John Stuart Mill (1858): A President in Council the Best Government for India, and Other Wrtings on India
John Stuart Mill (1858): A President in Council the Best Government for India: THERE ARE TWO political functions...
devolving on the British nation. It has to provide for its own government; and for the government of the much more extensive and populous countries which are dependent on it.
The majority however of its dependencies it has, wisely and necessarily, divested itself of the duty of governing; having found, after long trial, that it was unable to govern them satisfactorily. The only great outlying possession of the British Crown which is not now left substantially to its own government, is India.
The question is, in what manner Great Britain can best provide for the government, not of three or four millions of English colonists, but of 150 millions of Asiatics, who cannot be trusted to govern themselves. This is evidently a far more difficult task, than the one which the British nation acknowledges itself to have failed in. It is not likely that the very plan which has failed everywhere else, should be perfectly sufficient and satisfactory in the case in which the difficulties are the greatest. One would say, even before the subject is considered, that if success can be attained in such a case, it must be by some arrangement much more carefully and nicely adapted to the purpose.
Consider in what way the government of England itself is conducted. The English people may be supposed to know something of their own affairs. It may also be reasonably presumed that they feel an interest in them. They have every possible means of making their necessities, their grievances, and their opinions, known. When they have any wish in regard to their own Government, they usually demonstrate the wish in a thousand channels, by the press, petitions, and public meetings, before the Government takes the first step on the subject. And if the Government adopts any measure which the people, or even any fraction of the people, consider injurious to their interest, the first announcement causes it to be at once questioned in the press and in the House of Commons, and if general opinion is unfavourable there is time for the measure to be stopped before it has come into practical effect. These securities, as we know and lament, do not always prevent bad measures; but they do, for the most part, suffice to prevent inconsiderate ones. No Government feels it safe, in the home affairs of England, to take any step likely to lead to serious consequences, without previous weighing and deliberation. The checks do not operate so quickly in foreign affairs, and therefore it is generally felt that foreign, much more than home affairs, are conducted according to the individual and private preferences of the Minister, and much less according to either the interests or the wishes of the nation.
But in the government of India by a Parliamentary Minister, none of the checks exist at all. The public are never likely to hear of what is meditated, until actually done. When done, they seldom hear of it until the mischief, if there be mischief, is in part accomplished, and its reversal may be attended with greater evils than that of allowing it to subsist. Even when they do hear of it, they scarcely ever obtain, until long afterwards, the materials for judging whether the measure was right or wrong. There would be all these difficulties in controlling the Minister, even if the public arid Parliament were deeply interested and intent on Indian affairs. But, on the contrary, all except a few are in general entirely without interest in the subject, because they have no knowledge of it, and because their time and attention are taken up by things nearer at hand. Among the few who do attend to the subject, neither the public nor Parliament have the means of distinguishing those who, from character and knowledge, have the best claim to be followed as guides. A Minister, probably very little acquainted with the questions which he is to decide, has nothing to compel him either to study them and deliberate on them in his own mind, or to attend to the suggestions of those who have already studied them, except a nominal responsibility to a body who have no means of accurate knowledge, and who are in general too indifferent to the subject to apply to it even such knowledge as they might obtain.
It is in circumstances like these that Parliament is asked to give over India to the sole government of a Minister, usually altogether ignorant of it when first appointed, and changed every two or three years. And it is gravely said that we need not fear to confide absolute power to absolute ignorance, in reliance that if the natural effects follow, Parliament will punish the Minister for his misconduct.
As it cannot be desired that the policy of the Indian Government should be a policy of ignorance, or that it should be changed every time a Minister is promoted or turned out; and as there is no public or Parliament to supply knowledge of Indian affairs, as knowledge of English affairs is in some measure supplied, the knowledge must be furnished to the Minister in his own office. There must be in the department itself a body which knows India, and is the guardian and conservator of the principles of administration which experience has approved, or which knowledge sanctions.
Those who object to a Council constituted for the purpose, must intend that the clerks in the office should be this body. But the proposal to confide the habitual Government of India to persons whom the public generally do not know even by name, and never know whether their advice is taken or not, is rather remarkable as coming from the zealots for responsibility. The real friends of responsibility are those who would have this function exercised by a Council, who can be made responsible.
