I heard in a talk that John Stuart Mill was in favor of democracy in his own country but against democracy in India, I read the following in a paper -

Mill’s support of British imperialism may seem puzzling given that Mill defends toleration, liberty, and experiments in living. How could the theorist who defends a principle holding that no one could “rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so” (OL 18:223– 24) also defend a system of imperialism seeking to compel the improvement of others? Tolerant Imperialism: John Stuart Mill’s Defense of British Rule in India by Mark Tunick, 2006

But could not find any direct quote, can any one provide relatively direct quote where John Stuart Mill said against democracy in India but contrary advocates democracy in England or other European country? I am looking for a quote that is more direct than what is posted already, note that I got better quote than what is given in answer.

  • 1
    What does "democracy" have to do with my supposed right not to be "compelled to do or forbear"? If I'm being compelled against my will, why should it matter to me if the compulsion is decreed by an emperor across the sea or by a majority vote of my neighbors?Am I supposed to think it makes a difference if I am allowed to cast my own vote, among thousands of others, in deciding what I am permitted or forbidden to do? Democracy != freedom.
    – bof
    Aug 10, 2020 at 9:57
  • A fascinating defence of Soviet dictatorship, though I'm not sure that's what you intended. Also not relevant... at all
    – Ne Mo
    Aug 10, 2020 at 10:20
  • I've voted to close as it's not clear what you want to know. Two people have answered the question you asked and it doesn't seem to be satisfactory. That's fine, but you need to clarify what you want to get out of the community's answers
    – Ne Mo
    Aug 12, 2020 at 9:09
  • @MarkC.Wallace yes sir, please do that, I am looking for a quote that is more direct than what is posted already, note that i got better quote than what is given in answer. Thanks.
    – Michael
    Aug 12, 2020 at 11:14
  • I still don't get it. What do you want Mill to have said? 'Democracy in Britain is good, democracy in India is bad'? My vtc still stands
    – Ne Mo
    Aug 12, 2020 at 12:19

2 Answers 2


Yes, he was. The book you're looking for is Considerations on Representative Government.

[A] people must be considered unfit for more than a limited and qualified freedom who will not co-operate actively with the law and the public authorities in the repression of evil-doers. A people who are more disposed to shelter a criminal than to apprehend him; who, like the Hindoos, will perjure themselves to screen the man who has robbed them, rather than take trouble or expose themselves to vindictiveness by giving evidence against him.

Mill thought that European countries had to teach their supposedly ignorant colonial subjects how to behave before they could be trusted with elections. Even Marxists, at this point, thought that Europe was the centre of the universe. While this doesn't mitigate any blame attached to Mill, the above quote is more important for what it tells us about the general 19th century European view of non Europeans than for what it says about Mill.

  • Thanks for your answer but I was looking for something more direct, I already know he did not think that the people of India were ready to represent their own interests, be members of a legislative council, or hold other high positions (CW 30:51; RG 19:573– 74; Abram L. Harris, “John Stuart Mill: Servant of the East India Company,” Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 30 (1964): 193; CW 30:65. For a dispute about what Mill means in saying Indians should not hold high positions, compare Stokes, English Utilitarians and India, 255, with Harris, 193 –94)
    – Michael
    Aug 10, 2020 at 4:55
  • ..btw Marxist were eurocentric but they were never accused of "racism"
    – Michael
    Aug 10, 2020 at 4:55
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    I didn't use the word racist, because Mill (and Marx) thought that Europeans were culturally superior, not racially superior, although the results are much the same and many of their contemporaries thought the latter.
    – Ne Mo
    Aug 10, 2020 at 8:31
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    I don't understand your objection to this quote as an answer to your question. If he thought Indians can't 'represent their own interests' or 'be members of a legislative council', or 'weren't suitable for more than limited freedom', that means he thought they couldn't be have a democratic government. You need to clarify your question if you want a different answer
    – Ne Mo
    Aug 10, 2020 at 8:34

Mills' ideas of "toleration, liberty, and experiments in living" were grounded in the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th century, in which the "rule of reason" swept Europe, but not (yet) other parts of the world. This, in turn, was grounded in the moral superiority of science (the industrial revolution) and law (the social contract and rule of law.

The unspoken subtext is that Mills' philosophy applied to those people who accepted the fundamental of the Enlightenment, and not others. As pointed out by another poster, Ne Mo, the Hindus of the 19th century were "more disposed to shelter a criminal than to apprehend him" did not follow the "rule of law or Enlightenment principles generally. They were then and thereby "disqualified" from enjoying the freedoms that Mills preached. By the 20th century, however, the Indians made a strong case for democracy in their country, and their record (post 1947) indeed proves that they were capable of it.

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