distinguished are not, and the prince and the sovereign, being nothing but the same person, form so to speak only a government without a government.

It is not good for him who makes the laws to execute them, nor for the body of people to turn its attention away from general considerations to particular objects. Nothing is more dangerous than the influence of private interests on public affairs; and the abuse of laws by the government is a lesser evil than the corruption of the legislator, which is the inevitable consequence of private considerations. Then, the substance of the State being changed, all reform becomes impossible. A people who would never take advantage of government would never take advantage of independence either. A people who would always govern well would not need to be governed.

In the strict sense of the term, a true democracy has never existed and never will exist. It is contrary to the natural order that the majority govern and the minority be governed. It is unimaginable that the people remain constantly assembled to attend to public affairs, and it is obvious that it could not establish commissions to do so without changing the form of administration.

Indeed, I believe it can be stated as a principle that when the functions of the government are divided among several tribunals, those with the fewest members sooner or later acquire the greatest authority, if only because of the facility in expediting business which brings this about naturally.

Besides, consider how many things that are hard to combine are presupposed by this form of government. First, a very small State where the people is easily assembled and where each citizen can easily know all the others. Second, great simplicity of mores, which prevents a multitude of business and knotty discussions. Next, a great equality of ranks and of fortunes, without which equality of rights and authority could not subsist for long. Finally, little or no luxury, because either luxury is the result of wealth, or it makes wealth necessary. It corrupts both rich and poor, the one by possessing, the other by coveting. It sells out the homeland to indolence and vanity; it deprives the State of all of its citizens by enslaving some of them to others and all of them to opinion.

If there were a people of Gods, it would govern itself democratically. Such a perfect government is not suited to men.


We have here two quite distinct moral persons, namely the government and the sovereign; and consequently two general wills, one relative to all the citizens, the other solely for the members of the administration. Thus, although the government can regulate its internal policy in whatever way it

pleases, it can never speak to the people except in the name of the sovereign, that is in the name of the people itself. This must never be forgotten. The first societies governed themselves aristocratically. The heads of families deliberated among themselves about public affairs. Young people demurred without difficulty to the authority of experience. This is the source of the names priests, ancients, senate, elders. The savages of North America still govern themselves in this manner, and are very well governed.

But as instituted inequality came to predominate over natural inequality, wealth or power was preferred to age, and aristocracy became elective. Finally, when power was passed on together with goods from father to children, creating patrician families, the government was made hereditary, and there were senators only twenty years old.

There are, therefore, three kinds of aristocracy: natural, elective, and hereditary. The first is suited only to simple peoples. The third is the worst of all governments. The second is the best; it is aristocracy properly so-called.

Besides the advantage of distinguishing between the two powers, aristocracy has that of the choice of its members. For in popular government all the citizens are born magistrates, whereas this type limits them to a small number, and they become magistrates only through election, a means by which probity, enlightenment, experience, and all the other reasons for public preference and esteem become so many new guarantees of being well governed.

Moreover, assemblies are more conveniently held, business is better discussed and acted upon in a more orderly and diligent manner, the prestige of the State is better sustained in foreign countries by venerable senators than by an unknown or scorned multitude.

In short, it is the best and most natural order for the wisest to govern the multitude, as long as it is certain that they govern for its benefit and nor for their own. Devices must be multiplied uselessly, nor must twenty thousand men do what one hundred well-chosen men can do still better. But it must be noted that here the corporate interest begins to direct the public force in accordance with the rule of the general will to a lesser degree, and that another unavoidable tendency exempts from the laws a part of the executive power.

With regard to particular matters of expediency, a State must not be so small, nor a people so simple and upright, that the execution of laws follows immediately from the public will, as is the case in a good democracy. Nor must a nation be so large that the leaders, dispersed to govern it, can each make decisions for the sovereign in his own department, and begin by making themselves independent in order to become masters in the long run.

But if aristocracy requires somewhat fewer virtues than popular government, it also requires others which are specific to it, such as moderation among the rich and contentment among the poor. For it seems that rigorous equality would be misplaced in an aristocracy. It was not even adhered to in Sparta.

Besides, if this form includes some inequality of wealth, it is simply in order for the administration of public affairs to be generally confided to those who can best devote all their time to it; but not, as Aristotle claims, for the rich to be always given preference. On the contrary, it is important that an opposite choice should occasionally teach the people that personal merit offers more important reasons for preference than does riches.

Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men


Proposed by the Academy of Dijon: What Is the Origin of Inequality among Men, and Is It Authorized by the Natural Law?

It is of man that I have to speak, and the question I am examining indicates to me that I am going to be speaking to men, for such questions are not proposed by those who are afraid to honor the truth. I will therefore confidently defend the cause of humanity before the wise men who invite me to do so, and I will not be displeased with myself if I make myself worthy of my subject and my judges.

I conceive of two kinds of inequality in the human species: one which I call natural or physical, because it is established by nature and consists in the difference of age, health, bodily strength, and qualities of mind or soul. The other may be called moral or political inequality, because it depends on a kind of convention and is established, or at least authorized, by the consent of men. This latter type of inequality consists in the different privileges enjoyed by some at the expense of others, such as being richer, more honored, more powerful than they, or even causing themselves to be obeyed by them.

There is no point in asking what the source of natural inequality is, because the answer would be found enunciated in the simple definition of the word. There is still less of a point in asking whether there would not be some essential connections between the two inequalities, for that would amount to asking whether those who command are necessarily better than those who obey, and whether strength of body or mind, wisdom or virtue are always found in the same individuals in proportion to power or wealth. Perhaps this is a good question for slaves to discuss within earshot of their masters, but it is not suitable for reasonable and free men who seek the truth.

Precisely what, then, is the subject of this discourse? To mark, in the progress of things, the moment when, right taking the place of violence, nature was subjected to the law. To explain the sequence of wonders by which the strong could resolve to serve the weak, and the people to buy imaginary repose at the price of real felicity.

The philosophers who have examined the foundations of society have all felt the necessity of returning to the state of nature, but none of them has reached it. Some have not hesitated to ascribe to man in that state the notion of just and unjust, without bothering to show that he had to have that notion, or even that it was useful to him. Others have spoken of the natural right that everyone has to preserve what belongs to him, without explaining what they mean by “belonging.” Others started out by giving authority to the stronger over the weaker, and immediately brought about government, without giving any thought to the time that had to pass before the meaning of the words “authority” and “government” could exist among men. Finally, all of them, speaking continually of need, avarice, oppression, desires, and pride, have transferred to the state of nature the ideas they acquired in society. They spoke about savage man, and it was civil man they depicted. It did not even occur to most of our philosophers to doubt that the state of nature had existed, even though it is evident from reading the Holy Scriptures that the first man, having received enlightenment and precepts immediately from God, was not himself in that state; and if we give the writings of Moses the credence that every Christian owes them, we must deny that, even before the flood, men were ever in the pure state of nature, unless they had fallen back into it because of some extraordinary event: a paradox that is quite awkward to defend and utterly impossible to prove.

Let us therefore begin by putting aside all the facts, for they have no bearing on the question. The investigations that may be undertaken concerning this subject should not be taken for historical truths, but only for hypothetical and conditional reasonings, better suited to shedding light on the nature of things than on pointing out their true origin, like those our physicists make everyday with regard to the formation of the world. Religion commands us to believe that since God himself drew men out of the state of nature, they are unequal because he wanted them to be so; but it does not forbid us to form conjectures, drawn solely from the nature of man and the beings that surround him, concerning what the human race could have become, if it had been left to itself. That is what I am asked, and what I propose to examine in this discourse. Since my subject concerns man in general, I will attempt to speak in terms that suit all nations, or rather, forgetting times and places in order to think only of the men to whom I am speaking, I will imagine I am in the Lyceum in Athens, reciting the lessons of my masters, having men like Plato and Xenocrates for my judges, and the human race for my audience.

O man, whatever country you may be from, whatever your opinions may be, listen: here is your history, as I have thought to read it, not in the books of your fellowmen, who are liars, but in nature, who never lies. Everything that comes from nature will be true; there will be nothing false except what I have unintentionally added. The times about which I am going to speak are quite remote: how much you have changed from what you were! It is, as it were, the life of your species that I am about to describe to you according to the qualities you have received, which your education and your habits have been able to corrupt but have been unable to destroy. There is, I feel, an age at which an individual man would want to stop. You will seek the age at which you would want your species to have stopped. Dissatisfied with your present state for reasons that portend even greater grounds for dissatisfaction for your unhappy posterity, perhaps you would like to be able to go backwards in time. This feeling should be a hymn in praise of your first ancestors, the criticism of your contemporaries, and the dread of those who have the unhappiness of living after you. . . .

[W]ithout taking note of the changes that must have occurred in the internal as well as the external conformation of man, as he applied his limbs to new purposes and nourished himself on new foods, I will suppose him to have been formed from all time as I see him today: walking on two feet, using his hands as we use ours, directing his gaze over all of nature, and measuring with his eyes the vast expanse of the heavens.

When I strip that being, thus constituted, of all the supernatural gifts he could have received and of all the artificial faculties he could have acquired only through long progress; when I consider him, in a word, as he must have left the hands of nature, I see an animal less strong than some, less agile than others, but all in all, the most advantageously organized of all. I see him satisfying his hunger under an oak tree, quenching his thirst at the first stream, finding his bed at the foot of the same tree that supplied his meal; and thus all his needs are satisfied.

When the earth is left to its natural fertility and covered with immense forests that were never mutilated by the axe, it offers storehouses and shelters at every step to animals of every species. Men, dispersed among the animals, observe and imitate their industry, and thereby raise themselves to the level of animal instinct, with the advantage that, whereas each species has only its own instincts, man, who may perhaps have none that belongs to him, appropriates all of them to himself, feeds himself equally well on most of the various foods which the other animals divide among themselves, and consequently finds his sustenance more easily than any of the rest can.

Accustomed from childhood to inclement weather and the rigors of the seasons, acclimated to fatigue, and forced, naked and without arms, to defend their lives and their prey against other ferocious beasts, or to escape them by taking flight, men develop a robust and nearly unalterable temperament. Children enter the world with the excellent constitution of their parents and strengthen it with the same exercises that produced it, thus acquiring all the vigor that the human race is capable of having. Nature treats them precisely the way the law of Sparta treated the children of its citizens: it renders strong and robust those who are well constituted and makes all the rest perish, thereby differing from our present-day societies, where the state, by making children burdensome to their parents, kills them indiscriminately before their birth.

Since the savage man’s body is the only instrument he knows, he employs it for a variety of purposes that, for lack of practice, ours are incapable of serving. And our industry deprives us of the force and agility that necessity obliges him to acquire. If he had had an axe, would his wrists break such strong branches? If he had had a sling, would he throw a stone with so much force? If he had had a ladder, would he climb a tree so nimbly? If he had had a horse, would he run so fast? Give a civilized man time to gather all his machines around him, and undoubtedly he will easily overcome a savage man. But if you want to see an even more unequal fight, pit them against each other naked and disarmed, and you will soon realize the advantage of constantly having all of one’s forces at one’s disposal, of always being ready for any event, and of always carrying one’s entire self, as it were, with one. . . .

So far I have considered only physical man. Let us now try to look at him from a metaphysical and moral point of view.

In any animal I see nothing but an ingenious machine to which nature has given senses in order for it to renew its strength and to protect itself, to a certain point, from all that tends to destroy or disturb it. I am aware of precisely the same things in the human machine, with the difference that nature alone does everything in the operations of an animal, whereas man contributes, as a free agent, to his own operations. The former chooses or rejects by instinct and the latter by an act of freedom. Hence an animal cannot deviate from the rule that is prescribed to it, even when it would be advantageous to do so, while man deviates from it, often to his own detriment. Thus a pigeon would die of hunger near a bowl filled with choice meats, and so would a cat perched atop a pile of fruit or grain, even though both could nourish themselves quite well with the food they disdain, if they were of a mind to try some. And thus dissolute men abandon themselves to excesses which cause them fever and death, because the mind perverts the senses and because the will still speaks when nature is silent.

Every animal has ideas, since it has senses; up to a certain point it even combines its ideas, and in this regard man differs from an animal only in degree. Some philosophers have even suggested that there is a greater difference between two given men than between a given man and an animal. Therefore it is not so much understanding which causes the specific distinction of man from all other animals as it is his being a free agent. Nature commands every animal, and beasts obey. Man feels the same impetus, but he knows he is free to go along or to resist; and it is above all in the awareness of this freedom that the spirituality of his soul is made manifest. For physics explains in some way the mechanism of the senses and the formation of ideas; but in the power of willing, or rather of choosing, and in the feeling of this power, we find only purely spiritual acts, about which the laws of mechanics explain nothing.

But if the difficulties surrounding all these questions should leave some room for dispute on this difference between man and animal, there is another very specific quality which distinguishes them and about which there can be no argument: the faculty of self-perfection, a faculty which, with the aid of circumstances, successively develops all the others, and resides among us as much in the species as in the individual. On the other hand, an animal, at the end of a few months, is what it will be all its life; and its species, at the end of a thousand years, is what it was in the first of those thousand years. Why is man alone subject to becoming an imbecile? Is it not that he thereby returns to his primitive state, and that, while the animal which has acquired nothing and which also has nothing to lose, always retains its instinct, man, in losing through old age or other accidents all that his perfectibility has enabled him to acquire, thus falls even lower than the animal itself? It would be sad for us to be forced to agree that this distinctive and almost unlimited faculty is the source of all man’s misfortunes; that this is what, by dint of time, draws him out of that original condition in which he would pass tranquil and innocent days; that this is what, through centuries of giving rise to his enlightenment and his errors, his vices and his virtues, eventually makes him a tyrant over himself and nature. It would be dreadful to be obliged to praise as a beneficent being the one who first suggested to the inhabitant on the banks of the Orinoco the use of boards which he binds to his children’s temples, and which assure them of at least part of their imbecility and their original happiness.

Savage man, left by nature to instinct alone, or rather compensated for the instinct he is perhaps lacking by faculties capable of first replacing them and then of raising him to the level of instinct, will therefore begin with purely animal functions. Perceiving and feeling will be his first state, which he will have in common with all animals. Willing and not willing, desiring, and fearing will be the first and nearly the only operations of his soul until new circumstances bring about new developments in it.

Whatever the moralists may say about it, human understanding owes much to the passions, which, by common consensus, also owe a great deal to it. It is by their activity that our reason is perfected. We seek to know only because we desire to find enjoyment; and it is impossible to conceive why someone who had neither desires nor fears would go to the bother of reasoning. The passions in turn take their origin from our needs, and their progress from our knowledge. For one can desire or fear things only by virtue of the ideas one can have of them, or from the simple impulse of nature; and savage man, deprived of every sort of enlightenment, feels only the passion of this latter sort. His desires do not go beyond his physical needs. The only goods he knows in the universe are nourishment, a woman and rest; the only evils he fears are pain and hunger. I say pain and not death because an animal will never know what it is to die; and knowledge of death and its terrors is one of the first acquisitions that man has made in withdrawing from the animal condition. . . .

. . . As for myself being shocked by the unending difficulties and convinced of the almost demonstrable impossibility that languages could have arisen and been established by merely human means, I leave to anyone who would undertake it the discussion of the following difficult problem: which was the more necessary: an already formed society for the invention of languages, or an already invented language for the establishment of society?

Whatever these origins may be, it is clear, from the little care taken by nature to bring men together through mutual needs and to facilitate their use of speech, how little she prepared them for becoming habituated to the ways of society, and how little she contributed to all that men have done to establish the bonds of society. In fact, it is impossible to image why, in that primitive state, one man

would have a greater need for another man than a monkey or a wolf has for another of its respective species; or, assuming this need, what motive could induce the other man to satisfy it; or even, in this latter instance, how could they be in mutual agreement regarding the conditions. I know that we are repeatedly told that nothing would have been so miserable as man in that state; and if it is true, as I believe I have proved, that it is only after many centuries that men could have had the desire and the opportunity to leave that state, that would be a charge to bring against nature, not against him whom nature has thus constituted. But if we understand the word miserable properly, it is a word which is without meaning or which signifies merely a painful privation and suffering of the body or the soul. Now I would very much like someone to explain to me what kind of misery can there be for a free being whose heart is at peace and whose body is in good health? I ask which of the two, civil or natural life, is more likely to become insufferable to those who live it? We see about us practically no people who do not complain about their existence; many even deprive themselves of it to the extent they are able, and the combination of divine and human laws is hardly enough to stop this disorder. I ask if anyone has ever heard tell of a savage who was living in liberty ever dreaming of complaining about his life and of killing himself. Let the judgment therefore be made with less pride on which side real misery lies. On the other hand, nothing would have been so miserable as savage man, dazzled by enlightenment, tormented by passions, and reasoning about a state different from his own. It was by a very wise providence that the latent faculties he possessed should develop only as the occasion to exercise them presents itself, so that they would be neither superfluous nor troublesome to him beforehand, nor underdeveloped and useless in time of need. In instinct alone, man had everything he needed in order to live in the state of nature; in a cultivated reason, he has only what he needs to live in society.

At first it would seem that men in that state, having among themselves no type of moral relations or acknowledged duties, could be neither good nor evil, and had neither vices nor virtues, unless, if we take these words in a physical sense, we call those qualities that can harm an individual’s preservation “vices” in him, and those than can contribute to it “virtues.” In that case it would be necessary to call the one who least resists the simple impulses of nature the most virtuous. But without departing from the standard meaning of these words, it is appropriate to suspend the judgment we could make regarding such a situation and to be on our guard against our prejudices, until we have examined with scale in hand whether there are more virtues than vices among civilized men; or whether their virtues are more advantageous than their vices are lethal; or whether the progress of their knowledge is sufficient compensation for ills they inflict on one another as they learn of the good they ought to do; or whether, all things considered, they would not be in a happier set of circumstances if they had neither evil to fear nor good to hope for from anyone, rather than subjecting themselves to a universal dependence and obliging themselves to receive everything from those who do not oblige themselves to give them anything.

Above all, let us not conclude with Hobbes that because man has no idea of goodness he is naturally evil; that he is vicious because he does not know virtue; that he always refuses to perform services for his fellow men he does not believe he owes them; or that, by virtue of the right, which he reasonably attributes to himself, to those things he needs, he foolishly imagines himself to be the sole proprietor of the entire universe. Hobbes has very clearly seen the defect of all modern definitions of natural right, but the consequences he draws from his own definition show that he takes it in a sense that is no less false. Were he to have reasoned on the basis of the principles he establishes, this author

should have said that since the state of nature is the state in which the concern for our self- preservation is the least prejudicial to that of others, that state was consequently the most appropriate for peace and the best suited for the human race. He says precisely the opposite, because he had wrongly injected into the savage man’s concern for self-preservation the need to satisfy a multitude of passions which are the product of society and which have made laws necessary. The evil man, he says, is a robust child. It remains to be seen whether savage man is a robust child. Were we to grant him this, what would we conclude from it? That if this man were as dependent on others when he is robust as he is when he is weak, there is no type of excess to which he would not tend: he would beat his mother if she were too slow in offering him her breast; he would strangle one of his younger brothers, should he find him annoying; he would bite someone’s leg, should he be assaulted or aggravated by him. But being robust and being dependent are two contradictory suppositions in the state of nature. Man is weak when he is dependent, and he is emancipated from that dependence before he is robust. Hobbes did not see that the same cause preventing savages from using their reason, as our jurists claim, is what prevents them at the same time from abusing their faculties, as he himself maintains. Hence we could say that savages are not evil precisely because they do not know what it is to be good; for it is neither the development of enlightenment nor the restraint imposed by the law, but the calm of the passions and the ignorance of vice which prevents them from doing evil. So much more profitable to these is the ignorance of vice than the knowledge of virtue is to those. Moreover, there is another principle that Hobbes failed to notice, and which, having been given to man in order to mitigate, in certain circumstances, the ferocity of his egocentrism or the desire for self-preservation before this egocentrism of his came into being, tempers the ardor he has for his own well-being by an innate repugnance to seeing his fellow men suffer. I do not believe I have any contradiction to fear in granting the only natural virtue that the most excessive detractor of human virtues was forced to recognize. I am referring to pity, a disposition that is fitting for beings that are as weak and as subject to ills as we are; a virtue all the more universal and all the more useful to man in that it precedes in him any kind of reflection, and so natural that even animals sometimes show noticeable signs of it. Without speaking of the tenderness of mothers for their young and of the perils they have to brave in order to protect them, one daily observes the repugnance that horses have for trampling a living body with their hooves. An animal does not go undisturbed past a dead animal of its own species. There are even some animals that give them a kind of sepulchre; and the mournful lowing of cattle entering a slaughterhouse voices the impression they receive of the horrible spectacle that strikes them. One notes with pleasure the author of The Fable of the Bees, having been forced to acknowledge man as a compassionate and sensitive being, departing from his cold and subtle style in the example he gives, to offer us the pathetic image of an imprisoned man who sees outside his cell a ferocious animal tearing a child from its mother’s breast, mashing its frail limbs with its murderous teeth, and ripping with its claws the child’s quivering entrails. What horrible agitation must be felt by this witness of an event in which he has no personal interest! What anguish must he suffer at this sight, being unable to be of any help to the fainting mother or to the dying child?

Such is the pure movement of nature prior to all reflection. Such is the force of natural pity, which the most depraved mores still have difficulty destroying, since everyday one sees in our theaters someone affected and weeping at the ills of some unfortunate person, and who, were he in the tyrant’s place, would intensify the torments of his enemy still more; [like the bloodthirsty Sulla, so sensitive to ills he had not caused, or like Alexander of Pherae, who did not dare attend the performance of any

tragedy, for fear of being seen weeping with Andromache and Priam, and yet who listened impassively to the cries of so many citizens who were killed every day on his orders. Nature, in giving men tears, bears witness that she gave the human race the softest hearts.] Mandeville has a clear awareness that, with all their mores, men would never have been anything but monsters, if nature had not given them pity to aid their reason; but he has not seen that from this quality alone flow all the social virtues that he wants to deny in men. In fact, what are generosity, mercy, and humanity, if not pity applied to the weak, to the guilty, or to the human species in general. Benevolence and even friendship are, properly understood, the products of a constant pity fixed on a particular object; for is desiring that someone not suffer anything but desiring that he be happy? Were it true that commiseration were merely a sentiment that puts us in the position of the one who suffers, a sentiment that is obscure and powerful in savage man, developed but weak in man dwelling in civil society, what importance would this idea have to the truth of what I say, except to give it more force? In fact, commiseration will be all the more energetic as the witnessing animal identifies itself more intimately with the suffering animal. Now it is evident that this identification must have been infinitely closer in the state of nature than in the state of reasoning. Reason is what engenders egocentrism, and reflection strengthens it. Reason is what turns man in upon himself. Reason is what separates him from all that troubles him and afflicts him. Philosophy is what isolates him and what moves him to say in secret, at the sight of a suffering man, “Perish if you will; I am safe and sound.” No longer can anything but danger to the entire society trouble the tranquil slumber of the philosopher and yank him from his bed. His fellow man can be killed with impunity underneath his window. He has merely to place his hands over his ears and argue with himself a little in order to prevent nature, which rebels within him, from identifying him with the man being assassinated. Savage man does not have this admirable talent, and for lack of wisdom and reason he is always seen thoughtlessly giving in to the first sentiment of humanity. When there is a riot or a street brawl, the populace gathers together; the prudent man withdraws from the scene. It is the rabble, the women of the marketplace, who separate the combatants and prevent decent people from killing one another.

It is therefore quite certain that pity is a natural sentiment, which, by moderating in each individual the activity of the love of oneself, contributes to the mutual preservation of the entire species. Pity is what carries us without reflection to the aid of those we see suffering. Pity is what, in the state of nature, takes the place of laws, mores, and virtue, with the advantage that no one is tempted to disobey its sweet voice. Pity is what will prevent every robust savage from robbing a weak child or an infirm old man of his hard-earned subsistence, if he himself expects to be able to find his own someplace else. Instead of the sublime maxim of reasoned justice, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, pity inspires all men with another maxim of natural goodness, much less perfect but perhaps more useful than the preceding one: Do what is good for you with as little harm as possible to others. In a word, it is in this natural sentiment, rather than in subtle arguments that one must search for the cause of the repugnance at doing evil that every man would experience, even independently of the maxims of education. Although it might be appropriate for Socrates and minds of his stature to acquire virtue through reason, the human race would long ago have ceased to exist, if its preservation had depended solely on the reasonings of its members.

With passions so minimally active and such a salutary restraint, being more wild than evil, and more attentive to protecting themselves from the harm they could receive than tempted to do harm to others, men were not subject to very dangerous conflicts. Since they had no sort of intercourse among

themselves; since, as a consequence, they knew neither vanity, nor deference, nor esteem, nor contempt; since they had not the slightest notion of mine and thine, nor any true idea of justice; since they regarded the acts of violence that could befall them as an easily redressed evil and not as an offense that must be punished; and since they did not even dream of vengeance except perhaps as a knee-jerk response right then and there, like the dog that bites the stone that is thrown at him, their disputes would rarely have had bloody consequences, if their subject had been no more sensitive than food. . . .

Let us conclude that, wandering in the forests, without industry, without speech, without dwelling, without war, without relationships, with no need for his fellow men, and correspondingly with no desire to do them harm, perhaps never even recognizing any of them individually, savage man, subject to few passions and self-sufficient, had only the sentiments and enlightenment appropriate to that state; he felt only his true needs, took notice of only what he believed he had an interest in seeing; and that his intelligence made no more progress than his vanity. If by chance he made some discovery, he was all the less able to communicate it to others because he did not even know his own children. Art perished with its inventor. There was neither education nor progress; generations were multiplied to no purpose. Since each one always began from the same point, centuries went by with all the crudeness of the first ages; the species was already old, and man remained ever a child. . . .

After having proved that inequality is hardly observable in the state of nature, and that its influence there is almost nonexistent, it remains for me to show its origin and progress in the successive developments of the human mind. After having shown that perfectibility, social virtues, and the other faculties that natural man had received in a state of potentiality could never develop by themselves, that to achieve this development they required the chance coming together of several unconnected causes that might never have come into being and without which he would have remained eternally in his primitive constitution, it remains for me to consider and to bring together the various chance happenings that were able to perfect human reason while deteriorating the species, make a being evil while rendering it habituated to the ways of society, and, from so distant a beginning, finally bring man and the world to the point where we see them now. . . .

Part Two

The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had someone pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: “Do not listen to this impostor. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one!” But it is quite likely that by then things had already reached the point where they could no longer continue as they were. For this idea of property, depending on many prior ideas which could only have arisen successively, was not formed all at once in the human mind. It was necessary to make great progress, to acquire much industry and enlightenment, and to transmit and augment them from one age to another, before arriving at this final stage in the state of nature. Let us therefore take things farther back and try to piece together under a single viewpoint that slow succession of events and advances in knowledge in their most natural order.

Man’s first sentiment was that of his own existence; his first concern was that of his preservation. The products of the earth provided him with all the help he needed; instinct led him to make use of them. With hunger and other appetites making him experience by turns various ways of existing, there was one appetite that invited him to perpetuate his species; and this blind inclination, devoid of any sentiment of the heart, produced a purely animal act. Once this need had been satisfied, the two sexes no longer took cognizance of one another, and even the child no longer meant anything to the mother once it could do without her.

Such was the condition of man in his nascent stage; such was the life of an animal limited at first to pure sensations, and scarcely profiting from the gifts nature offered him, far from dreaming of extracting anything from her. But difficulties soon presented themselves to him; it was necessary to learn to overcome them. The height of trees, which kept him from reaching their fruits, the competition of animals that sought to feed themselves on these same fruits, the ferocity of those animals that wanted to take his own life: everything obliged him to apply himself to bodily exercises. It was necessary to become agile, fleet-footed and vigorous in combat. Natural arms, which are tree branches and stones, were soon found ready at hand. He learned to surmount nature’s obstacles, combat other animals when necessary, fight for his subsistence even with men, or compensate for what he had to yield to those stronger than himself.

In proportion as the human race spread, difficulties multiplied with the men. Differences in soils, climates and seasons could force them to inculcate these differences in their lifestyles. Barren years, long and hard winters, hot summers that consume everything required new resourcefulness from them. Along the seashore and the riverbanks they invented the fishing line and hook, and became fishermen and fish-eaters. In the forests they made bows and arrows, and became hunters and warriors. In cold countries they covered themselves with the skins of animals they had killed. Lightning, a volcano, or some fortuitous chance happening acquainted them with fire: a new resource against the rigors of winter. They learned to preserve this element, then to reproduce it, and finally to use it to prepare meats that previously they devoured raw.

This repeated appropriation of various beings to himself, and of some beings to others, must naturally have engendered in man’s mind the perceptions of certain relations. These relationships which we express by the words “large,” “small,” “strong,” “weak,” “fast,” “slow,” “timorous,”

“bold,” and other similar ideas, compared when needed and almost without thinking about it, finally produced in him a kind of reflection, or rather a mechanical prudence which pointed out to him the precautions that were most necessary for his safety.

The new enlightenment which resulted from this development increased his superiority over the other animals by making him aware of it. He trained himself to set traps for them; he tricked them in a thousand different ways. And although several surpassed him in fighting strength or in swiftness in running, of those that could serve him or hurt him, he became in time the master of the former and the scourge of the latter. Thus the first glance he directed upon himself produced within him the first stirring of pride; thus, as yet hardly knowing how to distinguish the ranks, and contemplating himself in the first rank by virtue of his species, he prepared himself from afar to lay claim to it in virtue of his individuality.

Although his fellowmen were not for him what they are for us, and although he had hardly anything more to do with them than with other animals, they were not forgotten in his observations. The conformities that time could make him perceive among them, his female, and himself, made him judge those he did not perceive. And seeing that they all acted as he would have done under similar circumstances, he concluded that their way of thinking and feeling was in complete conformity with his own. And this important truth, well established in his mind, made him follow, by a presentiment as sure as dialectic and more prompt, the best rules of conduct that it was appropriate to observe toward them for his advantage and safety.

Taught by experience that love of well-being is the sole motive of human actions, he found himself in a position to distinguish the rare occasions when common interest should make him count on the assistance of his fellowmen, and those even rarer occasions when competition ought to make him distrust them. In the first case, he united with them in a herd, or at most in some sort of free association, that obligated no one and that lasted only as long as the passing need that had formed it. In the second case, everyone sought to obtain his own advantage, either by overt force, if he believed he could, or by cleverness and cunning, if he felt himself to be the weaker.

This is how men could imperceptibly acquire some crude idea of mutual commitments and of the advantages to be had in fulfilling them, but only insofar as present and perceptible interests could require it, since foresight meant nothing to them, and far from concerning themselves about a distant future, they did not even give a thought to the next day. Were it a matter of catching a deer, everyone was quite aware that he must faithfully keep to his post in order to achieve this purpose; but if a hare happened to pass within reach of one of them, no doubt he would have pursued it without giving it a second thought, and that, having obtained his prey, he cared very little about causing his companions to miss theirs.

It is easy to understand that such intercourse did not require a language much more refined than that of crows or monkeys, which flock together in practically the same way. Inarticulate cries, many gestures, and some imitative noises must for a long time have made up the universal language. By joining to this in each country a few articulate and conventional sounds, whose institution, as I have already said, is not too easy to explain, there were individual languages, but crude and imperfect ones, quite similar to those still spoken by various savage nations today. Constrained by the passing of time, the abundance of things I have to say, and the practically imperceptible progress of the beginnings, I am flying like an arrow over the multitudes of centuries. For the slower events were in succeeding one another, the quicker they can be described.

These first advances enabled man to make more rapid ones. The more the mind was enlightened, the more industry was perfected. Soon they ceased to fall asleep under the first tree or to retreat into caves, and found various types of hatchets made of hard, sharp stones, which served to cut wood, dig up the soil, and make huts from branches they later found it useful to cover with clay and mud. This was the period of a first revolution which formed the establishment of the distinction among families and which introduced a kind of property, whence perhaps there already arose many quarrels and fights. However, since the strongest were probably the first to make themselves lodgings they felt capable of defending, presumably the weak found it quicker and safer to imitate them than to try to dislodge them; and as for those who already had huts, each of them must have rarely sought to appropriate that of his neighbor, less because it did not belong to him than because it was of no use to him, and because he could not seize it without exposing himself to a fierce battle with the family that occupied it.

The first developments of the heart were the effect of a new situation that united the husbands and wives, fathers and children in one common habitation. The habit of living together gave rise to the sweetest sentiments known to men: conjugal love and paternal love. Each family became a little society all the better united because mutual attachment and liberty were its only bonds; and it was then that the first difference was established in the lifestyle of the two sexes, which until then had had only one. Women became more sedentary and grew accustomed to watch over the hut and the children, while the man went to seek their common subsistence. With their slightly softer life the two sexes also began to lose something of their ferocity and vigor. But while each one separately became less suited to combat savage beasts, on the other hand it was easier to assemble in order jointly to resist them.

In this new state, with a simple and solitary life, very limited needs, and the tools they had invented to provide for them, since men enjoyed a great deal of leisure time, they used it to procure for themselves many types of conveniences unknown to their fathers; and that was the first yoke they imposed on themselves without realizing it, and the first source of evils they prepared for their descendants. For in addition to their continuing thus to soften body and mind (those conveniences having through habit lost almost all of their pleasure, and being at the same time degenerated into true needs), being deprived of them became much more cruel than possessing them was sweet, and they were unhappy about losing them without being happy about possessing them.

At this point we can see a little better how the use of speech was established or imperceptibly perfected itself in the bosom of each family; and one can further conjecture how various particular causes could have extended the language and accelerated its progress by making it more necessary. Great floods or earthquakes surrounded the inhabited areas with water or precipices. Upheavals of the globe detached parts of the mainland and broke them up into islands. Clearly among men thus brought together and forced to live together, a common idiom must have been formed sooner than among those who wandered freely about the forests of the mainland. Thus it is quite possible that after their first attempts at navigation, the islanders brought the use of speech to us; and it is at least quite probable that society and languages came into being on islands and were perfected there before they were known on the mainland.

Everything begins to take on a new appearance. Having previously wandered about the forests and having assumed a more fixed situation, men slowly came together and united into different bands, eventually forming in each country a particular nation, united by mores and characteristic features, not

by regulations and laws, but by the same kind of life and foods and by the common influence of the climate. Eventually a permanent proximity cannot fail to engender some intercourse among different families. Young people of different sexes live in neighboring huts; the passing intercourse demanded by nature soon leads to another, through frequent contact with one another, no less sweet and more permanent. People become accustomed to consider different objects and to make comparisons. Imperceptibly they acquire the ideas of merit and beauty which produce feelings of preference. By dint of seeing one another, they can no longer get along without seeing one another again. A sweet and tender feeling insinuates itself into the soul and at the least opposition becomes an impetuous fury. Jealousy awakens with love: discord triumphs, and the sweetest passion receives sacrifices of human blood.

In proportion as ideas and sentiments succeed one another and as the mind and heart are trained, the human race continues to be tamed, relationships spread and bonds are tightened. People grew accustomed to gather in front of their huts or around a large tree; song and dance, true children of love and leisure, became the amusement or rather the occupation of idle men and women who had nocked together. Each one began to look at the others and to want to be looked at himself, and public esteem had a value. The one who sang or danced the best, the handsomest, the strongest, the most adroit or the most eloquent became the most highly regarded. And this was the first step toward inequality and, at the same time, toward vice. From these first preferences were born vanity and contempt on the one hand, and shame and envy on the other. And the fermentation caused by these new leavens eventually produced compounds fatal to happiness and innocence.

As soon as men had begun mutually to value one another, and the idea of esteem was formed in their minds, each one claimed to have a right to it, and it was no longer possible for anyone to be lacking it with impunity. From this came the first duties of civility, even among savages; and from this every voluntary wrong became an outrage, because along with the harm that resulted from the injury, the offended party saw in it contempt for his person, which often was more insufferable then the harm itself. Hence each man punished the contempt shown him in a manner proportionate to the esteem in which he held himself; acts of revenge became terrible, and men became bloodthirsty and cruel. This is precisely the stage reached by most of the savage people known to us; and it is for want of having made adequate distinctions among their ideas or of having noticed how far these peoples already were from the original state of nature that many have hastened to conclude that man is naturally cruel, and that he needs civilization in order to soften him. On the contrary, nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state, when, placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man, and limited equally by instinct and reason to protecting himself from the harm that threatens him, he is restrained by natural pity from needlessly harming anyone himself, even if he has been harmed. For according to the axiom of the wise Locke, where there is no property, there is no injury.

But it must be noted that society in its beginning stages and the relations already established among men required in them qualities different from those they derived from their primitive constitution; that, with morality beginning to be introduced into human actions, and everyone, prior to the existence of laws, being sole judge and avenger of the offenses he had received, the goodness appropriate to the pure state of nature was no longer what was appropriate to an emerging society; that it was necessary for punishments to become more severe in proportion as the occasions for giving offense became more frequent; and that it was for the fear of vengeance to take the place of the

deterrent character of laws. Hence although men had become less forebearing, and although natural pity had already undergone some alteration, this period of the development of human faculties, maintaining a middle position between the indolence of our primitive state and the petulant activity of our egocentrism, must have been the happiest and most durable epoch. The more one reflects on it, the more one finds that this state was the least subject to upheavals and the best for man, and that he must have left it only by virtue of some fatal chance happening that, for the common good, ought never have happened. The example of savages, almost all of whom have been found in this state, seems to confirm that the human race had been made to remain in it always; that this state is the veritable youth of the world; and that all the subsequent progress has been in appearance so many steps toward the perfection of the individual, and in fact toward the decay of the species.

As long as men were content with the rustic huts, as long as they were limited to making their clothing out of skins sewn together with thorns or fish bones, adorning themselves with feathers and shells, painting their bodies with various colors, perfecting or embellishing their bows and arrows, using sharp-edged stones to make some fishing canoes or some crude musical instruments; in a word, as long as they applied themselves exclusively to tasks that a single individual could do and to the arts that did not require the cooperation of several hands, they lived as free, healthy, good and happy as they could in accordance with their nature; and they continued to enjoy among themselves the sweet rewards of independent intercourse. But as soon as one man needed the help of another, as soon as one man realized that it was useful for a single individual to have provisions for two, equality disappeared, property came into existence, labor became necessary. Vast forests were transformed into smiling fields which had to be watered with men’s sweat, and in which slavery and misery were soon seen to germinate and grow with the crops.

Metallurgy and agriculture were the two arts whose invention produced this great revolution. For the poet, it is gold and silver; but for the philosopher, it is iron and wheat that have civilized men and ruined the human race. Thus they were both unknown to the savages of America, who for that reason have always remained savages. Other peoples even appear to have remained barbarous, as long as they practiced one of those arts without the other. And perhaps one of the best reasons why Europe has been, if not sooner, at least more constantly and better governed than the other parts of the world, is that it is at the same time the most abundant in iron and the most fertile in wheat.

It is very difficult to guess how men came to know and use iron, for it is incredible that by themselves they thought of drawing the ore from the mine and performing the necessary preparations on it for smelting it before they knew what would result. From another point of view, it is even less plausible to attribute this discovery to some accidental fire, because mines are set up exclusively in arid places devoid of trees and plants, so that one would say that nature had taken precautions to conceal this deadly secret from us. Thus there remains only the extraordinary circumstance of some volcano that, in casting forth molten metal, would have given observers the idea of imitating this operation of nature. Even still we must suppose them to have had a great deal of courage and foresight to undertake such a difficult task and to have envisaged so far in advance the advantages they could derive from it. This is hardly suitable for minds already better trained than theirs must have been.

As for agriculture, its principle was known long before its practice was established, and it is hardly possible that men, constantly preoccupied with deriving their subsistence from trees and plants, did not rather quickly get the idea of the methods used by nature to grow plant life. But their industry probably did not turn in that direction until very late either because trees, which, along with

hunting and fishing, provided their nourishment, had no need of their care; or for want of knowing how to use wheat; or for want of tools with which to cultivate it; or for want of foresight regarding future needs; or, finally, for want of the means of preventing others from appropriating the fruits of their labors. Having become more industrious, it is believable that, with sharp stones and pointed sticks, they began by cultivating some vegetables or roots around their huts long before they knew how to prepare wheat and had the tools necessary for large-scale cultivation.

Moreover, to devote oneself to that occupation and to sow the lands, one must be resolved to lose something at first in order to gain a great deal later: a precaution quite far removed from the mind of the savage man, who, as I have said, finds it quite difficult to give thought in the morning to what he will need at night.

The invention of the other arts was therefore necessary to force the human race to apply itself to that of agriculture. Once men were needed in order to smelt and forge the iron, other men were needed in order to feed them. The more the number of workers increased, the fewer hands there were to obtain food for the common subsistence, without there being fewer mouths to consume it; and since some needed foodstuffs in exchange for their iron, the others finally found the secret of using iron to multiply foodstuffs. From this there arose farming and agriculture, on the one hand, and the art of working metals and multiplying their uses, on the other.

From the cultivation of land, there necessarily followed the division of land; and from property once recognized, the first rules of justice. For in order to render everyone what is his, it is necessary that everyone can have something. Moreover, as men began to look toward the future and as they saw that they all had goods to lose, there was not one of them who did not have to fear reprisals against himself for wrongs he might do to another. This origin is all the more natural as it is impossible to conceive of the idea of property arising from anything but manual labor, for it is not clear what man can add, beyond his own labor, in order to appropriate things he has not made. It is labor alone that, in giving the cultivator a right to the product of the soil he has tilled, consequently gives him a right, at least until the harvest, and thus from year to year. With this possession continuing uninterrupted, it is easily transformed into property. When the ancients, says Grotius, gave Ceres the epithet of legislatrix, gave the name Thesmophories to a festival celebrated in her honor, they thereby made it apparent that the division of lands has produced a new kind of right: namely, the right of property, different from that which results from the natural law.

Things in this state could have remained equal, if talents had been equal, and if the use of iron and the consumption of foodstuffs had always been in precise balance. But this proportion, which was not maintained by anything, was soon broken. The strongest did the most work; the most adroit turned theirs to better advantage: the most ingenious found ways to shorten their labor. The farmer had a greater need for iron, or the blacksmith had a greater need for wheat; and in laboring equally, the one earned a great deal while the other barely had enough to live. Thus it is that natural inequality imperceptibly manifests itself together with inequality occasioned by the socialization process. Thus it is that the differences among men, developed by those of circumstances, make themselves more noticeable, more permanent in their effects, and begin to influence the fate of private individuals in the same proportion.

With things having reached this point, it is easy to imagine the rest. I will not stop to describe the successive invention of the arts, the progress of languages, the testing and use of talents, the inequality of fortunes, the use or abuse of wealth, nor all the details that follow these and that everyone can

easily supply. I will limit myself exclusively to taking a look at the human race placed in this new order of things.

Thus we find here all our faculties developed, memory and imagination in play, egocentrism looking out for its interests, reason rendered active, and the mind having nearly reached the limit of the perfection of which it is capable. We find here all the natural qualities put into action, the rank and fate of each man established not only on the basis of the quantity of goods and the power to serve or harm, but also on the basis of mind, beauty, strength or skill, on the basis of merit or talents. And since these qualities were the only ones that could attract consideration, he was soon forced to have them or affect them. It was necessary, for his advantage, to show himself to be something other than what he in fact was. Being something and appearing to be something became two completely different things; and from this distinction there arose grand ostentation, deceptive cunning, and all the vices that follow in their wake. On the other hand, although man had previously been free and independent, we find him, so to speak, subject, by virtue of a multitude of fresh needs, to all of nature and particularly to his fellowmen, whose slave in a sense he becomes even in becoming their master; rich, he needs their services; poor, he needs their help; and being midway between wealth and poverty does not put him in a position to get along without them. It is therefore necessary for him to seek incessantly to interest them in his fate and to make them find their own profit, in fact or in appearance, in working for his. This makes him two-faced and crooked with some, imperious and harsh with others, and puts him in the position of having to abuse everyone he needs when he cannot make them fear them and does not find it in his interests to be of useful service to them. Finally, consuming ambition, the zeal for raising the relative level of his fortune, less out of real need than in order to put himself above others, inspires in all men a wicked tendency to harm one another, a secret jealousy all the more dangerous because, in order to strike its blow in greater safety, it often wears the mask of benevolence; in short, competition and rivalry on the one hand, opposition of interest[s] on the other, and always the hidden desire to profit at the expense of someone else. All these ills are the first effect of property and the inseparable offshoot of incipient inequality.

Before representative signs of wealth had been invented, it could hardly have consisted of anything but lands and livestock, the only real goods men can possess. Now when inheritances had grown in number and size to the point of covering the entire landscape and of all bordering on one another, some could no longer be enlarged except at the expense of others; and the supernumeraries, whom weakness or indolence had prevented from acquiring an inheritance in their turn, became poor without having lost anything, because while everything changed around them, they alone had not changed at all. Thus they were forced to receive or steal their subsistence from the hands of the rich. And from that there began to arise, according to the diverse characters of the rich and the poor, domination and servitude, or violence and thefts. For their part, the wealthy had no sooner known the pleasure of domination, than before long they disdained all others, and using their old slaves to subdue new ones, they thought of nothing but the subjugation and enslavement of their neighbors, like those ravenous wolves which, on having once tasted human flesh, reject all other food and desire to devour only men.

Thus, when both the most powerful or the most miserable made of their strength or their needs a sort of right to another’s goods, equivalent, according to them, to the right of property, the destruction of equality was followed by the most frightful disorder. Thus the usurpations of the rich, the acts of brigandage by the poor, the unbridled passions of all, stifling natural pity and the still weak voice of

justice, made men greedy, ambitious and wicked. There arose between the right of the strongest and the right of the first occupant a perpetual conflict that ended only in fights and murders. Emerging society gave way to the most horrible state of war; since the human race, vilified and desolated, was no longer able to retrace its steps or give up the unfortunate acquisitions it had made, and since it labored only toward its shame by abusing the faculties that honor it, it brought itself to the brink of its ruin. Horrified by the newness of the ill, both the poor man and the rich man hope to flee from wealth, hating what they once had prayed for.

It is not possible that men should not have eventually reflected upon so miserable a situation and upon the calamities that overwhelm them. The rich in particular must have soon felt how disadvantageous to them it was to have a perpetual war in which they alone paid all the costs, and in which the risk of losing one’s life was common to all and the risk of losing one’s goods was personal. Moreover, regardless of the light in which they tried to place their usurpations, they knew full well that they were established on nothing but a precarious and abusive right, and that having been acquired merely by force, force might take them away from them without their having any reason to complain. Even those enriched exclusively by industry could hardly base their property on better claims. They could very well say: “I am the one who built that wall; I have earned this land with my labor.” In response to them it could be said: “Who gave you the boundary lines? By what right do you claim to exact payment at our expense for labor we did not impose upon you? Are you unaware that a multitude of your brothers perish or suffer from need of what you have in excess, and that you needed explicit and unanimous consent from the human race for you to help yourself to anything from the common subsistence that went beyond your own?” Bereft of valid reasons to justify himself and sufficient forces to defend himself; easily crushing a private individual, but himself crushed by troops of bandits; alone against all and unable on account of mutual jealousies to unite with his equals against enemies united by the common hope of plunder, the rich, pressed by necessity, finally conceived the most thought-out project that ever entered the human mind. It was to use in his favor the very strength of those who attacked him, to turn his adversaries into his defenders, to instill in them other maxims, and to give them other institutions which were as favorable to him as natural right was unfavorable to him.

With this end in mind, after having shown his neighbors the horror of a situation which armed them all against each other and made their possessions as burdensome as their needs, and in which no one could find safety in either poverty or wealth, he easily invented specious reasons to lead them to his goal. “Let us unite,” he says to them, “in order to protect the weak from oppression, restrain the ambitious, and assure everyone of possessing what belongs to him. Let us institute rules of justice and peace to which all will be obliged to conform, which will make special exceptions for no one, and which will in some way compensate for the caprices of fortune by subjecting the strong and the weak to mutual obligations. In short, instead of turning our forces against ourselves, let us gather them into one supreme power that governs us according to wise laws, that protects and defends all the members of the association, repulses common enemies, and maintains us in an eternal concord.”

Considerably less than the equivalent of this discourse was needed to convince crude, easily seduced men who also had too many disputes to settle among themselves to be able to get along without arbiters, and too much greed and ambition to be able to get along without masters for long. They all ran to chain themselves, in the belief that they secured their liberty, for although they had enough sense to realize the advantages of a political establishment, they did not have enough

experience to foresee its dangers. Those most capable of anticipating the abuses were precisely those who counted on profiting from them; and even the wise saw the need to be resolved to sacrifice one part of their liberty to preserve the other, just as a wounded man has his arm amputated to save the rest of his body.

Such was, or should have been, the origin of society and laws, which gave new fetters to the weak and new forces to the rich, irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, established forever the law of property and of inequality, changed adroit usurpation into an irrevocable right, and for the profit of a few ambitious men henceforth subjected the entire human race to labor, servitude and misery. It is readily apparent how the establishment of a single society rendered indispensable that of all the others, and how, to stand head to head against the united forces, it was necessary to unite in turn. Societies, multiplying or spreading rapidly, soon covered the entire surface of the earth; and it was no longer possible to find a single corner in the universe where someone could free himself from the yoke and withdraw his head from the often ill-guided sword which everyone saw perpetually hanging over his own head. With civil right thus having become the common rule of citizens, the law of nature no longer was operative except between the various societies, when, under the name of the law of nations, it was tempered by some tacit conventions in order to make intercourse possible and to serve as a substitute for natural compassion which, losing between one society and another nearly all the force it had between one man and another, no longer resides anywhere but in a few great cosmopolitan souls, who overcome the imaginary barriers that separate peoples, and who, following the example of the sovereign being who has created them, embrace the entire human race in their benevolence.

Remaining thus among themselves in the state of nature, the bodies politic soon experienced the inconveniences that had forced private individuals to leave it; and that state became even more deadly among these great bodies than that state had among the private individuals of whom they were composed. Whence came the national wars, battles, murders, and reprisals that make nature tremble and offend reason, and all those horrible prejudices that rank the honor of shedding human blood among the virtues. The most decent people learned to consider it one of their duties to kill their fellow men. Finally, men were seen massacring one another by the thousands without knowing why. More murders were committed in a single day of combat and more horrors in the capture of a single city than were committed in the state of nature during entire centuries over the entire face of the earth. Such are the first effects one glimpses of the division of mankind into different societies. . . .

In discovering and following thus the forgotten and lost routes that must have led man from the natural state to the civil state; in reestablishing, with the intermediate positions I have just taken note of, those that time constraints on me have made me suppress or that the imagination has not suggested to me, no attentive reader can fail to be struck by the immense space that separates these two states. It is in this slow succession of things that he will see the solution to an infinity of moral and political problems which the philosophers are unable to resolve. He will realize that, since the human race of one age is not the human race of another age, the reason why Diogenes did not find his man is because he searched among his contemporaries for a man who no longer existed. Cato, he will say, perished with Rome and liberty because he was out of place in his age; and this greatest of men merely astonished the world, which five hundred years earlier he would have governed. In short, he will explain how the soul and human passions are imperceptibly altered and, as it were, change their nature; why, in the long run, our needs and our pleasures change their objects; why, with original man

gradually disappearing, society no longer offers to the eyes of the wise man anything but an assemblage of artificial men and factitious passions which are the work of all these new relations and have no true foundation in nature. What reflection teaches us on this subject is perfectly confirmed by observation: savage man and civilized man differ so greatly in the depths of their hearts and in their inclinations, that what constitutes the supreme happiness of the one would reduce the other to despair. Savage man breathes only tranquility and liberty; he wants simply to live and rest easy; and not even the unperturbed tranquility of the Stoic approaches his profound indifference for any other objects. On the other hand, the citizen is always active and in a sweat, always agitated, and unceasingly tormenting himself in order to seek still more laborious occupations. He works until he dies; he even runs to his death in order to be in a position to live, or renounces life in order to acquire immortality. He pays court to the great whom he hates and to the rich whom he scorns. He stops at nothing to obtain the honor of serving them. He proudly crows about his own baseness and their protection; and proud of his slavery, he speaks with disdain about those who do not have the honor of taking part in it. What a spectacle for the Carib are the difficult and envied labors of the European minister! How many cruel deaths would that indolent savage not prefer to the horror of such a life, which often is not mollified even by the pleasure of doing good. But in order to see the purpose of so many cares, the words power and reputation would have to have a meaning in his mind; he would have to learn that there is a type of men who place some value on the regard the rest of the world has for them, and who know how to be happy and content with themselves on the testimony of others rather than on their own. Such, in fact, is the true cause of all these differences; the savage lives in himself; the man accustomed to the ways of society is always outside himself and knows how to live only in the opinion of others. And it is, as it were, from their judgment alone that he draws the sentiment of his own existence. It is not pertinent to my subject to show how, from such a disposition, so much indifference for good and evil arises, along with such fine discourse on morality; how, with everything reduced to appearances, everything becomes factitious and bogus: honor, friendship, virtue, and often even our vices, about which we eventually find the secret of boasting; how, in a word, always asking others what we are and never daring to question ourselves on this matter, in the midst of so much philosophy, humanity, politeness, and sublime maxims, we have merely a deceitful and frivolous exterior: honor without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness. It is enough for me to have proved that this is not the original state of man, and that this is only the spirit of society, and the inequality that society engenders, which thus change and alter all our natural inclinations.

I have tried to set forth the origin and progress of inequality, the establishment and abuse of political societies, to the extent that these things can be deduced from the nature of man by the light of reason alone, and independently of the sacred dogmas that give to sovereign authority the sanction of divine right. It follows from this presentation that, since inequality is practically non-existent in the state of nature, it derives its force and growth from the development of our faculties and the progress of the human mind, and eventually becomes stable and legitimate through the establishment of property and laws. Moreover, it follows that moral inequality, authorized by positive right alone, is contrary to natural right whenever it is not combined in the same proportion with physical inequality: a distinction that is sufficient to determine what one should think in this regard about the sort of inequality that reigns among all civilized people, for it is obviously contrary to the law of nature, however it may be defined, for a child to command an old man, for an imbecile to lead a wise man,

and for a handful of people to gorge themselves on superfluities while the starving multitude lacks necessities.

Rousseau's Moral Realism: Replacing Natural Law with the General Will Author(s): Arthur M. Melzer Source: The American Political Science Review, Vol. 77, No. 3 (Sep., 1983), pp. 633-651 Published by: American Political Science Association Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1957264 Accessed: 16-10-2019 08:34 UTC

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Rousseau's Moral Realism: Replacing Natural Law with the General Will

ARTHUR M. MELZER Michigan State University

The Social Contract is reinterpreted by emphasizing its relation to Rousseau's other writings and doctrines. In the spirit of Hobbesian realism, Rousseau regards natural law and other forms of "private morality" as ineffectual, invalid, and in practice dangerous tools of oppression and sub- version. But, still more realistic than Hobbes, Rousseau thinks it impossible to build a nonoppressive state on men's selfish interests alone and embraces the classical view that morality or virtue is politically necessary (as well as intrinsically good). Rousseau's doctrine of the natural goodness of man, however, which traces all vice to the effects of oppression, leads him to conclude that the non- oppression more or less guaranteed by the absolute rule of general laws is also sufficient to make men virtuous. Thus Rousseau can declare law as such (General Will) infallible and "sovereign "-and he must do so in order to protect rule of law from its greatest danger, the subversive appeal to "natural law."

Rousseau's political philosophy may be said to comprise three characteristic elements: the theory of the natural goodness of man described in the Second Discourse and Emile; the critique of prog- ress and enlightenment in the First Discourse, or, more generally, the skeptically "realistic" assess- ment of the worth and power of reason; and the elaborate juridical doctrine of the Social Con- tract, which calls for the absolute sovereignty of the General Will. How these three elements relate to one another is rarely discussed, and when the Social Contract, in particular, is related to the other two elements, as often as not the purpose is to demonstrate its inconsistency with Rousseau's previous ideas.

Rousseau stated expressly, however, that his thought formed a single, consistent whole, that his writings must be understood with reference to one another, and specifically that the Social Con- tract "should be considered as a kind of appendix to [Emilel" (Letter to Duchesne, May 23, 1762; R. Juge de J.-J., pp. 932-935; Works, III, pp. 106-107).1 Indeed, as I hope to show, the funda- mental intention and presuppositions of the Social Contract are not stated or defended in that work. Consequently, the attempt to interpret it in isolation falls into various misunderstandings, the most important being the view that Rousseau's

This study was undertaken during the tenure of a Duke Mellon Fellowship. The author would like to thank the Mellon Foundation and Duke University for their generous assistance.

'References for Confessions, He6oise, Rousseau Juge de Jean-Jacques, and Montagne are to Works (1959-1969); translations are my own.

doctrine is moralistic and utopian, and the view that its primary purpose is to combat the danger to the people posed by rulers. This article attempts to reinterpret the Social Contract by showing how its doctrines grow directly out of the other two elements of Rousseau's thought.

The Goal of Politics

In a crucial passage of the Confessions Rousseau summarizes the overall goal and strategy of his political thought.

This great question of the best possible Govern- ment seemed to me to reduce to this one. What is the nature of the Government suited to make a People the most virtuous, the most enlightened, the wisest, and, in short, the best, to take this word in its largest sense? I thought I saw that this question was closely tied to this other one, if in- deed it was different from it. What is the Government which by its nature always adheres most closely to the law? (Confessions, pp. 404-405)

The goal of politics is not merely to secure preser- vation and wealth, but to produce virtuous, healthy human beings. Revolted by the degrading consequences of modern politics and philosophy which "talk only of business and money," Rous- seau consciously returns to the "ancient politi- cians wholel incessantly talked about morals and virtue" (First Discourse, p. 51).

The means to the end of virtue, Rousseau adds without explanation, is to "adhere most closely to the law." To understand why rule of law as such will produce virtue, one must begin from what Rousseau calls the fundamental principle of his


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634 The American Political Science Review Vol. 77

thought: "nature made man happy and good, but society depraves him and makes him miserable" (R. Juge de J.-J., p. 934). By nature man already possesses "virtue, which is the strength and vigor of the soul" (First Discourse, p. 37); he loses it in society through the effects of "personal depen- dence," that is, all social relations in which one man is dependent on the will of another (hence also "inequality" or "oppression," broadly con- strued). Men's ever-shifting relations of domina- tion and servitude destroy their inner unity and strength and make them cowardly, spiteful, vain, and deceitful. Thus freedom from dependence on others is needed to maintain man's natural health of soul, and such freedom is produced by the absolute rule of law. This chain of reasoning is presented most clearly in a passage from Emile that "resolves all the contradictions of the social system":

There are two sorts of dependence: dependence on things, which is from nature; dependence on men, which is from society. Dependence on things, since it has no morality, is in no way detrimental to freedom and engenders no vices. Dependence on men, since it is without order, engenders all the vices, and by it, master and slave are mutually corrupted. If there is any means of remedying this ill in society, it is to sub- stitute law for man and to arm the general wills with a real strength superior to the action of every particular will. If the laws of nations could, like those of nature, have an inflexibility that no human force could ever conquer, dependence on men would then become dependence on things again. (Emile, p. 85)

The absolute rule of law creates freedom from personal dependence, and freedom preserves man's natural virtue or health of soul; therefore, "This is . . . the great problem of statecraft: to find a form of government that puts law above man" (Letter to Mirabeau, July 26, 1767).?

The crucial importance assigned to the rule of law might seem to be another aspect of Rous- seau's return to classical thought. One thinks of the famous reply of the Pythagorean to a-man who asked him the best means of educating his son to virtue: "Let him be born in a city with good laws" (Diogenes, Laertius, VIII-1.15). But the strictness and urgency of Rousseau's demand for rule of law reveals rather his break with

'These simple points get obscured in Rousseau by the following complication. Putting "law above man" re- quires that men be made into patriotic citizens, which in turn requires the radical redirection of their natural affections. Thus, in society, virtue, or the unity and strength natural to men's souls, can be preserved only in the unnatural form of patriotic "citizen virtue."

classical thought. In the saying from Diogenes, as in the thought of Plato and Aristotle, it is not law as such but substantively good or just law that is praised. Ultimately, Plato considered the form or "generality" of law an obstacle to justice and regarded the absolute, lawless rule of the wise as the best form of government. Rousseau's praise of law is greater, extending to law as such, regard- less of content. And for him, "the worst of laws is still better than the best master" (Montagne, pp. 842-843).

The root of this difference is Rousseau's asser- tion of the natural goodness of man. He claims that all human vices derive not from nature, but from the effects of personal dependence, servi- tude, oppression: "I hate servitude as the source of all the evils of the human race"-a remarkable statement (Works, p. 1019, emphasis added). All classical thinkers would certainly have agreed that servitude and oppression are among the evils men face, but there are other and greater evils. In general, corruption of the soul is worse than enslavement of the body. Rousseau agrees, but maintains that the latter causes the former: "Dependence on men . . engenders all the vices." The problem of depravity of soul is thus reduced to that of servitude. In short, through the "natural goodness of man" Rousseau accom- plishes a revolutionary simplification of the human problem: he reduces it to the problem of oppression.

If oppression is the source of all evil or im- perfection, it follows that freedom from depen- dence-and law, which by its very form, produces such freedom-will be the condition of all good. They guarantee not only preservation but also vir- tue or health of soul. That is why Rousseau can assert that "the first of all goods is . . . freedom," and that law is "the most sublime of all human institutions" (Emile, p. 84; Political Economy, p. 214). Rousseau is the first philosopher to have found in freedom and law as such the means to the most comprehensive human good, to men's highest as well as most elementary ends.

With this understanding of Rousseau's general ends and means, we may turn to the Social Con- tract to examine the detailed political doctrine he built on them. In doing so, however, we are met with a surprise: none of the foregoing arguments is to be found in the Social Contract. The book contains little mention of virtue, and none of the natural goodness of man. Although it stresses the importance of freedom and law, the reasoning is different from that given above. We do not find a full statement of the goal of politics followed by a discussion and ranking of the various forms of government. Instead, we find what the subtitle to the Social Contract calls the "principles of political right," that is, a juridical doctrine, a

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rigid, abstract, and legalistic definition of "legiti- mate" government, deduced from the right to self-preservation. No wonder then that Rousseau's writings have been thought to lack consistency. If his ends are virtue and happiness, why does his major political work argue from self- preservation? And if the crucial task of politics is to preserve man's natural virtue or goodness through the absolute rule of law, why does Rousseau fail to say so in that work? In light of Rousseau's stated ends and means, then, what is the meaning and purpose of this elaborate juridical doctrine based on self-preservation and culminating in the theory of the General Will?

The Purpose of Hobbes's Doctrine

A brief glance at Hobbes helps to answer these questions. The doctrine of the Social Contract takes the form of a juridical deduction beginning from a "state of nature" and proceeding through a "'social contract" to the establishment of the "sovereignty" of the General Will. Theories of contract and of man's early state have existed since classical times, whereas most would agree that the doctrine of sovereignty was first formu- lated in the sixteenth century by Bodin. Thomas Hobbes first put these three elements together in the specific form used by Rousseau. Of course, Hobbes's doctrine presents the same difficulty as Rousseau's. Its abstract and legalistic form obscures its moral and political significance; con- sequently, he too is commonly misunderstood. But if we are willing to listen, Hobbes explains the purpose of his doctrines in his prefaces, and these statements also provide a clue to Rousseau's purposes.

According to the conventional understanding, the key to Hobbes's political thought is his view that man is naturally evil and contentious. Because of men's unruliness, the danger of anar- chy is ever present; government has been insti- tuted to maintain the peace and to do so must be absolute and all-powerful. On this reading of Hobbes, however, it has always been difficult to explain the specific form of his juridical doctrine. C. E. Vaughan, the distinguished Rousseau scholar, finds it "a strange irony" that Hobbes, "the first writer to formulate in any detail [the theory of social contract], should have perverted it to ends the direct contrary of those for which it was manifestly devised" (Vaughan, 1925, pp. 22, 12). Why did Hobbes use, indeed invent, the modern doctrine of the state of nature and social contract-which are generally regarded as liberal and liberating-when he sought to strengthen the authority of the state? Why did he scorn the more authoritarian premise of traditional natural law that man was born for society and enthusiastically

adopt the individualist principle that man was born for himself alone, hence free?

I believe this dilemma arises from a basic mis- understanding of Hobbes's juridical doctrine and especially of the purposes "for which it was manifestly devised." While asserting that men are selfish, Hobbes denies they are malicious or evil, and only a small minority of men are even strong- ly ambitious or contentious (De Cive, pp. 100-101, 114; Leviathan, pp. 99, 101). The ever- present danger of anarchy does not arise from individual lawlessness and crime or from general disobedience, but from political subversion by the ambitious few. By inducing others to follow them, such men form clans, armies, parties, sects, and other associations that resist the government's power and, in some cases, endeavor to supplant it. Thus anarchy threatens not because most men are too unruly and disobedient, but rather because they are too obedient. Being super- stitious, fearful, and knavishly ambitious, the mass of men are followers, too easily led by rabble rousers of all kinds, by local heroes, demagogic moralists, and, above all, ambitious priests. Rousseau, agreeing with this interpretation of Hobbes and of the political problem, writes: "Of all Christian authors, the philosopher Hobbes is the only one who correctly saw the evil and the remedy." The evil is the "internal divisions that have never ceased to stir up Christian peoples," the "perpetual conflict of jurisdiction that has made any good polity impossible in Christian states" where "no people has ever been able to figure out whom it was obligated to obey, the politicall master or the priest" (Social Contract, pp. 126-127). The people's misplaced obedience, by empowering the ambitious, is what leads to anarchy.

Accordingly, two opposite means of strength- ening the government and restoring peace present themselves. Hobbes rejects as unrealistic the first and more traditional: to make the ambitious more obedient. The second means is to disarm the am- bitious by making the people less obedient, less receptive to authority. That is the avowed purpose of Hobbes's individualistic juridical doctrine. It aims to make men "the less subject to serve the ambition of a few discontented persons, in their purposes against the state" (Leviathan, p. 511). More specifically, Hobbes's doctrine of the state of nature-where men are equal, selfish, and unable to trust one another-serves to sweep away all traditional forms of authority, all natural claims to rule. Men owe no obedience to the old, the wise, the virtuous, the great, the holy, the cus- tomary. Hobbes weakens the claim of family, guild, class, province, church, and tradition, of all mediating institutions and subpolitical associa- tions, leaving a liberated and naked "individual"

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636 The American Political Science Review Vol. 77

alone to face the state-the resulting nonauthori- tarian but homogeneous, centralized, and abso- lute state. As Tocqueville would warn the Americans two hundred years later, individualism and tyranny go hand in hand. Hobbes's new doc- trine liberates men the better to control them (Leviathan, pp. 169-179, 152-153).

Having refuted all natural and supernatural titles to rule, Hobbes then refounds the title and authority of the rulers by the doctrine of social contract: men have irrevocably, if tacitly, con- sented to the rule of the established sovereign. Let others be wiser, holier, or morally superior; only the established sovereign can claim men's (tacit) consent.

But title to rule or legitimacy is one thing, sub- stantive justice another. Hobbes thought it un- availing to try to end conflict over the former without also settling the question of the latter. A man's title to rule may be perfectly clear, but if a natural or transcendent standard of justice is acknowledged by which his particular laws and actions may be judged, then secular and religious ideologues will use it to subvert his rule. Through the call to "justice" or "morality" the people will be induced once again to "join with ambitious and hellish spirits, to the utter ruin of their state" (De Cive, p. 97). A further doctrine is needed.

If any man shall . . . by most firm reasons demonstrate that there are no authentical doc- trines concerning right and wrong, good and evil, besides the constituted laws in each realm and government ... surely he will not only show us the highway to peace, but will also teach us how to avoid the close, dark, and dangerous by-paths of faction and sedition; than which I know not what can be thought more profitable. (De Cive, p. 98)

Hobbes aspired to be that man by virtue of his doctrine of sovereignty.

He argued that the total war prevailing in man's natural state sweeps away not only all natural titles to rule, but also all morality, all substantive natural law in the traditional sense. Where all are enemies, everything is permitted. (The immoral- ism of raison d'etat is, in this way, at the root of the doctrine of sovereignty.) Men themselves must create order and morality by creating the sanc- tioning power nature lacks, and to do so they must promise to obey this power whatever it com- mands. Such a promise is rational because any well-enforced command or law, regardless of con- tent, will produce peace, and peace is the whole of the common good. Justice becomes identical to obedience to law, law being understood as the sovereign's command or will. That is the core of the doctrine of sovereignty. The natural law tradi- tion had defined law as rational command to in-

dicate that the essence and obligation of law comes not from the command of authority as such, but from the intrinsic justice of what is com- manded. Hobbes's doctrine reverses the relation of justice to command or law:

Before there was any government, just and un- just had no being. Legitimate kings therefore make the things they command just, by com- manding them, and those which they forbid, un- just, by forbidding them. (De Cive, pp. 244-245, italics in the original)

Sovereign command or will is the source of the rules of justice.

In sum, Hobbes invented his new juridical doc- trine in order to end misplaced obedience, hence to disarm the ambitious, by liberating the people from all authority and morality outside the will of the established sovereign. Hobbes writes his books

for your sakes, readers, who I persuaded myself, when you should rightly apprehend and thor- oughly understand this doctrine . . . that, weighing the justice of those things you are about, not by the persuasion and advice of private men, but by the laws of the realm, you will no longer suffer ambitious men through the streams of your blood to wade to their own power. (De Cive, p. 103)

The purpose of the doctrine Rousseau elabo- rates in the Social Contract is essentially the same, I will argue. We have seen that the goal of virtue, when understood in light of the natural goodness of man, leads him to the view that "this is ... the great problem of statecraft: to find a form of government that puts law above man." Hobbes and Rousseau share, then, the same political task, the same radical opposition to all challenges to the law (albeit for the sake of different ultimate goals). As we will see, Rousseau also shares Hobbes's understanding of the enemy: the am- bitious ideologues and moralists who escape and subvert the law through appeals to supposedly higher standards. To fight the same battle, Rousseau uses the same general doctrine. He replaces all natural titles to rule with one based on social contract, and all natural law or morality with the commands of the sovereign (General) Will. In other words, to understand Rousseau's juridical doctrine-and especially its specific form borrowed from Hobbes-one must go beyond the conventional interpretation that sees only the in- tention of limiting the power of rulers through popular sovereignty. (After all, there are many ways to argue for democracy.) The doctrine's specific purpose is to disarm the "moralizing" enemies of law.

The remainder of the article will attempt to

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1983 Rousseau's Moral Realism 637

elaborate and substantiate this interpretation and to respond to several of the obvious objections to which it is exposed. One such objection is best treated at the outset.

