Thursday, March 2, 2017

Mr. Mill on the Subjection of Women

Review of:
The Subjection of Women (by John Stuart Mill, 1869)

Part 1: June 29, 1869.

Mr. Mill’s small volume or long pamphlet on "The Subjection of Women" is intended to prove "that the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes-- the legal subordination of one to the other-- is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other." The whole volume is written in that tone of vehement moral indignation and passionate excitement, finding vent in sustained eagerness of style and thought, which so much attract some readers to Mr. Mill's writings, and so much repel from them men of his own way of thinking in many respects, but disposed to take a colder view of human nature, its prospects, and its capacities. The following is an outline of his argument:-- He begins by dealing with the adverse presumption arising from the general practice. He argues that, though in some cases the generality of a practice affords a strong presumption that it is or once was useful, this is true only of cases in which the practice was first adopted or kept up as a means to laudable ends, and was grounded on experience. In the case of the authority of men over women, there was, he says, no such conscientious comparison of various modes of social organization, and, therefore, its prevalence proves nothing in favour of its utility. If this argument is sound, it shows that the long duration of human institutions is never, or hardly ever, an argument in their favour, for, in all probability, no body of man ever did or ever will try "various modes of social organization" by way of ascertaining experimentally which is the best. The history of political changes is the history of a succession of struggles by a variety of persons, each of whom thought his own course the best for himself and his neighbours.

Mr. Mill, however, proceeds. He thinks not only that there is no evidence that the principle which he so passionately hates (the expression is not in the least too strong) was adopted as the result of experience, but that there is clear proof that it is a mere vestige of an original state of slavery in which women were held by men by superior muscular strength. "The inequality of rights between men and women has no other source than the law of the strongest," which law of the strongest “seems to be- entirely abandoned as the regulating principle of the world's affairs. Nobody professes it, and, as regards most of the relations between human beings, nobody is allowed to practise it." Mr. Mill then proceeds to assert that throughout all the earlier history of mankind right was founded exclusively on might, but this principle was gradually mitigated-- first, as he says, by the ancient republics, and afterwards by Christianity, which, however, with all its great power over human nature, "could not make [men] renounce either of the applications of force-- force militant or force triumphant." It was only as force came to be more equally divided that it ceased, or comparatively ceased, to be tyrannical. Kings ceased to be tyrants when they were checked by their subjects or by other kings or competitors for the crown; the aristocracy were checked by the growth of the bourgeoisie, and so forth. The power of men over women is only one case of this general rule. It is the last stronghold of tyranny, and ought to be regarded as such and pulled down accordingly.

Upon all this one observation at once suggests itself, which Mr. Mill does not exactly overlook, but to which he does not give its proper place in his speculation. Whatever he or any one else may choose to say in denunciation of the law of force, there neither is, ever was, or ever can by any possibility be any other law, for law is nothing but organized force. It is the very essence of law to command, but a command can be issued only by the stronger to the weaker. Therefore, to denounce the law of force is to denounce all law as such, and to advocate the establishment of a society altogether destitute of law. When this elementary and fundamental principle is forgotten, it is the natural consequence that the value of past experience should be underrated and its very nature misunderstood. If Mr. Mill is right in supposing that all law properly so called-- that is to say, all systematic force and restraint imposed by the stronger on the weak-- is tyrannical usurpation, no doubt the generality and antiquity of a custom or principle is evidence not in its favour, but against it. The proposition is startling, inasmuch as its application is enormously wide. If conjugal power is presumably tyrannical, the same may be said of parental power. If all the rights which grow out of marriage are mere remnants of a barbarous law of force, what is to be said of private property? If marriage and private property are to be put on their defence with the weight of a heavy presumption against them, what are we to say of national existence, and international rights, resting as they generally do more or less remotely upon conquest? Mr. Mill is the last person who ought to fall into this error, for he and the school of which he is the leading member have always taught the doctrine that rights are the creatures of laws, and that laws are the expression of force; and if we are now to be taught that all rights, properly so called--that is to say, all legal rights--are mere organized wrongs, and that law itself, the very notion of the systematic employment of superior power, is tyranny, we are brought face to face with the wildest and most sweeping revolution that can possibly be suggested, a revolution so sweeping that it is difficult even to conceive what sort of institutions it would establish or how the establishment of any institutions whatever could be consistent with its principles.