But a Council which the Minister need not consult, will be little better, if not worse, than leaving him with no other competent advisers than the clerks in his office. He cannot shelter his own responsibility behind the clerks. They cannot serve him as a screen. The Council may. And if it is left to him to determine their functions, that is the chief use to which he will probably apply them. In no one of the three plans brought before the House of Commons by its accustomed leaders, is there any inducement given to the Minister for consulting the Council, if he has reason to expect that they will differ from him in opinion. Lord Ellenborough has very truly and laudably said, that the Minister will want their support, to protect India from the mistakes of Parliament and of English opinion. But India needs protection also against the Minister's own mistakes. Parliament, however misled, can only exert its power slowly, and after discussion: the Minister, in half an hour, may issue a despatch, the evil consequences of which years may not suffice to cure. If the Council is fit to support the Minister when he is right, it will be fit to check him when wrong. And its support is not likely to carry any weight when it agrees with him, if it is not allowed to differ, or is not asked its opinion unless willing to agree.
To make the Council a real security for good government, all business which requires deliberation, or admits of difference of opinion, ought to be transacted by the Minister in Council. It is on this principle that the British Government in India itself is constructed, and it works most effectively. The Governor-General, or the Governor of a Presidency, performs his manifold duties in conjunction with Councillors, not of his own nomination. They are appointed, theoretically, by the same authority which appoints himself; but practically by a different authority, the Governor-General or Governor being in fact selected by the Queen's Minister, the Members of Council by the Court of Directors. As an ordinary rule, all questions are decided in Council according to the opinion of the majority; but their opinion is not binding on the head of the government. When he pleases, he can, recording his reasons, set aside the opinion of the Council, and act on his own sole responsibility; but he must go through a particular form for that purpose, which gives a deliberate, and in some degree a solemn, character to the act. On this system the members of Council feel themselves a real and substantial element in the government; their best thoughts are given to every question which presents itself, their opinion is recorded and has its just weight, while they have no power of authoritatively opposing themselves to the deliberate opinions and purposes of the head of the government.
The same principle, applied to the home administration, would give probably the best organ of Government for India, which circumstances admit of. The authority should be that of the President, but of the President in Council. The deliberation should be as much that of the whole body, as if the body and not the head had the power of deciding in the last resort. The general practice in that case would probably be, to decide, (as at Calcutta) according to the sense of the majority, the President's vote only counting for one. But he would have the power, after he had consulted his Council, on declaring his intention in a prescribed form, and recording his reasons, to act on his own separate opinion in opposition to theirs. According to this plan, the ordinary conduct of business falls by the natural working of things, without any special provision for the purpose, into the hands of those who know most of the subject; and the minds which really determine what is done, are associated, as they ought to be, in the responsibility. Yet the Minister's responsibility, even for the ordinary business, would never be felt to be impaired, no more than the responsibility of Lord Wellesley or Lord Dalhousie was impaired by the advisers with whom they were associated; while the Minister would be subjected to an additional and special responsibility, when he chose to set aside his Council. And this is surely right. If there be any case whatever in which deliberation, and a sense of responsibility, are peculiarly necessary, it is when one man, often not qualified by special training, assumes to be a better judge of a subject, than a body of men expressly selected for their knowledge of it, and their competency to advise on it.
John Stuart Mill (): Representative Government: "As a general rule, every executive function, whether superior or subordinate...
...should be the appointed duty of some given individual. It should be apparent to all the world who did every thing, and through whose default any thing was left undone. Responsibility is null when nobody knows who is responsible; nor, even when real, can it be divided without being weakened. To maintain it at its highest, there must be one person who receives the whole praise of what is well done, the whole blame of what is ill. There are, however, two modes of sharing responsibility; by one it is only enfeebled, by the other absolutely destroyed. It is enfeebled when the concurrence of more than one functionary is required to the same act. Each one among them has still a real responsibility; if a wrong has been done, none of them can say he did not do it; he is as much a participant as an accomplice is in an offense: if there has been legal criminality, they may all be punished legally, and their punishment needs not be less severe than if there had been only one person concerned. But it is not so with the penalties any more than with the rewards of opinion; these are always diminished by being shared. Where there has been no definite legal offense, no corruption or malversation, only an error or an imprudence, or what may pass for such, every participator has an excuse to himself and to the world in the fact that other persons are jointly involved with him. There is hardly any thing, even to pecuniary dishonesty, for which men will not feel themselves almost absolved, if those whose duty it was to resist and remonstrate have failed to do it, still more if they have given a formal assent.
