John Stuart Mill Predicted the Outrage of Trump

As we approach the inauguration, I think of a wonderful insight of John Stuart Mill; everyone loves executive power– when his or her party wins the election.

Back when representative governments were still an uncommon idea, John Stuart Mill—a pioneer of Classical Liberalism– advocated for it. However, in Considerations on Representative Government he put forward a problem that could arise. Specifically, if people began to value their party holding power more than freedom itself.

“Members of parties are willing to abdicate his personal freedom of action into the hands of his general provided his army is triumphant and victorious and he is able to flatter himself that he is one of a conquering host.” (Mill.88)

Mill thought that individuals can be seen as members of an army, and the only thing they would care about was if their general was in charge. Partisans love dominance when their party is the one dominant.

This is why the left did not protest President Obama using what is now a fifteen-year-old Declaration of War to bomb seven countries; Furthermore, they applauded the initiative taken to negotiate the Iran Nuclear Deal despite many knowing it was an overreach of the executive power .

Similarly, this is why those on the right chose to ignore President Bush’s actions in going against the Geneva Convention’s restrictions on interrogation techniques.

Outrage Over Trump

Many people throughout the country have staged vitriolic protests against the President-elect.

Articles of been penned, petitions have been signed, Golden Globe speeches have been made, with the goal of preventing the next president from taking power. Yet the power they fear is the power they bestowed.

With regards to power, Mill wrote that people are “very jealous of any attempt to exercise over them…but they in general care very little for the exercise of power over others” (Mill. 91)

In other words, members of one party do not have an issue with handing power over to a member of same party, nor do they mind if that person uses that power over others in the society. However if another party gains hegemony and that power is used against them they become outraged.

Tiberius is Here: Now What ?

“The despotism of Augustus prepared the Romans for Tiberius “( Mill. 57)

The Augustus was one of the most beloved leaders in the history of Rome. He was a key player in transitioning Rome from a Republic to an Empire. He largely ignored the Senate, keeping the absolute control of the Military to himself, and dubbed himself the first among all Romans. Augusus’ son, Tiberius, following his father’s example, also ignored the Senate, but took his power one-step further and assassinated all of his political enemies.

To be clear, I am not claiming that Trump will hire an assassin to kill Bernie Saunders. However, Americans should be prepared that when they bestow near limitless power on a leader they love, one day a leader they despise will come along and use that power for something they find despicable.

Yet individuals will continue to give up that power for the chance of becoming a “conquering host.“


  1. I am not sure what J.S. Mill pioneered. He was a free trader – but many economists had been before him. And his support of the Labour Theory of Value was a great error – which he horribly compounded with his believe that there was a “distribution” problem in terms of economic matters (the idea that the greedy “capitalists” were taking more than their “fair share” – leading to Mill’s support for worker coops), and his support for Ricardo’s land theory (and taking it a lot further than Ricardo did). The Westminster Review crowd seemed to be more interested in the “tyranny” of landowners and religion, than in rolling back the state (indeed they really wanted to replace the old state with a new state – controlled by “enlightened” people like themselves).

    On general philosophy, I tend to to think that William Whewell in Britain and James McCosh in the United States made good points against J.S. Mill – some things are just not empirical, there are basic universal truths (and not just in mathematics). And it makes no sense to believe in political liberty if one denies philosophical liberty (the human agent – Free Will, the soul in the Aristotelian sense).

    And the idea that the freedom to buy is somehow different from freedom to sell does not make much sense. And the idea that “everyone agrees” that local government should do XYZ just was not true. It was as untrue that “everyone agrees” with the Labour Theory of Value – they did not, and Mill knew they did not.

    Still enough Mill bashing – and, yes, there were many great things about the man.

    On the Executive – Mr Trump has not actually done much yet, although badmouthing TPP may have handed the Pacific to China (not exactly a brilliant move).

    But there have been many terrible Presidents – and such concepts as “Executive Orders” (essentially Imperial decrees) are awful regardless of who is doing them.

    Roger Sherman was right – the States should pick the Congress (equal representation for the States – NOT weighted for population) and the Congress (the Senate – selected by the States and subject to recall) should select the Executive (be the President one person or several people).

    A Republic (like the Republic of Venice) – rather than a popular (populari) democracy.

    As for Octavian – Augustus.

    Yes – he was a Populari who dressed plainly like a Republican (even down to the short hair) – Mark Antony would have swept away the Senate and the rest of the Republic and set up an oriental despotism.

    Octavian pretended to respect the Republic – while utterly subverting it. His adopted son Tiberius was the same politically – but was a sadist and sexual pervert (if one is still allowed to say that) as well.

    Do not a single individual vast power – especially if one can not remove them peacefully.

    And do not let them say they “speak for the people”.

    On the reverse side of some Imperial coins was the word “libertas” – it was not meant ironically, as it was under a loaf of bread. It basically meant “free bread” (at least for the mob in Rome and a few other cities). That is what the Empire, like the late Republic before it, did to liberty – and curse them for it.

    “Paul you sound like Sulla” – well I never said I was a nice person.



  2. By the way – many thanks for pointing out that the Iran deal is an outrage Constitutionally (whatever one thinks of it in terms of policy).

    Such deals are supposed to be approved by the Senate – and saying (as Obama’s defenders do) “it is a deal not a treaty” is sophistry.



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