One special remark deserves attention. "The ancient republics," says Mr. Mill, “being mostly grounded from the first upon some form of compact, or at any rate formed by a union of persons not very unequal in strength, afforded in consequence the first instance of a portion of human relations fenced round and placed under the dominion of another law than that of force." What is a compact but an agreement enforced by law? Surely the force of law in the ancient republics as well as elsewhere, arose simply from the superiority in strength of many persons acting in combination over individuals acting in opposition to them. The ordinary law of Rome as between Roman and Roman, and for that matter the ordinary law of England as between Englishman and Englishman, is just as much a case of the law of force as the law which regulated the relations of master and slave in Jamaica or South Carolina. Mr. Mill goes on in a passage too long to extract to represent Christianity as a great antagonist of the law of force, and he loses no opportunity of introducing the word "Christian" in support of his views, taking it as equivalent to "good." Surely no agency ever brought to bear upon mankind affords so strong an instance of law established by force as Christianity itself. Do as you are told, think as you are told, or be damned to hell for all eternity, has been the language of all Christian teachers in all ages. To describe Christianity as an antagonist or counterpoise to the law of force is as monstrous as to describe the radical equality of the sexes as a Christian doctrine. The whole history of Christianity is the history of the application of force on the widest scale and in the most searching form, and all Christian Churches have always taught the subjection of women to men. The Christian conception of marriage is, as a matter of historical fact, utterly unlike that conception of it on which Mr. Mill's theory must rest. The theory that marriage is indissoluble is not held by all Christians, but most assuredly it is a Christian theory, and it leads as straight to the result which Mr. Mill deprecates of the subjection of women to men, as his own theory of the equality of the sexes leads to the result that marriage ought to be dissoluble at pleasure, like other partnerships.

Having, as he thinks, exposed the origin of the system which he regards as iniquitous, Mr. Mill, in a very odd passage, proceeds to argue that the mere permanence and generality of the present relations of the sexes proves nothing in its favour, because they have so strong a hold on society that if they were wrong they would still be able to stand. To which it may be replied that relations which have an exceedingly strong hold upon society are in all probability adapted to human nature as it is, and that if they are it is practically impossible to alter them unless you can alter human nature, whilst the chance of altering it for the better is infinitesimally small. The following extracts from this part of the work show what in Mr. Mill's opinion are the bases on which the present tyranny rests:--
“Whatever gratification of pride there is in the possession of power, and whatever personal interest in its exercise, is in this case not confined to a limited class, but common to the whole male sex. Instead of being to most of its supporters a thing desirable chiefly in the abstract, or like the political ends usually contended for by factions of little importance to any one but the leaders, it comes home to the person and hearth of every male head of a family and of every one who looks forward to being so. The clodhopper exercises or is to exercise his share of the power equally with the highest nobleman. And the case is that in which the desire of power is the strongest.”
In short, such is human nature that all men in general, and every man individually, has the strongest personal interest in maintaining the existing state of things. Moreover they have the power to do so--
“The possessors of this power have facilities in this case greater than in any other to prevent any uprising against it. Every one of the subjects lives under the very eye, and almost, it may be said, in the hands of one of the masters--in closer intimacy with him than with any of her fellow subjects, with no means of combining against him, no power of even locally over-mastering him.”
Even this is not all. Worse remains behind.
“Each individual of the subject-class is in a chronic state of bribery and intimidation combined. In setting up the standard of resistance a large number of the leaders and still more of the followers must make a complete sacrifice of the pleasures or the alleviations of their own individual lot. If ever any system of privilege and enforced subjection had its yoke tightly rivetted on the necks of those who are kept down by it, it is this. I have not yet shown that it is a wrong system, but every one who is capable of thinking on the subject must see that even if it is, it is likely to outlast all other forms of unjust authority.”
We are inclined to think that in this instance Mr. Mill is right, as he has clearly shown that all men desire the subjection of women, that many women do, in fact, like it, and that before matters can be altered the domestic peace of every household and the personal comfort of every member of every household must be destroyed by "setting up the standard of resistance," with the object of producing a domestic revolution.

Mr. Mill anticipates the objection that the rule of men over women is not a case of force at all, but rests on the consent of women, and to this he gives two answers. First he says that "a great number of women do not accept it:" an assertion which he proves by a reference to what we cannot help calling the trumpery attempts to get up an agitation on the subject in this country and in the United States. It is to us difficult to understand how any one can bring such evidence to prove such a statement. One-half of the human race, it is alleged, is tyrannized over by the other. The proof is that a few ladies in England and America amuse themselves by playing at agitating for women's rights. Suppose the question was whether a negro population liked slavery, and suppose that the evidence was that a few negroes, who had no other way of passing their time, held meetings and made speeches on the subject at the instigation of a few crotchety white men, rather to the amusement than otherwise of the vast mass of the black population, would not most people draw the inference that the existence of the agitation showed the lightness of the alleged tyranny, and that the trifling extent of the agitation showed its unreality? This is an exact parallel to the agitation for women's rights.

Is the case of blacks and whites the evidence that the blacks hated slavery consisted of instances of secret conspiracy, constant local rebellion, and slave codes of atrocious severity for their suppression. Where is there anything like any part of this in the relation between the sexes? Is any union produced by law, duty, interest, or affection, comparable for one moment to the intimacy of the union between husband and wife? It is not merely in law that they are one person.