In this case, however, though responsibility is weakened, there still is responsibility: every one of those implicated has in his individual capacity assented to, and joined in the act. Things are much worse when the act itself is only that of a majority—a board deliberating with closed doors, nobody knowing, or, except in some extreme case, being ever likely to know, whether an individual member voted for the act or against it. Responsibility in this case is a mere name. "Boards," it is happily said by Bentham, "are screens." What "the Board" does is the act of nobody, and nobody can be made to answer for it. The Board suffers, even in reputation, only in its collective character; and no individual member feels this further than his disposition leads him to identify his own estimation with that of the body—a feeling often very strong when the body is a permanent one, and he is wedded to it for better for worse; but the fluctuations of a modern official career give no time for the formation of such an esprit de corps, which, if it exists at all, exists only in the obscure ranks of the permanent subordinates. Boards, therefore, are not a fit instrument for executive business, and are only admissible in it when, for other reasons, to give full discretionary power to a single minister would be worse.
On the other hand, it is also a maxim of experience that in the multitude of councillors there is wisdom, and that a man seldom judges right, even in his own concerns, still less in those of the public, when he makes habitual use of no knowledge but his own, or that of some single adviser. There is no necessary incompatibility between this principle and the other. It is easy to give the effective power and the full responsibility to one, providing him when necessary with advisers, each of whom is responsible only for the opinion he gives.
In general, the head of a department of the executive government is a mere politician. He may be a good politician, and a man of merit; and, unless this is usually the case, the government is bad. But his general capacity, and the knowledge he ought to possess of the general interests of the country, will not, unless by occasional accident, be accompanied by adequate, and what may be called professional knowledge of the department over which he is called to preside. Professional advisers must therefore be provided for him. Wherever mere experience and attainments are sufficient—wherever the qualities required in a professional adviser may possibly be united in a single well-selected individual (as in the case, for example, of a law officer), one such person for general purposes, and a staff of clerks to supply knowledge of details, meet the demands of the case. But, more frequently, it is not sufficient that the minister should consult some one competent person, and, when himself not conversant with the subject, act implicitly on that person's advice. It is often necessary that he should, not only occasionally, but habitually, listen to a variety of opinions, and inform his judgment by the discussions among a body of advisers. This, for example, is emphatically necessary in military and naval affairs. The military and naval ministers, therefore, and probably several others, should be provided with a Council, composed, at least in those two departments, of able and experienced professional men. As a means of obtaining the best men for the purpose under every change of administration, they ought to be permanent; by which I mean that they ought not, like the Lords of the Admiralty, to be expected to resign with the ministry by whom they were appointed; but it is a good rule that all who hold high appointments to which they have risen by selection, and not by the ordinary course of promotion, should retain their office only for a fixed term, unless reappointed, as is now the rule with staff appointments in the British army. This rule renders appointments somewhat less likely to be jobbed, not being a provision for life, and the same time affords a means, without affront to any one, of getting rid of those who are least worth keeping, and bringing in highly qualified persons of younger standing, for whom there might never be room if death vacancies, or voluntary resignations were waited for.
The councils should be consultative merely, in this sense, that the ultimate decision should rest undividedly with the minister himself; but neither ought they to be looked upon, or to look upon themselves as ciphers, or as capable of being reduced to such at his pleasure. The advisers attached to a powerful and perhaps self-willed man ought to be placed under conditions which make it impossible for them, without discredit, not to express an opinion, and impossible for him not to listen to and consider their recommendations, whether he adopts them or not. The relation which ought to exist between a chief and this description of advisers is very accurately hit by the constitution of the Council of the Governor General and those of the different Presidencies in India. These councils are composed of persons who have professional knowledge of Indian affairs, which the governor general and governors usually lack, and which it would not be desirable to require of them. As a rule, every member of council is expected to give an opinion, which is of course very often a simple acquiescence; but if there is a difference of sentiment, it is at the option of every member, and is the invariable practice, to record the reasons of his opinion, the governor general, or governor, doing the same. In ordinary cases the decision is according to the sense of the majority; the council, therefore, has a substantial part in the government; but if the governor general, or governor, thinks fit, he may set aside even their unanimous opinion, recording his reasons. The result is, that the chief is individually and effectively responsible for every act of the government. The members of council have only the responsibility of advisers; but it is always known, from documents capable of being produced, and which, if called for by Parliament or public opinion always are produced, what each has advised, and what reasons he gave for his advice; while, from their dignified position, and ostensible participation in all acts of government, they have nearly as strong motives to apply themselves to the public business, and to form and express a well-considered opinion on every part of it, as if the whole responsibility rested with themselves.
