Representative Democracy and Colonial Inspirations: The Case of John Stuart Mill

Representative Democracy and Colonial Inspirations: The Case of John Stuart Mill

By Shmuel Lederman, University of Haifa

Focusing on John Stuart Mill, a particularly illuminating contributor to modern democratic theory, this article examines the connections between modern democracy and the European colonial experience. It argues that Mill drew on the exclusionary logic and discourse available through the colonial experience to present significant portions of the English working classes as domestic barbarians, whose potential rise to power posed a danger to civilization itself: a line of argument that helped him legitimate representative government as a democratic, rather than an antidemocratic form of government, as it had been traditionally perceived. The article contributes to our understanding of the development of modern democratic theory and practice by drawing attention to the ways the colonial experience shaped core Western institutions and ways of thinking, and it makes the case that this experience remains an essential, if often unacknowledged, part of our collective “self.”

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