Mr. Mill's second answer is that men have enslaved women's minds. "Men do not want solely the obedience of women, they want their sentiments. All men, except the most brutish, desire to have in the woman most nearly connected with them, not a forced slave, but a willing one, not a slave merely, but a favourite. They have therefore, put everything in practice to enslave their minds." Hence men have trained women to I look upon "the object of being attractive to men" as "the polar star of feminine education and formation of character," and by way of illustration he asks if a race of plebeians had been taught to look up to the personal favour of a race of patricians and to a share in their personal affections as the one thing desirable in life, " would not plebeians and patricians have been as broadly distinguished at this day as men and women are? And would not all but a thinker here and there have believed the distinction to be a fundamental and unalterable fact in human nature?" Like some of Mr. Mill's other statements, this argument and illustration bear upon the question with a vengeance, but they prove too much. They prove that women as they are, as they have been for ages, and as they have become under all the influences of society, are, in fact, and must long be expected to be, passionately attached to the existing state of things. The authority of men over women, it is alleged, is not slavery, because the women like it. Aye, says Mr. Mill, but they like it because their whole nature, as moulded by the events of countless centuries, leads them to like it, and it is possible that if the whole history of the sexes had been utterly different they might have felt differently therefore, constructively, they do not like the present state of things, and it is a tyranny. As to the patrician and plebian illustration it is merely a case of idem per idem. If two races of men lived together upon the terms upon which men and women now live, and if they were mutually satisfied, why should any one object? Under the circumstances imagined by Mr. Mill it is as certain as any such conclusion can L be that the plebeians would be as willing to obey the patricians and the patricians as eager to protect the plebeians as women are to obey men and women to protect women in the present state of things. Such a relation would, no doubt, be a very peculiar one, but if it existed we do not see why it should be regarded with intolerant disgust. Surely, an old family I servant who regards the honour of the house and the good opinion of iris master as the highest object of his life is not of necessity hateful or contemptible. Caleb Balderston may be a bore, but he is not a monster. All this leads to a still wider objection to the existing state of things. It is a relic of an ancient system now exploded in other departments of life.
“The old theory was that the least possible should be left to the choice of the individual agent. That all he had to do should, as far as practicable, be laid down for him by superior wisdom; left to himself le was sure to go wrong. The modern conviction, the fruit of a thousand years of experience, is that things in which the individual is the person directly interested never go right but as they are left to his own discretion; and that any regulation of them by authority, except to protect the rights of others, is sure to be mischievous. . . . If this general principle of social and economical science is not true; if individuals, with such help as they can derive from the opinion of those who know them, are not better judges than the law and the Government of their own capacities and vocation, the world cannot too soon abandon this principle and return to the old system of regulations and disabilities. But if the principle is true, we ought to act as if we believed it, and not to ordain that to be born a girl instead of a boy any more than to be born black instead of white . . . shall decide the person's position throughout life.”
He adds soon afterwards, "The social subordination of women thus stands out an isolated fact in modem social institutions; a solitary breach of what has become their fundamental law."