This mode of conducting the highest class of administrative business is one of the most successful instances of the adaptation of means to ends which political history, not hitherto very prolific in works of skill and contrivance, has yet to show. It is one of the acquisitions with which the art of politics has been enriched by the experience of the East India Company's rule; and, like most of the other wise contrivances by which India has been preserved to this country, and an amount of good government produced which is truly wonderful considering the circumstances and the materials, it is probably destined to perish in the general holocaust which the traditions of Indian government seem fated to undergo since they have been placed at the mercy of public ignorance and the presumptuous vanity of political men. Already an outcry is raised for abolishing the councils as a superfluous and expensive clog on the wheels of government; while the clamor has long been urgent, and is daily obtaining more countenance in the highest quarters, for the abrogation of the professional civil service, which breeds the men that compose the councils, and the existence of which is the sole guaranty for their being of any value.
A most important principle of good government in a popular constitution is that no executive functionaries should be appointed by popular election, neither by the votes of the people themselves, nor by those of their representatives. The entire business of government is skilled employment; the qualifications for the discharge of it are of that special and professional kind which can not be properly judged of except by persons who have themselves some share of those qualifications, or some practical experience of them. The business of finding the fittest persons to fill public employments—not merely selecting the best who offer, but looking out for the absolutely best, and taking note of all fit persons who are met with, that they may be found when wanted—is very laborious, and requires a delicate as well as highly conscientious discernment; and as there is no public duty which is in general so badly performed, so there is none for which it is of greater importance to enforce the utmost practicable amount of personal responsibility, by imposing it as a special obligation on high functionaries in the several departments. All subordinate public officers who are not appointed by some mode of public competition should be selected on the direct responsibility of the minister under whom they serve. The ministers, all but the chief, will naturally be selected by the chief; and the chief himself, though really designated by Parliament, should be, in a regal government, officially appointed by the crown. The functionary who appoints should be the sole person empowered to remove any subordinate officer who is liable to removal, which the far greater number ought not to be, except for personal misconduct, since it would be vain to expect that the body of persons by whom the whole detail of the public business is transacted, and whose qualifications are generally of much more importance to the public than those of the minister himself, will devote themselves to their profession, and acquire the knowledge and skill on which the minister must often place entire dependence, if they are liable at any moment to be turned adrift for no fault, that the minister may gratify himself, or promote his political interest, by appointing somebody else.
To the principle which condemns the appointment of executive officers by popular suffrage, ought the chief of the executive, in a republican government, to be an exception? Is it a good rule which, in the American Constitution, provides for the election of the President once in every four years by the entire people? The question is not free from difficulty. There is unquestionably some advantage, in a country like America, where no apprehension needs be entertained of a coup d'état, in making the chief minister constitutionally independent of the legislative body, and rendering the two great branches of the government, while equally popular both in their origin and in their responsibility, an effective check on one another. The plan is in accordance with that sedulous avoidance of the concentration of great masses of power in the same hands, which is a marked characteristic of the American federal Constitution. But the advantage, in this instance, is purchased at a price above all reasonable estimates of its value. It seems far better that the chief magistrate in a republic should be appointed avowedly, as the chief minister in a constitutional monarchy is virtually, by the representative body. In the first place, he is certain, when thus appointed, to be a more eminent man. The party which has the majority in Parliament would then, as a rule, appoint its own leader, who is always one of the foremost, and often the very foremost person in political life; while the President of the United States, since the last survivor of the founders of the republic disappeared from the scene, is almost always either an obscure man, or one who has gained any reputation he may possess in some other field than politics. And this, as I have before observed, is no accident, but the natural effect of the situation. The eminent men of a party, in an election extending to the whole country, are never its most available candidates. All eminent men have made personal enemies, or, have done something, or at the lowest, professed some opinion obnoxious to some local or other considerable division of the community, and likely to tell with fatal effect upon the number of votes; whereas a man without antecedents, of whom nothing is known but that he professes the creed of the party, is readily voted for by its entire strength. Another important consideration is the great mischief of unintermitted electioneering. When the highest dignity in the state is to be conferred by popular election once in every few years, the whole intervening time is spent in what is virtually a canvass. President, ministers, chiefs of parties, and their followers, are all electioneerers: the whole community is kept intent on the mere personalities of politics, and every public question is discussed and decided with less reference to its merits than to its expected bearing on the presidential election. If a system had been devised to make party spirit the ruling principle of action in all public affairs, and create an inducement not only to make every question a party question, but to raise questions for the purpose of founding parties upon them, it would have been difficult to contrive any means better adapted to the purpose.
