Mill's Principle of Government as a Basis of Democracy

The Monist 55 (1):51-60 (1971)
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The founders and 19th-Century leaders of the American democratic experiment sought to base their institution on a rationalist and individualist model of political reality. As characterized by D. M. Levitan, they distrusted representative government and powerful executives, subscribing to a laissez-faire philosophy: he governs best who governs least. Levitan goes on to accentuate the intimate relationship of the political system to its philosophical foundation. While he notes that Liberal ideas were well adapted to the needs of the plutocracy, he does not play down the importance of Liberalism to the particular form taken by political institutions in democracy. A paradigm of this Liberal doctrine is John Stuart Mill's famous Principle: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will is to prevent harm to others.” This Principle, if not the source, can certainly qualify as a rationalization for a great part of what passes for “policy” in a democracy.



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