That this principle referred to is the "fundamental law" of Mr. Mill’s "Essay on Liberty" is true enough; that it has a great influence on modern social institutions is equally true; but that it is an absolutely true principle which ought to be applied without qualification to every case to which It can be applied appears to us to be altogether false. Misdirected restraint, bad government, has no doubt done a great deal of harm; but moderately good government, restraints imposed upon principles which even if misconceived are approximately true, or, at least, are distorted representations of the truth, have done a vast deal of good, and liberty unwisely permitted has perhaps done as much harm as ill-directed law. Many of the evils under which we labour might have been cured long since if certain tendencies had been effectually restrained which have now got past restraint. Suppose that part of the force which was spent in attempting to persecute the Irish out of Popery had been spent in educating Irish children as Protestants, that part of the force which was wasted in confiscating the land of Ireland and in maintaining confiscation had been spent in the maintenance of a strict system of police, and in the establishment and maintenance of more rational laws as to the land, would Ireland still have been a Catholic country, and a source of weakness to England? But let us try a few applications of Mr. Mill's principle. "Things in which the individual is the person directly interested never go right but as they are left to his own discretion." Whether a woman shall or shall not work in a coalpit is a thing in which she individually is directly interested. Therefore, it will never go right unless it is left to her own, discretion. Whether a child shall or shall not be educated is a thing in which the child is the person most directly interested, and the parents next most directly; therefore, the education or non-education of the child ought to be left entirely to the child and the parents. Whether or not people shall frequent gambling-houses is a question which principally affects them; therefore, the law should permit gambling-houses. Yet women are forbidden by law to work in coalpits, Mr. Mill would not regard compulsory education as tyrannical, and gambling-houses are suppressed by law. These are but three instances, but the number which might be given is endless. This brings us to the exception which Mr. Mill adds to, and by which, as it appears to us, he stultifies, the principle. "Any regulation of things in which any person is directly interested by authority, except to protect the rights of others, is sure to be mischievous." But what are the rights of others? Of all living men Mr. Mill best knows that rights are the creatures of laws. If it is the law that I shall not walk down the Strand or read the newspapers, each and every other person living under the law has a right to have me prevented from doing so; and, therefore, when I am stopped from walking down the Strand by any person he is merely enforcing his right, and the law in restraining me is protecting his right to have me stopped. But if this be so, his principle comes to this-- that the law never ought to interfere with a man's proceedings except in those cases where it ought to interfere: which is perfectly true. In fact, it is impossible to say that there is any sort of presumption either in favour of laws as such or against them. With respect to every law the question is whether or not it contributes to the public interest. There is, however, a way in which the existence and permanence of a given institution throw light upon the question of its utility. In the long ran laws correspond pretty closely with the distribution of power. If we find a permanent aristocracy in a given country we may be pretty sure that, owing to some cause or other, the aristocracy is the most powerful body in that country. If for a long series of years we can trace the progress of changes of a democratic nature we may infer that the democracy is gradually becoming more powerful, and so forth. We may also add to this the further remark that unless the laws do correspond pretty closely with the fact, they can never be stable. The great argument in favour of the late Reform Bill was that the centre of political power had in fact shifted, and that it was practically necessary to recognize the fact by corresponding alterations in the suffrage. So in the case of the Norman Conquest. It would have been absurd to make laws which did not recognize and proceed upon the fact that England was a conquered country, and that the Norman barons were the conquerors. In the interests of all alike, the ruled as well as the rulers, it is necessary to recognize such facts as these, for if the law does not recognize and reduce to a certainty a permanent and actually existing superiority of force, it will assuredly assert itself in other ways, and in that case it will be far harsher and more violent than if it is recognized. In one way or another such a superiority will make itself felt, and no rational legislator would disregard it. Now, if we bear this principle in mind in reference to the case of men and women it is impossible to imagine any evidence upon any moral or political subject which approaches in force the evidence supplied by experience as to the superiority of men over women in regard to strength. Mr. Mill himself does not dispute their superiority in what he calls, with a sort of contempt, mere "muscular force." This, however, is by no means an adequate expression of the fact. Can any sane man doubt that men have larger bones, thicker skins, as a rule, greater nervous energy, louder and deeper voices, more capacious chests, broader shoulders --in a word, bodies better adapted for every kind of exertion than women, to say nothing of their exemption from physical conditions which greatly diminish every form of strength? To call all this "mere muscular force" is a most imperfect description of a very important class of facts, especially in a philosopher whose theories certainly cannot be said to tend to deepen the distinction between mind and body. To return, however, to experience. The fact that men have governed, and do govern, every country in the world may be explained in various ways, but it is surely inconsistent with the notion that men are not much stronger than women. If they are stronger, and if law is the regulated and formal expression of force, it is idle to legislate as if they were equal.

Mr. Mill concludes the introductory part of his work with some remarks on the distinctive characteristics of women, which he afterwards amplifies. The gist of what he has to say is contained in a few words: "The profoundest knowledge of the laws of the formation of character is indispensable to entitle any one to affirm even that there is any difference, much more what the difference is, between the two sexes considered as moral and rational beings." "Conjectures are all that can at present be made." We will not follow Mr. Mill through his observations on this subject, many of which appear to us open to much criticism. His argument is, in a few words, that we have not yet analyzed character, and the circumstances which lead to its formation, and that therefore we are unable to say specifically what, if any, differences exist between men and women. It appears to us just as reasonable to say that, for analogous reasons, we cannot affirm that there is any and what difference between dogs and wolves, Englishmen and Irishmen, Protestants and Roman Catholics, Mr. Mill and any other man. No one can specify the exact distinction between Mr. Mill, for instance, and Sir W. Hamilton. Yet no rational person would neglect the difference. The truth is that it is precisely in those cases in which scientific precision has not been attained, and is perhaps unattainable, that the distinction between those who have and those who want the qualities which we call mother wit and common sense is most conspicuous. It is true that we are not able to give appropriate names to the differences between men and women, and a complete systematic theory of their nature and causes; but a person who cannot see in general what they are, and what are the practical inferences to be drawn from their existence, appears to us strangely deficient in qualities which are of great importance, though they do not always accompany conspicuous philosophical capacity.

There is, however, one difference between men and women which Mr. Mill overlooks, but which may be affirmed to exist with perfect confidence, and which lies at the root of all other differences between them. It is simply that men are men and that women are women, and that each sex, as such, has attractions for the other which are amongst the strongest of human passions. If these passions have their natural and normal course the result is marriage. Mr. Mill continually writes as if married life were a profession which some women may choose just as others are to choose art, medicine, law, or what not. It never appears to strike him that to speak of the position of a wife or mother as analogous to that of a professional man is an abuse of language. No one talks of the profession of a father of a family. You might as well talk of the profession of eating one's dinner. One of the principal objects which people have in view in adopting professions is to enable themselves to support the expense of living according to nature in the matter of families. One fundamental and unalterable inequality between men and women is that, whereas the orderly and reasonable satisfaction of passions which in the case of both men and women more or less distinctly and consciously affect every part of human life, is in normal cases essential to the happiness of each, its satisfaction in the case of men is a strong spur to exertion in active professions, whilst in the case of women it physically incapacitates them from everything of the kind. Active life, therefore, must be as abnormal in the case of women as it is normal in the case of men; and to refuse to recognize this fact in social and professional legislation appears to us to be precisely the same absurdity as to refuse to extend the suffrage to the working classes when they have virtually become a great political power, or to ignore the superiority which a conquering race has proved over those whom it has conquered by legislating as if no conquest had taken place. This supplies the answer to some remarks made by Mr. Mill upon an argument on the subject which has often been used in these columns, and which he does not appear to us to understand. "I should like," he says, "to hear somebody openly enunciating the doctrine (it is already implied in much that is written on the subject), ‘It is necessary to society that women should marry and produce children. They will not do so unless they are compelled. Therefore it is necessary to compel them.' The merits of the case would then be clearly defined." No one ever said anything so foolish. It is not law, but passions and instincts infinitely stronger than any law, which compel men and women to enter into those relations which laws fashion into marriage. The task which nature throws upon society is to take notice of this fact, and to govern itself accordingly, and the argument which Mr. Mill parodies stands, in fact, somewhat as follows:--

