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Posted December 5, 2008
Richard Reeves, the newly appointed director of the think-tank Demos, has written a fine biography of John Stuart Mill, `the foremost public intellectual in British history¿.<BR/><BR/>Reeves notes Mill¿s economic egalitarianism, his belief that ¿the only properly `private¿ property was the fruit of a person¿s labour.¿ But Mill also had utopian free trade beliefs, for instance he wrote, ¿It is commerce which is rapidly rendering war obsolete.¿ He also held, but later abandoned, Ricardo¿s wage fund theory, that there was only a fixed amount of money available for wages, which meant that collective action to raise wages was self-defeating.<BR/><BR/>Mill produced the classic, `The subjection of women¿. He wrote that in Britain ¿there remain no legal slaves except the mistress of every house.¿ As Reeves writes, ¿British feminism has many mothers, but only one father. ¿ gender equality ¿ was also a distillation of the major concerns of Mill¿s thinking: the innate equality of all human beings, the corrosive power of dependency, the triumph of reason over custom, the intrinsic value of individual liberty, and the role of institutions and social customs in shaping character.¿ Mill opposed faith schools, noting that they taught `bad morals: passivity, blind faith, fatalism, complacency and prejudice against other religions¿.<BR/><BR/>Mill dismissed the notion of ¿waging `war for an idea¿ as being as criminal as to go to war for territory or revenue ¿ it is as little justifiable to force our ideas on other people, as to compel them to submit to our will in any other respect.¿ But he was no pacifist, writing that war was ¿infinitely less evil than systematic submission to injustice.¿ In the American Civil War, Mill campaigned for the North¿s victory over the slaveholding South.<BR/><BR/>Mill supported a rational, progressive nationalism, writing, ¿We do not mean nationalism in the vulgar sense of the term: a senseless antipathy to foreigners; an indifference to the general welfare of the human race, or an unjust preference of the supposed interests of our own country; a cherishing of bad peculiarities because they are national; or a refusal to adopt what has been found good by other countries. We mean a principle of sympathy not of hostility; of union, not of separation. We mean a feeling of common interest among those who live under the same government.¿<BR/> <BR/>But Reeves¿ reverence for Mill leads him to reduce his rival Marx to Mill¿s level, as when he writes, ¿Like Marx, Mill did not take the side of either the Commune or the French government.¿Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.