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Posts Tagged ‘John Stuart Mill

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard”*…

 

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It probably goes without saying at this point, but democratic institutions are experiencing something of a crisis. The last decade has seen an increasing trend toward right-wing populism around the world, from Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil to the rise of autocratic regimes in Poland and Hungary. These developments are particularly troubling considering they are occurring in countries ruled by nominally democratic governments, even though democracy is meant to be a bulwark against exactly this kind of political extremism.

Although political theorists have long considered democratic governments to be among the most stable forms of governance, new research by an international team of complex systems theorists that analyzes how democracies become destabilized suggests that the stability of democratic governments has been taken for granted. As detailed in a paper published this week in the European Journal of Physics, Wiesner and an international team of mathematicians, psychologists, political theorists, and philosophers focused on two features of complex social systems—feedback loops and stability—to better understand why democracies around the world are backsliding…

A team of systems experts argue that the decline of democracies is poorly understood, but that concepts from complex systems theory may offer a solution: “Complex Systems Theorists Explain Why Democracy Is Dying.”

[image above: source]

* H. L. Mencken, who also (prophetically?) observed: “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

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As we get down with governance, we might send carefully-researched and elegantly-written birthday greetings to Thomas Carlyle; he was born on this date in1795.  A Victorian polymath, he was an accomplished philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, translator, historian, mathematician, and teacher.  While he was an enormously popular lecturer in his time, and his contributions to mathematics earned him eponymous fame (the Carlyle circle), he may be best remembered as a historian (and champion of the “Great Man” theory of history)… and as the coiner of phrases like “the dismal science” (to describe economics)

Carlyle’s History of the French Revolution, a three volume work that assured his fame as a historian, was finished in 1836 but not published until 1837 because John Stuart Mill’s maid mistook the manuscript of Volume One for kindling.  The setback prompted Carlyle to compare himself to a man who has nearly killed himself accomplishing zero.”   But he re-wrote the first volume from scratch.

“A well-written Life is almost as rare as a well-spent one.”   – Thomas Carlyle

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“Whatever we may think or affect to think of the present age, we cannot get out of it”*…

 

John Stuart Mill, the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century, is today best remembered as the author of On Liberty…  in which he argues, relentlessly and over the course of around 50,000 words, that there should be no interference with the thought, speech, or action of any individual except on the grounds of the prevention of harm to others.  That prohibition applies to legislative or state action, but also to those informal modes of coercion that can be practised by society itself. And the ban is total. “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” Though occasionally challenged by the collectivist left, the position Mill argues for has become orthodoxy in modern Anglo-American political thought.

But while liberalism itself remains pre-eminent, Mill’s arguments for that position have fallen out of sight in recent discussions. In contrast to many contemporary thinkers, Mill’s defence of liberal principles is historical and local – not abstract and universal…

Part of a wonderful series in the Times Literary Supplement, Footnotes to Plato— an appreciation of the relevance of Mill’s thought in our time: “John Stuart Mill: higher happiness.”

* John Stuart Mill, “The Spirit of the Age, I

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As we get in touch with our inner Utilitarian, we might recall that it was on this date in 1859 that the “temporary insanity” defense was first successfully deployed in the U.S., when it was used as a plea by U.S. Congressman Daniel Sickles of New York in his trial for the shooting of his wife’s lover, Philip Barton Key— for which Sickles was acquitted, though he’d been witnessed executing his rival and had confessed.  Sickles went on to serve as Sheriff in New York in 1890.

 source (and larger image)

 

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