1. The orderly and reasonable satisfaction of the passions and feelings which arise both in men and in women from difference of sex is one of the great objects of society, and is the necessary condition of its perpetuation.
2. Hence the normal state for both men and women, by which all other relations of life should be regulated, is marriage. Married men and women should be treated as the rule, and unmarried men and women as the exception.
3. But marriage implies the subjection of the wife to the husband. Women, therefore, in their normal and most honourable condition are subject to men.
4. Therefore unmarried women ought not to be treated as if they were the superiors of married women.

Mr. Mill does not, we think, dissent very widely from this way of putting the case. He would probably admit that the whole question of women's rights turns upon the question of the nature of marriage, and the greater part of his book is occupied with the statement and defence of his views upon that subject. We must reserve them for future notice, but in the meantime there is some satisfaction in finding in him a thoroughgoing antagonist who tells us fairly that the real ground on which he advocates female suffrage and the alteration of the law as to the property of married women is because he regards them as steps towards a revolution which is to alter the character of every family in England, and to cause every man to cease to be master in his own house. At all events we know what we have to deal with.

Part 2: August 23, 1869.

Some time ago we examined part of Mr. Mill's work on the Subjection of Women, and in particular we tried to show that his views on that subject were vitiated by the manner in which he deals with historical evidence, by the theory which he assumes as to the principles of legislation upon such subjects, and by his refusal to recognize the fact that men and women do differ widely because he cannot precisely specify the particulars in which they differ. We now propose to show how his theories would apply to marriage. Marriage, he tells us in various forms, ought to be regarded as a partnership between equal and independent contracting agents, who, like all other human beings in this age of the world, ought to liv e together as equals. He carefully avoids saying that it ought, like other partnerships, to be dissoluble at the pleasure of the contracting parties, but it is obvious that his whole theory must be impracticable, and even absurd, without this proviso. It is hardly necessary to waste words in proving the fact that marriages in which there is to be no subordination must be dissoluble at pleasure and that if marriage is, as at present, to be practically indissoluble, one or the other of the married parties must be in the superior position. If two people ride on a horse, one must hold the reins, or each must have the liberty of dismounting when he pleases. Since, however, everything upon this subject is disputed it may be as well to repeat once more what really amounts to a demonstration. Suppose husband and wife differ as to any one of a hundred subjects, the education of their children, the place of their residence, whom they will invite to dinner, what time they will breakfast, &c. &c., either one must give way to the other, or they must part company, or the family must conic to a dead-lock, which is reductio ad absurdum, or the law must in each case decide between them, which is practically impossible. Mr. Mill suggests that the respective provinces of husband and wife might be regulated by previous contract. But surely this would be impossible. How could such a contract be drawn? How could it be enforced? Law is far too rough an engine to be introduced into the regulations of domestic affairs. It follows, therefore, that if marriage is to be an equal partnership, it must be a partnership dissoluble at pleasure. Mr. Mill himself substantially admits this, for, after suggesting a variety of ways by which flatters may be settled between husband and wife without recognizing any superiority on either side, he at last says:-- "Things never come to an issue of downright power on one side and obedience on the other, except where the connection altogether has been a mistake, and it would be a blessing to both parties to be relieved from it." As the parties only could say when such a state of things had arisen, this admission involves the principle of divorce at pleasure. Let us see, then, how this would affect the condition of women. Suppose that after seven or eight years of married life a man of thirty-three or thirty-four dissolves partnership with a wife of the same age, who has say four children under eight. He will still be liable, probably, to contribute his share towards their maintenance, but what will her position be? He will be in the very prime of life, but she, if she has ceased to be attractive to him and is obliged to take care of her four children, will not be favourably situated for marrying again.  What is to be her future life? To talk of the world and its various professions being open to her is mockery. How can a woman with the care of four little children on her hands follow any other profession than that of looking after them? If any one doubts whether, on the whole, marriage as it is is a good bargain for women, they have only got to compare the life of a wife with that of a kept mistress, and to calculate the number of persons who would be willing, apart from considerations of morality and respectability, to exchange the one position for the other. The truth is, as any one who will carefully consider the question of divorce may easily see, that it is impossible to evade or alter the fact that men are in every way stronger than women. In one form or other this fact will govern their relations. If the law does not recognize this inequality, it will make itself felt in other ways. Destroy the legal and moral duty of obedience on the part of the wife towards the husband, make marriage a mere partnership, and the husband will by his superior power have his wife at his mercy. Put the wife by law in the superior position, and there will be no husbands. Put the husband in the superior position, and you have the existing order of things--an arrangement which we believe to be right in principle, though it might no doubt be considerably improved in matters of detail.