Rousseau and Hobbesian Realism

The difficulty concerns this partial assimilation of Rousseau to Hobbes. Although it is generally conceded that the major concepts of Rousseau's doctrine were borrowed from Hobbes, this fact has not been taken as a sign of any deeper similar- ity between the two thinkers, a similarity of reasoning and purpose. It appears that no two thinkers could be more dissimilar. Hobbes is the skeptic and realist, limiting his political goals to preservation or peace. Rousseau seems to be the anti-Hobbesian, the utopian moralist who longs for virtue and pure democracy. In order to ap- preciate the full extent of Rousseau's debt to Hobbes, and therewith the plausibility of the above interpretation, one must see how generally "Hobbesian" Rousseau is, how realistic and cynically hard-headed.3

This tough side of Rousseau actually becomes most visible in his disagreements with Hobbes, for these stem not from utopianism but from Rous- seau's superior realism. Although he regards Hobbes as "one of the greatest geniuses that has ever existed," Rousseau also finds much to hate in the "horrible system of Hobbes," beginning with the defense of absolute monarchy (Works, III, pp. 610-611). Rousseau considers it unrealistic to believe that a monarch

guarantees civil tranquility to his subjects. Per- haps so, but what have they gained if the wars that his ambition brings on them, if his insatiable greed, if the harassment of his ministers are a greater torment than their dissensions would be? (Social Contract, p. 49)

Of course, not all monarchs are bad, but

to see what this government is in essence, it must be considered under stupid or wicked princes, for either they are like this when they ascend the throne, or the throne makes them so. (Social Contract, p. 90)

Locke and Montesquieu, who eliminate this difficulty by limiting and dividing the sovereign power, are still unrealistic, in Rousseau's view, because they share with Hobbes the more funda- mental faith that a stable or nonoppressive society can be built on men's selfish interests. These

30n this theme, see also Masters (1968) and Gold- schmidt (1974).

modern thinkers-so proud of their realism in acknowledging the weakness of reason and the power of men's baser passions-demonstrate an underlying optimism, not to say utopianism, in their expectations for a society built upon such passions. For example, beneath the hard-headed doctrine of Hobbes lies the hope that after its publication

mankind should enjoy such an immortal peace, that unless it were for habitation, on supposition that the earth should grow too narrow for her in- habitants, there would hardly be left any pre- tence for war. (De Cive, p. 91)

Rousseau could not share these hopes, nor the more open faith in progress that emerged among his contemporaries. He was more suspicious of men. If they are naturally selfish and materialistic, as the "realists" are all agreed, then encouraging them to follow their own interests must lead to a small amount of cooperation and a great deal of treachery, crime, exploitation, hypocrisy, vio- lence, and treason (Works, II, pp. 968-969; Second Discourse, pp. 156, 172-175; Political Economy, pp. 216-217; see Keohane, 1980, pp. 420-432). It is claimed that honesty is in one's genuine self-interest, "yet who follows his truest interests? Only the wise man, if he exists." Addressing the Physiocrats, Rousseau writes:

Sirs, permit me to say it to you; you give too much force to your calculations, and not enough to the inclinations of the human heart, and to the play of the passions. Your system is very good for the men of Utopia, it is worth nothing for the children of Adam. (Letter to Mirabeau, July 26, 1767)

All the modern thinkers, these crypto-idealistic realists, labor under the utopian delusion that good politics is possible without good-that is, public spirited-men.

With superior realism, Rousseau argues as follows: men are by nature asocial and selfish; therefore, they cannot be employed as they are, nor can they be "exhorted" to virtue. If a decent society is to be possible, men must be utterly denatured and collectivized, a course of action difficult but possible as proved by the examples of Rome and Sparta. Precisely because social men tend to be as bad as Hobbes claims, rigorous vir- tue or patriotism is needed to guarantee peace and order. Nothing less will do. When thought through, Hobbesian realism, paradoxically enough, returns one to the concern for virtue.

Of course, in calling for Spartan virtue Rous- seau was proposing a solution he knew to be im-

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638 The American Political Science Review Vol. 77

possible in most times and places, but in so doing he was not being unrealistic, only pessimistic.

"Propose what can be done," they never stop repeating to me. It is as if I were being told "Pro- pose doing what is done," or at least, "Propose some good which can be allied with the existing evil." Such a project, in certain matters, is much more chimerical than mine. (Emile, p. 34)

They are the utopians who assume that a univer- sally practicable solution must exist.

Thus if Rousseau broke with Hobbes, as well as with the more liberal thinkers, arguing that peace and order are possible only in an "austere democ- racy" of ardent and virtuous patriots, he did so not out of utopian moralism but rigorous realism and a more consistent Hobbesism. And given this kinship of spirit, it is not implausible to suggest that in borrowing Hobbes's juridical doctrines, Rousseau had the same realistic purpose as Hobbes had in inventing them.

Incidentally, these considerations provide an answer for the question of why the argument of the Social Contract is based on self-preservation when Rousseau's goal is virtue. Rousseau argues that public virtue is necessary to secure the mini- mum Hobbesian goals of preservation and non- oppression. He also argues that since oppression is the source of all vice, the mere elimination of oppression is sufficient to foster or preserve vir- tue. The political requirements of preservation and of virtue therefore coincide perfectly. Rous- seau collapses the distinction between the lowest and highest goals of politics or between legitimate and ideal government, which explains why Rous- seau's political doctrine is so strict or dogmatic and why he could present it in terms of preserva- tion in some of his works and in terms of virtue and happiness in others.

The Refutation of Natural Law

Having treated these initial questions, we turn to a detailed analysis of Rousseau's juridical doc- trine. Although it must be understood in light of its purpose, the doctrine should not be seen as mere rhetoric, for the same considerations that make it useful also make it true in Rousseau's eyes. Rousseau's argument begins with an account of the state of nature, which as in Hobbes accom- plishes the crucial task of moral "liberation" by dismissing all natural titles to rule and also all sub- stantive natural law. By nature, no one rules, and nothing is just or unjust.

Rousseau easily dismisses all natural titles to rule by showing that men in the state of nature are entirely selfish and solitary. He also refutes the particular claims of Divine Right, paternal authority and the right of the strongest, using

familiar arguments that need not be repeated here (Social Contract, pp. 46-49; Second Discourse, pp. 161-166). He concludes that "since no man has any natural authority over his fellow man ... there remain only conventions [social contracts] as the basis of all legitimate authority among men" (Social Contract, p. 49).

Rousseau's refutation of substantive natural law, of all natural rules of right and wrong, is less familiar and a great deal more complicated. He treats the issue in the preface to the Second Dis- course by means of a terse and elliptical refutation of "our jurists" (p. 129), meaning Grotius, Bar- beyrac, Burlamaqui, Pufendorf, and others-the School of Natural Law as it came to be called. These writers were the main authorities on moral and political matters for the Encyclopedists, and Diderot, chief among the latter, vigorously attacked Rousseau's position in the article "Natural Right." Rousseau then defended and enlarged upon his views in an introductory chapter of the Geneva Manuscript (the first draft of the Social Contract).

We may take Pufendorf as representative of the natural law doctrine Rousseau attacks.4 It is ex^ plicitly a compromise between Hobbes and more traditional natural law. Pufendorf follows Hobbes in seeking to end feudal anarchy by fos- tering a centralized, secular political authority based on contract. Seeing, however, that the new- ly strengthened state can be dangerous as well as useful, he seeks a way to limit its actions although without dividing or diminishing its power. His solution is to formulate and popularize a detailed, secular code of natural law. Thus Pufendorf ac- cepts Hobbes's individualistic, contractual doc- trine of the right to rule but emphatically rejects- his doctrine of sovereignty in favor of a substan- tive natural law. Legitimacy derives from consent, but the rules of right and wrong are fixed by nature.

According to Pufendorf's argument, all men originally lived in a "state of nature" in which they were free, equal, and without rule; hence, all rule arises from a social contract as Hobbes had taught. However, although naturally apolitical, men are not naturally selfish but sociable, so their natural state was a social and peaceful one in which they could and did practice the law of nature as discovered by reason. Since they did so imperfectly, however, states and rulers were established precisely to enforce and follow that natural law and not freely to create law with absolute sovereignty. Justice, then, is natural, although the state and rule are not (Droit de la

4I follow Derath6's suggestion (1950, pp. 83-84) that Rousseau seems to have the most respect for Pufendorf.

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1983 Rousseau's Moral Realism 639

Nature, 11-2, 11-3, VII-1, VIII-1.5; see Rommen, 1947, pp. 77-88; Derathe, 1950, pp. 36-41).

Against Pufendorf Rousseau argues that justice is not natural, thus rejecting the compromise with traditional natural law-and wholly returning to "Hobbes wholel saw very clearly the defect of all modern definitions of natural right," albeit before the fact (Second Discourse, p. 129). Rousseau argues that in the original state of nature, these rational principles of natural law are not known; later, when they may be known, they are not by nature enforced.

The first half of the argument follows directly from Rousseau's description of natural man, who is not sociable by nature but rather selfish and solitary. Since reason cannot develop without society and language, solitary natural man could not possibly have known the supposed laws of nature. Nevertheless, even if one grants to Pufen- dorf and the others that man was sociable and rational in the primitive state of nature, the dif- ficulty still remains because

they all establish naturall law upon such meta- physical principles . . . that it is impossible to understand litI and consequently to obey it with- out being a great reasoner and a profound meta- physician; which means precisely that men must have used, for the establishment of Icivil] socie- ty, enlightenment which only develops with great difficulty and in very few people in the midst of society itself. (Second Discourse, p. 94)

The facts of history also confirm that primitive man lacked such knowledge:

one easily sees that the healthy ideas of natural right and the brotherhood of all men were dis- seminated rather late and made such slow prog- ress in the world that it was only Christianity that generalized them sufficiently. (Geneva Manu- script, p. 162; see Droit de la Nature, II-2.10)

But even if these supposed laws of justice were known, the argument continues, they would be neither obeyed nor valid because they are not by nature enforced. To appreciate this argument concerning the sanctions for morality it is impor- tant that one not "Kantianize" the essentially eudaemonistic natural law tradition. Rousseau and his opponents all agree that to be valid, the demands of natural law must be rooted in the in- clinations and fulfillment of human nature (Second Discourse, p. 93; Droit de la Nature, II-2.14; Grotius, Law of War and Peace, I-1). As Burlamaqui puts it, natural law is the collection of

those rules which nature alone prescribes to man, in order to conduct him safely to the end, which everyone has, and indeed ought to have, in view, namely true and solid happiness. (Principes du Droit Naturel, I-i.1)

For a rule of justice to be valid it must promote the natural good of each when all follow it. But in addition, it must have a force or sanction-stem- ming from the power of reason, from a benevo- lent passion or from some external agent-which can guarantee to each that the others will follow it. If "natural law" is not by nature enforced and generally obeyed, and if it is thus harmful to those who do obey, then this law cannot be naturally valid or binding.

Rousseau argues that in the later stages of the state of nature reason does develop along with ex- tended desires and (nonpolitical) society. Theo- retically, men could then form a rational concep- tion of justice or of a common good. But we find that

the development of society stifles humanity in men's hearts by awakening personal interest, and that concepts of the natural law . . . begin to develop only when the prior development of the passions renders all its precepts impotent. (Geneva Manuscript, p. 159)

After the development of reason Rousseau's state of nature becomes the same as Hobbes's, a "most horrible state of war" (Second Discourse, p. 157), and the objection to natural law is also the same:

Everything you tell me about the advantages of the social law would be fine if while I were scru- pulously observing it toward others, I were sure that all of them would observe it toward me. But what assurances of this can you give me? . . . Either give me guarantees against all unjust undertakings or do not expect me to refrain from them in turn. (Geneva Manuscript, p. 160; see Social Contract, p. 66)

Lacking a natural sanction, the rules of "justice" were harmful to follow and therefore not obliga- tory or valid.

Rousseau thus rejects the natural law compro- mise of Pufendorf, Diderot, and the others-that justice is natural, although the state artificial-by showing that the supposed natural law known and followed in the state of nature "is truly an illu- sion, since the conditions for it are always either unknown or impracticable and men must neces- sarily be in ignorance of them or violate them" (Geneva Manuscript, p. 159).

The argument is quite clear and plausible, yet its relevance is unclear. After all, traditional natural law doctrines did not explicitly base them- selves on the claim that natural law was known and followed in a prepolitical state of nature. What significance, then, have Pufendorf's claim and Rousseau's denial?

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640 The American Political Science Review Vol. 77

The Significance of the State of Nature

Pufendorf and Rousseau agree in adopting Hobbes's view that the state is not natural but is a human invention. This premise is what gives rise to the radical division of human history into a pre- political "state of nature" and the artificial, civilized condition following the invention of the state. Now if the state is artificial, then justice, to be natural, must exist independently of, hence before, the state. To maintain the existence of a natural law, then, Pufendorf has to go beyond traditional claims and argue that it was already found in the "state of nature." Conversely, by showing that the justice now known and practiced did not exist in the state of nature, Rousseau proves that it is not something natural, but wholly a creature of the artificial state. The real issue between Rousseau and Pufendorf, then, concerns the relative priority of justice and the (artificial) state.

In other words, unlike a contemporary relativist or ancient Sophist, Rousseau does not deny altogether the existence of an objective standard of justice. He acknowledges that

whatever is good and in accordance with order is so by the nature of things, independently of human conventions ... there is without doubt a universal justice emanating from reason alone. (Social Contract, p. 65)

Men have, or rather can be made to have, a com- mon good, and there are rules which, if generally known and followed, will promote the common good. To be truly valid and binding, however, these rules must be, in fact, generally known and enforced (Second Discourse, p. 95). The question is whether that condition is ever met, and if it is, as Pufendorf and Rousseau both agree, whether directly through the natural force of the rules themselves, or only indirectly through the agency of a human invention, the (legitimate) state.

Hobbes, for example, takes the latter position. Justice lacks a natural sanction, does not exist in the state of nature, and owes such existence as it ever attains to the (legitimate) state's power. This state cannot be built upon men's natural obedi- ence to justice since by hypothesis such obedience does not exist; it must be built on nonmoral foun- dations, on the passion of fear, and the agreement to obey the sovereign whatever he commands. It follows that the direct appeal to justice, the de- mand that it be the basis and condition of obedi- ence, must destroy the state and, with it, all justice. Thus justice cannot constitute a "natural law," a binding standard independent of the state and its laws.

Conversely, Pufendorf, seeking to subordinate the state to justice or natural law, replies:

It is not to be conceived that civil governments could ever have been established, or after their establishment, preserved, if there had not been something just and unjust antecedent to their existence. (Droit de la Nature, VIII-1.5)

The objective standard of justice, having a natural force in men's reason and inclinations, is known and enforced by nature and therefore constitutes a direct guide for men and an obligatory moral law. It does not owe its existence or binding power to the state. On the contrary, natural law justice predated the state, gave rise to it, and now main- tains it. Consequently, positive laws violating the natural law are not binding (Droit de la Nature, VII-8.2, VIII-1).

Rousseau, by claiming that justice is not enforced by nature, returns to the position of Hobbes. By claiming that it is also not known by nature, and that the state is needed to teach justice as well as enforce it, Rousseau also anticipates the views of the Historical School. Pufendorf's error lies in being unhistorical. He attributes to men in the state of nature qualities-including the knowl- edge and practice of justice-which they only acquired in the state. He then claims that these qualities caused or founded the state. But

In order for an emerging people to feel the noble maxims of justice . . . the effect would have to become the cause; the social spirit, which should be the result of the institution [of the state] would have to preside over the founding of the institution itself, and men would have to be prior to laws what they should become by means of laws. (Geneva Manuscript, p. 182; see Second Discourse, pp. 133, 94; Social Contract, p. 69)

The famous teaching of the Second Discourse- that previous thinkers have underestimated the formative role of history or society while over- estimating that of nature-is meant to demon- strate the social origin of man's wickedness, but also the social origin of his morality. The legiti- mate state has-and it alone-

produced a remarkable change in man by sub- stituting justice for instinct in his behavior ... I andI changed him from a stupid, limited animal into an intelligent being and a man. (Social Con- tract, pp. 55-56; see Second Discourse, pp. 148-181; Confessions, pp. 404-405; Works, III, pp. 664-665; Emile, p. 473)

In short, "Law comes before justice and not justice before law" (Geneva Manuscript, p. 191).

Thus, although Rousseau acknowledges the existence of an objective standard of order or justice, discoverable by the wise, he thinks that "considering things from a human point of view, the laws of justice are ineffectual among men" (Social Contract, pp. 65-66). This standard does

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not constitute a "natural law" in the sense of a direct guide for men or a binding code of moral- ity. It is not binding prior to the state, because it is not known or enforced, and it is not in the (legiti- mate) state because there it must yield to the state's laws. Natural law-and the "moralists" like Pufendorf-asserts: "Here is the standard of justice; you must obey it." But this command is self-contradictory, for justice cannot be obeyed without the state to teach and enforce it, and the state (which therefore must be based on some- thing other than the force of justice) is destroyed by the command to obey only justice. Natural law cannot obligate men without destroying the con- dition of all obligation. There is a standard of justice then, but it cannot be realized "morally" through direct appeal to it, but only politically and indirectly through the effects of the (legitimate) state, which is obeyed for reasons other than its substantive justice. A doctrine of sovereignty must replace the theory of natural law.

Rousseau's argument, however, is open to an obvious objection. Mankind has progressed beyond the state of nature, beyond the ignorance and savagery of primitive times. Justice, which may at first have had no support but the state, has now taken root in men's reason and inclinations. This progress and moral development has freed justice from its utter dependence on the state while also potentially supplying the state with a new source of support. Consequently, the utter subordination of natural law to the state has become unnecessary and unreasonable.

The Critique of Progress and Enlightenment

The well-known message of the First and Second Discourses, that there is no progress, con- stitutes Rousseau's defense of his arguments and of the relevance of the state of nature. The funda- mental relation of the state to justice appears most clearly at the beginning. Later developments do much to obscure that relation, but little to alter it. If one examines with hard-headed realism the his- torical development of reason, rational morality, and the nonlegitimate state, one will see the perpetuation of the two original obstacles to a valid and binding natural law: as in the state of nature, justice is not adequately known or en- forced. (Where a wise legislator has founded a legitimate state, appeal to natural law-in addi- tion to being unnecessary-remains destructive of the state, as I will show later.)

Treating first the problem of moral knowledge, it is obvious that reason has made immense prog- ress since primitive times and that elaborate con- cepts of justice and natural law have developed in society. Nevertheless, Rousseau denies that the

mass of men have a true understanding of justice. The people "often does not know what it wants because it rarely knows what is good for it" (Social Contract, p. 67). And since "the art of generalizing ideas ... is one of the most difficult and belated exercises of human understanding, will the average man ever be capable of deriving his rules of conduct from this manner of reason- ing" (Geneva Manuscript, p. 161; see p. 182)? Even if he could form general principles of con- duct, that would not be sufficient.

For the science of government is only a science of combinations, applications and exceptions, according to times, places and circumstances. The public will never truly understand the rela- tions and the play of all that. (Letter to Mira- beau, July 26, 1767)

Lack of intelligence or education is only half the problem, for "good sense depends more on the sentiments of the heart than the enlightenment of the mind" (Works, IV, p. 11). Ignorance and prejudice grow from the vices, moral wisdom from virtue or health of soul. Now peoples' virtue and vice stem from the character of their state: "It is certain that the people are in the long run what the government makes them. Warriors, citizens, men when it so pleases; mob, and rabble when it wishes" (Political Economy, p. 216). Unjust states make men corrupt, prejudiced, and irra- tional; just states make men honest and clear- sighted. It follows that the people's moral knowledge (as distinguished from that of gifted individuals) can never substantially surpass the actual justice of their state or political culture. That is why "once peoples are accustomed to masters, they are no longer able to do without them" (Second Discourse, p. 80; see Social Con- tract, p. 71). Thus natural law cannot function as a corrective to the fundamental abuses of the state, because where the state is corrupt, so will be men's opinions of the natural law.

Pufendorf and other moralists would respond that this political "relativism" of moral knowledge is overcome by the guidance of moral philosophers who, liberated from the prejudices of their time and political condition, show men the timeless truths of morality. Pufendorf thought this was particularly true in his own time, thanks to the spread of enlightenment and to progress in the science of natural law. According to the En- cyclopedia, this science was "known only im- perfectly to the ancients, their wise men and their philosophers have spoken of it most often in a very superficial way" ("Right of Nature," p. 194). As Barbeyrac explains in the introduction to his translation of Pufendorf, all natural law doc- trines before Grotius failed to "contain a com- plete body of morality such as descends to the

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utmost degree of particularity and where every- thing is digested into the very best order and method possible" (Sec. 28). The Natural Law School has now constructed such a rigorous and detailed code de nature to serve as a direct guide for the conduct of life and affairs. Moreover, philosophers have now abandoned their tradi- tional seclusion, assuming a role in society that enhances their public effect. As Voltaire boasts in the Encyclopedia:

The spirit of the century has made most I men of letters] as much at ease in society as in their study. This is the great advantage they hold over men of letters of preceding centuries. Up to the time of [J.-L. Guez del Balzac and Voiture they were not admitted to society; since then they have become a necessary part of it. The pro- found and clear reasoning which many have in- fused into their books and their conversation has done much to instruct and polish the nation, ("Men of Letters," p. 248)

Through its promulgation in the books of philosophers, natural law can be an effective stan- dard and guide for politics.

Rousseau, however, thinks it far more difficult to introduce wisdom and truth into human affairs. Men do not listen to reason, shedding their illusions when shown the truth. They resist and deny the truth, or more likely fail to under- stand it in the first place. Rousseau possesses what came to be called the "historical sense" (as his predecessors, he claims, did not). He knows that men differ from one time and place to another, and that this difference affects what they can understand. "I know the delights of your coun- try, said Brasidas to the satrap who compared the life of Sparta to that of Persepolis; but you can- not know the pleasures of mine." Cato knew and practiced justice as perhaps no other man has, yet "he was out of place in his century; and . .. only astonished the world, which he would have governed five hundred years earlier" (Second Dis- course, pp. 164, 178). Corrupt peoples are simply incapable of comprehending the truth; hence, the epigraph of both the First Discourse and Rous- seau Juge de Jean-Jacques, and the central theme of the autobiographical writings: "Here I am the barbarian because no one understands me."

Furthermore, even if the people could under- stand, they would not know who to listen to since the philosophers do not agree among themselves.

It is not without surprise and scandal that one notes the little agreement which prevails on ... [natural law] among the various authors who have discussed it. Among the most serious writers one can hardly find two who are of the same opinion on this point. (Second Discourse, p. 94; see Emile, pp. 268-269)

The insufficiency of human reason prevents the unanimity necessary for philosophy to be a salu- tary political guide.

This difficulty is particularly great due to the in- fluence of sophists and counterfeit philosophers. Given the weakness of reason-both in its power to attain the truth and to rule over passion-a genuine philosopher is the rarest of men. "As beautiful and sublime as it is, philosophyl is not made for man ... his mind is too limited to make much progress in it and his heart too full of pas- sions to avoid misusing it" (Works, III, p. 36). It must remain the preserve of the few "sublime geniuses who know how to penetrate the veils in which the truth envelops itself, the few privileged souls capable of resisting the stupidity of vanity, base jealously and other passions engendered by the taste for letters" (Works, II, p. 970; see First Discourse, p. 62). But wherever philosophy is in a position to teach the people justice, wherever it is most accepted and publicly admired, it is also most counterfeited. Men without genius, or more important, men with no love of truth, will pursue philosophy for the love of honor. And since they cannot easily be told apart, where a philosopher is honored a hundred sophists share the glory. Thus, of the guidance offered by the "philosophers," Rousseau writes:

I sought for the truth in books; I found there only falsehood and error. I consulted authors; I found only charlatans who make a game of fool- ing men, who have no other law than their in- terest, no other God than their reputation; who are quick to decry the rulers who do not treat them to their liking, and quicker still to praise the wickedness that pays them. (Works, IV, p. 967; see Emile, p. 458)

Such "philosophers" cannot help the people to acquire genuine knowledge of justice.

Realistically considered, then, the progress of reason has not provided men with adequate moral knowledge, for prejudice and deceit have pro- gressed at an equal pace with reason. As in the state of nature, natural law remains invalid because insufficiently known.

Nor has progress remedied the second obstacle to the existence of natural law, the lack of sanc- tions. Given the immense progress made by the productive arts, one might first expect that the dangerous and warlike condition of the late state of nature, which had made justice impossible, would have disappeared along with the economic scarcity producing it. That would indeed have been the result if men's desires had remained limited to the natural and necessary goods. But the magnificent progress of man's reason and pro- ductive capacities has been dwarfed by the prog- ress of his needs and desires; hence, overflowing

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1983 Rousseau's Moral Realism 643

with goods, society is yet filled with labor, com- petition, and strife. The problem of distribution is another fruit of progress. By separating posses- sion from need, the establishment of private prop- erty creates an artificial scarcity, allowing "a handful of men [tol be glutted with superfluities while the starving multitude lacks necessities" (Second Discourse, pp. 181, 197).

While thus increasing scarcity and conflict, the progress of the arts has also made that conflict more dangerous. The invention of metallurgy, then of gunpowder, vastly increased men's power for evil. And the art of fraud was added to these instruments of force. Men discovered the sur- prising power to be gained by speaking one way while acting another. "Before art had moulded our manners ... human nature, basically, was no better, but men found their security in the ease of seeing through each other." In becoming civi- lized, men became more dangerous, for "sus- picions, offenses, fears, coldness, reserve, hate, betrayal will hide constantly under that uniform and false veil of politeness" (First Discourse, pp. 37-38).

The "progressivists" and moralists might per- haps agree that the progress of reason and the arts has increased men's desires, their need to harm each other, and their power to do so. They would, nevertheless, deny that the war Rousseau de- scribes continues to exist in society. For reason and justice, whatever their power in the state of nature, are now a real force in men's souls, a force that suppresses immoderate desires and creates harmony among men, a force supporting the state and in turn supported by it. Contemporary soci- ety, with its civility, morality, and cultivation, bears no resemblance to the conflict and savagery of Rousseau's late state of nature. Civilized man may indeed have more desires and craft than the savage; he also has more principles.

To Rousseau, the pride and folly of this posi- tion is once again the pride of reason.

The error of most moralists has always been to take man for an essentially reasonable being. Man is only a sensitive being, who consults solely his passions in acting, and uses his reason merely to mitigate the errors they have led him to com- mit. (Works, III, p. 554)

Reason is a late, weak, and superficial faculty, powerless to control the passions. Again, Rous- seau does not deny the obvious progress made by reason and moral ideas since primitive times, but he makes here the same two points he made against the progress of the arts. Far from con- trolling the unjust passions, the ideas of justice or morality that grow up in most societies actually stimulate them-and they give them new weapons as well.

The advent of moral concepts and beliefs has stimulated the passions by greatly strengthening that which underlies all passion: the hope of suc- cess. "Wishes without hope do not torment us. A beggar is not tormented by the desire to be a king. A king wants to be God only when he believes he is no longer a man" (Emile, p. 446). All the un- necessary desires-whether stemming from plea- sure, habit, foresight, imagination, or vanity -owe their growth to that of man's hopes for get- ting and keeping, and these hopes have grown through man's creation, in fact and in his mind, of a moralized world. The passion for great wealth could not appear in human history until the creation of the moral idea and institution of private property, nor the passion for rule before the idea of authority. These passions, once aroused, take control of the moral thoughts that created them, leading men to project onto the world an illusory moral order supportive of their hopes and desires. "The first sentiment of justice does not come to us from the justice we owe but from that which is owed us" (Emile, p. 97). All the great passions and ambitions (even the im- moral ones) are founded on such moral claims, on a superstitious faith in oneself: my physical powers are limited but my worth is not, and ultimately the latter will prevail.

Vice is the love of order taken in a different sense. There is some moral order wherever there is sentiment and intelligence. The difference is that the good man orders himself in relation to the whole, and the wicked one orders the whole in relation to himself (Emile, pp. 291-292; see let- ter to Carondolet, March 4, 1764).

Even the tyrant is a twisted moralist in his faith that the world can be formed into a stable and responsive order around himself. It is precisely morality, then, that has made men's desires infinite.

If men saw the world as it truly is, they would have no passions and few desires. Wisely dis- illusioned and dispirited, they would see that "your power extendisi only as far as your natural strength and not beyond. All the rest is only slavery, illusion and deception"; that "everything on earth is only transitory. All that we love will escape us sooner or later, and we hold on to it as if it were going to last eternally" (Emile, pp. 83-84, 444). But since the development of moral ideas, man has been lost in a world of illusions, and "in his senseless desires, he puts in the rank of the possible what is not possible" (Emile, p. 445). Only the philosopher, through genius and strength of soul, and natural man, through stupidity, are ever truly free of these illusions. Already in the late state of nature, "between the right of the stronger and the right of the first

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644 The American Political Science Review Vol. 77

occupant there arose a perpetual conflict": war arose from moral ideas (Second Discourse, p. 157, emphasis added).

One might respond that eventually men learn their duties as well as their rights, and if the idea of their rights has increased men's passions, that of their duties has taught them to combat and suppress them. Thanks to justice and the state, we no longer experience that savage war of all against all that Rousseau describes. Look around. Can one seriously deny the fact of moral progress in light of "the decency of our entertainments, the politeness of our manners, the affability of our speech land] our perpetual demonstrations of good will" (First Discourse, p. 39)?

This objection brings us to the heart of Rous- seau s view, which he summarizes in the second epigraph to the First Discourse: "We are deceived by the appearance of right" (p. 34). We are deceived in the first place because, as compared with the late state of nature, the social state is an "epoch, less horrible at first sight, but more dead- ly in reality" (Works, III, p. 478). The present appearance of justice is false and ineffectual. But more important, the deceptive appearance of jus- tice, like the use of gunpowder, has made men and their conflicts more dangerous.

Whoever, renouncing in good faith all the preju- dices of human vanity, seriously reflects on all these things, will discover at length that all these grand words of society, of justice, of law, of mutual defense, of help for the weak, of philoso- phy, and of the progress of reason are only lures invented by clever politicians or by cowardly flat- terers to impose themselves on the simple. (Works, III, p. 475; see pp. 478, 54, 610, 606, 518; IV, p. 937 and b; Emile, p. 236)

Justice or morality, as it has developed, is the most fearsome invention of the art of fraud.

The "appearance of right" is indeed greater among civilized men than savages, yet not because justice has taken root in their souls, but because it is more useful to enslave a man than kill him, and "justice" provides the means for enslaving him. "Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains.... How did this change occur" (p. 46)? The famous question, left unanswered in the Social Contract, is the true topic of the Second Discourse:

Precisely what, then, is at issue in this Discourse? To indicate in the progress of things the moment when right taking the place of violence, nature was subjected to law; to explain by what se- quence of marvels the strong [i.e. the great mass of men] could resolve to serve the weak, and the people to buy imaginary repose at the price of real felicity. (p. 102)

The central purpose of this work is to explain how mankind was enslaved through the invention of "justice" and the state.

These were invented, Rousseau argues, to put an end to the state of war resulting from the growth of men's selfish desires. The inventor pro- claimed:

Let us institute regulations of justice and peace to which all are obliged to conform . . . let us gather [our. forces] into one supreme power which governs us according to wise laws, protects and defends all the members of the association, repulses common enemies, and maintains us in an eternal concord. (Second Discourse, p. 159)

These are fine and true principles, Rousseau ex- plains, but one must consider their effect and significance in the historical circumstances in which they arose. The inventors of justice and the state could not themselves have been just or public-spirited, since these qualities arise only within the (legitimate) state. Moreover, justice and rule were needed and invented precisely because men had become so bad. In such condi- tions "social laws are a yoke that each wants to impose on the other without having to bear him- self" (Geneva Manuscript, p. 160). In other words, the idea of justice and the common good can only arise from selfish motives, hence only as a tool of exploitation. Thus, according to the Second Discourse, the state was invented by the rich as a means of enslaving and exploiting the poor. Too easily led, the latter agreed to this arrangement. The noble words of justice and the common good won their trust, and they "all ran to meet their chains thinking they secured their freedom" (Second Discourse, p. 159). From the start, then, "justice" and the state were nothing but a ruse and a trap, and "as it began badly, time in discovering faults and suggesting remedies could never repair the vices of the constitution" (Second Discourse, p. 162). Through history, the original deception was continually repeated: laws, magistrates, punishments, armies were added, but "the vices that make social institutions necessary are the same ones that make their abuse inevita- ble" (Second Discourse, p. 173). Unable to sup- press men's unjust passions, they soon became tools of them; hence each new institution only strengthened the very evils it was meant to con- trol. Thus did moral and political "progress"-of which the moralists are so proud-enslave the world. Born free, men are in chains forged by the ",appearance of right."

Looking past appearances, then, one sees no progress regarding sanctions for justice. In essence, the state of war persists, for all men are still "forced to flatter and destroy one another" (Second Discourse, p. 194).

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Through his critique of progress, his skeptically realistic account of the historical development of reason and rational morality, Rousseau has shown that the original obstacles to natural law remain: men cannot know or afford justice. Although, in heaven as it were, there is an objec- tive, rational standard of order discoverable by the wise, it does not reach down to men's reason or inclinations; it does not bind and obligate men, or in any way solicit its own fulfillment. Mankind is simply abandoned to the conflict of its collec- tive passions and prejudices.

Rousseau grants, of course, that in civilized times moral ideas and doctrines of natural law have come into being which claim to be the time- less truth; yet if not "deceived by the appearance of right," one will see that they are not above the great war of interests, capable of settling it, but rather the most potent weapons invented for use within that war. "Morality" and "natural law" are not the solution; they are precisely the most dangerous part of the problem!

Rousseau's Doctrine of Sovereignty: The Argument of the Social Contract

Having used the "state of nature" and the denial of progress to clear the ground of all natural titles to rule and all substantive natural law, Rousseau then erects in their place the posi- tive doctrines of the Social Contract, the doctrines of contract and sovereignty, the "principles of political right." One must ask at the outset, how- ever, how Rousseau could think his own doctrine would be any more effectual than the doctrines of natural law just rejected. Indeed, Rousseau seems to agree with Plato that men really have only one means of escaping the strife and oppression result- ing from the weakness of their reason and the conflict of their interests: a philosopher must be king or legislator. "So long as power is alone on the one side, intellect and wisdom alone on the other ... the people will continue to be vile, cor- rupt and unhappy" (First Discourse, p. 64; Social Contract, p. 67). The true principles of justice cannot reach the world directly through a natural law, but only indirectly through the political ac- tivity of a wise man. He alone can bring order,

'Rousseau's position on natural law has long been a subject of debate. See Vaughan (1915, vol. 1, pp. 16-18), Hubert (1928), Hendel (1934, vol. 1, pp. 97-99, 182), Cobban (1934, pp. 115, 147-150), Gough (1936, pp. 156-157), Haymann (1943-1945), Crocker (1961- 1962), Hall (1973, pp. 25-28), and Goldschmidt (1974, pp. 133-155). The interpretation suggested here owes the most to Masters (1968, pp. 76-89, 158-165, 316-322),

Plattner (1979, chap. 5), and Strauss (1953, pp. 252- 294).

justice, and virtue into the world as Lycurgus did in Sparta, not by "moralizing" or proclaiming doctrines, but by legislating, by wisely arranging the laws and institutions, the concrete social and political relations that shape men's characters (Works, III, p. 948). No book or doctrine can replace such political activity by the legislator, nor can it teach or command the people to recognize the true legislator when he arises. At most a book can help to educate future legislators, and that is surely one purpose of Rousseau's political writings (Works, III, p. 474; see Masters, 1968, pp. 306-313). His books give private advice to legislators as distinguished from public proclama- tions of universal principles.

But the "principles of political right" pro- claimed in the Social Contract are just such a universal doctrine addressed to the people. Yet they differ in a crucial respect from a natural law doctrine because they establish not an elaborate code of morality but a simple rule defining legiti- mate government and sovereign command. More- over, the doctrine is not truly addressed to all states but only to the few remaining republics, especially Geneva. There, where the main tasks of founding and legislation had already been accom- plished, Rousseau could aspire, through a doc- trine, simply to improve and complete the job. As he states in the Confessions, the Genevans lacked "correct and clear enough notions of the laws and liberty," so he wrote the Social Contract as "an indirect means of giving them to them" (p. 405;

seeR. JugedeJ.-J.: p.935). Rousseau's doctrine proclaims the following.

All legitimate rule derives from a social contract, which to be binding must leave to the people the law-making power. In such a state the will of the people as expressed in law is sovereign in the strict sense. It is not to be measured against a higher standard of justice but is itself the standard of justice and makes what it commands just, by commanding it. Like Hobbes, Rousseau replaces the nonexistent natural law with a theory of sover- eignty. The traditional definition of law as just or rational command is replaced by the voluntaristic one of pure command or will (whence the term General Will). Rousseau illustrates the meaning of sovereignty by asserting that one cannot treat "as theft the cunning prescribed to Spartan children for obtaining their frugal meal, as if everything that is required by law could fail to be legitimate" (Political Economy, p. 212). The natural law, which is neither publicly known nor enforced, is wholly replaced by duly enacted positive law, which is both.

Rousseau establishes this doctrine in the first book of the Social Contract. In the warlike condi- tion of the late state of nature, men are driven by their desire for preservation to establish a com-

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646 The American Political Science Review Vol. 77

mon power to rule them. Since no natural law exists, they are free to create through contract any political arrangements and any "rules of justice" they please-so long as these promote their goal of preservation. But since they cannot rely on men's "morality," they can obligate themselves to obey only such a power as cannot oppress them. The latter requirement narrows the terms of a legitimate contract to these: "the total aliena- tion of each associate with all his rights to the whole community" or to "the supreme direction of the General Will" (p. 53). Such an arrange- ment guarantees the security and nonoppression of each because

since each one gives his entire self, the condition is equal for everyone, and since the condition is equal for everyone, no one has an interest in making it burdensome for the others. (p. 53)

Because of the total alienation of each, the com- munity can have a General Will, a will that applies to all members equally, a will that has the form of "law." This General Will can be made sovereign because it cannot harm one without harming all. In other words, the social contract establishes the sovereignty of the people's will when expressed in the form of general laws, or the sovereignty of law as such, properly understood.

When the entire people enacts something con- cerning the entire people . . then the subject matter of the enactment is general like the will that enacts. It is this I call a law. (p. 66)

Taken in this sense, law is sovereign-again, because it cannot oppress.

The argument is in need of immediate qualifi- cation, however, for Rousseau was not so foolish as to think that "public deliberations are always equitable," that the will of all is always the General Will (Political Economy, p. 213; see Social Contract, p. 61). When the people have become corrupt and selfish and "the basest in- terest brazenly adopts the sacred name of the public good, then the general will becomes mute . . . and iniquitous decrees whose only goal is the private interest are falsely passed under the name of laws" (p. 109). The sovereignty of popularly enacted law is not meant as an "institutional solu- tion" that can work anywhere and automatically; it will work only if men have been made into vir- tuous and patriotic citizens. (Hence, it does not eliminate the need for a wise legislator.) Rous- seau 's solution is not democracy, but "austere democracy" (Letter to Mirabeau, July 26, 1767).

Yet, if this is so, it must be acknowledged that the presentation of Rousseau's doctrine in the Social Contract is somewhat misleading. The argument seems to be institutional and universally applicable. Rousseau downplays the fact that the

people must be virtuous in order for the laws they make to be just. He encourages the identification of the General Will with the will of the majority and indeed states that "the will of the majority always obligates all the others. This is a conse- quence of the contract itself" (p. 110, emphasis added; see p. 52).

This famous and obvious difficulty is not a sign of Rousseau's confusion as is often argued. He defends the last point as follows:

This presupposes, it is true, that all the charac- teristics of the General Will are still in the major- ity. When they cease to be, there is no longer any freedom regardless of the side one takes. (p. 111)

In other words, where men are virtuous the (popularly enacted) laws will indeed be just; where they are corrupt the laws will be unjust, but public questioning of the laws will not lead to justice either. Thus Rousseau's doctrine of sovereignty exaggerates the necessary justice of popularly enacted law to discourage questioning of the law, for in any given society such law will constitute the most just standard possible.

The Purpose of Rousseau's Doctrine

This line of argument forces us to distinguish systematically between the truth of Rousseau's doctrine and its effect or usefulness. Indeed, even if the doctrine were true without exaggeration, we would still need to ask why the public proclama- tion of it is useful.

For Rousseau, the great task of statecraft con- sists in putting "law above man" because law more or less guarantees nonoppression, and because law eliminates personal dependence, thus preserving men's virtue or health of soul. The ends of preservation and virtue converge in rule of law. It does not necessarily follow, however, that the best way to promote rule of law is to proclaim these arguments as a public doctrine. Indeed, the argument from virtue is not a part of Rousseau's public doctrine. Moreover, Sparta and Rome, Rousseau's great models, succeeded in estab- lishing the absolute rule of law without the use of any part of Rousseau's doctrine. Their laws were scrupulously respected as ancestral and divine. Rousseau himself admits that such a claim of divine support is always necessary to foster reverence for the law (Social Contract, pp. 124-131). What, then, is the specific purpose of Rousseau's public doctrine?

To establish rule of law, the crucial task is not so much to demonstrate its benefits as to disarm its enemies. The purpose of the doctrines pro- claimed in the Social Contract must be understood, above all, in terms of the latter task. The most obvious enemies are, of course, the

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1983 Rousseau's Moral Realism 647

rulers, who always want to be above the law and masters of it. "All the governments of the world ... sooner or later usurp the sovereign flegislativel authority" (Social Contract, p. 106). Rousseau's doctrine combats them "institutional- ly" by calling for annual popular assemblies to review the tenure of the government. It combats them ideologically by proving that sovereignty is inalienable and indivisible and by establishing with precision a distinction between the "sovereign" -the legislative power residing in the people-and the "government" or "prince" -the executive power established by the people's revocable decree (Social Contract, pp. 106-107, 59-61, 78-81). Addressing the Genevans in Letters from the Mountain, Rousseau explains:

This distinction [between sovereign and govern- menti is very important in these matters. To form a good idea of it one must read with some care the first two chapters of the third book of the Social Contract, where I tried to fix with a precise meaning some expressions which men art- fully have left uncertain in order to give them whatever meaning they want as the need arises. (p. 771)

The precise distinctions made by Rousseau's doc- trine are intended to help the people to under- stand and protect their legislative rights against the rulers.

Yet rulers are by no means the only ones with the ambition to be superior to the laws. Owing to a failure to look beyond the familiar conflict between rulers and peoples in this context, the full purpose of the Social Contract has never been grasped. For example, the clergy, by asserting that the will of God is a standard above the laws and by making itself the sole interpreter of that will, has carved out a lawless kingdom of its own within the state. Rousseau agrees with Hobbes that by this means Christianity has virtually ruined the politics of the West.

Communion and excommunication are the social compact of the clergy, a compact by means of which it will always be master of peoples and kings. . . . This invention is a political master- piece. (Social Contract, p. 127n)

To oppose this lawless power, Rousseau joins with the philosophes in their virulent attack on the Christian clergy.

But Rousseau also opposes the philosophes, the secular moralists, the natural lawyers proliferating in his time, for essentially the same reason. They, like other men, have their interests and ambitions. As Rousseau was among the first to see, these in- tellectuals constitute a new party, a "new class," a new church of secular priests seeking lawless power. While supporting their antifeudal and

anticlerical mission, he sees that they act not for the people's interest but their own. In fact, by in- terest, the intellectual class is opposed to the people and the truth, "for truth does not lead to fortune, and the people does not confer embas- sies, professorships or pensions" (Social Con- tract, p. 61). Always seeking to distinguish them- selves, they must "always think otherwise than the people," hence always "cast ridicule on the objects of their veneration" (Works, III, p. 557). In the short-term they serve the rich and power- ful, but like the priests, they help to strengthen the power of others with the intention of eventually acceding to it themselves. As for their opposition to the Church, it is a simple case of rivalry.

The Jesuits make themselves all powerful in exer- cising divine authority over consciences, and in making themselves in the name of God the arbi- ters of good and evil. The philosophers, unable to usurp the same authority applied themselves to destroying it; and then, in appearing to ex- plain Nature to their docile sectarians, and in making themselves its supreme interpreters, they established in its name an authority no less absolute than that of their enemies.... These two groups, both imperious, both intolerant are consequently incompatible, since the fundamen- tal system of the one and of the other is to reign despotically. (R. Juge de J.-J., p. 967; see pp. 890, 964-965; and Shklar, 1969, pp. 96-99).

In sum, the priests and the intellectuals, who seek power through the appeal to God and Nature, are as great a danger to rule of law as the rulers.

Rousseau's attack on natural law and his doc- trine of sovereignty must be understood in the light of this fact. Philosophical doctrines of natural law are not only false and useless but also destructive of the one thing that can replace them; they are powerful tools of ambition that endanger the one institution that can save man, the absolute rule of law. In other words, Rousseau confronts essentially the same political problem as Hobbes. Both want the absolute rule of law and find the major obstacle to such rule in the abuse of justice and religion by ambitious ideologues. Conse- quently, both use a juridical doctrine of state of nature, social contract, and absolute sovereignty for the purpose expressly stated by Hobbes:, to end the people's misplaced obedience, hence to disarm the enemies of law, by sweeping away all supposedly higher standards of morality. Both seek to demonstrate "that there are no authentical doctrines concerning right and wrong, good and evil, besides the constituted laws in each realm and government" (De Cive, p. 98). In the post- Christian and post-Enlightenment world, the establishment of rule of law requires a doctrine of the sovereignty of law.

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648 The American Political Science Review Vol. 77

Rousseau's public doctrine (as opposed to his lessons for legislators) would not have been neces- sary in an earlier time. He shares Hobbes's lament for the passing of the prephilosophic age "before such questions began to be moved" when "sub- jects did not measure what was just by the sayings and judgments of private men, but by the laws of the realm." The sages of this early period "rather chose to have the science of justice wrapped up in fables, than openly exposed to disputations" (De Cive, p. 97; see Works, III, p. 505; Social Con- tract, p. 124; Geneva Manuscript, pp. 182-183). Hobbes, like Nietzsche, blames Socrates for destroying customary political morality and replacing it with a rational or philosophical one. In Rousseau's view, Socrates came after this change and, through his opposition to the Sophists, played the same "antiphilosophic" role as Rousseau himself, for already in Socrates' time "Athens was not in fact a democracy, but a highly tyrannical aristocracy, governed by learned men and orators" (Political Economy, p. 213; First Discourse, pp. 43-45; Works, III, p. 73n). At any rate, Rousseau agrees with his contemporaries that decisive progress in the development and dis- semination of philosophical morality had oc- curred in the eighteenth century. The Natural Law School was indeed the first, as Barbeyrac says, to descend "to the utmost degree of particularity." Enthusiasm for such doctrines had become so great that, as one scholar has written, "eight or more new systems of natural law made their ap- pearance at every Leipzig bookseller's fair since 1780" (Rommen, 1947, p. 106).

Rousseau's public doctrine was made necessary by this proliferation of harmful public doctrines. As he explains (with perhaps some exaggeration):

The best use which one can make of philosophy is to employ it to destroy the evils which it has caused.... I plan to attack errors rather than to establish new truths, and I confess in good faith that when the works of my adversaries no longer exist, mine will be perfectly useless. Without wishing to be the guide of my contemporaries I content myself with warning them when I observe someone misleading them, and I would not need to tire them with my opinions if no one else undertook to lead them. (Works, III, pp. 516-517; see pp. 609-610).

Through his doctrine of sovereignty Rousseau attempts to restore the world to the prephilo- sophic age when peoples "did not measure what was just by the sayings and judgments of private men, but by the laws of the realm." The doctrine eliminates all higher standards above the law, standards that have always been the exclusive property and weapon of the intellectual class in all its various guises. It is at least as important to eliminate such private moralities as it is to abolish

private armies and to moderate private property. Through the sovereignty of the General Will, Rousseau tries to establish public ownership of the means of evaluation.

In sum, Rousseau's Social Contract proclaims a public doctrine as does the School of Natural Law that he refutes. They are nevertheless doing oppo- site things. Rousseau's doctrine is not that of a moralist who teaches what justice or natural law is and exhorts men to follow it, but that of a realistic political thinker who regards such moralizing and moral doctrines as pathetically ineffectual and, in fact, as weapons of the unjust passions they claim to control. Men cannot be made virtuous or secure by doctrines but only by living under the rule of law. Yet Rousseau's doctrine of sover- eignty will make men virtuous and secure (in a few small republics) by preventing the moral doctrines of others from destroying the rule of law. It does not exhort men to be good but to ignore the exhortations of others and to avoid misplaced obedience.

Two Objections

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to a proper under- standing of Rousseau's doctrine of sovereignty has been that he addresses an entirely different doctrine to France and the other over-large and corrupt states of Europe-a doctrine of natural law. A very brief discussion of it must suffice here. For the few states where legitimate rule is possible, such as Geneva and Corsica, Rousseau proposes that natural law be wholly replaced by the sovereignty of the General Will or duly enacted positive law. But where the size and deca- dence of the state renders legitimate rule impos- sible, Rousseau has to propose the opposite.

Laws! Where are there laws and where are they respected? Everywhere you have seen only in- dividual interest and men's passions reigning under this name. But the eternal laws of nature and order do exist. For the wise man, they take the place of positive law. (Emile, p. 473)

In light of what we have seen, Rousseau's hopes for the popular efficacy of these "eternal" laws could not have been very great. The two defects of natural law-that it is not sufficiently sanctioned or known-are "remedied" by two novel doc- trines in Emile, the religion of the Savoyard Vicar and the theory of conscience. (There is a civil religion in the Social Contract, but it sanctions the positive laws; the book makes virtually no men- tion of conscience.) God as the sanction for natural law is a possibility Rousseau had already considered in the Geneva Manuscript.

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1983 Rousseau's Moral Realism 649

The sublime concepts of a God of the wise, the gentle laws of brotherhood He imposes upon us, the social virtues of pure souls-which are the true cult He desires of us-will always escape the multitude. Gods as senseless as itself will always be made for the multitude, which will sacrifice worthless things in honor of these Gods in order to indulge in a thousand horrible, destructive passions. (p. 160)

By writing the "Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar" Rousseau tries to do what he considers nearly impossible: to make religion a force for genuine morality in a corrupt society.

As for the problem of knowledge of the natural law, Rousseau argues that "we have an internal guide, much more infallible than all the books" (Works, III, p. 42). According to the Savoyard Vicar, conscience, a moral sentiment distinct from reason, is a "Divine instinct, immortal and celestial voice ... infallible judge of good and bad which makes man like unto God" (Emile, p. 290). One must agree with Bertrand de Jouvenel regard- ing the inherent implausibility of this doctrine.

It is to ignore the whole immense problem of the "erring conscience." . . . It is to suppose the in- fallibility of moral sentiment. Nothing could be more bold: it is to contradict ancient as well as Christian philosophy, which always attributed to reason-whether alone or with aid-the function of perceiving the good. (1947, p. 77)

The doctrine is all the more implausible in light of what we have seen of Rousseau's views concern- ing the accessibility of the moral truth. I would suggest, then, that Rousseau's true understanding of the conscience was expressed by the Vicar when describing his "philosophical method":

Let us consult the inner light, it will lead me astray less than [the philosophers] lead me astray; or at least my error will be my own, and I will deprave myself less in following my own illu- sions than in yielding to their lies. (Emile, p. 269)

In other words, Rousseau proclaims the infalli- bility of individual conscience just as he had that of the General Will; he exaggerates in both cases (although far more regarding conscience) and for the same reason: to prevent the moral and intel- lectual domination of the people by the intelli- gentsia (see Confessions, p. 567).

Thus, Rousseau's natural law doctrine itself seems to confirm our interpretation of his theory of sovereignty. The purpose of the former turns out to be the same as that of the latter: to oppose the evils of natural law doctrines. (And since it has a very limited efficacy or validity, it is meant to yield to the doctrine of sovereignty wherever the latter can apply.)

A second obstacle to the understanding of

Rousseau arises from the common view sum- marized in the title of Hendel's work Jean- Jacques Rousseau: Moralist. It is obvious that Rousseau is filled with moral outrage at the in- justices of society, and it is thought to be equally obvious that in his writings he wants to teach men what justice is and exhort them to follow it. On this view, there is little difference between Rous- seau's doctrine of the General Will and a sub- stantive natural law. The General Will embodies Rousseau's sense of justice, as the very similar Categorical Imperative embodies Kant's. All men are equal, and the doctrine of the General Will is Rousseau's somewhat utopian demand that the state recognize this moral fact.

I have been arguing that, on the contrary, the General Will must not be understood as a moral and utopian doctrine but as a political and harshly realistic one. Its very egalitarianism illustrates the realism and even immoralism of the doctrine of sovereignty, for by nature men are not equal according to Rousseau. The virulent attacks Rousseau directs at unjust and abusive inequality have tended to obscure that he also thought men very much unequal. He believed in "great men," in heroes and philosophers, in innate force of soul and innate genius. Such men are not merely more talented than others, they are more perfect beings. "Cato seems like a God among mortals" (Political Economy, p. 219). Moreover, ordinary men need their help: they are "preceptors of the human race" and "are made to guide the others" (First Discourse, p. 63; Works, III, p. 72). Emile needs the guidance of Rousseau his tutor, Julie and St. Preux need the godlike Wolmar, and above all a nation needs a legislator. "The legis- lator's great soul is the true miracle that should prove his mission" (Social Contract, p. 70).

Because men are unequal, it obviously does not follow that the superior may exploit the inferior. But it is rational and just that the superior lead the inferior, rather than the reverse. "It is manifestly against the law of nature, in whatever manner it is defined, that a child command an old man [orn an imbecile lead a wise man" (Second Discourse, p. 181). It also follows from men's inequality that what is good for the superior few often is not good for the many, and vice versa. For example, Rousseau's critique of popular enlightenment is merely an application of this principle. "I have already said a hundred times that it is good that there are philosophers, provided the people does not meddle in it" (Works, III, p. 78). Conversely, there are certain general rules concerning what is good for ordinary men, but "all rare cases are outside the rules" (Emile, p. 245).

The General Will, being a principle of equality, ignores this natural inequality among men and is therefore, in certain important respects, harmful

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650 The American Political Science Review Vol. 77

or unreasonable. It requires the superior to be ruled by laws made by the inferior majority; it makes the superior fit into the narrow mold of what is good for the inferior. Each may do only what all can do; no one is allowed to be "outside the rules." Such considerations led all classical thinkers to regard strict equality as unjust and to have ultimate misgivings about the rule of law or the principle of "generality."

Rousseau favors the General Will not as the embodiment of justice but as a replacement for it. More realistic than the classics, he claims that true justice is not publicly known or sanctioned, and that what appears in the world as "natural law" is always a tool of exploitation. In the harshness of our condition, we cannot afford to do justice to natural inequality, for only if "the condition is equal for everyone [willI no one [havel an interest in making it burdensome for the others" (Social Contract, p. 53). With its strict equality, the General Will or popularly enacted law must be sovereign, not because it is just or moral-it is not -but because it is a realistic, political means- and the only means-of preventing widespread oppression.

In other words, Rousseau takes the same realis- tic attitude toward equality that Hobbes had taken:

Whether therefore men be equal by nature, the equality is to be acknowledged; or whether un- equal, because they are like to contest for dominion, it is necessary for the obtaining of peace, that they be esteemed as equal. (De Cive, p. 143, Hobbes's italics; see Leviathan, p. 120)

Echoing this statement, Rousseau writes in the Social Contract:

I shall end this chapter and this I firstI book with a comment that ought to serve as the basis of the whole social system. It is that rather than destroying natural equality, the fundamental compact on the contrary substitutes a moral and legitimate equality for whatever physical inequal- ity nature may have placed between men, and that although they may be unequal in force or in genius, they all become equal through conven- tion and by right. (p. 58)

Rousseau's demand for equality (and the general- ity it makes possible) is even stronger than Hobbes's because, more realistic than Hobbes, he sees the need for a return to the classical concern for virtue. And from the doctrine of the natural goodness of man, which traces all vice to depen- dence and oppression, Rousseau concludes that virtue too requires equality and the absolute rule of law. Thus, the General Will must replace natural justice and inequality, for it is the only realistic means to virtue as well as preservation.

Rousseau is a thinker filled with moral passion,

yet convinced that morality is the source of most evil in the world. His First and Second Discourses are one long expose of the harm arising from the "appearance of right." The Social Contract must be understood in light of these earlier works and this moral realism. Taken in isolation, it seems to present a utopian moral doctrine directed solely against the dangers of political power. In fact, it is a hardheaded political work directed primarily against the dangers of moral doctrine.


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Nature and Society


Rousseau is an eighteenth-century theorist, whose successive publications deal in multiple ways with the question of modernity and what distinguishes modern civilization. He recognizes inequality and loss of identity to constitute defining features of the modern world, to which he counterposes an image of the state of nature as a simple and relatively untroubled form of existence. The self-contained life of natural man contrasts with the divided and alienated existence of his modern counterpart. In The Social Contract Rousseau offers a solution to the predicament that is posed by the prevailing alienation and inequality. His paradoxical solution is for individuals to subscribe to and participate within a radical popular democracy in which they can enjoy a form of civic, public freedom that resolves the divisiveness and inner discord disfiguring contemporary society. Rousseau was born in 1712 in Geneva. His mother died shortly after his

birth and his father, an eccentric romantic and watchmaker, was exiled from the city when Rousseau was ten years old. Having been apprenticed to an engraver and subjected to harsh discipline, he left Geneva when he was sixteen years old. Yet he remained fascinated by the city and its Calvinist disciplinar- ian republicanism figures prominently in his political imagination, notwith- standing his own subsequent denunciation by the city. In his imagination, the city represents an exemplary republican form of virtue, which along with the paradigms of Sparta and Rome, provides an exemplary contrast to the diss- olute, centrifugal forces of modernity. In part, his Letter to d’Alembert on the Theatre and Letters from the Mountain (1764) are devoted to extolling the political culture of his native city.1 On leaving Geneva, he was sent by neighbouring Catholic priests to Madame de Warrens, a Swiss baroness in

1 See R. Wokler, Rousseau (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 3.

Annecy, with whom he found refuge. She was instrumental in Rousseau’s conversion to Catholicism and guided his cultural development. In his Con- fessions he recounts how she was his lover as well as his patron.2 Under her tutelage he read widely, if unsystematically, and developed an expertise in music and musicology. He visited Turin and Lyon, where he acted as a tutor in the house of M. de Mably, meeting the philosophers, the Abbe de Condillac and the Abbe de Mably. After moving to Paris in 1842, he befriended leading philosophes of the Enlightenment, including Diderot and d’Alembert, joint editors of the Encyclopedie. Rousseau composed entries for the Encyclopedie on music and political economy, and was influenced by the Enlightenment, absorbing its commitment to reason. He himself, however, develops a critical political sociology, which represents a Counter-Enlightenment critique of progress and an indictment of its uncritical reliance on reason.3

In Paris he met and later married Therese Le Vasseur, with whom he had five children. The children were despatched to a foundling home after their birth.4 In 1750 Rousseau entered an essay competition of the Academy of Dijon, which posed the question of whether the revival of the arts and sciences had improved people’s lives. Rousseau’s prize-winning essay, A Discourse on the Arts and Sciences is polemical in its critique of cultural development and in its dismissal of the idea of progress. Sophistication, for Rousseau, cannot compensate for a loss of identity and the multiplication of needs that outstrips a capacity to satisfy them. Arts and sciences are embellishments, which obscure rather than enlighten us. They lend themselves to cultural pretension and to the fabrication of sophisticated desires, which supersede our powers to satisfy them.5 His critique of modernity was a tour de force. It was awarded the prize, launching Rousseau on a path of cultural controversy. Rousseau’s essay undertakes a critical sociological analysis of the present that informs his later writings. Progress, for Rousseau, is illusory and raises the question of whether or not the directionality of history can be reversed. For Rousseau regressive cultural development sets individuals at odds with one another and the ensuing alienation undermines social relations and the prospects of human happiness.

In 1755 Rousseau published A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, which probes and challenges the capacity of modern political arrangements to provide an antidote to the alienation and inequality that poison modern society. In 1758 he critiqued Hobbes in the incomplete L’État de Guerre

2 J.-J. Rousseau, The Confessions trans. J.M. Cohen (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1976), pp. 52–129.

3 For a succinct analysis of the French Enlightenment and Rousseau’s attitude to it, see J. Schmidt, ‘The Autocritique of Enlightenment: Rousseau and the Philosophes’, Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 34, no. 3, 1996, pp. 465–6.

4 J.-J. Rousseau, Confessions, pp. 326–492. 5 See J.-J. Rousseau, A Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, in J.-J. Rousseau, The Social

Contract and Discourses trans. G.D.H. Cole (London, J.M. Dent & Sons, 1973), pp. 4–5.

216 A History of Modern Political Thought

(The State of War), and in 1761 he published his popular novel, Julie ou La Nouvelle Héloïse. In 1762, his masterpiece, The Social Contract was published along with an educational treatise, Émile. In these latter texts, Rousseau responds to the social problems that he had diagnosed as afflicting modern society. He imagines new forms of political association and educational practice, which are designed to resolve the problems of modernity. The Social Contract sets out a formula by which individuals, taken as they appear in modern society, can achieve freedom. Émile frames a child-centred form of education for the eponymous Émile, which imagines how a new kind of person can be produced by a transformed and transformative educative process. Following publication of these books, Rousseau was denounced in both Geneva and France, due to his perceived atheism and in consequence he maintained a nomadic existence until his death in Ermenonville in 1782. In 1772 he published The Government of Poland, which proposed a series of constitutional reforms to establish republican civic virtue to secure Poland’s independence. Essay on the Origin of Languages, which was written during the 1750s and 1760s and his Confessions and Dreams of a Solitary Walker, on which he was working towards the end of his life, were published posthumously. His Confessions is a well-crafted, highly wrought confessional account of his life. His frank yet stylish expression of thoughts and emotions that are concealed conventionally serves as a paradigm for the confessional modernist literature of Proust, Woolf, and Joyce. The range of Rousseau’s thinking bears the imprint of sundry and contrary

influences. He is an Enlightenment thinker, whose thinking testifies to Enlightenment values of rationality and clarity, and yet he also disagrees sharply with what are taken to be its defining doctrines of rational and cultural progress. Wokler observes how the age of Enlightenment is a retrospective term that detracts from the openness and uncertainties of the period. The idea of a fixed and determinate Enlightenment project is a very recent invention that exaggerates the stability and unity of Enlightenment culture.6 Rousseau’s ideas are both related to yet distinct from those of contemporary figures such as Diderot. Like Diderot his egalitarian analyses of politics and society are undertaken in a critical rational spirit but at the same time they are suspicious of the claims and applications of reason. His intellectual identity is multi- faceted. Wokler observes how Rousseau’s critical ambivalence anticipates Hegel’s Counter-Enlightenment critique of reason’s abstractions, or, alterna- tively, prefigures the post-modern critique of the Enlightenment project.7

6 R. Wokler, ‘Ancient Postmodernism in the Philosophy of Rousseau’, in P. Riley (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 419.

7 See R. Wokler, ‘Ancient Postmodernism in the Philosophy of Rousseau’, and R. Wokler, ‘Contextualizing Hegel’s Phenomenology of the French Revolution and the Terror’, Political Theory, vol. 4, 1998, p. 38.

Rousseau: Nature and Society 217

Rousseau draws on aspects of modern political theory, but rejects many of its defining doctrines. While he assimilates the republicanism of Machiavelli, he reacts against the individualism of Hobbes and Locke. Rousseau’s capacity to absorb multiple yet contrary influences is exhibited in his combination of opposing Augustinian and Stoic forms of thought. Brooke identifies how Rousseau adapts a natural rights discourse, which is drawn from the Stoic tradition, in establishing a critique of civil society that involves an Augustinian recognition of the necessary perversity of human willing in the context of the distortive effects of socialization.8


In A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality Rousseau suggestively imagines a history of civil society as a story of human sickness. A state of nature is contrasted with the distorted condition of contemporary, civilized mankind. In the state of nature human beings are stripped of the artifices and conven- tions that embellish but constrict society. Men and women are simple and free creatures at ease with themselves. Rousseau maintains that the natural condition is uncomplicated yet happy in that individuals have relatively straightforward and self-contained needs. These needs can be satisfied easily. Natural human beings may be self-centred, but their self-love (amour-de-soi) is neither contaminated by oppressive comparative engagement with others nor undermined by an overreaching desire for what cannot be attained. Natural individuals are not enmeshed in social relations that inculcate insati- able desires, and the self itself sets the limits on what is to be done. Desires do not outstrip the resources to satisfy them. Individuals establish contacts with one another informally, combining occasionally for pleasure and company, but fundamentally the social world is not a beckoning horizon, which entices individuals to venture beyond satisfying their own limited desires. While there are neither enduring ties of affection nor of hostility between individuals, if an individual encounters another in distress, natural pity supervenes so that assistance is given to the distressed individual. Yet Rousseau imagines that this relatively benign condition is unsustainable. Technological development provides a momentum for change. In particular the development of metal- lurgy and the application of agricultural techniques to the land, disturb

8 See C. Brooke, ‘Rousseau’s Political Philosophy: Stoic and Augustinian Origins,’ in P. Riley (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau, p. 94.

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prevailing natural conditions of stability.9 The dynamic of social change ensures that social distinctions of status and class become progressively pronounced. Benign self-love is transformed into the socially inflected and afflicted amour propre, a form of vanity in which individuals forego a sense of their own self-constituted identity and determine their status by comparing themselves with others. The movement away from a natural condition to- wards a more civilized state issues in a settled social life that is organized around the family. Inequality becomes progressively more pronounced in identifying and circumscribing individuals, who in comparing themselves with one another experience the alienation of divided identities. A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality takes history to be the story of

corruption. The onset of a settled social life entails that a healthy innocence gives way to a corrupt sophistication. A person’s sense of self fragments as unattainable wants multiply in the context of an intensifying social condition in which happiness and self-regard are measured comparatively. Rousseau observes, ‘It now became the interest of men to appear what they were not.’10At the centre of Rousseau’s contrast between modernity and an imagined state of nature is his critique of the growth of inequality. The transformation of a rough and rude equality into a state of social inequality spells the ruin and fragmentation of mankind. An individual becomes alien to himself. Inequality fragments society from top to bottom, decentring individuals as well as con- stituting injustice in that there is an unjustifiable between those who lack resources and those who have acquired a countervailing surplus. Rousseau remarks, ‘[T]he destruction of equality was attended by the most terrible disorders. Usurpations by the rich, robbery by the poor, and the unbridled passions of both suppressed the cries of natural compassion and the still feeble voice of justice, and filled men with avarice, ambition and vice.’11

The sharp focus upon inequality and social divisions in A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality resonates with Marxist thought; notwithstanding that Marx himself did not show a great regard for Rousseau’s thought. In Karl Marx Plamenatz observes how Marx’s remarks on Rousseau are ‘unflattering and unperceptive’.12 Yet he goes on to argue a convincing case for identifying Rousseau as a precursor to Marx. Rousseau’s diagnosis of the alienation that is constituted by the divided self of modern society, which is shaped by social forces that it cannot control, anticipates Marx’s sense of the alienation of proletarian labour from its own products under a capitalist mode of produc- tion.13 Moreover, the Marxist theorist Colletti sees Rousseau as exploring the

9 J.-J. Rousseau, A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, in J.-J. Rousseau, The Social Contract and Discourses trans. G.D.H. Cole (London, J. Dent & Sons, 1975), p. 83.

10 Ibid., p. 86. 11 Ibid., p. 87. 12 J. Plamenatz, Karl Marx’s Philosophy of Man (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1975), p. 60. 13 Ibid., 65.

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conditions of a post-representative and post-bourgeois democratic society.14

The modern world for Rousseau and Marx is limiting and the limits arise out of the very processes that appear to enhance possibilities. Rousseau focuses upon the intensifying demands of burgeoning recognitive social interaction, which are insatiable and destabilize personal identity and relations between individuals.15 A glance at the contemporary Western social scene underlines the continuing relevance of Rousseau. In the UK parents compete to obtain either selective schooling or prestigious state schools for their children, and house prices reflect the designation of their locales as socially desirable or undesirable. The fashion industry creates labels of credibility, so that individ- ual ‘choices’ are overdetermined by social factors beyond an individual’s control.

Given the sharpness of Rousseau’s critique of modern society it would seem that the prospects of renewal would be slim, but in 1762 Rousseau offered two ways of advancing matters. Émile and The Social Contractwere both published in 1762 and can be seen as responses to the predicament posed by A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Émile takes for granted the existing political situation and outlines a form of education enabling its eponymous hero to live well. It sets out a child-centred education, whereby the reason of Émile, the pupil, is progressively enhanced by contriving situations for Émile to deploy it in tackling problems. At the same time the child is sheltered from the dangers of exposure to received and misleading ideas. He is educated so as to think for himself. Nonetheless, his socialization and learning are structured carefully by his educator in ways that have been diagnosed to be sinister and authoritarian.16 Rousseau prescribes a radically different form of education for women. It is designed to refine their distinctive sensibility so as to prepare them for domestic tasks and child rearing. Feminists past and present have objected. Rousseau’s imposition of sexually segregated education serves to highlight how his child-centred education reflects the controlling influence of the educator, who sets its goals and procedures.17 The extent of the educator’s control over Émile’s development is evidenced in his careful fram- ing of the love Émile is allowed to feel for his projected partner, Sophie. This disguised authoritarianism is an issue for all forms of child-centred

14 L. Colletti, From Rousseau to Lenin—Studies in Ideology and Society trans J. White and P. Merrington (Los Angeles, California, Monthly Review Press, 1975).

15 Berki, in his History of Political Theory, categorizes Rousseau as a thinker who adopts an expressly social rather than individualist frame for evaluating modern society: R. Berki, History of Political Theory (London, R.M. Dent, 1976), p. 114.

16 See J. Charvet, The Social Problem in the Philosophy of Rousseau (London and New York, Cambridge University Press, 1974).

17 See M. Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1982).

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education, which structure styles of learning that are designed ostensibly to be libertarian.18

The Social Contract, Rousseau’s major text of political theory, takes men as they are, and frames the logic of a form of political association which would enable men to be free and to resolve the problems that had been diagnosed in A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Its opening words are justly famous and establish the agenda for what follows, ‘Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.’19 Rousseau imagines how a legitimate form of government can be established under present conditions, where a state of nature has given way to a form of society, in which an individual’s freedom is constrained by intensive social interaction. Instead of reacting against the prospect of political associ- ation, Rousseau opts for a homeopathic remedy for its problems. The Social Contract sets out the terms of a legitimate and free form of political associ- ation, which establish the conditions of radical popular sovereignty. The natural independence of humanity in the state of nature is exchanged for the public freedom of citizenship. Rousseau envisages that individuals will grant public authority to the laws of the state in entering upon membership of a legitimate political community. Sovereignty is absolute, for Rousseau, because freedom is bound up with the public determination of the common good. He envisages that all men will participate in the ongoing process of determining public collective decisions for the common good. Women are assigned a private caring role, but their activity is seen as supportive of men’s public engagement. The public world of the political association achieves moral freedom. In obeying laws men are held to achieve the freedom of adhering to the collective laws of rational public freedom. The people frame and adhere to the general will, rather than following their particular wills. The general will is distinguished from the will of all, which is the aggregated selfish wills of individuals rather than the rational disinterested common good. Rousseau remarks, ‘There is often a great deal of difference between the will of all and the general will; the latter considers only the common interest, while the former takes private interest into account, and so is no more than the sum of particular wills . . . ’.20

The social contract represents a transformative social and political remedy for the problems of modern society. Individuals assume a public social identity rather than a divisive individualistic one, in which their desires are entangled by comparison with others. Men abandon their distortive form of self-love by participating in the collective achievement of a shared social freedom of a

18 See J.-J. Rousseau, Émile trans. A. Bloom (New York, Basic Books, 1979). 19 J.-J. Rousseau, The Social Contract trans. G.D.H. Cole, in J.-J. Rousseau, The Social Contract

and Discourses, p. 165. 20 J.-J. Rousseau, The Social Contract, p. 185.

