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Mill’s political hopes for France resembled those for Britain: a political regime on utilitarian lines, a widely representative assembly, a liberal franchise, a free press, free associations, popular education, and an enlightened public. However, the revolution of 1830 became a dismal disappointment. The monarchy of Louis Philippe, wedded to narrow commercial and financial groups, was unwilling to jeopardize for the sake of reform its powers and privileges, and at every step opposed major changes. From London Mill closely and anxiously followed events, and between 1830 and 1834 in successive articles in the poured out his bitterness.
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It will probably be conceded that it is desirable people should exercise their understandings, and that an intelligent following of custom, or even occasionally an intelligent deviation from custom, is better than a blind and simply mechanical adhesion to it. To a certain extent it is admitted, that our understanding should be our own: but there is not the same willingness to admit that our desires and impulses should be our own likewise: or that to possess impulses of our own, and of any strength, is anything but a peril and a snare. Yet desires and impulses are as much a part of a perfect human being, as beliefs and restraints: and strong impulses are only perilous when not properly balanced; when one set of aims and inclinations is developed into strength, while others, which ought to co-exist with them, remain weak and inactive. It is not because men’s desires are strong that they act ill; it is because their consciences are weak. There is no natural connexion between strong impulses and a weak conscience. The natural connexion is the other way. To say that one person’s desires and feelings are stronger and more various than those of another, is merely to say that he has more of the raw material of human nature, and is therefore capable, perhaps of more evil, but certainly of more good. Strong impulses are but another name for energy. Energy may be turned to bad uses; but more good may always be made of an energetic nature, than of an indolent and impassive one. Those who have most natural feeling, are always those whose cultivated feelings may be made the strongest. The same strong susceptibilities which make the personal impulses vivid and powerful, are also the source from whence are generated the most passionate love of virtue, and the sternest self-control. It is through the cultivation of these, that society both does its duty and protects its interests: not by rejecting the stuff of which heroes are made, because it knows not how to make them. A person whose desires and impulses are his own—are the expression of his own nature, as it has been developed and modified by his own culture—is said to have a character. One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam-engine has a character. If, in addition to being his own, his impulses are strong, and are under the government of a strong will, he has an energetic character. Whoever thinks that individuality of desires and impulses should not be encouraged to unfold itself, must maintain that society has no need of strong natures—is not the better for containing many persons who have much character—and that a high general average of energy is not desirable.
If, however, the mischievous operation of the absence of free discussion, when the received opinions are true, were confined to leaving men ignorant of the grounds of those opinions, it might be thought that this, if an intellectual, is no moral evil, and does not affect the worth of the opinions, regarded in their influence on the character. The fact, however, is, that not only the grounds of the opinion are forgotten in the absence of discussion, but too often the meaning of the opinion itself. The words which convey it, cease to suggest ideas, or suggest only a small portion of those they were originally employed to communicate. Instead of a vivid conception and a living belief, there remain only a few phrases retained by rote; or, if any part, the shell and husk only of the meaning is retained, the finer essence being lost. The great chapter in human history which this fact occupies and fills, cannot be too earnestly studied and meditated on.
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It is to these causes, as much as to the bad choice of the people, that we must ascribe the great number of inferior men who occupy public situations. I know not whether the people of the United States would choose superior men if they sought to be chosen, but it is certain that they do not seek it.
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M. de Tocqueville also states that the tendency, which he deems inherent in democracy, to be satisfied with a bad choice, manifests itself in a very mitigated degree in the older and more civilized states:
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Hence it follows that in quiet times public functions offer little allurement to ambition. In the United States it is those who are moderate in their desires that engage in public business. The men of great talents and great passions usually abandon the pursuit of power, and engage in that of riches; and it often happens that the person who undertakes to direct the concerns of the public, is he who feels himself little capable of successfully conducting his own.
In the introduction Mill remarks that his object
In New England, where education and liberty are the outgrowth of morality and religion—where society, already old and long-established, has been able to form habits and maxims—the people, while quite independent of all the superiorities which were ever created among mankind by riches or birth, have accustomed themselves to respect intellectual and moral superiorities, and to submit to them without reluctance. Accordingly we see that in New England the democracy makes a far better choice of public functionaries than any where else.