I will not affirm that it would at all times and places be desirable that the head of the executive should be so completely dependent upon the votes of a representative assembly as the prime minister is in England, and is without inconvenience. If it were thought best to avoid this, he might, though appointed by Parliament, hold his office for a fixed period, independent of a Parliamentary vote, which would be the American system minus the popular election and its evils. There is another mode of giving the head of the administration as much independence of the Legislature as is at all compatible with the essentials of free government. He never could be unduly dependent on a vote of Parliament if he had, as the British prime minister practically has, the power to dissolve the House and appeal to the people; if, instead of being turned out of office by a hostile vote, he could only be reduced by it to the alternative of resignation or dissolution. The power of dissolving Parliament is one which I think it desirable he should possess, even under the system by which his own tenure of office is secured to him for a fixed period. There ought not to be any possibility of that deadlock in politics which would ensue on a quarrel breaking out between a president and an assembly, neither of whom, during an interval which might amount to years, would have any legal means of ridding itself of the other. To get through such a period without a coup d'état being attempted, on either side or on both, requires such a combination of the love of liberty and the habit of self-restraint as very few nations have yet shown themselves capable of; and though this extremity were avoided, to expect that the two authorities would not paralyze each other's operations is to suppose that the political life of the country will always be pervaded by a spirit of mutual forbearance and compromise, imperturbable by the passions and excitements of the keenest party struggles. Such a spirit may exist, but even where it does there is imprudence in trying it too far.
Other reasons make it desirable that some power in the state (which can only be the executive) should have the liberty of at any time, and at discretion, calling a new Parliament. When there is a real doubt which of two contending parties has the strongest following, it is important that there should exist a constitutional means of immediately testing the point and setting it at rest. No other political topic has a chance of being properly attended to while this is undecided; and such an interval is mostly an interregnum for purposes of legislative or administrative improvement, neither party having sufficient confidence in its strength to attempt things likely to provoke opposition in any quarter that has either direct or indirect influence in the pending struggle.
I have not taken account of the case in which the vast power centralized in the chief magistrate, and the insufficient attachment of the mass of the people to free institutions, give him a chance of success in an attempt to subvert the Constitution, and usurp sovereign power. Where such peril exists, no first magistrate is admissible whom the Parliament can not, by a single vote, reduce to a private station. In a state of things holding out any encouragement to that most audacious and profligate of all breaches of trust, even this entireness of constitutional dependence is but a weak protection.
Of all officers of government, those in whose appointment any participation of popular suffrage is the most objectionable are judicial officers. While there are no functionaries whose special and professional qualifications the popular judgment is less fitted to estimate, there are none in whose case absolute impartiality, and freedom from connection with politicians or sections of politicians, are of any thing like equal importance. Some thinkers, among others Mr. Bentham, have been of opinion that, although it is better that judges should not be appointed by popular election, the people of their district ought to have the power, after sufficient experience, of removing them from their trust. It can not be denied that the irremovability of any public officer to whom great interests are intrusted is in itself an evil. It is far from desirable that there should be no means of getting rid of a bad or incompetent judge, unless for such misconduct as he can be made to answer for in a criminal court, and that a functionary on whom so much depends should have the feeling of being free from responsibility except to opinion and his own conscience. The question however is, whether, in the peculiar position of a judge, and supposing that all practicable securities have been taken for an honest appointment, irresponsibility, except to his own and the public conscience, has not, on the whole, less tendency to pervert his conduct than responsibility to the government or to a popular vote. Experience has long decided this point in the affirmative as regards responsibility to the executive, and the case is quite equally strong when the responsibility sought to be enforced is to the suffrages of electors. Among the good qualities of a popular constituency, those peculiarly incumbent upon a judge, calmness and impartiality, are not numbered. Happily, in that intervention of popular suffrage which is essential to freedom they are not the qualities required. Even the quality of justice, though necessary to all human beings, and therefore to all electors, is not the inducement which decides any popular election. Justice and impartiality are as little wanted for electing a member of Parliament as they can be in any transaction of men. The electors have not to award something which either candidate has a right to, nor to pass judgment on the general merits of the competitors, but to declare which of them