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shared morality, which is enacted in democratically determined laws. These laws are administered by an executive, which is not necessarily democratic, because its role is clearly separated from that of the law-making sovereign legislature. Rousseau refers to government in the following terms, ‘An inter- mediate body set up between the subjects and the Sovereign, to secure their mutual correspondence, charged with the execution of the laws and the maintenance of liberty, both civil and political.’21

The role of government, the executive, is to execute the laws, which are determined by the legislature, and government has to respect the law. Rous- seau imagines the operation of the institutions of the state to be hugely significant in rectifying the problems of modern society. In its arduous task of framing laws advancing the common good, the work of the legislature is aided by the Educator, a person who possesses legal expertise and understand- ing of the nature of human beings. The legislature, on the advice of the Educator, will use education and civil religion to promote popular republican patriotic sentiments. These sentiments will direct opinion towards supporting the common good of the community. Rousseau maintains that a civil religion ‘is good in that it unites the divine cult with the love of the laws, and, making country the object of the citizens’ adoration, teaches them that service done to the State is service done to its tutelary god.’22 The significance of civic patriotism is evidenced in his political texts, The Government of Poland and Constitutional Project for Corsica.23 Rousseau’s political recommendations include a stipulation that individuals should not belong to groups or associ- ations other than the state because of the divisiveness that these groups will foster. If associational groups are to persist, however, then they are to be as numerous as possible to dissipate the possibility of their concentration of sinister particular interests. Likewise, to advance its prospects of success, Rousseau imagines that his ideal state would be small, and composed of artisans and smallholders. The population is to be roughly equal so that individuals do not hold a concentration of wealth that enables them to exploit others. Given the record of discord and selfishness that has been generated by unequal conditions, Rousseau assigns significance to the maintenance of equality.24 Overall Rousseau calls for a profound change in popular attitudes, whereby selfish, particular interests are to be sacrificed in favour of social solidarity. All will identify with the general will, and by so doing will achieve a public freedom.

21 Ibid., pp. 208–9. 22 Ibid., p. 272. 23 See J.-J. Rousseau, The Government of Poland trans. W. Kendall (Indianapolis, Hackett,

1985); J.-J. Rousseau, Constitutional Project for Corsica trans. F. Watkins, in J.-J. Rousseau, Political Writings (Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson, 1953).

24 J.-J. Rousseau, The Social Contract, p. 203.

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Rousseau’s political thought exhibits a number of paradoxes, which have elicited sharp critiques of his thinking. A major source of his paradoxical thinking arises out of his uncompromising radicalism in prescribing wholesale social change to counter the failings of modern civilized society. He sets out to overturn what he takes to be unacceptable social inequalities. Civilized, unequal individuals in modern society are wretched. They are divided against one another and within themselves. To counteract the fragmentation, Rousseau imagines dramatic change. His projection of a society of equality and public freedom has captured the imagination of subsequent radical theorists and activists. However, the scale of the proposed changes, when juxtaposed to prevailing conditions that entrench inequalities, exerts strains upon Rousseau’s projected radical reform. How is political progress possible when conditions for the achievement of freedom and equality are conspicu- ously absent? Given that Rousseau’s ideal state is projected to operate in ways that are radically at odds with standard procedures of a prevailing individu- alistic modern society, a number of its features appear paradoxical. For instance, central to Rousseau’s image of a legitimate polity is the paradox that individuals will be forced to be free if they dissent from following the general will.25 This paradox is focused upon by many of Rousseau’s most trenchant critics. Commentators, who have critiqued Rousseau on this score, include Talmon and Berlin. Talmon’s The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy indicts Rousseau as a totalitarian theorist, who anticipates the totalitarianism of Robespierre, Hitler, and Stalin. Rousseau is prepared to coerce individuals in the name of social justice or public freedom.26 Berlin’s interpretation of Rousseau emerges from his dichotomous analysis of the notion of liberty, by which he divides it into two distinct concepts, namely negative and positive liberty. While negative liberty is commonsensical in taking individuals in being free to act as they see fit, insofar as they are not prevented from doing so by constraints that are imposed on their conduct, positive liberty lends itself to political tyranny in imagining that individuals are to follow either pre- scribed courses of action or to develop in specific ways in order to be or to become free.27 Rousseau is interpreted as holding the positive and problematic concept of positive liberty in maintaining the paradox that individuals are to

25 Ibid., pp. 188–9. 26 J. Talmon, Rousseau and the Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (London, Secker and

Warburg, 1960). 27 I. Berlin, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, in I. Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford, Oxford

University Press, 1969), pp. 118–73.

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be forced to be free by being coerced into doing what is in the public good.28

Berlin’s focus upon Rousseau’s willingness to use coercion to achieve freedom highlights the questionable character of Rousseau’s political theory. Yet it is worth observing that Rousseau himself is aware of its paradoxical character. It arises from Rousseau’s determination to deliver radical change, whereby individuals will no longer pursue their own welfare without regard for the general good. His social and political theory is predicated upon his sense that the common good cannot be reduced to the welfare of particular individuals. Hence Rousseau recognizes the split between public and private welfare, and if the public is to take precedence then the individual must respect the coercive force of law. Individuals are to identify with the public interest rather than continue to be divided by discordant private interests. His concern to guard against the intrusion of illegitimate private interests is reflected in the care he takes to eliminate the influence of particular interests upon the operations of state institutions. Wokler observes how Rousseau’s specification of a division of powers between the executive and the legislature is expressly designed to avoid the law being used for particular purposes and to guard against the accretion of power in a particular office.29

Rousseau’s thought is paradoxical precisely because he is a radical who is committed to radical change, which goes against the grain of standard as- sumptions and hence appears to be odd or contradictory. In imagining a radically different kind of society from that of the emerging modern liberal society, Rousseau anticipates subsequent thinkers and political actors who have broken from liberal norms. To align Rousseau with subsequent totali- tarian forms of theory and practice, however, is questionable, because it assimilates Rousseau to succeeding standpoints that he could not have antici- pated. To imagine Rousseau as a totalitarian is to relate Rousseau to contexts that postdate his reflections, and to reflect the assumptions of succeeding historians. Totalitarian states of the twentieth century were large-scale states that mobilized technology to secure their aims, while Rousseau imagined a small state that would be composed of independent farmers and artisans.30


Rousseau is a paradoxical theorist and Derrida’s reading of Rousseau examines Rousseau’s paradoxical conceptions of language, politics, society, and the self.

28 Ibid., p. 148. 29 R. Wokler, ‘Ancient Postmodernism in the Philosophy of Rousseau’, p. 426. 30 Note how Skinner is critical of Popper’s reading of Plato in Q. Skinner, ‘Meaning and

Understanding in the History of Ideas’, in J. Tully (ed.), Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and His Critics (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1988), p. 44.

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Derrida imagines these paradoxes as intimating tensions within Rousseau’s thought, which reflect his imposition of a rigid meaning upon terms that are insusceptible of such restriction. In Of Grammatology he perceives Rousseau’s opposition of speech to writing to be symptomatic of his maintenance of a series of dichotomous oppositions. These oppositions underpin his critique of modernity and his remedial social and political prescriptions. Derrida observes, ‘The Essay on the Origin of Languages opposes speech to writing, presence to absence and liberty to servitude.’31 In reviewing the tensions within his framing of writing as a corruption of speech, Derrida registers Rousseau’s practical resort to the supplementary subtleties and intricacies of writing to convey his own innermost self along with the corruptions he associates with writing. He deconstructs Rousseau’s natural man, which he identifies as a projection of and from civilized society, just as primitive speech coalesces with the written word. Of Grammatology concentrates on decon- structing Rousseau’s Essay on the Origin of Languages, showing how its valorization of speech over writing and of the expressive South over the North is undermined by the articulation that is presumed in the operations of language, and by the series of accidents, which explain the increasing linguistic sophistication and articulation against which Rousseau fulminates. Rousseau maintains that speech supersedes writing because it represents

the pure expressive cry of primitive passion, and yet Derrida shows how expression is never pure as it requires mediation between sounds. Rousseau celebrates expressive pure cries of passion and deprecates the derivative and secondary expressions of need. Yet Rousseau himself mixes passion and need in remarks on love, which designate love as at the same time a need and a passion. Rousseau imagines language emerging in the passion of the South, and its decline is traced to the articulations of need in the North, but Derrida highlights the artificiality of the very distinction between North and South, as well as the mutual implication of need, passion, identity, and mediation. North is unimaginable without its contrary, the South. In music Rousseau privileges the simplicity of melody against the artificiality of harmony, but Derrida observes how melody, like harmony, operates as a form of imitation so that the distinction between the two is compromised. The supplementarity of harmony becomes indispensable for musical expression. The upshot of Derrida’s review of Rousseau’s Essay on the Origin of

Languages is that its series of oppositions dissolve under deconstructive examination. What ensues, amidst its resort to supplements and accidents, which subverts its argument, is a sense of language as a series of articulations, a mediating multiplicity of forms and styles without a founding or primitive truth. Writing, and its endless articulation, is what underlies the modalities

31 J. Derrida, Of Grammatology trans. G. Spivak (Baltimore MD and London, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), p. 210.

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and multiplicities of meaning. Rousseau’s utopian primitivism is not to be divorced from the civilization that it is designed to denounce as a declination from its purity. It is a retrojection from the civilized present that is imagined by the very devices that it condemns.

Of Grammatology takes Rousseau’s entire conceptual world as deriving from his critique of the present and his suspicion of the articulation of writing. The problematic nature of Rousseau’s enterprise is evidenced by his resort to supplements that frame oppositions that cannot be sustained. Lines are drawn between the primitive and the sophisticated, between the past and the present, and between nature and society, but they represent projections from the present social world. The problems besetting Rousseau’s metaphysical reduction of truth to the self-proclaimed truths reverberating within an inner sensibility are multiple and undermine his series of binary oppositions. Rousseau’s very act of providing sophisticated textual commentary on the present via an imagined primitive past registers an uneasy and unsettling compromise with the art of writing. It is of a piece with the problematic supplementarity of his confessional writing, which serves as a means of expressing the inner truths of self-consciousness.32

Derrida’s deconstruction of Rousseau’s theory of language has implications for his political theory. Language and society do not lend themselves to the disruptive and utopian interventions which are engineered by Rousseau. Just as there is no outside to the ramifications of language, so there is no originary time beyond the temporal developments of social life. Natural man, like the revelatory presence of speech, is chimerical, because there is no independent bird’s eye view of the social, complex, discursive world within which Rousseau is situated. Critique cannot operate outside the structures within which it emerges. There is no meaning beyond what is expressed in a multiplicity of discursive signs. Rousseau’s artful separation of the natural from the social is designed to underscore the unacceptability of the present and to highlight its deformed character but the very sharpness of the separation undermines its value as critique. The assumption of an external and universal perspective on society is a piece of self-deception. Derrida identifies a reverse teleology in Rousseau’s critique, whereby the present is related to a prelapsarian past.33

Just as Levi-Strauss is indicted by Derrida, for imagining perversely a world without inequality, writing, and violence, so Rousseau is held to mythologize the natural so as to misidentify what he critiques in the present.34 Derrida takes Rousseau’s purported occupation of a metaphysical standpoint outside the flow of discourse to undermine his social and political critique of modern society. He observes how Rousseau’s critique of inequality and alienation within modernity depends upon its identification of a mythical naturalism

32 Ibid., p. 195. 33 Ibid., p. 258. 34 Ibid., p. 260.

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outside of society that explains the shortcomings of contemporary culture and society. This mythological state of nature is held to be innocent of the corruption enveloping society, just as speech is speechless in regard to the onset of writing. In reviewing Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequal- ity, Derrida comments, ‘What we have called external teleology allows the stabilization of a sort of discourse on method: the question of origin involves neither event nor structure. The passage from one structure to the other— from the state of nature to the state of society for example—cannot be explained by any structural analysis: an external, irrational, catastrophic factum must burst in. Chance is not part of the system. And when history is incapable of determining this fact or facts of this order, philosophy must, by a sort of free and mythic invention, produce fatal hypotheses playing the same role, explaining the coming into being of a new structure.’35

Derrida’s deconstruction of Rousseau’s naturalistic reduction of society and modernity to a mythological point of origin is conducted in many idioms. Central to the deconstruction is his careful attention to the argument on language. In his analysis of Essay on the Origin of Languages Derrida shows how language is not to be subsumed under the rubric of Rousseau’s restrictive scheme. At all stages of development it is complex and exhibits the articula- tions of writing. It is not to be reduced to originary and isolated cries of passion.36 Writing, or the interplay of signs and the inter-mediation of expressions, constitute all forms of language. Likewise, Rousseau’s two great projects for social and political reform, Émile and The Social Contract, profess to deliver what cannot be realized. Modern reflection on education and political association cannot dispense with the complications and adornments of modernity. Derrida questions Émile. If nature is the normative paradigm that is to be followed, and culture and society are to be abrogated, why is education necessary at all? Education is a supplement to nature. If nature were adequate in itself, there would be no recourse to an elaborated scheme of education. Supplements, such as writing and education, which feature in Rousseau’s philosophical inventory of resources to resolve present predica- ments, supersede the limits that are set by nature, and hence complicate Rousseau’s adherence to the natural over the cultural. Émile’s education is an example of Rousseau’s problematic reliance upon a supplement. The prescribed educational scheme serves as a substitute for a mother, but its supplementary status is undertheorized. Supplements require explanation rather than provide solutions to the problems of modernity. Derrida notes, ‘Here [in Émile] the problems of natural right, of the relationship between Nature and Society, the concepts of alienation, alterity, and corruption, are adapted most spontaneously to the pedagogic problem of the substitution of

35 Ibid., p. 258. 36 Ibid., p. 260.

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mothers and children.’37 Émile’s education is to be controlled by an Educator, who directs his development so that its consonance with nature is secondary to the elaboration of the scheme. The complications of delivering expertise in science, a practical mastery of moral concepts, and an equilibrated emotional life, leave the supposed simplicities of nature far behind.

Just as the educational scheme in Émile is a problematic departure from nature rather than an exercise in its retrieval, so the elaborated political scheme of The Social Contract represents a sophisticated supplementary substitute for the supposed simplicity of nature and for the mythical inde- pendence of natural man. Rousseau’s imagining of a small-scale community of artisans and individual farmers combining collectively to decide on the com- mon good is powerful, but it represents Rousseau’s reflective construction of a presumed harmonious society that is neither natural nor entirely removed from the divided and complex articulated society in which Rousseau is situated. It is a projection from the present. The upshot is a mismatch between the projected ideal society and its derivation from an imagined state of nature. There is an unrealizable distance between Rousseau’s ideal community and the reality of contemporary society. These problems are not resolved by the series of dichotomies, which are constructed to highlight the elements of the social world, which require to be kept apart so as to fabricate a social purity that imitates imaginary innocence.

The dichotomies between the individual and the general will, between the inside and the outside of the ideal community, and between the imagination of the author and the developing individualism of modern society are construc- tions that Derrida deconstructs by showing their mutual dependence. Derrida identifies features of the argument of The Social Contract, which show the strains to which Rousseau’s remedy for alienated modern society is subject. He observes how Rousseau’s distrust of any form of political representation in his ideal community imposes an intolerable strain upon its projected operations. Just as the written word, for Rousseau, represents and so distorts reality unlike the directness of speech, so political decision-making and the exercise of sovereignty must be direct and enacted in speech. The law is only valid insofar as the people, or at least adult men collect together and decide on things directly without recourse to intermediary parties or political representatives. The pressure to avoid mediation is pressed to the extent that Rousseau refuses any reliance on a marker or recognition of decision-making. Derrida observes, ‘The instance of writing must be effaced to the point where a sovereign people must not even write to itself, its assemblies must meet spontaneously, without “any formal summons”. Which implies—and that is a writing that Rousseau does not wish to read—that there were “fixed and periodic” assemblies that

37 Ibid., p. 146.

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“cannot be abrogated or prorogued,” and therefore a “marked day (jour marque).” That mark had to be made orally since the moment the possibility of writing was introduced into operation, it would insinuate usurpation into the body of society. But is not a mark, wherever it is introduced, the possibility of writing?’ (emphasis in original).38


Rousseau was and remains a controversial figure. A representative figure of Enlightenment reason and a trenchant critic of modernity, he made enemies on the right and left. He was persecuted for atheism and shunned by the polite society. The suspicion in which he was held both reflected and aggravated the paranoia to which he was prone and which ruined relations between himself and David Hume.39 Rousseau’s fate at the hands of succeeding commentators has been equally perverse. Interpretations of Rousseau are multiple, but his work has frequently been subjected to sharp critique. Succeeding critiques often derive from theorists with a point to prove, who are not unduly troubled to specify either Rousseau’s arguments or his context. Reading the past from the perspective of the present is in some sense

unavoidable given that historians are situated in the present, but this perspec- tival situation does not provide a licence for merely retrojecting ideas onto past thinkers. Hegel is critical of Rousseau for identifying the general will with the

aggregation of particular wills. Yet Wokler observes that the formulation of the general will is designed precisely to ensure that its operation cannot be assimilated to the logic of aggregating particular interests. Rousseau, in fact, resembles Hegel in critiquing Enlightenment reason.40 Again, Hegel’s identi- fication of Rousseau’s political thought with the fury of abstract reason that was unleashed in the French Revolution is at odds with Rousseau’s careful demarcation of the work of the legislature from that of the executive and his distinguishing the process of framing general laws from that of executing particular legal decisions.41 Likewise Marx is misleading in imagining Rousseau as accommodating to prevailing economic conditions by safeguarding the interests of small-scale property owners. Rousseau is a fierce critic of inequality,

38 Ibid., p. 302. 39 For an account of the complex relations between Hume and Rousseau, see R. Zaretsky and

J. Scott, The Philosopher’s Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume and the Limits of Understanding (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2009).

40 See R. Wokler, ‘Ancient Postmodernism in the Philosophy of Rousseau’, p. 424. 41 G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind trans. J. Baillee (Oxford, Oxford University

Press, 1970), pp. 599–610.

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recognizing its psychological as well as material impact. He begins his manu- script, State of War by declaring an impassioned critique of inequality. He remarks, ‘I open the books on Right and on ethics; I listen to the professors and jurists; and, my mind full of their seductive doctrines, I admire the peace and justice established by the civil order; I bless the wisdom of our political institutions and, knowing myself a citizen, cease to lament I am a man. Thoroughly instructed as to my duties and my happiness, I close the book, step out of the lecture room, and look around me. I see wretched nations groaning beneath a yoke of iron. I see mankind ground down by a handful of oppressors. I see a famished mob, worn down by sufferings and famine, while the rich drink the blood and tears of their victims at their ease. I see on every side the strong armed with the terrible powers of the Law against the weak.’42

The twentieth-century critics, Talmon, Cobban, and Berlin understand Rousseau’s political theory to be highly authoritarian or totalitarian, which reflects their own preoccupation with the subsequent course of European political history rather more than their engagement with Rousseau’s ideas. Rousseau constructs a utopian political community, which is at odds with contemporary norms, but he frames his political theory to accommodate difference as well as unity. His political theory does not specify individual rights, due to his commitment to popular sovereignty, but he imagines that the general will, if it is to achieve the common good, must take account of the interests of all.43 Individuals are entitled to protection, but for Rousseau, there is no simple way of drawing lines to designate generically how individual and general interests are to be determined and protected.

Derrida’s critique of Rousseau draws strength from its focused, careful reading of his texts. The contradictions to which Derrida draws attention are elicited from Rousseau’s texts. While Rousseau’s interpretation of mod- ernity alerts readers to the unintended consequences of social engagement and misrecognition, Derrida attends to the problems that are associated with Rousseau’s dichotomous opposition of the state of nature to civilization and modernity. Rousseau re-invokes face to face social and political relations that are derived from an image of an idealized primitive society. This image, however, is a fantasy that is retrojected from the present rather than consti- tuting an anthropological truth, and as Carver observes, it is a particular male fantasy.44 Deconstruction shows what is occluded in this discourse. Rousseau’s political thought maintains many paradoxes but its underlying paradox derives from its apparent recourse to nature to critique civilized society.

42 J.-J. Rousseau, State of War, in J-J. Rousseau, Political Writings trans. and ed. C.E. Vaughn (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1915), p. 264.

43 J.-J. Rousseau, The Social Contract, p. 60. 44 T. Carver, Men in Political Theory (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2009),

pp. 177–205.

230 A History of Modern Political Thought

However, nature is only to be imagined and analysed by the very devices of the civilized world that are to be rejected. Rousseau is an elegant writer, whose artistry is shown by his eloquent testimony against the very devices at which he excels. Derrida’s deconstructive method brings out the force of the divide between the author, his projections, and his idea of critique. A review of Rousseau’s political thought which concentrated upon his intentions, and took him at his word in critiquing modernity, would be complicit in his misleading projection of nature as a distinct from of life from civilized society. Yet Derrida’s deconstruction does not dispose of Rousseau. The strain

involved in Rousseau’s invoking of a state of nature is mitigated if it is construed as hypothetical, and this might have been Rousseau’s intention. At times his A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality appears to represent a hypothetical analysis of the state of nature, and at others as developing an historical account.45 Simpson, in a balanced review, concludes, ‘In general, the “hypothetical” interpretation is preferable to the “historical”. It can account for more of the text because Rousseau himself often said that his work was hypothetical not historical.’46 While Rousseau’s naturalistic reading of con- temporary society remains problematic whatever its construal, it nevertheless exposes issues facing contemporary society. The force of Rousseau’s political thought lies in his recognition of how humanity is limited by its own powers of creativity, notably by the consequences of its transformation of the planet and of its intensification of modes of social interaction. Digital forms of commu- nication now threaten to be used to control individuals and to be instruments in undermining individuality. The very agency of human beings can be costly as well as liberating, and Rousseau’s confessional, introspective techniques capture this cost. Marx’s affiliated critique of capital captures how capital is a Frankenstein figure that warps its creator, so that the energy of social creation assumes a demonic force that directs rather than responds to human beings. Rousseau is on to something in highlighting how social inequality becomes a central and distortive aspect of the human condition. Rawls might perceive social resentment of inequality as lacking normative force, but the modern world is one in which commodified desires are experienced in a common social setting. Rousseau is right to recognize the subversive role of inequality in distorting the self-images of individuals, who misrecognize themselves and their identities under its sway.47

Writers and critics clamour for recognition, just as parents compete in promoting the interests of their children. Recognitive goods depend on

45 See J.-J. Rousseau, A Discourse on The Origin of Inequality, pp. 125, 128, 132. 46 M. Simpson, Rousseau—A Guide for the Perplexed (London and New York, Continuum,

2007). 47 In contrast to Rousseau, Rawls does not recognize material inequality as constituting a

moral problem as envy is not to be respected as providing a moral motive for action. See J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge Mass., Harvard university Press, 1971).

Rousseau: Nature and Society 231

some faring worse than others. The persistence and growth of inequality in a mediatized society where rich and poor share desires but experience unequal outcomes, establish the contours of individual and social identities.48

Rousseau recognizes how the satisfaction of human wants cannot be deter- mined individually, because individual wants and desires are created by social circumstances. Rousseau’s mythological resort to nature serves a purpose in highlighting the hyper-sociality of modernity and its discourse. No doubt Rousseau’s ideal society appears to be misaligned in its denial of the excesses of modernity and in its emulation of an unattainable primitivism. For instance, it insists on limiting its size and on disbarring mediated, represen- tational forms of politics without regard to the feasibility and functionality of its arrangements. Yet it is by no means clear that Rousseau intended The Social Contract to serve as a practical political paradigm, just as it is unclear if he envisaged the general will to be operational. For instance, Shklar’s Men and Citizens suggests that The Social Contract might not have been envisaged as a blueprint for practice.49

Rousseau’s political thought is ambiguous and problematic, but it casts light on the troubled politics of modernity. Strong picks out two themes in Rousseau’s thought that remain of relevance that are connected to his dis- turbing and paradoxical radicalism. He observes, ‘Rousseau’s work pursues two ends. The first is to make available to his readers what a human home would be. The second is to awaken in them the recognition that they are in fact, and all appearances to the contrary, homeless.’50 Likewise, Honig draws upon Rousseau to highlight continuing issues facing radical forms of politics. Rousseau’s distrust of representational democracy is echoed in the radical populism of Hardt and Negri.51 If the disrepute of Rousseau’s political thought might be receding in the light of the demise of Stalinism and Nazism, the vexations of modern society and politics remain. While Rousseau did not anticipate the intensification of a mediatized society, just as he did not envisage twentieth-century totalitarian movements, his thought remains of significance. The horizon of today can be related to Rousseau’s in that he reckoned with the consequences of modern notions of identity, which emerge out of self-constitution and forms of social (mis)recognition.

Honig identifies the radical contrast between the projected egalitarian republican freedom of Rousseau’s social theory, and his recognition of the

48 On the persistence and growth of inequality, see T. Picketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge Mass., Harvard University Press, 2014), pp. 237–471.

49 J. Shklar, Men and Citizens—A Study of Rousseau’s Social Theory (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1969).

50 T. Strong, Jean-Jacques Rousseau—The Politics of the Ordinary (London and Thousand Oaks, California, Sage Publications, 1994), p. 152.

51 See M. Hardt and A. Negri,Multitude—War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (London, Penguin Books, 2005).

232 A History of Modern Political Thought

deep-seated divisiveness and inequality of the present as exhibiting the para- dox of politics.52 Honig imagines Rousseau to be exemplary in recognizing the paradox, taking his recognition to inform his elaboration of the difficulties in advancing matters and his account of the multiplicity of steps to be taken.53

This paradox of politics is not to be wished away; radical politics requires its confrontation. Moreover Rousseau’s paradoxical account of freedom reflects his stretching

of the concept to recognize the sociality of modern individuals. He rejects a view of freedom that takes it to be a non-relational property that can be assigned to individuals. If individuals are to be understood as relational, and to be socially and politically motivated to work for a common good, then, of course, the concept of liberty will be different from standard liberal assump- tions. Rousseau urges that individuals and society are reciprocally related to one another, hence it is appropriate for individuals to see themselves as public citizens as well as private individuals. Underlying the various paradoxes which inform Rousseau’s thought, is the paradox of his oppositional categories of nature and civilization. He employs the categories ambiguously to highlight the loss and distortion that has occurred via the process of civilization. If Rousseau’s image of nature functions primarily as a hypothetical device to create a myth, which counterpoints simplicity to the sophisticated dishar- monies of modernity, it still begs questions. How do we decide what is nature from the vantage point of civilization? And if it cannot be retrieved, save by resort to techniques that reflect the very forces against which it is invoked, what is its point? This problematic paradoxical appeal to nature is the focus of Derrida’s deconstruction.

52 B. Honig, Emergency Politics—Paradox, Law, Democracy (Princeton NJ and Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2009), pp. 13–17.

53 Ibid., pp. 17–39.

Rousseau: Nature and Society 233


John Stuart Mill

Liberty and the Individual

John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) was an English philosopher and political economist of note. Mill was also a political activist of great courage and principle on behalf of women’s rights. He was arrested at age seventeen for distributing birth control information. Mill was one of the most forceful and effective spokesmen for nineteenth-century liberalism. He was elected to Parliament in 1865, where his amendment to the Reform Bill of 1867 led to the first parliamentary debate on women’s suffrage. Mill was the product of his father’s extraordinary education. James Mill, a utilitarian reformer, supervised his son’s instruction in Greek at the age of three and Latin at eight. By age fourteen, Mill had done intensive work in mathematics and logic, having read most of the major Greek and Latin classics.

In 1826 he suffered a depression so severe it forced him to reconsider the theories by which he had been raised, believing that he had been emotionally starved and that his rigid training had left him bereft of feeling. Most significant in his life was Mill’s meeting with Harriet Taylor, the wife of a rich merchant and mother of several children. Their friendship led to a lifelong collaboration, and to their eventual marriage in 1858, three years after the death of Taylor’s husband. Mill’s essay On Liberty argued for freedom of thought and opinion as the cornerstone of liberal government. He feared for the tendency of society to silence individuality and override the beliefs of minorities. Mill believed that representative government was the best form of rule. He argued for the emancipation of women and their admission to political life in On the Subjection of Women (written in 1861, published in 1869).

On Liberty

Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion The time, it is to be hoped, is gone by when any defense would be necessary of the “liberty of the press” as one of the securities against corrupt or tyrannical government. No argument, we may suppose, can now be needed against permitting a legislature or an executive, not identified in interest with the people, to prescribe opinions to them and determine what doctrines or what arguments they shall be allowed to hear. This aspect of the question, besides, has been so often and so triumphantly enforced by preceding writers that it needs not be specially insisted on in this place. Though the law of England, on the subject of the press, is as servile to this day as it was in the time of the Tudors, there is little danger of its being actually put in force against political discussion except during some temporary panic when fear of insurrection drives ministers and judges from their propriety;1 and, speaking generally, it is not, in constitutional countries, to be apprehended that the government, whether completely responsible to the people or not, will often attempt to control the expression of opinion, except when in doing so it makes itself the organ of the general intolerance of the public. Let us suppose, therefore, that the government is entirely at one with the people, and never thinks of exerting any power of coercion unless in agreement with what it conceives to be their voice. But I deny the right of the people to exercise such coercion, either by themselves or by their government. The power itself is illegitimate. The best government has no more title to it than the worst. It is as noxious, or more noxious, when exerted in accordance with public opinion than when in opposition to it. If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race, posterity as well as the existing generation—those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.

It is necessary to consider separately these two hypotheses, each of which has a distinct branch of the argument corresponding to it. We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.

First, the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course, deny its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion because they are sure that it is false is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility. Its condemnation may be allowed to rest on this common argument, not the worse for being common.

Unfortunately for the good sense of mankind, the fact of their fallibility is far from carrying the weight in their practical judgment which is always allowed to it in theory; for while every one well knows himself to be fallible, few think it necessary to take any precautions against their own fallibility, or admit the supposition that any opinion of which they feel very certain may be one of the

examples of the error to which they acknowledge themselves to be liable. Absolute princes, or others who are accustomed to unlimited deference, usually feel this complete confidence in their own opinions on nearly all subjects. People more happily situated, who sometimes hear their opinions disputed and are not wholly unused to be set right when they are wrong, place the same unbounded reliance only on such of their opinions as are shared by all who surround them, or to whom they habitually defer; for in proportion to a man’s want of confidence in his own solitary judgment does he usually repose, with implicit trust, on the infallibility of “the world” in general. And the world, to each individual, means the part of it with which he comes in contact: his party, his sect, his church, his class of society; the man may be called, by comparison, almost liberal and large-minded to whom it means anything so comprehensive as his own country or his own age. Nor is his faith in the collective authority at all shaken by his being aware that other ages, countries, sects, churches, classes, and parties have thought, and even now think, the exact reverse. He devolves upon his own world the responsibility of being in the right against the dissentient worlds of other people; and it never troubles him that mere accident has decided which of these numerous worlds is the object of his reliance, and that the same causes which make him a churchman in London would have made him a Buddhist or a Confucian in Peking. Yet it is as evident in itself, as any amount of argument can make it, that ages are no more infallible than individuals—every age having held many opinions which subsequent ages have deemed not only false but absurd; and it is as certain that many opinions, now general, will be rejected by future ages, as it is that many, once general, are rejected by the present.

The objection likely to be made to this argument would probably take some such form as the following. There is no greater assumption of infallibility in forbidding the propagation of error than in any other thing which is done by public authority on its own judgment and responsibility. Judgment is given to men that they may use it. Because it may be used erroneously, are men to be told that they ought not to use it at all? To prohibit what they think pernicious is not claiming exemption from error, but fulfilling the duty incumbent on them, although fallible, of acting on their conscientious conviction. If we were never to act on our opinions, because those opinions may be wrong, we should leave all our interests uncared for, and all our duties unperformed. An objection which applies to all conduct can be no valid objection to any conduct in particular. It is the duty of governments, and of individuals, to form the truest opinions they can; to form them carefully, and never impose them upon others unless they are quite sure of being right. But when they are sure (such reasoners may say), it is not conscientiousness but cowardice to shrink from acting on their opinions and allow doctrines which they honestly think dangerous to the welfare of mankind, either in this life or in another, to be scattered abroad without restraint, because other people, in less enlightened times, have persecuted opinions now believed to be true. Let us take care, it may be said, not to make the same mistake; but governments and nations have made mistakes in other things which are not denied to be fit subjects for the exercise of authority: they have laid on bad taxes, made unjust wars. Ought we therefore to lay on no taxes and, under whatever provocation, make no wars? Men and governments must act to the best of their ability. There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life. We may, and must, assume our opinion to be true for the guidance of our own conduct; and it is assuming no more when we forbid bad men to pervert society by the propagation of opinions which we regard as false and pernicious.

I answer, that it is assuming very much more. There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and

assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation. Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right.

When we consider either the history of opinion or the ordinary conduct of human life, to what is it to be ascribed that the one and the other are no worse than they are? Not certainly to the inherent force of the human understanding, for on any matter not self-evident there are ninety-nine persons totally incapable of judging of it for one who is capable; and the capacity of the hundredth person is only comparative, for the majority of the eminent men of every past generation held many opinions now known to be erroneous, and did or approved numerous things which no one will now justify. Why is it, then, that there is on the whole a preponderance among mankind of rational opinions and rational conduct? If there really is this preponderance—which there must be unless human affairs are, and have always been, in an almost desperate state—it is owing to a quality of the human mind, the source of everything respectable in man either as an intellectual or as a moral being, namely, that his errors are corrigible. He is capable of rectifying his mistakes by discussion and experience. Not by experience alone. There must be discussion to show how experience is to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument; but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it. Very few facts are able to tell their own story, without comments to bring out their meaning. The whole strength and value, then, of human judgment depending on the one property, that it can be set right when it is wrong, reliance can be placed on it only when the means of setting it right are kept constantly at hand. In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and to expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious. Because he has felt that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner. The steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion by collating it with those of others, so far from causing doubt and hesitation in carrying it into practice, is the only stable foundation for a just reliance on it; for, being cognizant of all that can, at least obviously, be said against him, and having taken up his position against all gainsayers—knowing that he has sought for objections and difficulties instead of avoiding them, and has shut out no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter—he has a right to think his judgment better than that of any person, or any multitude, who have not gone through a similar process.

It is not too much to require that what the wisest of mankind, those who are best entitled to trust their own judgment, find necessary to warrant their relying on it, should be submitted to by that miscellaneous collection of a few wise and many foolish individuals called the public. The most intolerant of churches, the Roman Catholic Church, even at the canonization of a saint admits, and listens patiently to, a “devil’s advocate.” The holiest of men, it appears, cannot be admitted to posthumous honors until all that the devil could say against him is known and weighed. If even the Newtonian philosophy were not permitted to be questioned, mankind could not feel as complete

assurance of its truth as they now do. The beliefs which we have most warrant for have no safeguard to rest on but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded. If the challenge is not accepted, or is accepted and the attempt fails, we are far enough from certainty still, but we have done that best that the existing state of human reason admits of: we have neglected nothing that could give the truth a chance of reaching us; if the lists are kept open, we may hope that, if there be a better truth, it will be found when the human mind is capable of receiving it; and in the meantime we may rely on having attained such approach to truth as is possible in our own day. This is the amount of certainty attainable by a fallible being, and this the sole way of attaining it.

Strange it is that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being “pushed to an extreme,” not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case. Strange that they should imagine that they are not assuming infallibility when they acknowledge that there should be free discussion on all subjects which can possibly be doubtful, but think that some particular principle or doctrine should be forbidden to be questioned because it is so certain, that is, because they are certain that it is certain. To call any proposition certain, while there is anyone who would deny its certainty if permitted, but who is not permitted, is to assume that we ourselves, and those who agree with us, are the judges of certainty, and judges without hearing the other side.

In the present age—which has been described as “destitute of faith, but terrified at skepticism”— in which people feel sure, not so much that their opinions are true as that they should not know what to do without them—the claims of an opinion to be protected from public attack are rested not so much on its truth as on its importance to society. There are, it is alleged, certain beliefs so useful, not to say indispensable, to well-being that it is as much the duty of governments to uphold those beliefs as to protect any other of the interests of society. In a case of such necessity, and so directly in the line of their duty, something less than infallibility may, it is maintained, warrant, and even bind, governments to act on their own opinion confirmed by the general opinion of mankind. It is also often argued, and still oftener thought, that none but bad men would desire to weaken these salutary beliefs; and there can be nothing wrong, it is thought, in restraining bad men and prohibiting what only such men would wish to practice. This mode of thinking makes the justification of restraints on discussion not a question of the truth of doctrines but of their usefulness, and flatters itself by that means to escape the responsibility of claiming to be an infallible judge of opinions. But those who thus satisfy themselves do not perceive that the assumption of infallibility is merely shifted from one point to another. The usefulness of an opinion is itself matter of opinion—as disputable, as open to discussion, and requiring discussion as much as the opinion itself. There is the same need of an infallible judge of opinions to decide an opinion to be noxious as to decide it to be false, unless the opinion condemned has full opportunity of defending itself. And it will not do to say that the heretic may be allowed to maintain the utility or harmlessness of his opinion, though forbidden to maintain its truth. The truth of an opinion is part of its utility. If we would know whether or not it is desirable that a proposition should be believed, is it possible to exclude the consideration of whether or not it is true? In the opinion, not of bad men, but of the best men, no belief which is contrary to truth can be really useful; and can you prevent such men from urging that plea when they are charged with culpability for denying some doctrine which they are told is useful, but which they believe to be false? Those who are on the side of received opinions never fail to take all possible advantage of this plea; you do not find them handling the question of ability as if it could be completely abstracted from that of truth; on

the contrary, it is, above all, because their doctrine is “the truth” that the knowledge or the belief of it is held to be so indispensable. There can be no fair discussion of the question of usefulness when an argument so vital may be employed on one side, but not on the other. And in point of fact, when law or public feeling do not permit the truth of an opinion to be disputed, they are just as little tolerant of a denial of its usefulness. The utmost they allow is an extenuation of its absolute necessity, or of the positive guilt of rejecting it.

In order more fully to illustrate the mischief of denying a hearing to opinions because we, in our own judgment, have condemned them, it will be desirable to fix down the discussion to a concrete case; and I choose, by preference, the cases which are least favorable to me—in which the argument against freedom of opinion, both on the score of truth and on that of utility, is considered the strongest. Let the opinions impugned be the belief in a God and in a future state, or any of the commonly received doctrines of morality. To fight the battle on such ground gives a great advantage to an unfair antagonist, since he will be sure to say (and many who have no desire to be unfair will say it internally), Are these the doctrines which you do not deem sufficiently certain to be taken under the protection of law? Is the belief in a God one of the opinions to feel sure of which you hold to be assuming infallibility? But I must be permitted to observe that it is not the feeling sure of a doctrine (be it what it may) which I call an assumption of infallibility. It is the undertaking to decide that question for others, without allowing them to hear what can be said on the contrary side. And I denounce and reprobate this pretension not the less if put forth on the side of my most solemn convictions. However positive anyone’s persuasion may be, not only of the falsity but of the pernicious consequences—not only of the pernicious consequences, but (to adopt expressions which I altogether condemn) the immorality and impiety of an opinion—yet if, in pursuance of that private judgment, though backed by the public judgment of his country or his contemporaries, he prevents the opinion from being heard in its defense, he assumes infallibility. And so far from the assumption being less objectionable or less dangerous because the opinion is called immoral or impious, this is the case of all others in which it is most fatal. These are exactly the occasions on which the men of one generation commit those dreadful mistakes which excite the astonishment and horror of posterity. It is among such that we find the instances memorable in history, when the arm of the law has been employed to root out the best men and the noblest doctrines; with deplorable success as to the men, though some of the doctrines have survived to be (as if in mockery) invoked in defense of similar conduct toward those who dissent from them, or from their received interpretation.

Mankind can hardly be too often reminded that there was once a man called Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of his time there took place a memorable collision. Born in an age and country abounding in individual greatness, this man has been handed down to us by those who best knew both him and the age as the most virtuous man in it; while we know him as the head and prototype of all subsequent teachers of virtue, the source equally of the lofty inspiration of Plato and the judicious utilitarianism of Aristotle, “i maestri di color che sanno,” the two headsprings of ethical as of all other philosophy. This acknowledged master of all the eminent thinkers who have since lived whose fame, still growing after more than two thousand years, all but outweighs the whole remainder of the names which make his native city illustrious—was put to death by his countrymen, after a judicial conviction, for impiety and immorality. Impiety, in denying the gods recognized by the State; indeed, his accuser asserted (see the Apologia) that he believed in no gods at all. Immorality, in being, by his doctrines and instructions, a “corruptor of youth.” Of these

charges the tribunal, there is every ground for believing, honestly found him guilty, and condemned the man who probably of all then born had deserved best of mankind to be put to death as a criminal. . . .

It still remains to speak of one of the principal causes which make diversity of opinions advantageous, and will continue to do so until mankind shall have entered a stage of intellectual advancement which at present seems at an incalculable distance. We have hitherto considered only two possibilities: that the received opinion may be false, and some other opinion, consequently, true; or that, the received opinion being true, a conflict with the opposite error is essential to a clear apprehension and deep feeling of its truth. But there is a commoner case than either of these: when the conflicting doctrines, instead of being one true and the other false, share the truth between them, and the nonconforming opinion is needed to supply the remainder of the truth of which the received doctrine embodies only a part. Popular opinions, on subjects not palpable to sense, are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth. They are a part of the truth, sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller part, but exaggerated, distorted, and disjointed from the truths by which they ought to be accompanied and limited. Heretical opinions, on the other hand, are generally some of these suppressed and neglected truths, bursting the bonds which kept them down, and either seeking reconciliation with the truth contained in the common opinion, or fronting it as enemies, and setting themselves up, with similar exclusiveness, as the whole truth. The latter case is hitherto the most frequent, as, in the human mind, one-sidedness has always been the rule, and many-sidedness the exception. Hence, even in revolutions of opinion, one part of the truth usually sets while another rises. Even progress, which ought to superadd, for the most part only substitutes one partial and incomplete truth for another; improvement consisting chiefly in this, that the new fragment of truth is more wanted, more adapted to the needs of the time than that which it displaces. Such being the partial character of prevailing opinions, even when resting on a true foundation, every opinion which embodies somewhat of the portion of truth which the common opinion omits ought to be considered precious, with whatever amount of error and confusion that truth may be blended. No sober judge of human affairs will feel bound to be indignant because those who force on our notice truths which we should otherwise have overlooked, overlook some of those which we see. Rather, he will think that so long as popular truth is one-sided, it is more desirable than otherwise that unpopular truth should have one-sided assertors, too, such being usually the most energetic and the most likely to compel reluctant attention to the fragment of wisdom which they proclaim as if it were the whole.

Thus, in the eighteenth century, when nearly all the instructed, and all those of the uninstructed who were led by them, were lost in admiration of what is called civilization, and of the marvels of modern science, literature, and philosophy, and while greatly overrating the amount of unlikeness between the men of modern and those of ancient times, indulged the belief that the whole of the difference was in their own favor; with what a salutary shock did the paradoxes of Rousseau explode like bombshells in the midst, dislocating the compact mass of one-sided opinion and forcing its elements to recombine in a better form and with additional ingredients. Not that the current opinions were on the whole farther from the truth than Rousseau’s were; on the contrary, they were nearer to it; they contained more of positive truth, and very much less of error. Nevertheless there lay in Rousseau’s doctrine, and has floated down the stream of opinion along with it, a considerable amount of exactly those truths which the popular opinion wanted; and these are the deposit which was left behind them when the flood subsided. The superior worth of simplicity of life, the enervating and demoralizing effect of the trammels and hypocrisies of artificial society are ideas which have never

been entirely absent from cultivated minds since Rousseau wrote; and they will in time produce their due effect, though at present needing to be asserted as much as ever, and to be asserted by deeds; for words, on this subject, have nearly exhausted their power.

In politics, again, it is almost a commonplace that a party of order or stability and a party of progress or reform are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life, until the one or the other shall have so enlarged its mental grasp as to be a party equally of order and of progress, knowing and distinguishing what is fit to be preserved from what ought to be swept away. Each of these modes of thinking derives its utility from the deficiencies of the other; but it is in a great measure the opposition of the other that keeps each within the limits of reason and sanity. Unless opinions favorable to democracy and to aristocracy, to property and to equality, to cooperation and to competition, to luxury and discipline, and all the other standing antagonisms of practical life, are expressed with equal freedom and enforced and defended with equal talent and energy, there is no chance of both elements obtaining their due; one scale is sure to go up, and the other down. Truth, in the great practical concerns of life, is so much a question of the reconciling and combining of opposites that very few have minds sufficiently capacious and impartial to make the adjustment with an approach to correctness, and it has to be made by the rough process of a struggle between combatants fighting under hostile banners. On any of the great open questions just enumerated, if either of the two opinions has a better claim than the other, not merely to be tolerated, but to be encouraged and countenanced, it is the one which happens at the particular time and place to be in a minority. That is the opinion which, for the time being, represents the neglected interests, the side of human well-being which is in danger of obtaining less than its share. I am aware that there is not, in this country, any intolerance of differences of opinion on most of these topics. They are adduced to show, by admitted and multiplied examples, the universality of the fact that only through diversity of opinion is there, in the existing state of human intellect, a chance of fair play to all sides of the truth. When there are persons to be found who form an exception to the apparent unanimity of the world on any subject, even if the world is in the right, it is always probable that dissentients have something worth hearing to say for themselves, and that truth would lose something by their silence.

It may be objected, “But some received principles, especially on the highest and most vital subjects, are more than half-truths. The Christian morality, for instance, is the whole truth on that subject, and if anyone teaches a morality which varies from it, he is wholly in error.” As this is of all cases the most important in practice, none can be fitter to test the general maxim. But before pronouncing what Christian morality is or is not, it would be desirable to decide what is meant by Christian morality. If it means the morality of the New Testament, I wonder that any one who derives his knowledge of this from the book itself can suppose that it was announced, or intended, as a complete doctrine of morals. The Gospel always refers to a pre-existing morality and confines its precepts to the particulars in which that morality was to be corrected or superseded by a wider and higher, expressing itself, moreover, in terms most general, often impossible to be interpreted literally, and possessing rather the impressiveness of poetry or eloquence than the precision of legislation. To extract from it a body of ethical doctrine has never been possible without eking it out from the Old Testament, that is, from a system elaborate indeed, but in many respects barbarous, and intended only for a barbarous people. St. Paul, a declared enemy to this Judaical mode of interpreting the doctrine and filling up the scheme of his Master, equally assumes a pre-existing morality, namely that of the Greeks and Romans; and his advice to Christians is in a great measure a system of accommodation to

that, even to the extent of giving an apparent sanction to slavery. What is called Christian, but should rather be termed theological, morality was not the work of Christ or the Apostles, but is of much later origin, having been gradually built up by the Catholic Church of the first five centuries, and though not implicitly adopted by moderns and Protestants, has been much less modified by them than might have been expected. For the most part, indeed, they have contented themselves with cutting off the additions which had been made to it in the Middle Ages, each sect supplying the place by fresh additions, adapted to its own character and tendencies. That mankind owe a great debt to this morality, and to its early teachers, I should be the last person to deny, but I do not scruple to say of it that it is, in many important points, incomplete and one-sided, and that, unless ideas and feelings not sanctioned by it had contributed to the formation of European life and character, human affairs would have been in a worse condition than they now are. Christian morality (so called) has all the characters of a reaction; it is, in great part, a protest against paganism. Its ideal is negative rather than positive; passive rather than active; innocence rather than nobleness; abstinence from evil rather than energetic pursuit of good; in its precepts (as has been well said) “thou shall not” predominates unduly over “thou shall.” In its horror of sensuality, it made an idol of asceticism which has been gradually compromised away into one of legality. It holds out the hope of heaven and the threat of hell as the appointed and appropriate motives to a virtuous life: in this falling far below the best of the ancients, and doing what lies in it to give to human morality an essentially selfish character, by disconnecting each man’s feelings of duty from the interests of his fellow creatures, except so far as a self-interested inducement is offered to him for consulting them. It is essentially a doctrine of passive obedience; it inculcates submission to all authorities found established; who indeed are not to be actively obeyed when they command what religion forbids, but who are not to be resisted, far less rebelled against, for any amount of wrong to ourselves. And while, in the morality of the best pagan nations, duty to the State holds even a disproportionate place, infringing on the just liberty of the individual, in purely Christian ethics that grand department of duty is scarcely noticed or acknowledged. It is in the Koran, not the New Testament, that we read the maxim: “A ruler who appoints any man to an office, when there is in his dominions another man better qualified for it, sins against God and against the State.” What little recognition the idea of obligation to the public obtains in modern morality is derived from Greek and Roman sources, not from Christian; as, even in the morality of private life, whatever exists of magnanimity, high-mindedness, personal dignity, even the sense of honor, is derived from the purely human, not the religious part of our education, and never could have grown out of a standard of ethics in which the only worth, professedly recognized, is that of obedience.

I am as far as anyone from pretending that these defects are necessarily inherent in the Christian ethics in every manner in which it can be conceived, or that the many requisites of a complete moral doctrine which it does not contain do not admit of being reconciled with it. Far less would I insinuate this out of the doctrines and precepts of Christ himself. I believe that the sayings of Christ are all that I can see any evidence of their having been intended to be; that they are irreconcilable with nothing which a comprehensive morality requires; that everything which is excellent in ethics may be brought within them, with no greater violence to their language than has been done to it by all who have attempted to deduce from them any practical system of conduct whatever. But it is quite consistent with this to believe that they contain, and were meant to contain, only a part of the truth; that many essential elements of the highest morality are among the things which are not provided for, not intended to be provided for, in the recorded deliverances of the Founder of Christianity, and which

have been entirely thrown aside in the system of ethics erected on the basis of those deliverances by the Christian Church. And this being so, I think it a greater error to persist in attempting to find in the Christian doctrine that complete rule for our guidance which its Author intended it to sanction and enforce, but only partially to provide. I believe, too, that this narrow theory is becoming a grave practical evil, detracting greatly from the moral training and instruction which so many well-meaning persons are now at length exerting themselves to promote. I much fear that by attempting to form the mind and feelings on an exclusively religious type, and discarding those secular standards (as for want of a better name they may be called) which heretofore coexisted with and supplemented the Christian ethics, receiving some of its spirit, and infusing into it some of theirs, there will result, and is even now resulting, a low, abject, servile type of character which, submit itself as it may to what it deems the Supreme Will, is incapable of rising to or sympathizing in the conception of Supreme Goodness. I believe that other ethics than any which can be evolved from exclusively Christian sources must exist side by side with Christian ethics to produce the moral regeneration of mankind; and that the Christian system is no exception to the rule that in an imperfect state of the human mind the interests of truth require a diversity of opinions. It is not necessary that in ceasing to ignore the moral truths not contained in Christianity men should ignore any of those which it does contain. Such prejudice or oversight, when it occurs, is altogether an evil, but it is one from which we cannot hope to be always exempt, and must be regarded as the price paid for an inestimable good. The exclusive pretension made by a part of the truth to be the whole must and ought to be protested against; and if a reactionary impulse should make the protestors unjust in their turn, this one-sidedness, like the other, may be lamented but must be tolerated. If Christians would teach infidels to be just to Christianity, they should themselves be just to infidelity. It can do truth no service to blink the fact, known to all who have the most ordinary acquaintance with literary history, that a large portion of the noblest and most valuable moral teaching has been the work, not only of men who did not know, but of men who knew and rejected, the Christian faith.

I do not pretend that the most unlimited use of the freedom of enunciating all possible opinions would put an end to the evils of religious or philosophical sectarianism. Every truth which men of narrow capacity are in earnest about is sure to be asserted, inculcated, and in many ways even acted on, as if no other truth existed in the world, or at all events none that could limit or qualify the first. I acknowledge that the tendency of all opinions to become sectarian is not cured by the freest discussion, but is often heightened and exacerbated thereby; the truth which ought to have been, but was not, seen, being rejected all the more violently because proclaimed by persons regarded as opponents. But it is not on the impassioned partisan, it is on the calmer and more disinterested bystander, that this collision of half of it, is the formidable evil; there is always hope when people are forced to listen to both sides; it is when they attend only to one that errors harden into prejudices, and truth itself ceases to have the effect of truth by being exaggerated into falsehood. And since there are few mental attributes more rare than that judicial faculty which can sit in intelligent judgment between two sides of a question, of which only one is represented by an advocate before it, truth has no chance but in proportion as every side of it, every opinion which embodies any fraction of the truth, not only finds advocates, but is so advocated as to be listened to.

We have now recognized the necessity to the mental well-being of mankind (on which all their other well-being depends) of freedom of opinion, and freedom of the expression of opinion, on four distinct grounds, which we will now briefly recapitulate:

First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.

Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.

Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction from reason or personal experience.

Before quitting the subject of freedom of opinion, it is fit to take some notice of those who say that the free expression of all opinions should be permitted on condition that the manner be temperate, and do not pass the bounds of fair discussion. Much might be said on the impossibility of fixing where these supposed bounds are to be placed; for if the test be offense to those whose opinions are attacked, I think experience testifies that this offense is given whenever the attack is telling and powerful, and that every opponent who pushes them hard, and whom they find it difficult to answer, appears to them, if he shows any strong feeling on the subject, and intemperate opponent. But this, though an important consideration in a practical point of view, merges in a more fundamental objection. Undoubtedly, the manner of asserting an opinion, even though it be a true one, may be very objectionable and may justly incur severe censure. But the principle offenses of the kind are such as it is mostly impossible, unless by accidental self-betrayal, to bring home to conviction. The gravest of them is, to argue sophistically, to suppress facts or arguments, to misstate the elements of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion. But all this, even to the most aggravated degree, is so continually done in perfect good faith by persons who are not considered, and in many other respects may not deserve to be considered, ignorant or incompetent, that it is rarely possible, on adequate grounds, conscientiously to stamp the misrepresentation as morally culpable, and still less could law presume to interfere with this kind of controversial misconduct. With regard to what is commonly meant by intemperate discussion, namely invective, sarcasm, personality, and the like, the denunciation of these weapons would deserve more sympathy if it were ever proposed to interdict them equally to both sides; but it is only desired to restrain the employment of them against the prevailing opinion; against the unprevailing they may not only be used without general disapproval, but will be likely to obtain for him who uses them the praise of honest zeal and righteous indignation. Yet whatever mischief arises from their use is greatest when they are employed against the comparatively defenseless; and whatever unfair advantage can be derived by any opinion from this mode of asserting it accrues almost exclusively to received opinions. The worst offense of this kind which can be committed by a polemic is to stigmatize those who hold the contrary opinion as bad and immoral men. To calumny of this sort, those who hold any unpopular opinion are peculiarly exposed, because they are in general few and uninfluential, and nobody but themselves feels much interested in seeing justice done them; but this weapon is, from the nature of the case, denied to those who attack a prevailing opinion: they can neither use it with safety to themselves, nor, if they could, would it do anything but recoil on their

own cause. In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language and the most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offense, from which they hardly ever deviate even in a slight degree without losing ground, while unmeasured vituperation employed on the side of the prevailing opinion really does deter people from professing contrary opinions and from listening to those who profess them. For the interest, therefore, of truth and justice it is far more important to restrain this employment of vituperative language than the other; and, for example, if it were necessary to choose, there would be much more need to discourage offensive attacks on infidelity than on religion. It is, however, obvious that law and authority have no business with restraining either, while opinion ought, in every instance, to determine its verdict by the circumstances of the individual case—condemning everyone, on whichever side of the argument he places himself, in whose mode of advocacy either want of candor, or malignity, bigotry, or intolerance of feeling manifest themselves; but not inferring these vices from the side which a person takes, though it be the contrary side of the question to our own; and giving merited honor to everyone, whatever opinion he may hold, who has calmness to see and honesty to state what his opponents and their opinions really are, exaggerating nothing to their discredit, keeping nothing back which tells, or can be supposed to tell, in their favor. This is the real morality of public discussion; and if often violated, I am happy to think that there are many controversialists who to a great extent observe it, and a still greater number who conscientiously strive toward it.

Note 1. These words had scarcely been written when, as if to give them an emphatic contradiction, occurred the Government Press

Prosecutions of 1858. That ill-judged interference with the liberty of public discussion has not, however, induced me to alter a single word in the text, nor has it at all weakened my conviction that, moments of panic excepted, the era of pains and penalties for political discussion has, in our own country, passed away. For, in the first place, the prosecutions were not persisted in; and, in the second, they were never, properly speaking, political prosecutions. The offense charged was not that of criticizing institutions or the acts or persons of rulers, but of circulating what was deemed an immoral doctrine, the lawfulness of tyrannicide.

If the arguments of the present chapter are of any validity, there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered. It would, therefore, be irrelevant and out of place to examine here whether the doctrine of tyrannicide deserves that title. I shall content myself with saying that the subject has been at all times one of the open questions of morals; that the act of a private citizen in striking down a criminal who, by raising himself above the law, has placed himself beyond the reach of legal punishment or control has been accounted by whole nations, and by some of the best and wisest of men, not a crime but an act of exalted virtue; and that, right or wrong, it is not of the nature of assassination, but of civil war. As such, I hold that the instigation to it, in a specific case, may be a proper subject of punishment, but only if an overt act has followed, and at least a probable connection can be established between the act and the instigation. Even then it is not a foreign government but the very government assailed which alone, in the exercise of self-defense, can legitimately punish attacks directed against its own existence.

On the Subjection of Women

The object of this Essay is to explain, as clearly as I am able, the grounds of an opinion which I have held from the very earliest period when I had formed any opinions at all on social or political matters, and which, instead of being weakened or modified, has been constantly growing stronger by the progress of reflection and the experience of life: That the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes—the legal subordination of one sex to the other—is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other. . . .

The generality of a practice is in some cases a strong presumption that it is, or at all events once was, conducive to laudable ends. This is the case, when the practice was first adopted, or afterwards kept up, as a means to such ends, and was grounded on experience of the mode in which they could be most effectually attained. If the authority of men over women, when first established, had been the result of a conscientious comparison between different modes of constituting the government of society; if, after trying various other modes of social organization—the government of women over men, equality between the two, and such mixed and divided modes of government as might be invented—it had been decided, on the testimony of experience, that the mode in which women are wholly under the rule of men, having no share at all in public concerns, and each in private being under the legal obligation of obedience to the man with whom she has associated her destiny, was the arrangement most conducive to the happiness and well-being of both; its general adoption might then be fairly thought to be some evidence that, at the time when it was adopted, it was the best: though even then the considerations which recommended it may, like so many other primeval social facts of the greatest importance, have subsequently, in the course of ages, ceased to exist. But the state of the case is in every respect the reverse of this. In the first place, the opinion in favour of the present system, which entirely subordinates the weaker sex to the stronger, rests upon theory only; for there never has been trial made of any other: so that experience, in the sense in which it is vulgarly opposed to theory, cannot be pretended to have pronounced any verdict. And in the second place, the adoption of this system of inequality never was the result of deliberation, or forethought, or any social ideas, or any notion whatever of what conduced to the benefit of humanity or the good order of society. It arose simply from the fact that from the very earliest twilight of human society, every woman (owing to the value attached to her by men, combined with her inferiority in muscular strength) was found in a state of bondage to some man. Laws and systems of polity always begin by recognizing the relations they find already existing between individuals. They convert what was a mere physical fact into a legal right, give it the sanction of society, and principally aim at the substitution of public and organized means of asserting and protecting these rights, instead of the irregular and lawless conflict of physical strength. Those who had already been compelled to obedience became in this manner legally bound to it. Slavery, from being a mere affair of force between the master and the slave, became regularized and a matter of compact among the masters, who, binding themselves to one another for common protection, guaranteed by their collective strength the private possessions of each, including his slaves. In early times, the great majority of the male sex were slaves, as well as the whole of the female. And many ages elapsed, some of them ages of high cultivation, before any thinker was bold enough to question the rightfulness, and the absolute

social necessity, either of the one slavery or of the other. By degrees such thinkers did arise: and (the general progress of society assisting) the slavery of the male sex has, in all the countries of Christian Europe at least (though, in one of them, only within the last few years) been at length abolished, and that of the female sex has been gradually changed into a milder form of dependence. But this dependence, as it exists at present, is not an original institution, taking a fresh start from considerations of justice and social expediency—it is the primitive state of slavery lasting on, through successive mitigations and modifications occasioned by the same causes which have softened the general manners, and brought all human relations more under the control of justice and the influence of humanity. It has not lost the taint of its brutal origin. No presumption in its favour, therefore, can be drawn from the fact of its existence. The only such presumption which it could be supposed to have, must be grounded on its having lasted till now, when so many other things which came down from the same odious source have been done away with. And this, indeed, is what makes it strange to ordinary ears, to hear it asserted that the inequality of rights between men and women has no other source than the law of the strongest. . . .

But, it will be said, the rule of men over women differs from all these others in not being a rule of force: it is accepted voluntarily; women make no complaint, and are consenting parties to it. In the first place, a great number of women do not accept it. Ever since there have been women able to make their sentiments known by their writings (the only mode of publicity which society permits to them), an increasing number of them have recorded protests against their present social condition: and recently many thousands of them, headed by the most eminent women known to the public, have petitioned Parliament for their admission to the Parliamentary Suffrage. The claim of women to be educated as solidly, and in the same branches of knowledge, as men, is urged with growing intensity, and with a great prospect of success; while the demand for their admission into professions and occupations hitherto closed against them, becomes every year more urgent. Though there are not in this country, as there are in the United States, periodical Conventions and an organized party to agitate for the Rights of Women, there is a numerous and active Society organized and managed by women, for the more limited object of obtaining the political franchise. Nor is it only in our own country and in America that women are beginning to protest, more or less collectively, against the disabilities under which they labour. France, and Italy, and Switzerland, and Russia now afford examples of the same thing. How many more women there are who silently cherish similar aspirations, no one can possibly know; but there are abundant tokens how many would cherish them, were they not so strenuously taught to repress them as contrary to the proprieties of their sex. It must be remembered, also, that no enslaved class ever asked for complete liberty at once. When Simon de Montfort called the deputies of the commons to sit for the first time in Parliament, did any of them dream of demanding that an assembly, elected by their constituents, should make and destroy ministries, and dictate to the king in affairs of State? No such thought entered into the imagination of the most ambitious of them. The nobility had already these pretensions; the commons pretended to nothing but to be exempt from arbitrary taxation, and from the gross individual oppression of the king’s officers. It is a political law of nature that those who are under any power of ancient origin never begin by complaining of the power itself, but only of its oppressive exercise. There is never any want of women who complain of ill usage by their husbands. There would be infinitely more, if complaint were not the greatest of all provocatives to a repetition and increase of the ill usage. It is this which frustrates all attempts to maintain the power but protect the woman against its abuses. In no other case

(except that of a child) is the person who has been proved judicially to have suffered an injury, replaced under the physical power of the culprit who inflicted it. Accordingly wives, even in the most extreme and protracted cases of bodily ill usage, hardly ever dare avail themselves of the laws made for their protection: and if, in a moment of irrepressible indignation, or by the interference of neighbours, they are induced to do so, their whole effort afterwards is to disclose as little as they can, and to beg off their tyrant from his merited chastisement.

All causes, social and natural, combine to make it unlikely that women should be collectively rebellious to the power of men. They are so far in a position different from all other subject classes, that their masters require something more from them than actual service. Men do not want solely the obedience of women, they want their sentiments. All men, except the most brutish, desire to have, in the woman most nearly connected with them, not a forced slave but a willing one; not a slave merely, but a favourite. They have therefore put everything in practice to enslave their minds. The masters of all other slaves rely, for maintaining obedience, on fear; either fear of themselves, or religious fears. The masters of women wanted more than simple obedience, and they turned the whole force of education to effect their purpose. All women are brought up from the very earliest years in the belief that their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men; not self-will, and government by self- control, but submission, and yielding to the control of others. All the moralities tell them that it is the duty of women, and all the current sentimentalities that it is their nature, to live for others; to make complete abnegation of themselves, and to have no life but in their affections. And by their affections are meant the only ones they are allowed to have—those to the men with whom they are connected, or to the children who constitute an additional and indefeasible tie between them and a man. When we put together three things—first, the natural attraction between opposite sexes; secondly, the wife’s entire dependence on the husband, every privilege or pleasure she has being either his gift, or depending entirely on his will; and lastly, that the principal object of human pursuit, consideration, and all objects of social ambition, can in general be sought or obtained by her only through him—it would be a miracle if the object of being attractive to men and not become the polar star of feminine education and formation of character. And, this great means of influence over the minds of women having been acquired, an instinct of selfishness made men avail themselves of it to the utmost as a means of holding women in subjection, by representing to them meekness, submissiveness, and resignation of all individual will into the hands of a man, as an essential part of sexual attractiveness. Can it be doubted that any of the other yokes which mankind have succeeded in breaking, would have subsisted till now if the same means had existed, and had been as sedulously used, to bow down their minds to it. . . .

Neither does it avail anything to say that the nature of the two sexes adapts them to their present functions and position, and renders these appropriate to them. Standing on the ground of common sense and the constitution of the human mind, I deny that any one knows, or can know, the nature of the two sexes, as long as they have only been seen in their present relation to one another. If men had ever been found in society without women, or women without men, or if there had been a society of men and women in which the women were not under the control of the men, something might have been positively known about the mental and moral differences which may be inherent in the nature of each. What is now called the nature of women is an eminently artificial thing—the result of forced repression in some directions, unnatural stimulation in others. It may be asserted without scruple, that no other class of dependents have had their character so entirely distorted from its natural proportions

by their relation with their masters; for, if conquered and slave races have been, in some respects, more forcibly repressed, whatever in them has not been crushed down by an iron heel has generally been let alone, and if left with any liberty of development, it has developed itself according to its own laws: but in the case of women, a hot-house and stove cultivation has always been carried on of some of the capabilities of their nature, for the benefit and pleasure of their masters. Then, because certain products of the general vital force sprout luxuriantly and reach a great development in this heated atmosphere and under this active nurture and watering, while other shoots from the same root, which are left outside in the wintry air, with ice purposely heaped all round them, have a stunted growth, and some are burnt off with fire and disappear; men, with that inability to recognize their own work which distinguishes the unanalytic mind, indolently believe that the tree grows of itself in the way they have made it grow, and that it would die if one half of it were not kept in a vapour bath and the other half in the snow. . . .

The general opinion of men is supposed to be, that the natural vocation of a woman is that of a wife and mother. I say, is supposed to be, because, judging from acts—from the whole of the present constitution of society—one might infer that their opinion was the direct contrary. They might be supposed to think that the alleged natural vocation of women was of all things the most repugnant to their nature; insomuch that if they are free to do anything else—if any other means of living, or occupation of their time and faculties, is open, which has any chance of appearing desirable to them —there will not be enough of them who will be willing to accept the condition said to be natural to them. If this is the real opinion of men in general, it would be well that it should be spoken out. I should like to hear somebody openly enunciating the doctrine (it is already implied in much that is written on the subject)—‘It is necessary to society that women should marry and produce children. They will not do so unless they are compelled. Therefore it is necessary to compel them.’ The merits of the case would then be clearly defined. It would be exactly that of the slaveholders of South Carolina and Louisiana. ‘It is necessary that cotton and sugar should be grown. White men cannot produce them. Negroes will not, for any wages which we choose to give. Ergo they must be compelled.’ . . .

It will be well to commence the detailed discussion of the subject by the particular branch of it to which the course of our observations has led us: the conditions which the laws of this and all other countries annex to the marriage contract. Marriage being the destination appointed by society for women, the prospect they are brought up to, and the object which it is intended should be sought by all of them, except those who are too little attractive to be chosen by any man as his companion; one might have supposed that everything would have been done to make this condition as eligible to them as possible, that they might have no cause to regret being denied the option of any other. Society, however, both in this, and, at first, in all other cases, has preferred to attain its object by foul rather than fair means: but this is the only case in which it has substantially persisted in them even to the present day. Originally women were taken by force, or regularly sold by their father to the husband. Until a late period in European history, the father had the power to dispose of his daughter in marriage at his own will and pleasure, without any regard to hers. The Church, indeed, was so far faithful to a better morality as to require a formal ‘yes’ from the woman at the marriage ceremony; but there was nothing to show that the consent was other than compulsory; and it was practically impossible for the girl to refuse compliance if the father persevered, except perhaps when she might obtain the protection of religion by a determined resolution to take monastic vows. After marriage,

the man had anciently (but this was anterior to Christianity) the power of life and death over his wife. She could invoke no law against him; he was her sole tribunal and law. For a long time he could repudiate her, but she had no corresponding power in regard to him. By the old laws of England, the husband was called the lord of the wife; he was literally regarded as her sovereign, inasmuch that the murder of a man by his wife was called treason (petty as distinguished from high treason), and was more cruelly avenged than was usually the case with high treason, for the penalty was burning to death. Because these various enormities have fallen into disuse (for most of them were never formally abolished, or not until they had long ceased to be practised) men suppose that all is now as it should be in regard to the marriage contract; and we are continually told that civilization and Christianity have restored to the woman her just rights. Meanwhile the wife is the actual bond-servant of her husband: no less so, as far as legal obligation goes, than slaves commonly so called. She vows a lifelong obedience to him at the altar, and is held to it all through her life by law. Casuists may say that the obligation of obedience stops short of participation in crime, but it certainly extends to everything else. She can do no act whatever but by his permission, at least tacit. She can acquire no property but for him; the instant it becomes hers, even if by inheritance, it becomes ipso facto his. In this respect the wife’s position under the common law of England is worse than that of slaves in the laws of many countries: by the Roman law, for example, a slave might have his peculium, which to a certain extent the law guaranteed to him for his exclusive use. The higher classes in this country have given an analogous advantage to their women, through special contracts setting aside the law, by conditions of pin-money, &c.: since parental feeling being stronger with fathers than the class feeling of their own sex, a father generally prefers his own daughter to a son-in-law who is a stranger to him. By means of settlements, the rich usually contrive to withdraw the whole or part of the inherited property of the wife from the absolute control of the husband: but they do not succeed in keeping it under her own control; the utmost they can do only prevents the husband from squandering it, at the same time debarring the rightful owner from its use. The property itself is out of the reach of both; and as to the income derived from it, the form of settlement most favourable to the wife (that called ‘to her separate use’) only precludes the husband from receiving it instead of her: it must pass through her hands, but if he takes it from her by personal violence as soon as she receives it, he can neither be punished, nor compelled to restitution. This is the amount of the protection which, under the laws of this country, the most powerful nobleman can give his own daughter as respects her husband. In the immense majority of cases there is no settlement: and the absorption of all rights, all property, as well as all freedom of action, is complete. The two are called ‘one person in law,’ for the purpose of inferring that whatever is hers is his, but the parallel inference is never drawn that whatever is his is hers; the maxim is not applied against the man, except to make him responsible to third parties for her acts, as a master is for the acts of his slaves or of his cattle. I am far from pretending that wives are in general no better treated than slaves; but no slave is a slave to the same lengths, and in so full a sense of the word, as a wife is. Hardly any slave, except one immediately attached to the master’s person, is a slave at all hours and all minutes; in general he has, like a soldier, his fixed task, and when it is done, or when he is off duty, he disposes, within certain limits, of his own time, and has a family life into which the master rarely intrudes. ‘Uncle Tom’ under his first master had his own life in his ‘cabin,’ almost as much as any man whose work takes him away from home, is able to have in his own family. But it cannot be so with the wife. Above all, a female slave has (in Christian countries) an admitted right, and is considered under a moral obligation, to refuse to her master the last

familiarity. Not so the wife: however brutal a tyrant she may unfortunately be chained to—though she may know that he hates her, though it may be his daily pleasure to torture her, and though she may feel it impossible not to loathe him—he can claim from her and enforce the lowest degradation of a human being, that of being made the instrument of an animal function contrary to her inclinations. While she is held in this worst description of slavery as to her own person, what is her position in regard to the children in whom she and her master have a joint interest? They are by law his children. He alone has any legal rights over them. Not one act can she do towards or in relation to them, except by delegation from him. Even after he is dead she is not their legal guardian, unless he by will has made her so. He could even send them away from her, and deprive her of the means of seeing or corresponding with them, until this power was in some degree restricted by Serjeant Talfourd’s Act. This is her legal state. And from this state she has no means of withdrawing herself. If she leaves her husband, she can take nothing with her, neither her children nor anything which is rightfully her own. If he chooses, he can compel her to return, by law, or by physical force; or he may content himself with seizing for his own use anything which she may earn, or which may be given to her by her relations. It is only legal separation by a decree of a court of justice, which entitles her to live apart, without being forced back into the custody of an exasperated jailer—or which empowers her to apply any earnings to her own use, without fear that a man whom perhaps she has not seen for twenty years will pounce upon her some day and carry all off. This legal separation, until lately, the courts of justice would only give at an expense which made it inaccessible to any one out of the higher ranks. Even now it is only given in cases of desertion, or of the extreme of cruelty; and yet complaints are made every day that it is granted too easily. Surely, if a woman is denied any lot in life but that of being the personal body- servant of a despot, and is dependent for everything upon the chance of finding one who may be disposed to make a favourite of her instead of merely a drudge, it is a very cruel aggravation of her fate that she should be allowed to try this chance only once. The natural sequel and corollary from this state of things would be, that since her all in life depends upon obtaining a good master, she should be allowed to change again and again until she finds one. I am not saying that she ought to be allowed this privilege. That is a totally different consideration. The question of divorce, in the sense involving liberty of remarriage, is one into which it is foreign to my purpose to enter. All I now say is, that to those to whom nothing but servitude is allowed, the free choice of servitude is the only, though a most insufficient, alleviation. Its refusal completes the assimilation of the wife to the slave— and the slave under not the mildest form of slavery: for in some slave codes the slave could, under certain circumstances of ill usage, legally compel the master to sell him. But no amount of ill usage, without adultery superadded, will in England free a wife from her tormentor. . . .

