M. N. Roy Jawaharlal Nehru



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15 Mill reviewed the first volume of Democracy in America when it appeared in 1835. He wrote a review of the second volume for the Edinburgh Review, Oct. 1840. Often in his writings Mill alluded to Tocqueville's views.

Taken together, John Stuart Mill's political theory bears the unmistakable stamp of nineteenth-century British speculation during

  1. JOHN STUART MILL

  2. 401


    1. 16 Shields, Currin V, : John Stuart Mill: On Liberty (Introduction).

    a period of ferment. He was the last of the utilitarians, who lived to bury, not praise, the middle-class creed of his father. Between the Benthamite reform of the early decades of the century and the Fabian reform of the last decades, Mill stood "at dead centre, not firmly and steadily, but doggedly." His common sense "led him to probe the implications of contradictory views which were the Liberal stock in trade." "In this he pointed the way for later thinkers whose minds were less trammelled by the cliches, and whose efforts were less hampered by the prejudices, of the British middle-class."18

  1. 16

  2. HENRY DAVID THOREAU (I 8 I 7-1 852)



  3. Thoreau : An Extreme Individualist

  4. Thoreau was the son of a local pencil-maker in Concord. He studied at Harvard and could occupy a room in the Emerson house. He flitted through the woods at nightfall. A Yankee non-conformist, a philosophic rebel, and a master of lean, incisive prose, Henry David Thoreau is today one of the most influential of all American writers. More eloquently than any other he exhorted the individual to uphold his natural dignity and integrity in the face of the institutions, conventions and beliefs that sought to enslave him. His friendship with Emerson, his solitary sojourn at Walden Pond, his fight for John Brown and the Abolitionists—these were the highlights of a quiet, uneventful life in Concord, Mass, a life dedi­cated to living, as he himself said, close to the bone and to the rigorous observation of nature. In C/v/7 Disobedience (1864), he tells why he went to jail rather than pay a tax to a government which condoned human slavery. A favourite essay both of Tolstoy and Gandhi, it is perhaps the most effective statement that has ever been made against government as coercion and for the right of the indivi­dual to obey the dictates of his conscience rather than the dictates of the state.

  5. As an extreme individualist and a believer in personal judgment Thoreau did not approve of the experiment of Brook Farm. He said, "I had rather keep bachelor's Hall in Hell than go to board in Heaven." He did not like at all the policy of advising and reform­ing others. He wished every individual use his own conscience in deciding the Tightness or wrongness of every question. He was not an idealist and, as such, he did not conform to any code of morality. Nor did he like others to do the same thing. He agreed with Socrates that the conception of right should be subjected to the scrutiny of individual reason. But unlike the latter, he disliked the role of a reformer. Though he had no sympathy with reformers, yet it is quite strange to note that he found a hero in John Brown, the Slavery Abolitionist.

  6. His Disbelief in the Prescriptive Authority of State

  7. By nature Thoreau was a rebel and disparaged any sort of pres­criptive authority. He was in favour of ignoring the state complete­ly. That is why he refused to pay taxes to the state, although others paid them on his behalf. He heartily accepted the motto—"That

  1. HENRY DAVID THOREAU

  2. 403



  1. government is best which governs the least," and liked to see it "acted up to more rapidly and systematically." This amounts to this, according to Thoreau : "That government is best which governs not at all."1 And when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. He was of the view that govern­ment is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. William Penn had also remarked thus : "Men must either be governed by God or they must be ruled by tyrants."

  2. Reliance on the Rule of Copscience

  3. Thoreau was also sceptical of a majority rule which serves as the bedrock of modern democracy. When the power, he argued, is once in the hands of the people, the majority are permitted, and for a long period continue to rule, not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but be­cause they are physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience, or in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable ? "Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator ? Why has every man a conscience, then ? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a res­pect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right."'


    1. "Civil Disobedience" by Thoreau in Political Philosophers (Carlton House, New Yorb. 1947).

