Power to the People: John Stuart Mill's Classic Treatise on Liberty, Published 150 Years Ago, Has Much to Teach an Intellectually Exhausted Left

By Marquand, David | New Statesman (1996), July 13, 2009 | Go to article overview

Power to the People: John Stuart Mill's Classic Treatise on Liberty, Published 150 Years Ago, Has Much to Teach an Intellectually Exhausted Left


Marquand, David, New Statesman (1996)


In the early months of 2009, the Labour Party was walking wounded. After the most comprehensive electoral humiliation in its entire history it is now walking dead. There are some parallels between Labour's condition now and the Conservatives' in the dying days of the Major government, but the differences are much more striking. John Major's Conservative Party was bitterly divided ideologically and emotionally. Labour today is ideologically inert and emotionally drained. The old divisions between Blairites and Brownites-which were, in any case, personal rather than ideological--have not quite disappeared, but they no longer matter. The New Labour "project", over which eager thirtysome-things enthused during Tony Blair's springtime as party leader, fizzled out years ago.

Enemies new and old have cast Gordon Brown as the scapegoat, but that merely shows that this is a culture of denial, in which the instinctive response to misfortune is to find someone else to blame. The Prime Minister does bear some of the responsibility for Labour's parlous state. He is too serious and too heavy on his feet for the glib inanities of popular politics in our time. But the notion that he is the sole author of the party's downfall is ludicrously--even contemptibly -wide of the mark.

The true culprit is the Labour Party itself. It is the vision of democratic politics which, above all, has shaped its statecraft since the early 1920s. This was a vision of centralised power, exercised by an enlightened and benevolent state on behalf of a grateful and largely passive citizenry. On the eve of the Second World War, the young Labour economist Evan Durbin summed up its essence in a striking passage. "The interests of the whole are sovereign over the interests of the part," he wrote. "To the centralised control of a democratic Community our livelihood and our security must be submitted." For one brilliant moment, it looked as if Blair might break with that inheritance, but it soon became clear that the changes he had forced down his party's throat had left its essence unaltered. Under New Labour, the Old Labour vision of politics and society was harnessed to new purposes, but it was recognisably the same vision. The enlightened state had become the camp follower of the global market instead of the would-be master of the national one. It no longer sought to equalise reward; it strove mightily, and with horrifying success, to make Britain a happy hunting ground for the world's super-rich. But it was the same state, legitimised by the same rhetoric. The whole was still sovereign over the parts; the individual was still duty-bound to submit to centralised communal control.

All this gives a special piquancy to the 150th anniversary of the publication of John Stuart Mill's immortal tract On Liberty, which falls this year. For the vision which has guided Labour for so long has patently collapsed. The enlightened and benevolent state has turned out to be remarkably unenlightened, while its approach to civil liberty becomes ever more malevolent. Not surprisingly, the citizenry are no longer grateful. As the furore over parliamentary expenses shows, the public mood veers from the contemptuous to the mutinous. Even before the credit crunch turned into the deepest economic crisis for 80 years, statist social and institutional engineering had run into the buffers. Now it is hopelessly discredited, as is the conception of democratic politics that went with it.

In words--though not, so far, in deeds--even the engineers are jumping ship. Labour ministers are searching feverishly for ways to reconnect the public to the political system. An elected second chamber, a more proportional electoral system and that old chestnut, a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, are all on the table. Brown, the erstwhile Treasury micromanager, has announced his personal support for a written constitution and declared that democratic reform cannot be top-down. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Power to the People: John Stuart Mill's Classic Treatise on Liberty, Published 150 Years Ago, Has Much to Teach an Intellectually Exhausted Left
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.