The principle upon which it rests is that the relation of the sexes in general and marriage in particular involves rule and protection on the one hand and submission on the other, each set of feelings being permeated by the sentiment which each so excites in the other, and being thus softened elevated, and softened. This principle Mr. Mill denounces in every sort of way. He regards it as obsolete, fundamentally erroneous, and destined to be supplanted by a more modern principle, which he states over and over again in different forms, of which we will quote a few.
“Command and obedience are but unfortunate necessities of human life: society in equality is its normal state. Already in modern life, and more and more as it progressively improves, command and obedience become exceptional facts in life. Equal association is its general rule. . . . We have had the morality of submission, and the morality of chivalry and generosity; the time is now come for the morality of justice. . . . We are entering into an order of things in which justice will again be the primary virtue. . . The true virtue of human beings is fitness to live together as equals.”
Near the end of the book he says that the first specific advantage of the existing state of things will be--
“The advantage of having the most universal and pervading of all human relations regulated by justice instead of injustice. . . . All that education and civilization are doing to efface the influences on character of the law of force and replace them by those of justice remains merely on the surface so long as the citadel of the enemy is not attacked. 
Other passages are to be found in abundance in the book which show clearly that by justice Mr. Mill means equality, and that he regards inequality as incompatible with any of the higher feelings. Take, for instance, such sentences as these:-- “Even with true affection authority on the one side and subordination on the other prevent perfect confidence. The position of looking up to another is extremely unpropitious to complete sincerity and openness with him."

These passages appear to us to contain the very soul of the book, the greater part of which is nothing but an amplification and application of them. Much might be said in opposition to nearly every page which it contains, but we shall best show the grounds on which we dissent from Mr. Mill by confining our observations to these leading principles.

To begin at the beginning, our conception of justice is altogether different from Mr. Mill's. There are two views upon this subject. One of these views is that justice follows, the other that it precedes and form is the law. Those who think as we do, that justice follows the law, mean by the word "justice" nothing more than the equal and impartial application of any rule whatever to those cases for which it provides. For instance, if there were a rule that the seventh son of a seventh son should be incompetent as a witness from thirty-five to forty, it would, in our sense of the word be unjust in places where that rule was in force to admit the testimony of any such person during that period of his life. The rule itself would be neither just nor unjust, though it would be mischievous and absurd. In the other view of justice it corresponds very nearly to that equality which in many parts of the world has been made the object of a sort of worship. Justice in this view is supposed to consist in putting every human creature as far as possible upon an equal footing; in allotting to each, as far as may be, the same political and social rights and duties in favouring, as far as possible, an equal distribution of property; and, in a word, in recognizing no a priori classification of mankind whatever, whether colour, race, or sex be taken as the principle on which that classification is to proceed. Whether this is a good or a bad thing we do not at present inquire; but to describe it as justice, and then to argue in favour of it as being just, appears to us to be a rhetorical artifice which Mr. Mill has less right to adopt than any other person whatever. It is the fallacy which Bentham denounced so continually, and so justly, of “question-begging epithets." Equality is just, but justice is good, therefore equality is good. This seems to us altogether fallacious. Before you can show that justice itself is good, you must show that the rule in the impartial administration of which justice consists is generally beneficial. The just administration of such a law as the one about the seven tie sons of seventh sons would be a great evil, because the law itself would be monstrous. Upon the whole, therefore, it would seem that the expediency or utility of general equality must be proved before it can be said that justice demands it, if justice is regarded as a good thing. Mr. Mill, however, is not contented with invoking justice. He tries to show that Christianity also is on his side. He tells us that  the equality of human beings is the theory of Christianity." Christianity is a very indefinite word, and means, generally speaking, that part of an enormous whole which the person who uses the phrase approves of. Its true sense, we submit, is the body of opinions and sentiments held by those persons who in different ages have professed to be the followers of Jesus Christ. Now, to say that Christianity, in this sense of the word, teaches the equality of human beings is to ignore the fact that almost every scheme of Christian theology, Protestant or Catholic, agrees in teaching that some men go to heaven and others to hell, and that the reason why they do so is to be found in the will of God, who for inscrutable reasons gives to some persons greater grace than to others. This is the mildest form, of the doctrine, which in its sterner forms runs up into the heights of predestination and reprobation. Whichever form of it is chosen, the practical result is much the same, and the effect is to establish between man and man a kind and degree of inequality which is altogether transcendental and incapable of being compared to anything human. How then can Christianity be said to preach the equality of human beings?

