Classic EssaysRevilo P. Oliver

The Millstone About His Neck

John Stuart MillThe real source of “liberal” delusions

by Revilo P. Oliver

JOHN STUART MILL (1806-1873; pictured) is chiefly remembered today as an example of precocity and as the author of an enthusiastic essay On Liberty (1859). There is still debate about whether he was extraordinarily precocious or merely an example of what any child with a first-rate mind, but not a genius, could accomplish, if properly taught. Educated by his father, he read, when he was eight, the whole of the Anabasis and of Herodotus, although only two or three books of one or the other are now expected of pupils in their second year of Greek in college. When he was twelve, he was reading the logic of Aristotle and comparing it with the Mediaeval Scholastics.

The essay, although little regarded at the time, when it was only a minor item in the mass of his politico-social writings, survived as a model of restrained eloquence. It was read by many Americans in the 1920s, when English literature was still taught in the secondary schools, and the few who went on to a serious study of Ancient History in college remembered it when they read the declamations of Aelius Aristides and other orators of the Second Sophistic. His treatises on political economy and sociology, however, lapsed into obsolescence. His last major work, left incomplete at his death, has now been published in book form for the first time, exhumed from the pages of a long forgotten British periodical.

The completed chapters of Mill’s On Socialism have been published in a booklet of 146 pages by an affiliate of the Skeptical Inquirer in Buffalo, Prometheus Books ($4.95). Forty-four pages of the booklet are an Introduction by Lewis S. Feuer, which most of my readers will find more interesting and useful than the text of Mill’s essay.

Mill was one of the crowd of Victorian writers whose anxious cerebration about politico-social problems was being made obsolete even while they wrote, and now appear to us as wreckage washed up from the tempest of the French Revolution or as a fumbling reaction from the hysteria of its terribles simplificateurs. He did attempt to ponder the problems without preconceptions and to analyse them objectively, hoping he could produce by logic a sociology as scientific as the physical sciences, and we must agree that his conscientious effort was commendable. He deserves the praise Mr. Feuer gives him, and his social science will always have the interest of other attempts at scientific method, such as astrology and phrenology, of which the former still attracts today many ignorant or temperamental individuals, who imagine that what is systematic must be scientific in the modern English meaning of that word. (It is still possible in French to term any systematic treatment of a subject, such, for example, as demonology or hagiology, une science, but in English the word is now acceptable only when it denotes an objective determination of empirically demonstrable facts about the real world.)

Interest in Mill’s politico-social writings is now being revived by the persons who call themselves “libertarians” and like to discourse about what society ought to be — and what it might conceivably be, if it were composed, as in Plato’s Nomoi, of individuals rigorously selected for inclusion in a state newly created in territory previously uninhabited. These fantasies, like most Utopian writings, have a certain charm, if set forth with some literary skill, and often are taken seriously by earnest young men when they emerge from a conventional college.

It is the merit of Mr. Feuer’s Introduction that it quickly and agreeably shows the reader precisely what was the fatal flaw in Mill’s attempt to reason logically and objectively. Mill did make an earnest effort, and it is to his credit that, unlike some of his contemporaries, he was never taken in by the gospel of St. Marx and the amazingly successful religious cult that even today has so large a following and gives such power to the masters of Communism, who, needless to say, are too intelligent to believe the hokum that makes their herds obedient. Mill, as you will see from On Socialism, perceived the enormous discrepancy between the beings imagined in the gospel and existing human beings, but he was bemused by the shortcomings of the society in which he lived and sought to explain and mitigate them in a kind of groping perplexity, never understanding their origin and basis.

As Mr. Feuer tells us, Mill took seriously the “Positivism” that Auguste Comte formulated when not in a strait-jacket, and if we know anything of Comte, we marvel, perhaps a little unfairly, that Mill was not alerted or even moved to derisive laughter by Comte’s “Religion of Humanity,” with its temples in which priests would exhort the pious to revere sanctified “benefactors of mankind,” including, by the way, the celebrated Francisco Lopez, who, I believe, has the distinction of having killed off in war a larger percentage of his male population than any other ruler known to history.

There was undoubtedly a strain of madness in Comte, even when he was not insane. It was clearly evinced in his system of hygiène cérébrale, by which he maintained the purity of his mind by reading only a few poets, significantly including Dante, and in prose, even more significantly, the sentimental maunderings of the Imitatio Christiattributed to Thomas à Kempis. But if we put ourselves imaginatively in the first part of the Nineteenth Century, we can see that there was something attractive in a doctrine which exalted reason above superstition and was sufficiently realistic to perceive that political systems were limited by the prevalent morality and thus able to appreciate the social necessity of the Czars’ government of Russia and the import of the coup d’état carried out by Louis Napoléon, which aroused such screaming from Victor Hugo and his fellow doctrinaires. We can understand why Mill was a generous contributor to the subsidy provided for Comte when he was in need.