has most of their personal confidence, or best represents their political convictions. A judge is bound to treat his political friend, or the person best known to him, exactly as he treats other people; but it would be a breach of duty, as well as an absurdity, if an elector did so. No argument can be grounded on the beneficial effect produced on judges, as on all other functionaries, by the moral jurisdiction of opinion; for even in this respect, that which really exercises a useful control over the proceedings of a judge, when fit for the judicial office, is not (except sometimes in political cases) the opinion of the community generally, but that of the only public by whom his conduct or qualifications can be duly estimated, the bar of his own court. I must not be understood to say that the participation of the general public in the administration of justice is of no importance; it is of the greatest; but in what manner? By the actual discharge of a part of the judicial office in the capacity of jurymen. This is one of the few cases in politics in which it is better that the people should act directly and personally than through their representatives, being almost the only case in which the errors that a person exercising authority may commit can be better borne than the consequences of making him responsible for them. If a judge could be removed from office by a popular vote, whoever was desirous of supplanting him would make capital for that purpose out of all his judicial decisions; would carry all of them, as far as he found practicable, by irregular appeal before a public opinion wholly incompetent, for want of having heard the case, or from having heard it without either the precautions or the impartiality belonging to a judicial hearing; would play upon popular passion and prejudice where they existed, and take pains to arouse them where they did not. And in this, if the case were interesting, and he took sufficient trouble, he would infallibly be successful, unless the judge or his friends descended into the arena, and made equally powerful appeals on the other side. Judges would end by feeling that they risked their office upon every decision they gave in a case susceptible of general interest, and that it was less essential for them to consider what decision was just, than what would be most applauded by the public, or would least admit of insidious misrepresentation. The practice introduced by some of the new or revised State Constitutions in America, of submitting judicial officers to periodical popular re-election, will be found, I apprehend, to be one of the most dangerous errors ever yet committed by democracy; and, were it not that the practical good sense which never totally deserts the people of the United States is said to be producing a reaction, likely in no long time to lead to the retraction of the error, it might with reason be regarded as the first great downward step in the degeneration of modern democratic government.
With regard to that large and important body which constitutes the permanent strength of the public service, those who do not change with changes of politics, but remain to aid every minister by their experience and traditions, inform him by their knowledge of business, and conduct official details under his general control—those, in short, who form the class of professional public servants, entering their profession as others do while young, in the hope of rising progressively to its higher grades as they advance in life—it is evidently inadmissible that these should be liable to be turned out, and deprived of the whole benefit of their previous service, except for positive, proved, and serious misconduct. Not, of course, such delinquency only as makes them amenable to the law, but voluntary neglect of duty, or conduct implying untrustworthiness for the purposes for which their trust is given them. Since, therefore, unless in case of personal culpability, there is no way of getting rid of them except by quartering them on the public as pensioners, it is of the greatest importance that the appointments should be well made in the first instance; and it remains to be considered by what mode of appointment this purpose can best be attained...
If the smaller nationality, supposed to be the more advanced in improvement, is able to overcome the greater, as the Macedonians, re-enforced by the Greeks, did Asia, and the English India, there is often a gain to civilization, but the conquerors and the conquered can not in this case live together under the same free institutions. The absorption of the conquerors in the less advanced people would be an evil: these must be governed as subjects, and the state of things is either a benefit or a misfortune, according as the subjugated people have or have not reached the state in which it is an injury not to be under a free government, and according as the conquerors do or do not use their superiority in a manner calculated to fit the conquered for a higher stage of improvement. This topic will be particularly treated of in a subsequent chapter....
As it is already a common, and is rapidly tending to become the universal condition of the more backward populations to be either held in direct subjection by the more advanced, or to be under their complete political ascendancy, there are in this age of the world few more important problems than how to organize this rule, so as to make it a good instead of an evil to the subject people, providing them with the best attainable present government, and with the conditions most favorable to future permanent improvement. But the mode of fitting the government for this purpose is by no means so well understood as the conditions of good government in a people capable of governing themselves. We may even say that it is not understood at all.