    2. Ibid.

    The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense ; but they put themselves on \ level with wood and earth and stones ; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs.



  1. 404

  2. great political thinkers

  1. Voting—a Sort of Gaming

  2. Thoreau discussed the question of voting in a democracy and remarked that all voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or back­gammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions ; and betting naturally accompanies it. He said : "The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that ;t should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote."8 In fact, it is not a man's duty to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong ; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him ; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support. If one devotes oneself to other pursuits and contemplations, one must first see, at least, that he does not pursue them sitting upon another man's shoulders.

  3. The question arises as to how a man can be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, and enjoy it. Is there any enjoyment in it, if his opinion is that he is aggrieved ? If a man is cheated out of a single dollar by his neighbour, he does not rest satisfied with knowing that he is cheated, or with saying that he is cheated, or even with petition­ing him (his neighbour) to pay him his due ; but he takes effectual steps at once to obtain the full amount and see that he is never cheated again. Action from principle, the perception and the per­formance of right, Thoreau argued, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divides states and churches, it divides fami­lies ; it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine.

  4. Distrust in the Existing Laws


    1. 3 Ibid., pp. 302-03.

    Thoreau had no faith in the existing laws. He called them unjust laws which strangle man's freedom. He questioned their propriety and asked : "Shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endea­vour to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once ?" And his answer was that "men



  1. henry david thoreau

  2. 405

  1. generally think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil." But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform ? Why does it not cherish its wise minority ? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt ? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them ? Why does it always crucify Christ, and excom­municate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels ? This means that every government is based on injustice. And the remedy is, according to Thoreau, to break the law. If the injustice, he stated, is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go. Certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps we may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil. But if it is of such a nature that it requires us to be the agent of injustice to others, then the only remedy for us is that we must break the law. Let our life be a counter friction to stop the machine.

  2. Against tbe Institution of Slavery

  3. Advising the Abolitionists Thoreau said that thos who tailed themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massa chusetts and not wait till they constituted a majority of one, before they suffered the right to prevail through them. He thought that it was enough if they had God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than his neighbours principally constitutes, he argued, a majority of one already. Con­demning the government of Massachussets on the question of slavery which he regarded as a blot on the humanity, he remarked : "1 know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name,—if ten honest men only,—ay, if one honest man, in this state of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to with­draw from this copartnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be : what is once well done is done for ever."' He further remarked that "under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and desponding spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the state by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles."*

  1. ibid., p. 307.

  2. Ibid., p. 308.



  1. _ 406

  2. GREAT POLITICAL THINKERS



  1. Thoreau considered prison as the only house in a slave state in which a free man can abide with honour. And if any think that their in­fluence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the state, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls, they do not understand by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person. A minority is powerless, he held much like Mahatma Gandhi in India, while it conforms to the majority ; it is not even a minority then ; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the state will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the state to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This he described as a peaceable revolution. "If the tax-gatherer, or any other public officer, asks me, as one has done, 'But what shall I do ?' my answer is, "If you really wish to do anything, resign your office." When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished. But even suppose blood should flow. Is there not a sort of bloodshed when the conscience is wounded ? Through this wound a man's real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this blood flowing now.

  2. Thoreau himself refused to pay poll-tax for nearly six years, and for that he was put into a jail and physically tortured. But he did not acquiesce in the policy of the government and remained undaunted in his challenge against it. He bravely smiled at the weakness of the government. He saw that the government was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and he lost all his remaining respect for it, and pitied it.

