587: To Rid Themselves of the Day.

When we observe the lives of those whom an ample inheritance has let loose to their own direction, what do we discover that can excite our envy? Their time seems not to pass with much applause from others, or satisfaction to themselves: many squander their exuberance of fortune in luxury and debauchery, and have no other use of money than to inflame their passions, and riot in a wide range of licentiousness; others, less criminal indeed, but surely not much to be praised, lie down to sleep, and rise up to trifle, are employed every morning in finding expedients to rid themselves of the day, chase pleasure through all the places of publick resort, fly from London to Bath, and from Bath to London, without any other reason for changing place, but that they go in quest of company as idle and as vagrant as themselves, always endeavouring to raise some new desire, that they may have something to pursue, to rekindle some hope which they know will be disappointed, changing one amusement for another which a few months will make equally insipid, or sinking into languor and disease for want of something to actuate their bodies or exhilarate their minds.

(Samuel Johnson, Essays. London: Walter Scott, 1888, p. 248).

587: To Rid Themselves of the Day.

581: A Refusal to Look the Truth Squarely in the Face.

Political correctness is about denial, usually in the weasel circumlocutory jargon which distorts and evades and seldom stands up to honest analysis.

It comes in many guises, some of them so effective that the PC can be difficult to detect. The silly euphemisms, apparently harmless, but forever dripping to wear away common sense.

(George MacDonald Fraser, “The Last Testament of Flashman’s Creator: How Britain has Destroyed Itself,Daily Mail, January 5, 2008).

581: A Refusal to Look the Truth Squarely in the Face.

572: A Bizarre Story.

John Stuart Mill had the worst personal life of any libertarian philosopher, a competitive category for bad personal lives. Marriage in particular has a record of making libertarian philosophers behave discreditably — that is, in a way that brings discredit not just on their character but on their ideas.

Bertrand Russell famously divorced the first of his four wives after a bicycle trip: “suddenly, as I was riding along a country road, realized that I no longer loved Alys.” Thus reasoned the most rational man in England. Ayn Rand forced her husband to endure loud and lofty protestations that forgoing an affair with Nathaniel Branden would be a sin against objectivism. William Godwin, England’s first anarcho-libertarian, wrecked two marriages on his individualism: first to Mary Wollstonecraft, whom he set up in a separate apartment and communicated with by letter, and then to a harridan of no redeeming qualities apart from her ability to keep house whom he, in his solipsism, permitted to torment Mary’s children.

Even in this company, John Stuart Mill is on another plane. Under the influence of his wife, Harriet Taylor, he drove his youngest brother George to suicide. His doting sisters were banished from his life over the flimsiest imagined slights to his wife’s honor. He gave up his former friends and became a recluse, retiring to a cottage in Blackheath Park where he entertained virtually no one while Mrs. Mill lived. After her death, he made himself a national laughingstock by declaring in his Autobiography that his wife had been more poetic than Shelley and a greater thinker than himself, and that he had “acquired more from her teaching than from all other sources taken together” — phrases written not when Mill was a grieving widower but during Harriet’s lifetime, in drafts which she read and approved for publication evidently without embarrassment.

And that’s only what she did to him after they wed. Their marriage was preceded by twenty years of brazen and self-righteous infidelity. When Mill met Harriet she was married to a good-natured pharmacist of enlightened political opinions, if no great intelligence, named John Taylor. After three years of growing mutual obsession, they bullied him into giving Harriet her own household, where she lived with their three children and entertained Mill on weekends. No one, not even his family, was permitted to mention Harriet’s name in Mill’s presence, much less to allude to the scandal their conduct had raised. His oldest friend, John Arthur Roebuck, was the only one who ever dared; Mill never spoke to him again. The couple withdrew into their private ménage, reassuring each other that it was only society’s “baby morality” (her phrase) that cast shame on their exalted passion. A bizarre story — and until the 1950s, an unknown one.

(Helen Andrews, “Romance and Socialism in J.S. Mill,” American Affairs, Vol. I, No. 2, Summer 2017).

572: A Bizarre Story.

571: A Lack of Full Humanity.

Some forty years ago two comments on Mill used often to be cited, made by the two men who were then the most prominent figures in the English world of politics. Mr. Gladstone spoke of him (and, I think, also wrote of him) as the “saint of Rationalism.” Mr. Disraeli, whose attention was called to Mill by his somewhat unexpected apparition in later life in the House of Commons as member for Westminster, when asked after a session’s experience of the new member what he thought of him, replied with a shrug of the shoulders, “A political finishing governess.” […]

