John Stuart Mill and India

John Stuart Mill and India

John Stuart Mill and India

John Stuart Mill and India

Synopsis

"Beginning as a junior clerk in 1823, John Stuart Mill spent thirty-five years as an administrator in India House, the London headquarters of the East India Company, which dominated the Indian subcontinent. In his Autobiography, Mill paid scant attention to his long imperial career, and following his lead, later commentators have concluded that Indian administration was insignificant for Mill's intellectual development. Based upon extensive investigation of Mill's dispatches to India, this book rejects the long-accepted interpretation and suggests that important parallels exist between Mill's development as a thinker and his neglected India House career. It shows that at each step of Mill's intellectual maturation - rigorous early training at his father's side, youthful rebellion accompanied by a searching out of alternative opinions, and mature retreat from the extreme positions of his rebellious phase - Mill took up or abandoned administrative ideas that have much in common with the more abstract concepts that he was absorbing or shedding. For example, Mill's fascination with Romantic doctrines during the time of his mental crisis is shown to have had an Indian dimension. At the same time Mill concluded that Romantic doctrines were useful for amending Utilitarian ideas, he fell under the influences of key imperial administrators who advanced pragmatic policies for India that reinforced many Romantic ideas. Consequently, Mill modified his father's naive plans for reforming India, just as he altered Utilitarian doctrine in general, in favor of more complex notions about reform and progress. The author explores other parallels in Mill's evolving intellectual and administrative priorities and concludes that at his India House desk Mill found not only plenty of supporting evidence for his shifting intellectual positions but also ample opportunity to apply the abstract ideas that mattered most to him at different times of his life. In this way, the author challenges the picture of Mill's imperial career - as a dull and unimportant part of his life - that Mill painted for posterity in his Autobiography. He further suggests that Mill belittled his long India House experience because it did not fit the narrative structure he wanted to impose on his past. Since the essential story of Mill's Autobiography is one of a great mind being formed by interacting with other great minds, the banal concerns of Indian administration could hardly play a large role. The author also examines Mill's intellectual relationship with imperialism in the light of recent colonial discourse theory. He concludes that Mill altered his general social and political views as a result of the British experience in India and that his mature views of radical reform in Ireland and Great Britain owed much to the years that he spent as an imperial administrator." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

John Stuart Mill Autobiography sheds much light on the life and thought of its famous author. But it conceals more than it reveals in the brief passages where Mill discusses his lengthy career in the service of empire. Although he spent 35 years writing dispatches to India for the East India Company at a time when the latter came to dominate the Indian subcontinent, Mill chose to dismiss his imperial service with curt and dull prose. Whatever role he may have played in the making of the Victorian Raj, Mill thrust that role into the shadows when he composed the story of his life.

In doing so, Mill also directed the spotlight away from the impact of imperialism on his life. The Autobiography is famous for its account of his special education at his father's side and his subsequent attempt to overcome the narrowness of that early indoctrination in utilitarian thought. But the pages of this important self-study are nearly silent on the relationship between these events and the bureaucratic life that Mill led at India House. Readers of the Autobiography can be excused if they conclude that Indian administration was insignificant for Mill's intellectual development. In the grand narrative he constructed to describe his life, Mill placed his intimate contact with imperialism at the margins.

But we should be wary of this interpretation. As a growing body of literature suggests, autobiographies are at best ambiguous guides to the lives of those who write them. Whether one accepts the radical argument that self-studies are a form of fiction or self-invention or the moderate claim that autobiographies are simply an attempt to impose narrative order upon unruly experience, Mill's account of his life in the Autobiog raphy . . .

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