The thing appears perfectly easy to superficial observers. If India (for example) is not fit to govern itself, all that seems to them required is that there should be a minister to govern it, and that this minister, like all other British ministers, should be responsible to the British Parliament. Unfortunately this, though the simplest mode of attempting to govern a dependency, is about the worst, and betrays in its advocates a total want of comprehension of the conditions of good government. To govern a country under responsibility to the people of that country, and to govern one country under responsibility to the people of another, are two very different things. What makes the excellence of the first is, that freedom is preferable to despotism: but the last is despotism. The only choice the case admits is a choice of despotisms, and it is not certain that the despotism of twenty millions is necessarily better than that of a few or of one; but it is quite certain that the despotism of those who neither hear, nor see, nor know any thing about their subjects, has many chances of being worse than that of those who do. It is not usually thought that the immediate agents of authority govern better because they govern in the name of an absent master, and of one who has a thousand more pressing interests to attend to. The master may hold them to a strict responsibility, enforced by heavy penalties, but it is very questionable if those penalties will often fall in the right place.
It is always under great difficulties, and very imperfectly, that a country can be governed by foreigners, even when there is no extreme disparity in habits and ideas between the rulers and the ruled. Foreigners do not feel with the people. They can not judge, by the light in which a thing appears to their own minds, or the manner in which it affects their feelings, how it will affect the feelings or appear to the minds of the subject population. What a native of the country, of average practical ability, knows as it were by instinct, they have to learn slowly, and, after all, imperfectly, by study and experience. The laws, the customs, the social relations for which they have to legislate, instead of being familiar to them from childhood, are all strange to them. For most of their detailed knowledge they must depend on the information of natives, and it is difficult for them to know whom to trust. They are feared, suspected, probably disliked by the population; seldom sought by them except for interested purposes; and they are prone to think that the servilely submissive are the trustworthy. Their danger is of despising the natives; that of the natives is, of disbelieving that any thing the strangers do can be intended for their good. These are but a part of the difficulties that any rulers have to struggle with, who honestly attempt to govern well a country in which they are foreigners. To overcome these difficulties in any degree will always be a work of much labor, requiring a very superior degree of capacity in the chief administrators, and a high average among the subordinates; and the best organization of such a government is that which will best insure the labor, develop the capacity, and place the highest specimens of it in the situations of greatest trust. Responsibility to an authority which has gone through none of the labor, acquired none of the capacity, and for the most part is not even aware that either, in any peculiar degree, is required, can not be regarded as a very effectual expedient for accomplishing these ends.
The government of a people by itself has a meaning and a reality, but such a thing as government of one people by another does not and can not exist. One people may keep another as a warren or preserve for its own use, a place to make money in, a human-cattle farm to be worked for the profit of its own inhabitants; but if the good of the governed is the proper business of a government, it is utterly impossible that a people should directly attend to it. The utmost they can do is to give some of their best men a commission to look after it, to whom the opinion of their own country can neither be much of a guide in the performance of their duty, nor a competent judge of the mode in which it has been performed. Let any one consider how the English themselves would be governed if they knew and cared no more about their own affairs than they know and care about the affairs of the Hindoos. Even this comparison gives no adequate idea of the state of the case; for a people thus indifferent to politics altogether would probably be simply acquiescent, and let the government alone; whereas in the case of India, a politically active people like the English, amid habitual acquiescence, are every now and then interfering, and almost always in the wrong place. The real causes which determine the prosperity or wretchedness, the improvement or deterioration of the Hindoos, are too far off to be within their ken.... The purposes for which they are principally tempted to interfere, and control the proceedings of their delegates, are of two kinds. One is to force English ideas down the throats of the natives; for instance, by measures of proselytism, or acts intentionally or unintentionally offensive to the religious feelings of the people.... In other respects, its interference is likely to be oftenest exercised where it will be most pertinaciously demanded, and that is, on behalf of some interest of the English settlers.... Now if there be a fact to which all experience testifies, it is that, when a country holds another in subjection, the individuals of the ruling people who resort to the foreign country to make their fortunes are of all others those who most need to be held under powerful restraint.... They have the feelings inspired by absolute power without its sense of responsibility.... The government... is never able sufficiently to keep it down in the young and raw even of its own civil and military officers, over whom it has so much more control than over the independent residents. As it is with the English in India, so... it is with the French in Algiers... with the Americans in the countries conquered from Mexico... with the Europeans in China... already even in Japan: there is no necessity to recall how it was with the Spaniards in South America....