As to the advantages of equality, it appears to us that legislation ought to be founded on and adjusted to facts, and that it is just as mischievous to neglect real distinctions as to create fictitious ones, to treat as equals those who are not equals, as to treat those who are equal as if they were not. It has no doubt been found by experience that many distinctions once regarded as indelible and essential, were in fact transitory or of minor importance; that, for instance, men of different colours and different creeds might advantageously to all be put upon the same footing; but it does not follow from this that sex and age do not make real distinctions between human beings, and indeed it is perfectly certain that at given times and places differences of creed, colour, and race have formed substantial distinctions which it would have been the blindest pedantry to overlook. Can it be alleged, for instance, even in the present day, that barbarous tribes ought always to be treated on a footing of exact equality with civilized races which inhabit the same country? that the Santhal, the Hindoo and the Englishman, the Frenchman and the Arab, the American and the Red Indian, the Dane and the Esquimnaux, the Caffre and the Bloor, should all be treated in precisely the same way and subjected to identically the same laws ? Would Mr. Mill himself say that women ought to be liable to the same duties as men, that they should be subject, for instance, to compulsory military service?

So much for the question of justice. Let us now consider Mr. Mill's subordinate proposition, which is that obedience and command are melancholy necessities, the importance of which is gradually fading away before modern improvements, and that society, in equality, practically excludes them. This appears to us to be a fundamental error. We think that obedience and command, in one shape or another, do now, and, as far as it is possible to form any reasonable anticipations about the future, always must and will form the very staple of life. Its great problem is to bring our individual wishes and wills into harmony with certain principles of conduct, and general or special facts in external nature. This general truth is recognized by the universal metaphor which describes every general fact as a "law." The metaphor is in many respects misleading, but it is highly significant. It is one of many facts which might be adduced to show how constant and all-pervading in life are drill and discipline, and how few of the tastes and feelings which play any considerable part in it are of much use so long as they remain spontaneous and untrained. Every form of education involves continual and systematic command and obedience, no branch of knowledge and few bodily accomplishments can be acquired without them. The highest conception entertained by the human mind, the only one ever yet discovered which has in fact been capable of uniting the human race for any large purpose into a single body, is that of the one God, the supreme ruler, whose commands pervade the moral universe and constitute the distinction between moral good and evil. Where there is no command and no obedience, there are and can be no duties. Yet inflexibly to do your duty, to obey the commands laid upon you, is surely the highest, or nearly the highest, ideal of life.

Let us, then, consider the nature of family life viewed in relation to this principle. Mr. Mill seems to think that those who say that a man ought to be master in his own house mean to affirm that the father of a family should be a despot, the wife his favourite slave, and the children his subordinate slaves. The burden of the whole book is that men have enslaved women in body and in mind; that "no other class of dependants have had their character so entirely distorted;" that men cannot know women, because even when true affection exists between husband and wife "authority on the one side and subordination on the other prevent perfect confidence" that though it cannot be asserted "that wives are in general no better treated than slaves," yet "no slave is a slave to the same lengths and in so full a sense of the word as a wife is." He talks of the "despotism of the family." He explains the intense attachment which exists between husband and wife by the remark, "Exactly as much may be said of domestic slavery. These intense individual feelings nowhere rise to such a luxuriant height as under the most atrocious institutions. It is part of the irony of life that the strongest feelings of devoted gratitude of which human nature seems to be susceptible are called forth in human beings towards those who, having the power entirely to crush their earthly existence, voluntarily refrain from using that power."