Mill had the educating mania, and it was largely inspired by that religious zeal for the improvement of mankind which formed part of his “saintship.” From his father he had early learnt to think that if only people were thoroughly well educated and freed from the dead hand of outworn institutions all would be well with the world. And greatly though his views eventually changed, this early way of looking at things left its stamp on him through life. His cult of education issued in a certain priggishness and preciseness, and a detestation of anything vague and not clearly communicable to those whom he would instruct and help. It is to this side of his intellectual character that we may set down his admiration for the French intellect and his extraordinary undervaluing of such German metaphysicians as Hegel and Fichte. To this again must be ascribed his intense joy in distinct classification which made Dumont’s redaction of Bentham (of which I shall speak later on) as inspiring and satisfying to him as Fichte and Hegel were almost physically distressing. It is the “finishing governess” element again which made his own unique and precocious early education for years the sole matter of interest to him, and led him afterwards to analyze its results with such painful care. Like a Jesuit confessor he regarded recreation only as a means to the accomplishment of his main purpose. In his autobiography he refers to frequent holidays as a boy of seven, eight, nine, and ten spent at the old baronial hall (Ford Abbey) rented by Mr. Bentham, as “an important circumstance in my education,” and as contributing “to nourish elevation of sentiment.” He saw the Pyrenees at the age of fourteen. This is interesting to him because it “gave a colour to my tastes through life.” The interest of nearly every event in his life is determined by its effect on his mind and character.

The priggishness and preciseness which called forth Disraeli’s saying were in part caused by those peculiarities of Mill’s own early education. He had the ways of one who learnt in the first instance from books and in the schoolroom rather than, as Charles Dickens did, from the vivid impressions made by actual life on a boy’s imagination. Mr. Bain tells us that to the end his hold on abstract principles was far closer than on the concrete on the facts of life and the world. His extraordinary precocity was a hot-house growth, and he never quite recovered the fulness of human nature. There was in Mill to the end a certain thinness of sympathy and a deficiency in geniality, though his sympathies were very intense in their own narrow groove. There was a lack of full humanity. He had little sense of the ludicrous. He did not enter into or understand the varieties of human character, and he was wanting in virility.

(Wilfrid Ward, Men and Matters. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1914, pp. 146–148).

571: A Lack of Full Humanity.

560: The Proudest Moment of Their Lives.

In England, the charm of standing one round higher on the social ladder than your neighbours is so irresistible that, if a Member of Parliament were obliged to dance upon his head for the amusement of his constituents, it is probable that men of fortune and independence would be found to do it, and to assure the spectators that the time devoted to the feat was the proudest moment of their lives.

(Lord Salisbury, “The Labours of the Recess,” The Saturday Review, Vol. XVI, No. 426, 1863, p. 799).

560: The Proudest Moment of Their Lives.

516: Much of a Muchness.

A greater concern was that meritocracy would produce an overweening centralized state. The Prussian precedent left Walter Bagehot wary of “establishing, virtually for the first time in England, an organized Bureaucracy.” On the floor of the House of Commons, MPs brandished warnings from Tocqueville and Montalembert against following imperial France’s example, which would inevitably lead to administrative tyranny, the creation of a political clerisy, and “a venal and servile humor” to supplant the English spirit of liberty. Gladstone replied that such worries were “idle, pusillanimous, and womanish,” since Parliament could be trusted to keep the civil service in its place. “In certain continental states the experiment may be perilous, but in England you may make the Civil Service as strong as you please.”

Hearing this, Robert Cecil (later Lord Salisbury) rose to say that “he did not regard that fear as so groundless and unfounded as the right honorable Gentleman appeared to do.” Salisbury’s comprehensive case against Northcote-Trevelyan was dismissed by Gladstone biographer John Morley as “the lazy doctrine that men are much of a muchness,” and no doubt this was Salisbury’s starting point. Beyond ensuring that candidates could spell and add, he thought that selecting the most intelligent men you could find was unnecessary — even positively harmful. Such men would be arrogant and argumentative, and would “look upon their duties as beneath their abilities.” This was not mere speculation, but the attested experience of their supervisors in departments where examination had been implemented. One bitter customs officer cited by Salisbury complained of “a self-sufficiency and presumption, from an imagined superiority in having undergone such examination, and a desire for literature in business, which I have been obliged to check.” This arrogance was bad enough around the office, Salisbury believed, but to the extent that it encompassed the public, it was a threat to their liberties.

More generally, Salisbury predicted that competitive examination would dangerously transform the spirit of government. As he saw it, reformers were seeking to automate the art of politics in a way “manifestly repugnant to the commonest and not the worst feelings of our nature.” Rattling off instances of patronage exercised nobly by Sir Walter Scott, Samuel Johnson, and Robert Peel, Salisbury asked whether it was worth abjuring such acts merely to keep out a handful of slow-witted copyists: “Why should favour and friendship, kindness and gratitude, which are not banished by men from private life, be absolutely excluded from public affairs?” And in the effort to eliminate all unmathematical considerations from the exercise of power, what other human qualities might not be driven out? Mercy? Flexibility? Loyalty to country? It was a dangerous and metastatic idea, this notion that statesmen could govern by formula.

(Helen Andrews, “The New Ruling Class,” The Hedgehog Review, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, 2016).

516: Much of a Muchness.