It is not by attempting to rule directly a country like India, but by giving it good rulers, that the English people can do their duty to that country; and they can scarcely give it a worse one than an English cabinet minister, who is thinking of English, not Indian politics; who does not remains long enough in office to acquire an intelligent interest in so complicated a subject; upon whom the factitious public opinion got up in Parliament, consisting of two or three fluent speakers, acts with as much force as if it were genuine; while he is under none of the influences of training and position which would lead or qualify him to form an honest opinion of his own. A free country which attempts to govern a distant dependency, inhabited by a dissimilar people, by means of a branch of its own executive, will almost inevitably fail. The only mode which has any chance of tolerable success is to govern through a delegated body of a comparatively permanent character, allowing only a right of inspection and a negative voice to the changeable administration of the state. Such a body did exist in the case of India; and I fear that both India and England will pay a severe penalty for the shortsighted policy by which this intermediate instrument of government was done away with.
It is of no avail to say that such a delegated body can not have all the requisites of good government.... Real good government is not compatible with the conditions of the case. There is but a choice of imperfections. The problem is, so to construct the governing body that, under the difficulties of the position, it shall have as much interest as possible in good government, and as little in bad. Now these conditions are best found in an intermediate body... chiefly composed of persons who have acquired professional knowledge of this part of their country's concerns; who have been trained to it in the place itself, and have made its administration the main occupation of their lives....
It can not be too often repeated that, in a country like India, every thing depends on the personal qualities and capacities of the agents of government. This truth is the cardinal principle of Indian administration. The day when it comes to be thought that the appointment of persons to situations of trust from motives of convenience, already so criminal in England, can be practiced with impunity in India, will be the beginning of the decline and fall of our empire there....
What is accounted so great an advantage in the case of the English system of government at home has been its misfortune in India—that it grew up of itself, not from preconceived design, but by successive expedients, and by the adaptation of machinery originally created for a different purpose. As the country on which its maintenance depended was not the one out of whose necessities it grew, its practical benefits did not come home to the mind of that country, and it would have required theoretic recommendations to render it acceptable. Unfortunately, these were exactly what it seemed to be destitute of; and undoubtedly the common theories of government did not furnish it with such, framed as those theories have been for states of circumstances differing in all the most important features from the case concerned...
It is next to impossible to form in one country an organ of government for another which shall have a strong interest in good government; but if that cannot be done the next best thing is, to form an administration with the least possible interest in bad government; and I conceive that the present governing bodies in this country for the affairs of India have as little sinister interest of any kind as any government in the world.
Our empire in India, consisting of a few Europeans holding 100 millions of natives in obedience by an army composed of those very natives, will not exist for a day after we shall lose the character of being more just and disinterested than the native rulers and of being united among ourselves. It is difficult enough for the government to watch sufficiently over the acts of its own servants: but when to these come to be added a far greater number of Europeans spread over the whole country, coming into competition and collision with the natives in all walks of life, and over whom the government has no control but through the courts of justice; most of them men contemplating only a temporary residency; many of them needy, and not a few of them profligate; then unless the control of the courts of justice over these men be strict and even rigid, the conduct of a large proportion of the is sure to be such as to destroy the prestige of superior moral worth and justice in dealings which now attaches to the British nae in India: and unless the government can coerce them with a strong arm, they will form in the eyes of the natives an English pubic foreign and often hostile to the government, and the overawing influence of our power and capacity which has been derived from our union, will be weaker; and thus our government in India will gradually lose both its moral supports--and physical support, independent of those, it has none.
John Stuart Mill: On Liberty: "It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply...
...only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We are not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury. For the same reason, we may leave out of consideration those backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage. The early difficulties in the way of spontaneous progress are so great, that there is seldom any choice of means for overcoming them; and a ruler full of the spirit of improvement is warranted in the use of any expedients that will attain an end, perhaps otherwise unattainable. Despotism is a legitimate] mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate as to find one. But as soon as mankind have attained the capacity of being guided to their own improvement by conviction or persuasion (a period long since reached in all nations with whom we need here concern ourselves), compulsion, either in the direct form or in that of pains and penalties for non-compliance, is no longer admissible as a means to their own good, and justifiable only for the security of others...