To say nothing of the taste of such passages as these, they all seem to us to overlook the fact that authority united with even a moderate degree of benevolence is in itself a popular thing, and that submission to that which is regarded as lawful authority is never felt to involve degradation or to prevent confidence. Neither in theory nor in practice, neither in law nor in morals, is a wife bound to obey her husband to anything like the same extent or under anything like such severe sanctions as those which apply to soldiers and sailors. Yet military discipline is not inconsistent with confidence and friendship. If the captain and the lieutenant, the colonel and the major car, be intimate friends, although there exists between them the relation of legal superior and inferior, involving the right to command and the duty to obey, why should not equal confidence exist between husband and wife? The true theory of a family is that it is a small State having for its main object the education in various directions of the different persons who form part of it, and each member having his own special function to be exercised for his own good, and for the good of the rest. Why should the position of a wife in such a system be slavish or degraded any- more than that of a child, and what would be said of a child who considered obedience to his parents as a degradation? Mr. Mill characteristically omits from his book all reference to the fact that in most families there are children as well as married persons. He never seems to recollect that in the case of children at all events command and obedience are continual and inevitable, and that from this alone it follows that the family must have one head. As to the general notion that the power of a husband and father may be useful to his wife and family he is of course ready with his answer. It is given in these words: “Who doubts that there may be great goodness and areas happiness and great affection under the absolute government of man? Meanwhile laws and institutions require to be adapted not to good men but to bad." That is to say the rights and duties of married life are to be regulated on the principle that husbands in general will be cruel to their wives, that wives in general will love their husbands, and that neither will use for their children's good any power which that law gives them over their children. Make your marriage laws, says Mr. Mill, on the supposition that their great object is to restrain a brutal man and a silly woman from doing each other and their children as much harm as they otherwise would do. Assume for purposes of legislation that every legal power will be abused, and that whatever discretion you give will be employed for selfish purposes. Let no man make a will, because most men are fools. Give no power to military commanders, because they will presumably be bad. Trust no one, for this is a world of knaves and fools on its way under my guidance to eternal happiness and boundless progress. This is the very essence of Mr. Mill's book, and we reply to it that such assumptions are sure to fulfil themselves, and that there is no surer way of making people brutal, selfish, and silly than by legislating on the supposition that they generally are so in fact. If you assume that every punishment which a parent inflicts on a child is an act of cruelty, and call upon him to justify it specially, and that whenever a husband calls upon his wife to obey him; be is a tyrant and she a slave, you do your utmost, and that utmost if you are a legislator is a great deal, to destroy all the respect which children feel for their parents and wives for their husbands. Nothing, indeed, is more remarkable in Mr. Mill's book than the strange union which it presents of prospective philanthropy with actual misanthropy. He is, as all his works show, an enthusiastic believer in human progress; but he is the bitterest and most contemptuous perhaps of all contemporary critics of the actual men and women in the midst of whom he lives. Take, for instance, this sentence-
“The greater part of what women write about women is mere sycophancy to men. Is the case of unmarried women much of it seems only intended to get a husband. If the family in its best forms is, as it is often said to be, a school of sympathy, tenderness, and loving forgetfulness of self, it is still oftener, as respects its chief, a school of willfulness, overbearingness, unbounded self-indulgence, and a double-eyed and idealized selfishness, of which sacrifice itself is only a particular form; the care of the wife and children being only care for them as part of the man's own interests and belongings, and their individual happiness being immolated in every shape to his smallest preferences. What better is to be looked for under the existing form of the institution?”
To us there is something at once suspicious and repulsive in this union of bitter hatred and contempt for the present with passionate confidence at the future. If a man love not men and women whom he hath seen, how can he love human nature or humanity in the abstract which neither he nor anybody else ever did, will, or possibly can see?

There is, indeed, one remarkable qualification to the bitter hatred which Mr. Mill feels for us all. Radical as he is, he admits that the higher classes are not generally brutal, as in a memorable passage of his essay on Liberty he admitted that they do not usually lie.
“I readily admit (and it is the very foundation of my hopes) that numbers of married people even under the present law (in the higher classes of England probably a great majority) live in the spirit of a just law of equality. Law's never would be improved if there were not numerous persons whose moral sentiments are better than the existing laws. Such persons ought to support the principles here advocated, of which the only object is to make all other married couples similar to what these are now.”
We are sorry to be unable to agree with Mr. Mill even in this matter. That there are innumerable happy families in this and other countries, and that in every rank of life, we entirely believe; but that husbands and wives in such families live together on terms of equality we deny. We should say that the happiness of these families is founded on the fact that each member of them, and especially the husband and wife, knows his or her place, and discharges its functions properly. Mr. Mill never distinguishes between willing and unwilling obedience. He appears to think that a person never can be said to obey unless he gives way to threats, or to command unless he employs threats; but surely this is altogether a mistake, A man may be master in his own house, in the fullest sense of the word, who never gives a positive order even to a servant, and who never takes any part whatever in his domestic affairs beyond giving his wife whatever money she asks for; but where this happy state of things exists, it arises from the fact that he is recognized by every member of the household, from the wife downwards, as their natural ruler and guide, whose authority is exercise, not by harsh tones or brutal gestures, but by simply announcing the conclusions at which, in the exercise of his discretion, he has arrived. Let us take a specific instance. The question is whether upon the whole it would be wise to send a particular boy to school. The parents talk the matter over and discuss it from various points of view. The wife at last takes one side, the husband the other. There are no hard words, no load tones, no ill-feeling, no diminution of confidence or love; but the boy goes to school or stays at home, as the father decides, and the mother as a rule is glad to be free from the responsibility of deciding. This is what we understand by conjugal obedience and authority, and we firmly believe that one of the greatest attractions which married life possesses for women Is that it provides them with an authority upon whom they can lean and who will take the responsibility of deciding the questions which affect their happiness. Almost every widow or unmarried woman tries to supply the want of a husband by some male adviser in whom she puts confidence, her brother, her son, her clergyman, her lawyer, her doctor, or the trust of her marriage settlement. And a man must have seen very little of practical life who does not know by experience that women stand pretty nearly as much in need of protection in these days against various forms of fraud,, imposition, and moral violence as ever they did in rougher times against physical force.

Pall Mall Gazette, June 29 and August 23, 1869.

No comments:

Post a Comment