Institutions, books, education, society, all go on training human beings for the old, long after the new has come; much more when it is only coming. But the true virtue of human beings is fitness to live together as equals; claiming nothing for themselves but what they as freely concede to every one else; regarding command of any kind as an exceptional necessity, and in all cases a temporary one; and preferring, whenever possible, the society of those with whom leading and following can be alternate and reciprocal. To these virtues, nothing in life as at present constituted gives cultivation by exercise. The family is a school of despotism, in which the virtues of despotism, but also its vices, are largely nourished. Citizenship, in free countries, is partly a school of society in equality; but citizenship fills only a small place in modern life, and does not come near the daily habits or inmost sentiments. The family, justly constituted, would be the real school of the virtues of freedom. It is sure

to be a sufficient one of everything else. It will always be a school of obedience for the children, of command for the parents. What is needed is, that it should be a school of sympathy in equality, of living together in love, without power on one side or obedience on the other. This it ought to be between the parents. It would then be an exercise of those virtues which each requires to fit them for all other association, and a model to the children of the feelings and conduct which their temporary training by means of obedience is designed to render habitual, and therefore natural, to them. The moral training of mankind will never be adapted to the conditions of the life for which all other human progress is a preparation, until they practise in the family the same moral rule which is adapted to the normal constitution of human society. . . . When the support of the family depends not on property, but on earnings, the common arrangement, by which the man earns the income and the wife superintends the domestic expenditure, seems to me in general the most suitable division of labour between the two persons. If, in addition to the physical suffering of bearing children, and the whole responsibility of their care and education in early years, the wife undertakes the careful and economical application of the husband’s earnings to the general comfort of the family; she takes not only her fair share, but usually the larger share, of the bodily and mental exertion required by their joint existence. If she undertakes any additional portion, it seldom relieves her from this, but only prevents her from performing it properly. The care which she is herself disabled from taking of the children and the household, nobody else takes; those of the children who do not die, grow up as they best can, and the management of the household is likely to be so bad, as even in point of economy to be a great drawback from the value of the wife’s earnings. In an otherwise just state of things, it is not, therefore, I think, a desirable custom, that the wife should contribute by her labour to the income of the family. In an unjust state of things, her doing so may be useful to her, by making her of more value in the eyes of the man who is legally her master; but, on the other hand, it enables him still farther to abuse his power, by forcing her to work, and leaving the support of the family to her exertions, while he spends most of his time in drinking and idleness. The power of earning is essential to the dignity of a woman, if she has not independent property. But if marriage were an equal contract, not implying the obligation of obedience; if the connexion were no longer enforced to the oppression of those to whom it is purely a mischief, but a separation, on just terms (I do not now speak of a divorce), could be obtained by any woman who was morally entitled to it; and if she would then find all honourable employments as freely open to her as to men; it would not be necessary for her protection, that during marriage she should make this particular use of her faculties. Like a man when he chooses a profession, so, when a woman marries, it may in general be understood that she makes choice of the management of a household, and the bringing up of a family, as the first call upon her exertions, during as many years of her life as may be required for the purpose; and that she renounces, not all other objects and occupations, but all which are not consistent with the requirements of this. The actual exercise, in a habitual or systematic manner, of outdoor occupations, or such as cannot be carried on at home, would by this principle be practically interdicted to the greater number of married women. But the utmost latitude ought to exist for the adaptation of general rules to individual suitabilities; and there ought to be nothing to prevent faculties exceptionally adapted to any other pursuit, from obeying their vocation notwithstanding marriage: due provision being made for supplying otherwise any falling-short which might become inevitable, in her full performance of the ordinary functions of mistress of a family. These things, if

once opinion were rightly directed on the subject, might with perfect safety be left to be regulated by opinion, without any interference of law. . . .

When we consider the positive evil caused to the disqualified half of the human race by their disqualification—first in the loss of the most inspiriting and elevating kind of personal enjoyment, and next in the weariness, disappointment, and profound dissatisfaction with life, which are so often the substitute for it; one feels that among all the lessons which men require for carrying on the struggle against the inevitable imperfections of their lot on earth, there is no lesson which they more need, than not to add to the evils which nature inflicts, by their jealous and prejudiced restrictions on one another. Their vain fears only substitute other and worse evils for those which they are idly apprehensive of: while every restraint on the freedom of conduct of any of their human fellow creatures (otherwise than by making them responsible for any evil actually caused by it), dries up pro tanto the principal fountain of human happiness, and leaves the species less rich, to an inappreciable degree, in all that makes life valuable to the individual human being.

Cultivating Character: John Stuart Mill and the Subject of Rights Author(s): Karen Zivi Source: American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Jan., 2006), pp. 49-61 Published by: Midwest Political Science Association Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3694256 Accessed: 16-10-2019 08:38 UTC

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Cultivating Character: John Stuart Mill and the Subject of Rights

Karen Zivi University of Southern California

The antidemocratic tendencies of rights appear to be numerous. As trumps, rights are denounced for shutting down political

debate and undermining the common good. As disciplinary, rights are attacked for reinforcing a politics of exclusion. I argue

that an appreciation of the democratic potential of rights requires conceiving of them as political claims, as claims that

represent a perspective that we seek to persuade others to adopt and through which we can create and contest community

and identity. I cull a political conception of rights from the work of John Stuart Mill by rethinking the meaning of and

connection between his ontological commitments and his politics. Paying careful attention to his notion of "character" and

its cultivation, I argue that Mill embraces a conception of the socially constituted subject who is both disciplined and enabled

by rights.

he relationship between rights and democ- racy, though seemingly inextricable, is extremely

fraught. When Dworkin (1978) wrote of "rights as trumps" in the 1970s, he provided a metaphor that tapped into the deep-seated but ambivalent intuitions about rights that lie at the heart of Anglo-American politi-

cal thought. While some scholars celebrate rights precisely

for their ability to "trump," to end political debate and

build barriers between individuals, others, particularly communitarians, raise concerns about their antidemo-

cratic tendencies, arguing that rights reinforce an atom- istic individualism that undermines the social bonds and

participatory ethos necessary for a healthy democracy.1 In recent years, the critique of rights has expanded. Crit-

ical scholars, influenced by post-structuralism and social

constructionism, argue that the antidemocratic tenden-

cies of rights arise not from a sociologically or metaphysi-

cally flawed conception of the rights-bearing subject, but

rather through the very production of that subject. Rights,

on this argument, undermine political participation and contestation by entrenching gender, race, and class biases

through a very narrow definition of the rights-bearing

subject. Not trumps, rights function instead as a disci- plinary discourse.

In this article, I argue for an alternative way of view-

ing rights. Rather than understanding rights as trumps or

as disciplinary, I argue that we should conceive of rights as

political claims and rights claiming as a practice of a par-

ticipatory but nonetheless agonistic democratic politics. That is, we should think of rights not as claims of truth that

shut down debate and participation nor as claims that only

exclude and regulate. Instead, drawing inspiration from Arendt's (1968) distinction between philosophical truths

and political claims, I suggest that we conceive of rights

as "opinions," as claims that represent a perspective that we seek to persuade others to adopt.2 Made from a partic-

ular perspective, rights are, therefore, contingent claims

that may or may not garner the agreement of others, and

thus open up the space for the democratic creation and contestation of community and identity.

John Stuart Mill might seem an unlikely thinker from

whom to cull insights into what I am calling a political

Karen Zivi is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Southern California, Von KleinSmid Center 327, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0044 ([email protected]).

I would like to thank Tim Kaufman-Osborn, William Sokoloff, and especially Michaele Ferguson for their tremendously helpful and enthusiastic responses to earlier versions of this article. Thanks also to the reviewers at AJPS for their provocative comments.

11 do not mean to suggest that all communitarians link concerns about the antidemocratic tendencies of rights to concerns about the health of communities. In connecting these two issues, I follow Mary Ann Glendon (1990) whose oft-cited criticism of American rights discourse, discussed below, is central to the argument of this article.

2As Dana Villa explains, opinions are not, for Arendt, "knee jerk, ideologically conditioned political views" (2000, 20), but rather, claims made within the context of a plurality of divergent perspectives and clashing wills and intentions that characterize the political realm. See also Disch (1996) and Zerilli (2005) for illuminating discussions of Arendt's distinction between the philosophical and the political.

American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 50, No. 1, January 2006, Pp. 49-61

02006, Midwest Political Science Association ISSN 0092-5853


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conception of rights. He has been alternately celebrated

and condemned for being a proponent of the rights as trumps perspective and thus promoting the atomistic individual's use of rights claims to end debate and di- vide individuals (e.g., Barber 1984; Berlin 1969; DiSte- fano 1991; Glendon 1990).3 And, in recent years, he has

been read as a disciplinarian who deploys rights to po- lice the boundaries between those deemed fit and un-

fit for rights-bearing subjectivity (e.g., Passavant 2002;

Zerilli 1994). Despite admittedly different, if not antitheti-

cal, theoretical and political commitments, these readings

suggest that Millian rights discourse threatens a robust

participatory democratic politics. And while they may de-

fine "democratic politics" in somewhat different ways-- -with more or less emphasis placed on the importance of contestation and struggle-these arguments link the antidemocratic tendencies of Millian rights discourse to his particular conception of the subject, to his specific ontological commitments.

In this article, I revisit the work of John Stuart Mill

in order to offer a more positive assessment of Mill's contribution to rights discourse and democratic prac- tice. Rather than reading Mill as defending the freedom

of a traditional liberal subject, known for being atom- istic and unencumbered, I find in Mill a defense of rights that emanates from and reinforces a keen awareness of

the intersubjective dimensions of identity and the im- portance of public engagement valued by proponents of

certain strands of democracy, while making space for the

kinds of ongoing contestation and debate valued by oth-

ers. Paying careful attention to Mill's notion of"character"

and its cultivation, I argue that Mill embraces a concep-

tion of the socially constituted subject who is both disci-

plined and enabled by rights. This subject is ably suited to

agonistic democratic participation, and exercises rights, not as trumps to protect his or her sovereign subjectiv-

ity from the dangers of an unruly public, but rather as a

practice of democratic politics.4 Rights discourse, on this

reading of Mill, functions as a form of political claims making through which the cultivation of character and

contestation of rigid identity categories and social norms Occurs.

To make this argument, I bring Mill's metaphysical

writings to bear on his political writings, exploring the political implications of his theory of the subject. I begin here because much criticism of Millian rights discourse is bound up with a particular interpretation of his con-

ception (or misconception) of the rights-bearing subject.

Rights discourse becomes a political problem, or so the argument goes, because it is linked to a set of ontological commitments that are, if not inaccurate, then certainly

flawed. In the first section of the article, I respond to the

common criticism, most aptly articulated by communi-

tarian scholars, that Millian rights function as trumps and

are premised upon and perpetuate a politically debilitat-

ing atomistic individualism. Contra the rights as trumps reading, I suggest that Mill is keenly aware of the inter-

subjective dimensions of human character, of the fact that individuals are constituted in and through their embed-

dedness in society. This certainly engenders Mill's defense of individual freedom, but it also leads to his promotion

of social interventions. I argue here that Mill's project is not to build inviolable barriers to protect individuals from all social influences, but rather to make visible the

possible effects, both good and bad, of these influences, and to shed light on arrangements that may be partic- ularly "wretched." Rights claims, on this reading, bring attention to, and may even be meant to protect individ- uals from, harmful influences, but at the same time they

also embed individuals in alternative, and perhaps more beneficial, social networks.

This is not to deny that Mill's efforts to embed individ- uals in alternative social networks, to "cultivate character,"

are without peril. In fact, this is precisely the conclusion that a number of critical scholars have come to in recent

years: Mill's awareness of the nonsovereign character of

subjectivity leads him to embrace rather antidemocratic, moralistic, and regulatory policies. Mill's appreciation of

the intersubjective dimensions of the subject need not have, and certainly did not always, lead him to celebrate

democratic engagement. In the second section of the ar- ticle, I take up this critical, or what I call the postmodern

reading of Mill as a disciplinarian. On this reading, rights-

bearing subjectivity, rather than serving as Mill's starting

premise, is actually that which is constituted through and

shored up by rights discourse. Rights function, in other words, as a discourse of regulation that enables the free-

dom of only a handful of individuals while excluding, and thus constraining, the vast majority. Although I am

sympathetic, and certainly indebted, to this postmodern

reading of Mill, I offer a slightly different reading of the

Millian production of subjectivity. Rather than focus on the costs of this production, I illuminate the benefits of

this process, emphasizing the extent to which the produc-

tion of subjects through rights discourse is enabling in potentially transgressive directions. I am not suggesting that the postmodern reading is incorrect. Quite the con-

trary, I seek to highlight an aspect of Mill's argument left

unexplored but actually presupposed by the Foucaultian paradigm from which the postmodern reading draws

3See Ryan (1998) for a good review of these debates.

4For a discussion of the democratic dimensions of Mill's work that

goes beyond a focus on rights, see Urbinati (2003).

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inspiration.5 As I argue, then, the Millian discourse of rights may be responsible for regulation, but so too does

it cultivate an ethos of critical judgment and serve as a practice of political claims making through which char-

acter and community may be cultivated and contested.6 In linking Mill's attention to the cultivation of char-

acter to his defense of individual rights, I hope to defa-

miliarize the subject of Millian rights discourse such that

it may open up new possibilities for our understanding and practice of rights. A more nuanced understanding of Mill's rights-claiming subject should enable a better appreciation of the democratic potential of rights claims themselves.

Rights as Trumps and the Problem of Atomistic Individualism

John Stuart Mill's work, particularly On Liberty, is of-

ten read as embracing and perpetuating what Charles Taylor (1979) has called the atomism and primacy of rights theses.7 Mill is, in other words, read as offering

a quintessential defense of rights grounded in a partic- ular set of ontological commitments that, at their core,

presume that individuals are, naturally, rightfully, and/or

simply best off when they are unencumbered by the inter-

ferences of others. Such readings are supported by con-

siderable evidence. A critic of the despotism of custom,

of the increasingly invasive reach of social norms, Mill demands that with regard to action that "merely concerns

himself" an individual's "independence is, of right, ab- solute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign" (1991b, 14). These are the well-

known (and somewhat infamous) words of Mill's Harm

Principle. They are taken to mean that when an individual

is engaged in self-regarding activities that have no effect on others, she has a right to do as she desires and these de-

sires should take precedence over the concerns of society.

In cases of other-regarding behavior, evidence of harm serves as a necessary, though not necessarily sufficient,

condition for legitimately intervening with her freedom.8

Why should the individual be free from the interference of the state or society to follow her own path of life? Be-

cause, according to Mill, individual and social progress depends upon this freedom. Progress requires that indi- viduals have the freedom to follow their own life plans,

unhindered by the capricious "likings or dislikings" of so-

ciety. Human capacities only flourish, Mill suggests, when "left alone," and thus individuals "arrived at the maturity

of [their] faculties," should have the right "to use and interpret experience in [their] own way" (1991b, 64). To hinder individual freedom would be to jeopardize both individual and social well-being.

Millian subjects thus deploy rights to protect their freedom and their privacy. And their claims should be re-

spected: "To have rights is to have something which society

ought to defend me in the possession of" (1991d, 189). But not because rights adhere to individuals by virtue of

their humanity, not because they are the natural birthright

of human beings. Rather, rights should be protected and

respected because they serve the interests of society, ad-

vancing the "permanent interests of man as a progressive

being" (1991 b, 15). A rights claim is valid, in other words, if it contributes to individual and social well-being, and,

of course, if, in exercising that right, I avoid doing harm

to others. In such cases, my right should trump all other

considerations absolutely. A rights claim, Mill explains, "assumes that character of absoluteness" and comes to

seem incommensurable "with all other considerations."

The "ought and should" implicit in the rights claim "grow into must" (1991d, 190).

Given Mill's description of individual freedom and rights, it is not surprising that Wolff describes Millian society as "a system of independent centers of conscious-

ness, each pursuing its own gratification and confronting the others as beings standing over-against the self" (1968, 142). Nor is it surprising that Berlin interprets Mill as attempting to protect "a minimum area of personal free- dom which must on no account be violated" through the construction of an inviolable barrier, a clear de-

marcation "between the area of private life and that of public authority" (1969, 124). And while some may

sWhile Foucault's notion of disciplinary power is often used to illuminate the regulatory and normalizing tendencies of modern power, his work can also be used to generate a theory of politi- cal resistance and contestation. To do so, one must take Foucault seriously that "where there is power, there is resistance" and that discourse is not simply an effect of power, but "a hindrance, stum- bling block" to it as well (Foucault 1978, 101). Disciplinary power, in other words, does not extinguish a subject's capacity for agency or foreclose all possibility of freedom, but actually makes freedom and resistance possible for "freedom must exist for power to be exerted ... since without the possibility of recalcitrance, power would be equivalent to a physical determination" (Foucault 1982, 221).

6Thanks to my reviewers for encouraging me to be more attentive to the perils of Mill's argument as well as to the distinctions between my reading of Mill and those of Zerilli and Passavant.

7Taylor (1979) attributes these theses to social contract thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, and Nozick, though he does suggests that unnamed utilitarians also tend to embrace the atomism and pri- macy of rights theses.

81I borrow this idea from Jeremy Waldron (1987) who calls harm a "threshold condition."

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celebrate Mill for giving pride of place to individual rights and allowing them to take precedence over obliga-

tions to society, others condemn him. Indeed, what pleases

Berlin troubles Glendon, a scholar who very explicitly lo-

cates the antidemocratic tendencies of rights in Millian ontology.

In her 1990 book, Rights Talk, Glendon offers a scathing criticism of Anglo-American rights discourse, a discourse whose roots she locates in the work of John

Stuart Mill.9 According to Glendon, Millian rights enter

the American political discourse most explicitly through Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis's famous treatise "The

Right of Privacy." So captivated were they by Mill's de-

piction and celebration of privacy-the only sphere in which genius and individuality could flourish-that they

promoted it as one of the fundamental, if not the most

important, rights of political society. In doing so, Glendon

argues, they brought the Millian conception of rights as

trumps, with its peculiar ontological underpinnings, into

the American public discourse. In defending the individ-

ual's right of privacy as necessary to human flourishing, Warren and Brandeis perpetuated a Millian conception of individuals as atomistic and unencumbered, as "lone

rights-bearers." They tacitly accepted and thus promoted a conception of individuals as, to borrow DiStefano's lan-

guage, "clearly demarcated" and "field-independent," as

"capable of maintaining a discrete identity vis-a-vis fellow human beings" (1991, 171).10

Unfortunately, Glendon argues, this Americanized version of Millian rights is both philosophically and polit-

ically problematic. It inaugurates a "hyperindividualism"

and an absolutism that is politically destructive. As she explains, in embracing and defending Mill's "lone rights-

bearer," American society comes to devalue an ethic of responsibility and ignore the needs of the community, fundamentally rejecting the participatory ethos neces- sary to sustain democratic community." We end up, that is, undermining the very foundations of a demo-

cratic society, "ignoring or downgrading healthy forms of

interdependence" and overlooking important sources of communal viability (1990, 75). This democratically de- bilitating political ethos is inextricably linked to a funda-

mentally flawed ontology. The Millian paradigm, in other words, obscures the facts of our intersubjectivity and fails

to appreciate the extent to which we come to be selves in relation to rather than in isolation from others. Thus

with their defense of Millian rights, Warren and Brandeis

not only encoded a conception of the rights-bearing sub-

ject as separated from and in antagonistic relations with others, but helped create a political ethos that releases individuals from obligations of democratic participation and devalues the common good.

But does Mill's work really fail to appreciate the in-

tersubjective dimensions of the human condition? Does his defense of individual rights rest on such ontological

premises? And, if so, does this have the kind of prob- lematic consequences for democratic politics suggested by Glendon? To answer these questions, I take a closer look not only at On Liberty, but at A System of Logic (The

Logic) as well. As I suggest below, despite the celebration of a sphere of unfettered freedom bounded and protected

by inviolable rights that seems to emerge from traditional

readings of On Liberty, Mill never conceived of the indi- vidual as completely extractable or isolatable from society.

To attribute such a conception of the subject to Mill is to

miss his deep commitment to the doctrine of necessity and his deep suspicion of the doctrine of free will. It is to

miss his recognition that individuals are never purely will-

ing or self-interested, but are, rather, constituted through social networks and thus vulnerable to both the positive

and negative influences of society. On the communitarian reading, it would appear that

Mill denies the important role that social forces play in

the development of individuals and presumes instead that individuals have access to ideas and volitions that are in-

dependent of society. To put it in Taylor's language, Mill

appears to repudiate the notion that distinctive human ca-

pacities develop within the context of social relations and,

instead, presents such relations as a threat to this develop-

ment. But Mill's understanding of subjectivity, developed

in The Logic and sprinkled throughout his political writ-

ings, suggests otherwise. In The Logic, particularly the chapter "Of Liberty and Necessity," we see Mill's frustra- tion with the metaphysical distinctions he has inherited

and find him struggling to articulate a theory of human

subjectivity that avoids the extremes of both the doctrines

of free will and necessity popular during his day. It is here

that we get a glimpse of his deep investment in the kind of

intersubjective dimensions of human character that the atomism thesis is presumed to occlude.

'Glendon also locates the roots of American rights discourse in the work of John Locke.

l'DiStefano (1991) takes a more explicitly feminist and psychoan- alytic approach to her reading of Mill arguing that the masculinism of this atomistic subject makes it impossible for all but a few women to be taken seriously as rights-bearing subjects.

"Though Glendon seems to hint that Mill is not so much to blame for the problems of Anglo-American rights discourse as are Warren and Brandeis, she says little about the alternative ways of reading Mill except to say that "we took Mill's ideas a step further than he did.... His stern sense of responsibility to family and country, and his decided rejection of any notion that all life-styles were equally worthy of respect, largely dropped out of sight. His elitist justification for fostering individuality was never mentioned ..." (1990, 72).

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For Mill, who we are, what we do, how we think- our volitions and our actions-are not the result of nor do

they flourish by being left alone, isolated in our sphere of

freedom, protected from social forces by a set of inviolable

borders. In fact, it is almost impossible, Mill suggests, to conceive of individuals as isolatable from social forces or

to imagine character as emanating from some pure form

of unshaped consciousness or will. As he explains in The

Subjection of Women, it would be impossible to "isolate a

human being from the circumstances of his condition, so

as to ascertain experimentally what he would have been by nature" (1991 c, 544). All that we can do is "consider what he is, and what his circumstances have been, and whether

the one would have been capable of producing the other"

(1991c, 544). This is because Mill is a proponent of what was known at the time as the doctrine of necessity. Or,

to be more precise, Mill was a proponent of a modified doctrine of necessity that he preferred to call the doctrine of causation.

The doctrine of necessity posits that human actions have identifiable causes. It seeks to show that "our voli-

tions and actions are invariable consequents of our an- tecedent states of mind" (1963b, 837). Human behavior,

according to this doctrine, can be attributed to causal fac-

tors in much the same way that movement in the physical

world can be attributed to physical causes. Our education,

our upbringing, our work experiences, all these influence

our character and inform our temperament and our ac- tions. For example, what we take to be natural about men or women-feminine nature or manliness-these are the

product of everything from educational opportunities to what we learn about ourselves and how to treat others

from watching our parents interact. If these circumstances

are changed, our characters will change and this, in turn, will change the decisions we make and the actions we take.

Of course, the attribution of human behavior to

causal laws, not surprisingly, alarmed many. Proponents

of the doctrine of free will argued that human volitions were uncaused, not the effects of causes that "they uni-

formly and implicitly obey" (1963b, 836). To conceive of

human actions as the necessary outcome of causes, they

argued, was both nonsensical and demeaning, "inconsis- tent with every one's instinctive consciousness, as well as

humiliating to the pride and even degrading to the moral nature of man" (836). If all of human behavior were at-

tributable to a specific cause, how could we explain our feelings of free will, and what kind of responsibility or accountability would be left for the individual? We would

all be social dupes. Mill, however, believed otherwise. His particular un-

derstanding of the doctrine of necessity explicitly rejects the idea that individuals are socially determined. Indeed,

he argues that causation is actually consistent rather than inconsistent with much of our experience. Empirically,

our experiences are more likely to confirm than to dumb-

found causal explanations of our actions. Philosophically, causation has never been completely at odds with doc- trines of free will. One need just to consider religious doctrines to realize that freedom of the will has always been consistent with antecedent causes such as God's will

(1963b, 837). To be free, in other words, need not foreclose

the possibility that our actions have antecedent causes, empirically or philosophically. In fact, to believe other- wise, Mill believes, is to make a potentially grave error,

to embrace a "false philosophy." For Mill, the doctrine of

free will divorced from any theory of causation is not only

incorrect but dangerous: "The notion that truths external

to the mind may be known by intuition or conscious- ness, independently of observation and experience, is, I am persuaded, in these times, the great intellectual sup-

port of false doctrines and bad institutions" (1952, 191).

In rejecting the doctrine of free will, however, Mill is careful to distinguish himself from those who adopt a more strict interpretation of the doctrine of necessity and assume an absolute determinism to human behavior.

Proponents of the strict interpretation, he argues, make

as grave an error as proponents of the doctrine of free will

when they posit an irresistibility or absolute determin- ism to human actions. Simply "Because something will certainly happen if nothing is done to prevent it," does not mean that "it will certainly happen whatever may be

done to prevent it" (1963a, 469). It does not mean that there is some "mysterious compulsion" that determines the shape of our all actions (467). Perhaps it would be best then, he suggests, to replace the term "necessity" with

the term "causation" for "The application of so improper a

term as Necessity to the doctrine of cause and effect in the matter of human character seems to me one of the most

signal instances in philosophy of abuse of terms... The subject will never be generally understood, until that ob- jectionable term is dropped" (1963b, 841).

Mill's modified doctrine of necessity or causation draws attention not to what must happen, but only what

will happen, given certain circumstances. Certain things will occur if unimpeded. For example, while it may be true that we will die if we go without food or air, it need not be inevitable that the lack of food or air will lead to

our death. Causation does not, according to Mill, entail a must, for there are many other factors that may come

into play to alter the outcome of particular causes: "hu-

man actions are..,. never..,. ruled by any one motive with such absolute sway, that there is no room for the influ- ence of another" (1963c, 839). Moreover, it is not possible to know all the circumstances that influence action and

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volition. So numerous and varied are the circumstances

that shape an individual's character that it is difficult, if

not impossible, to determine precisely which influences cause which effects. These facts render the doctrine of

necessity far less absolute and determinist, far more un-

predictable and contingent, than some would think.'2 Mill's rejection of the strict interpretation of the doc-

trine of necessity is premised on more than simply an awareness of the potentially infinite circumstances that

may shape a person's character. He also recognizes some- thing that is beyond the reach of circumstances and is, in fact, to be considered a circumstance itself. One of

those innumerable circumstances that shapes individual character and generates diversity of character and unpre-

dictability of action is our feeling of moral power, the "power to alter [our] character" (1963b, 840). While re- fusing to call this free will, Mill does describe it as a "feeling

of our being able to modify our own character if we wish"

(841), and he remains committed to seeing this power as consistent with the modified doctrine of necessity he

embraces. It is a perversion of the doctrine of necessity

to believe that one's "character is formed for him, not by

him" for "We are exactly as capable of making our own

character, if we will, as others are of making it for us" (840).

As Mill explains elsewhere, this power to modify our

character derives, in part, from the fact that individuals

are born with certain capacities including "faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative feelings, mental ac-

tivity, and even moral preference" (1991 b, 65) and at least

two sentiments, sympathy and self-defense, which "either

are or resemble instincts" (1991d, 186). When we recog-

nize the many ways in which circumstances can interact

to encourage or curtail these capacities and instincts, it becomes clear that human beings are born with "a whole

world of possibilities" (1963c, 392-93). In fact, it is only

in social context and through social relations, through the

"artificial discipline" of education, legislation, and social

arrangements, that these potentials and capacities come to have meaning.

For Mill, unraveling the mystery of human subjec-

tivity requires rejecting facile depictions of individuals

as either purely free willing and self-interested or as unwitting social dupes. Recognizing an element of truth to

both the doctrine of necessity and the doctrine of freewill,

Mill suggests that the two doctrines be joined together in order to more accurately and adequately capture the hu-

man experience. What bearing does Mill's modified doctrine of ne-

cessity have on the kind of political ethos that emerges from his work or, more specifically, on his understanding

of rights? What would it mean for this Millian subject to make a rights claim? Mill, I suggest, was far too cog- nizant of the irreducibly social dimensions of subjectivity

to imagine that individuals could deploy rights to isolate themselves from all other social influences or to believe

that individuals would, or even could, develop best when

left completely alone. Instead, what emerges from his writ-

ing is not only a recognition that social forces can shape human behavior and identity, but also a desire, even an anxious compulsion, to identify those social forces that shape our character for better or worse. His point is less to construct impermeable barriers between individuals and society than it is to distinguish the kinds of social ar-

rangements that may retard individual development from

those that might cultivate character more favorably. And

it is through rights that these arrangements are not only identified, but even rectified.

It is not society per se that is the problem for Mill, nor are inviolable barriers the solution. Rather, it is spe-

cific social forces, "wretched arrangements," that are the

problem, and careful cultivation the solution. It is his recognition that egos are not inviolable and his recog- nition that character is the product of social forces and cultivation, that leads to his strident defense of the indi-

vidual against society as well as to his support for other forms of social intervention. I suggest, then, that Mill's de-

fense of individual liberty and rights offered in On Liberty

and The Subjection of Women be read less as justifications

for strict boundaries grounded in an embrace of a "field-

independent" subject and more as descriptions of the kind

of wretched arrangements that might lead to individual

and social decay.

Traditionally, we read Mill as defending individual rights from the despotism of custom. However, it is im- portant to remember that despotic and tyrannical prac- tices are rejected because they cultivate character poorly. "[W]retched education and wretched social relations," Mill argues, can lead to the production of bad charac- ters, and these are what the individual must be saved

from. For example, On Liberty and The Subjection of Women, it is the overbearing force of public opinion that

is quelling dissent and disagreement, constraining free- dom of expression and "experiments in living." These

12Mill offers a similar argument in his sharp criticism of Jeremy Bentham. Mill argues that Bentham's theory of human beings as motivated primarily by selfishness and self-interest at all times and in all societies fails to recognize that the "springs" and "motives" of our actions are "innumerable" and diverse, and that human nature is profoundly complex. Only the most vulgar eye, he argues, would "assume," as Bentham does, "that mankind are alike in all times and all places, that they have the same wants and are exposed to the same evils" (1965, 259). Only the poorest analyst of human nature would commit such an intellectual and moral error, obscuring all the diversity and unpredictability of human character.

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circumstances are turning individuals into sheep. It is a belief in women's inequality, manifest in particular polit-

ical practices and social arrangements, that is producing emotionally and mentally stunted women concerned pri-

marily with frivolity. And it is this same system of gen-

der subordination that makes men selfish and self-serving

(1991c, 558). In fact, according to Mill, selfishness is by

no means an inevitable part of human character, but is the

result of poor upbringing and bad social arrangements. Certain social arrangements and the imposition of so- cial norms, in other words, can actually destroy affective

ties and inhibit the intellectual and moral development of individuals.

Mill's response to these practices and institutions is,

of course, to make an argument for individual freedom and rights. If poor character is the "result of forced repres- sion in some directions, unnatural stimulation in others,"

good character, Mill suggests, develops when individuals

are free to pursue their own paths in life (1991c, 493). For example, he defends women's rights by arguing that if women were allowed the same freedoms as men to think

and act, to choose their own life plans, then they would

not only improve their faculties of judgment and percep-

tion, but contribute to the progress of society. And he defends free speech on the grounds that it will improve

the faculties of judgment and perception. But attention to Mill's defense of individual freedom

fails to appreciate the extent to which Mill also calls for

intervention into the lives of individuals on precisely the

same grounds that he defends their freedom. If we ap- preciate that extent to which Mill embraced a modified doctrine of necessity, the extent to which he believed indi-

vidual character to be the product of artificial cultivation,

then we can understand better why he would support some invasive public policies and not others. For exam- ple, in response to the outbreak of venereal disease in Britain, Mill suggested that military men be watched and examined in order to reduce the likelihood of their trans-

mitting disease to their wives. He also suggested that a law

be made to penalize men who were found guilty of such

transmission, subjecting them to monetary penalties and

allowing their wives the right to divorce them. Such poli-

cies, he believed, would have the potential to discourage men from soliciting prostitutes and thereby reduce the threat of venereal disease.

One could say that he supports these policies because

they address a clear harm-the transmission of venereal disease. However, the possibility of harm is not enough to explain why Mill supports intervention into men's lives

and yet demands that women be free from state interfer-

ence. In fact, Mill offers his policy suggestions as alterna-

tives to the very intrusive Contagious Diseases Acts (CD Acts) supported by Parliament. The CD Acts presumed

women to be the source of infection and, therefore, the

proper targets of arrest, detainment, and forced medi- cal examination. They thus supported the use of police power to round up women suspected of being prosti- tutes and to detain them until they received a clean bill'

of health. Parliament approved the regulation of women, rather than the sailors and soldiers who visited prosti- tutes, because they presumed men to have a natural and uncontrollable sexual propensity. Such presuppositions failed, from Mill's perspective, to appreciate the processes

of causation, overestimating the "naturalness" of both fe-

male degradation and masculine sexual urges. Illicit male

sexuality, he argued, was actually promoted, if not pro-

duced, by the Acts themselves. By providing men with a safe outlet for their sexual urges, the CD Acts fostered

men's sexual transgressions, leaving "the impression on the minds of soldiers and sailors ... that it is not discour-

aged, that it is considered by Parliament a necessity which

may be regulated, but which must be accepted, and that Parliament does not entertain any serious disapprobation of immoral conduct of that kind" (1963d, 360). In mak-

ing "illicit indulgence" safe, Parliament cultivated the very

unruly male sexuality it presumed to be so natural. And this, from Mill's perspective, was a wretched arrangement

that needed to be rectified, not through increasing men's

freedom, but through curtailing it.

What is important on this reading is not protect- ing individuals against any and all forms of majoritarian

tyranny, but cultivating character in specific ways which

may or may not require state intervention. In fact, one could even read Mill's defense of women's privacy rights

as an effort, not to set up a sphere of unfettered freedom,

but to cultivate women's character as well. Improvements

in women's morality and health, Mill argued, would be more likely to result from their having the freedom to make health care decisions for themselves than from their

being forced to undergo medical examination and treat- ment. Arrest, detainment, and forced medical treatment

would only degrade women's character, while "the mere existence of hospitals" and care provided by "benevolent

and excellent people" would help turn women from a life

of prostitution to one of moral propriety (1963d, 365). Mill defense of women's liberty, of their right to privacy and freedom from state intervention, while seemingly able

to provide a space for women's flourishing, upon closer examination appears to be intended to improve their char-

acter by urging their relocation in different webs of so- cial relations, not abstracting them from these relations


13 For social histories of the issues raised by the Contagious Diseases Acts, see, for example, Laqueur (1990), McHugh (1980), Spongberg (1997), and Walkowitz (1991).

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There are, of course, dangers to making an argument

for rights based on the recognition of intersubjectivity,

perils that result from linking rights to the cultivation of

character. These include a tendency to transform rights

into a moral discourse that seeks to distinguish those fit for

rights-bearing subjectivity from those unfit for it, and to

punish or constrain those deemed unfit. This is certainly a

concern raised by the postmodern readings of Mill's work

(e.g., Walkowitz 1991; Zerilli 1994). But while I discuss and respond to this concern in greater detail below, my

point here is simply to challenge the reading of Mill as a celebrant of a rights-as-trumps model that requires a commitment to atomistic individualism.

The fact that rights are, for Mill, never meant to abstract individuals from society, but instead to acknowl-

edge and appreciate their embeddedness in social relations is further supported by Mill's description of rights in Util-

itarianism. Though usually read as a description of the absolutism and divisiveness of rights, Mill's argument is

actually quite critical of the rights-as-trump conception.

As Mill explains, a right, or rather "the idea of a right," rep-

resents a particular set of feelings, beliefs, and demands

that we commonly associate with justice. The idea of a right brings together both our ideas of justice-what we

understand intellectually or what Mill associates with our rational instincts-and our sentiments of justice-what we feel or what Mill associates with the animal instincts.

A right, in other words, captures our understanding of the

rules that determine injury or violation as well as our de-

sire for retaliation and revenge. When we call something

a right, when we speak of violations of rights, we mean that there has been some violation of a rule of conduct,

some injury, and we demand punishment out of a desire

for revenge (1991d, 188-89). This desire for retaliation, Mill acknowledges, is an

intense feeling shared by all sentient beings rooted in a common need for security. And it is what gives a rights claim the sense of absoluteness. That, however, does not

make a rights claim a moral claim (1991d, 189-90). Ab- soluteness, he explains, is associated with an animal feel-

ing manifest in a desire for retaliation rather than being based in anything purely rational or intellectual (188). A

rights claim becomes a moral claim only when this desire is combined with what he calls "superior intelligence" or

"enlarged sympathy." The sentiment of justice that stems

from a desire for revenge only becomes moral when it is subordinated to "the social sympathies" (187). Rights claims must consider the interests of society as a whole

and recognize the individual as a part of that society in

order to be moral, otherwise they are simply the expres- sion of sentiments untempered by social feelings. Justice

and morality, often manifest in rights claims, do not de-

rive from purely individualistic desires for revenge. Such desires must be subordinated to social feeling. It is enlarged sympathy that moves us from an individu- alistic thirst for retaliation back into the community

where thought, discussion, and debate are central, with-

out giving up on the positive aspects of Mill's rights discourse-their ability to identify wretched arrange- ments and imagine alternatives for the cultivation of character.

Rights as Discipline and the Problem of Freedom

Mill's recognition that character is formed, in good ways and bad, through interactions with others, while obscured

by interpretations that overemphasize Mill as a champion of atomistic individualism and rights as trumps, has itself

become something of a concern. As I suggested above, it is precisely Mill's concern with what he calls "careful cultivation," and what contemporary scholars call disci-

pline or regulation, that leads to a different criticism of

the political implications of Millian ontology, to a con- cern with the moralizing tendencies of rights discourse. While communitarians suggest that Mill may fail to ad-

equately capture the intersubjective dimensions of per- sonhood, postmodernists draw attention to the ways in which Mill's rights-bearing subject is constituted through

the disciplining and exclusion of others. For these schol- ars, the atomistic individual is less the starting point for

Mill's philosophical writings than its goal, or rather the effect of a series of practices and discursive formations.

And this discursive production of the subject comes with

significant costs. In this section, I argue that the read- ing of Millian rights as regulatory, and therefore quite costly for democracy, tells only part of the story. In fact,

the disciplinarity of rights, as Mill's argument reveals, is both constraining and enabling, often for the very same individuals.

Zerilli and Passavant have offered detailed and com-

pelling analyses of the regulatory dimensions of Millian

rights discourse. Challenging the traditional liberal defi- nition of freedom as the opposite of government interven-

tion, they bring to light Mill's contribution to what Rose (1999) calls the practice of governing through freedom.

That is, they make visible the extent to which the Millian

rights-bearing subject is produced through practices of gender, race, and class exclusion and differentiation that are meant to constitute "free" individuals. They illumi- nate the extent to which Mill, rather than presuming an

atomistic subject in need of being freed from the illegiti- mate interferences of the state or society, actually goes to

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great lengths to bring the putatively sovereign subject into

existence. Zerilli, for example, details the ways in which

that the creation of such subjects requires disciplin- ing those who cannot discipline themselves-the unruly poor, particularly women: "Mill's dread of the masses," she argues, leads him "to advocate a series of disciplinary

mechanisms that increase the power of the state, place the working-class family under middle-class surveillance,

underwrite the factory system as an instrument of moral reform.. ." (1994, 98). Passavant, attentive to the inter-

sections of class and race in Millian rights discourse, re-

minds us that Mill often argued that only those deemed

"civilized" merited liberty and rights. Barbarians-non- Westerners and the English working class who "resembled barbarians through their lack of speech-related capital"-

were to be excluded from rights-bearing subjectivity (2002, 109).

These readings rightly draw attention to the costs as-

sociated with Mill's production of subjectivity, to the per-

ils that attend Millian rights discourse, and raise concerns

about the ways in which the exclusions necessitated by Mill's argument diminish opportunities for political par-

ticipation. Rights, Passavant argues, function as a "mech-

anism of social discipline" that reinforces national power by excluding all those who are deemed a threat (2002, 167). And Zerilli argues that Millian rights arguments re-

veal a desire for unity and order that "depreciate [s] politics

as diversity, conflict, and dissonance" (1994, 152). These

thinkers find Mill troubling, less because his perspective

threatens the moral fabric of society, and more because

it is premised upon and perpetuates class, gender, and/or

race biases that threaten the egalitarian and participatory ethos necessary for a healthy democracy.

As their work suggests, Mill's efforts to shore up the

rights-bearing subject in the face of the despotism of cus-

tom derives not from a belief in the inviolability of egos,

but from his anxiety regarding the contingent and muta-

ble character of human nature. It is this contingency of character, the possibility that who we are and how we be-

have can change easily and in ways beyond an individual's

or a society's control, that makes Mill terribly anxious. It

is the fact that development is never certain or guaran- teed, that social forces do not always nurture the "nobler virtues" and that these forces are often too complex to understand completely that leads Mill to retreat to the seeming safety of the supposedly sovereign subject.14

While my own reading of Mill has much in common,

and is greatly indebted to the arguments of Zerilli and Passavant, I want to offer a slightly different reading. Mill,

I suggest, espouses practices of cultivation that engen- der a politics of engagement and contestation. Careful cultivation produces subjects who are capable of criti- cal judgment and ethical confrontation, who are able to

"challenge... existing modes of life and creat[e] ... new modes of existence" (Rose 1999, 283). The very careful cultivation through which we come to be individuals and

members of strong communities may be enabling to even those it is meant to exclude.

To be fair, Passavant does want to illustrate the ways

in which rights discourse enables rather than only con-

strains the production of subjectivity and the transforma-

tion of society. He does argue that "the practice of rights

not only challenges certain modes of collective life but also helps to reconstitute positive forms of social identity"

(2002, 168). However, his reading of Mill emphasizes the

regulatory dimensions and costs far more than the ben- efits. I want to emphasize the fact that Mill actually appreciates the fact that both the "wretched arrange- ments" he fears and the tactics of careful cultivation he

endorses are never totalizing, seamless, or wholly dis- abling. For example, despite a recognition that social norms and laws are producing unthinking individuals, emotionally unstable women, and selfish, sexually dis- ruptive men, Mill refuses to grant these arrangements a

totalizing power. Society still has its eccentrics and ge- niuses, its dissenters; it still has women who are fight-

ing for the right to vote and receive an education, and men who refuse to treat women as their inferiors or

use them for sexual pleasure (cf. Mill 1991b, 1991c). If wretched social arrangements-bad laws, poor education, misguided health policy-may retard development, but not control it completely, so the tactics of discipline re-

main beyond the complete control of those who espouse them.

Consider Mill's defense of freedom of thought and expression in On Liberty. Read in the context of Mill's concerns about the cultivation of character, we come to

see that engagement in dialogue and discussion is one of the most important practices of cultivation. Through

the freedom of thought and expression, individual capac- ities for perception and judgment develop as do affec- tive ties between individuals and a sense of care for the

14The notion of subjectivity explored in postmodern approaches to Mill is more complicated than the idea conveyed by "sovereign subjectivity." Yet thinkers like Zerilli and others continue to use the language of sovereignty in order, I think, to defamiliarize it, to make visible the fantasy of sovereignty to which we have been and remain beholden, a fantasy that seeks to disavow subjectivity's very

constructedness and contingency. This seems to be what Markell (2003) is getting at when he describes sovereignty as having a se- ductive appeal, and the quest for it as having pernicious effects. Ultimately, Markell suggests, our desire for sovereign subjectivity, though dangerous, may be one of the permanent aspects of the human condition.

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community.15 Human beings, Mill reminds us, are fallible, prone to make serious errors in judgment that are then codified in legislation and action. These errors are only corrected through debate, deliberation, and con-

testation of ideas and opinions. But freedom of thought

and expression are valuable not simply because they may allow us to replace falsehood with truth or to develop new ideas and displace pernicious ones, but also, and per-

haps more importantly, because it is through contestation

and engagement with differences of perspective that one

comes to be fully human. "Judgment," Mill argues, "is given to men that they may use it" (1991b, 23). Like any other muscle, it must be exercised in order for it to remain

strong, and it can be exercised through lively discussion

that forces us to examine our deeply held beliefs. Thus it

is through acting on our opinions and challenging pre- sumed social truths that we exercise and improve the very faculties that make us human.

And for Mill, it is best to do this in ways that are contestatory. As Waldron (1987) argues, Mill greatly ap-

preciates the value of "moral distress" or "ethical con- frontation." Differences of opinion and variation among lifestyles often come into conflict, and this "open clash

between earnestly-held ideals and opinions about the na-

ture and basis of the good life" is essential to individual

and social progress (Waldron 1987, 414). In Mill's words,

debate and discussion require the "reconciling and com- bining opposites" which is "a rough process of a strug- gle between combatants fighting under hostile banners"

(1991b, 54). And though having one's fundamental be- liefs and practices questioned may be painful, individuals

develop an open-mindedness, a tolerance of difference, and the ability to listen as well as persuade in the process (Waldron 1987, 416). For Mill, then, antagonism between

individuals and groups holding different opinions is not rooted in an innate competitiveness or desire for isola- tion and absolute separation. Rather, politics as a process of refutation and contestation is a result of the deficiencies

of the human mind and the usefulness of such challenges.

In politics, Mill explains, opposition is healthy: "it is al-

most commonplace, that a party of order or stability, and

a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements

of a healthy state of political life.. ." (1991b, 53).

In fact, Mill explicitly denounces the idea of a "frictionless" society. "Without the right to protest, and

the capacity for it, there is ... no justice, there are no ends

worth pursuing" (1991d, 152). The right to protest pre- vents error and even truth from "hardening into prej- udice" and helps to prevent the development of passive individuals who lack the courage to think and act in new

and different ways. Passivity or "peace in the intellectual

world" is not, according to Mill, desirable if it means con-

formity of opinion and action. " [T]he price paid for this sort of intellectual pacification, is the sacrifice of the entire

moral courage of the human mind" (1991 b, 38). Without lively debates over social norms and customs, society will

not generate "the open, fearless characters, and logical, consistent intellects who once adorned the world" (38).

But this character is not reserved for the geniuses or the

elite. As if anticipating charges of elitism, Mill argues that

freedom of thought is as important to the individual of

average intellect as it is to the great thinkers. In fact, it is

"even more indispensable, to enable average human be- ings to attain the mental stature which they are capable of" (39). A few great minds may be able to survive in a society in which there is a despotism and uniformity of opinion, but "an intellectually active people" will never be produced under conditions of "mental slavery" (39).

This is not to deny that Mill is concerned about the

tenor of public debate. He does argue for temperance and respectful disagreement. "The free expression of all

opinions," Mill suggests, "should be permitted, on con- dition that the manner be temperate, and do not pass the bounds of fair discussion" (1991b, 59). "Vituperative lan-

guage" and other unsavory tactics that might stifle certain

opinions must also be rejected. However, Mill denounces

a disorderly politics not because he desires harmony or unemotional debates, but rather because he is concerned

that tactics of bullying and denouncing opponents get used to silence certain ideas, particularly those that chal-

lenge and refute social norms and customs. The argument for temperance is not an argument for temperance as a

good in and of itself, but rather as a tool meant to safe-

guard the space for different voices and perspectives, to

allow outrage and divergent opinions a place in politics, and to make space for that one voice, that one person with

a contrary opinion at risk of being muted. Mill's defense of individual liberty, then, is not an at-

tack on social relations in total, but rather an attack on those relations that shut down ethical confrontation. Un-

contested acceptance of public opinion and the lack of opportunities for political participation undermine the general well-being of individuals and society. As Mill sug-

gests, a society that willingly accepts the opinions of a few without contestation or critical engagement becomes a

15This is not to deny that one of the most important social benefits of freedom of expression is, for Mill, the advancement toward "truth." However, I do not want to overemphasize the narrative of progress implicit in Mill's argument. Instead, I want to highlight the fact that Mill values debate and discussion for the effects it has on the

character of individuals rather than on the quantity of truth present in a society. For even if society reaches a point where it has replaced all falsehoods with truths, Mill would still defend the importance of freedom of expression.

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society of "sheep" who simply follow rules and a society

without strong affective ties. In fact, communal ties result

from social norms and institutions that encourage par- ticipation in social and political life. In Considerations on

Representative Government, for example, Mill argues that

individuals who are denied the right to vote in elections or

a voice in the governance of a societybecome indifferent to

the social well-being and learn not to care about what hap-

pens to others. Under a despotic government, the mental

faculties of human beings are deprived of exercise and thereby "stunted," and social connections are disbanded.

"Whenever the sphere of action of human beings is arti-

ficially circumscribed," Mill argues, "their sentiments are

narrowed and dwarfed in the same proportion .... Let a person have nothing to do for his country, and he will not care for it" (1991a, 240).

Millian rights-claiming, I am suggesting, is part of an

active, participatory ethos that not only helps to constitute

community, but it also allows for the contestation of the

arrangements and identity categories constitutive of that

very community. This becomes evident when we return

to Mill's opposition to the Contagious Diseases Acts. Here

Mill uses rights language to expose and dispute the domi-

nant conceptions of male sexuality and the sexual double

standard implicit in the Acts. By calling attention to the

inequality perpetrated by the legislation, Mill not only challenges Parliament to rethink its public health policy, but also challenges his society to rethink their conceptions

of male and female sexuality.

Remember that the Contagious Diseases Acts re- sponded to the spread of venereal disease in Britain by calling for constraints on the freedom of women. Mill was

troubled by the belief that male sexual desire could not

be contained and thus needed a safe outlet such as a pool

of uninfected prostitutes. Supporters justified the regula-

tion of prostitutes with the argument that men had nat-

urally uncontrollable sexual urges and therefore needed safe outlets for their sexual desires while women did not.

Women, according to this interpretation, were not only able but expected to control their sexual impulses, while

men were presumed to be beyond control. In demanding

the repeal of the Acts and the protection of women's right

to privacy, Mill drew attention to and challenged these underlying premises. Indeed, he found the Acts to be not only gross vi-

olations of women's liberty but also "monstrous" public policy. From his perspective, Parliament was pandering to

men: "The idea of keeping a large army in idleness and vice

and then keeping a large army of prostitutes to pander to their vices... [is] too monstrous to admit of a moment's

consideration..." Such a system, he argued, was "a mon- strous artificial cure for a monstrous artificial evil which

had far better be swept away at its root in accordance with

democratic principles of government" (1963e, 1688). In keeping with his commitment to the doctrine of necessity,

his recognition of the intersubjective and causal dimen-

sions of subjectivity, Mill suggested that public education about the threat of disease transmission or laws crimi-

nalizing disease transmission to wives be enacted. Such policies would encourage men to change their behavior, cultivating their ability to control their sexual desires. Per- suasion, advice, and information could and would, in his

opinion, lead to important behavior changes. For Mill, there was nothing naturally uncontrollable about male sexuality. Rather, like women's supposedly natural inferi-

ority or female prostitutes' supposedly natural pathology,

men's supposed sexual propensity was actually a product

of the very social arrangements presumed to reflect it.

In challenging dominant conceptions of male sexual-

ity, Mill also challenges the dominant Victorian concep- tions of female sexuality. The double standard allowed and accepted male sexual license while it expected pu- rity and virtue from women. Evidence of female sexual license (i.e., prostitution) was thus taken as evidence of the loss of femininity or womanhood defined in terms of

purity and virtue. This interpretation of the female body led to a rather odd and somewhat contradictory position

on prostitution. On the one hand, supporters argued that the women who were engaged in prostitution had lost all traces of their femininity or womanhood and were therefore already so degraded that surveillance and ex- amination could not degrade them further. On the other

hand, supporters also justified the regulation with the ar-

gument that such legislation would eventually lead to the reclamation of these women, thereby assuming there was

some femininity left to be salvaged. These arguments were

further complicated by supporters' refusal to allow the examination of men. Whereas examination of prostitutes

was not seen as degrading, examination of men was. These

arguments were not entirely convincing to Mill. While he agreed with supporters that female sexuality could be con-

trolled, that it was not naturally unruly, he also believed

that men could control their sexuality. And though he agreed that men could be degraded by the examination, he believed that they would be much less degraded than most women: "Men are not lowered in their own eyes as

much by exposure of their persons" (1963d, 356).


To be sure, Mill's defense of women's rights, like his de-

fense of rights in general, is full of tensions and paradoxes.

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While he defends women's rights and contests dominant

conceptions of female inferiority by describing "charac-

ter" or identity as something that is artificially and socially

constituted, Mill also uses essentialized notions of gender identity to achieve the same purposes. This shift between

a recognition of the mutability of identity and the nat-

uralization of character leads Mill not only to argue for

women's freedom from state interference, but also to sup-

port a host of state and socially based disciplinary prac-

tices that are quite worrisome.16 But it is, as I have argued,

his understanding of the very porousness of the subject, not a belief in impermeable boundaries and inviolable egos, that leads Mill to champion individual freedom at the same time that he champions both participation in politics and the intervention of the state.

These tensions in Mill's work are erased when he is

read as a theorist of liberal individualism and a proponent

of the atomism thesis. Though Mill clearly evinces an anx-

iety about the detrimental effects that social relations may

have on human character, as the atomism thesis suggests, his understanding of what enables human development and how rights can function are, nonetheless, far more

complicated than such a thesis proposes. Human beings do not, he teaches, develop their human capacities in iso-

lation, but rather through engagement with other indi- viduals. And rights claims are an essential element of that

participation. Not only do rights claims reflect the socially

situated qualities of individuals, as they reflect the partial-

ity and plurality of perspectives, but also it is through the

practice of rights claiming, through rights-based political

activity that individual identity is contested and recon- stituted and communities are formed. With John Stuart

Mill, then, we learn that instability and mutability at the

level of identity, while anxiety producing, can also be a

source of democratic political promise.


Arendt, Hannah. 1968. "Truth and Politics." In Between Past and Future. New York: Penguin Books, pp. 227-64.

Barber, Benjamin. 1984. StrongDemocracy: ParticipatoryPolitics for a New Age. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Berlin, Isaiah. 1969. "Two Concepts of Liberty." In Four Essays on Liberty. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 118-72.

Disch, Lisa. 1994. Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Philosophy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

DiStefano, Christine. 1991. Configurations of Masculinity: A Feminist Perspective on Modern Political Theory. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Dworkin, Ronald. 1978. Taking Rights Seriously. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality: An Introduc- tion: Volume I. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books.

Foucault, Michel. 1982. "The Subject and Power." In Afterward to Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 208-26.

Glendon, Mary Ann. 1990. Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse. New York: Free Press.

Laqueur, Thomas. 1990. Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Markell, Patchen. 2003. Bound by Recognition. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

McHugh, Paul. 1980. Prostitution and Victorian Social Reform. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Mill, John Stuart. 1952. Autobiography. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mill, John Stuart. 1963a. An Examination of Sir William Hamil- ton's Philosophy. In The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Vol. 9, ed. John M. Robson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Mill, John Stuart. 1963b. A System of Logic. In The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. John M. Robson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 7-8.

Mill, John Stuart. 1963c. "Nature." In The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. John M. Robson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 10, pp. 374-402.

Mill, John Stuart. 1963d. "The Contagious Diseases Acts." In The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. John M. Robson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 21, pp. 349-71.

Mill, John Stuart. 1963e. The Later Letters of John Stuart Mill, ed. F.E. Mineka and David N. Lindley. In The Collected Works ofJohn Stuart Mill, ed. John M. Robson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p. 17.

Mill, John Stuart. 1965. "Bentham." In Mill's Essays on Literature & Society, ed. J.B. Schneewind. New York: Collier Books, pp. 240-89.

Mill, John Stuart. 1991a. "Considerations on Representative Government." In On Liberty and Other Essays, ed. John Gray. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 203-467.

Mill, John Stuart. 199 lb. "On Liberty." In On Liberty and Other Essays, ed. John Gray. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-128.

Mill, John Stuart. 1991c. "The Subjection of Women." In On Liberty and Other Essays, ed. John Gray. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 469-582.

Mill, John Stuart. 1991d. "Utilitarianism." In On Liberty and Other Essays, ed. John Gray. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 129-201.

Passavant, Paul. 2002. No Escape: Freedom of Speech and the Paradox of Rights. New York: New York University Press.

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16See Shanley (1998) for a good discussion of the tension in Mill's work that comes from his inability to fully embrace the idea of the artificiality of women's "nature."

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Shanley, Mary. 1998. "The Subjection of Women." In Cam- bridge Companion to Mill, ed. John Skorupski. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 396-422.

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Waldron, Jeremy. 1987. "Mill and the Value of Moral Distress." Political Studies 35:410-23.

Walkowitz, Judith. 1991. Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class, and the State. New York: Cambridge Univer- sity Press.

Wolff, Robert Paul. 1968. The Poverty of Liberalism. Boston: Beacon Press.

Zerilli, Linda. 1994. Signifying Woman: Culture and Chaos in Rousseau, Burke, and Mill. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Zerilli, Linda. 2005. "We Feel Our Freedom': Imagination and Judgment in the Thought of Hannah Arendt." Political Theory 33(2):158-88.

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John Stuart Mill

Then and Now


John Stuart Mill is a central figure in the history of British radicalism and liberalism. His texts, On Liberty (1859) and Considerations on Representative Government (1861), are classic expressions of liberal notions of the freedom of the individual and of representative democracy.1 Mill writes on many topics, providing authoritative analyses on political economy, logic, utilitarianism, and feminism amongst other subjects. His texts have acquired classic status as paradigms of liberal political theory, yet to contemporaries, he was a controversial figure, who canvassed challenging radical ideas. In the article, ‘Changing Reputations and Interpretations in the History of Political Thought: J.S. Mill’, Geraint Williams contrasts the esteem with which Mill is regarded in the late twentieth century to the controversy his views generated amongst contemporaries that led to a critical obituary in The Times.2 This disjunction between the contemporary perception of Mill and subsequent readings of him is taken up by Collini in Public Moralists—Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain 1850–1930. The passage of time changes perspectives and renders Gadamer’s ideal of achieving a fusion of horizons in interpreting past texts a demanding undertaking in that changing perceptions can lead to a mere assimilation of the past into the present. Williams observes how in the context of the mid- to late nineteenth century

Mill appeared to be an unsettling figure. He propounded radical causes such as cooperativism, secular education, feminism, atheism, contraception, and

1 J.S. Mill, On Liberty, in J.S. Mill, On Liberty and Other Writings (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 1–116; J.S. Mill, Considerations on Representative Government, in J.S. Mill, Three Essays: On Liberty, Representative Government, The Subjection of Women (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1978).

2 G. Williams, ‘Changing Reputations and Interpretations in the History of Political Thought: J.S. Mill’, Politics, vol. 15, no. 3, September 1995, pp. 183–9.

democracy in ways which disturbed the Establishment. His private life courted controversy, in that he maintained a platonic relationship with a married woman. His status as a controversial figure is reflected in his critical obituary in The Times which was penned by Abraham Hayward, a reactionary political opponent.3 By the latter part of the twentieth century however, many of Mill’s ideas were seen as highly acceptable and consonant with mainstream society. Rights for women, freedom of the individual, contraception, and representa- tive democracy had all been achieved. Mill was assimilated safely into the orthodoxies of the Establishment. Collini observes how changing circum- stances and cultural and political preoccupations continually reframe the ways in which Mill is perceived.4

Mill himself relates his political philosophy to a peculiar education and upbringing. In his Autobiography he recounts how his father, James Mill, a close friend and intellectual associate of Bentham, supervised his education.5

James Mill imposed a hothouse education upon his son to maximize his rational powers so that he could exercise them on behalf of the community and the general welfare. From an early age, J.S. Mill, the eldest son of James, studied Greek and Latin. He read the dialogues of Plato and other classic texts in the original Greek, progressed to the study of advanced mathematics, natural sciences, and logic, and to working alongside his father on political economy. Mill’s Autobiography is moving in its disclosure of the impact of his education and of his recognition of its partiality. At the age of twenty, J.S. Mill suffered a mental crisis, which he puts down to his reaction against the unrelieved rationalism of his upbringing, which had failed to nurture his emotions.6 In the wake of his lapse into depression, Mill resolved to widen his education by reading more broadly so as to take in poetry and the emotional side of experience. He opened up to influences outside of the Benthamism to which his father had subscribed, reading Romantic poetry and reviewing ideas that counterpointed Benthamite rationalism.7 J.S. Mill’s project of self-invention led him to absorb an eclectic set of influences that extended beyond utilitarianism. He drew upon the works of Counter- Enlightenment theorists, whose holistic perspectives incorporated emotion and tradition as well as reason. He also read critics of modernity such as Tocqueville and tested the utilitarianism with which he had been imbued by reviewing the arguments of its critics, notably Macaulay. Mill enlarged his sensibility by reading Romantic poets and drawing upon writers of history and culture to re-imagine individuality and social development. Tocqueville’s

3 For a discussion of Hayward, see S. Collini, Public Moralists—Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain 1850–1930 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1991), p. 323.

4 Ibid., p. 324. 5 J.S. Mill, Autobiography (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1989), pp. 25–65. 6 Ibid., pp. 65–112. 7 Ibid., pp. 112–45.

314 A History of Modern Political Thought

critique of the French revolution and his analysis of the experimental egali- tarian society of the USA alerted Mill to the impact of rapid cultural and political change and to the cultural currency of a mass society. Tocqueville, along with Humboldt, raised questions about individual identity in the context of increasingly one-dimensional mass societies, which influenced Mill’s mature expression of liberalism. Mill, however, neither rejected his rationalist upbringing nor abandoned the

formulas of utilitarianism. Throughout his life, he retained his father’s com- mitment to applying reason to social issues and to scrutinizing the utility of social conventions and laws. His academic reputation was established by the publication of A System of Logic (1843) and The Principles of Political Economy (1848), which he had developed by a systematic reading of texts that had been guided by his father.8 In the former, Mill examines the operations of induction and deduction, connecting experiential phenomena of reality by their associ- ations with one another. Induction tracks the associations of cause and effect, and scientific knowledge is established by framing deductive chains of reason- ing so that experiential phenomena are deduced from foundational principles. Mill’s aspirational social science constitutes a development of classical utili- tarianism, in that it aspires to establish large-scale historical explanations of social phenomena. The Principles of Political Economy subscribes to the rationale for scientific explanation that is established in his Logic. It provides a clear account of Ricardo’s doctrines as constituting a deductive and hypo- thetical system that explains the logic of economic behaviour. For the most part, in Political Economy Mill supports the logic of laissez-faire, though he calls for a redistribution of income by inheritance taxation so that inequities of inherited wealth are moderated. Subsequent editions of his Principles of Political Economy reveal sympathy for the ideals of socialism in that he contemplates the introduction of cooperative forms of industry. In his later Chapters on Socialism, which was unpublished in his lifetime, he is sympa- thetic to the egalitarian ideals and the cooperative ethic of socialism, but is critical of its revolutionary and statist forms.9


J.S. Mill was educated so that he would be useful to society. The inspiration for his education was utilitarian in that it was designed so that he would assimilate

8 J.S. Mill, A System of Logic: Ratiocinative and Inductive; and J.S. Mill, The Principles of Political Economy, with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy, in J.S. Mill, Works, ed. J. Robson et al. (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1963), pp. 1–70.

9 See J.S. Mill, Chapters on Socialism, in J.S.Mill, On Liberty and Other Writings, pp. 219–80.

John Stuart Mill: Then and Now 315

the Benthamite doctrine of utilitarianism to which his father subscribed in order that he would be in a position to contribute significantly to the general welfare. J.S. Mill duly absorbed the doctrine and from about the age of fourteen he employed its arguments to argue for radical change. However, the impact of his mental crisis and his subsequent engagement with a critical literature induced J.S. Mill to consider alternative doctrines on society and culture and to question the doctrine of utility.10 He was careful not to break clearly and decisively from his father’s utilitarianism, though he was prepared to develop a more open and critical position after his father’s death in 1836. Thereafter, he develops a more refined, critical form of utilitarianism, which informs his arguments in On Liberty and his Considerations on Representative Government. His essay, ‘Utilitarianism’ was finally published in instalments in 1861 but its critical and qualified adherence to utilitarianism supports all his mature writings. In this essay Mill defends utilitarianism, which he continues to do throughout his life, but he adopts a revisionary reformulation of the doctrine.

In ‘Utilitarianism’ Mill takes pleasure to be the aim of human activity. Pleasure constitutes what is desired and hence it is what is desirable. Conse- quently happiness, which is realized in pleasure, is the end that should be promoted. This line of reasoning incorporates a move from descriptive to evaluative language and has been criticized subsequently by logical positivists and like-minded analytical philosophers for perpetrating the naturalistic fallacy, whereby an ‘ought’ is derived illicitly from an ‘is.’ The manoeuvre continues to exercise cautious moral philosophers. Mill qualifies classical utilitarianism by maintaining that different pleasures are not to be seen as commensurable. Some pleasures are inherently superior to others. Mill argues that mental pleasures, such as those associated with imagination, the emo- tions, and the intellect, are superior to bodily pleasures. His argument to this effect rehearses that of Plato in the Republic, whereby a person, who experi- ences both intellectual and non-intellectual pleasures, constitutes a qualified judge who is capable of assessing their relative merits. Like Plato, Mill assumes that a qualified judge will rank intellectual pleasures above merely physical ones.11 Someone unversed in intellectual pleasures cannot be trusted to assess their merits. Mill emphasizes the superiority of intellectual pleasures and the role of a qualified judge in the following observation. He maintains, ‘It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. And if the fool or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other

10 See W. Thomas, Mill (Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 10–13. 11 J.S. Mill, ‘Utilitarianism’, together with ‘On Liberty’ and ‘Essay on Bentham’, in J.S. Mill,

Utilitarianism (London and Glasgow, Fontana Books, 1970), pp. 158–61.

316 A History of Modern Political Thought

party to the comparison knows both sides.’12 Socrates’ life is not merely more valuable, it is also happier given the discount that Mill attaches to what are taken to be higher pleasures. Mill’s argument refines utilitarianism by allowing for qualitative distinctions between pleasures. A moment’s reflection on the experience of life suggests that we face difficult choices, and their difficulty is not to be resolved by reducing them to a procedure that calculates a quanti- tative balance sheet of pleasures and pains. The distinction between intellec- tual and non-intellectual pleasures introduces experiential subtleties, whereby we have to decide between qualitatively distinct activities that resist merely quantitative commensuration. At the same time, however, distinguishing between higher and lower pleasures and invoking the arbitration of a suitably qualified judge, allows for the charges of elitism and paternalism to be levelled against Mill. Indeed, Cowling’s critical reading of Mill is focused precisely on what he identifies as Mill’s illiberal paternalism.13 The radicalism of Bentham’s classical doctrine of utilitarianism consists squarely in its fundamental critique of traditional forms of elitism. To reduce the analysis of action to a uniform pleasure though risks coercing analysis to commensurate what cannot be commensurated. Yet to hold that intellectual pleasures are superior to non- intellectual pursuits is to invite the prospect of valuing elite pleasures such as opera and art-house cinema over a populist taste for football and box-office film hits. It is by no means clear that Wagnerian opera is superior to Brazilian football or that French new wave films supersede the James Bond brand, let alone Hitchcock and John Ford movies. Mill qualifies the doctrine of utilitarianism to avoid the rigidities of a

narrow theoretical scheme of thought to embrace the complexities of experi- ence. His revisionism, however, poses questions. Are his later texts utilitarian? Is his express revision of the doctrine of utilitarianism a sign of an altered perspective, which means that On Liberty is not to be assimilated neatly to utilitarianism? On Liberty addresses the question of ‘the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.’14

Against the force of class and hierarchy, the strength of religious convictions and custom, and the growing influence of mass society, Mill concludes that the principle informing legislation should be to allow individuals freedom insofar as their actions do not harm others. He observes, ‘The object of this essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is that the sole end of which mankind are warranted individually or collectively, in interfering with the

12 Ibid., p. 260. 13 See M. Cowling, Mill and Liberalism (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1963). 14 J.S. Mill, On Liberty, in J.S. Mill, On Liberty and Other Writings, p. 5.

John Stuart Mill: Then and Now 317

liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community against his will is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.’15 Mill extols individual freedom, recognizing the value of autonomy by which an individual determines their own conduct by rational deliberation. Above all, he argues vigorously for the right of individuals to express their opinions. Debate enhances understanding of a subject, even where there is not much room for doubt over what is in question. Discussion permits discrimination and consideration of all aspects of a question. He remarks, ‘There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation.’16

On Liberty provides a succinct but robust case for individual liberty and for limiting the grounds whereby an individual’s liberty may be restricted legit- imately. Individuals are to enjoy freedom, save where their actions manifestly harm others. Yet the precise grounds on which Mill defends what is known as the ‘harm principle’ are questionable, and have been disputed by a succession of commentators. Questions arise over what constitutes harm and over how self-regarding actions, that is actions that do not affect others, are to be distinguished from other-regarding actions when social factors are implicated in ostensibly private activities. These questions are complicated by Mill’s dual commitments to the value of individual liberty and to the theoretical primacy of utilitarianism. Mill justifies the ‘harm principle’ expressly by the theory of utility. Regulation of individual conduct is to be decided by what conduces to human happiness, though Mill stipulates that happiness is to be calculated by taking into account the progressively rational character of humanity.17

On Liberty appears concise and clear and yet it is by no means clear how Mill understands either harm or what constitutes self-regarding actions. How is Mill’s utilitarianism compatible with individual liberty if, in principle, hap- piness might be maximized by extensive regulation of individual conduct? The notion of a self-regarding sphere of action is problematic given that language itself is social and that nominally private actions depend upon the operation of linguistic rules. All forms of action can be seen as social so the idea of a private sphere, in which individuals cannot be held to impinge upon others, is liable to the objection that the self cannot be separated easily from a social context.18

Anyone who has experienced the suicide of a family member would acknow- ledge how we cannot divorce this seemingly aberrant personal act from its

15 Ibid., p. 13. 16 Ibid., p. 22. 17 Ibid., p. 14. 18 Wittgenstein’s notion of the impossibility of a private language may be seen as pointing to

this conclusion. See L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1976). See the remarks on sensations and on lying, pp. 88–93.