  3. His Extreme Individualism

  4. According to Thoreau, the state never intentionally confronts a man's sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. And whatever its physical force may be, it cannot fatally interrupt a man, if he is thought-free, fancy-free and imagination-free. But he remarked that "most people think differently from myself; and those whose lives are by profession devoted to the study of these or kindred subjects content me as little as any." Statesmen and legisla­tors, standing so completely within the institutions, never distinctly and nakedly behold it. They speak of moving society, but have no resting-place without it. They may be men of a certain experience and discrimination, and have no doubt invented ingenious and even useful systems, for which we sincerely thank them ; but all their wit and usefulness lie within certain not very wide limits. They are habi-



  1. HBNRY DAVID THOREAU

  2. 407



  1. tual to forget that the world is not governed by policy and expediency. Thoreau became so disgusted with the then American legislators and politicians that he expressed angrily his views against the American government. He said : "No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are rare in the history of the world. There are orators, politicians, and eloquent men, by the thousand ; but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or any heroism it may inspire. Our legislators have not yet learned the com­parative value of free-trade and of freedom, of union, and of recti­tude, to a nation. They have no genius or talent for comparatively humble questions of taxation and finance, commerce and manufac­tures and agriculture. If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legis­lators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank among the nations."

  2. Thoreau, like many individualists, asserted that the authority of government is an impure one, but it must have the sanction and consent of the governed in order to be strictly just. It can have no pure right over a person and property but what he concedes to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress towards a true respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the individual as the basis of the empire. Thoreau questioned perti­nently : "Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government ? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man ?" And he answered like Gandhi and Jefferson that there would never be a really free and enlightened state until the state came to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority were derived, and treated him accordingly. "I please myself with imagining a state at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbour ; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, not embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbours and fellow-men. A state which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more per­fect and glorious state, which also I have imagined, but not yet any­where seen."'


    1. 6 Ibid., p. 320.

    Thoreau's practical experiences of the repressive policies of his country's government made him almost a rebel against the authori­tarian rule of any government. With a view to redeeming the indi­vidual from the evil influences of the government he, as an extreme




  1. 409



    1. 408

  2. great political thinkers

  3. individualist and anarchist, recognized the necessity of right of revo­lution. According to him, all men recognize the right of revolution ; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the govern­ment, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. Paley, a common authority with many on moral questions, in his chapter on the "Duty of Submission to Civil Government", resolved all civil obligation into expediency ; and he proceeded to say, "That so long as the interest of the whole society requires it, that is, so long as the established government cannot be resisted or changed without public inconvenience, it is the will of God that the established govern­ment be obeyed and no longer. . . .This principle being admitted, the justice of every particular case of resistance is reduced to a computa­tion of the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side, and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other." Of this, he said, every man shall judge for himself. But Paley, in Thoreau's view, appeared never to have contemplated those cases to which the rule of expediency did not apply, in which a people, as well as an individual, should do justice. He cited an example, and re­marked : "If I have unjustly wrested a plank from a drowning man. 1 must restore it to him though I drown myself." This, according to Paley, would be inconvenient. But Thoreau was courageous enough to declare that "he that would save his life, in such a case, shall lose it. This people must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people." He thus advised the individual to obey the dictates of his conscience and determine the value of every question rather than to submit to the desires of the state. In his views it was not desirable to cultivate res­pect for law, so much as for the right.

  4. The Condition of a Good Government

  5. But in spite of all his anger against the prescriptive authority and evils of government, Thoreau, unlike Schmidt, Bakunin, Prince Kro-potkin and other revolutionary anarchists, was not a mortal enemy of the state and its organizations, and as such, he did not believe like Leo Tolstoy in a theory of violent revolution. He asked for a better government which educates masses, promotes free trade and industry (but not capitalism and class distinctions) and over and above, which keeps the country free. But it, in no case, should coerce the indi­vidual. A good government, according to him, is always based on the consent of the individuals and, as a principle, allows its subjects to follow their own conscience. He was an enemy of such a state as would tax its subjects heavily, take and waste all their property, harass them and their children without any gain and make impossible for them to live honestly and comfortably, in outward respects. He fully agreed with Confucius when the latter said that "if a state is governed by the principles of reason, poverty and misery are subjects of shame ; if a state is not governed by the principles of reason, riches
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