Mill’s admiration of Comte, however, is merely a characterizing detail. To comprehend fully the cause of Mill’s failure, we need only perpend two of his pronouncements, which Mr. Feuer rightly stresses and contrasts.

Mill knew a great deal about India. His father, the author of a once highly regarded History of India, which is still a source of some value, who had long practical experience in the government of India, had observed that “No other race of men are perhaps so little friendly and beneficent to one another as the Hindus,” and had attributed their “listless apathy” to their long subjection to a despotic government, plus, perhaps, their “grovelling and base” religion. (1) Mill, who assimilated his father’s knowledge, himself had a long practical experience of Indian realities, having been in charge of the East India Company’s relations with the native states until the Company was disestablished after the Sepoy Mutiny. He believed that the people of India were “in their nonage,” but with the facile optimism of his time, thought they might eventually become politically and socially adult, after making lots of progress with education and other fashionable nostrums.

(Footnote 1. He was thinking, of course, of the popular sects, the Tantraic orgies, the Vallabhacharyas, and the other cults of insanely perverse sexuality which gave a paralysing shock to Victorians who knew of them and which might unsettle the stomach of even a hardened modern observer; the murderous worship of Kali by the Thugs, whom the British imperialists so ruthlessly suppressed; the grotesque, skull-bearing Kapalins; and all the disgusting horde of dirty fakirs and maniacs who posed as holy men. James Mill doubtless thought the grandiose speculations of the post-Vedic religious literature almost irrelevant to the squalid lives of the swarming multitudes of India.)

It seems never to have occurred to Mill that India was (and is) a multiracial cesspool (such as Americans hope to make of the United States) and, that by biological and social necessity, its mongrel populations had to be governed despotically. There is still a good deal of Aryan blood in India, wherefore its dominant language today is Indo-European, a derivative of Sanskrit, which was a modification of the earlier Vedic. No doubt something also survives of the White race, perhaps akin to the Sumerians, whose civilization left traces in the Indus Valley recently discovered by archaeologists. There are today White Hindus, whose fair complexion is almost startling when they are seen in contrast with the teeming majority that surrounds them.

The Moslem conquest of India in the Eleventh Century brought with it hordes of various Semitic and Mongoloid peoples. There are innumerable varieties of the Dravidians, who were probably already mongrelized when the earliest White invaders described them as monkeys or demons. One may despair of analysing the biological components of the dark-skinned natives whom those invaders thought civilizable and classed as Sudras, lumping together tribes that differed from each other. There is a considerable number of descendants of Australoids, the lowest of extant races. And there is an almost infinite variety of hybrids, combining in various proportions various of these racial stocks. The British, wicked colonialists that they were, restrained the native yearning to massacre racially incompatible groups, but since India has been liberated from such oppression, massacres, which began with “independence,” will periodically delight the blood-lust of our “Liberal intellectuals,” who are determined not to perceive that, for example, the recent outbreaks of both the Sikhs and “Tamils” are entirely of racial, not religious, origin.

One would suppose that so obvious a fact would have been understood by a man intimately associated with the routine administration of India, but Mill seems to have been oblivious of it. He was blinded by the epidemic hallucination about “all mankind,” which teaches that every talking anthropid is just like all the others, only more so. And his brain was inhibited by the fiction about “human rights,” presumably ordained by some unnamed deity, so that he could not face the fact that there can be no rights except those a society, whether a tribe, a nation, or a country, bestows on its members and may deem it expedient to extend in part to such aliens as it tolerates in its midst. And in a multi-racial country, which is not a society but only a congeries of biologically and psychologically incompatible individuals, there can be no actual rights, only concessions its rulers deem it expedient to make at any given time.

Mill knew nothing about Congoids, with whom he had had no contact at all. He was so gullible, however, that he believed the propaganda of missionaries and other professional troublemakers, which so fitted his superstition about “all mankind” that he approved the ruin wrought by England’s outrageously unjust suppression of slavery and thought it a great moral triumph; he whooped it up for the vicious pack of Abolitionists in the United States and raved that the Southerners’ struggle to defend against invaders their rights under the Constitution that was being abrogated, their property, and their lives was “the devil’s work” and the cause of “Satan.” And his frenzy continued, even after the conquest of the South by the hate-crazed aggressors, and he demanded that all the niggers be entitled to vote. When a man who is proud that he is not a Christian howls about “Satan,” it is easy to measure the extent of his mental aberration.