318 A History of Modern Political Thought

social causes and consequences, even if suicide is to be recognized as a justifiable act. Again, drug addiction affects immediate family and friends of the addict but also society more generally. In considering practical examples of his harm principle, Mill shows a readiness to allow regulation of individuals that harmonizes neither with subsequent opinion nor with an implacable individualism that is opposed to state activity. Mill allows for regulation where an individual owes an assignable moral duty to others. Hence Mill considers that the illiterate and the indigent should be excluded from having children if it can be shown that they would not constitute responsible parents.19 What appears a clear criterion for regulating the conduct of individuals is less transparent under inspection. Commentators have resorted to a number of strategies in specifying more

precisely Mill’s harm principle. Ten identifies morality-dependent harms which are not to be subject to legislation because they consist in harms that cause offence to the moral beliefs of others rather than from harms that do not depend on moral judgments.20 Rees urges regulation of individual conduct is to be undertaken only if harm is to be inflicted on the interests of others.21 On this reading, which draws upon Mill’s express reference to interests, individual action is to be unconstrained and hence judged to be self-regarding action if it does not impinge on the interests of others. This refinement transfers the problem of deciding what constitutes harm to the question of what constitutes the interests of others. Rees maintains that interests are to be determined by current social and political values, which results in the harm criterion reflect- ing rather than determining political judgments. Perhaps this transformation of the harm principle into a reflection of current norms is a plausible manoeuvre, as it allows for the important distinction between private and public without committing to a universal principle, which might endorse temporary prejudices on issues such as a woman’s role in society. But its plausibility does not certify its credibility as an interpretation of Mill’s view. Mill’s harm principle is insightful without providing a convincing account of how it is to be determined. Its continuing political relevance, however, is indisputable. Ultimately, the line between the private and the public might be undecidable on general or logical grounds, but its consideration cannot be neglected. Recent controversy over state and corporate access to electronic data raises issues over the sphere of individual liberty. Constant surveillance and monitoring of an individual’s correspondence might be justified by a threat of terrorism but it is susceptible to a counter-argument over the

19 J.S. Mill, On Liberty, in J.S. Mill, On Liberty and Other Writings, p. 14. 20 C.L. Ten, Mill On Liberty (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1980). See also T. Honderich, ‘ “On

Liberty” and Morality-Dependent Harms’, Political Studies, vol. 30, 1982, pp. 504–14. 21 J. Rees, ‘A Re-Reading of Mill on Liberty’, in J. Gray and G.W. Smith (eds),Mill On Liberty:

In Focus (London, Routledge, 1991), pp. 169–89.

John Stuart Mill: Then and Now 319

countervailing priority of individual liberty. The hacking of an individual’s phone by a newspaper that is bent on a salacious story or on ascertaining evidence of a criminal victim’s state of mind appears to lack justification. Why is this so? Its unacceptability might be argued to derive from a lack of support for its practice by a countervailing public interest such as the prevention of harm to others.

Mill’s concern for identifying the grounds by which an individual’s conduct might be regulated remains of continuing interest, but his argument for restriction on an individual’s conduct is neither clear nor convincing. Perhaps interpretive tensions arise out of the combination of Mill’s impassioned defence of individual liberty with his subscription to utilitarianism. Berlin observes how Mill’s enthusiastic support for the value of individual autonomy approximates to an intrinsic endorsement of the principle.22 Certainly Mill’s celebration of an individual, who employs their reason to deliberate on how they should act, appears to be unqualified and to be independent of utilitarian justification. Moreover, even Mill’s ostensibly utilitarian arguments for indi- vidual liberty are derived from a qualified notion of utility, which imagines humanity as a progressive species that develops its rationality over time. Hence Gray urges that Mill accommodates rational autonomy as a goal of human development in that it constitutes a developing feature of happiness. Mill was acutely aware of the problem of Chinese stationariness, the alarming situation of a culture that fails to develop because ideas are neither canvassed nor debated freely. Mill’s own career and personal history disclosed to him the constitutive role of rational autonomy in the achievement of happiness. Social and political progress could also be seen to arise out of free debate and rational deliberation. Mill identified persisting inequalities and moral blackspots in his own society that required the moral commitment of free individuals. Individ- uals, for Mill, should resist the pressures of mass society and conformism, and commit to improving their society by supporting what as yet were unpopular causes, such as recognizing the claims of women. There is a tension in Mill’s argument in On Liberty between his recognition of the value of individual liberty and the potential for utilitarianism to override individual liberty in its focus upon general happiness. Mill’s qualified notion of utility goes some way to relieve that tension but there is no unequivocal expression of either how the principle of individual freedom is to be conceived or how the regulation of individual conduct is to be enacted.23 O’Rourke maintains that Mill operates with a cohesive anti-paternalist view of utilitarianism

22 See I. Berlin, ‘John Stuart Mill and the Ends of Life’, in I. Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 182–3.

23 See, for instance, J. Riley,Mill on Liberty (London, Routledge, 1998), where the argument is put forward that Mill reserves the notion of other-regarding actions for certain sorts of harm.

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that entails a commitment to individuality and freedom but he abstracts from the tensions that are evident in Mill’s account.24

In Considerations on Representative Government, Mill reviews citizenship, democracy, and the role of political representatives. He urges popular civic participation in democratic life by citizens, while defending the freedom of representatives to deliberate independently on public issues when representing their electors. The executive sphere of governance is taken to be separate from the activity of framing laws, which is the responsibility of elected representa- tives. Mill recognizes the civic responsibilities of electors, and in the light of the burden of these responsibilities he recommends the franchise is to be limited to those who are literate and numerate. The rationale for the restriction of the franchise turns upon the premium he places upon reasonable deliberation on the part of electors, which is to be enhanced by provisions for plural voting, whereby those in professions are to be awarded additional votes. Rational deliberation over the merits of prospective public representatives will ensure that they possess the requisite capacities for deliberation and rational decision- making. He favours proportional representation on account of the opportun- ities it affords for the election of public-spirited and independently minded candidates. Mill assumes representative government to be best suited to expressing

and nurturing the public-spiritedness of citizens while allowing for rational deliberation on the part of representatives. Participation in local government allows scope for wider civic activity and an increasing provision of education will qualify more of the population for voting and for engaging reasonably in public life. His views on political participation are thereby qualified by the requirements of historical progress in England and more emphatically in the colonies. Mill’s views on the colonies reflect a contemporary imperialism that has been critiqued subsequently for its complicity in a despotism that is paradoxically justified by a commitment to future freedom.25 His views on democracy are balanced between a commitment to public engagement and a concern to protect and nurture individuality and reason, which imposes limits on its inclusivity. The idea is that paternalism prepares the way for a more inclusive civic engagement. Civic engagement, for Mill, is itself educative and constitutive of the self-realization and hence happiness of individuals. The rationale for his advocacy of open voting resides in its promotion of reason and responsibility. He observes, ‘The bare fact of having to give an account of

24 K.C. O’Rourke, John Stuart Mill and Freedom of Expression—The Genesis of a Theory (London and New York, Routledge, 2001), p. 125.

25 See B. Parekh, ‘Liberalism and Colonialism: A Critique of Locke and Mill’, in J. Pieterse and B. Parekh (eds), The Decolonization of the Imagination (London and Atlantic Highlands, Zed Books, 1995), p. 90; B. Arneil, ‘Liberal Colonialism, Domestic Colonies and Citizenship’, History of Political Thought, vol. 33, no. 3, Autumn 2012, p. 503.

John Stuart Mill: Then and Now 321

their conduct, is a powerful inducement [for electors] to adhere to conduct of which at least some decent account can be given.’26

In 1869 Mill published The Subjection of Women, a project which he had shared with his companion Harriet Taylor. The text registers Mill’s whole- hearted support for equality and in particular for sexual equality. He justifies female equality on utilitarian criteria, because he imagines that the emancipa- tion of women will contribute to the general happiness of society by enrolling the capabilities of a section of the population that has been denied access to education and employment possibilities. He maintains that men will benefit from the emancipation of women, because a prospective companionate mar- riage between equals will be more rewarding and satisfying for men as well as for women. The repressive domination hitherto exercised by men is harmful to men as well as to women, because it denies reciprocal respect to both parties. Mill urges that women are entitled to political representation and to an education that will enable them to play their part in the social world. To the reactionary complaint that women are not men’s equals, Mill observes that the status of women cannot be assessed until their social situation is equal to that of men. He notes, ‘Until conditions of equality exist, no one can possibly assess the natural differences between women and men, distorted as they have been.’27 Subsequent feminists have critiqued Mill, for his limiting assumption that emancipated women will tend to concentrate on family life and the rearing of children. Mill’s feminism may have reflected contemporary con- ventions but it is opposed in principle to dominant patriarchal assumptions and it contributed to his contemporary reputation as a disturbing radical.


Collini is a contextualist historian, whose interpretive strategy resembles the Cambridge School in attending to what he terms ‘the recovery of intentions, the reconstruction of conventions and the restoration of contexts’.28 He has published a number of pieces on Mill, notably, Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain 1850–1930 but also the Introduction to the influential Cambridge University Press collection of essays, J.S. Mill On Liberty and Other Writings and an essay on Mill, ‘The Tendencies of Things: J.S. Mill and the Philosophic Method’ in the edited collection of essays by

26 J.S. Mill, Three Essays: On Liberty, Representative Government, The Subjection of Women, p. 300.

27 J.S. Mill, The Subjection of Women, in J.S. Mill, On Liberty and Other Writings, p. 130. 28 See S. Collini, Liberalism and Sociology—L.T. Hobhouse and Political Argument in England

1880–1914 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 7. A footnote contains an express recognition of a debt to Skinner.

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Collini, Winch, and Burrow, That Noble Science of Politics—A Study in Nineteenth Century Intellectual History.29 In Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain 1850–1930, Collini reads Mill context- ually, observing what Mill shares and disputes with contemporary figures and how he anticipates specific audiences for his texts. Collini sets himself against the view that Mill’s political thought can be gleaned simply by reading his texts. His interpretation of Mill is related expressly to a wider sense of how the history of political thought of Mill’s time should be conducted. He observes, ‘The conventional explanatory relation tends to suggest that the political attitudes widely encountered in the records left by the educated class should be seen as evidence of the “influence” of the most prominent theories of the period, such as Utilitarianism and Social Darwinism or philosophical idealism. My initial assumption has been, rather, that those theories acquired their prominence partly because they gave a coherent form and foundation to attitudes and beliefs already widely if unselfconsciously entertained. In this sense political theories are parasitic upon the less explicit habits of response and evaluation that are embedded in the culture.’30 Hence Collini interprets Mill as a thinker who reflects the cultural milieu in which he is situated and whose moral sensibility is of a piece with the prevailing historical culture. Mill is not taken to be an author whose doctrines are formulated in ways that do not fit with contemporary assumptions. Collini reads Mill in the light of a prevailing political culture. Mill is shown

to react against, and to act so as to influence, that culture. In this light Mill looks rather different from standard ways of reading him. First, Mill’s texts are not taken primarily to represent vehicles for logically articulated arrangements of ideas, which advance theoretical standpoints. Rather than elaborating sets of abstract, timeless ideas, Mill’s texts appear as instruments of communica- tion that respond to and aim to modify a climate of opinion. Mill appears polemical rather than serene, and Collini highlights the moral and instrumen- tal force of Mill’s rhetoric. For instance, he identifies how Mill’s call for the emancipation of women is charged by references to slavery in the American South.31 Collini recognizes howMill’s texts reflect moral imperatives, which in turn mirror a contemporary preoccupation, namely an urgent agenda to ameliorate the moral health of society. The educated classes of the period are observed to be preoccupied with morality and the moral temper of society. Collini identifies this moralism and more specifically a commitment to

29 See S. Collini, Public Moralists—Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain 1850–1930; S. Collini, ‘Introduction’, in J.S. Mill, On Liberty and Other Writings, pp. vii–xxvi; and S. Collini, ‘The Tendencies of Things—J.S. Mill and the Philosophic Method’, in S. Collini, D. Winch, and J. Burrow, That Noble Science of Politics—A Study in Nineteenth Century Intellectual History (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 127–60.

30 S. Collini, Public Moralists—Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain 1850–1930, p. 4. 31 Ibid., pp. 141–4.

John Stuart Mill: Then and Now 323

promote altruism to be central to Mill’s work. While Mill’s later texts might concentrate upon particular themes such as individual liberty, the status of women, and the nature of democracy, they are taken to exhibit a common moralism in their inspiration and tone. Collini observes, ‘Behind the particular issues to which the topical pieces of this last period [of Mill’s life] were addressed there runs a common theme; the moral health of society is the highest good.’32

Collini is alert to changing perspectives on Mill, which he traces to the particularities of the contexts, cultures, and standpoints of his interpreters. He situates succeeding readings of Mill within a general typology that is devised to indicate how an author is likely to be interpreted by successive generations. Contemporary readings of an author are taken to be liable to reflect the partisan nature of contemporary debate. Thereafter the author is likely to be interpreted as manifesting paradigmatic standpoints that are associated with the preoccupations of the succeeding generation, before he or she fades from direct relevance only to be revived by a more distant generation as a classic, magisterial authority. Collini notes how on his death the treatment of Mill is quite removed from a respectful honouring of his place in the great tradition of English political thought, which must await a suitable lapse of time when polemical skirmishes are forgotten. The immediate response is partisan and Mill is represented as a partisan figure. His obituary in The Times by Abraham Hayward, a reactionary opponent of Mill’s liberalism, is a case in point. The Times obituary was neither detached nor respectful. It is a reminder that at the time of his death Mill was a controversial figure, who had dealt polemically with issues such as the status of women, atheism, and contraception. For Hayward, Mill was doctrinaire and un-English.33 Thereafter Mill’s reputation was entangled in the subsequent divide between theorists and ideologues who lined up either in favour of individualism or of collectivism.34 Collini observes the partiality and restrictiveness of this framework of interpretation, ‘In the 1880s and 1890s Mill was increasingly treated as an “old-fashioned” Liberal and On Liberty, his protest against the intolerance and bigotry of some of the most active forces in Victorian public life and public opinion was conscripted retrospectively to serve as a canonical statement of the Individualist doctrine of the State.’35

Collini’s sensitivity to issues of interpretation informs his incisive Introduc- tion to the volume, On Liberty and Other Writings. In the Introduction he recognizes the partiality of a construal of Mill that is shaped by subsequent preoccupations. He is at pains to warn readers of the dangers of schematic interpretations, which misleadingly consider Mill’s thought without reference to his historical context. In analysingOn Liberty’s discussion of the question of

32 Ibid., p. 132. 33 Ibid., p. 323. 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid., p. 324.

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the desirability of state intervention on social and economic issues, he remarks pointedly on the text’s propensity to be misinterpreted. ‘It is worth drawing attention to Mill’s explicit insistence that this set of issues has not been the subject of his essay, because one of the most frequent misreadings of On Liberty [encouraged by the use made of the book in the late nineteenth- century debate between Individualists and Collectivists] sees it as recommend- ing a policy of laissez-faire or non-interference by the state in the economy. In fact, Mill held a far more complex position on the social and economic role of the state than is often recognised, recommending considerably more “inter- ference” in some areas than was common in Victorian Britain, and rather less in others.’36 This common misconstrual of Mill is traced to the interpretive fallacy by which an interpreter projects anachronistically assumptions of their own context on to the subject of interpretation. Likewise, Collini takes it to be misleading to interpret Mill as imagining a sphere of private life to be sealed off from the social world. To presume that Mill might separate individuals from their social context is to impute to Mill assumptions about individualism that are drawn from a subsequent and different era. Collini interprets Mill’s reference to self-regarding actions to constitute a rhetorical way of making a normative point about the legitimacy of state interference upon the conduct of individuals, rather than expressing a substantive commitment to the separ- ation of the private from the public.37

Collini’s Mill reflects a reading of the public culture of the Victorian society in which Mill was situated. Like other public intellectuals of the period, Mill is a moralist and a determined altruist, who deploys his rhetorical and polemical skills to argue for moral improvement in the individual and in society. Collini’s selective focus upon a Victorian Mill succeeds in altering the way in which Mill is to be perceived. If Mill is portrayed standardly as an indi- vidualist combating collectivism, or as an ideological adherent of classic or new liberalism, he is absorbed by general theoretical or ideological doctrines, which abstract from the thicker moral attitudes that stirred the educated classes in the mid-nineteenth century.38 Collini is perceptive in observing the rhetorical urgency and moral commitment of Mill’s writings. On Liberty is infused with a moral passion. Mill enthuses over the possibilities of auton- omy, whereby individuals might express and achieve moral enlightenment. Likewise Mill is appalled by the prospect of ‘Chinese stationariness’, and to avert moral indifference he canvasses vigorously for freedom of expression to promote the moral and political improvement of the condition of England.39

36 S. Collini, ‘Introduction’, in J.S. Mill, On Liberty and Other Writings, p. xvi. 37 Ibid., p. xvi. 38 For an interpretation that imagines Mill as a utilitarian, whose thought can be read as

expressing a particular doctrine, see K.C. O’Rourke, John Stuart Mill and Freedom of Expression— The Genesis of a Theory.

39 See J.S. Mill, On Liberty and Other Writings, pp. 19–55.

John Stuart Mill: Then and Now 325

Collini’s ‘The Tendencies of Things: John Stuart Mill and the Philosophic Method’, a chapter that he contributes to the volume, That Noble Science of Politics that he co-edited with Winch and Burrow, is underpinned by his contextualist reading of Mill. The object of the text is to investigate a range of approaches to the science of politics in the nineteenth century. Collini’s analysis of Mill takes its bearings from the avowed aim in Mill’s Logic to develop a comprehensive science of politics by relating politics to large-scale laws of social development. If Mill’s grand intellectual ambitions run counter to his father’s more specific focus upon politics, Mill’s actual engagement with the study of politics is taken to undercut the announced ambition. Instead, Collini presents a morally engaged Mill, who reflects upon the idiosyncrasies of English history and engages with its contemporary political culture to urge the moral case for liberty and timely reforms.40 Mill is shown to have turned against an intellectualist view of collective and individual conduct after his ‘mental crisis’, and to have looked to the force of emotions and the roles of habit and convention. In practice, however, Collini notes that Mill’s change in perspective, ‘issued only in the highly conventional practice of making “char- acter” and “national character” his central explanatory concepts. By contrast to the Universalist prescriptions of deductive Utilitarianism this does have a certain relativizing tendency, but unless it is resolved into some more funda- mental set of determinants (which Mill never saw his way of doing), it remains within a strongly traditional-moral-political vocabulary.’41 Collini remarks on how, in his later writings, Mill turns to the notion of character rather than to the grand scientific laws to which his Logic had appealed. In combating the great evils of the age, conformity and stationariness, Mill relies upon the countervailing moral qualities of character and virtue.42 Collini concludes by observing how Mill’s political texts attest to the significance of politics, and a circumstantial engagement with particular events and episodes in the light of perceived issues and problems. He remarks, ‘Diversity and individuality were the most constant features of Mill’s dreams; uniformity and stagnation stalked his nightmares. In Mill’s ideal, the clash of contending powers, and the conflict of opinions, the pursuit of principles and the exercise of judgment, the actions of individuals and the mastering of circumstances—politics, in short—were ineliminable.’43

In assessing Collini’s overall interpretation of Mill, it is instructive to bear in mind his interpretive strategy. The Mill that constitutes the subject of Collini’s inquiry is a construction. There are multiple ways of inquiring into Mill’s thought. There are general and theoretical contexts, more immediate cultural factors, and personal issues. Just as Pocock does not establish a monopoly on explaining Machiavelli by way of his construction of the Machiavellian

40 S. Collini, ‘The Tendencies of Things—J.S. Mill and the Philosophic Method’, p. 129. 41 Ibid., p. 151. 42 Ibid. 43 Ibid., p. 159.

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moment, so Collini abstracts from sundry influences upon Mill’s thought to offer a productive analysis of aspects of Mill that reflect his participation in contemporary currents of the moral and political culture. In Public Moralists—Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain 1850–1930, Collini observes, ‘I am dealing with an aspect—or more precisely, a set of character- istics together with their implied assumptions—of the moral sensibility of the Victorian educated classes.’44 Hence Collini selects from Victorian public culture and sifts the multiple aspects of Mill’s to focus upon those features that he takes to be symptomatic of a particular mindset. Collini understands public intellectuals of the period to be preoccupied by morality, altruism, and character in ways that are evidenced in Mill’s writings. These preoccupations tend to be neglected in subsequent interpretations of his thought that are formulated by later generations of critics operating with alien assumptions. The upshot is that Collini recognizes distinctive aspects of Mill’s political thought that tend to be overlooked. Mill is neither to be neatly categorized as an individualist or as a utilitarian, nor is he to be venerated as a classic English liberal. If the sharpness of Collini’s perception of Mill is to be respected, then what

he tends to underplay or overlook should also be recognized. Mill emerges from his analysis as an engaged moralist, who is fired by encounters with contrary intellectuals. Yet the assimilation of Mill to cultural norms tends to downplay the force of Mill’s enduring reflective theoretical commitments. After all, Mill was a utilitarian, albeit a qualified one, and the arguments of his key works, such as On Liberty and The Subjection of Women, are framed in utilitarian terms. Collini is quite explicit in subordinating the role of theory to moral sensibility in Mill’s thought. He observes, ‘My initial assumption has been, rather, that those theories acquired their prominence partly because they gave a coherent form and foundation to attitudes and beliefs already widely if unselfconsciously entertained . . . In this sense political theories are parasitic upon the less explicit habits of response and evaluation that are embedded in the culture.’45 This express assumption of Collini’s, that theory is subordinate to less explicit and formulated cultural beliefs and attitudes, begs questions. What does it mean to suggest that political theories are parasitic on less explicit habits of thinking and evaluating? How can this claim be established? The relationship between differing styles and levels of thinking are difficult to specify. It is tempting to reduce more elaborate and reflectively intricate forms of thinking to more basic and rudimentary sources. A provocatively ‘materi- alist’Marx, for instance, in polemical mode, imagines ideas to constitute mere reflections of electrical activity in the brain. Freud understands unconscious

44 S. Collini, Public Moralists—Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain 1850– 1930, p. 64.

45 Ibid., p. 4.

John Stuart Mill: Then and Now 327

drives to underlie forms of conscious reflection and purposeful behaviour. But such moves are problematic as well as interestingly provocative. Relations between levels of thinking and between express thought and less explicit attitude are more likely to be interactive and dialectical than to be reductively causal. For instance, a commitment to utilitarianism might not be dependent upon more primitive ways of seeing and experiencing things. In Mill’s case he was educated to be a utilitarian and from the outset he sees acting in the world as reflecting the assignable values of pleasure and pain. It is true that Mill reacts sharply against his upbringing, and his modification of utilitarianism is to be seen in that light. This reaction, however, takes place at a variety of levels including a theoretical engagement with utilitarianism and is not to be construed as representing a determination of his ideas by sub-theoretical phenomena. It is not enough to dismiss Mill’s commitment to utilitarianism as an abstract and remote theoretical activity that is detached from real world engagement with politics and morality. Rosen casts doubt on Collini’s perspective precisely because he takes Mill to be doing more than merely reflecting Victorian prejudices in developing his conception of social science.46 Mill’s Autobiography reveals a complex thinker, who frames a continuous and deliberate strategy to widen theoretical horizons by reading texts that work against the grain of his intellectual inheritance. Hence his theoretical commitment to broaden the range of his utilitarianism, to examine the historic conditions of individuality, to deepen his conception of social science, and to intensify his engagement in rational criticism are neither to be ignored nor declared to be necessarily subordinate to less reflexively constituted attitudes.

Collini distinguishes his own historical reconstruction of Mill’s moral sensibility from his paradigmatic typology of generational readings of past thinkers. This typology is schematic in presuming that generational interpret- ations conform to a general pattern that is not affected by the particularities of the contexts in which it is displayed. Hence Collini’s own avowedly contextual interpretation of Mill is set apart from the purview of the generic interpretive scheme that he outlines. The relationship between past and present is integral to interpretative understanding but is not to be explained by a generic standardized formula. In his own interpretation of Mill, Collini aims to recover the moral and intellectual context in which Mill operated and he warns against the intrusion of anachronistic assumptions into an historical contextual explanation. Yet he offers a generic acontextual formula for under- standing successive interpretations of past thought. The upshot is that he wavers uneasily between allowing past or present perspectives to dominate interpretive horizons. In contrast, Gadamer insists that interpretation is to be achieved by achieving a fusion of horizons, which is realized through a

46 F. Rosen, Mill (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013).

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dialogue between past and present. Present horizons frame the questions that are asked of past texts, and recovered past attitudes reshape present convic- tions. Yet in undertaking a hermeneutical fusion of past and present the devil is in the detail. Much depends upon the ways in which questions are posed and upon the ways in which the past is allowed to be constituted. How, if at all, can Mill’s political thought be related to the present in ways which provide mutual interpretive understanding of past and present? The question of Mill’s rela- tionship to the present and hence the possibilities of fusing past and present informs Skorupski’s interpretation of Mill in his Why Read Mill Today? Hence, we will review Skorupski’s argument to consider if and how Mill’s thought might be construed so as to bear upon the present.47

Skorupski takes Mill to be a political thinker, who elaborates a liberal response to the questions of how to live and how to live with others. His response to those questions are seen to be of continuing relevance to readers in the twenty-first century. Mill’s assimilation of multiple perspectives, including Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment ideas tempers the rationalism of his inherited utilitarianism to allow for the ideal of individual self-realization. Mill’s eclecticism is held to equip him with a synoptic perspective that renders his thought relevant to distinctively modern problems. Skorupski sets out salient aspects of modernity and post-modernity that constitute contemporary conditions to which he then relates Mill’s liberalism. He imagines modern Western society to be confronted by political tensions arising out of a rise of individualism that runs counter to wider social responsibilities and to trad- itional and revived ideals of community and collectivism. Skorupski expands upon his reading of these tensions of modernity, which

are identified as preoccupying Hegel and Comte, and as inspiring Marx’s critique of capital and related commitment to communism. On the one hand, Hegel’s synthesis of currents of modernity combines individualism with a reassertion of conservative corporatism. On the other hand, Skorupski takes Marx to support the idea of an immanent and imminent revolutionary break with a divisive capitalism. These responses to social divisiveness are held to contrast with Mill’s more balanced engagement with modernity’s tensions. Mill combines an appreciation of the ideal of individual self-realization with a commitment to democratic citizenship whereby individuals undertake civic engagement for the public good. Skorupski considers Mill’s balanced align- ment of individualism with democratic citizenship to constitute a productive way of dealing with the contrary currents of modernity, while avoiding the excesses of reaction and revolution. Mill avoids forms of conservative and radical collectivism and is valued for steering a path between liberty and equality. In advocating Mill’s relevance to current questions of individual

47 J. Skorupski, Why Read Mill Today? (Abingdon and New York, Routledge, 2006), p. 1.

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and social life, Skorupski concludes, ‘Certainly Mill sets out a real option. It is not a set of high-minded platitudes that no-one could dispute nor is it an outlook that we might find interestingly strange but could not think of adopting. It is close enough but different enough, to be challenging. He develops a liberal humanistic and civic ideal which stands in distinct contrast to other visions, such as the soul-saving ascetic ideal provided by communi- tarian ideals of society, and strange as it may seem to pick out a single thinker in this context, the anti-political aesthetic perfectionism of Nietzsche.’48

As well as assessing Mill’s relevance to individual and collective values, Skorupski considers how Mill’s thought relates to a post-modern questioning of objectivity in social and political thought. On this reading of the epistemo- logical status of social and political analysis, post-modern questioning of foundations has combined with the waning of religious belief and a concomi- tant popularity of scientific forms of explanation to issue in a prevailing relativization of values in our contemporary world.49 Mill’s determination to think freely and critically about empirical and theoretical issues offers a reasonable alternative to Nietzsche and to his denial of the objectivity of thought.50 In the context of a decline in ethical objectivism Skorupski takes contemporary liberalism to trade upon and reinforce a relaxed but unsatisfac- tory subjectivism, which harmonizes with a prevailing commodification and disputability of values. Rawls’s later formulation of liberalism in Political Liberalism is taken as paradigmatic in justifying a form of liberalism that minimizes comprehensive commitments to liberal values. It relies upon the commitments that participants in liberal democracies make to the rules of the political game. This limited defence of liberal values is at odds with Mill’s strong support for individuality and a comprehensive justification of liberal values. On this admittedly contentious reading of the present, Mill appears to be distinct from contemporary frames of argument, but also shows a continu- ing relevance in providing a more robust and persuasive defence of liberalism than that currently on offer.51 Skorupski sees Mill’s strategy for defending liberalism to retain value for a world in which liberal politics are practised but lack theoretical justification of its values that motivates liberal citizens.

Past and present can be related together in multiple ways. Skorupski’s study of Mill may well rely upon his own contentious reading of the present and yet it succeeds in providing a context whereby Mill’s liberalism is at once removed from present preoccupations and yet at the same time contributes to contem- porary liberal values. In fact Skorupski might have pressed the point that Mill is relevant to the contemporary situation precisely because of the distinctiveness of his Victorian context and moral sensibility. Collini might deny the continuing relevance of Mill given the latter’s highly wrought and

48 Ibid., p. 92. 49 Ibid., pp. 65–91. 50 Ibid., pp. 92–107. 51 Ibid., pp. 106–7.

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high-minded moralism that is at odds with our contemporary situation. However, Mill’s very high-mindedness allows him to urge the moral case for liberty of the individual and for participative citizenship that represents a more rhetorically persuasive case for liberalism than is provided by Rawls and post-Rawlsian liberalism. On Liberty may not be a dry text of classic liberal thought and a rhapsody for old-fashioned individualistic liberalism, and it might be animated by a variety of unfamiliar Victorian moral themes, but its theoretical precision, its recognition of modern problems, and its high-minded and rhetorically persuasive commitment to the value of liberty render it of relevance to debates about how individuals are to live when citizens are looking for direction and public purpose.


Estimates of Mill and his political theory have changed over time. Whereas the status of Mill in the history of political thought now appears unquestionable, Collini shows that this status is itself the product of historical development. Mill’s controversial status at the time of his death has receded as the emotions unleashed in political struggles over the emancipation of women, contracep- tion, and atheism have quietened. Nonetheless, Mill’s thought is not to be treated as a museum piece. It remains vibrant in a way that resists the fate of a sedate and respected afterlife that Collini imagines is reserved for political theorists. Mill’s unique education and his reaction against his upbringing motivated him to assume an eclectic perspective that enabled him to incorp- orate a range of viewpoints in his thought. The breadth of his thought in combination with his moral commitment to improve society ensures his nineteenth-century attitude to public affairs remains pertinent to contempor- ary political issues. He develops a liberal politics that deals with aspects of modern life that continue to exercise the citizens of today. Mill confronts the issue of liberty of the individual directly in a measured

way that commands respect even if the precise terms of his argument are contentious. He recognizes how a developing mass society places a premium on individuality and autonomous self-development. In a context of ever increasing commodification and the production of cultural products for a mass market, the ideal of a self-governed life in which plans are deliberated and individual ideas are canvassed resonates. If Mill’s ‘harm’ principle can be questioned, his recognition of the political point in drawing a line between private and public conduct remains of significance. In societies where the possibilities of surveillance and concerted intervention into the lives of indi- viduals have increased immeasurably along with the capabilities of commu- nications technology, the need to strike a balance between popular control

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over public concerns and the protection of individual liberties must remain on the political agenda. The contemporary security agenda in Western countries struggling to extirpate terrorist activities entail that pressures are placed on individual liberties, while distrust of public agencies and cultural conformity ensure that individual liberty is a valued ideal.

If Mill is a political theorist who remains relevant to present-day politics, he is also a remote figure, whose thought is rooted in a public culture with a different moral sensibility. Collini provides a convincing account of Mill that accentuates the distinctiveness of his milieu, which is a past world in which altruism and moral fervour were commonplace amongst public intellectuals. His assumptions and characteristic moralism differ sharply from more sub- jectivist and undemanding attitudes of the contemporary public scene. Yet the differences between his age and our own do not render his thought of merely academic interest to today’s world. Consideration of Mill supports Gadamer’s way of understanding the history of ideas that envisages past and present perspectives to be constituted reciprocally. Historical scholarship can reveal the differences of Mill’s thought and context from subsequent developments. His acceptance of colonialism and restrictions on the franchise reveal com- plicity with recessive attitudes, yet his distinctive moral commitments to public life render his thought of decided interest to a contemporary world in which political direction and moral commitments appear to be waning.

332 A History of Modern Political Thought


Alexis de Tocqueville

Democracy in America

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) published the two volumes of Democracy in America in 1835 and 1840, not long after he had returned to his native France from a visit to the United States. He was an aristocrat who served in the French Chamber of Deputies and briefly as foreign minister. His interpretation of the French Revolution, The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856), is also a classic. He went to the United States to study the prison system but became preoccupied with American politics in comparison to his European experiences. He believed that America embodied the era of democratic revolutions in which he lived and which was the wave of the future. He emphasized “the general equality of conditions” in America that affected all aspects of politics, economics, customs, and opinions.

Author’s Introduction

Amongst the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of condition among the people. I readily discovered the prodigious influence which this primary fact exercises on the whole course of society; it gives a peculiar direction to public opinion, and a peculiar tenor to the laws; it imparts new maxims to the governing authorities, and peculiar habits to the governed.

I soon perceived that the influence of this fact extends far beyond the political character and the laws of the country, and that it has no less empire over civil society than over the government; it creates opinions, gives birth to new sentiments, founds novel customs, and modifies whatever it does not produce. The more I advanced in the study of American society, the more I perceived that this equality of condition is the fundamental fact from which all others seem to be derived, and the central point at which all my observations constantly terminated.

I then turned my thoughts to our own hemisphere, and thought that I discerned there something analogous to the spectacle which the New World presented to me. I observed that equality of condition, though it has not there reached the extreme limit which it seems to have attained in the United States, is constantly approaching it; and that the democracy which governs the American communities appears to be rapidly rising into power in Europe. Hence I conceived the idea of the book which is now before the reader.

It is evident to all alike that a great democratic revolution is going on amongst us; but all do not look at it in the same light. To some it appears to be novel but accidental, and, as such, they hope it may still be checked; to others it seems irresistible, because it is the most uniform, the most ancient, and the most permanent tendency which is to be found in history.

I look back for a moment on the situation of France seven hundred years ago, when the territory was divided amongst a small number of families, who were the owners of the soil and the rulers of the inhabitants; the right of governing descended with the family inheritance from generation to generation; force was the only means by which man could act on man; and landed property was the

sole source of power. Soon, however, the political power of the clergy was founded, and began to increase: the clergy opened their ranks to all classes, to the poor and the rich, the vassal and the lord; through the Church, equality penetrated into the Government, and he who as a serf must have vegetated in perpetual bondage took his place as a priest in the midst of nobles, and not unfrequently above the heads of kings.

The different relations of men with each other became more complicated and numerous as society gradually became more stable and civilized. Hence the want of civil laws was felt; and the ministers of law soon rose from the obscurity of the tribunals and their dusty chambers, to appear at the court of the monarch, by the side of the feudal barons clothed in their ermine and their mail. Whilst the kings were ruining themselves by their great enterprises, and the nobles exhausting their resources by private wars, the lower orders were enriching themselves by commerce. The influence of money began to be perceptible in state affairs. The transactions of business opened a new road to power, and the financier rose to a station of political influence in which he was at once flattered and despised.

Gradually the diffusion of intelligence, and the increasing taste for literature and art, caused learning and talent to become a means of government; mental ability led to social power, and the man of letters took a part in the affairs of the state. The value attached to high birth declined just as fast as new avenues to power were discovered. In the eleventh century, nobility was beyond all price; in the thirteenth, it might be purchased. Nobility was first conferred by gift in 1270; and equality was thus introduced into the government by the aristocracy itself.

In the course of these seven hundred years, it sometimes happened that the nobles, in order to resist the authority of the crown, or to diminish the power of their rivals, granted some political influence to the common people. Or, more frequently, the king permitted the lower orders to have a share in the government, with the intention of depressing the aristocracy. In France, the kings have always been the most active and the most constant of levelers. When they were strong and ambitious, they spared no pains to raise the people to the level of the nobles; when they were temperate and feeble, they allowed the people to rise above themselves. Some assisted the democracy by their talents, others by their vices. Louis XI and Louis XIV reduced all ranks beneath the throne to the same degree of subjection; and, finally, Louis XV descended, himself and all his court, into the dust.

As soon as land began to be held on any other than a feudal tenure, and personal property in its turn became able to confer influence and power, every discovery in the arts, every improvement in commerce or manufactures, created so many new elements of equality among men. Henceforward every new invention, every new want which it occasioned, and every new desire which craved satisfaction, was a step towards a general levelling. The taste for luxury, the love of war, the empire of fashion, and the most superficial as well as the deepest passions of the human heart, seemed to co- operate to enrich the poor and to impoverish the rich.

From the time when the exercise of the intellect became a source of strength and of wealth, we see that every addition to science, every fresh truth, and every new idea became a germ of power placed within the reach of the people. Poetry, eloquence, and memory, the grace of the mind, the glow of imagination, depth of thought, and all the gifts which Heaven scatters at a venture, turned to the advantage of the democracy; and even when they were in the possession of its adversaries, they still served its cause by throwing into bold relief the natural greatness of man. Its conquests spread, therefore, with those of civilization and knowledge; and literature became an arsenal open to all, where the poor and the weak daily resorted for arms.

In running over the pages of our history for seven hundred years, we shall scarcely find a single great event which has not promoted equality of condition. The Crusades and the English wars decimated the nobles and divided their possessions: the municipal corporations introduced democratic liberty into the bosom of feudal monarchy; the invention of fire-arms equalized the vassal and the noble on the field of battle; the art of printing opened the same resources to the minds of all classes; the post-office brought knowledge alike to the door of the cottage and to the gate of the palace; and Protestantism proclaimed that all men are alike able to find the road to heaven. The discovery of America opened a thousand new paths to fortune, and led obscure adventurers to wealth and power.

If, beginning with the eleventh century, we examine what has happened in France from one half- century to another, we shall not fail to perceive, at the end of each of these periods, that a twofold revolution has taken place in the state of society. The noble has gone down on the social ladder, and the commoner has gone up; the one descends as the other rises. Every half-century brings them nearer to each other, and they will soon meet.

Nor is this peculiar to France. Whithersoever we turn our eyes, we perceive the same revolution going on throughout the Christian world. The various occurrences of national existence have everywhere turned to the advantage of democracy: all men have aided it by their exertions, both those who have intentionally labored in its cause, and those who have served it unwittingly; those who have fought for it, and those who have declared themselves its opponents, have all been driven along in the same track, have all labored to one end; some ignorantly and some unwillingly, all have been blind instruments in the hands of God.

The gradual development of the principle of equality is, therefore, a Providential fact. It has all the chief characteristics of such a fact: it is universal, it is durable, it constantly eludes all human interference, and all events as well as all men contribute to its progress.

Would it, then, be wise to imagine that a social movement, the causes of which lie so far back, can be checked by the efforts of one generation? Can it be believed that the democracy which has overthrown the feudal system, and vanquished kings, will retreat before tradesman and capitalists? Will it stop now that it has grown so strong, and its adversaries so weak? Whither, then, are we tending? No one can say, for terms of comparison already fail us. The conditions of men are more equal in Christian countries at the present day than they have been at any previous time, or in any part of the world; so that the magnitude of what already has been done prevents us from foreseeing what is yet to be accomplished.

The whole book which is here offered to the public has been written under the impression of a kind of religious terror produced in the author’s mind by the view of that irresistible revolution which has advanced for centuries in spite of every obstacle, and which is still advancing in the midst of the ruins it has caused. It is not necessary that God himself should speak in order that we may discover the unquestionable signs of his will. It is enough to ascertain what is the habitual course of nature and the constant tendency of events. I know, without a special revelation, that the planets move in the orbits traced by the Creator’s hand.

If the men of our time should be convinced, by attentive observation and sincere reflection, that the gradual and progressive development of social equality is at once the past and future of their history, this discovery alone would confer the sacred character of a Divine decree upon the change.

To attempt to check democracy would be in that case to resist the will of God; and the nations would then be constrained to make the best of the social lot awarded to them by Providence.

The Christian nations of our day seem to me to present a most alarming spectacle; the movement which impels them is already so strong that it cannot be stopped, but it is not yet so rapid that it cannot be guided. Their fate is still in their own hands; yet a little while, and it may be so no longer.

The first of the duties which are at this time imposed upon those who direct our affairs, is to educate the democracy; to renovate, if possible, its religious belief; to purify its morals; to regulate its movements; to substitute by degrees a knowledge of business for its inexperience, and an acquaintance with its true interests for its blind instincts; to adapt its government to time and place, and to make it conform to the occurrences and the men of the times. A new science of politics is needed for a new world.

This, however, is what we think of least; placed in the middle of a rapid stream, we obstinately fix our eyes on the ruins which may still be described upon the shore we have left, whilst the current hurries us away, and drags us backward toward the gulf.

In no country in Europe has the great social revolution which I have just described made such rapid progress as in France; but it has always advanced without guidance. The heads of the state have made no preparation for it, and it has advanced without their consent or without their knowledge. The most powerful, the most intelligent, and the most moral classes of the nation have never attempted to take hold of it in order to guide it. The democracy has consequently been abandoned to its wild instincts, and it has grown up like those children who have no parental guidance, who receive their education in the public streets, and who are acquainted only with the vices and wretchedness of society. Its existence was seemingly unknown, when suddenly it acquired supreme power. Every one then submitted to its caprices; it was worshipped as the idol of strength; and when afterwards it was enfeebled by its own excesses, the legislator conceived the rash project of destroying it, instead of instructing it and correcting its vices. No attempt was made to fit it to govern, but all were bent on excluding it from the government.

The consequence has been, that the democratic revolution has taken place in the body of society, without that concomitant change in the laws, ideas, customs, and manners, which was necessary to render such a revolution beneficial. Thus we have a democracy, without anything to lessen its vices and bring out its natural advantages; and although we already perceive the evils it brings, we are ignorant of the benefits it may confer.

While the power of the crown, supported by the aristocracy, peaceably governed the nations of Europe, society, in the midst of its wretchedness, had several sources of happiness which can now scarcely be conceived or appreciated. The power of a part of his subjects was an insurmountable barrier to the tyranny of the prince; and the monarch, who felt the almost divine character which he enjoyed in the eyes of the multitude, derived a motive for the just use of his power from the respect which he inspired. The nobles, high as they were placed above the people, could not but take that calm and benevolent interest in their fate which the shepherd feels towards his flock; and without acknowledging the poor as their equals, they watched over the destiny of those whose welfare Providence had intrusted to their care. The people, never having conceived the idea of a social condition different from their own, and never expecting to become equal to their leaders, received benefits from them without discussing their rights. They became attached to them when they were clement and just, and submitted to their exactions without resistance or servility, as to the inevitable

visitations of the Deity. Custom and the manners of the time, moreover, had established certain limits to oppression, and put a sort of legal restraint upon violence.

As the noble never suspected that any one would attempt to deprive him of the privileges which he believed to be legitimate, and as the serf looked upon his own inferiority as a consequence of the immutable order of nature, it is easy to imagine that some mutual exchange of good-will took place between two classes so differently gifted by fate. Inequality and wretchedness were then to be found in society; but the souls of neither rank of men were degraded. Men are not corrupted by the exercise of power, or debased by the habit of obedience; but by the exercise of a power which they believe to be illegitimate, and by obedience to a rule which they consider to be usurped and oppressive.

On the one side were wealth, strength, and leisure, accompanied by the refinements of luxury, the elegance of taste, the pleasures of wit, and the cultivation of the arts; on the other, were labor, clownishness, and ignorance. But in the midst of this coarse and ignorant multitude it was not uncommon to meet with energetic passions, generous sentiments, profound religious convictions, and wild virtues. The social state thus organized might boast of its stability, its power, and, above all, its glory.

But the scene is now changed. Gradually the distinctions of rank are done away; the barriers which once severed mankind are falling down; property is divided, power is shared by many, the light of intelligence spreads, and the capacities of all classes are equally cultivated. The State becomes democratic, and the empire of democracy is slowly and peaceably introduced into the institutions and the manners of the nation.

I can conceive of a society in which all men would feel an equal love and respect for the laws of which they consider themselves as the authors; in which the authority of the government would be respected as necessary, though not as divine; and in which the loyalty of the subject to the chief magistrate would not be a passion, but a quiet and rational persuasion. Every individual being in the possession of rights which he is sure to retain, a kind of manly confidence and reciprocal courtesy would arise between all classes, alike removed from pride and servility. The people, well acquainted with their own true interests, would understand that, in order to profit by the advantages of society, it is necessary to satisfy its requisitions. The voluntary association of the citizens might then take the place of the individual exertions of the nobles, and the community would be alike protected from anarchy and from oppression.

I admit that, in a democratic state thus constituted, society would not be stationary. But the impulses of the social body might there be regulated and made progressive. If there were less splendor than in the midst of an aristocracy, the contrast of misery would also be less frequent; the pleasures of enjoyment might be less excessive, but those of comfort would be more general; the sciences might be less perfectly cultivated, but ignorance would be less common; the impetuosity of the feelings would be repressed, and the habits of the nation softened; there would be more vices and fewer great crimes.

In the absence of enthusiasm and an ardent faith, great sacrifices may be obtained from the members of a commonwealth by an appeal to their understandings and their experience; each individual will feel the same necessity of union with his fellows to protect his own weakness; and as he knows that he can obtain their help only on condition of helping them, he will readily perceive that his personal interest is identified with the interests of the whole community. The nation, taken as a whole, will be less brilliant, less glorious, and perhaps less strong: but the majority of the citizens

will enjoy a greater degree of prosperity, and the people will remain quiet, not because they despair of a change for the better, but because they are conscious that they are well off already. If all the consequences of this state of things were not good or useful, society would at least have appropriated all such as were useful and good; and having once and for ever renounced the social advantages of aristocracy, mankind would enter into possession of all the benefits which democracy can afford.

But here it may be asked what we have adopted in the place of those institutions, those ideas, and those customs of our forefathers which we have abandoned. The spell of royalty is broken, but it has not been succeeded by the majesty of the laws. The people have learned to despise all authority, but they still fear it; and fear now extorts more than was formerly paid from reverence and love. I perceive that we have destroyed those individual powers which were able, single-handed, to cope with tyranny; but it is the government that has inherited the privileges of which families, corporations, and individuals have been deprived; to the power of a small number of persons—which, if it was sometimes oppressive, was often conservative—has succeeded the weakness of the whole community.

The division of property has lessened the distance which separated the rich from the poor; but it would seem that the nearer they draw to each other, the greater is their mutual hatred, and the more vehement the envy and the dread with which they resist each other’s claims to power; the idea of Right does not exist for either party, and Force affords to both the only argument for the present, and the only guaranty for the future.

The poor man retains the prejudices of his forefathers without their faith, and their ignorance without their virtues; he has adopted the doctrine of self-interest as the rule of his actions, without understanding the science which puts it to use; and his selfishness is no less blind than was formerly his devotedness to others. If society is tranquil, it is not because it is conscious of its strength and its well-being, but because it fears its weakness and its infirmities; a single effort may cost it its life. Everybody feels the evil, but no one has courage or energy enough to seek the cure. The desires, the repinings, the sorrows, and the joys of the present time lead to no visible or permanent result, like the passions of old men, which terminate in impotence.

We have, then, abandoned whatever advantages the old state of things afforded, without receiving any compensation from our present condition; we have destroyed an aristocracy, and we seem inclined to survey its ruins with complacency, and to fix our abode in the midst of them.

The phenomena which the intellectual world presents are not less deplorable. The democracy of France, hampered in its course or abandoned to its lawless passions, has overthrown whatever crossed its path, and has shaken all that it has not destroyed. Its empire has not been gradually introduced, or peaceably established, but it has constantly advanced in the midst of the disorders and the agitations of a conflict. In the heat of the struggle, each partisan is hurried beyond the natural limits of his opinions by the doctrines and the excesses of his opponents, until he loses sight of the end of his exertions, and holds a language which does not express his real sentiments or secret instincts. Hence arises the strange confusion which we are compelled to witness.

I can recall nothing in history more worthy of sorrow and pity, than the scenes which are passing under our eyes. It is as if the natural bond which unites the opinions of man to his tastes, and his actions to his principles, was not broken; the sympathy which has always been observed between the feelings and the ideas of mankind appears to be dissolved, and all the laws of moral analogy to be abolished.

Zealous Christians are still found amongst us, whose minds are nurtured on the thoughts which pertain to a future life, and who readily espouse the cause of human liberty as the source of all moral greatness. Christianity, which has declared that all men are equal in the sight of God, will not refuse to acknowledge that all citizens are equal in the eye of the law. But, by a singular concourse of events, religion has been for a time entangled with those institutions which democracy assails; and it is not unfrequently brought to reject the equality which it loves, and to curse that cause of liberty as a foe, whose efforts it might hallow by its alliance.

By the side of these religious men, I discern others whose looks are turned to earth rather than to heaven. These are the partisans of liberty, not only as the source of the noblest virtues, but more especially as the root of all solid advantages; and they sincerely desire to secure its authority, and to impart its blessings to mankind. It is natural that they should hasten to invoke the assistance of religion, for they must know that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith. But they have seen religion in the ranks of their adversaries, and they inquire no further; some of them attack it openly, and the remainder are afraid to defend it.

In former ages, slavery was advocated by the venal and slavish-minded, whilst the independent and the warm-hearted were struggling without hope to save the liberties of mankind. But men of high and generous characters are now to be met with, whose opinions are at variance with their inclinations, and who praise that servility which they have themselves never known. Others, on the contrary, speak of liberty as if they were able to feel its sanctity and its majesty, and loudly claim for humanity those rights which they have always refused to acknowledge.

There are virtuous and peaceful individuals whose pure morality, quiet habits, opulence, and talents fit them to be the leaders of the surrounding population. Their love of country is sincere, and they are ready to make the greatest sacrifices for its welfare. But civilization often finds them among its opponents; they confound its abuses with its benefits, and the idea of evil is inseparable in their minds from that of novelty. Near these I find others, whose object is to materialize mankind, to hit upon what is expedient without heeding what is just, to acquire knowledge without faith, and prosperity apart from virtue; claiming to be the champions of Modern civilization, they place themselves arrogantly at its head, usurping a place which is abandoned to them, and of which they are wholly unworthy.

Where are we, then? The religionists are the enemies of liberty, and the friends of liberty attack religion; the high-

minded and the noble advocate bondage, and the meanest and most servile preach independence; honest and enlightened citizens are opposed to all progress, whilst men without patriotism and without principle put themselves forward as the apostles of civilization and intelligence. Has such been the fate of the centuries which have preceded our own? and has man always inhabited a world like the present, where all things are out of their natural connections, where virtue is without genius, and genius without honor; where the love of order is confounded with a taste for oppression, and the holy rites of freedom with a contempt of law; where the light thrown by conscience on human actions is dim, and where nothing seems to be any longer forbidden or allowed, honorable or shameful, false or true?

I cannot believe that the Creator made man to leave him in an endless struggle with the intellectual miseries which surround us. God destines a calmer and a more certain future to the communities of

Europe. I am ignorant of his designs, but I shall not cease to believe in them because I cannot fathom them, and I had rather mistrust my own capacity than his justice.

There is a country in the world where the great social revolution which I am speaking of seems to have nearly reached its natural limits. It has been effected with ease and quietness; say rather that this country is reaping the fruits of the democratic revolution which we are undergoing, without having had the revolution itself.

The emigrants who colonized the shores of America in the beginning of the seventeenth century somehow separated the democratic principle from all the principles which it had to contend with in the old communities of Europe, and transplanted it alone to the New World. It has there been able to spread in perfect freedom, and peaceably to determine the character of the laws by influencing the manners of the country.

It appears to me beyond a doubt that, sooner or later, we shall arrive, like the Americans, at an almost complete equality of condition. But I do not conclude from this, that we shall ever be necessarily led to draw the same political consequences which the Americans have derived from a similar social organization. I am far from supposing that they have chosen the only form of government which a democracy may adopt; but as the generative cause of laws and manners in the two countries is the same, it is of immense interest for us to know what it has produced in each of them.

It is not, then, merely to satisfy a legitimate curiosity that I have examined America; my wish has been to find there instruction by which we may ourselves profit. Whoever should imagine that I have intended to write a panegyric would be strangely mistaken, and on reading this book, he will perceive that such was not my design: nor has it been my object to advocate any form of government in particular, for I am of opinion that absolute excellence is rarely to be found in any system of laws. I have not even pretended to judge whether the social revolution, which I believe to be irresistible, is advantageous or prejudicial to mankind. I have acknowledged this revolution as a fact already accomplished, or on the eve of its accomplishment: and I have selected the nation, from amongst those which have undergone it, in which its development has been the most peaceful and the most complete, in order to discern its natural consequences, and to find out, if possible, the means of rendering it profitable to mankind. I confess that, in America, I saw more than America; I sought there the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or to hope from its progress. . . .

Democratic Social Condition of the Anglo-Americans

Social condition, is commonly the result of circumstances, sometimes of laws, oftener still of these two causes united; but when once established, it may justly be considered as itself the source of almost all the laws, the usages, and the ideas which regulate the conduct of nations: whatever it does not produce, it modifies. If we would become acquainted with the legislation and the manners of a nation, therefore, we must begin by the study of its social condition.

The Striking Characteristic of the Social Condition of the Anglo-Americans Is Its Essential Democracy . . . The social condition of the Americans is eminently democratic; this was its character at the foundation of the colonies, and it is still more strongly marked at the present day. . . . Great equality existed among the emigrants who settled on the shores of New England. Even the germs of aristocracy were never planted in that part of the Union. The only influence which obtained there was that of intellect; the people were used to reverence certain names as the emblems of knowledge and virtue

This was the state of things to the east of the Hudson: to the southwest of that river, and as far as the Floridas, the case was different. In most of the States situated to the southwest of the Hudson some great English proprietors had settled, who had imported with them aristocratic principles and the English law of inheritance. I have explained the reasons why it was impossible ever to establish a powerful aristocracy in America; these reasons existed with less force to the southwest of the Hudson. In the South, one man, aided by slaves, could cultivate a great extent of country; it was therefore common to see rich landed proprietors. But their influence was not altogether aristocratic, as that term is understood in Europe, since they possessed no privileges; and the cultivation of their estates being carried on by slaves, they had no tenants depending on them, and consequently no patronage. Still, the great proprietors south of the Hudson constituted a superior class, having ideas and tastes of its own, and forming the centre of political action. This kind of aristocracy sympathized with the body of the people, whose passions and interests it easily embraced; but it was too weak and too short-lived to excite either love or hatred. This was the class which headed the insurrection in the south, and furnished the best leaders of the American Revolution.

At this period, society was shaken to its centre. The people, in whose name the struggle had taken place, conceived the desire of exercising the authority which it had acquired, its democratic tendencies were awakened; and having thrown off the yoke of the mother country, it aspired to independence of every kind. The influence of individuals gradually ceased to be felt, and custom and law united to produce the same result.

But the law of inheritance was the last step to equality. I am surprised that ancient and modern jurists have not attributed to this law a greater influence on human affairs. It is true that these laws belong to civil affairs; but they ought, nevertheless, to be placed at the head of all political institutions; for they exercise an incredible influence upon the social state of a people, whilst political laws only show what this state already is. They have, moreover, a sure and uniform manner of operating upon society, affecting, as it were, generations yet unborn. Through their means, man acquires a kind of preternatural power over the future lot of his fellow-creatures. When the legislator has once regulated the law of inheritance, he may rest from his labor. The machine once put in motion will go on for ages, and advance, as if self-guided, towards a point indicated beforehand. When framed in a particular manner, this law unites, draws together, and vests property and power in a few hands; it causes an aristocracy, so to speak, to spring out of the ground. If formed on opposite principles, its action is still more rapid; it divides, distributes, and disperses both property and power. Alarmed by the rapidity of its progress, those who despair of arresting its motion endeavor, at least, to obstruct it by difficulties and impediments. They vainly seek to counteract its effect by contrary efforts; but it shatters and reduces to powder every obstacle, until we can no longer see anything but a moving and impalpable cloud of dust, which signals the coming of the Democracy. . . .

In virtue of the law of partible inheritance, the death of every proprietor brings about a kind of revolution in the property; not only do his possessions change hands, but their very nature is altered, since they are parcelled into shares, which become smaller and smaller at each division. This is the direct, and as it were the physical, effect of the law. It follows, then, that, in countries where equality of inheritance is established by law, property, and especially landed property, must constantly tend to division into smaller and smaller parts. . . . But the law of equal division exercises its influence not merely upon the property itself, but it affects the minds of the heirs, and brings their passions into play. These indirect consequences tend powerfully to the destruction of large fortunes, and especially of large domains.

Among nations whose law of descent is founded upon the right of primogeniture, landed estates often pass from generation to generation without undergoing division—the consequence of which is, that family feeling is to a certain degree incorporated with the estate. The family represents the estate, the estate the family—whose names, together with its origin, its glory, its power, and its virtues, is thus perpetuated in an imperishable memorial of the past and a sure pledge of the future. When the equal partition of property is established by law, the intimate connection is destroyed between family feeling and the preservation of the paternal estate; the property ceases to represent the family; for, as it must inevitably be divided after one or two generations, it has evidently a constant tendency to diminish, and must in the end be completely dispersed. The sons of the great landed proprietor, if they are few in number, or if fortune befriends them, may indeed entertain the hope of being as wealthy as their father, but not of possessing the same property that he did; their riches must be composed of other elements than his. Now, as soon as you divest the land-owner of that interest in the preservation of his estate which he derives from association, from tradition, and from family pride, you may be certain that, sooner or later, he will dispose of it; for there is a strong pecuniary interest in favor of selling, as floating capital produces higher interest than real property, and is more readily available to gratify the passions of the moment.

Great landed estates which have once been divided never come together again; for the small proprietor draws from his land a better revenue, in proportion, than the large owner does from his; and of course, he sells it at a higher rate. The calculations of gain, therefore, which decide the rich man to sell his domain, will still more powerfully influence him against buying small estates to unite them into a large one. What is called family pride is often founded upon an illusion of self-love. A man wishes to perpetuate and immortalize himself, as it were, in his great-grandchildren. Where family pride ceases to act, individual selfishness comes into play. When the idea of family becomes vague, indeterminate, and uncertain, a man thinks of his present convenience; he provides for the establishment of his next succeeding generation, and no more. Either a man gives up the idea of perpetuating his family, or at any rate, he seeks to accomplish it by other means than by a landed estate.

Thus, not only does the law of partible inheritance render it difficult for families to preserve their ancestral domains entire, but it deprives them of the inclination to attempt it, and compels them in some measure to co-operate with the law in their own extinction. . . . By both these means, the law succeeds in striking at the root of landed property, and dispersing rapidly both families and fortunes. Most certainly it is not for us, Frenchmen of the nineteenth century, who daily witness the political and social changes which the law of partition is bringing to pass, to question its influence. It is perpetually conspicuous in our country, overthrowing the walls of our dwellings, and removing the

landmarks of our fields. But although it has produced great effects in France, much still remains for it to do. Our recollections, opinions, and habits present powerful obstacles to its progress.

In the United States, it has nearly completed its work of destruction, and there we can best study its results. The English laws concerning the transmission of property were abolished in almost all the States at the time of the Revolution. The law of entail was so modified as not materially to interrupt the free circulation of property. The first generation having passed away, estates began to be parcelled out; and the change became more and more rapid with the progress of time. And now, after a lapse of a little more than sixty years, the aspect of society is totally altered; the families of the great landed proprietors are almost all commingled with the general mass. . . . The sons of these opulent citizens have become merchants, lawyers, or physicians. Most of them have lapsed into obscurity. The last trace of hereditary ranks and distinctions is destroyed—the law of partition has reduced all to one level.

I do not mean that there is any lack of wealthy individuals in the United States; I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men, and where a profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property. But wealth circulates with inconceivable rapidity, and experience shows that it is rare to find two succeeding generations in the full enjoyment of it.

This picture, which may, perhaps, be thought to be overcharged, still gives a very imperfect idea of what is taking place in the new States of the West and Southwest. At the end of the last century, a few bold adventurers began to penetrate into the valley of the Mississippi; and the mass of the population very soon began to move in that direction: communities unheard of till then suddenly appeared in the desert. States whose names were not in existence a few years before, claimed their place in the American Union; and in the Western settlements we may behold democracy arrived at its utmost limits. In these States, founded off-hand, and as it were by chance, the inhabitants are but of yesterday. Scarcely known to one another, the nearest neighbors are ignorant of each other’s history. In this part of the American continent, therefore, the population has escaped the influence not only of great names and great wealth, but even of the natural aristocracy of knowledge and virtue. None are there able to wield that respectable power which men willingly grant to the remembrance of a life spent in doing good before their eyes. The new States of the West are already inhabited; but society has no existence among them.

It is not only the fortunes of men which are equal in America; even their acquirements partake in some degree of the same uniformity. I do not believe that there is a country in the world where, in proportion to the population, there are so few ignorant, and at the same time so few learned, individuals. Primary instruction is within the reach of everybody; superior instruction is scarcely to be obtained by any. This is not surprising; it is, in fact, the necessary consequence of what we have advanced above. Almost all the Americans are in easy circumstances, and can, therefore, obtain the first elements of human knowledge.

In America, there are but few wealthy persons; nearly all Americans have to take a profession. Now, every profession requires an apprenticeship. The Americans can devote to general education only the early years of life. At fifteen, they enter upon their calling, and thus their education generally ends at the age when ours begins. Whatever is done afterwards is with a view to some special and lucrative object; a science is taken up as a matter of business, and the only branch of it which is attended to is such as admits of an immediate practical application.

In America, most of the rich men were formerly poor; most of those who now enjoy leisure were absorbed in business during their youth; the consequence of which is, that, when they might have had a taste for study, they had no time for it, and when the time is at their disposal, they have no longer the inclination. There is no class, then, in America, in which the taste for intellectual pleasures is transmitted with hereditary fortune and leisure, and by which the labors of the intellect are held in honor. Accordingly, there is an equal want of the desire and the power of application to these objects. A middling standard is fixed in America for human knowledge. All approach as near to it as they can; some as they rise, others as they descend. Of course, a multitude of persons are to be found who entertain the same number of ideas on religion, history, science, political economy, legislation, and government. The gifts of intellect proceed directly from God, and man cannot prevent their unequal distribution. But it is at least a consequence of what we have just said, that although the capacities of men are different, as the Creator intended they should be, Americans find the means of putting them to use are equal.

In America, the aristocratic element has always been feeble from its birth; and if at the present day it is not actually destroyed, it is at any rate so completely disabled, that we can scarcely assign to it any degree of influence on the course of affairs. The democratic principle, on the contrary, has gained so much strength by time, by events, and by legislation, as to have become not only predominant, but all-powerful. There is no family or corporate authority, and it is rare to find even the influence of individual character enjoy any durability. America, then, exhibits in her social state an extraordinary phenomenon. Men are there seen on a greater equality in point of fortune and intellect, or, in other words, more equal in their strength, than in any other country of the world, or in any age of which history has preserved the remembrance.

Political Consequences of Social Democracy The political consequences of such a social condition as this are easily deducible. It is impossible to believe that equality will not eventually find its way into the political world, as it does everywhere else. To conceive of men remaining forever unequal upon a single point, yet equal on all others, is impossible; they must come in the end to be equal upon all.

Now I know of only two methods of establishing equality in the political world; every citizen must be put in possession of his rights, or rights must be granted to no one. For nations which are arrived at the same stage of social existence as the Anglo-Americans, it is, therefore, very difficult to discover a medium between the sovereignty of all and the absolute power of one man: and it would be vain to deny that the social condition which I have been describing is just as liable to one of these consequences as to the other. There is, in fact, a manly and lawful passion for equality which incites men to wish all to be powerful and honored. This passion tends to elevate the humble to the rank of the great; but there exists also in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom. Not that those nations whose social condition is democratic naturally despise liberty; on the contrary, they have an instinctive love of it. But liberty is not the chief and constant object of their desires; equality is their idol: they make rapid and sudden efforts to obtain liberty, and, if they miss their aim, resign themselves to their disappointment; but nothing can satisfy them without equality, and they would rather perish than lose it.

On the other hand, in a state where the citizens are all nearly on an equality, it becomes difficult for them to preserve their independence against the aggressions of power. No one among them being strong enough to engage in the struggle alone with advantage, nothing but a general combination can protect their liberty. Now, such a union is not always possible. From the same social position, then, nations may derive one or the other of two great political results; these results are extremely different from each other, but they both proceed from the same cause. The Anglo-Americans are the first nation who, having been exposed to this formidable alternative, have been happy enough to escape the dominion of absolute power. They have been allowed by their circumstances, their origin, their intelligence, and especially by their morals, to establish and maintain the sovereignty of the people.

Unlimited Power of the Majority in the United States and Its Consequences

The very essence of democratic government consists in the absolute sovereignty of the majority; for there is nothing in democratic states which is capable of resisting it. Most of the American constitutions have sought to increase this natural strength of the majority by artificial means.

The legislature is, of all political institutions, the one which is most easily swayed by the will of the majority. The Americans determined that the members of the legislature should be elected by the people directly, and for a very brief term, in order to subject them, not only to the general convictions, but even to the daily passions, of their constituents. The members of both houses are taken from the same classes in society, and nominated in the same manner; so that the movements of the legislative bodies are almost as rapid, and quite as irresistible, as those of a single assembly. It is to a legislature thus constituted, that almost all the authority of the government has been intrusted.

At the same time that the laws increase the strength of those authorities which of themselves were strong, it enfeebled more and more those which were naturally weak. It deprived the representatives of the executive power of all stability and independence; and, by subjecting them completely to the caprices of the legislature, it robbed them of the slender influence which the nature of a democratic government might have allowed them to exercise. In several States, the judicial power was also submitted to the election of the majority; and in all of them, its existence was made to depend on the pleasure of the legislative authority, since the representatives were empowered annually to regulate the stipend of the judges.

Custom has done even more than law. A proceeding is becoming more and more general in the United States, which will, in the end, do away with the guaranties of representative government: it frequently happens that the voters, in electing a delegate, point out a certain line of conduct to him, and impose upon him certain positive obligations which he is pledged to fulfil. With the exception of the tumult, this comes to the same thing as if the majority itself held its deliberations in the market- place.

Several other circumstances concur to render the power of the majority in America not only preponderant, but irresistible. The moral authority of the majority is partly based upon the notion, that there is more intelligence and wisdom in a number of men united than in a single individual, and that the number of the legislators is more important than their equality. The theory of equality is thus applied to the intellects of men; and human pride is thus assailed in its last retreat by a doctrine which the minority hesitate to admit, and to which they will but slowly assent. Like all other powers, and

perhaps more than any other, the authority of the many requires the sanction of time in order to appear legitimate. At first, it enforces obedience by constraint; and its laws are not respected until they have been long maintained.

The right of governing society, which the majority supposes itself to derive from its superior intelligence, was introduced into the United States by the first settlers; and this idea, which of itself would be sufficient to create a free nation, has now been amalgamated with the manners of the people and the minor incidents of social life.

The French, under the old monarchy, held it for a maxim that the king could do no wrong; and if he did do wrong, the blame was imputed to his advisers. This notion made obedience very easy; it enabled the subject to complain of the law, without ceasing to love and honor the lawgiver. The Americans entertain the same opinion with respect to the majority.

The moral power of the majority is founded upon yet another principle, which is, that the interests of the many are to be preferred to those of the few. It will readily be perceived that the respect here professed for the rights of the greater number must naturally increase or diminish according to the state of parties. When a nation is divided into several great irreconcilable interests, the privilege of the majority is often overlooked, because it is intolerable to comply with its demands.

If there existed in America a class of citizens whom the legislating majority sought to deprive of exclusive privileges which they had possessed for ages, and to bring down from an elevated station to the level of the multitude, it is probable that the minority would be less ready to submit to its laws. But as the United States were colonized by men holding equal rank, there is as yet no natural or permanent disagreement between the interests of its different inhabitants.

There are communities in which the members of the minority can never hope to draw over the majority to their side, because they must then give up the very point which is at issue between them. Thus, an aristocracy can never become a majority whilst it retains its exclusive privileges, and it cannot cede its privileges without ceasing to be an aristocracy.

In the United States, political questions cannot be taken up in so general and absolute a manner; and all parties are willing to recognize the rights of the majority, because they all hope at some time to be able to exercise them to their own advantage. The majority, therefore, in that country, exercise a prodigious actual authority, and a power of opinion which is nearly as great; no obstacles exist which can impede or even retard its progress, so as to make it heed the complaints of those whom it crushes upon its path. This state of things is harmful in itself, and dangerous for the future. . . .

Tyranny of the Majority I hold it to be an impious and detestable maxim, that, politically speaking, the people have a right to do anything; and yet I have asserted that all authority originates in the will of the majority. Am I, then, in contradiction with myself?

A general law, which bears the name of justice, has been made and sanctioned, not only by a majority of this or that people, but by a majority of mankind. The rights of every people are therefore confined within the limits of what is just. A nation may be considered as a jury which is empowered to represent society at large, and to apply justice, which is its law. Ought such a jury, which represents society, to have more power than the society itself, whose laws it executes?

When I refuse to obey an unjust law, I do not contest the right of the majority to command, but I simply appeal from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of mankind. Some have not feared to assert that a people can never outstep the boundaries of justice and reason in those affairs which are peculiarly its own; and the consequently full power may be given to the majority by which they are represented. But this is the language of a slave.

A majority taken collectively is only an individual, whose opinions, and frequently whose interests, are opposed to those of another individual, who is styled a minority. If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach? Men do not change their characters by uniting with each other; nor does their patience in the presence of obstacles increase with their strength. For my own part, I cannot believe it; the power to do everything, which I should refuse to one of my equals, I will never grant to any number of them.

I do not think, for the sake of preserving liberty, it is possible to combine several principles in the same government so as really to oppose them to one another. The form of government which is usually termed mixed has always appeared to me a mere chimera. Accurately speaking, there is no such thing as a mixed government, in the sense usually given to that word, because, in all communities, some one principle of action may be discovered which preponderates over the others. England, in the last century—which has been especially cited as an example of this sort of government—was essentially an aristocratic state, although it comprised some great elements of democracy; for the laws and customs of the country were such that the aristocracy could not but preponderate in the long run, and direct public affairs according to its own will. The error arose from seeing the interests of the nobles perpetually contending with those of the people, without considering the issue of the contest, which was really the important point. When a community actually has a mixed government—that is to say, when it is equally divided between adverse principles—it must either experience a revolution, or fall into anarchy.

I am therefore of opinion, that social power superior to all others must always be placed somewhere; but I think that liberty is endangered when this power finds no obstacle which can retard its course, and give it time to moderate its own vehemence.

Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing. Human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion. God alone can be omnipotent, because his wisdom and his justice are always equal to his power. There is no power on earth so worthy of honor in itself, or clothed with rights so sacred, that I would admit it uncontrolled and all-predominant authority. When I see that the right and the means of absolute command are conferred on any power whatever, be it called a people or a king, an aristocracy or a democracy, a monarchy or a republic, I say there is the germ of tyranny, and I seek to live elsewhere, under other laws.

