As is usually the case with ideals which exclude one-half of what is desirable, the present standard of approbation produces only an inferior imitation of the other half. Instead of great energies guided by vigorous reason, and strong feelings strongly controlled by a conscientious will, its result is weak feelings and weak energies, which therefore can be kept in outward conformity to rule without any strength either of will or of reason. Already energetic characters on any large scale are becoming merely traditional. There is now scarcely any outlet for energy in this country except business. The energy expended in may still be regarded as considerable. What little is left from that employment, is expended on some hobby; which may be a useful, even a philanthropic hobby, but is always some one thing, and generally a thing of small dimensions. The greatness of England is now all collective: individually small, we only appear capable of anything great by our habit of combining; and with this our moral and religious philanthropists are perfectly contented. But it was men of another stamp than this that made England what it has been; and men of another stamp will be needed to prevent its decline.
The first of these themes, which he had earlier explored in articles, emphasizes his distinction between true and false democracy. True democracy represents all, and not merely the majority. In it the different interests, opinions, and grades of intellect are heard, and by weight of character and strength of argument influence the rest. This democracy is achieved by reforming the electoral system according to the proposals of Thomas Hare, by ensuring that everyone, male and female alike, has a voice (although not an equal voice) in the voting process, and by fostering education from infancy through life. Mill believes that the expansion of democratic rights in itself exerts a pervasive educational influence. He accepts Tocqueville’s belief that American democracy fostered both a robust patriotism and an active intelligence. “No such wide diffusion of the ideas, tastes, and sentiments of educated minds,” he writes, “has ever been seen elsewhere, or even conceived as attainable” (468). He strongly holds this view, although in earlier essays on the United States he also acknowledged in the American electorate a narrow and intolerant mentality. Although Mill at times fluctuates between trust and distrust of democracy, he always believes in its potentiality to improve men. Active citizenship can usually nourish the qualities that good citizenship demands, draw out human resources otherwise dormant, and advance the lot of mankind.
American Abolitionism and Religion, Divining America, …
Although most of Mill’s remarks are hardly less relevant today than when he wrote, he was clearly handicapped by the paucity of existing federations from which to draw illustrations, the only two of importance being the United States and Switzerland. This fact partly explains his conclusion that a federal government had inadequate authority to conduct effectively any war except one in self-defence. In the American case he had some evidence to support this opinion, but scarcely sufficient on which to rest a firm and enduring generalisation. Hence, although his principal remarks on federalism reflect shrewd intuitions, he lacked adequate data for the full play of his characteristically empirical thinking. He made no attempt to probe the history of federal ideas in such thinkers as Jean Bodin and the German jurists. His chief inspiration and guidance came directly from the American Federalist Papers and the wealth of American practical experience. He looked to concrete political experiments as a guide. Writing on the eve of the Civil War he thought that American federalism had already achieved something valuable in limiting the tyranny of majorities, protecting territorial groups, and creating a judicial arbiter supreme over all the governments, both state and federal, and able to declare invalid any law made by them in violation of the constitution.