Mr. Feuer could have added to his quotations that show Mill’s emotional unreason an even more telling incident of Mill’s career in Parliament. The island of Jamaica was one of Great Britain’s most prosperous, stable, and cultivated colonial outposts until 1832, when Britain, by what amounted to piracy under international law, undertook to suppress the slave trade of all nations. There are, to be sure, cogent arguments, economic and social, against slavery as an institution, even in its least noxious form, but the British policy was determined, not by rational political considerations, but by a party government’s yielding to agitators inspired by Christian malice and the old yen of proletarians to afflict their betters so that “the last shall become first.” Our people have been so conditioned and morally weakened by centuries of superstition that they never think of inquiring against whom “do-gooders” want to “do good.”

In 1832, packs of pests, chiefly Baptist fanatics drawn from the very dregs of English society, swarmed into Jamaica to harangue the slaves about their “rights” and set off a disastrous revolt that took the colonists by surprise, slew a part of the civilized population, and wrought extensive destruction. In 1834, the British government, having learned nothing, emancipated all the slaves, ruining the planters and reducing many of them to destitution — to the great delight of the “humanitarians.” The impoverished colony survived, largely by importing Chinese coolies to replace useless Blacks, whom the “do-gooders” maliciously refused to ship back to Africa.

Eventually London appointed as Governor Edward John Eyre, who, in his early career, when stationed in Australia, had been sentimental about the Australoids, but who, since he was not a “Liberal,” had learned something from experience. He was, however, unable to exclude from the islands packs of sleazy busybodies from London, who, in 1865, high-mindedly exerted themselves to incite the savages to another outbreak, in which, to the “do-gooders” great satisfaction, they massacred almost all the Whites in a few parts of the island and set out on joyous looting and burning to celebrate the “rights” they had transcendentally acquired from the defeat of the American Confederacy in its War for Independence. Governor Eyre, with admirable efficiency and despatch, declared martial law, suppressed the uprising, and restored order.

Incredible as it will seem to rational men, the stultified British did not slap down the “do-gooding” agitators who bemoaned the Governor’s cruelty in depriving the dear little black boys of their fun. Eyre was “suspended” and eventually recalled for having done his duty, and the rabid pests even tried to have him prosecuted for saving the lives of the Englishmen in Jamaica. Mill arose in the Parliament to deliver an outrageous attack on Eyre. It is some satisfaction to note that the English population was not yet fatally decadent, and the voters terminated Mill’s parliamentary career at the next election.

By this time it will be obvious what was corroding Mill’s mind. In his Autobiography, quoted by Mr. Feuer, he boasted that he was “one of the very few examples, in this country, of one who has not thrown off religious belief, but never had it.” How he deluded himself! He may not have cringed before a Big Daddy in the clouds or venerated a Saviour who committed suicide by getting himself crucified, but it is obvious that his mind was so pickled with Christian superstition that he believed the hokum about “all mankind,” an “equality” patently absurd in the light of quotidian observation, and a factitious “morality” ordained by some divine dispensation of malignant “righteousness.” Of that he was evidently unaware. That, of course, is what makes nonsense out of all politico-social theory that ignores Darwin and biological reality. Mill’s attempt to construct an objective sociology was just a laborious drawing of logical conclusions from false and illusory premises.

Mill seems never to have asked himself how he could rationally justify his grotesque claim that it was England’s “duty” to meddle in the affairs of all other nations to promote and impose “freedom,” thus setting a precedent for contemporary Americans’ suicidal itch to mind other nations’ business and infect all the world with their own deadly social disease.

Mill may have thought he had never had a belief in the supernatural, but, as Mr. Feuer points out, he (as his unquestioned premises made inevitable to a logical mind) eventually came to one. He finally posited the existence of a “limited god,” a deity whose power, like that of the Christians’ god, was restricted and countered by the almost equal power of an enemy god. Mill, in other words, came at length to consider the world a battlefield on which a good god and an evil god fight perpetually, each to overcome the other, in an interminable war, while we must hope that our god will eventually defeat his antagonist and we are called upon to supplement, with our puny hands, his cosmic might. Mr. Feuer, for some reason, chooses to call this notion “Manichaean,” although it was an article of faith in all Christian sects until quite recently and Satan is now being resuscitated by the big hucksters in the salvation-industry. The Christians, of course, derived the notion from the Zoroastrians, who seem to have invented it.

Such was the course of Mill’s thought. He began with an illusion that he had no religion, but the superstition latent within him controlled his anxious cogitations and, quite naturally and indeed inevitably, he became Chrétien malgré lui. His politico-social writings retain, however, the interest that attaches to all earnest, though mistaken, endeavors to understand the world, such as ancient astrology or the physiology of humours or the chemistry of phlogiston or Sumerian cosmology.

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Source: Liberty Bell magazine, January 1988

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