In my opinion, the main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise, as is often asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their irresistible strength. I am not so much alarmed at the excessive liberty which reigns in that country, as at the inadequate securities which one finds there against tyranny.

When an individual or a party is wronged in the United States, to whom can he apply for redress? If to public opinion, public opinion constitutes the majority; if to the legislature, it represents the majority, and implicitly obeys it; if to the executive power, it is appointed by the majority, and serves as a passive tool in its hands. The public force consists of the majority under arms; the jury is the

majority invested with the right of hearing judicial cases; and in certain States, even the judges are elected by the majority. However, iniquitous or absurd the measure of which you complain, you must submit to it as well as you can.

If, on the other hand, a legislative power could be so constituted as to represent the majority without necessarily being the slave of its passions, an executive so as to retain a proper share of authority, and a judiciary so as to remain independent of the other two powers, a government would be formed which would still be democratic, without incurring hardly any risk of tyranny.

I do not say that there is a frequent use of tyranny in America, at the present day; but I maintain that there is no sure barrier against it, and that the causes which mitigate the government there are to be found in the circumstances and the manners of the country, more than in its laws.

Effects of the Omnipotence of the Majority upon the Arbitrary Authority of American Public Officers A distinction must be drawn between tyranny and arbitrary power. Tyranny may be exercised by means of the law itself, and in that case it is not arbitrary; arbitrary power may be exercised for the public good, in which case it is not tyrannical. Tyranny usually employs arbitrary means, but, if necessary, it can do without them.

In the United States, the omnipotence of the majority, which is favorable to the legal despotism of the legislature, likewise favors the arbitrary authority of the magistrate. The majority has absolute power both to make the law and to watch over its execution; and as it has equal authority over those who are in power, and the community at large, it considers public officers as its passive agents, and readily confides to them the task of carrying out its designs. The details of their office, and the privileges which they are to enjoy, are rarely defined beforehand. It treats them as a master does his servants, since they are always at work in his sight, and he can direct or reprimand them at any instant.

In general, the American functionaries are far more independent within the sphere which is prescribed to them than the French civil officers. Sometimes, even, they are allowed by the popular authority to exceed those bounds; and as they are protected by the opinion, and backed by the power, of the majority, they dare do things which even a European, accustomed as he is to arbitrary power, is astonished at. By this means, habits are formed in the heart of a free country which may some day prove fatal to its liberties.

Power Exercised by the Majority in America upon Opinion It is in the examination of the exercise of thought in the United States, that we clearly perceive how far the power of the majority surpasses all the powers with which we are acquainted in Europe. Thought is an invisible and subtle power, that mocks all the efforts of tyranny. At the present time, the most absolute monarchs in Europe cannot prevent certain opinions hostile to their authority from circulating in secret through their dominions, and even in their courts. It is not so in America; as long as the majority is still undecided, discussion is carried on; but as soon as its decision is irrevocably pronounced, every one is silent, and the friends as well as the opponents of the measure unite in assenting to its propriety. The reason of this is perfectly clear: no monarch is so absolute as to

combine all the powers of society in his own hands, and to conquer all opposition, as a majority is able to do, which has the right both of making and of executing the laws.

The authority of a king is physical, and controls the actions of men without subduing their will. But the majority possesses a power which is physical and moral at the same time, which acts upon the will as much as upon the actions, and represses not only all contest, but all controversy.

I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America. In any constitutional state in Europe, every sort of religious and political theory may be freely preached and disseminated; for there is no country in Europe so subdued by any single authority, as not to protect the man who raises his voice in the cause of truth from the consequences of his hardihood. If he is unfortunate enough to live under an absolute government, the people are often upon his side; if he inhabits a free country, he can, if necessary, find a shelter behind the throne. The aristocratic part of society supports him in some countries, and the democracy in others. But in a nation where democratic institutions exist, organized like those of the United States, there is but one authority, one element of strength and success, with nothing beyond it.

In America, the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion: within these barriers, an author may write what he pleases; but woe to him if he goes beyond them. Not that he is in danger of an auto-da-fé, but he is exposed to continued obloquy and persecution. His political career is closed forever, since he has offended the only authority which is able to open it. Every sort of compensation, even that of celebrity, is refused to him. Before publishing his opinions, he imagined that he held them in common with others; but no sooner has he declared them, than he is loudly censured by his opponents, whilst those who think like him, without having the courage to speak out, abandon him in silence. He yields at length, overcome by the daily effort which he has to make, and subsides into silence, as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth.

Fetters and headsmen were the coarse instruments which tyranny formerly employed; but the civilization of our age has perfected despotism itself, though it seemed to have nothing to learn. Monarchs had, so to speak, materialized oppression: the democratic republics of the present day have rendered it as entirely an affair of the mind, as the will which it is intended to coerce. Under the absolute sway of one man, the body was attacked in order to subdue the soul; but the soul escaped the blows which were directed against it, and rose proudly superior. Such is not the course adopted by tyranny in democratic republics; there the body is left free, and the soul is enslaved. The master no longer says, “You shall think as I do, or you shall die”; but he says, “You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but you are henceforth a stranger among your people. You may retain your civil rights, but they will be useless to you, for you will never be chosen by your fellow-citizens, if you solicit their votes; and they will affect to scorn you, if you ask for their esteem. You will remain among men, but you will be deprived of the rights of mankind. Your fellow-creatures will shun you like an impure being; and even those who believe in your innocence will abandon you, lest they should be shunned in their turn. Go in peace! I have given you your life, but it is an existence worse than death.”

Absolute monarchies had dishonored despotism; let us beware lest democratic republics should reinstate it, and render it less odious and degrading in the eyes of the many, by making it still more onerous to the few.

Works have been published in the proudest nations of the Old World, expressly intended to censure the vices and the follies of the times: Labruyère inhabited the palace of Louis XIV, when he

composed his chapter upon the Great, and Molière criticised the courtiers in the pieces which were acted before the court. But the ruling power in the United States is not to be made game of. The smallest reproach irritates its sensibility, and the slightest joke which has any foundation in truth renders it indignant; from the forms of its language up to the solid virtues of its character, everything must be made the subject of encomium. No writer, whatever be his eminence, can escape paying this tribute of adulation to his fellow citizens. The majority lives in the perpetual utterance of self- applause; and there are certain truths which the Americans can only learn from strangers or from experience.

If America has not as yet had any great writers, the reason is given in these facts; there can be no literary genius without freedom of opinion, and freedom of opinion does not exist in America. The Inquisition has never been able to prevent a vast number of anti-religious books from circulating in Spain. The empire of the majority succeeds much better in the United States, since it actually removes any wish to publish them. Unbelievers are to be met with in America, but there is no public organ of infidelity. Attempts have been made by some governments to protect morality by prohibiting licentious books. In the United States, no one is punished for this sort of books, but no one is induced to write them; not because all the citizens are immaculate in conduct, but because the majority of the community is decent and orderly.

In this case the use of the power is unquestionably good; and I am discussing the nature of the power itself. This irresistible authority is a constant fact, and its judicious exercise is only an accident.

Effects of the Tyranny of the Majority upon the National Character of the Americans The tendencies which I have just mentioned are as yet but slightly perceptible in political society; but they already exercise an unfavorable influence upon the national character of the Americans. I attribute the small number of distinguished men in political life to the ever-increasing despotism of the majority in the United States.

When the American Revolution broke out, they arose in great numbers; for public opinion then served, not to tyrannize over, but to direct the exertions of individuals. Those celebrated men, sharing the agitation of mind common at that period, had a grandeur peculiar to themselves, which was reflected back upon the nation, but was by no means borrowed from it.

In absolute governments, the great nobles who are nearest to the throne flatter the passions of the sovereign, and voluntarily truckle to his caprices. But the mass of the nation does not degrade itself by servitude; it often submits from weakness, from habit, or from ignorance, and sometimes from loyalty. Some nations have been known to sacrifice their own desires to those of the sovereign with pleasure and pride, thus exhibiting a sort of independence of mind in the very act of submission. These nations are miserable, but they are not degraded. There is a great difference between doing what one does not approve, and feigning to approve what one does; the one is the weakness of a feeble person, the other befits the temper of a lackey.

In free countries, where everyone is more or less called upon to give his opinion on affairs of state—in democratic republics, where public life is incessantly mingled with domestic affairs, where the sovereign authority is accessible on every side, and where its attention can always be attracted by vociferation—more persons are to be met with who speculate upon its weaknesses, and live upon

ministering to its passions, than in absolute monarchies. Not because men are naturally worse in these states than elsewhere, but the temptation is stronger and of easier access at the same time. The result is a more extensive debasement of character.

Democratic republics extend the practice of currying favor with the many, and introduce it into all classes at once: this is the most serious reproach that can be addressed to them. This is especially true in democratic states organized like the American republics, where the power of the majority is so absolute and irresistible that one must give up his rights as a citizen, and almost abjure his qualities as a man, if he intends to stray from the track which it prescribes.

In that immense crowd which throngs the avenues to power in the United States, I found very few men who displayed that manly candor and masculine independence of opinion which frequently distinguished the Americans in former times, and which constitutes the leading feature in distinguished characters wheresoever they may be found. It seems, at first sight, as if all the minds of the Americans were formed upon one model, so accurately do they follow the same route. A stranger does, indeed, sometimes meet with Americans who dissent from the rigor of the formularies—with men who deplore the defects of the laws, the mutability and the ignorance of democracy—who even go so far as to observe the evil tendencies which impair the national character, and to point out such remedies as it might be possible to apply; but no one is there to hear them except yourself, and you, to whom these secret reflections are confided, are a stranger and a bird of passage. They are very ready to communicate truths which are useless to you, but they hold a different language in public. . . .

The Greatest Dangers of the American Republics Proceed from the Omnipotence of the Majority Governments usually perish from impotence or from tyranny. In the former case, their power escapes from them; it is wrested from their grasp in the latter. Many observers who have witnessed the anarchy of democratic states, have imagined that the government of those states was naturally weak and impotent. The truth is, that, when war is once begun between parties, the government loses its control over society. But I do not think that a democratic power is naturally without force or resources; say, rather, that it is almost always by the abuse of its force, and the misemployment of its resources, that it becomes a failure. Anarchy is almost always produced by its tyranny or its mistakes, but not by its want of strength.

It is important not to confound stability with force, or the greatness of a thing with its duration. In democratic republics, the power which directs society is not stable; for it often changes hands, and assumes a new direction. But, whichever way it turns, its force is almost irresistible. The governments of the American republics appear to me to be as much centralized as those of the absolute monarchies of Europe, and more energetic than they are. I do not, therefore, imagine that they will perish from weakness.

If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the omnipotence of the majority, which may at some future time urge the minorities to desperation, and oblige them to have recourse to physical force. Anarchy will then be the result, but it will have been brought about by despotism.

Mr. Madison expresses the same opinion in the Federalist, No. 51. “It is of great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the

society against the injustice of the other part. Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be, pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society, under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger: and as, in the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted by the uncertainty of their condition to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves, so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions be gradually induced by a like motive to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful. It can be little doubted, that, if the State of Rhode Island was separated from the Confederacy and left to itself, the insecurity of right under the popular form of government within such narrow limits would be displayed by such reiterated oppressions of the factious majorities, that some power altogether independent of the people would soon be called for by the voice of the very factions whose misrule had proved the necessity of it.”

Jefferson also said: “The executive power in our government is not the only, perhaps not even the principal, object of my solicitude. The tyranny of the legislature is really the danger most to be feared, and will continue to be so for many years to come. The tyranny of the executive power will come in its turn, but at a more distant period.”

I am glad to cite the opinion of Jefferson upon this subject rather than that of any other, because I consider him the most powerful advocate democracy has ever had.

Causes Which Mitigate the Tyranny of the Majority in the United States

Absence of Centralized Administration . . . But in the United States, the majority, which so frequently displays the tastes and the propensities of a despot, is still destitute of the most perfect instruments of tyranny. In the American republics, the central government has never as yet busied itself but with a small number of objects, sufficiently prominent to attract its attention. The secondary affairs of society have never been regulated by its authority; and nothing has hitherto betrayed its desire of even interfering in them. The majority is become more and more absolute, but has not increased the prerogatives of the central government; those great prerogatives have been confined to a certain sphere; and, although the despotism of the majority may be galling upon one point, it cannot be said to extend to all. However the predominant party in the nation may be carried away by its passions, however ardent it may be in the pursuit of its projects, it cannot oblige all the citizens to comply with its desires in the same manner, and at the same time, throughout the country. When the central government which represents that majority has issued a decree, it must intrust the execution of its will to agents, over whom it frequently has no control, and whom it cannot perpetually direct. The townships, municipal bodies, and counties form so many concealed breakwaters, which check or part the tide of popular determination. If an oppressive law were passed, liberty would still be protected by the mode of executing that law; the majority cannot descend to the details and what may be called the puerilities of administrative tyranny. It does not even imagine that it can do so, for it has not a full consciousness of its authority. It knows only the extent of its natural powers, but is unacquainted with the art of increasing them.

This point deserves attention; for if a democratic republic, similar to that of the United States, were ever founded in a country where the power of one man had previously established a centralized administration, and had sunk it deep into the habits and the laws of the people, I do not hesitate to assert, that, in such a republic, a more insufferable despotism would prevail than in any of the absolute monarchies of Europe; or, indeed, than any which could be found on this side of Asia.

The Profession of the Law Serves to Counterpoise the Democracy In visiting the Americans and studying their laws, we perceive that the authority they have intrusted to members of the legal profession, and the influence which these individuals exercise in the government, is the most powerful existing security against the excesses of democracy. . . . Men who have made a special study of the laws derive from this occupation certain habits of order, a taste for formalities, and a kind of instinctive regard for the regular connection of ideas, which naturally render them very hostile to the revolutionary spirit and the unreflecting passions of the multitude. . . .

I do not, then, assert that all the members of the legal profession are, at all times, the friends of order and the opponents of innovation, but merely that most of them are usually so. In a community in which lawyers are allowed to occupy without opposition that high station which naturally belongs to them, their general spirit will be eminently conservative and anti-democratic. When an aristocracy excludes the leaders of that profession from its ranks, it excites enemies who are the more formidable as they are independent of the nobility by their labors, and feel themselves to be their equals in intelligence though inferior in opulence and power. But whenever an aristocracy consents to impart some of its privileges to these same individuals, the two classes coalesce very readily, and assume, as it were, family interests. . . .

Lawyers are attached to public order beyond every other consideration, and the best security of public order is authority. It must not be forgotten, also, that, if they prize freedom much, they generally value legality still more: they are less afraid of tyranny than of arbitrary power; and, provided the legislature undertakes of itself to deprive men of their independence, they are not dissatisfied. . . .

The government of democracy is favorable to the political power of lawyers; for when the wealthy, the noble, and the prince are excluded from the government, the lawyers take possession of it, in their own right, as it were, since they are the only men of information and sagacity, beyond the sphere of the people, who can be the object of the popular choice. If, then, they are led by their tastes toward the aristocracy and the prince, they are brought in contact with the people by their interests. They like the government of democracy, without participating in its propensities and without imitating its weaknesses; whence they derive a twofold authority from it and over it. The people in democratic states do not mistrust the members of the legal profession, because it is known that they are interested to serve the popular cause; and the people listen to them without irritation, because they do not attribute to them any sinister designs. The lawyers do not, indeed, wish to overthrow the institutions of democracy, but they constantly endeavor to turn it away from its real direction by means which are foreign to its nature. Lawyers belong to the people by birth and interest, and to the aristocracy by habit and taste; they may be looked upon as the connecting link of the two great classes of society. . . .

In America, there are no nobles or literary men, and the people are apt to mistrust the wealthy; lawyers consequently form the highest political class, and the most cultivated portion of society. They have therefore nothing to gain by innovation, which adds a conservative interest to their natural taste

for public order. If I were asked where I place the American aristocracy, I should reply, without hesitation, that it is not among the rich, who are united by no common tie, but that it occupies the judicial bench and the bar.

The more we reflect upon all that occurs in the United States, the more shall we be persuaded that the lawyers, as a body, form the most powerful, if not the only, counterpoise to the democratic element. In that country, we easily perceive how the legal profession is qualified by its attributes, and even by its faults, to neutralize the vices inherent in popular government. When the American people are intoxicated by passion, or carried away by the impetuosity of their ideas, they are checked and stopped by the almost invisible influence of their legal counsellors. These secretly oppose their aristocratic propensities to the nation’s democratic instincts, their superstitious attachment to what is old to its love of novelty, their narrow views to its immense designs, and their habitual procrastination to its ardent impatience.

The courts of justice are the visible organs by which the legal profession is enabled to control the democracy. The judge is a lawyer, who, independently of the taste for regularity and order which he has contracted in the study of law, derives an additional love of stability from the inalienability of his own functions. His legal attainments have already raised him to a distinguished rank amongst his fellows; his political power completes the distinction of his station, and gives him the instincts of the privileged classes. Armed with the power of declaring the laws to be unconstitutional, the American magistrate perpetually interferes in political affairs. He cannot force the people to make laws, but at least he can oblige them not to disobey their own enactments, and not to be inconsistent with themselves. . . .

It must not, moreover, be supposed that the legal spirit is confined, in the United States, to the courts of justice; it extends far beyond them. As the lawyers form the only enlightened class whom the people do not mistrust, they are naturally called upon to occupy most of the public stations. They fill the legislative assemblies, and are at the head of the administration; they consequently exercise a powerful influence upon the formation of the law, and upon its execution. The lawyers are, however, obliged to yield to the current of public opinion, which is too strong for them to resist; but it is easy to find indications of what they would do, if they were free to act. The Americans, who have made so many innovations in their political laws, have introduced very sparing alterations in their civil laws, and that with great difficulty, although many of these laws are repugnant to their social condition. The reason for this is, that, in matters of civil law, the majority are obliged to defer to the authority of the legal profession, and the American lawyers are disinclined to innovate when they are left to their own choice. . . .

Trial by Jury . . . Trial by jury may be considered in two separate points of view; as a judicial, and as a political institution. . . .

My present purpose is to consider the jury as a political institution. . . . It would be a very narrow view to look upon the jury as a mere judicial institution; for, however great its influence may be upon the decisions of the courts, it is still greater on the destinies of society at large. The jury is, above all, a political institution, and it must be regarded in this light in order to be duly appreciated. By the jury, I mean a certain number of citizens chosen by lot, and invested with a temporary right of judging.

Trial by jury, as applied to the repression of crime, appears to me an eminently republican element in the government, for the following reasons.

The institution of the jury may be aristocratic or democratic, according to the class from which the jurors are taken; but it always preserves its republican character, in that it places the real direction of society in the hands of the governed, or of a portion of the governed, and not in that of the government. Force is never more than a transient element of success, and after force, comes the notion of right. A government which should be able to reach its enemies only upon a field of battle would soon be destroyed. The true sanction of political laws is to be found in penal legislation; and if that sanction be wanting, the law will sooner or later lose its cogency. He who punishes the criminal is therefore the real master of society. Now, the institution of the jury raises the people itself, or at least a class of citizens, to the bench of judges. The institution of the jury consequently invests the people, or that class of citizens, with the direction of society. . . . The jury cannot fail to exercise a powerful influence upon the national character. . . . The jury . . . serves to communicate the spirit of the judges to the minds of all the citizens; and this spirit, with the habits which attend it, is the soundest preparation for free institutions. It imbues all classes with a respect of the thing judged, and with the notion of right. If these two elements be removed, the love of independence becomes a mere destructive passion. It teaches men to practise equity; every man learns to judge his neighbor as he would himself be judged. And this is especially true of the jury in civil causes; for, whilst the number of persons who have reason to apprehend a criminal prosecution is small, every one is liable to have a lawsuit. The jury teaches every man not to recoil before the responsibility of his own actions, and impresses him with that manly confidence without which no political virtue can exist. It invests each citizen with a kind of magistracy; it makes them all feel the duties which they are bound to discharge towards society, and the part which they take in its government. By obliging men to turn their attention to other affairs than their own, it rubs off that private selfishness which is the rust of society.

The jury contributes powerfully to form the judgment and to increase the natural intelligence of a people; and this, in my opinion, is its greatest advantage. It may be regarded as a gratuitous public school, ever open, in which every juror learns his rights, enters into daily communication with the most learned and enlightened members of the upper classes, and becomes practically acquainted with the laws, which are brought within the reach of his capacity by the efforts of the bar, the advice of the judge, and even by the passions of the parties. I think that the practical intelligence and political good sense of the Americans are mainly attributable to the long use which they have made of the jury in civil causes. . . .

The jury, then, which seems to restrict the rights of the judiciary, does in reality consolidate its power; and in no country are the judges so powerful as where the people share their privileges. It is especially by means of the jury in civil causes, that the American magistrates imbue even the lower classes of society with the spirit of their profession. Thus the jury, which is the most energetic means of making the people rule, is also the most efficacious means of teaching it how to rule well.

Tocqueville's Tyranny of the Majority Reconsidered Author(s): Donald J. Maletz Source: The Journal of Politics, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Aug., 2002), pp. 741-763 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Southern Political Science Association Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1520111 Accessed: 16-10-2019 08:40 UTC

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Tocqueville's Tyranny of the Majority Reconsidered

Donald J. Maletz

The University of Oklahoma

Tocqueville's famous argument about "majority tyranny" in Democracy in America begins with an analysis of the "real advantages" of democratic government. The advantages include the effective use of certain authoritative beliefs to reconnect the individual to society in an era when these ties

are weakening. But these beliefs tend to deepen a commitment to majority power as sovereign and

even "absolute." With this tendency in mind, Tocqueville presents two somewhat differing views of majority tyranny. The argument for the first and rather traditional view, direct majoritarian domi- nance of government, is weak though not entirely implausible. The more interesting and influential argument concerns the effects of modern majoritarianism on thought. The effects, especially a "soft tyranny" over the mind, are not a defect of democracy but its direct implication, if what is

taken to be authoritative in the governing sense, majority rule, is not constrained by both constitu- tional measures and by a critique showing how majority power can be "absolute" in its sphere but prevented from claiming "omnipotence." Tocqueville's argument is a brilliant warning rather than a proven case, but it paved the way for a new understanding of the potential for harm latent in an unqualified commitment to democracy.

This article is devoted to exploring what Tocqueville means by "the tyranny of the majority" and understanding the role of this concept in his treatment of democratic government. The phrase, and the concept, are among the most well- known from his first book, the first volume of Democracy in America, pub- lished in 1835. Though memorably conjuring up a specter that has often found support among critics of mass society, the idea that majority tyranny is a real threat has aroused perhaps just as much skepticism as support. Even Tocque- ville's most sympathetic interpreters are divided about it. Pierre Manent ob- serves that "in the Tocquevillian description of 'democratic despotism,' which seems to me to be full of truth, Raymond Aron saw a kind of myth, striking to be sure, but very far from describing our experience" (1998, 38).1 Students of

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 2000, in Chicago.

Mahoney discusses the differing views of Manent and Aron in his "Introduction" to a recent collection of Manent's essays (Mahoney 1998, 16-18). Tocqueville seems to have been introduced to the idea of majority tyranny by Jared Sparks early in his visit to America, although later Sparks wrote rather critically about Tocqueville's use of the idea. In the writing of Democracy in America, Tocqueville studied Madison (see DA 260) and the Federalist closely but was not fully persuaded by their arguments on safeguards against tyranny (Schleifer 1980, 114-118, 139-40, 192-93, 217, 221-22).

THE JOURNAL OF POLITICS, Vol. 64, No. 3, August 2002, Pp. 741-763 ? 2002 Southern Political Science Association

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Donald J Maletz

American electoral politics often have been rather skeptical, believing that majority tyranny is only a remote possibility and inclining to emphasize in- stead the dangerous influence of smaller but highly organized interests.2 Re- cent commentary on Tocqueville's ideas normally takes note of the "majority tyranny" thesis, of course, but it is mainly directed toward wider issues: fathom- ing his views on the "social state" called democracy (Manent 1996, chaps. 1-2), or on the broad theory of"liberalism" (Boesche 1987), or his role as a founder of sociological thought (Aron 1968), or considering his place in modern polit- ical philosophy (Lawler 1993; Manent 1994a). But I think the problem of ma- jority tyranny as an aspect specifically of democratic governance is worth a second look, all the more so as we have entered an era when democracy seems so universally accepted. My purpose is to examine closely Tocqueville's view of how democratic government works in the one case where he actually ob- served it and to consider why he thinks he saw there a possibility of "tyranny" linked to these governing practices.

Democratic governing as conducted by "the people" is the specific theme of three chapters in Part 2 of Volume I of Democracy in America.3 Chapter 5 deals with government by "the people," Chapter 6 with the "real advantages" of democracy, and Chapter 7 with the "omnipotence of the majority." The first

2While the Federalist clearly has much to say about the threat of majority tyranny and the means

to counter it, the concern with the problem weakened in the political science of the last century. J. Allen Smith argued that "the so-called evils of democracy are very largely the natural results of those constitutional checks on popular rule which we have inherited from the political system of the eighteenth century" (1965, toward the end of the unpaginated Preface). Views of this kind were later amplified by Vernon Parrington, Charles Beard, Richard Hofstadter, and Merrill Jensen, as Cushing Strout notes in his Introduction to this reprint of Smith's book (Smith 1965, xii-xiv). Hartz thought there was in the American tradition a "vast neurotic fear of what the majority might do" and that the majority was in fact "one of the tamest, mildest, and most unimaginative majori- ties in modern political history" (1955, 128-29). Ranney and Kendall took majority rule as the essence of democracy and, therefore, conceded that majority tyranny is a "real danger," but they also held that a variety of cultural and institutional factors softened majorities in the United States and believed Tocqueville thought the "American party system" would hinder majority tyranny (1956,

23-24, 29-30, 136, 477 ff.). Dahl saw that democracies create a "sovereign majority" but argued that pluralism in actual practice prevented cohesive majorities from forming and having their way in any direct sense (1967, 18-22). Green and Shapiro note that the "advent of rational choice theory" has called into question the very idea that majorities can effectively prevail in a modern democracy (1994, 3-4).

3 There are important comments about local government in the colonial, or preconstitutional, era in DA 1.1.5. One might regard 1.2.8 (on what "tempers the tyranny of the majority") as part of the series of chapters on governing, but it is devoted to looking for correctives to the problem of "majority tyranny" and so reflects a remedial as well as a descriptive and analytical concern. Ref- erences will be to Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. George Lawrence (1969), cited as DA with Volume, Part and Chapter, or simply as DA with page number. References to the original will be to Tocqueville, Oeuvres Completes, ed. J.-P. Mayer (1951-). De la democratie en Amerique is published as Volume I, Parts 1 and 2 of this edition, and is cited as OC I.1 or 2, plus page number. In addition, I have used the Pleiade edition of Tocqueville, Oeuvres (1992), Vol- ume II of which contains Democracy; this will be cited as P1 with page number.


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Tocqueville's Tyranny of the Majority Reconsidered

of these chapters is a lengthy discussion of election laws, the quality of offi- cials, public expenses, administrative practices, corruption, the conduct of war and foreign policy, and so forth. I cannot consider it in detail here, but I will offer two observations about it.

First, there is an obvious difficulty with the entire thesis about how "the people" act. Tocqueville accepts that he saw in the United States a "democratic social state" and real popular sovereignty: "Above all the institutions and be- yond all the forms there is a sovereign power, that of the people, which can abolish or change them as it pleases" (DA 171, opening thesis of DA 1.2.). The problem with which he is concerned here is the problem of majority rule within that social state. About calling this social state "democratic," Huntington ob- serves that "like other European observers before and since, Tocqueville tended to confuse the values and ideals of Americans with social and political reality" (1981, 225). The point is less inadvertent confusion than his implicit accep- tance of an older view, perhaps drawn from Montesquieu, that democracies constitute themselves first by determining who belongs in the body of citizens (1989, Book 2, chaps. 1-2). While Tocqueville maintains that "equality of con- ditions" is the "basic fact" influencing the "whole course of society" in Amer- ica (DA 9), it is also true that democratic majorities sometimes configure equality with very significant exclusions, drawing the boundaries of citizenship far more narrowly than the language of equality suggests. Tocqueville is quite aware that there are persons who are treated as outside the framework of citizenship and are simply ruled despotically.4

With that very important caveat, it is worth noticing that while this chapter on governing practices contains little to differentiate it from a very old- fashioned skepticism about what "the people" will do with political power, at the same time it gives little indication that "the people" are inclined to tyran- nize. Majority rule is characteristically populist, to be sure, and enforces its egalitarianism through an adamant repudiation of all forms of "aristocracy." But the Tocquevillian report records no more than passing examples of a desire

4McDonald notes the existence of a republican doctrine in the eighteenth century that limited citizenship to "freemen" (1985, 54, 161-62). Tocqueville includes the oppressive treatment of In- dians and slaves among the topics that have been placed by the Americans "outside of American democracy" (DA 316). Dahl discusses several cases of defining who is to be included in the "demos" and notes that an association can be "'democratic' with respect to its own demos, but not neces- sarily democratic with respect to all persons subject to the collective decisions of the demos" (1989, 32-33, 120 ff.). In the context of a detailed study of who was included and who was ex- cluded from citizenship, Rogers Smith develops a critique of a "misleading orthodoxy" in under- standing American citizenship that he attributes mainly to Tocqueville and those influenced by him (Smith 1997, 14-30). For another view ofTocqueville's reasoning on these issues, see Lerner (1987, chaps. 4-5). Legitimist defenders of the old regime in France took note of the real inequalities in America to challenge Tocqueville's claim that democracy was actually in practice. They "used this tension between egalitarian principles and real inequalities [in America] to show that democracy was an incomprehensible monster. From the existence of racism, they deduced the lie of democ- racy" (Melonio 1998, 38).


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Donald J. Maletz

or capacity on the part of the majority to act despotically. For an understanding of how the tyranny of the majority thesis emerges, it is necessary to consider the more theoretical analysis of the "real advantages" derived from democratic government in Chapter 6. This analysis, which does in fact demonstrate the pow- erful advantages of a specifically modern kind of democracy, is also the crucial point of connection in Tocqueville's mind between the unfocused populism of majority-rule governing and the threat of majority tyranny. It describes the path to the main claim and main defect of modern democracy, which are less actual governing practices than a set of beliefs about the authority of the majority.

The Advantages of Democratic Government

I stress the importance of the chapter on the advantages of democracy for two reasons. First, I believe that his account is one of the most original and insightful aspects of his analysis of democratic government. Second, however, I think the "majority tyranny" argument depends for its credibility on whether or how it is linked to these advantages. If that argument depends on the use of non- or anti-democratic principles, such as an a priori disparagement of the motives of "the people," then it is open to dismissal as a view not taking seri- ously the very premise of democracy itself. On the other hand, if the majority tyranny argument is somehow related to the principle of majority rule as actu- ally practiced, or related to the genuine strengths of democracy, then the criti- cism gains force as having a substantial rather than accidental relationship to the phenomenon.

The study of the "real advantages which American society draws from dem- ocratic government" turns immediately to the most interesting of them, an ad- vantage that lies in a "general tendency" of the laws that is beneficial, yet hard to discern, for it is so far from the surface of things that it is almost "impercep- tible" or even "secret" ["occulte"] (DA 231, OC 1.1.264; cf. DA 267). Oppo- nents of modern democracy, then as now, complain that it appealed to the most self-seeking aspects of human nature and was little more than organized self- ishness. They forecast a society that would know no good other than private, individualized goods, that would be incapable of respect for country and law, and that would have no high aspirations. This dark prospect is a real danger but far from the whole story (cf. DA 15-16). But it must be seen in the light of the advantages conferred by democratic government. The rule of the American ma- jority establishes a spirit or, as we might say, an ethos, to which individuals conform almost intuitively, and to which indeed they look up, and that spirit or ethos is rather different from pure individualism.5 The ethos gives a theme to

5 On the meaning of the term "spirit," see DA 184: "In all things the majority makes the law; it establishes certain ways to which all must afterward conform; the sum total of these common ways is called a spirit; there is the spirit of the bar, the spirit of the court." But the new order, while

generating a spirit of its own, nevertheless retains some traces of the British and Puritan heritage, above all in its practice of local liberty and in its disposition in regard to religion (Lawler 1995,


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Tocqueville's Tyranny of the Majority Reconsidered

the hunger for equality which, in the previous section, was treated as perpetu- ally unsatisfied by the simple egalitarianism of the suffrage.6 It suggests the pursuit of an objective: "In general, the laws of a democracy tend toward the good of the greatest number, for they spring from the majority of all the citi- zens, which may be mistaken but which cannot have an interest contrary to its own.... One can therefore say in general terms that democracy's aim in its legislation is more beneficial to humanity than that of aristocracy" (DA 232).

In what sense are we to understand this "good" toward which the laws tend? It is difficult to read what is described, especially when a term such as "human- ity" is used, without thinking that Tocqueville claims there is an aspiration in democracy to the human good as such. Yet he specifically contends that the tendency of the laws is not toward the good of all, but toward the good of the majority, for the "greatest number" is only the majority, not the totality, and the good that is pursued is general but not universal. The "good" toward which democracy aims is that of "humanity" understood in terms of its majority qual- ities, its commonness or averageness.7 Furthermore, the general good is not to be understood in moral terms, for it does not seem to require excellence of character or even great competence. Tocqueville repeatedly describes it in terms of prosperity (DA 232, 234), and yet he means something more than economic growth alone. It is also more than mere equilibrium or stability, for Tocqueville refers to a distinct good, a benefit beyond simply the avoidance of catastrophe or chaos.8

This good of the greatest number is that objective pursued when there is no fundamental divergence between those who govern in the name of the majority

224). On the means by which governing institutions contribute to foster a civic-minded ethos, see DA 68-70 and 90-98 (on the value of local self-government) and 509-17 (on the importance of associations). For a contemporary and rather Tocquevillian study of the manner in which institu- tions can support the democratic ethos, see Putnam's Making Democracy Work (1993).

6Tocqueville draws from Pascal: "Democratic institutions awaken and flatter the passion for equality without ever being able to satisfy it entirely. This complete equality is always slipping through the people's fingers at the moment when they think to grasp it, fleeing, as Pascal says, in an eternal flight; the people grow heated in search of this blessing, all the more precious because it is near enough to be seen but too far off to be tasted." (DA 198, translation slightly modified to be more literal.) For the quotation from Pascal, see Pensees, #390 (Pascal 1960). Similarly, DA 536 refers to the pursuit of a "complete felicity which always escapes" (Lawler 1993, 130). The richest commentary on this passion is found in Lawler (1993).

7For the same reason, the objective of the laws is not identical with what Rousseau's "general will" aims to achieve, for that "general will" aims at the benefit of the whole, not any part (Rousseau 1978, 50). The editors of the Pl&iade edition note that the passage invites comparison with Rous- seau, but characterize Tocqueville's language on this point as "moderate" (Tocqueville 1992, 998).

8See the note appended to this passage at P1 998. A passage taken from Tocqueville's drafts describes a "perfect" law as comprising three characteristics: a general tendency that is very use- ful, the execution of the law by the most effective means, and the use of the best agents to carry it out. Perfect laws are seldom seen; those of a democracy tend to excel in their general tendency and to be defective in the other respects.


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Donald J Maletz

and those who belong to the majority, a good that fosters the general well- being even in the midst of governmental effort of merely middling competence. It is that good that most naturally comes into view not from the clear thought of a calculating individual, but from the interests of the majority. The content of this good cannot be specified in a short phrase or formula, but it seems to be the goal of the remaining sections of this chapter on the "advantages" of de- mocracy to outline its main features. They have to do with public spiritedness, the idea of rights, respect for law, and activity or energy within society (DA 235-245).

Public Spirit, Rights, Law

The dissolving force of rationalist criticism of custom, of belief, and of law has made "instinctive patriotism" and even the "reflective patriotism of a re- public" a thing of the past.9 (DA 236) It is now "essential," Tocqueville says, that "the people see that individual interest is linked to that of country, for disinterested patriotism has fled beyond recall." The only way to "interest men in their country's fate is to make them take a share in its government" by the grant of "rights," for this is the only means "in our time" by which to nurture "civic spirit." 10 The possession of rights and the possession of an idea of rights enable the common man to regard the affairs of the commune, the state, and the country as a whole as in some sense his own. So equipped, he "under- stands" the influence of the general prosperity on his own happiness, he grasps this idea that is so "simple" and so little understood in former times by "the people" (DA 237). The very grant of rights fosters in some sense the bridge from "a narrow and unenlightened egotism" to the capacity of the common man to regard the general prosperity as "his own work" (DA 236-7).

There is something inherently questionable in this argument. The "grant of rights" is essentially a conferral of a benefit on the individual, for rights are a possession or an entitlement owed to the individual as such. The concept of rights is at the very center of modern individualism. Tocqueville concedes the partial truth of individualism by acknowledging that "interest" is the "only sta- ble point in the human heart" (DA 239; cf. DA 79). But he also notes an ele- vated idea of "rights," a notion of rights that does not simply ratify self-interest but that enlarges its meaning so that it encompasses that civic "understanding" marking a transition from egotism to a more enlightened view.

In a passage marked by a certain passion, Tocqueville addresses the reader: "Do you not see that religions are growing weak and that the conception of the sanctity of rights is vanishing? Do you not see that mores are changing and that

9"It is difficult to imagine middle-class Americans returning to the days when patriotism meant blind faith in one's country and its leaders" (Wolfe 1998, 299). For a contemporary airing of this theme, see the debate about cosmopolitanism and patriotism in Nussbaum, For Love of Country (1996).

'lCivic spirit is: "l'esprit de cite" (DA 236; OC 1.1.247).


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Tocqueville's Tyranny of the Majority Reconsidered

the moral conception of rights is being obliterated with them?" There is a "uni- versal collapse" of the beliefs supporting what were once disinterested views of rights, rights grounded in religion and mores. As an antidote to this collapse, perhaps an "idea of rights" can be linked to personal interest. This idea is al- most as "beautiful" as the "general idea" of virtue, and is in fact "the idea of virtue introduced into the world of politics" (DA 237-8). 1

Rights, whose root is a form of"interest," can be broadened into "the idea of rights" and then by virtue of the generality of the concept into a form of moral- ity itself. Rights are originally linked to personal interest, and the moral idea to which they give rise depends on the individual first having rights.12 The pos- session of rights induces the calculation that the rights of others should be respected in order that one's own not be violated or withdrawn. This is a calcu- lation whose interested nature is obvious, but it is at the same time a calcula- tion that passes over into a principle, the recognition of the rights of all. Rights dignify the individual, but they are not in themselves individualized because they reflect a status equally or indifferently belonging to all. They both give special legal warrant to individuality, and complement individuality by attrib- uting a general or universal property to those who bear the rights. Rights- bearers easily become quasi-Kantians, as they discover general principle at the end of a chain of reasoning that starts from their own interest. A democrat conceives a "high idea of rights because he has some; he does not attack those of others, in order that his own may not be violated," and a certain respect for authority is accepted as a necessary consequence of this reasoning, provided that the authority of those who command is guided by the same logic (DA 238). "Rights" in the democratically relevant sense are abstract and general.13 They belong to persons independently of social status, of what that person has done or achieved, of the moral caliber of the person, and of the ends a person pursues.14

" Lawler suggests Tocqueville calls the idea of rights "beautiful" because it is not a "useful" one (1993, 136). For an overview of Tocqueville's understanding of rights, see Lamberti (1989, 74-84).

12Mansfield traces the lineage and the consequences of this idea in "Self-Interest Rightly Un- derstood" (1995).

'3Manent notes "the abstraction and simplification of human motive inseparable from the sys- tem of liberty" (1998, 228). Melonio claims that "Tocqueville was less interested in the intellectual origins of the notion of democracy than in the emergence of an egalitarian sensibility whose essen- tial trait was envy" (1998, 90). This is said in reference to The Old Regime and the Revolution, where it might be more apposite, but it does not account for the position taken in Democracy in America, which acknowledges the occasional force of envy (DA 198, for example) but rejects the unqualified identification of egalitarianism with that passion.

'4Cf. Manent, 1996, xiii-xiv. In a discussion of "rights" and the development of "spirited self- confidence," Lawler sees in Tocqueville an attempt to blur the distinction between an aristocratic sense of "rights" (i.e., the claim of an individual to distinction) and the abstract rights of all, which are egalitarian and possessed whether one troubles to care about them or not. Cf. Lawler (1993), 135-37, with Aron (1970), 14-16, and Manent (1996), 18 ff.


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Donald . Maletz

If the "idea of rights" is "the idea of virtue introduced into the world of politics" (DA 237-8), it is also an idea that transforms the relevant aspect of "virtue" from completed perfection of character to the premise from which the political role of the person unfolds. "Rights" determine status, not ends. "Rights" can be limited or broad. If they include the right to vote, they allow even the dispersed and numerous members of a large republic to have some sense of ownership of the law, even if their participation in legislation is at best "indirect" (DA 240).15 The citizen gains a personal interest in obeying the laws because of the following reasoning: "a man who is not today one of the majority party may be so tomorrow, and so he may soon be demanding for laws of his choosing that respect which he now professes for the lawgiver's will." The law is then not merely the "work of the majority" but also "his own doing" and is to be regarded "as a contract to which he is one of the parties" (DA 241). This is once again the mechanism of generalization at work, arising from a capacity to pass from one's own interest to a more general perspective that is not perhaps not truly disinterested but is at least rooted in a certain generalizability of "interest."

In this manner, Tocqueville both reports his observations of a democracy that seemed able to cultivate civic spirit and indicates what he takes to be the key step required to sustain this spirit. The surface of modern democracy is one displaying a breakdown of old hierarchies and of inherited religious, moral, and political understandings, and the establishment of a new priority for equal- ity and the pursuit of self-interest. Yet these views, if institutionalized under the

aegis of an "idea of rights," can elevate the single human being into a represen- tative "individual" who sees in individuality a more general status and an obli- gation to respect that status. It is vital both that the members of the political community be furnished with rights and that those rights be understood and practiced a certain way. They must be seen not as possessions due to all simply by virtue of being a natural human animal, but as individual entitlements that are at the same time, and inseparably, capable of expression in an "idea" con- stituting the basis for political-moral principles. This understanding does not encourage the committed "citizenship" of the ancient republics. It is not rooted in the love of a particular fatherland, and it lacks altogether a divine authoriza- tion. Rather, it fosters a sense of public membership and duty arising from enlightenment, relying on the attractive force of rational principle.

This argument might seem sufficient to explain how and why democracy rightly understood possesses decisive advantages in the moral sphere, advan- tages perhaps outweighing the deficiencies in competence that limit the effec- tiveness of the governing bodies or personnel. Yet the foregoing needs to be considered in the light of some concluding observations about another advan- tageous characteristic of democracy, its ability to generate "activity."

'1Cf. Montesquieu (1989), Book II, chap. 2.


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Tocqueville's Tyranny of the Majority Reconsidered


The concluding section of this chapter takes up what Tocqueville calls the "activity" or activism that he observed in the United States. He begins the chap- ter by referring to the great activity generally prevailing in any "free country" (DA 242) but a few paragraphs further on suggests something a bit different:

That constantly renewed agitation introduced by democratic government into political life passes, then, into civil society. Perhaps, taking everything into consideration, that is the great- est advantage of democratic government, and I praise it much more on account of what it causes to be done than for what it does (DA 243).

In the first remark, freedom itself is the source of the activity; in the second it is democratic government that encourages that activity still further. The differ- ence can be explained this way. On the one hand, freedom taken by itself is energizing, and this effect can be seen even in "free countries that have pre- served the forms of monarchy" and in "those dominated by an aristocracy" (DA 242). But the effect is intensified in "democratic republics" and ultimately raised to another level altogether. Democratic government itself agitates the political world, and that effect in turn has an energizing effect on civil society. Aristocracy "thinks more about preservation than about improvement" (DA 211). Democracy creates constant political movement in government, as any ob- server can see immediately, but the visible political motion is only the surface of a "universal movement which begins in the lowest ranks of the people and then spreads successively through all classes of citizens" (DA 243).

What is the character of this movement? The answers to this question are somewhat vague. Tocqueville portrays an intense pursuit of happiness through political activity, manifested in the constant discovery of "new needs," fol- lowed by presentation of demands to government for more action to address the needs. The constant agitation generates a "restless activity, superabundant force, and energy never found..." in other kinds of political order (DA 244).16 Hab- its shaped by this activity fill the mind. The citizen finds it unattractive to concentrate solely on "his own affairs" (DA 243). The business of the commu- nity elbows aside introspection, self-awareness, and self-cultivation.

In this milieu, the conflict of two rival moralities, one on the way out, the other coming in, creates a moment when "the destinies of the Christian world seem in suspense." Modern democratic society seems about to abandon the attempt to "raise mankind to an elevated and generous view," to foster "scorn

'6The activism described here should be contrasted with a restlessness portrayed in DA II. Lawler notes that "Tocqueville describes the general condition of the Americans the way Pascal describes the human condition" (1993, 129). In the writing of DA I, Tocqueville attributes the constant move-

ment to a political effect of democratic government, which both permits more freedom for political activity and fosters the aspirations stimulating that activity to expand. But DA Volume II perhaps looks more deeply into democracy's meliorism to examine discontents that are not to be satisfied by political or economic reforms no matter how numerous (cf. DA II.1, chaps. 7-8 and II, 2, chaps. 12-14).


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Donald . Maletz

of material goods," to inspire "deep convictions and prepare the way for acts of profound devotion," to refine manners and taste, and to seek a great influence of the nation on history through "great enterprises." Replacing these ambitions is a conviction that society should aim to "turn man's intellectual and moral activity toward the necessities of physical life and use them to produce well- being," to encourage "tranquil habits," to see "brilliant society" replaced with a "prosperous" one, and to provide for everyone the "utmost well-being" (DA 245). Democracy encourages the replacement of one morality by another, re- valuing values, substituting an ethic that values the general well-being for the ethic of the old regimes.

It is a sign of the great strength and depth of modern democracy that it is more than just a form of government. It inspires an entire way of life, forming minds, liberating and energizing citizens, penetrating the spirit to suggest a new moral code.17 It is then not an accident that the next chapter is addressed to "the omnipotence of the majority." The term is associated with theology, the discipline to which we look for the study of all-powerful beings. There is no such thing as literal "omnipotence" in political life.18 But perhaps the advan- tages of democracy culminate in a sort of "theology," secularized to be sure, but emphatic about what is highest or most efficacious: the vital progressive force inherent in mass organization, for "there is no end which the human will despairs of attaining by the free action of the collective power of individuals" (DA 190; OC 1.1.195). Modern democracy can inspire a faith of its own, and the problem of "majority tyranny" is ultimately an aspect of it.

The Omnipotence of the Majority: DA 1.2.7

The study of"majority tyranny" is found in two subchapters within the longer chapter devoted to "The Omnipotence of the Majority." The omnipotence theme of this chapter derives from, and extends, the conclusion reached about the "advantages" of democratic government, while exposing a darker side inextri- cably connected to those advantages. The advantages in their cumulative effect are so powerful and far-reaching that they contain within themselves a very real possibility of "majority tyranny." On the whole the rather speculative argu- ment is not fully convincing in purely governmental terms, for reasons to be explained. Its real importance lies in its portrayal of two distinct kinds of tyr- anny, one similar to that which has been known since antiquity, the other em-

17I do not suggest that Tocqueville believes democracy specifically legislates a new moral code; it is rather a matter of encouraging certain characteristic, but flexible, dispositions. Modern democ- racy in this sense has the comprehensive impact on life that Aristotle describes as the hallmark of a

political regime. For attempts to explain the similarities and differences between Tocqueville and Aristotle, see Mansfield and Winthrop (2000), Salkever (1990), and Lawler (1993, 101-8, 115-6, arguing, however, that Tocqueville follows Pascal as well as Aristotle).

8 Tocqueville notes the theological meaning of "omnipotence" at DA 252. Cf. also Pascal, Pen- sees, #390 (1960).


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Tocqueville's Tyranny of the Majority Reconsidered

phatically new and closely related to what might be called the intellectual and moral understanding that gives modern democracy its strength.

Is "omnipotence" a possible feature of any political life, or of even the most consolidated democracy? Commenting on the governments he observed in some of the states, Tocqueville believed he saw a growing and aggressive majoritar- ian populism (DA 260 note 7). The people forced legislatures to become more dominant over the executive and the judiciary and made the members ever more subordinate to the "passing passions of their constituents" (DA 246, 260-61). He was able to cite Jefferson, "the most powerful apostle of democracy there has ever been," in support of the reasonableness of fearing such legislative tyranny (DA 260-61). Yet in retrospect, fear of majority tyranny exercised through

control of legislatures seems overdrawn (cf. DA 262). In his prior account of democratic government, democratic government has seemed relatively benign: it has a populist character, to be sure, but it fosters a certain kind of idealism about rights, it provides some genuine liberties, and it aims for the general well-being. Can democratic institutions of this character go beyond incompe- tence or intrusiveness and really tyrannize? Those who have seen in American pluralism a means to break up dominant majorities have, on the whole, been thought to have the better argument-better at least in the sense of more accu- rately describing the long-term development taken by American electoral poli- tics on the national level.19 Moreover, I note that every Tocquevillian assertion in this chapter about the existence of majority tyranny is later qualified. For example, the tyranny thesis is sometimes read as a critique of American poli- tics simply, whereas in fact it is directed principally against the state govern- ments (DA 260, note 7). Again, the thesis of majority power is countered in the next chapter by noting how administrative decentralization makes coordinated majority action almost impossible (DA 262-3; cf. DA 87-98). The rhetorical strategy seeks to awaken a heightened awareness of the fragility of constraints against such tyranny, but the truth of the matter is that the majority is "aware of

its natural strength" but not of how "art might increase its scope" (DA 263).20 But if direct political evidence of majority tyranny is scanty, there is another

line of argument that indicates why the issue of tyranny must be considered. Here Tocqueville works from a thesis of political science, drawn, I think, from the language and practice of France and its "absolute monarchy," but applied in a novel yet telling manner to American democracy.

The chapter on the "omnipotence" of the majority begins with this state- ment: "It is of the very essence of democratic governments that the empire of

'9Not to be overlooked, however, are the difficulties fostered by pluralism itself, as many of its critics have argued. In a trenchant account of what he calls "the ideology of positivist pluralism," Spragens notes that it "invites a slide into the disintegrative narrow particularism described ... by Hobbes and feared by Tocqueville" (1981, 291-308).

20 On the threat from majorities today, see the recent debate about "The Rise of Illiberal Democ- racy" (Plattner 1999; Zakaria 1997). For a more extensive discussion of the illiberalism connected with certain cases of modern democratization, see Huntington (1997).


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Donald J Maletz

the majority be absolute in them; for outside of the majority, in democracies, there is nothing which resists."21 In what sense is a democratic majority's sov- ereignty "absolute"? The term itself sounds foreign, more familiar from the history of the French monarchy than from American politics.22 But Tocqueville holds that a society without a final or highest principle, attempting to mix "equally shared" principles, eventually will either dissolve or experience a revolution. "There is in truth no such thing as a mixed government (in the sense usually given to the words), since in any society one finds in the end some principle of action that dominates all the others." "It is always necessary to place some- where one social power superior to all others" (DA 251).23 The issue for dem- ocratic societies is not whether popular sovereignty and therefore majority rule should be "absolute" or not. It is whether "absolute" power can be constrained or limited in practice.

"Absolute" authority and tyrannical authority are not identical for Tocque- ville. He noted earlier that a democratic social state for the French is "irresist-

ible," while the actual shape of the government this social state will produce, despotism or a republic, remains as yet undetermined, thus conceding that de- mocracy (i.e., majority rule) can be republican (DA 196). Similarly, "The po- litical constitution of the United States seems to me to be one of the forms that

democracy can give to its government, but I do not think that American insti-

tutions are the only ones, or the best, that a democratic nation might adopt"

21 "I est de l'essence meme des gouvernements d6mocratiques que l'empire de la majorit6 y soit absolu; car en dehors de la majorit6, dans les d6mocraties, il n'y a rien qui r6siste." (OC 1.1.257; P1 282) I have used in the text the translation by Kessler and Grant (Tocqueville 2000b, 104). The translation by Lawrence has: "The absolute sovereignty of the will of the majority is the essence of democratic government, for in democracies there is nothing outside the majority capable of resist-

ing it" (Tocqueville 1969, 246). In the new translation by Mansfield and Winthrop, the passage reads: "It is of the very essence of democratic governments that the empire of the majority is absolute; for in democracies, outside the majority there is nothing that resists it" (Tocqueville 2000a, 235).

22 Keohane notes that the term "absolute," applied in the context of the French monarchy, meant the "claim to act as the final interpreters of [the] laws, to reorganize the realm in accordance with

their own vision of what the common good required, and to require from the French people what- ever resources were needed in money and arms to pursue their policies without waiting for the legitimating imprimatur of any other institution." Royal power was said by its apologists to be absolute but not despotic. It acknowledged limitations by the consideration of the common good, by Christian moral principles, and by the "fundamental constitutive laws of the French polity" (Keohane 1980, 3-4). Melonio thinks Tocqueville's Old Regime attributes the demise of French liberty to the growth of"absolutism" (1998, 90-94). But the issue in that study seems to be less the existence of an absolute monarch per se than the heedless expansion of central authority by means of a suffocating administrative apparatus eliminating all forms of independent political existence.

23 This point is not to deny, however, that the dominant power can coexist with others that sup- plement it. "Eighteenth-century England . . . was an essentially aristocratic state, although it con- tained within itself great elements of democracy" (DA 251). In The Old Regime Tocqueville claims the French monarch spoke "as a master" but in fact "obeyed a public opinion which inspired him or carried him along every day, which he consulted, feared, and constantly flattered" (Tocqueville 1998, 221). See also DA 124.


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Tocqueville's Tyranny of the Majority Reconsidered

(DA 231). It is possible to hold to a principle such as the sovereignty of the people in an unqualified way, as the highest political principle. It becomes then, "absolute," in the sense that it is the unquestionably highest standard within the terms of that political order.24 But there are different ways of bringing that highest standard to bear on the political and social questions faced by government.

In a democracy, the majority possesses a "natural strength" because its pri- macy derives from the core principle of democracy itself (DA 246). That dom- inance is in the American case formally "absolute" because it is not opposed by any other principle recognized as equivalent or superior in authority. But natu- ral strength is primacy, not necessarily irresistible strength; what is naturally strong may be complemented by other components. Democracy has its own nature: in democracies, the legislature is naturally strong, the executive natu- rally weak, and the order between them is part of "the nature of democratic government" (DA 246-7). Yet natural predominance can be "artificially" ex- tended by measures that make the strong element not only predominant but irresistible. "Each type of government harbors one natural vice which seems inherent in the very nature of its being" (DA 137, cf. 248). The vice consists in strengthening the predominant element beyond measure so that it becomes not just "absolute" in principle but unresisted in fact. "Omnipotence in itself is a bad and dangerous thing" because it contains the "germ of tyranny," although it is not tyranny until power is employed tyrannically (DA 252).

The authority that is "absolute" in principle can be balanced by other essen- tial elements of government or by informal powers, customs, or principles. When such balancing prevails, it is unlikely that the dominant power will be able to rule solely in its own interest (the true definition of tyranny, according to a suggestion at DA 253). Majority tyranny through direct political means might be a reality if majority power were completely unopposed. But such a case is rather unlikely at the national level. The nearer prospect of tyranny lies within the states, which are closer to the populist roots of American democracy and where most issues of domestic politics are addressed. The public in the states has sought to strengthen the legislatures by weakening other elements of the government, "depriving them of what little influence the nature of democratic government might have allowed them to enjoy" (DA 247). The result shows up to some extent in such matters as general administrative and legal instability caused by attempts to be increasingly responsive (DA 248-50). Yet the federal constitution, as Tocqueville knows, established a national government that is

24Ranney and Kendall seem to concede something like what Tocqueville means in their discus- sion of majority rule. They argue that there are ultimately only two alternatives: majority rule or minority rule. Every claim for "limited" majority rule devolves into an attempt to give some mi- nority a right to decide. Majorities must, in a democracy, always have the ultimate deciding power, even if they do delegate it in some cases to minorities (courts, for example). There is no intelligible procedure for creating a final veto on majorities that does not involve giving a minority some special power, and in the last analysis, they argue, the majority in the United States has not given such a veto to any minority (1956, 29-30).


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Donald J Maletz

rather more independent of the majority and that remains a counterweight against

populist pressures. Moreover, there are only two real examples of majority tyr- anny cited, one involving mob violence in Baltimore, the other discouragement of the political activity of racial minorities in Pennsylvania (DA 252-3). These are two local cases, and surely similar examples could be multiplied.25 Yet it seems exaggerated to maintain, as Tocqueville does, that potentially despotic majorities are in control of each state (DA 260, note 7).

I think Tocqueville is more successful making the case that majority rule contains something "absolute" in itself than that majority tyranny is an imme- diate political problem. The primacy of the majority in political matters is es- tablished both in law and, more deeply, in the very origins, or "point of departure,"

of the American society. Yet the establishment of majority rule as the dominant power is not by itself an extreme position. It can be justified by the general principle that any political order requires some highest authority, and, further- more, it was the only political principle suited to American circumstances and their egalitarian premises. The majority principle also has a special advantage, or claim, because it is connected (historically and conceptually) with freedom (DA 247). But it brings a particular danger in American circumstances mainly because of the circumstance that left it unopposed by any institution or group contesting the dominance of the majority or creating obstacles for its power. Mores and circumstances were such that democracy was established with com- parative facility, without the need to suppress a determined internal opposition. Political questions were not presented in the "absolute" fashion of France, where a minority with long-standing privileges absolutely opposed the institution of majority rule and the conflict between majority and minority was then itself absolute (DA 248).26 At the national level, the constitutional separation of pow- ers inhibits the gradual extension of majority dominance into factual omnipo- tence, as Tocqueville notes with perhaps insufficient emphasis (DA 253). This is a sort of barrier against political tyranny, although it is in his mind a rather weak reed to lean on, offering an insufficient "guarantee" against tyranny (DA 252). If a majority were to develop the will to override the constitutional sepa- ration of powers, what would stop it?

Yet the fact is that democratic government in the United States has been comparatively gentle. Is the gentleness the result of the laws, or is it a presup- position of the laws, a precondition on which the majoritarian institutions have been built? Tocqueville thinks it is the latter: "The reasons for the govern-

25Lincoln's speech on "The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions," given in Springfield, Illinois, in 1838 (not long after the publication of the first volume of Democracy in America), depicts a real threat of "mob law" (citing some specific cases) but does not regard it as an evil intrinsic to American democracy as such.

26"In the United States, political questions cannot arise in such general and absolute fashion" (DA 248). It would be more correct to say the majority-minority issue with regard to the suffrage did not arise in the same absolute fashion as in France. The general and absolute question that does arise, of course, has to do with slavery, union, and secession.


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Tocqueville's Tyranny of the Majority Reconsidered

ment's gentleness must be sought in circumstances and in mores rather than in the laws" (DA 253). Given the original American circumstances, government could afford to be mild. But could the very mildness permit another, more insidious form of despotism? The more plausible specter of tyranny that haunts Tocqueville's analysis is "the power exercised by the majority over thought" (DA 254-56).

Power of the Majority over Thought

Democrats insist on the primacy of the larger number over the smaller in political assemblies. But it is one thing to make political decisions according to a majority rule principle and another to allow this idea to pass into other realms, to attribute "moral authority" and "enlightenment and wisdom" to majorities. Or is it? Does the politically authoritative inevitably tend to become the mor- ally authoritative?

There is a strong linkage, peculiar to our time, Tocqueville implies, between what is politically "absolute" and what prevails in the intellectual/spiritual realm. This linkage occurs because modern democracy is no longer seen as just one political possibility among others, likely to be encountered in some haphazard alternation with other regimes (aristocracy, monarchy, oligarchy, etc.). Modern democracy is a political movement backed by a rationale. It emerged from a long period of development as a consequence of an emerging sense for equal- ity, and then for rights, both viewed as valid principles in themselves and as a protest against the injustice of age-old inequalities. That rationale is if anything intensified by the specific circumstances of the Anglo-Protestant settlement of America.27 Protestantism gives a spiritual gloss to equality and contributes to (or perhaps even instigates) the transition from political equality as such to the belief that there is a "moral authority of the majority" and consequently that there is more "enlightenment and wisdom in a numerous assembly than in a single man, and the number of the legislators is more important than how they are chosen." This is "the theory of equality applied to brains" (DA 247).28 In the discussion of democracy's advantages, Tocqueville showed that democracy replaces the emphasis on the special distinctiveness of a few with an emphasis on the "general well-being." Democracy prefers what is common to all to what is unique only to a few. It does not necessarily deny the uniqueness, excellence, virtue, or character of a given individual, but it denies that the cultivation of that uniqueness, or the protection of it, is a proper concern of political life. Political life aims for what is "general" and suitable for all, what fosters the general well-being.

27Huntington notes the connection with Protestantism (1981, 14-15). 28 Cf. Locke, Second Treatise of Government (1970), ?96. Locke sees the majority as having "the

greater force," but he does not detect an equality of brains. See also Faulkner (2001) and Grant (1987, 115-16).


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Donald J. Maletz

The absolutism of the old monarchies of Europe was linked to a person, and the sovereignty of the nation seemed inextricably linked with the person. In that sense those regimes of the past personalized power and authority. The ab- solutism of the modern democracies is linked to an abstract idea, that of indi-

vidual rights. The idea of rights is in one sense an elevating factor, as we have seen. Linking the self-interested individual to an idea of rights may instill a capacity to see beyond self-interest to a more principled, general good. But when the politically authoritative is accompanied by a rationale beyond simple predominance of power, it affects other spheres of life, including morals. It is then not unexpected that modern democracy tends to extend the sphere of ma- jority authority from the realm of government to "mores" and to "the smallest habits of life" (DA 247), even when there is no conscious program to do so (at least in liberal constitutional regimes). Abstract principles of political sover- eignty seep over into habits and customs, affect the details of life, form the minds of those who see their scope, and tempt them to accord these principles a wide authority. As the French believed that the King of France could do no wrong, so the Americans now hold "the same opinion" about the majority. The "moral authority of the majority" ["l'empire moral de la majorite"] (DA 247; OC 1.1.258) begins to act on the will itself. It does so with more force and scope than was ever exercised by the idea of monarchy, because the majority seems to represent society generally and what is general is thought to be uni- versal (DA 254). The last consequence of majoritarianism is the belief that there is effectively no more plausible standard than what the majority wills and no greater power than what organized majorities can do. The suggestion of "omnipotence" emerges.

Yet majorities cannot tyrannize as did old-fashioned "tyrants." They lack the cohesiveness and consistency to do so (cf. DA 262-3). If they tyrannize, it will be by imposing their standards on all by indirect means. The heading to the chapter on "the power of the majority over thought" refers to the possibility of an "immaterial despotism." The "power of the majority over thought" is a power greater than is found in any place in Europe, yet it operates without physical violence by closing off approbation and recognition. Let someone defy the ma- jority, once it has spoken firmly and "irrevocably," and he or she is ostracized like an "impure being." Tyranny is no longer a combat between a despotic prince and the dissenter or opponent. It is, rather, the creation of a climate of opinion that establishes boundaries, within which there is considerable leeway but which nevertheless define firm limits for the permissible. A citizen who is tyrannized is fully entitled to keep his "life and property" and his "privileges in the city." But such a person will be disregarded, ignored, overlooked, treated as "an impure being," deprived of esteem (DA 255). The person who does not observe the boundaries sacrifices public recognition. "The power exercised by the ma- jority in America over thought" means that there is no country in which "there is less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America" (DA 254-5).


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Tocqueville's Tyranny of the Majority Reconsidered

This chapter is stated in general terms but is in fact configured around a specific case that seems illustrative to Tocqueville, the case of a "writer" who has two aims: he wishes both to think independently and to find public and political support somewhere for his views. As examples, he mentions La Bruyere, who "lived in Louis XIV's palace while he wrote his chapter on the great," and Moliere, who "criticized the court in plays acted before the courtiers" (DA 256). This writer wants the independence to be a scathing critic of the public world and also wants recognition and support from it, while being at least tol- erated or even sheltered by it. The case reflects a peculiar symbiosis existing in the old aristocratic regimes between the ruling authority and its critics. The ability to coexist in this way is perhaps partly due to a certain ironic tolerance of the critics by the ruling authorities, but it is due also to the fact that such critical writers to some degree always appealed to alternative powers whom the monarch had some reason to fear or respect, be they the Church, the people, or the aristocracy. In a society where the absolute ruler is in fact opposed or lim- ited, there is a possibility of a sort of public role for the critic through playing off the ruling power against alternative centers of power.

The situation of a writer in a modern democracy seems to Tocqueville to be more difficult when there is "only one authority, one source of strength and success, and nothing outside it" (DA 255). In such conditions, the writer may be weakened, deprived of a possibility of exploiting the tension between oppos- ing powers, forced either to take the side of the majority or to withdraw alto- gether from a public role. It is difficult to establish independence of mind in a royal court, but more difficult to do so when the court is the whole of society. The temptation to become a mere courtier in the latter case is peculiarly diffi- cult to resist. The real difficulty for the writer is less the intention of the ma- jority to oppress than the weakness of real centers of opposition upon whom the writer may rely for support, for an audience, for a sense of having a role to play among a public, even if a small one.

One might reply that it is quite possible for persons so treated to live a free private life. To claim that "There is no freedom of the spirit in America" (DA 256) perhaps undervalues the extraordinary possibilities in a modern democ- racy for a private life that can include intellectual autonomy as well as the endeavor to influence public affairs through non-governmental means. To be deprived of public office is not inevitably to be consigned to complete silence and obscurity, nor to the loss of all influence.29 The forfeit of a public role is said by Tocqueville to be the fate designed for those among the rich in America who oppose democracy. Unlike the old aristocracy of birth in Europe, they are allowed no "recognized public position from which they can exercise on their fellow citizens a power of opinion" (DA 178-9; Manent 1996, 16-17). What

29An example of a private life with a public dimension can be seen in parts of Tocqueville's career, as Melonio shows (1998); a more contemporary example is described by Manent in "Ray- mond Aron-Political Educator" (1994b).


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Donald J. Maletz

Tocqueville fears is that the demand to accept a private life in this form could be extremely costly for a writer; it would be an oppression that inflicts no harm on the body but "goes straight for the soul" because the power of opinion is the very medium in which the writer lives and works.

There are no examples cited by Tocqueville of those who have suffered this oppression, and perhaps he does not mean that it is a force operating by single instances. It is rather that the force or power of majority opinion may operate invisibly and indirectly, creating in the minds of everyone an awareness of bound- aries that must not be crossed. One might say those minds are weak if they are

susceptible to this soft, indirect pressure. But Tocqueville means to argue that the conditions of majoritarianism weaken the spirit by removing a productive political tension that is elsewhere a source of energy.


The analysis of majority tyranny in these chapters displays an early ambiva- lence in Tocqueville's thought about what is most to be feared in democratic modes of government. In anticipating the encroachment of majorities on the institutions of government, Tocqueville echoes an understanding of democracy as old as Aristotle that was revitalized by Montesquieu. Democracy is cor- rupted when, as Montesquieu says, "the people, finding intolerable even the power they entrust to the others, want to do everything themselves: to deliber- ate for the senate, to execute for the magistrates, and to cast aside all the judges"

(1989, Book 8, chap. 2).30 Yet this view reflects what happened in the small republics of the past rather than the real conditions of a very large, federal, liberal, representative, democratic republic such as the United States. Corre- spondingly, Tocqueville's alarm about majority tyranny in this form is intelligi- ble in principle but perhaps in hindsight less readily applicable than was once the case.

On the other hand, the analysis of the tyranny of public opinion over thought strikes closer to the reality of modern mass democracy. In his chapter on "om- nipotence," Tocqueville begins the movement toward an analysis of the distinc- tively modern phenomenon of "soft tyranny." This tyranny is the molding and enforcement of public opinion that the very large, federal, liberal, representa- tive, democratic republic permits and possibly even fosters.31 There is surely a rhetorical strategy at work in his portrayal of what might happen if majority rule were not only the highest principle of public life but the exclusive princi- ple. The worst outcome would be a majority tyranny in which government would be nothing other than the tool of willful majorities and in which all freedom of

30Mansfield and Winthrop maintain that Aristotle "all but equates democracy, which he defines as the rule of many, usually poor, for their own advantage, with tyranny" (2000, liii), citing Aris- totle, Politics, 1281a14-24.

31 The shift in Tocqueville's thinking about tyranny is noted by Schleifer (1980, 191-2), Mans- field and Winthrop (2000, liii), Lamberti (1989, 219-30), and Lefort (1988, 24).


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Tocqueville's Tyranny of the Majority Reconsidered

thought and spirit would be quietly suppressed. One takes the point, but its validity depends on accepting a premise that Tocqueville is otherwise at pains to reject as both untrue and unworthy, namely the premise that the collective "social power" of mass man is or could become not only powerful but all- powerful.32 Moreover, the argument is advanced with hardly any attempt to support it as an empirical claim, and it is in my view difficult to accept as a description of the political or intellectual atmosphere of the early and mid- nineteenth century. What might be said on its behalf is that Tocqueville ob- served a society in which there was no public or overt controversy about the value of"democracy" itself, whereas in Europe the confrontation between "aris- tocracy" and "democracy" remained a vital issue in his own day and for de- cades to come. But the seeming conformity on this point does not augur the entire suppression of freedom of the spirit.

The description of majority "omnipotence" sounds a warning, but the deeper insights in these chapters about democratic government arise from the analysis of the strengths of democracy: the creation of a new kind of public spirit, the role of an idea of "rights" in elevating self-interest, the activism now directed toward the pursuit of the "general well-being," and above all the underlying convictions fostered by these advantages. The argument prepares the way for recognition of the psychological or cultural impact of democracy. Democracy in its modern sense becomes a powerful influence on mores, thought, and sen- timents, paving the way for Tocqueville's analysis of exactly these effects in the second volume of Democracy in America and ultimately for the twentieth- century critique of democracy as fostering a harmonized "mass" culture.33 The root of the matter lies less in the prospects for majorities taking total control of the government than in the means chosen to reconnect the emancipated individ- ual to the community. For if we follow Tocqueville's argument, we see that there is a preference for abstract uniformity at the basis of the very idea meant to protect our individuality. Majority tyranny as tyranny over thought or the spirit is nothing more than that principle of abstract uniformity taken in its most majoritarian sense and made into an item of authoritative belief.

It is noteworthy that Tocqueville later developed a third account of modern tyranny, one associating it with bureaucratic centralization in the service of administrative control. This possibility is discussed in somewhat general terms toward the end of the second volume of Democracy in America (DA II, 4, chaps. 6-7) and there explicitly acknowledged by Tocqueville to be a new ap-

32 The term "social power" is emphasized by Manent, who also gives the most powerful expla- nation in conceptual terms of what "majority tyranny" means in the specific context of modern democracy (1996, chap. 4). His analysis is, however, more abstract and even less connected to real conditions in America than Tocqueville's.

33 For an overview of the later critique of mass society, much of which displays some debt to Tocqueville, see Lowith (1967, Part II, section 1: The Problem of Bourgeois Society), Bell (2000, chap. 1: America as a Mass Society), Arendt (1958, 43), Strauss (1967), and the issue of Daedalus devoted to the theme of "Mass Culture and Mass Media" (1960).


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Donald J. Maletz

proach; but he made clear in The Old Regime and the Revolution that this kind of administrative despotism was in his own era less immediately an American problem than a French one. What the tyranny of the majority over thought and the administrative despotism of the modern bureaucratic state have in common is that they require a similar strategy in response. An essential political task for modern democracy is to re-create on a new basis groups that will be able to live with some independence from the state, in the sense of having some tangi- ble basis for an existence insulated from the abstractions that foster uniformity. Legal protection of free speech is necessary but not sufficient as a protection for freedom of thought and spirit, if Tocqueville is right about the "soft despo- tism" over thought that he feared. Writers, and all with a desire for indepen- dence of mind, need not only the right to put thoughts on paper without fear of punishment but also a "recognized public position from which they can exer- cise on their fellow citizens a power of opinion" (DA 178-9).

Absolute authority is a condition of politics, in Tocqueville's terms, but the danger of absolutism is strangely worse in modern democracy than in old Europe. The old Europe was a society composed out of highly disparate ele- ments rather loosely stitched together-towns, clans, castes, clergy, guilds, regions. Princely absolutism was gradually imposed over them, but for a long time they retained sufficient power to constitute a subordinate but significant alternative to what was nominally superior. Those who thought differently could see "difference" given power and place in the role of these distinctive groups. There is "no country in Europe so subject to a single power that he who wishes to speak the truth cannot find support enough to protect him against the consequences of his independence": where the monarchy is strong, the dissenter finds support from "the people"; where there is a republic or a de- mocracy, the "royal power" may provide shelter. But in the United States "there is only one authority" (DA 255).34 The very meaning of independence, of freedom of the spirit, is affected by such facts.35 Personal independence and "freedom of the spirit" are rarely just psychological phenomena. They have a social precondition, which is the presence of tensions rooted in the conflict of real alternative powers. As Tocqueville demonstrated later in The Old Regime and the Revolution, the direct governmental threat to liberty comes more from bureaucratic centralization than from populist majorities. Bureaucratic central- ization aims at the emasculation of alternative powers in the name of impos- ing administrative coherence or uniformity. Such administrative uniformity greatly enhances the influence of those convictions that breed uniformity of opinion. The "absolute" power of the modern democratic state in either its majoritarian or its bureaucratic form needs to be countered by preserving the

34 DA 255. See also DA 691-93, which is eloquent on the danger of a despotism of "schoolmas- ters," arising when the "imagination conceives a government which is unitary, protective, and all- powerful, but elected by the people."

35 See the treatment of this issue in Wolin's "Archaism and Modernity" (1985-1986).


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Tocqueville's Tyranny of the Majority Reconsidered

possibility of significant alternative loyalties and connections, even if they remain subsidiary.

Finally, Tocqueville concedes that "circumstances and mores" (DA 253) have made a potentially monolithic majoritarianism in America comparatively gentle in its overall tendencies (with, again, the terrible exceptions for those outside the circle of citizens). If there is a proposal in this Tocquevillian argument pointing the way toward further study, it is that the character of those "circum- stances and mores" must be better known and that some understanding must be reached about how they were shaped in the past and how they could be best shaped in the future in order to perform their function more reliably and con- tinuously. This is in fact the theme that he pursues in the next chapters of DA I: how the possible tyranny of the majority was in fact tempered and how mores may be cultivated that will preserve the democratic republic as a real republic and a free society.

Manuscript submitted 15 May 2001 Final manuscript received 9 January 2002


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Donald J. Maletz is associate professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019.

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Tocqueville on Mores and the Preservation of Republics Author(s): Donald J. Maletz Source: American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 49, No. 1 (Jan., 2005), pp. 1-15 Published by: Midwest Political Science Association Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3647709 Accessed: 16-10-2019 08:40 UTC

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Tocqueville on Mores and the Preservation

of Republics

Donald J. Maletz The University of Oklahoma

The chapter Tocqueville originally intended as a conclusion for the Democracy in America of 1835 is devoted to the causes

that maintain a democratic republic. His main findings concern the political role of "mores." Conducting an implicit dialogue with Montesquieu and working from evidence available to no previous student of democracy, Tocqueville finds

commercialism less supportive of democracy and mores (especially those connected with religion) more useful to democracy

than his great predecessor had believed. Moreover, he draws attention to a "practical" form of "enlightenment" seen in the

broad public internalization of democratic practice and norms. These discoveries did not lead to confident predictions about

the republic's future, largely because much of what is useful in mores seems beyond direct political control. They did inspire

his argument that modern democrats are best advised to make use of, rather than repudiate, the inherited mores. These mores, if adapted to new conditions, may help to support effective democratic practice.

ccording to Tocqueville's original plan, Democ- racy in America was to conclude with an exam- ination of the likely future of the political order

he had examined in the preceding first and second parts of the book. The chapter now nearly at the end of the 1835 publication is entitled "The Main Causes Tending to Maintain a Democratic Republic in the United States"

(DA 1.2.9).1 It addresses a classic problem of political sci- ence: the stabilization and preservation of a political or-

der. The preservation of republics had been a particularly challenging problem, perhaps never adequately solved, and preserving the democratic form of a republic, a very new type of political order, might be thought to present even greater difficulties than the less populist republics

of the past. Tocqueville eventually modified his first plan for the structure of the book, but his questions about preservation were never far from his thoughts. James T.

Schleifer, to whom we owe the only thorough study of the composition of Democracy, detected in Tocqueville's

notes and drafts a "deeply rooted unease about America's future.. ." (1980, 8). In his discussion of the "causes" helping to stabilize the democratic republic, Tocqueville

strives to address the problem systematically. He examines new evidence from what he took to be the first democratic

republic to emerge in the post-revolutionary era. At the

same time he questions the views of important prede- cessors, above all Montesquieu, on the implications of material factors, of commercial practices, and of religious

beliefs on the prospects for republics. His analysis leads

to an argument about the priority that should be given to

mores and then to a critique of the strands of Enlighten- ment republicanism that ignore this factor.

In the following, I will consider first what Tocqueville learned about the influence of the "accidental situation"

in which American democracy emerged, particularly as it affects the influence of economic activity or commerce. In

his examination of commerce, he finds a link to the ques-

tion of mores and then develops an important thesis about

their impact that suggests a new view of the republican-

ism of "the eighteenth-century philosophers" (DA 295). Finally, he develops conclusions about the prospects for

republican stability that are stated somewhat tentatively for the American case, and more definitively for the case of

Europe. The results do not entirely allay his unease about

Donald J. Maletz is Associate Professor of Political Science, The University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019 ([email protected]).

An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2003 annual meeting of the Midwestern Political Science Association. The author is indebted to the anonymous reviewers of this journal for useful comments and criticism.

'The work published in 1835 is now known as Volume I of Democracy, as Tocqueville published a second volume in 1840. References in the text are to Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, cited as DA with Volume, Part and Chapter, or simply as DA with page number (1969). References to the original will be to Tocqueville, Oeuvres Completes, ed. J.-P. Mayer (1951-). De la democratie en Amerique is published as Volume I, Parts 1 and 2 of this edition, and is cited as OC 1.1 or 2, plus page number. For Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the Revolution (OC II), I have used the translation by Kahan (1998); it is cited as OR with book and chapter number.

American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 49, No. 1, January 2005, Pp. 1-15

?2005 by the Midwest Political Science Association ISSN 0092-5853


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the future, but they do in broad terms point the way to

useful strategies for republican survival. This study of Toc-

queville's argument will necessarily involve a considerable

emphasis on the analysis of religion, for he accords reli-

gion a vital place in the study of mores. But my purpose is

to keep the problem of mores in view, for he treats religion not in itself but as a contributor to mores and therefore in

terms of its role as one of the "causes" serving to maintain

democratic republics.

The Accidental Situation Revisited

The argument begins by returning to matter covered in the first three chapters of Volume I of Democracy in America and revising what now seems to be an incom- plete treatment. When first examining the earliest settle-

ments in New England, Tocqueville described the emer- gence of important pre-constitutional laws or norms. For example, "the law of laws" in the United States, popular

sovereignty (DA 59), derived from customs, beliefs, and

habits brought by the earliest British settlers to their new

local communities. The emphasis in Tocqueville's study of

these pre-constitutional factors was explaining the com-

paratively easy transition toward a strong form of democ-

racy in the early colonies. But there is a certain manifest incompleteness in the analysis of these foundations, as the

return to the problem in 1.2.9 reveals. What are the impli-

cations for democracy of the unprecedented invigoration of commerce in the early settlements?

Tocqueville noted that the original settlers, despite their religious fervor, accepted the legitimacy of the pur-

suit of "self-interest" (DA 79, 82). The point was not pressed to the ultimate negation of their religious beliefs,

but, as practitioners of the so-called protestant ethic in a

manner anticipating Weber's thesis, the settlers devoted

themselves to advancing their interests while at the same

time adhering to a comparatively strict rule of life. They pressed "with almost equal eagerness" toward "either ma- terial wealth or moral delights, either heaven in the next

world or prosperity and freedom in this" (DA 47). The original settlers attend to both morality and wealth, but a difficult choice looms if it comes to a conflict, and the

difficulty is all the greater the more plausible the hope for material satisfaction. The extent of the temptation is intensified as the country expands south and west. The democratic and commercial ethos penetrates rapidly into nearly every sphere of civil society as settlers from the coasts moved inland, leaving the practices of colonial New England behind and creating societies of"speculators and adventurers" (DA 200; cf. 225, 302-03).

The beneficial components of the "Accidental or Providential Causes Helping to Maintain a Democratic Republic in the United States" are the absence of close neighbors, the lack of major wars, the minimal need for

a military establishment, and finally a "general prosper-

ity." Inexpensive land can always be found "somewhere to the west" (DA 281). The broad prosperity is helpful: "General prosperity favors stability in all governments, but particularly a democratic one." Such "material pros-

perity" is "one of the great reasons for the success of their

laws" (DA 281). Yet general prosperity under these par- ticular conditions also reaches further, molding opinions

and passions. "One must go to America to understand the power of material prosperity over political behavior, and

even over opinions too, though these should be subject to reason alone" (DA 285).

In characterizing the influence of this prosperity, Tocqueville appears to be of two minds. On the positive side, he thinks that among the people he observed, new "wants" are easily satisfied and so should not be feared; even "excessive passions" are easily fed. One might con-

clude that there can as a result hardly ever be "too much

freedom" (DA 285). What might be regarded elsewhere as questionable forms of character-a "restless spirit, immoderate desire for wealth, and an extreme love of

independence"-may contribute to "a long and peaceful future for the American republics" (DA 284). Neverthe-

less, in entertaining the possibility, illustrated in this com-

mercial sphere, that "man's vices are almost as useful to

society as his virtues" (DA 284), Tocqueville is compelled to take into account a famous argument of Montesquieu.

Montesquieu contended that "virtue" had been essential to the perpetuation of popular republics (1989, III 3). In a note not included in the published version of DA, but illuminating an important line of thought that un-

dergirds his entire discussion of maintaining democratic republics, Tocqueville observed that "The Americans are not a virtuous people yet certainly they are free." But this fact, Tocqueville argues, ought not be taken to re- fute Montesquieu's contention about the importance of virtue, that "power which each individual exercises over

himself which prevents him from violating the right of others," provided we do not understand Montesquieu in a "narrow" sense. If we look at the matter with "the eyes

of a moralist," as Montesquieu perhaps did, then the mo- tive is as important as the result, and the only salvation

for a republic lies in the cultivation of genuine "virtue." Considered in a less "narrow" perspective, the important

issue is the effect achieved. Similar public results can pos-

sibly be achieved either through virtue or through the calculations of self-interest or even simply by the absence

of temptations. The moral quality of the action would

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then surely differ in the three cases, but the useful ef- fects might follow as well from one source as from the other.2

But Tocqueville hints at reservations. The language used to characterize the passions regarded as acceptable in the United States is strong: "restless," "immoderate," and

"extreme." Moreover, he makes a larger point in telling

the story of meeting a "rich planter," French in origin, in

a remote section of Pennsylvania. The planter, formerly a

"leveler" and a "demagogue," now is an ardent defender of "property rights," having allowed his ideas to follow his economic condition (DA 285-86). The case illustrates

the effect of "fortune" and "lucky circumstances" in shap-

ing opinion. Moreover, the planter now has an idea of his

own. He favors "regularity of mores" and even the value of "religious ideas" (DA 285-86). These notions bolster hierarchy, obedience to law, and regular habits. They dis-

cipline the citizens in preparation for the kind of work

that supports successful enterprise.3 The planter sees the usefulness of virtue, but looks outside of business for the

source of virtue. Religious conviction is no longer the ori-

gin of the ambition for worldly success, but rather the

result, and it now appears in the guise of a means rather

than an end. Self-interest leads to a grasp of the need for virtue rather than to virtue itself.

While contributing to the "success of the laws" (DA

281) and therefore to maintaining democracy, the hunger for greater prosperity encourages social and moral trans-

formations. It inspires the movement of population from

the settled and stable society to the unsettled. Moreover,

the economic conditions breed a "restless burning passion which increases with satisfaction." This "passion stronger than love of life" (DA 283) generates a distinctive moral viewpoint. Qualities once considered to be "vices" are now

seen as "praiseworthy" (DA 284, 285). Furthermore the commercial passions supercede political concerns: "The passions that stir the Americans most deeply are commer-

cial and not political ones, or rather they carry a trader's

habits over into the business of politics" (DA 285). The combination of unusual geographical and economic con- ditions, with an open democratic political order, has fur- nished remarkable opportunities for a side of human na- ture, the hunger for well-being, to flourish to an unusual

degree.4 Under normal conditions, prosperity aids politi- cal stability. But does this particular combination of pros-

perity, commercial passions, and the mores supporting business activity furnish the truth about what is required

to sustain a modern democracy? In the earliest era of settlement on the eastern coast,

Tocqueville distinguished the New Englanders from the settlers in Virginia on the basis of their adherence to an "idea" (DA 36). That idea was composed of two elements,

the "spirit of religion" and the "spirit of freedom" (DA 47), combined without great reliance on logic in a practi-

cal mode of life that supported the rudiments of democ-

racy. The first settlers in Virginia, on the other hand, were

"gold-seekers," and for that very reason hardly interested

in or capable of political innovation (DA 34-35). His ex- amination of the influence of economic conditions hints

at the possible gradual distortion of the original idea un-

der the pressure of a passion for well-being emerging in

conditions so extremely favorable to those gifted at pur-

suing it. Prosperity favors stability in all governments, and

particularly in a democracy (DA 279-80). But when the pursuit of prosperity becomes the ruling passion, it could blend liberty and religion into a different synthesis that requires no exclusive loyalty to democracy. Might such an effect dismantle the "idea" that originated the democ-

racy? Like the French planter, but for a different reason,

Tocqueville sees that commercialism depends on some- thing beyond itself if it is not to become destructive, and so he turns to the influence of "the laws" and "mores"

(DA 287). Tocqueville's argument contributes something new

to a debate about the social, political, and moral ef- fects of commerce and commercialism. Montesquieu had

thought it "an almost general rule that everywhere there are gentle mores, there is commerce and that everywhere

there is commerce, there are gentle mores," but he added

that while commerce improves "barbarous mores," it also "corrupts pure mores" (1989, XX 1). He and others had believed the acquisitive passions activated in commercial

republics might potentially be useful in controlling more violent and harsh passions, such as those for dominance

2Montesquieu (1989), III 3, IV 5, V 2. For the text of Tocqueville's note, see Nolla's critical edition of Democracy (1990), I 243 note a, and for a translation Richter (1970, 100-01) and Schleifer (1980, 242-43). Richter is the author of the only previous study of this specific section of Democracy. Richter holds that Montesquieu saw that "the spirit of commerce may perform functions equivalent to that of civic virtue" (84), but is perplexed by the incompati- bility of this approach with Montesquieu's emphasis on "princi- pled self-abnegation" as essential to a republic. Pangle argues that Montesquieu distinguishes between the classical or participatory republic and the modern commercial republic and recognizes the diversity of principles appropriate to each ( 1973, chapters 4-5). For another view see Schleifer (1988).

30n the influence of commerce on mores, see Montesquieu (1989), V 6, and XX 1-2.

4Cf. DA 239, 245, and 444. Mitchell argues that Tocqueville's ques- tioning of commercialism was influenced not only by his observa- tions in America but by a background "Augustinian" sense of what is needed by the "democratic soul in America" (1995, 1-2, 5, 40-43, 115-20).

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and glory.5 The argument attracted those seeking a means

to counterbalance the remnants of the feudal aristocracy and its supporters. Tocqueville accepts one of its princi-

ples at a general level insofar as he entertains the idea of commercial passions that can produce somewhat effective

substitutes for strict political virtue. Yet his observations

in DA are more decisively shaped by the specific circum- stances he observed in America than by the conflicts be-

tween classes in Europe. In the present context, the main issue is not the competition between an aristocratic and

a merchant class but the effects of mass prosperity and adventurous entrepreneurship in a setting where tradi-

tional social constraints are very weak. The opportunities

for enrichment, when combined with the legitimization

of the pursuit of self-interest that was already noticeable in the outlook of the earliest settlers, breed passions which

in an aristocratic past would have been treated with op-

probrium but which in this case are neither disdained nor

even feared. Tocqueville notes both the political utility of prosperity as well as the potential for extreme behav- ior in such conditions. Yet he also observed that some

of those who succeed economically recognize, however vaguely, the value of certain mores as supports for com-

merce. Their view suggested to him a possible path from

the ethic of commercial entrepreneurship to acknowledg- ment of a need for mores not just in support of business

but in support of democracy itself. He seems in this way to grasp that democracy requires not just a "softening" of

barbarous mores by means of commerce but also a means to constrain or limit the commercial passions themselves.

Laws and Mores

Tocqueville passes over the question of "the laws" with little more than a word. At first he says that the "main object" of his book has been to "make American laws known" (DA 286). Yet it shortly becomes clear that, while

he thinks American laws are reasonably successful, he has

"reasons for thinking that mores are even more impor- tant" in explaining the political results so far achieved

(DA 307).6 He revises the statement on the main pur- pose of his work: "If... I have not succeeded in making the reader feel the importance I attach to the practical experience of the Americans, to their habits, opinions, and, in a word, their mores, in maintaining their laws, I have failed in the main object of my work" (DA 308; cf. Richter 1970, 90). Between these two statements of his

objective lies an attempt to account for the "moeurs," or mores, of the democratic republic and to demonstrate not

only that political democracy emerges from certain pre-

existing mores but that it continues to be dependent on them.

The Meaning of "Mores"

The term "mores" is one, Tocqueville says, that he uses "in

its original Latin meaning" (DA 287). In truth he broad- ens the term considerably. In its original meaning, appar-

ently best known from a remark by Cicero, "mores" refers

to unwritten yet authoritative customs of the ancestors.7

But Tocqueville says that he means it to refer not only to mores in the usual sense, i.e., "habits of the heart," but

also to "the different notions possessed by men, the vari-

ous opinions current among them, and the sum of ideas that shape mental habits." That is, in short, the "whole moral and intellectual state of a people" (DA 287).8 In Tocqueville's usage, no emphasis is placed on the inheri- tance of mores from ancient customs and ancestors, the

antiquity of mores; and he includes in mores such a range of "mental" habits that what he means seems more akin to

habits of practical reason and ethics rather than custom.

5For an account of this argument see Pocock (1975, chapters XIII-XV) and Hirschman (1997). Toward the end of his study, Hirschman argues that Tocqueville affirmed a connection between "freedom and industry" but also increasingly doubted, along with others in the nineteenth century, that commercial energy was sufficient for the preservation of liberty (122-28, citing reser- vations expressed in DA 11.2.14). Indicative is the caustic pic- ture of the "bourgeois monarchy" of Louis-Philippe presented in Tocqueville's posthumously published Recollections (1980). Cf. also Hereth (1986, 63-69). For analysis of emerging ideas about eco- nomics in the eighteenth century, see Larrdre (2001), Hont and Ignatieff (1983), and Lerner (1987, chapter 6).

6American laws are said to be "defective in many respects" at DA 310.

7Cicero, Republic 5.1.1-2; cf. Plato, Laws 793a-e. The term "mores" is associated in Latin with the phrase mos maiorum, the custom of the elders [mos is the singular of mores] (Rahe 1992, 604). In the Hellenistic period, the Latin "mores" was used to translate the Greek term ethos (Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, s.v. "Sitte"). Bloom argues that "Moeurs are morals as they express themselves in the way of life or the custom of men and nations; they are akin to what we would call character ... habits as they are related to moral goodness or badness" (Rousseau 1960, 149). Wolin observes that mores "could not be created by the fiat of abstract reason" (2001, 33), while Sabl, drawing on Rousseau, argues that "mores, customs, and opinions are very durable" [emphasis in the original] and "that astute magistrates can enlist them in the service of preserving the State as it is but cannot easily remake them for other purposes" (Sabl 2002a, pp. 206-07). For Schleifer, "what Montesquieu called the esprit gn&eral ...Tocqueville labelled moeurs," while the modern "Annales school of historians" calls it a "mentalite" (1988, 162, 164).

8The term used by Tocqueville for "mental habits" is "les habitudes de l'esprit" (OC 1.1.300), which he differentiates in this passage from "les habitudes du coeur" [habits of the heart] or "moeurs proprement dites" [mores properly speaking].

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Tocqueville's study of mores draws more from Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws than from any classical source and is in part an extended reflection on and devel-

opment of his views.9 The idea that a "people" might have

a coherent "moral and intellectual state," or a set of opin-

ions and ideas that could be summed, accepts the view that there can be or should be a coherent "spirit" behind

the laws. Montesquieu shows that "mores and manners, the institutions of the nation in general" (1989, XIX 14),

can exercise great influence over citizens or subjects. The influence of mores can be so extensive that coercive laws

are hardly needed to back them up (as in the example of

Sparta). Among the Romans, the "maxims of government

and the ancient mores" prevail to set the tone. In general,

"mores and manners are usages that laws have not estab- lished." "The difference between laws and mores is that,

while laws regulate the actions of the citizen, mores regu- late the actions of the man. The difference between mores

and manners is that the first are more concerned with in-

ternal, and the latter external, conduct" (1989, XIX 16).10 However, it seems that the relation between mores and

laws can also work in the other direction, for Montesquieu

shows that the laws of a "free people" can "contribute to forming the mores, manners, and characters of a nation."

His example is the government of England. In two dis- cussions of that government, he first examines the con- stitution of that country (XI 6), while in the second he shows "the effects that had to follow, the character that

was formed from it, and the manners that result from it"

(XIX 27). The laws or the constitution in this case precede the manners. Exploring the mores of this first example of

a modern commercial republic, Montesquieu observed a society which is diverse, passionate, anxious about pre- serving liberties, inclined toward commerce, filled with

small conflicting interest groups, and so forth. "All the

passions are free there, hatred, envy, jealousy, and the ar-

dor for enriching and distinguishing oneself would ap- pear to their full extent." "With regard to religion," he

thought it possible that most "would be very indifferent to all sorts of religion of whatever kind, in which case ev-

eryone would tend to embrace the dominant religion, or that one would be zealous for religion in general, in which

case sects would multiply" (1989, XIX 27, pp. 325, 330)."

Tocqueville's study of mores in DA 1.2.9 is an ac- count of "general causes" that lend some strength to the democratic political order (DA 287; OC 1.1.330). Where Tocqueville differs from Montesquieu is in his more cau- tious evaluation of the ultimate influence of commerce

and in his understanding of the role of religion as a po- litical institution. The commerce ethic he described, al-

beit under the highly unusual conditions prevailing in the era of western expansion, was no longer quite the antifeudal softening influence Montesquieu observed in seventeenth-century Europe. When it encourages pas- sions stronger than self-preservation, and more appeal-

ing than any political passion, it has the potential to alter the character of the democratic project significantly. Still

more striking in terms of a comparison with Montesquieu

is the great prominence Tocqueville's inquiry gives to the question of "religion" as one of the causes that contribute

to maintaining the democratic republic. A certain kind of interest in religion emerges in the mind of successful money makers, as he has shown. Following up on that ob- servation, three out of the five subchapters on mores and their contribution to the success of the democratic repub-

lic examine the influence of religion. These three subchap-

ters describe a possible useful rapprochement between modern democracy and religion, contrary to certain ex- pectations entertained in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. On the other hand, it is important to caution

that the three subchapters on religion are only three out of

five on mores; they are followed by a chapter on "enlight-

enment" and a chapter developing a thesis about the gen- eral significance of mores. One explanation for the shift in emphasis and result between Tocqueville and Mon- tesquieu is, of course, that Tocqueville works from new ev-

idence, reasoning from an example not available to Mon-

tesquieu. It is in the spirit of Montesquieu to learn from history, and in this case Tocqueville seems quite justified in arguing that the democratic era emerging in the nine- teenth century requires a "new political science" (DA 12)

'For studies of the connection between Tocqueville and Mon- tesquieu, see Richter (1970) and Wolin (2001). Wolin observes that Tocqueville "may be Montesquieu's student" but he "should not be considered his disciple." The distance from Montesquieu lies in Tocqueville's grasp of the potential for the democratization of culture, while the link is an "aristocratic" conception of mores, to which Tocqueville is said to be drawn as a means to "neutral- ize" democratic man (2001, 180-84, 222-28, 335-36). Mansfield and Winthrop argue that Tocqueville regards Montesquieu's "ap- paratus of liberalized monarchy" to be essentially obsolete in the post-revolutionary world (2000, xxxiii-xxxvi).

'0Shklar seems to reduce the importance of mores and manners when she takes Montesquieu to mean that "the laws made by those who govern determine the spirit of a people more decisively than anything else" in all but primitive societies (Shklar 1987, 103). Wolin at one point claims that for Tocqueville the "transmutation of laws and legal practices into moeurs was the key to the American political culture," but later recognizes that mores must arise from sources deeper than American legal practices, i.e., from a democratic social condition (2001, 223, 225-28; cf. DA 274).

"'Montesquieu anticipates what Tocqueville first noticed about American religion, the proliferation of sects (DA 290, 534-35), combined with a strange indifference to the substance of religion about which Tocqueville commented in an early letter from Amer- ica to Kergorlay (Boesche 1985, 45-49). Cf. Pangle (1973, 256) and Shklar (1987, 104).

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capable of assessing not only the democratization of gov- ernment but the democratization of mores and the mores

of democratization.

Religion as a Political Institution

The issue in the three subchapters devoted to religion is religion as a "political institution," and particularly whether it might be in the "interests" of democrats to consider it useful. In the background is the charge that

he heard "every day" in France while preparing his book,

namely, the thesis of French "republicans" to the effect

that American freedom could not be complete until the doctrines of "Spinoza" and "Cabanis" were adopted there (DA 294).12 His response to these advocates, among whom Montesquieu belongs in some respects,13 is to reexamine

the relationship between Christianity and democracy in

the light of the question of maintenance, to identify a component of Christianity which might commend it to republicans, and to propose an account of the "natural" basis of religion and its political implications.

The first thing to recognize about religion and politics

is that there has not been and cannot be an impermeable

wall between them, for each religion nurtures some kind of political opinion by the "affinity" (DA 287) between its beliefs and the way society lives. But this "affinity" can

be expressed in a variety of forms. The original Protes- tant settlers of the earliest colonies came from the midst

of "the old feudal society" but held views partly originat-

ing in their religion which enabled them to construct a

"democracy more perfect than any of which ancient soci- ety had dared to dream" (DA 39). The contribution of the

Protestant religion appears to have been its commitment

to certain political liberties, openness to education, and encouragement of strict morals (DA 33, 36, 43-44, 47). Tocqueville thought the mores of the Puritan era exces-

sively strict, but the discipline provided a comparatively secure basis for experimentation with an unusual degree

of political liberty. Yet in the current section, Tocqueville,

in agreement with an opinion of Montesquieu, identifies

the longer-term consequence of Protestantism as "inde- pendence" more than equality (DA 288).'4 The spirit of "independence" associated with Protestantism can read- ily be linked to democratic equality, to be sure. However, it also bears a likeness to the entrepreneurial orientation

that leaves some so ready to abandon existing relation- ships in order to strike out on their own; and it is also not far from that spirit of "individualism" that he later

describes as threatening to modern democratic citizen- ship (DA 506-507). Further, beneath Protestant "inde- pendence" lies an antiauthority disposition in matters of

belief (the original settlers, "having shaken off the pope's

authority, acknowledged no other religious supremacy" [DA 288]) that seems well suited to serve as an enabling premise for worldly individualism and commercialism.

Tocqueville finds in Catholicism a rather different "affinity" between religion and democracy. He describes

what he took to be a fairly easy assimilation of Irish Catholic immigrants and priests into a democratic out- look once they settled in America.'5 The accommodation is possible because there is said to be a sort of egalitarian-

ism implicit in Catholic thought: "Catholicism is like an

absolute monarchy. The prince apart, conditions are more

equal there than in republics" (DA 288).16 The monarchic tendency recedes into the background in American public life, because the priests acknowledge democratic freedom as a principle and accept the separation of church and state (DA 289, 295-96). When placed within a strongly democratic context, and rigorously separated from polit- ical power or influence, the Church can content itself with

claiming only spiritual, not temporal, authority. Catholic equality is then somewhat compatible with democracy in

political matters, so long as the Church requires the be-

liever to submit only to the moral law rather than to obey a

political authority. In this way the monarchic aspect of the

Church's organization can be deprived of political effect, while it can be sustained in matters of faith and morals.

In this understanding, Christianity is compatible with democracy (but not identical to it) in either a Protestant

12M 0lonio notes that Tocqueville, like "many of his contem- poraries," feared "the spread of Spinoza's, Hegel's, or Saint- Simon's thought" (1998, 65). Cf. Siedentop (1994, 96-106). On the "Ideologues," including the physician and physiologist Pierre Cabanis, see Welch (2001, 13-23).

13In his "Defense de l'Esprit des Lois," Montesquieu insists that "there is no Spinozism in The Spirit of the Laws" (1951, II, 1125 ff, 1132, 1136). Pangle, on the other hand, argues that Montesquieu "incorporates Spinozism in his account of natural law," although he seeks to synthesize the "thoroughgoing naturalism of Spinoza" with certain insights of Hobbes about "the passions conducive to peace" (1973, 310-11, note 15). On Spinoza's republicanism, see Smith (1997, 162-65).

14In an early essay, Montesquieu distinguished two kinds of religion in Europe: Catholicism, which requires submission, and Protes- tantism, which seeks "independence" (1951, II, 62).

15For a further reflection on Catholicism and democracy, see DA 11.1.6. On the conflict between Catholicism and modern liberal

democracy, as viewed from Rome in the nineteenth century, see Manent (1998, 97-115).

16The egalitarianism of the many under the one, described here as central to Catholicism, is what Tocqueville elsewhere fears as a great threat (DA 314, 509-10, 690-95) if it takes a political form, for example, as democratic Caesarism.

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or a Catholic mode. For the American Protestants, that

compatibility was expressed in their original principle, for

the Catholics it becomes possible only through an adap-

tation to an existing democratic order. The latter case il- lustrates the transformative effects of politics on religion

rather than the reverse. Perhaps the main point emerg-

ing from the argument is that there is no unbridgeable chasm between Christianity and democracy and there- fore the democrats of Europe and America need not fear

it.17 But the argument also draws attention to modern democracy's capacity to influence the faith in order to discourage certain nondemocratic elements in it.

The Indirect Influence of Religion

The preceding mainly defends Christianity against the charge of being intrinsically undemocratic, thus opening the possibility that one might reexamine its effects not as

an antidemocratic opposition but as a component within the democratic framework. The next subchapter claims to describe such a positive influence. The influence is ex-

pressed in an "indirect" way, yet is so important that it is

said to be "the first of their political institutions" through

its effects (DA 292). The main effect is to encourage im-

portant self-limitations in the use of private liberties.

The indirect effects noticed by Tocqueville become visible in three forms, all elements of "mores" rather

than of "laws or political opinions" (DA 291). First there

are comparatively severe habits of sexual restraint. Al- though religion fails in restraining the eagerness of "men" [hommes] "to enrich themselves" (DA 291), it still disci-

plines erotic life by affecting women and their attitudes

toward marriage and "conjugal happiness." There are ef- fects on men as a secondary result: a comparative absence of "disorder, restlessness of spirit, and instability of de-

sires" within the household or family (DA 291), unlike in

the economic realm. If the home front is orderly, the same

qualities may be valued in public affairs more generally and thus affect men in politics, building a "habit of regu-

lating opinions as well as tastes" through a "love of order"

which can carry over into "affairs of state" (DA 291, 292).18

Second, religious opinions widely shared or widely professed, sincerely or insincerely, establish a climate of opinion in which it is disadvantageous to seem not to agree. Some believe; others are afraid to seem not to be- lieve. The result is an atmosphere that confines both rea-

son and the imagination, creating a conviction that there are "certain and fixed" boundaries in "the moral field"

(DA 292: "le monde morale" [OC 1.1. 305]) and in "polit- ical society" (DA 292) that ought not be violated. This is to confine the spirit, but perhaps also to encourage obser- vance of useful constraints on action. An open political order benefits from the influence of a force balancing its

otherwise liberating consequences.'9 The premise of the claim is that the validity of moral boundaries is far from self-evident to democrats absent some form of authority.

Tocqueville alludes to and deplores the "revolutionaries" who profess that "everything is allowed in the interests of

society," a maxim inviting the violation of moral bound- aries for political objectives (DA 292, cf. also 72). Nothing in what Tocqueville observed in America suggested the likelihood of such extremist or nihilistic attitudes. But ex-

actly why are they absent? He attributes the limited range

of opinion to a preexisting consensus, rooted in habits and customs rather than in clear awareness of principle. The

consensus is valuable because of the incapacity of reason

by itself to discern the "natural limits" or "boundaries" in matters of politics and morals. Religion is "the clearest

line dividing good from ill" (DA 312), though what seems to be meant is that it is primarily a useful line, not neces-

sarily a line that Tocqueville is prepared to defend in the terms a believer would prefer.20

17Gannett has recently observed that "By steering clear of demo- cratic politics, religion made democratic politics possible" (2003, 2). Manent notes that "in America, religion and democracy adapt to one another by changing one another" and it is in this "compro- mise" that "Tocqueville sees the natural state of democratic man in matters of religion" (1996, 96). On a rapprochement between Catholicism and democracy in the late twentieth century, see Hunt- ington (1991, 72-85).

18Shklar maintains that Montesquieu "thought that separating law and morality was generally a sound policy everywhere" (1987, 104).

Richter observes more cautiously that both Montesquieu and Toc- queville held that "even in the freest of political regimes there must be a certain amount of repression, an effective limitation of human will and expectation," although he adds that when the limitation is exercised "by individual or social means, political liberty is more likely to ensue" (1970, 91). Cf. Hereth (1986, 50), Kessler (1994, 135), and Mansfield and Winthrop (2000, lxxvii-lxxx). On issues of women, morals, and family in the era of the French Revolution, see Welch (2001, 196, and following), who regards the comments in DA as an attempt by Tocqueville to invent a "special heroic destiny for women."

19Manent believes the argument should be reformulated in a more precise form to mean facilitating "the use of political liberty by singularly diminishing the extent of intellectual liberty" (1998, 106- 108).

20The argument is elaborated, in somewhat stronger terms, in DA II.1.2, and especially in 11.1.5. Although Tocqueville refers to him- self in DA as "a practicing Catholic" (DA 295), Hereth argues that, having lost religious certainty, Tocqueville's views on religion are posed coolly, "from outside," as if a "republican is inquiring into the value of religion for a free system" (1986, 49). On Tocqueville's long struggle with doubt in matters of belief, see Jardin (1988, 63- 64, 384-85, 528-33). Kahan associates Tocqueville with Mill and Burckhardt in a kind of "aristocratic liberalism" more humanist

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Finally, driving home in a more political way the case

for observing constraints, Tocqueville attacks the motives latent in some forms of modern republicanism. There were and still are in Europe ambitious adventurers who use the advance of "republican institutions" as a mode of

personal aggrandizement, standing toward "liberty much

as the medieval condottieri stood toward the kings," mak-

ing war "on their own account"-an allusion to Napoleon Bonaparte and those dreaming of imitating him, per- haps.21 In response, Tocqueville draws a lesson for those

who advocate a "permanent and tranquil" republicanism and who yet at the same time oppose the influence of re-

ligion on public life. These republicans have believed that

the political advance they desire requires an extirpation

of the influence of the Church and possibly of religion altogether. This view is a mistaken interpretation of their

interests. A nonreligious republicanism may promise po- litical liberties without any restrictive mores, but it will

likely turn out to be the fragile and impermanent repub- licanism of the adventurers and the gold-seekers (DA 294).

On the whole, Tocqueville finds in religion a capacity to inculcate the moral boundaries that, with Montesquieu, he holds to be useful in republics.22 It is not a direct source

of true "republican virtue" in the sense of selfless dedi-

cation to the public good, but it is an indirect source of

a precondition for a decent republic, namely some limi- tation or control of the extremes of conduct possible in the commercial, erotic, and political life of the demo- cratic age. The republicanism advocated by the ambitious is more likely to succeed in those societies where virtue,

honor, mores, custom, and right have all weakened so that the powerful, if informal, constraints on power are

lost.23 The result is likely despotism. Religion "teaches the

Americans the art of being free" but it does so only in the

odd sense of teaching this art "when it is not speaking of

freedom at all" (DA 290). It is a useful measure against anomic forms of republican liberty.

The Power of Religion and Its Source

The third subchapter, the last on the topic of "religion," is titled "The Main Causes That Make Religion Powerful in America." It describes, however, not only religion in America but religion itself as an instance of something more generally human.

Taking issue with the "eighteenth-century philoso- phers," Tocqueville argues they were wrong in holding that religious belief would wane with the spread of "en-

lightenment and freedom" (DA 295).24 Or rather, they were correct mainly for cases where the Church had func-

tioned as a major political power. When intertwined with

state authority, the Church became hated when the state was hated (cf. OR 1.2-3). From his observations in Amer-

ica, by contrast, Tocqueville concluded that where there

is an advance in freedom, there will likely be a renewal of

religious belief. He found the evidence sufficient to draw

a more universally applicable lesson, deploying a term to

explain the matter-"nature"-that held great authority for the philosophers of the Enlightenment but that Toc- queville chooses to employ against them on this point.25 Religion, he argues here, is to be considered natural

because it is a response to two rather discordant impulses

belonging naturally to man alone "among all created be- ings": a natural disgust for existence coupled with an "im-

mense longing to exist," a mistrust of life and a "fear of nothingness" ["le n6ant"] (DA 296). Without "imagina- tion" these impulses would not exist, but because they do,

there is an inclination to seek for or to contemplate "an-

other world," and religion speaks of that other world. Reli-

gion is at bottom only a form of "hope," but the attempt to eradicate it does "moral violence to human nature" (DA

297). The natural impulse is at first neither moral nor theological in character; it neither legislates conduct nor

articulates doctrine. But the original impulse is neverthe-

less practical, emerging from care for one's own existence.

than Christian (1992, 108). Cf. Kessler (1994, chapters 2-3). The most probing examinations of Tocqueville's argument about reli- gion itself, as well as its political implications, are found in Manent (1996, chapter 8) and Lawler (1993, chapter 8).

210n Tocqueville's view of Napoleon, see Richter (1988). Other errors by European republicans are described by Tocqueville at DA 128 and 97.

22When Shklar argues that Montesquieu wished to separate law from morality, she means the separation of law from "classical virtue or Christian morality." In her further discussions, Shklar maintains Montesquieu saw an advantage in not attempting to "touch the in- ner life of a people." Yet she also concedes that he thought "popular culture sets the boundaries which governments overstep at their peril" and that both commerce and science should be fostered in part for their impact on the manners, mores, and ideas (1987, 105, 106-10).

23Sabl has rightly observed that "Tocqueville's theory is well suited to extreme times and places in which tyranny is a real threat and citizens' engagement with each other for political ends has waned" (2002b, 5).

24Furet notes a "violently anticlerical and anti-Catholic side to the philosophy of the French Enlightenment which had no equivalent in European thought" (1992, 14). Wolin sees in Tocqueville a con- tradictory acceptance of "premodern practice that intermingled religion and politics" while "formally embracing the modern doc- trine of their separation" and contends that Tocqueville actually opposed the "diversity of religious beliefs" required by the separa- tion of church and state (2001, 323-24).

25Wolin emphasizes the distance between Tocqueville's use of the theme of "nature" and the use typical of the "revolutionists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries" (2001, 136, 204-06).

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This care is the source from which "all religions" draw. Re-

ligion understood in this way begins from the raising of a

question that seems humanly unavoidable. Implicitly re-

jecting Rousseau's view that human beings are naturally untroubled by the fear of death, Tocqueville is closer to the

Pascalian opposite: anxiety about mortality is inherent in human nature.26 This is a view espoused in independence

from explicit Christian doctrines, which Tocqueville no-

tably does not consult in this whole discussion (Lawler 1993, 87). It is, of course, likely if not inevitable that the

initial questioning inquiry will be given some more con-

crete expression in specific practices and doctrines. The transition in this direction must be the result of another

fact about human beings, the need to have some fixed beliefs by which to live. Tocqueville later formulated this

point in DA II very strongly: "It can never happen that there are no dogmatic beliefs, that is to say, opinions which

men take on trust without discussion" (DA 433). Dog- matic beliefs are by no means limited to religious matters.

They emerge in politics, morals, and social relations, and they can improve as well as restrict tastes and opinions (Gannett 2003, 2). They reflect the general inability of the

majority of human beings to proceed through the experi- ence of "universal doubt and distrust" to the "deliberate

and self-justified type of conviction born of knowledge"

which is the province only of a few (DA 187). Dogmas are a likely byproduct of religion, but they are not the essence of the matter as Tocqueville puts it here, because

the original source of religion can be distinguished from

the expression it is given in a specific place and time. Seen in this light, the close alliance of religion and

secular authority in France no longer appears as a typi-

cal outcome but rather as a distorting error, even if one

to which both religion and politics are quite prone. Toc-

queville observes that the "spirit of man" will "seek to harmonize earth with heaven" (DA 287, Tocqueville's em-

phasis), turning the affinity of belief and society into something more doctrinaire. In France, the convictions of the past called for a linkage between church and state; this view moved toward harmonization in a rather literal

sense. In America, the Protestants sought the separation of the church from the state. Harmonization from this

point of view was a rather more obscure objective and was perhaps reflected in a supposition that an apparent dichotomy-"either material wealth or moral delights, ei- ther heaven in the next world or prosperity and freedom in

this" (DA 47)-could somehow be elided or bridged. The French case was an example of an attempt to Christianize politics. The American case sought the autonomy of poli-

tics and was based on a doctrine of Protestantism to which

Catholics are now adapting. In both examples, however, there is an effect of religion on politics, configured either in a Catholic or a Protestant manner. Tocqueville, how- ever, seems not merely to describe but to prefer the Protes-

tant position, albeit for non-Protestant reasons. Linking the Church to the state, as in France, was an error be- cause human belief about another world should aim at

"universality," not at supporting the transitory interests of a particular time and place, such as governments, laws,

or even "political theories" (DA 297-98).27 Attempts to harmonize the two worlds are both doomed to failure and

an error damaging to each side. Tocqueville proposes the

separation of religion from politics not simply as a means of protecting government from churchly influence or se-

curing civil peace but also as a means to allow appropriate

expression to an ineradicable aspect of human charac- ter. His argument exposes the transitory character of the

theologico-political conflict in France, while finding in the

democratic mode of distinguishing religion and politics something both true and useful for modern republicans.28

Tocqueville's comment on the "natural" aspect in re-

ligion illustrates well some aspects of his reasoning in the use of this term. On the basis of his empirical observa-

tions, he might have limited himself to the thesis that the

democratization of religion leads to a proliferation of sects

and to residual, indirect influences of religion on public

opinion. But he examines the evidence in the light of the philosophers' argument that religion was essentially au-

thority and that only the dismantling of authority would

allow human beings to be entirely at home in the mundane

world. When the issue is posed in that way, the observed

result requires a stronger correction of the Enlightenment

hypothesis. The evidence suggests there must be another expla-

nation for the reawakening of the influence of religion than social or governmental pressure. The Enlightenment critics might have argued that the "indirect" influence of

religion still amounts to a form of informal authority, so that the American example is no true test of what is

26Lawler is particularly attentive to a Pascalian element in Tocqueville's argument (1993, 73-87).

27Siedentop sees in the arguments of Tocqueville an eventual "par- tial conversion" to the viewpoint of "Protestant liberals" concern- ing the political role of religion (1994, 99-100); cf. Kessler (1994, 6) and Kelly (1984, 258-63). Wolin finds "astonishing" Tocqueville's recognition that religion adapts to the conditions of society and must likewise adapt to modern democracy (2001, 325).

28McWilliams argues, with Tocqueville, that American public life benefits from the tension between Enlightenment liberalism and an inherited older culture which is primarily, although not exclusively, shaped by religion (1973, 98-99, 103-07). In his discussion of the earliest colonies, Tocqueville explicitly associates the religion of the settlers with enlightenment (DA 45, 47), in effect if not necessarily in intention. Cf. also Kessler (1994, chapter 5).

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natural but only illustrates the durability of social and moral habits. If informal authority and indirect influence

is still authority and influence, does freedom require a program not merely of separating church and state but of

separating peoples from their mores? Is cultural revolu-

tion a necessary component of the democratic revolution?

Tocqueville's argument shows a means to loosen the con- nection between religion and politics without attempting

to eliminate religion's influence altogether. The key point is illustrated by his implicit rejection of the identifica- tion of religion, particularly Catholicism, with orthodox theology or with natural law doctrine, coupled with his

psychological, almost proto-existentialist, reading of the source of religion. He sees in the nature of human be- ings both the need and the faculties to reflect on existence

and on the possibility of another world. Such a need may be developed into something more definite in a manner

adapted to the prevailing conditions. It does not necessar- ily eventuate in the establishment of an orthodoxy nor a

demand for religious authority over secular life, although

it has taken that direction in the European past. To the con-

trary, the need appears to be expressed in a mode adapted

to some degree to the social and political situation. Al- though there is an "affinity" between every religion and a

political opinion, that affinity can be expressed weakly or

strongly. The very adaptability of religion to conditions

might be seen as a positive and useful quality.

Conditions of political freedom are favored by Tocqueville for several reasons but also in part because they permit a renewed, less constrained expression of the natural components of the human character.29 Political freedom is a mode of society with fewer constraints and

less of arbitrary power than unfree societies. It gives an

outlet for the question at the root of religion. That ques- tion will be addressed in diverse ways-it is no accident that there is "an innumerable multitude of sects in the

United States" (DA 290)-and will have effects on private

life and on the climate of opinion. The diversity will not

likely be infinite, because religious opinions so deeply rooted in the past and so intimately linked with the found-

ing of the democracies will not easily be discarded, absent

the extreme methods employed in the French Revolu- tion.30 Tocqueville expects that the general framework will remain broadly Christian, and so "the great prob- lem of our time is the organization and establishment of

democracy in Christian lands" (DA 311, cf. 291).

A specific American result described by Tocqueville is manifest in the effort to proselytize those who hasten "somewhere toward the west" in order to seek their for-

tune (DA 281, 293-94). Here is a modest remnant of the old Puritan fervor, demonstrated in a quest to reach those

who leave their birthplace in order to grab the chance for wealth. In portraying the motives of both parties, he had noticed that the wealth-seekers are driven by a rest-

less, burning passion but find it useful to support good mores and even religion. The proselytizers want not so much to remind the settlers of eternal things as to ensure

that their mores and beliefs remain compatible with the

republican liberties of the East (Mitchell 1995, 164, note 11). In both cases, there is some mixing of worldly and re-

ligious concerns, but this should not be surprising: there is no purely "natural" or "apolitical" expression of reli- gion (Manent 1998, 108), only a natural basis from which

the questions arise to which religions attempt to furnish

a response within the context they inhabit. Finally, however, Tocqueville draws a lesson from this

argument about how the French should regard the prob- lem of religion and politics. In a passage that reveals some-

thing of the range of opinions he must have observed before his travels in America, he reports on the growing

"indifference" to religion, originating from the under-

mining of "religious belief.., .by doctrines which I shall call negative because they assert the falseness of one reli-

gion but do not establish the truth of any other" (DA 299).

Tocqueville does not challenge and is perhaps unwilling or unable to challenge these doctrines by direct argu- ment; there is no attempt on his part to "establish the truth" about any religion. Instead he comments on the excessively polemical response of those who are still be- lievers: they dread their "contemporaries" and their "age

and country." "Imagining unbelief to be something new, they comprise all that is new in one indiscriminate ani- mosity. They are at war with their age and country and see each opinion professed as a necessary enemy of faith" (DA 300). This opinion "should not now [de nos jours] be

the natural state of men with regard to religion" (DA 300,

emphasis added; OC I.1.314). The natural state "now" would be for the believer

to recognize two facts. First, the vehemence against re-

ligion so visible in the French Revolution is due not to the intrinsic oppressiveness of religion as such but to the close alliance of the Church with the decaying French "ancien regime." It is a secondary phenomenon. Second, the root from which religion springs may be expected to

remain alive, especially if there is political freedom for it to do so. These are two truths which form a basis for

a less hostile politics on the part of the believers. Their goal should be the establishment of democratic freedom

29For democracy's influence on the expression of natural sentiments within the family, see DA 584-89.

30See Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the Revolution, 111.2. On the "dechristianization"campaign in the French Revolution see Schama (1989, 776-79).

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rather than restoration of orthodoxy. This is the "natural"

state "now" for his countrymen because it is the prudent

and yet principled adjustment to the conditions of the democratic era.31

Tocqueville concludes this treatment of the mores that support democracy with a study of what we might call an alternative enlightenment, an enlightenment not as

advocated by the "eighteenth-century philosophers" but as practiced in the first modern democracy.

Enlightenment in Practice

The third component of mores is emphatically rooted in

democracy and conduces directly to its support. It is dis-

cussed by Tocqueville in a subchapter whose title poses the question: "What is to be understood by the enlighten- ment of the American people?" (DA 301) The title perhaps

alludes to the earlier mention of the eighteenth-century philosophers, but the objective of the chapter is to distin-

guish and even to defend a kind of enlightenment visible in

the new democracy, an enlightenment distinct from what

was intended in the intellectual project of the preceding century. After some remarks about the low level of liter-

ary and scholarly activity in North America, Tocqueville proposes a framework other than condescension for un-

derstanding a kind of enlightenment based on democratic

practice. The Americans, he claimed, were "averse to gen-

eral ideas" and did not seek "theoretical discoveries," they have very few who are genuinely "learned," and yet as he traveled he found very few who were truly "uneducated"

(DA 301-02). He learned from these facts that there might

be "two different angles" for thinking about enlighten- ment as a public project. From the European standpoint,

molded by examples from Greek and Roman antiquity and the French eighteenth century, enlightenment is to

be seen in the peak achievements of learning, literature,

and thought. From the American standpoint, enlighten- ment is a matter of the vast spread of public education, achieving a situation where "the whole population falls between these two extremes" of the highest learning and the complete lack of education typical of the "peasant"-a term of depreciation unknown in the United States, Toc- queville observes (DA 303).32

This middling ground at first appears to reflect a defect-the choice for mediocrity in preference to excel- lence in the name of supporting equality.33 But while in ef-

fect conceding some validity to the criticism, Tocqueville

proposes an alternative understanding: "True enlight- enment is in the main born of experience" (DA 304). He maintains that the particular strength of this demo-

cratic enlightenment is the wide acquisition of an in- formed grasp of public affairs rooted in actual first-hand


It is by taking a share in legislation that the Amer-

ican learns to know the law; it is by governing that he becomes educated about the formalities

of government. The great work of society is daily

performed before his eyes, and so to say, under his hands. In the United States, education as a

whole is directed toward political life; in Europe

its main object is preparation for private life, as

the citizens' participation in public affairs is too rare an event to be provided for in advance. (DA 304-05)

The case for an education of this kind is that it "contributes

to support the democratic republic" because "the instruc-

tion which teaches the mind is not separated from the education which is responsible for mores" (DA 304). This phrase seems to mean that education for a democratic and

practical enlightenment comprises two elements. First is cultivation of experiential familiarity with the operations

of democratic society and government, their formalities

and procedures. The second, equally necessary, is absorp- tion of democratic mores through the experience of col- laboration with others in public activities. The mind and

the mores are formed together, for in both cases what is to be learned is how society deliberates, decides, and acts. To proceed with nondemocratic methods or foreign mores is to invite failure. Note the implicit premise that

the very purpose of education is knowledge about and support for democracy. An enlightenment or education

of this kind requires depreciating the value of abstract the-

ory, the pursuit of extreme refinements of understanding

and taste, or deep interest in nondemocratic societies. In

discouraging general ideas, it may also tend to discourage

31Lawler rightly observes that "some of what Tocqueville calls nat- ural about human existence is a mixture of nature and history" (1993, 86). As Mansfield and Winthrop observe, Tocqueville joined other "nineteenth-century liberals" in "turning to history and away from human nature.. ." Yet they also note that he "relies on human nature more than Montesquieu," not as a causative factor but to "mark the limits to democracy and aristocracy" (2000, xxvi, xxiv).

32Support for the middle ground between learning and ignorance is best found in New England, while "the farther one goes to the

west or the south, the less public education is found" (DA 302; cf. 308) and the less of "the traditions of Europe and the civilization of the Old World" (DA 372).

33A clarification of the alternatives at stake in the democratic ap- proach is at DA 244-45. Manent notes the "confusion of religion and society" and the "general absence of intellectual rigor" which this kind of education requires (1998, 107-08); cf. Lerner (1987, 215-18).

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even the full exploration of what we do and do not know

about that "other world" of which religion speaks; both

philosophy and theology may atrophy. Democratic edu- cation aims to inculcate a practical, experienced grasp of democratic society itself, the mastery of those procedures,

mores, and tastes necessary for acting effectively within and on the society, accompanied by the implicit eleva- tion of democracy and political life in general to a level

of importance superceding any theoretical issue. This is an education which is less bookish and more experien- tial than the old elite education of Europe, attempting to use "participation in free institutions" as a substitute for

"sound theoretical knowledge" (Richter 1970, 101).34 It presupposes that the concerns of public life are more sub-

stantial than those of the private life, the opposite of the

old education's priorities (DA 304-05). At the same time,

it forms a set of habits and a horizon of expectations that

constitute what is the most effective support for freedom still available (cf. DA 243).

Less directly emphasized is that this "practical en- lightenment" establishes a context within which both commercialism and piety might be pacified to the extent that they can be; it is as much a remedy for the defects of

the two other components of mores as a complement to

them. Both the commercial ethic and the expression of re-

ligious belief contained within themselves something po-

tentially unlimited and extreme. In both there is a grasping

for something beyond life itself: the hunger for well- being could become a "passion stronger than love of life"

(DA 283), while religion incubates from a "disgust for exis-

tence and an immense longing to exist" (DA 296). Neither

seems necessarily oriented toward democracy, though un- der the right conditions both have advantages compati-

ble with democracy, as Tocqueville has shown. Prosperity supports democracy, but the gold-seeker is quite capable

of treating mores as a mere means to support commer-

cial development. The believer acknowledges and may act on moral restraints, but is capable of zealous proselytiz- ing and may try to impose the rules of faith on politi-

cal affairs. The absorption of education so fully into the

democratic project may gradually solidify boundaries that

confine both commercial and religious enthusiasm and do so more deeply than is possible through explicit legal means.


By the end of this exploration of how to preserve a demo-

cratic republic, the question of the "maintenance" of the American democratic republic seems not to have received as conclusive an answer as one might wish. The main- tenance of a democratic republic appears to depend on the influence of sound mores. Indeed, Tocqueville's claim

is less to have established a clear prognosis for American

democracy than to have established a proposition of po- litical science, namely that mores are more significant in

shaping the fate of a society than the physical conditions or even the laws. The value of this proposition is exploited

in two different ways.

First, Tocqueville draws attention to the different re-

sults achieved in distinct parts of the Americas to sup- port his claim about mores. Comparing North and South America, he finds that "there are no nations on earth

more miserable than those of South America," despite "inexhaustible riches." The difference is due to the influ-

ence of laws and mores. But another case suggests that the

primary cause is mores more than laws, as Tocqueville concludes after observing that laws similar to those of the

United States were adopted in Mexico but Mexico "cannot

get used to democratic government." Moreover, the same case for the importance of mores can be made internally

within the United States by comparing the East and the West. In the East, customs, opinions, and forms of behav-

ior are penetrated by democracy, so that this influence

shows in every detail of social life. Literacy and practical

education are widespread, and religion and freedom are closely linked. The sum of these habits, opinions, usages, and beliefs is the mores that make republican govern- ment "strong and orderly," while in the West, "the pow-

ers of society seem to proceed at random" (DA 307-08; cf. 200, 225, 372). The laws and the governing institutions of democracy remain the same in both the East and the

West, but the quality of society is in Tocqueville's eyes very different. The effect must be due to mores (DA 306-

07). If the argument is correct, then the prospects for the

American democratic republic depend very strongly on preserving and enhancing the structure of the mores that differentiate its better from its weaker forms.

One might well accept the validity of this point, but it is notable that Tocqueville reports no method for gen-

erating political and legal means to sustain the mores he

takes to be so useful. The argument implies that the main-

tenance of the American democratic republic is a rather uncertain thing. The republic in effect draws from inher-

ited capital, an infrastructure of habits, beliefs, and prac-

tices, or in other words mores, that produced significant

34 Concerning the emphasis given to applications rather than theory, see DA 437-42 on the role of "general ideas," 459-65 on applications vs. theory in science, and 465-68 on the approach to the arts. For analysis of the displacement of theorizing in such an approach to education, see Brann (1979, 50-58, 62-63, 130-32, 145-48) and Lorraine and Thomas Pangle (1993, chapters 1-3).

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benefits but that were evidently neither the product of

conscious design nor even likely to be readily transfer- able to another society. The useful mores are the pre- constitutional product of an old heritage reinvigorated on a new territory. Tocqueville names no individuals in the account of American mores, and describes no acts

of statesmanship or legislation that account for what has proved to be so valuable or work to sustain it.35 The actual

democratic governing practices resulted from conscious political choice at the founding, but it seems doubtful that he believes this beneficial governing structure will be preserved without the contribution from American mores.

Secondly, however, when he turns to the politics of Europe, Tocqueville proposes a more distinct path of ac-

tion. He has shown his French readers a mode of liberty

unrecognized in European thought. The Europeans have tended to understand liberty as a by-product of wilder-

ness life, or as an opening for the zealous pursuit of wealth,

or as the emancipation that results from demolishing the

Church's influence on thought and morals. But there is a liberty of another kind and one that even represents a

form of "enlightenment" in its way. It is not theoretically

driven, but represents an ethos of democratic life, where

the procedures of democracy permeate daily affairs. Es-

tablishing the possibility of this coherence of democratic laws and a democratic ethos through the American exam- ple enables him to offer at least a hint that a similar path

for France might be conceivable. Addressing the French readers more directly, Toc-

queville shifts to more active terms, shedding the some-

what fatalistic implications of the preceding sociological- historical analysis. Americans, he now remarks, have "made great and successful endeavors" to combat the weaknesses of democracy, the "American lawgivers" strove

to add the "stability of religious morality to the constant changes in the world of politics," they have "applied reme-

dies... to the ills common to all democratic peoples" (DA 311). This active mode of speech reinterprets a set of useful social characteristics, the mores of the democ-

racy he has portrayed, as a product of the foresight of anonymous statesmen.

The value of the example lies in its contrast with an emerging normlessness that he thinks now threatens

Europe and that he compares to the climate of opin- ion and belief found in the "terrible centuries of Roman

tyranny, when mores had been corrupted..,. customs de-

stroyed ... when nothing protected the citizens and when the citizens no longer protected themselves. . ." (DA 314). Authorities capable of resisting centralized power have faded, as have the mores of freedom; religion has weak-

ened dramatically; there is no longer any clarity about "the

natural limits of despotism and the bounds of license" (DA 312). For all the advance of democracy discussed in this book, Tocqueville professes to fear the possibility of

something like the Caesarism that capped the demise of Roman republicanism.

Tocqueville guided his investigations in this analysis toward a quest to understand the "causes" that strengthen

and preserve a democracy, and the reader seems entitled to

expect that the objective was to lay bare the "causes" that

might be intentionally deployed in order to maintain and stabilize a democratic republic. The actual result, how- ever, has been to clarify the "causes" but to leave open the specific formulation of a means to apply this knowl-

edge. No simple political strategy is proposed to respond to the threat. It is difficult to discern what specific steps

the "American legislators" have taken or other legislators

might take to preserve a republic. Perhaps Tocqueville's best advice for the French would be to act with modera-

tion in trying to renovate the inherited institutions of the

past and to preserve as much opportunity as possible for the encouragement of democratic practices.

The most distinct result of this argument is to es- tablish the need for a political science of mores.36 Toc- queville has observed that "most Europeans" are aware of the influence of "circumstances" on the development of

society, and regard these circumstances as determinative. But the materialism of such views, perhaps particularly

targeted against the influence of the Church, overlooks the phenomenon of "mores." Mores are practices linked to beliefs; they express an ethos that shapes and directs

behavior more influentially than laws. Mores are not di-

rectly dependent on the physical circumstances, and so they suggest an element of the human make-up that can- not be explained in purely material terms. Nor are they entirely a reflection of the "laws," and so they are not exactly in the control of those in a position to promul- gate the laws. It is to mores that one must turn in order

to strengthen the necessary distinction between the two

forms of democratic equality, the equality of free consent

or the equality resulting from subordination to a single master. The best course for serious republicans is not the revolutionary eradication of the old mores but their care- ful democratization and liberalization.

35Taking issue with Pangle, Mitchell argues, with Tocqueville, that "political existence is preeminently a bottom-up affair in America, made possible by stringent mores rooted in Christianity, not by a (top-down) national founding based upon reason" (1995, 38, note 15).

36For an application of this Tocquevillian argument issue to the problem of forming the European Union into a more cohesive po- litical entity, see Siedentop (2000), especially pp. 9-16.

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The German Ideology

Marx and Engels declared The German Ideology to have been written ‘to settle accounts

with our former philosophical views’. It is no coincidence that the largest sections are

devoted to Feuerbach and Stirner: The Holy Family was to have been their last publication

on the subject of Young Hegelianism, but Stirner had published, in November 1844, The Ego

and its Own, an anarcho-existentialist statement that branded Marx and Engels as disciples

of Feuerbach and attracted a lot of attention in Germany. Marx therefore felt obliged to deal

with Feuerbach and Stirner as a preliminary to his economic work. There was also a section

on the ‘true socialist’ followers of Feuerbach who wished to base socialism on an ethical

ideal. The book also had the practical political aim of clarifying socialist principles for the

net of Communist Correspondence Committees that Marx and Engels had founded, and

which were to become one of the ingredients of the Communist League.

By far the most important part of the book is the first section. This was nominally

concerned with Feuerbach but in fact is an extensive description and definition of the newly

worked-out materialist conception of history. Marx and Engels begin by making fun of the

philosophical pretensions of the Young Hegelians; the main body of this section is then

divided into three parts: a general statement of the historical and materialist approach in

contrast to that of the Young Hegelians, a historical analysis employing this method, and an

account of its immediate future—a communist revolution. The section on Stirner, on the

other hand, takes up more than two-thirds of the book and is extremely tedious, its acres of

diatribe being only rarely relieved by the few perspicacious comments extracted below.

From any standpoint on Marx’s works, The German Ideology is one of his major achieve-

ments. Cutting through the cloudy metaphysics of so much Young Hegelian and even ‘true

socialist’ writing, it sets out the materialist conception of history with a force and in a detail

that Marx never afterwards surpassed. In spite of strenuous efforts, Marx and Engels did not

succeed in finding a publisher for their manuscript and left it ‘to the gnawing of the mice’. It

was first published in 1932.


Hitherto men have constantly made up for themselves false conceptions about

themselves, about what they are and what they ought to be. They have

arranged their relationships according to their ideas of God, of normal man,

176 | karl marx: selected writings

etc. The phantoms of their brains have got out of their hands. They, the cre-

ators, have bowed down before their creations. Let us liberate them from the

chimeras, the ideas, dogmas, imaginary beings under the yoke of which they

are pining away. Let us revolt against the rule of thoughts. Let us teach

men, says one, to exchange these imaginations for thoughts which correspond

to the essence of man; says the second, to take up a critical attitude to them;

says the third, to knock them out of their heads; and—existing reality will


These innocent and childlike fancies are the kernel of the modern Young

Hegelian philosophy, which not only is received by the German public with

horror and awe, but is announced by our philosophic heroes with the solemn

consciousness of its cataclysmic dangerousness and criminal ruthlessness. The

first volume of the present publication has the aim of uncloaking these sheep,

who take themselves and are taken for wolves; of showing how their bleating

merely imitates in a philosophic form the conceptions of the German middle

class; how the boasting of these philosophic commentators only mirrors the

wretchedness of the real conditions in Germany. It is its aim to debunk and

discredit the philosophic struggle with the shadows of reality, which appeals to

the dreamy and muddled German nation.

Once upon a time a valiant fellow had the idea that men were drowned in

water only because they were possessed with the idea of gravity. If they were to

knock this notion out of their heads, say by stating it to be a superstition, a

religious concept, they would be sublimely proof against any danger from

water. His whole life long he fought against the illusion of gravity, of whose

harmful results all statistics brought him new and manifold evidence. This

honest fellow was the type of the new revolutionary philosophers in

Germany . . .

The Premisses of the Materialist Method

The premisses from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but

real premisses from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination.

They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under

which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced

by their activity. These premisses can thus be verified in a purely empirical way.

The first premiss of all human history is, of course, the existence of living

human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organiza-

tion of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature. Of

course, we cannot here go either into the actual physical nature of man, or into

the natural conditions in which man finds himself—geological, oro-

hydrographical, climatic, and so on. The writing of history must always set out

the materialist conception of history 1844–1847 | 177

from these natural bases and their modification in the course of history through

the action of men.

Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion, or

anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from

animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step

which is conditioned by their physical organization. By producing their means

of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.

The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends first of all

on the nature of the actual means of subsistence they find in existence and have

to reproduce. This mode of production must not be considered simply as being

the production of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather it is a definite

form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a

definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are.

What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they

produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on

the material conditions determining their production.

This production only makes its appearance with the increase of population.

In its turn this presupposes the intercourse of individuals with one another. The

form of this intercourse is again determined by production.

The relations of different nations among themselves depend upon the extent

to which each has developed its productive forces, the division of labour, and

internal intercourse. This statement is generally recognized. But not only the

relation of one nation to others, but also the whole internal structure of the

nation itself depends on the stage of development reached by its production

and its internal and external intercourse. How far the productive forces of a

nation are developed is shown most manifestly by the degree to which the

division of labour has been carried. Each new productive force, in so far as it

is not merely a quantitative extension of productive forces already known

(for instance the bringing into cultivation of fresh land), causes a further

development of the division of labour.

The division of labour inside a nation leads at first to the separation of

industrial and commercial from agricultural labour, and hence to the separ-

ation of town and country and to the conflict of their interests. Its further

development leads to the separation of commercial from industrial labour. At

the same time, through the division of labour inside these various branches

there develop various divisions among the individuals co-operating in definite

kinds of labour. The relative position of these individuals groups is determined

by the methods employed in agriculture, industry, and commerce (patriar-

chalism, slavery, estates, classes). These same conditions are to be seen (given a

more developed intercourse) in the relations of different nations to one another.

The various stages of development in the division of labour are just so many

different forms of ownership, i.e. the existing stage in the division of labour

178 | karl marx: selected writings

determines also the relations of individuals to one another with reference to the

material, instrument, and product of labour.

The first form of ownership is tribal ownership. It corresponds to the

undeveloped stage of production, at which a people lives by hunting and fish-

ing, by the rearing of beasts, or, in the highest stage, agriculture. In the latter

case it presupposes a great mass of uncultivated stretches of land. The division

of labour is at this stage still very elementary and is confined to a further

extension of the natural division of labour existing in the family. The social

structure is, therefore, limited to an extension of the family; patriarchal family

chieftains, below them the members of the tribe, finally slaves. The slavery

latent in the family only develops gradually with the increase of population, the

growth of wants, and with the extension of external relations, both of war and

of barter.

The second form is the ancient communal and State ownership which pro-

ceeds especially form the union of several tribes into a city by agreement or by

conquest, and which is still accompanied by slavery. Beside communal owner-

ship we already find movable, and later also immovable, private property

developing, but as an abnormal form subordinate to communal ownership.

The citizens hold power over their labouring slaves only in their community,

and on this account alone, therefore, they are bound to the form of communal

ownership. It is the communal private property which compels the active cit-

izens to remain in this spontaneously derived form of association over against

their slaves. For this reason the whole structure of society based on this com-

munal ownership, and with it the power of the people, decays in the same

measure as, in particular, immovable private property evolves. The division of

labour is already more developed. We already find the antagonism of town and

country; later the antagonism between those states which represent town inter-

ests and those which represent country interests, and inside the towns them-

selves the antagonism between industry and maritime commerce. The class

relation between citizens and slaves is now completely developed.

With the development of private property, we find here for the first time the

same conditions which we shall find again, only on a more extensive scale, with

modern private property. On the one hand, the concentration of private prop-

erty, which began very early in Rome (as the Licinian agrarian law proves) and

proceeded very rapidly from the time of the civil wars and especially under the

Emperors; on the other hand, coupled with this, the transformation of the

plebeian small peasantry into a proletariat, which, however, owing to its inter-

mediate position between propertied citizens and slaves, never achieved an

independent development.

The third form of ownership is feudal or estate property. If antiquity started

out from the town and its little territory, the Middle Ages started out from the

country. This differing starting-point was determined by the sparseness of the

the materialist conception of history 1844–1847 | 179

population at that time, which was scattered over a large area and which

received no large increase from the conquerors. In contrast to Greece and

Rome, feudal development at the outset, therefore, extends over a much wider

territory, prepared by the Roman conquests and the spread of agriculture at

first associated with it. The last centuries of the declining Roman Empire and its

conquest by the barbarians destroyed a number of productive forces; agri-

culture had declined, industry had decayed for want of a market, trade had

died out or been violently suspended, the rural and urban population had

decreased. From these conditions and the mode of organization of the conquest

determined by them, feudal property developed under the influence of the

Germanic military constitution. Like tribal and communal ownership, it is

based again on a community; but the directly producing class standing over

against it is not, as in the case of the ancient community, the slaves, but the

enserfed small peasantry. As soon as feudalism is fully developed, there also

arises antagonism towards the towns. The hierarchical structure of landowner-

ship, and the armed bodies of retainers associated with it, gave the nobility

power over the serfs. This feudal organization was, just as much as the ancient

communal ownership, an association against a subjected producing class; but

the form of association and the relation to the direct producers were different

because of the different conditions of production.

This feudal system of landownership had its counterpart in the towns in the

shape of corporative property, the feudal organization of trades. Here property

consisted chiefly in the labour of each individual person. The necessity for

association against the organized robber barons, the need for communal

covered markets in an age when the industrialist was at the same time a

merchant, the growing competition of the escaped serfs swarming into the

rising towns, the feudal structure of the whole country: these combined to

bring about the guilds. The gradually accumulated small capital of individual

craftsmen and their stable numbers, as against the growing population, evolved

the relation of journeyman and apprentice, which brought into being in the

towns a hierarchy similar to that in the country.

Thus the chief form of property during the feudal epoch consisted on the one

hand of landed property with serf labour chained to it, and on the other of the

labour of the individual with small capital commanding the labour of journey-

men. The organization of both was determined by the restricted conditions of

production—the small-scale and primitive cultivation of the land and the craft

type of industry. There was little division of labour in the heyday of feudalism.

Each country bore in itself the antithesis of town and country; the division into

estates was certainly strongly marked; but apart from the differentiation of

princes, nobility, clergy, and peasants in the country; and masters, journeymen,

apprentices, and soon also the rabble of casual labourers in the towns, no

division of importance took place. In agriculture it was rendered difficult by the

180 | karl marx: selected writings

strip-system, beside which the cottage industry of the peasants themselves

emerged. In industry there was no division of labour at all in the individual

trades themselves, and very little between them. The separation of industry and

commerce was found already in existence in older towns; in the newer it only

developed later, when the towns entered into mutual relations.

The grouping of larger territories into feudal kingdoms was a necessity for

the landed nobility as for the towns. The organization of the ruling class, the

nobility, had, therefore, everywhere a monarch at its head.

The fact is, therefore, that definite individuals who are productively active in

a definite way enter into these definite social and political relations. Empirical

observation must in each separate instance bring out empirically, and without

any mystification and speculation, the connection of the social and political

structure with production. The social structure and the State are continually

evolving out of the life-process of definite individuals, but of individuals, not as

they may appear in their own or other people’s imagination, but as they really

are, i.e. as they operate, produce materially, and hence as they work under

definite material limits, presuppositions, and conditions independent of their


The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly

interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the

language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men,

appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same

applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws,

morality, religion, metaphysics, etc. of a people. Men are the producers of their

conceptions, ideas, etc—real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite

development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to

these, up to its furthest forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than

conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process. If in all

ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera

obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process

as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process.

In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to

earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out

from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of,

imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real,

active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the devel-

opment of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process. The

phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their

material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material

premisses. Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their

corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of

independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing

the materialist conception of history 1844–1847 | 181

their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this

their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not

determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life. In the first method of

approach the starting-point is consciousness taken as the living individual; in

the second method, which conforms to real life, it is the real living individuals

themselves, and consciousness is considered solely as their consciousness.

This method of approach is not devoid of premisses. It starts out from the

real premisses and does not abandon them for a moment. Its premisses are men,

not in any fantastic isolation and rigidity, but in their actual, empirically per-

ceptible process of development under definite conditions. As soon as this

active life-process is described, history ceases to be a collection of dead facts as

it is with the empiricists (themselves still abstract), or an imagined activity of

imagined subjects, as with the idealists.

Where speculation ends—in real life—there real, positive science begins: the

representation of the practical activity, of the practical process of development

of men. Empty talk about consciousness ceases, and real knowledge has to take

its place. When reality is depicted, philosophy as an independent branch of

knowledge loses its medium of existence. At the best its place can only be taken

by a summing-up of the most general results, abstractions which arise from the

observation of the historical development of men. Viewed apart from real his-

tory, these abstractions have in themselves no value whatsoever. They can only

serve to facilitate the arrangement of historical material, to indicate the

sequence of its separate strata. But they by no means afford a recipe or schema,

as does philosophy, for neatly trimming the epochs of history. On the contrary,

our difficulties begin only when we set about the observation and the

arrangement—the real depiction—of our historical material, whether of a past

epoch or of the present. The removal of these difficulties is governed by prem-

isses which it is quite impossible to state here, but which only the study of the

actual life-process and the activity of the individuals of each epoch will make

evident. We shall select here some of these abstractions, which we use in con-

tradistinction to the ideologists, and shall illustrate them by historical


Since we are dealing with the Germans, who are devoid of premisses, we must

begin by stating the first premiss of all human existence and, therefore, of all

history, the premiss, namely, that men must be in a position to live in order to

be able to ‘make history’. But life involves before everything else eating and

drinking, a habitation, clothing, and many other things. The first historical act

is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of

material life itself. And indeed this is an historical act, a fundamental condition

of all history, which today, as thousands of years ago, must daily and hourly be

fulfilled merely in order to sustain human life. Even when the sensuous world is

182 | karl marx: selected writings

reduced to a minimum, to a stick as with Saint Bruno, it presupposes the action

of producing the stick. Therefore in any interpretation of history one has first

of all to observe this fundamental fact in all its significance and all its implica-

tions and to accord it its due importance. It is well known that the Germans

have never done this, and they have never, therefore, had an earthly basis for

history and consequently never an historian. The French and the English, even

if they have conceived the relation of this fact with so-called history only in an

extremely one-sided fashion, particularly as long as they remained in the toils

of political ideology, have nevertheless made the first attempts to give the writ-

ing of history a materialistic basis by being the first to write histories of civil

society, of commerce and industry.

The second point is that the satisfaction of the first need (the action of satisfy-

ing, and the instrument of satisfaction which has been acquired) leads to new

needs; and this production of new needs is the first historical act. Here we

recognize immediately the spiritual ancestry of the great historical wisdom of

the Germans who, when they run out of positive material and when they can

serve up neither theological nor political nor literary rubbish, assert that this is

not history at all, but the ‘prehistoric era’. They do not, however, enlighten us

as to how we proceed from this nonsensical ‘prehistory’ to history proper;

although, on the other hand, in their historical speculation they seize upon this

‘prehistory’ with especial eagerness because they imagine themselves safe there

from interference on the part of ‘crude facts’, and, at the same time, because

there they can give full rein to their speculative impulse and set up and knock

down hypotheses by the thousand.

The third circumstance which, from the very outset, enters into historical

development, is that men, who daily remake their own life, begin to make other

men, to propagate their kind: the relation between man and woman, parents

and children, the family. The family, which to begin with is the only social

relationship, becomes later, when increased needs create new social relations

and the increased population new needs, a subordinate one (except in Ger-

many), and must then be treated and analysed according to the existing empir-

ical data, not according to ‘the concept of the family’, as is the custom in

Germany. These three aspects of social activity are not of course to be taken as

three different stages, but just as three aspects or, to make it clear to the Ger-

mans, three ‘moments’, which have existed simultaneously since the dawn of

history and the first men, and which still assert themselves in history today.

The production of life, both of one’s own in labour and of fresh life in

procreation, now appears as a double relationship: on the one hand as a

natural, on the other as a social, relationship. By social we understand the

co-operation of several individuals, no matter under what conditions, in

what manner, and to what end. It follows from this that a certain mode of

production, or industrial stage, is always combined with a certain mode of

the materialist conception of history 1844–1847 | 183

co-operation, or social stage, and this mode of co-operation is itself a ‘product-

ive force’. Further, that the multitude of productive forces accessible to men

determines the nature of society, hence, that the ‘history of humanity’ must

always be studied and treated in relation to the history of industry and

exchange. But it is also clear how in Germany it is impossible to write this sort

of history, because the Germans lack not only the necessary power of com-

prehension and the material but also the ‘evidence of their senses’, for across

the Rhine you cannot have any experience of these things since history has

stopped happening. Thus it is quite obvious from the start that there exists a

materialistic connection of men with one another, which is determined by their

needs and their mode of production, and which is as old as men themselves.

This connection is ever taking on new forms, and thus presents a ‘history’

independently of the existence of any political or religious nonsense which in

addition may hold men together.

Only now, after having considered four moments, four aspects of the pri-

mary historical relationships, do we find that man also possesses ‘conscious-

ness’, but, even so, not inherent, not ‘pure’ consciousness. From the start the

‘spirit’ is afflicted with the curse of being ‘burdened’ with matter, which here

makes its appearance in the form of agitated layers of air, sounds, in short, of

language. Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical conscious-

ness that exists also for other men, and for that reason alone it really exists for

me personally as well; language, like consciousness, only arises from the need,

the necessity, of intercourse with other men. Where there exists a relationship,

it exists for me: the animal does not enter into ‘relations’ with anything, it does

not enter into any relation at all. For the animal, its relation to others does not

exist as a relation. Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning a social

product, and remains so as long as men exist at all. Consciousness is at first, of

course, merely consciousness concerning the immediate sensuous environment

and consciousness of the limited connection with other persons and things

outside the individual who is growing self-conscious. At the same time it is

consciousness of nature, which first appears to men as a completely alien, all

powerful, and unassailable force, with which men’s relations are purely animal

and by which they are overawed like beasts; it is thus a purely animal con-

sciousness of nature (natural religion) just because nature is as yet hardly

modified historically. (We see here immediately that this natural religion or this

particular relation of men to nature is determined by the form of society and

vice versa. Here, as everywhere, the identity of nature and man appears in such

a way that the restricted relation of men to nature determines their restricted

relation to one another, and their restricted relation to one another determines

men’s restricted relation to nature.) On the other hand, man’s consciousness of

the necessity of associating with the individuals around him is the beginning of

the consciousness that he is living in society at all. This beginning is as animal

184 | karl marx: selected writings

as social life itself at this stage. It is mere herd-consciousness, and at this point

man is only distinguished from sheep by the fact that with him consciousness

takes the place of instinct or that his instinct is a conscious one. This sheep-like

or tribal consciousness receives its further development and extension through

increased productivity, the increase of needs, and, what is fundamental to both

of these, the increase of population. With these there develops the division of

labour, which was originally nothing but the division of labour in the sexual

act, then that division of labour which develops spontaneously or ‘naturally’ by

virtue of natural predisposition (e.g. physical strength), needs, accidents, etc.

etc. Division of labour only becomes truly such from the moment when a

division of material and mental labour appears. (The first form of ideologists,

priests, is concurrent.) From this moment onwards consciousness can really

flatter itself that it is something other than consciousness of existing practice,

that it really represents something without representing something real; from

now on consciousness is in a position to emancipate itself from the world and

to proceed to the formation of ‘pure’ theory, theology, philosophy, ethics, etc.

But even if this theory, theology, philosophy, ethics, etc. comes into contradic-

tion with the existing relations, this can only occur because existing social rela-

tions have come into contradiction with existing forces of production; this,

moreover, can also occur in a particular national sphere of relations through the

appearance of the contradiction, not within the national orbit, but between this

national consciousness and the practice of other nations, i.e. between the

national and the general consciousness of a nation (as we see it now in Germany).

Moreover, it is quite immaterial what consciousness starts to do on its own:

out of all such muck we get only the one inference that these three moments,

the forces of production, the state of society, and consciousness, can and must

come into contradiction with one another, because the division of labour

implies the possibility, nay the fact, that intellectual and material activity—

enjoyment and labour, production and consumption—devolve on different

individuals, and that the only possibility of their not coming into contradiction

lies in the negation in its turn of the division of labour. It is self-evident, more-

over, that ‘spectres’, ‘bonds’, ‘the higher being’, ‘concept’, ‘scruple’, are merely

the idealistic, spiritual expression, the conception apparently of the isolated

individual, the image of very empirical fetters and limitations, within which the

mode of production of life and the form of intercourse coupled with it move.

Private Property and Communism

With the division of labour, in which all these contradictions are implicit, and

which in its turn is based on the natural division of labour in the family and the

separation of society into individual families opposed to one another, is given

the materialist conception of history 1844–1847 | 185

simultaneously the distribution, and indeed the unequal distribution, both

quantitative and qualitative, of labour and its products, hence property: the

nucleus, the first form of which lies in the family, where wife and children are

the slaves of the husband. This latent slavery in the family, though still very

crude, is the first property, but even at this early stage it corresponds perfectly

to the definition of modern economists who call it the power of disposing of the

labour-power of others. Division of labour and private property are, moreover,

identical expressions: in the one the same thing is affirmed with reference to

activity as is affirmed in the other with reference to the product of the activity.

Further, the division of labour implies the contradiction between the interest

of the separate individual or the individual family and the communal interest of

all individuals who have intercourse with one another. And indeed, this com-

munal interest does not exist merely in the imagination, as the ‘general inter-

est’, but first of all in reality, as the mutual interdependence of the individuals

among whom the labour is divided. And finally, the division of labour offers us

the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as

long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as

long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own

deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of

being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into

being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced

upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a

shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose

his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one

exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch

he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible

for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning,

fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I

have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, cowherd, or critic. This

fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into

an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our

expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in

historical development up till now.

And out of this very contradiction between the interest of the individual and

that of the community the latter takes an independent form as the State,

divorced from the real interests of individual and community, and at the same

time as an illusory communal life, always based, however, on the real ties

existing in every family and tribal conglomeration—such as flesh and blood,

language, division of labour on a larger scale, and other interests—and espe-

cially, as we shall enlarge upon later, on the classes, already determined by the

division of labour, which in every such mass of men separate out, and of which

one dominates all the others. It follows from this that all struggles within the

186 | karl marx: selected writings

State, the struggle between democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy, the struggle

for the franchise, etc. etc. are merely the illusory forms in which the real strug-

gles of the different classes are fought out among one another. Of this the

German theoreticians have not the faintest inkling, although they have received

a sufficient introduction to the subject in the Deutsch–französische Jahrbücher

and Die heilige Familie. Further, it follows that every class which is struggling

for mastery, even when its domination, as is the case with the proletariat,

postulates the abolition of the old form of society in its entirety and of domin-

ation itself, must first conquer for itself political power in order to represent its

interest in turn as the general interest, which immediately it is forced to do. Just

because individuals seek only their particular interest, which for them does not

coincide with their communal interest, the latter will be imposed on them as an

interest ‘alien’ to them, and ‘independent’ of them, as in its turn a particular,

peculiar ‘general’ interest; or they themselves must remain within this discord,

as in democracy. On the other hand, too, the practical struggle of these particu-

lar interests, which constantly really run counter to the communal and illusory

communal interests, makes practical intervention and control necessary

through the illusory ‘general’ interest in the form of the State.

The social power, i.e. the multiplied productive force, which arises through

the co-operation of different individuals as it is determined by the division of

labour, appears to these individuals, since their co-operation is not voluntary

but has come about naturally, not as their own united power, but as an alien

force existing outside them, of the origin and goal of which they are ignorant,

which they thus cannot control, which on the contrary passes through a pecu-

liar series of phases and stages independent of the will and the action of man,

nay even being the prime governor of these.

How otherwise could, for instance, property have had a history at all, have

taken on different forms, and landed property, for example, according to the

different premisses given, have proceeded in France from parcellation to cen-

tralization in the hands of a few, in England from centralization in the hands of

a few to parcellation, as is actually the case today? Or how does it happen that

trade, which after all is nothing more than the exchange of products of various

individuals and countries, rules the whole world through the relation of supply

and demand—a relation which, as an English economist says, hovers over the

earth like the Fates of the ancients, and with invisible hand allots fortune and

misfortune to men, sets up empires and overthrows empires, causes nations to

rise and to disappear—while with the abolition of the basis of private property,

with the communistic regulation of production (and, implicit in this, the

destruction of the alien relation between men and what they themselves

produce), the power of the relation of supply and demand is dissolved into

nothing, and men get exchange, production, the mode of their mutual relation,

under their own control again?

the materialist conception of history 1844–1847 | 187

This ‘alienation’ (to use a term which will be comprehensible to the philo-

sophers) can, of course, only be abolished given two practical premisses. For it

to become an ‘intolerable’ power, i.e. a power against which men make a

revolution, it must necessarily have rendered the great mass of humanity ‘prop-

ertyless’, and produced, at the same time, the contradiction of an existing

world of wealth and culture, both of which conditions presuppose a great

increase in productive power, a high degree of its development. And, on the

other hand, this development of productive forces (which itself implies the

actual empirical existence of men in their world-historical, instead of local,

being) is an absolutely necessary practical premiss because without it want is

merely made general, and with destitution the struggle for necessities and all

the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced; and furthermore,

because only with this universal development of productive forces is a universal

intercourse between men established, which produces in all nations simul-

taneously the phenomenon of the ‘propertyless’ mass (universal competition),

makes each nation dependent on the revolutions of the others, and finally has

put world-historical, empirically universal individuals in place of local ones.

Without this, (1) communism could only exist as a local event; (2) the forces of

intercourse themselves could not have developed as universal, hence intolerable

powers: they would have remained home-bred conditions surrounded by

superstition; and (3) each extension of intercourse would abolish local com-

munism. Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant

peoples ‘all at once’ and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal

development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with

communism. Moreover, the mass of propertyless workers—the utterly precar-

ious position of labour-power on a mass scale cut off from capital or from even

a limited satisfaction and, therefore, no longer merely temporarily deprived of

work itself as a secure source of life—presupposes the world market through

competition. The proletariat can thus only exist world-historically, just as

communism, its activity, can only have a ‘world-historical’ existence. World-

historical existence of individuals means existence of individuals which is

directly linked up with world history.

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an

ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real

movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this

movement result from the premisses now in existence.

Communism and History

. . . In history up to the present it is certainly an empirical fact that separate

individuals have, with the broadening of their activity into world-historical

188 | karl marx: selected writings

activity, become more and more enslaved under a power alien to them (a

pressure which they have conceived of as a dirty trick on the part of the so-

called universal spirit, etc.), a power which has become more and more enor-

mous and, in the last instance, turns out to be the world market. But it is just as

empirically established that, by the overthrow of the existing state of society by

the communist revolution (of which more below) and the abolition of private

property which is identical with it, this power, which so baffles the German

theoreticians, will be dissolved; and that then the liberation of each single

individual will be accomplished in the measure in which history becomes trans-

formed into world history. From the above it is clear that the real intellectual

wealth of the individual depends entirely on the wealth of his real connections.

Only then will the separate individuals be liberated from the various national

and local barriers, be brought into practical connection with the material and

intellectual production of the whole world and be put in a position to acquire

the capacity to enjoy this all-sided production of the whole earth (the creations

of man). All-round dependence, this natural form of the world-historical co-

operation of individuals, will be transformed by this communist revolution into

the control and conscious mastery of these powers, which, born of the action of

men on one another, have till now overawed and governed men as powers

completely alien to them. Now this view can be expressed again in speculative-

idealistic, i.e. fantastic, terms as ‘self-generation of the species’ (‘society as the

subject’), and thereby the consecutive series of interrelated individuals con-

nected with each other can be conceived as a single individual, which accom-

plishes the mystery of generating itself. It is clear here that individuals certainly

make one another, physically and mentally, but do not make themselves either

in the nonsense of Saint Bruno, or in the sense of the ‘Unique’, of the ‘made’


This conception of history depends on our ability to expound the real pro-

cess of production, starting out from the material production of life itself, and

to comprehend the form of intercourse connected with this and created by this

mode of production (i.e. civil society in its various stages) as the basis of all

history; and to show it in its action as State, to explain all the different theor-

etical products and forms of consciousness, religion, philosophy, ethics, etc.,

etc., and trace their origins and growth from that basis; by which means, of

course, the whole thing can be depicted in its totality (and therefore, too, the

reciprocal action of these various sides on one another). It has not, like the

idealistic view of history, in every period to look for a category, but remains

constantly on the real ground of history; it does not explain practice from the

idea but explains the formation of ideas from material practice; and accord-

ingly it comes to the conclusion that all forms and products of consciousness

cannot be dissolved by mental criticism, by resolution into ‘self-consciousness’

or transformation into ‘apparitions’, ‘spectres’, ‘fancies’, etc., but only by the

the materialist conception of history 1844–1847 | 189

practical overthrow of the actual social relations which gave rise to this ideal-

istic humbug; that not criticism but revolution is the driving force of history,

also of religion, of philosophy and all other types of theory. It shows that

history does not end by being resolved into ‘self-consciousness’ as ‘spirit of the

spirit’, but that in it at each stage there is found a material result: a sum of

productive forces, an historically created relation of individuals to nature and

to one another, which is handed down to each generation from its predecessor;

a mass of productive forces, capital funds and conditions, which, on the one

hand, is indeed modified by the new generation, but also, on the other, pre-

scribes for it its conditions of life and gives it a definite development, a special

character. It shows that circumstances make men just as much as men make


This sum of productive forces, capital funds, and social forms of intercourse,

which every individual and generation finds in existence as something given, is

the real basis of what the philosophers have conceived as ‘substance’ and

‘essence of man’, and what they have deified and attacked; a real basis which is

not in the least disturbed, in its effect and influence on the development of men,

by the fact that these philosophers revolt against it as ‘self-consciousness’ and

the ‘Unique’. These conditions of life, which different generations find in exist-

ence, decide also whether or not the periodically recurring revolutionary con-

vulsion will be strong enough to overthrow the basis of the entire existing

system. And if these material elements of a complete revolution are not present

(namely, on the one hand the existing productive forces, on the other the for-

mation of a revolutionary mass, which revolts not only against separate condi-

tions of society up till then, but against the very ‘production of life’ till then, the

‘total activity’ on which it was based), then, as far as practical development is

concerned, it is absolutely immaterial whether the idea of this revolution has

been expressed a hundred times already, as the history of communism proves.

In the whole conception of history up to the present this real basis of history

has either been totally neglected or else considered as a minor matter quite

irrelevant to the course of history. History must, therefore, always be written

according to an extraneous standard; the real production of life seems to be

primeval history, while the truly historical appears to be separated from ordin-

ary life, something superterrestrial. With this the relation of man to nature is

excluded from history and hence the antithesis of nature and history is created.

The exponents of this conception of history have consequently only been able

to see in history the political actions of princes and States, religious and all sorts

of theoretical struggles, and in particular in each historical epoch have had to

share the illusion of that epoch. For instance, if an epoch imagines itself to be

actuated by purely ‘political’ or ‘religious’ motives, although ‘religion’ and

‘politics’ are only forms of its true motives, the historian accepts this opinion.

The ‘idea’, the ‘conception’ of the people in question about their real practice,

190 | karl marx: selected writings

is transformed into the sole determining, active force, which controls and

determines their practice. When the crude form in which the division of labour

appears with the Indians and Egyptians calls forth the caste system in their

State and religion, the historian believes that the caste system is the power

which has produced this crude social form. While the French and the English at

least hold by the political illusion, which is moderately close to reality, the

Germans move in the realm of the ‘pure spirit’, and make religious illusion the

driving force of history. The Hegelian philosophy of history is the last con-

sequence, reduced to its ‘finest expression’, of all this German historiography,

for which it is not a question of real, nor even of political, interests, but of pure

thoughts, which consequently must appear to Saint Bruno as a series of

‘thoughts’ that devour one another and are finally swallowed up in ‘self-

consciousness’ . . .

In reality and for the practical materialist, i.e. the communist, it is a question

of revolutionizing the existing world, of practically attacking and changing

existing things. When occasionally we find such views with Feuerbach, they are

never more than isolated surmises and have much too little influence on his

general outlook to be considered here as anything else than embryos capable of

development. Feuerbach’s ‘conception’ of the sensuous world is confined on

the one hand to mere contemplation of it, and on the other to mere feeling; he

says ‘Man’ instead of ‘real historical man’. ‘Man’ is really ‘the German’. In the

first case, the contemplation of the sensuous world, he necessarily lights on

things which contradict his consciousness and feeling, which disturb the har-

mony he presupposes, the harmony of all parts of the sensuous world and

especially of man and nature. To remove this disturbance, he must take refuge

in a double perception, a profane one which only perceives the ‘flatly obvious’

and a higher, philosophical, one which perceives the ‘true essence’ of things. He

does not see how the sensuous world around him is not a thing given direct

from all eternity, remaining ever the same, but the product of industry and of

the state of society; and, indeed, in the sense that it is an historical product, the

result of the activity of a whole succession of generations, each standing on the

shoulders of the preceding one, developing its industry and its intercourse,

modifying its social system according to the changed needs. Even the objects of

the simplest ‘sensuous certainty’ are only given him through social develop-

ment, industry, and commercial intercourse. The cherry-tree, like almost all

fruit-trees, was, as is well known, only a few centuries ago transplanted by

commerce into our zone, and therefore only by this action of a definite society

in a definite age it has become ‘sensuous certainty’ for Feuerbach.

Incidentally, when we conceive things thus, as they really are and happened,

every profound philosophical problem is resolved, as will be seen even more

clearly later, quite simply into an empirical fact. For instance, the important

question of the relation of man to nature (Bruno [Bauer] goes so far as to speak

the materialist conception of history 1844–1847 | 191

of ‘the antitheses in nature and history’ (p. 110), as though these were two

separate ‘things’ and man did not always have before him an historical nature

and a natural history) out of which all the ‘unfathomably lofty works’ on

‘substance’ and ‘self-consciousness’ were born, crumbles of itself when we

understand that the celebrated ‘unity of man with nature’ has always existed in

industry and has existed in varying forms in every epoch according to the lesser

or greater development of industry, just like the ‘struggle’ of man with nature,

right up to the development of his productive powers on a corresponding basis.

Industry and commerce, production and the exchange of the necessities of life,

themselves determine distribution, the structure of the different social classes,

and are, in turn, determined by it as to the mode in which they are carried on;

and so it happens that in Manchester, for instance, Feuerbach sees only factor-

ies and machines, where a hundred years ago only spinning-wheels and

weaving-looms were to be seen, or in the Campagna of Rome he finds only

pasture lands and swamps, where in the time of Augustus he would have found

nothing but the vineyards and villas of Roman capitalists. Feuerbach speaks in

particular of the perception of natural science; he mentions secrets which are

disclosed only to the eye of the physicist and chemist; but where would natural

science be without industry and commerce? Even this ‘pure’ natural science is

provided with an aim, as with its material, only through trade and industry,

through the sensuous activity of men. So much is this activity, this unceasing

sensuous labour and creation, this production, the basis of the whole sensuous

world as it now exists, that, were it interrupted only for a year, Feuerbach

would not only find an enormous change in the natural world, but would very

soon find that the whole world of men and his own perceptive faculty, nay his

own existence, were missing. Of course, in all this the priority of external

nature remains unassailed, and all this has no application to the original men

produced by generatio aequivoca [spontaneous generation]; but this differen-

tiation has meaning only in so far as man is considered to be distinct from

nature. For that matter, nature, the nature that preceded human history, is not

by any means the nature in which Feuerbach lives, it is nature which today no

longer exists anywhere (except perhaps on a few Australian coral islands of

recent origin) and which, therefore, does not exist for Feuerbach.

Certainly Feuerbach has a great advantage over the ‘pure’ materialists in that

he realizes how man too is an ‘object of the senses’. But apart from the fact that

he only conceives him as an ‘object of the senses’, not as ‘sensuous activity’,

because he still remains in the realm of theory and conceives of men not in their

given social connection, not under their existing conditions of life, which have

made them what they are, he never arrives at the really existing active men, but

stops at the abstraction ‘man’, and gets no further than recognizing ‘the true,

individual, corporeal man’ emotionally, i.e. he knows no other ‘human rela-

tionships’ ‘of man to man’ than love and friendship, and even then idealized.

192 | karl marx: selected writings

He gives no criticism of the present conditions of life. Thus he never manages to

conceive the sensuous world as the total living sensuous activity of the indi-

viduals composing it; and therefore when, for example, he sees instead of

healthy men a crowd of scrofulous, overworked, and consumptive starvelings,

he is compelled to take refuge in the ‘higher perception’ and in the ideal ‘com-

pensation in the species’, and thus to relapse into idealism at the very point

where the communist materialist sees the necessity, and at the same time the

condition, of a transformation both of industry and of the social structure.

As far as Feuerbach is a materialist he does not deal with history, and as far

as he considers history he is not a materialist. With him materialism and history

diverge completely, a fact which incidentally is already obvious from what has

been said . . .

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class

which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intel-

lectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its

disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so

that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of

mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the

ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material

relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one

class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals

composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and

therefore think. In so far, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the

extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole

range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas,

and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their

ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. For instance, in an age and in a country

where royal power, aristocracy, and bourgeoisie are contending for mastery

and where, therefore, mastery is shared, the doctrine of the separation of

powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an ‘eternal law’ . . .

Our investigation hitherto started from the instruments of production, and it

has already shown that private property was a necessity for certain industrial

stages. In industrie extractive [raw materials industry] private property still

coincides with labour; in small industry and all agriculture up till now property

is the necessary consequence of the existing instruments of production; in big

industry the contradiction between the instrument of production and private

property appears for the first time and is the product of big industry; moreover,

big industry must be highly developed to produce this contradiction. And thus

only with big industry does the abolition of private property become possible.

In big industry and competition the whole mass of conditions of existence,


the materialist conception of history 1844–1847 | 193

limitations, biases of individuals, are fused together into the two simplest

forms: private property and labour. With money every form of intercourse, and

intercourse itself, is considered fortuitous for the individuals. Thus money

implies that all previous intercourse was only intercourse of individuals under

particular conditions, not of individuals as individuals. These conditions are

reduced to two: accumulated labour or private property, and actual labour. If

both or one of these ceases, then intercourse comes to a standstill. The modern

economists themselves, e.g. Sismondi, Cherbuliez, etc., oppose ‘association of

individuals’ to ‘association of capital’. On the other hand, the individuals

themselves are entirely subordinated to the division of labour and hence are

brought into the most complete dependence on one another. Private property,

in so far as within labour itself it is opposed to labour, evolves out of the

necessity of accumulation, and has still, to begin with, rather the form of the

communality; but in its further development it approaches more and more

the modern form of private property. The division of labour implies from the

outset the division of the conditions of labour, of tools and materials, and thus

the splitting-up of accumulated capital among different owners, and thus, also,

the division between capital and labour, and the different forms of property

itself. The more the division of labour develops and accumulation grows, the

sharper are the forms that this process of differentiation assumes. Labour itself

can only exist on the premiss of this fragmentation.

Thus two facts are here revealed. First the productive forces appear as a

world for themselves, quite independent of and divorced from the individuals,

alongside the individuals: the reason for this is that the individuals, whose

forces they are, exist split up and in opposition to one another, while, on the

other hand, these forces are only real forces in the intercourse and association

of these individuals. Thus, on the one hand, we have a totality of productive

forces, which have, as it were, taken on a material form and are for the indi-

viduals no longer the forces of the individuals but of private property, and

hence of the individuals only in so far as they are owners of private property

themselves. Never, in any earlier period, have the productive forces taken on a

form so indifferent to the intercourse of individuals as individuals, because

their intercourse itself was formerly a restricted one. On the other hand, stand-

ing over against these productive forces, we have the majority of the individuals

from whom these forces have been wrested away, and who, robbed thus of all

real life-content, have become abstract individuals, but who are, however, only

by this fact put into a position to enter into relation with one another as


The only connection which still links them with the productive forces and

with their own existence—labour—has lost all semblance of self-activity and

only sustains their life by stunting it. While in the earlier periods self-activity

and the production of material life were separated, in that they devolved on

194 | karl marx: selected writings

different persons, and while, on account of the narrowness of the individuals

themselves, the production of material life was considered as a subordinate

mode of self-activity, they now diverge to such an extent that altogether

material life appears as the end, and what produces this material life, labour

(which is now the only possible but, as we see, negative form of self-activity), as

the means.

Thus things have now come to such a pass that the individuals must

appropriate the existing totality of productive forces, not only to achieve self-

activity, but also merely to safeguard their very existence. This appropriation is

first determined by the object to be appropriated, the productive forces, which

have been developed to a totality and which only exist within a universal

intercourse. From this aspect alone, therefore, this appropriation must have a

universal character corresponding to the productive forces and the intercourse.

The appropriation of these forces is itself nothing more than the develop-

ment of the individual capacities corresponding to the material instruments of

production. The appropriation of a totality of instruments of production is, for

this very reason, the development of a totality of capacities in the individuals


This appropriation is further determined by the persons appropriating. Only

the proletarians of the present day, who are completely shut off from all self-

activity, are in a position to achieve a complete and no longer restricted self-

activity, which consists in the appropriation of a totality of productive forces

and in the thus postulated development of a totality of capacities. All earlier

revolutionary appropriations were restricted; individuals, whose self-activity

was restricted by a crude instrument of production and a limited intercourse,

appropriated this crude instrument of production, and hence merely achieved a

new state of limitation. Their instrument of production became their property,

but they themselves remained subordinate to the division of labour and their

own instrument of production. In all expropriations up to now, a mass of

individuals remained subservient to a single instrument of production; in the

appropriation by the proletarians, a mass of instruments of production must be

made subject to each individual, and property to all. Modern universal inter-

course can be controlled by individuals, therefore, only when controlled by all.

This appropriation is further determined by the manner in which it must be

effected. It can only be effected through a union, which by the character of the

proletariat itself can again only be a universal one, and through a revolution,

in which, on the one hand, the power of the earlier mode of production

and intercourse and social organization is overthrown, and, on the other

hand, there develops the universal character and the energy of the proletariat,

without which the revolution cannot be accomplished; and in which, further,

the proletariat rids itself of everything that still clings to it from its previous

position in society.

the materialist conception of history 1844–1847 | 195

Only at this stage does self-activity coincide with material life, which corres-

ponds to the development of individuals into complete individuals and the

casting-off of all natural limitations. The transformation of labour into self-

activity corresponds to the transformation of the earlier limited intercourse

into the intercourse of individuals as such. With the appropriation of the total

productive forces through united individuals, private property comes to an end.

While previously in history a particular condition always appeared as acci-

dental, now the isolation of individuals and the particular private gain of each

man have themselves become accidental . . .

Finally, from the conception of history we have sketched we obtain these

further conclusions: (1) In the development of productive forces there comes a

stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being,

which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer

productive but destructive forces (machinery and money); and connected with

this a class is called forth, which has to bear all the burdens of society without

enjoying its advantages, which, ousted from society, is forced into the most

decided antagonism to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all

members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the neces-

sity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness, which may, of

course, arise among the other classes too through the contemplation of the

situation of this class. (2) The conditions under which definite productive

forces can be applied are the conditions of the rule of a definite class of society,

whose social power, deriving from its property, has its practical-idealistic

expression in each case in the form of the State; and, therefore, every revo-

lutionary struggle is directed against a class, which till then has been in power.

(3) In all revolutions up till now the mode of activity always remained

unscathed and it was only a question of a different distribution of this activity,

a new distribution of labour to other persons, while the communist revolution

is directed against the preceding mode of activity, does away with labour, and

abolishes the rule of all classes with the classes themselves, because it is carried

through by the class which no longer counts as a class in society, is not recog-

nized as a class, and is in itself the expression of the dissolution of all classes,

nationalities, etc. within present society; and (4) Both for the production on a

mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause

itself, the alternation of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which

can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is

necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in

any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolu-

tion succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found

society anew . . .


Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts

These manuscripts, the most important of Marx’s early writings, were written in the summer

of 1844. They represent Marx’s first draft of his ‘Economics’—the project to which he was

to devote the rest of his life. The manuscripts fall into four main groups: firstly, there is a

passage on alienated labour—the most finished and readily comprehensible of the manu-

scripts, in which Marx details the ways in which the worker’s relationship to his product

result in his alienation. Secondly, in the manuscript headed ‘Private Property and Commun-

ism’, Marx outlines his view of communist man and society. In the third section he discusses

the relationship of capitalism to human needs; and in the final section he gives what is

probably his fullest account of his view of Hegel’s dialectic, praising him for having dis-

covered man’s world-creating capacities, but criticizing his abstract, philosophical


Marx intended to write up this work for publication, but other problems distracted him.

When they were first published in 1932, they were thought by many to portray a humanist

and even an existentialist Marx—very different from the Marx of the later writings—and

this discrepancy gave rise to a protracted debate on the continuity or discontinuity of Marx’s

thought. The 1844 manuscripts certainly show him under the influence of Feuerbach’s

humanism (though Marx’s interest in politics, economics, and even history was foreign to

Feuerbach), and he was soon to distance himself considerably from Feuerbach’s ideas.

Nevertheless, many of the positions taken up by Marx in 1844 were still present in the

Grundrisse and even in Capital.


I have announced in the Deutsch-französische Jahrbücher a forthcoming cri-

tique of legal and political science in the form of a critique of Hegel’s phil-

osophy of right. While I was working on the manuscript for publication it

became clear that it was quite inopportune to mix criticism directed purely

against speculation with that of other and different matters, and that this mix-

ture was an obstacle to the development of my line of thought and to its

intelligibility. Moreover, the condensation of such rich and varied subjects

into a single work would have permitted only a very aphoristic treatment, and,

on the other hand, such an aphoristic presentation would have created the

84 | karl marx: selected writings

appearance of an arbitrary systematization. I will therefore present one after

another a critique of law, morality, politics, etc. in different independent bro-

chures and then finally in a separate work try to show the connection of the

whole and the relationship of the parts to each other and end with a criticism of

the elaboration of the material by speculative philosophy. Therefore in the

present work the connection of political economy with the state, law, morality,

civil life etc. is only dealt with in so far as political economy itself professes to

deal with these subjects.

I do not need to reassure the reader who is familiar with political economy

that my results have been obtained through a completely empirical analysis

founded on a conscientious and critical study of political economy.

It is self-evident that apart from the French and English socialists I have also

used the works of German socialists. However, the substantial and original

German works in this field can be reduced—apart from Weitling’s work—to

the articles published by Hess in the Twenty-One Sheets and to Engels’s Sketch

of a Critique of Political Economy in the Deutsch-französische Jahrbücher,

where I also outlined the first elements of the present work in a completely

general way.

Apart from these writers who have treated political economy in a critical

manner, positive criticism in general, including therefore the positive German

criticism of political economy, owes its true foundation to the discoveries of

Feuerbach. The petty jealousy of some and the real anger of others seems to

have instigated a veritable conspiracy of silence against his Philosophy of the

Future and Theses for the Reform of Philosophy in Anekdota, although they

are used tacitly.

The first positive humanist and naturalist criticism dates from Feuerbach.

The less bombastic they are, the more sure, deep, comprehensive, and lasting is

the effect of Feuerbach’s works, the only ones since Hegel’s Phenomenology

and Logic to contain a real theoretical revolution.

I considered the final chapter of the present work, ‘The Critical Analysis of

the Hegelian Dialectic and Philosophy in General’, to be absolutely necessary.

This is in contradistinction to the critical theologians of our time who have not

completed any such task. This deficiency of theirs is inevitable, for even the

critical theologian remains a theologian, and thus must either begin with def-

inite presuppositions of philosophy regarded as an authority or, if the process of

criticism and the discoveries of someone else have made him doubt his philo-

sophical presuppositions, he abandons them in a cowardly and unjustified

manner, abstracts from them, and only proclaims his slavery to them and

vexation at this slavery in a negative, unconscious, and sophistical way.

The reason for his purely negative and unconscious expression is partly that

he constantly repeats an assurance of the purity of his own criticism and partly

that he wishes to avert the eye of the observer and his own eye from the fact

the early writings 1837–1844 | 85

that criticism must necessarily come to terms with its birth-place, the Hegelian

dialectic and German philosophy in general.

However much theological criticism was at the beginning of the movement

the really progressive stage, on close examination it is in the last analysis noth-

ing but the apogee and the result old transcendent philosophy, particularly the

Hegelian, pushed to theological caricature. The justice meted out by history is

interesting in that theology, which was always the fly in the philosophical

ointment, is now called to represent in itself the negative dissolution of

philosophy, its process of decomposition. I shall demonstrate this historical

nemesis in detail on another occasion.

On the other hand, the extent to which Feuerbach’s discoveries about the

essence of philosophy still necessitate a critical treatment of the philosophical

dialectic, at least to serve as proof, will become apparent from my development

of the subject.

Alienated Labour

We started from the presuppositions of political economy. We accepted its

vocabulary and its laws. We presupposed private property, the separation of

labour, capital, and land, and likewise of wages, profit, and ground rent; also

division of labour; competition; the concept of exchange value, etc. Using the

very words of political economy we have demonstrated that the worker is

degraded to the most miserable sort of commodity; that the misery of the

worker is in inverse proportion to the power and size of his production; that the

necessary result of competition is the accumulation of capital in a few hands,

and thus a more terrible restoration of monopoly; and that finally the distinc-

tion between capitalist and landlord, and that between peasant and industrial

worker disappears and the whole of society must fall apart into the two classes

of the property owners and the propertyless workers.

Political economy starts with the fact of private property, it does not explain

it to us. It conceives of the material process that private property goes through

in reality in general abstract formulas which then have for it a value of laws. It

does not understand these laws, i.e. it does not demonstrate how they arise

from the nature of private property. Political economy does not afford us any

explanation of the reason for the separation of labour and capital, of capital

and land. When, for example, political economy defines the relationship of

wages to profit from capital, the interest of the capitalist is the ultimate court of

appeal, that is, it presupposes what should be its result. In the same way com-

petition enters the argument everywhere. It is explained by exterior circum-

stances. But political economy tells us nothing about how far these exterior,

apparently fortuitous circumstances are merely the expression of a necessary

86 | karl marx: selected writings

development. We have seen how it regards exchange itself as something for-

tuitous. The only wheels that political economy sets in motion are greed and

war among the greedy, competition.

It is just because political economy has not grasped the connections in the

movement that new contradictions have arisen in its doctrines, for example,

between that of monopoly and that of competition, freedom of craft and cor-

porations, division of landed property and large estates. For competition, free

trade, and the division of landed property were only seen as fortuitous circum-

stances created by will and force, not developed and comprehended as neces-

sary, inevitable, and natural results of monopoly, corporations, and feudal


So what we have to understand now is the essential connection of private

property, selfishness, the separation of labour, capital, and landed property, of

exchange and competition, of the value and degradation of man, of monopoly

and competition, etc.—the connection of all this alienation with the money


Let us not be like the political economist who, when he wishes to explain

something, puts himself in an imaginary original state of affairs. Such an ori-

ginal state of affairs explains nothing. He simply pushes the question back into

a grey and nebulous distance. He presupposes as a fact and an event what he

ought to be deducing, namely the necessary connection between the two things,

for example, between the division of labour and exchange. Similarly, the theo-

logian explains the origin of evil through the fall, i.e. he presupposes as an

historical fact what he should be explaining.

We start with a contemporary fact of political economy:

The worker becomes poorer the richer is his production, the more it

increases in power and scope. The worker becomes a commodity that is all the

cheaper the more commodities he creates. The depreciation of the human

world progresses in direct proportion to the increase in value of the world

of things. Labour does not only produce commodities; it produces itself and

the labourer as a commodity and that to the extent to which it produces

commodities in general.

What this fact expresses is merely this: the object that labour produces, its

product, confronts it as an alien being, as a power independent of the producer.

The product of labour is labour that has solidified itself into an object, made

itself into a thing, the objectification of labour. The realization of labour is its

objectification. In political economy this realization of labour appears as a loss

of reality for the worker, objectification as a loss of the object or slavery to it,

and appropriation as alienation, as externalization.

The realization of labour appears as a loss of reality to an extent that the

worker loses his reality by dying of starvation. Objectification appears as a loss

of the object to such an extent that the worker is robbed not only of the objects

the early writings 1837–1844 | 87

necessary for his life but also of the objects of his work. Indeed, labour itself

becomes an object he can only have in his power with the greatest of efforts and

at irregular intervals. The appropriation of the object appears as alienation to

such an extent that the more objects the worker produces, the less he can

possess and the more he falls under the domination of his product, capital.

All these consequences follow from the fact that the worker relates to the

product of his labour as to an alien object. For it is evident from this presuppos-

ition that the more the worker externalizes himself in his work, the more

powerful becomes the alien, objective world that he creates opposite himself,

the poorer he becomes himself in his inner life and the less he can call his own.

It is just the same in religion. The more man puts into God, the less he retains in

himself. The worker puts his life into the object and this means that it no longer

belongs to him but to the object. So the greater this activity, the more the

worker is without an object. What the product of his labour is, that he is not.

So the greater this product the less he is himself. The externalization of the

worker in his product implies not only that his labour becomes an object, an

exterior existence but also that it exists outside him, independent and alien, and

becomes a self-sufficient power opposite him, that the life that he has lent to the

object affronts him, hostile and alien.

Let us now deal in more detail with objectification, the production of the

worker, and the alienation, the loss of the object, his product, which is involved

in it.

The worker can create nothing without nature, the sensuous exterior world.

It is the matter in which his labour realizes itself, in which it is active, out of

which and through which it produces.

But as nature affords the means of life for labour in the sense that labour

cannot live without objects on which it exercises itself, so it affords a means of

life in the narrower sense, namely the means for the physical subsistence of the

worker himself.

Thus the more the worker appropriates the exterior world of sensuous

nature by his labour, the more he doubly deprives himself of the means of

subsistence, firstly since the exterior sensuous world increasingly ceases to be

an object belonging to his work, a means of subsistence for his labour;

secondly, since it increasingly ceases to be a means of subsistence in the direct

sense, a means for the physical subsistence of the worker.

Thus in these two ways the worker becomes a slave to his object: firstly he

receives an object of labour, that is he receives labour, and secondly, he receives

the means of subsistence. Thus it is his object that permits him to exist first as a

worker and secondly as a physical subject. The climax of this slavery is that

only as a worker can he maintain himself as a physical subject and it is only as a

physical subject that he is a worker.

(According to the laws of political economy the alienation of the worker in

88 | karl marx: selected writings

his object is expressed as follows: the more the worker produces the less he has

to consume, the more values he creates the more valueless and worthless he

becomes, the more formed the product the more deformed the worker, the

more civilized the product, the more barbaric the worker, the more powerful

the work the more powerless becomes the worker, the more cultured the work

the more philistine the worker becomes and more of a slave to nature.)

Political economy hides the alienation in the essence of labour by not con-

sidering the immediate relationship between the worker (labour) and produc-

tion. Labour produces works of wonder for the rich, but nakedness for the

worker. It produces palaces, but only hovels for the worker; it produces beauty,

but cripples the worker; it replaces labour by machines but throws a part of the

workers back to a barbaric labour and turns the other part into machines. It

produces culture, but also imbecility and cretinism for the worker.

The immediate relationship of labour to its products is the relationship of the

worker to the objects of his production. The relationship of the man of means

to the objects of production and to production itself is only a consequence of

this first relationship. And it confirms it. We shall examine this other aspect


So when we ask the question: what relationship is essential to labour, we are

asking about the relationship of the worker to production.

Up to now we have considered only one aspect of the alienation or external-

ization of the worker, his relationship to the products of his labour. But alien-

ation shows itself not only in the result, but also in the act of production, inside

productive activity itself. How would the worker be able to affront the product

of his work as an alien being if he did not alienate himself in the act of produc-

tion itself? For the product is merely the summary of the activity of production.

So if the product of labour is externalization, production itself must be active

externalization, the externalization of activity, the activity of externalization.

The alienation of the object of labour is only the résumé of the alienation, the

externalization in the activity of labour itself.

What does the externalization of labour consist of then?

Firstly, that labour is exterior to the worker, that is, it does not belong to his

essence. Therefore he does not confirm himself in his work, he denies himself,

feels miserable instead of happy, deploys no free physical and intellectual

energy, but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. Thus the worker only feels a

stranger. He is at home when he is not working and when he works he is not at

home. His labour is therefore not voluntary but compulsory, forced labour. It is

therefore not the satisfaction of a need but only a means to satisfy needs outside

itself. How alien it really is is very evident from the fact that when there is no

physical or other compulsion, labour is avoided like the plague. External

labour, labour in which man externalizes himself, is a labour of self-sacrifice

and mortification. Finally, the external character of labour for the worker

the early writings 1837–1844 | 89

shows itself in the fact that it is not his own but someone else’s, that it does not

belong to him, that he does not belong to himself in his labour but to someone

else. As in religion the human imagination’s own activity, the activity of man’s

head and his heart, reacts independently on the individual as an alien activity of

gods or devils, so the activity of the worker is not his own spontaneous activity.

It belongs to another and is the loss of himself.

The result we arrive at then is that man (the worker) only feels himself

freely active in his animal functions of eating, drinking, and procreating, at

most also in his dwelling and dress, and feels himself an animal in his human


Eating, drinking, procreating, etc. are indeed truly human functions. But in

the abstraction that separates them from the other round of human activity and

makes them into final and exclusive ends they become animal.

We have treated the act of alienation of practical human activity, labour,

from two aspects. (1) The relationship of the worker to the product of his

labour as an alien object that has power over him. This relationship is at the

same time the relationship to the sensuous exterior world and to natural

objects as to an alien and hostile world opposed to him. (2) The relationship of

labour to the act of production inside labour. This relationship is the relation-

ship of the worker to his own activity as something that is alien and does not

belong to him; it is activity that is passivity, power that is weakness, pro-

creation that is castration, the worker’s own physical and intellectual energy,

his personal life (for what is life except activity?) as an activity directed against

himself, independent of him and not belonging to him. It is self-alienation, as

above it was the alienation of the object.

We now have to draw a third characteristic of alienated labour from the two

previous ones.

Man is a species-being not only in that practically and theoretically he makes

both his own and other species into his objects, but also, and this is only

another way of putting the same thing, he relates to himself as to the present,

living species, in that he relates to himself as to a universal and therefore free


Both with man and with animals the species-life consists physically in the

fact that man (like animals) lives from inorganic nature, and the more universal

man is than animals the more universal is the area of inorganic nature from

which he lives. From the theoretical point of view, plants, animals, stones, air,

light, etc. form part of human consciousness, partly as objects of natural

science, partly as objects of art; they are his intellectual inorganic nature, his

intellectual means of subsistence, which he must first prepare before he can

enjoy and assimilate them. From the practical point of view, too, they form a

part of human life and activity. Physically man lives solely from these products

of nature, whether they appear as food, heating, clothing, habitation, etc. The

90 | karl marx: selected writings

universality of man appears in practice precisely in the universality that makes

the whole of nature into his inorganic body in that it is both (i) his immediate

means of subsistence and also (ii) the material object and tool of his vital

activity. Nature is the inorganic body of a man, that is, in so far as it is not itself

a human body. That man lives from nature means that nature is his body with

which he must maintain a constant interchange so as not to die. That man’s

physical and intellectual life depends on nature merely means that nature

depends on itself, for man is a part of nature.

While alienated labour alienates (1) nature from man, and (2) man from

himself, his own active function, his vital activity, it also alienates the species

from man; it turns his species-life into a means towards his individual life.

Firstly it alienates species-life and individual life, and secondly in its abstraction

it makes the latter into the aim of the former which is also conceived of in its

abstract and alien form. For firstly, work, vital activity, and productive life

itself appear to man only as a means to the satisfaction of a need, the need to

preserve his physical existence. But productive life is species-life. It is life pro-

ducing life. The whole character of a species, its generic character, is contained

in its manner of vital activity, and free conscious activity is the species-

characteristic of man. Life itself appears merely as a means to life.

The animal is immediately one with its vital activity. It is not distinct from it.

They are identical. Man makes his vital activity itself into an object of his will

and consciousness. He has a conscious vital activity. He is not immediately

identical to any of his characterizations. Conscious vital activity differentiates

man immediately from animal vital activity. It is this and this alone that makes

man a species-being. He is only a conscious being, that is, his own life is an

object to him, precisely because he is a species-being. This is the only reason for

his activity being free activity. Alienated labour reverses the relationship so

that, just because he is a conscious being, man makes his vital activity and

essence a mere means to his existence.

The practical creation of an objective world, the working-over of inorganic

nature, is the confirmation of man as a conscious species-being, that is, as a

being that relates to the species as to himself and to himself as to the species. It

is true that the animal, too, produces. It builds itself a nest, a dwelling, like the

bee, the beaver, the ant, etc. But it only produces what it needs immediately for

itself or its offspring; it produces one-sidedly whereas man produces uni-

versally; it produces only under the pressure of immediate physical need,

whereas man produces freely from physical need and only truly produces when

he is thus free; it produces only itself whereas man reproduces the whole of

nature. Its product belongs immediately to its physical body whereas man can

freely separate himself from his product. The animal only fashions things

according to the standards and needs of the species it belongs to, whereas man

knows how to produce according to the measure of every species and knows

the early writings 1837–1844 | 91

everywhere how to apply its inherent standard to the object; thus man also

fashions things according to the laws of beauty.

Thus it is in the working over of the objective world that man first really

affirms himself as a species-being. This production is his active species-life.

Through it nature appears as his work and his reality. The object of work is

therefore the objectification of the species-life of man; for he duplicates himself

not only intellectually, in his mind, but also actively in reality and thus can look

at his image in a world he has created. Therefore when alienated labour tears

from man the object of his production, it also tears from him his species-life,

the real objectivity of his species and turns the advantage he has over animals

into a disadvantage in that his inorganic body, nature, is torn from him.

Similarly, in that alienated labour degrades man’s own free activity to a

means, it turns the species-life of man into a means for his physical existence.

Thus consciousness, which man derives from his species, changes itself

through alienation so that species-life becomes a means for him.

Therefore alienated labour:

(3) makes the species-being of man, both nature and the intellectual faculties

of his species, into a being that is alien to him, into a means for his individual

existence. It alienates from man his own body, nature exterior to him, and his

intellectual being, his human essence.

(4) An immediate consequence of man’s alienation from the product of his

work, his vital activity and his species-being, is the alienation of man from man.

When man is opposed to himself, it is another man that is opposed to him.

What is valid for the relationship of a man to his work, of the product of his

work and himself, is also valid for the relationship of man to other men and of

their labour and the objects of their labour.

In general, the statement that man is alienated from his species-being, means

that one man is alienated from another as each of them is alienated from the

human essence.

The alienation of man and in general of every relationship in which man

stands to himself is first realized and expressed in the relationship with which

man stands to other men.

Thus in the situation of alienated labour each man measures his relationship

to other men by the relationship in which he finds himself placed as a worker.

We began with a fact of political economy, the alienation of the worker and

his production. We have expressed this fact in conceptual terms: alienated,

externalized labour. We have analysed this concept and thus analysed a purely

economic fact.

Let us now see further how the concept of alienated, externalized labour

must express and represent itself in reality.

If the product of work is alien to me, opposes me as an alien power, whom

does it belong to then?

92 | karl marx: selected writings

If my own activity does not belong to me and is an alien, forced activity to

whom does it belong then?

To another being than myself.

Who is this being?

The gods? Of course in the beginning of history the chief production, as for

example, the building of temples etc. in Egypt, India, and Mexico was both in

the service of the gods and also belonged to them. But the gods alone were

never the masters of the work. And nature just as little. And what a paradox it

would be if, the more man mastered nature through his work and the more the

miracles of the gods were rendered superfluous by the miracles of industry, the

more man had to give up his pleasure in producing and the enjoyment in his

product for the sake of these powers.

The alien being to whom the labour and the product of the labour belongs,

whom the labour serves and who enjoys its product, can only be man himself. If

the product of labour does not belong to the worker but stands over against

him as an alien power, this is only possible in that it belongs to another man

apart from the worker.

If his activity torments him it must be a joy and a pleasure to someone else.

This alien power above man can be neither the gods nor nature, only man


Consider further the above sentence that the relationship of man to himself

first becomes objective and real to him through his relationship to other men.

So if he relates to the product of his labour, his objectified labour, as to an

object that is alien, hostile, powerful, and independent of him, this relationship

implies that another man is the alien, hostile, powerful, and independent mas-

ter of this object. If he relates to his own activity as to something unfree, it is a

relationship to an activity that is under the domination, oppression, and yoke

of another man.

Every self-alienation of man from himself and nature appears in the relation-

ship in which he places himself and nature to other men distinct from himself.

Therefore religious self-alienation necessarily appears in the relationship of

layman to priest, or, because here we are dealing with a spiritual world, to a

mediator, etc. In the practical, real world, the self-alienation can only appear

through the practical, real relationship to other men. The means through which

alienation makes progress are themselves practical. Through alienated labour,

then, man creates not only his relationship to the object and act of production

as to alien and hostile men; he creates too the relationship in which other men

stand to his production and his product and the relationship in which he stands

to these other men. Just as he turns his production into his own loss of reality

and punishment and his own product into a loss, a product that does not

belong to him, so he creates the domination of the man who does not produce

over the production and the product. As he alienates his activity from himself,

the early writings 1837–1844 | 93

so he hands over to an alien person an activity that does not belong to


Up till now we have considered the relationship only from the side of the

worker and we will later consider it from the side of the non-worker.

Thus through alienated, externalized labour the worker creates the relation-

ship to this labour of a man who is alien to it and remains exterior to it. The

relationship of the worker to his labour creates the relationship to it of the

capitalist, or whatever else one wishes to call the master of the labour. Private

property is thus the product, result, and necessary consequence of externalized

labour, of the exterior relationship of the worker to nature and to himself.

Thus private property is the result of the analysis of the concept of external-

ized labour, i.e. externalized man, alienated work, alienated life, alienated man.

We have, of course, obtained the concept of externalized labour (external-

ized life) from political economy as the result of the movement of private

property. But it is evident from the analysis of this concept that, although

private property appears to be the ground and reason for externalized labour, it

is rather a consequence of it, just as the gods are originally not the cause but the

effect of the aberration of the human mind, although later this relationship

reverses itself.

It is only in the final culmination of the development of private property that

these hidden characteristics come once more to the fore, in that firstly it is the

product of externalized labour and secondly it is the means through which

labour externalizes itself, the realization of this externalization.

This development sheds light at the same time on several previously

unresolved contradictions.

1. Political economy starts from labour as the veritable soul of production,

and yet it attributes nothing to labour and everything to private property.

Proudhon has drawn a conclusion from this contradiction that is favourable to

labour and against private property. But we can see that this apparent contra-

diction is the contradiction of alienated labour with itself and that political

economy has only expressed the laws of alienated labour.

We can therefore also see that wages and private property are identical: for

wages, in which the product, the object of the labour, remunerates the labour

itself, are just a necessary consequence of the alienation of labour. In the wage

system the labour does not appear as the final aim but only as the servant of the

wages. We will develop this later and for the moment only draw a few


An enforced raising of wages (quite apart from other difficulties, apart from

the fact that, being an anomaly, it could only be maintained by force) would

only mean a better payment of slaves and would not give this human meaning

and worth either to the worker or to his labour.

Indeed, even the equality of wages that Proudhon demands only changes the

94 | karl marx: selected writings

relationship of the contemporary worker to his labour into that of all men to

labour. Society is then conceived of as an abstract capitalist.

Wages are an immediate consequence of alienated labour and alienated

labour is the immediate cause of private property. Thus the disappearance of

one entails also the disappearance of the other.

2. It is a further consequence of the relationship of alienated labour to pri-

vate property that the emancipation of society from private property, etc., from

slavery, is expressed in its political form by the emancipation of the workers.

This is not because only their emancipation is at stake but because general

human emancipation is contained in their emancipation. It is contained within

it because the whole of human slavery is involved in the relationship of the

worker to his product and all slave relationships are only modifications and

consequences of this relationship.

Just as we have discovered the concept of private property through an analy-

sis of the concept of alienated, externalized labour, so all categories of political

economy can be deduced with the help of these two factors. We shall recognize

in each category of market, competition, capital, money, only a particular and

developed expression of these first two fundamental elements.

However, before we consider this structure let us try to solve two problems:

1. To determine the general essence of private property as it appears as a

result of alienated labour in its relationship to truly human and social property.

2. We have taken the alienation and externalization of labour as a fact and

analysed this fact. We now ask, how does man come to externalize, to alienate

his labour? How is this alienation grounded in human development? We have

already obtained much material for the solution of this problem, in that we

have turned the question of the origin of private property into the question of

the relationship of externalized labour to the development of human history.

For when we speak of private property we think we are dealing with something

that is exterior to man. When we speak of labour, then we are dealing directly

with man. This new formulation of the problem already implies its solution.

To take point I, the general nature of private property and its relationship to

truly human property.

Externalized labour has been broken down into two component parts that

determine each other or are only different expressions of one and the same

relationship. Appropriation appears as alienation, as externalization, and

externalization as appropriation, and alienation as true enfranchisement. We

have dealt with one aspect, alienated labour as regards the worker himself, that

is, the relationship of externalized labour to itself. As a product and necessary

result of this relationship we have discovered the property relationship of the

non-worker to the worker and his labour.

As the material and summary expression of alienated labour, private

property embraces both relationships, both that of the worker to his labour, the

the early writings 1837–1844 | 95

product of his labour and the non-worker, and that of the non-worker to the

worker and the product of his labour.

We have already seen that for the worker who appropriates nature through

his work, this appropriation appears as alienation, his own activity as activity

for and of someone else, his vitality as sacrifice of his life, production of objects

as their loss to an alien power, an alien man: let us now consider the relation-

ship that this man, who is alien to labour and the worker, has to the worker, to

labour and its object.

The first remark to make is that everything that appears in the case of the

worker to be an activity of externalization, of alienation, appears in the case of

the non-worker to be a state of externalization, of alienation.

Secondly, the real, practical behaviour of the worker in production and

towards his product (as a state of mind) appears in the case of the non-worker

opposed to him as theoretical behaviour. Thirdly, the non-worker does every-

thing against the worker that the worker does against himself but he does not

do against himself what he does against the worker.

Let us consider these three relationships in more detail . . . [The manuscript

breaks off unfinished here.]

Private Property and Communism

The overcoming of self-alienation follows the same course as self-alienation

itself. At first, private property is considered only from its objective aspect, but

still with labour as its essence. The form of its existence is therefore capital, that

is to be abolished ‘as such’ (Proudhon). Or else the source of the harmfulness of

private property, its alienation from human existence, is thought of as consist-

ing in the particular type of labour, labour which is levelled down, fragmented,

and therefore unfree. This is the view of Fourier, who like the physiocrats also

considered agriculture as labour par excellence. Saint-Simon on the other hand

declares industrial labour to be the essential type, and demands as well

exclusive rule by industrialists and the improvement of the condition of the

workers. Finally, communism is the positive expression of the overcoming

of private property, appearing first of all as generalized private property. In

making this relationship universal communism is:

1. In its original form only a generalization and completion of private

property. As such it appears in a dual form: firstly, it is faced with such a great

domination of material property that it wishes to destroy everything that

cannot be possessed by everybody as private property; it wishes to abstract

forcibly from talent, etc. It considers immediate physical ownership as the sole

aim of life and being. The category of worker is not abolished but extended to

all men. The relationship of the community to the world of things remains that


Karl Marx

One or Many?


Karl Marx’s influence has been profound. He wrote philosophical and histor- ical texts, served as a radical activist, composed a concentrated critique of capital, and gave his name to a global political movement. Marx’s ideas have inspired countless theorists, who have adopted, revised, and reacted against them in responding to the modern world. Hence Marxists and post-Marxists, ideological sympathizers, and theoretical opponents offer distinctive and multiple interpretations of Marx’s social and political thought. The possibil- ities of interpretation are heightened by the range of Marx’s publications. He composed dense philosophical works, which are enveloped in a highly wrought Hegelian vocabulary, intensive scholarly studies of the operations of capitalism, which depend upon his expertise in philosophy, economics, and history, and many occasional pieces, including journal writings, newspaper articles, and manifestos. Marx scholarship and schemes of interpretation also reflect the impact of subsequent theoretical and social developments. Marx has been subject to continual re-imagining in the light of events and issues of which he was necessarily ignorant.

A shorthand formula to indicate the intellectual context of Marx’s ideas is the celebrated notion of Lenin’s that he combines German philosophy with English (Scottish) economics and French politics. His reading of German philosophy, which is reflected in his early critique of Hegel, bestows a holistic yet critical conceptual framework to his theoretical style, by which rival positions are critiqued and assimilated rather than merely rejected.1 His detailed study of classical political economists, such as Smith and Ricardo,

1 See D. McLellan, The Young Hegelians and Karl Marx (London and New York, Macmillan, 1969) and M. McIvor, ‘The Young Marx and German Idealism: Revisiting the Doctoral Thesis’, Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 46, no. 3, July 2008, pp. 315–419.

reflects his close analysis and critique of the economic system. French political thought and practice, which he experienced at first hand during his stay in Paris in 1844, inspires the revolutionary aspect of his thinking. Marx was also energized by his direct experience of social injustice when writing articles on the poverty of wine-growers in the Moselle valley for the Rheinische Zeitung.2

Marx’s combination of these elements shapes a perspective that separates him from related Young Hegelian theorists, who reacted to Hegel by accentuating the critical and reformist aspects of his thought in contrast to Old or Right Hegelians, who imagined the end of history had been achieved. Rival Young Hegelian theorists presented dense and abstract theories of history, which highlight critical readings of the present, which are inflected by conceptions of humanism, egoism, or perpetual criticism. Without ditching Hegel’s holistic conceptualizing by which he linked civil society and the state, the past and the present, the economy, politics, and ideology, Marx is distinguished from other Young Hegelians by his concentrated analyses of social and economic prac- tices, and by his radical contextualization of political and philosophical ideas. Marx was born in Trier in the Prussian Rhineland in May 1818, studying

law at Bonn University before moving to Berlin, where he switched to phil- osophy and came under the sway of Hegelianism. He completed a thesis on the philosophies of Democritus and Epicurus, under the Young Hegelian theorist, Bruno Bauer, in which he observes affinities between social and political circumstances of post-Aristotelian Greek philosophy and the current circumstances pertaining to the development of post-Hegelian philosophy. It exhibits a readiness to situate ideas in society and to engage in comparative history.3 Marx’s ‘Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State’ (1843) criticizes Hegel’s political ideas by maintaining how Hegel’s abstraction of reason from the empirical world misconstrues the role of reason and the determinative features of social and economic life.4 In the same year, Marx published ‘On the Jewish Question’, which relates legal and political discrimination against Jews to the wider social and economic structure that produces notions of Jewishness. It is a text which remains of interest in showing how ethnic prejudice is rooted in socio-economic conditions.5 During his exile in Paris in 1844, Marx drafted the ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’, in which he framed a radical critique of modern society that is focused upon the notion of humanity’s alienation under capitalism. Marx’s recourse to the language of alienation

2 See F. Mehring Karl Marx, The Story of his Life (London and New York, Routledge, 2003). 3 See G. Browning, ‘Marx’s Doctoral Dissertation: The Development of a Hegelian Thesis’, in

T. Burns and I. Fraser (eds), The Hegel–Marx Connection (Basingstoke and New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), pp. 131–45.

4 K. Marx, ‘Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State (1843)’, in K. Marx, Early Writings trans. R. Livingstone and G. Benton (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1975), pp. 57–198.

5 K. Marx, ‘On the Jewish Question’, in K. Marx, Early Writings trans. R. Livingstone and G. Benton (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1975), pp. 211–43.

Karl Marx: One or Many? 275

draws upon Hegel’s critique of estranged forms of consciousness and owes much to Feuerbach’s critique of religion as an alienated expression of human- ity’s identity.6 Shortly after completing the manuscript, Marx began a friendship with Friedrich Engels, the revolutionary socialist son of a German industrialist, which continued throughout his life. They shared ideas and co-authored several significant volumes, including The Communist Manifesto (1848).7

From the mid-1840s Marx develops a materialist theory of history, by which he assigns a primary determining to the productive process, and sets out specific and more general analyses of class. Marx breaks with fellow Young Hegelians and sets out more determinately how social and political practices and ideas are to be seen as changing historical forms in the manuscripts that form The German Ideology, which he composed with Engels in 1845–46.8 In these essays, The Communist Manifesto (1848) and the ‘Preface to a Contri- bution to a Critique of Political Economy’ (1859) Marx, in collaboration with Engels, set out the principles of a general theory of history, alternative interpretations of which reflect their ambiguous formulations.9 Class conflict is central to their understanding of historical development, and in The Com- munist Manifesto and in occasional texts responding to events, such as ‘The Class Struggles in France: 1848–1850’ and ‘The Civil War in France’, political organization and change are explained by class interest and alignments.10

Alongside major theoretical works, Marx contributed articles in newspapers on political events, and he participated in the activities of revolutionary political parties, which were advancing the interests of the proletariat. Along with Engels, he joined The Communist League in 1847 and later in 1864 he helped to found the InternationalWorkingMan’s Association, which was known subsequently as The First International. In 1867 he published the first volume of Capital, which consists in his most assiduously researched and elaborated critique of capitalism that incorporates a rigorous analysis of its form of production and affiliated economic exploitation. Throughout his life and amidst his several activities Marx’s theoretical energy was focused upon producing a comprehensive critique of capital and capitalism. Capital and the Grundrisse, a rough draft

6 See K. Marx, ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’, in K. Marx, Early Writings trans. R. Livingstone and G. Benton, pp. 57–198.

7 K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto trans. S. Moore, in The Revolutions of 1848 ed. D. Fernbach (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1973).

8 See the comments in chapter 2 on the status of the manuscripts of The German Ideology. See also T. Carver and D. Blank, Marx’s‘German Ideology’ Manuscripts—Presentation and Analysis of the ‘Feuerbach Chapter’ (Basingstoke and New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

9 See K. Marx and F. Engels, The German Ideology trans. S. Ryazanskaya (Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1976); K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto, pp. 67–87; and K. Marx and F. Engels, ‘Preface’ to a Contribution to A Critique of Political Economy, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works (Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1970).

10 K. Marx, ‘The Class Struggles in France: 1848–1850’ trans. P. Jackson, in K. Marx, Surveys From Exile (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1973), pp. 35–145.

276 A History of Modern Political Thought

of Capital, show the care that he devoted to the analysis of the operations of capital.11 Just as in his early critical philosophical critique of capitalism, in his late economic writings Marx establishes a systematic and critical reading of capital by examining the assumptions of political economists.


Marx is a radical theorist, who provides a comprehensive critique of capitalism and its emerging liberal forms of politics. His radicalism is exemplified in his early writings. In his ‘Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State’Marx counter- poses a radical form of democracy to Hegel’s constitutional monarchy. True democracy, for Marx, differs markedly from preceding and alternative polit- ical regimes in that it stands for the self-rule of civil society and so aims to abolish the division of society into economic and political spheres.12 In a companion article, ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right; Introduction’, Marx critiques ideological mystification of the realities of economic and social oppression, observing notably, ‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feeling of a heartless world and the soul of soulless circumstances. It is the opium of the people.’13 The project of achieving revolutionary change, whereby society and social interests are to be brought under democratic popular control is assigned to the proletariat. Marx identi- fies the revolutionary potential of the proletariat, which resides in its exploit- ation under prevailing social conditions and its interest in securing the general interest over particular and divisive ones. He identifies the force for emanci- pation in contemporary Germany to reside ‘in the formation of a class with radical chains, a class that is the dissolution of all social groups, of a sphere that has a universal character because of its universal sufferings, and lays claim to no particular right, because it is the object of no particular injustice but of injustice in general.’14 Throughout his career, Marx demands more than palliative reform of capitalism and takes the proletariat to represent the engine of radical, revolutionary change. He maintains consistently that the state and traditional forms of politics are to be overturned by the proletariat, so that all aspects of society will be directed by democratic organization.

11 K. Marx, Capital, vol. 1 trans. S. Moore and E. Aveling, ed. F. Engels (Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1969); K. Marx, Grundrisse trans. M. Nicholas (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1974).

12 K. Marx, ‘Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State’ (1843), p. 87. 13 K. Marx, ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction.

trans. G. Benton, in K. Marx, Early Writings, p. 244. 14 Ibid., p. 256.

Karl Marx: One or Many? 277

In the ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’ of 1844 Marx develops a systematic and radical critique of capitalism, which provides a foundation for his revolutionary condemnation of class society. Marx diagnoses society to be beset by contradictions, which demand its revolutionary overthrow. Whereas many theories of modernity criticize specific aspects of society, objecting to its inequalities or its materialism, Marx is both more radical and more systematic in his critique. Capital is viewed as structuring activities without regard to social actors. Those responsible for producing wealth are not only denied appropriate reward but more fundamentally are denied control of the pro- cesses of production. Capitalism is not to be ameliorated, because its entire structure misaligns producers with their productive activities and demands wholesale change. Revolutionary change is necessitated by the force of radical social misalignment under capital. The ‘Economic and Philosophical Manu- scripts’ is powerful precisely because of its systematic critique of capital and the force of the critique emanates from a holistic analysis of the inter- connected ways in which the creative powers of humanity are systemically frustrated by the conditions under which production takes place.

In this early work the starting points for critique are the assumptions of political economists on the nature of capital and capitalism. Marx works with the political economists’ sense of the generative role that is played by labour in establishing value, but critiques an historic system of production that is organized on behalf of private property. Marx’s critique of capital highlights how its processes of production constitute conditions of alienation for labour. While production depends on labour, workers are denied control over what happens in production and to the products of their labour. Marx remarks, ‘Political economy starts out from labour as the real soul of production, and yet gives nothing to labour and everything to private property. Proudhon has dealt with this contradiction by deciding for l