Thursday, 4 February 2016

Mill on the Irish Question / Carlyle on the Negro Question

((cogged from Henry Farrell/Crooked Timber))
Millian Liberalism
But the Irish peasant: what of him? Is he a similar paragon of industry, providence, self-reliance, and the other virtues of that mythological creation, “a stout peasantry?” Listen to Mr. Foster—listen to the “Times Commissioner,” and he will tell you that the Irish peasant, while he has his sufficient meal of bad, watery potatoes, will not stir two steps from the door of his turf hut to gain either comfort or luxury at the cost of half an hour’s exertion; that when a boat is found for him by his own parish priest, and a thousand herrings may be caught in one day, neither the prize can tempt nor the priest persuade him to make use of the opportunity; or he perhaps goes once, and brings home a week’s subsistence; but, declaring it too much trouble ever to go again, loiters at home and asks a passing traveller for money. Such are said to be the people to whom the Times wishes the Legislature to declare, that they need not take any trouble to feed themselves, for it will make the landlords feed them. … Because the Irish are indolent, unenterprising, careless of the future, doing nothing for themselves, and demanding everything from other people; because, being freemen, they want the characteristic virtues of freemen, it is proposed to create a fit soil for the growth of those virtues by placing them in the position of slaves!

The entire population of the country are coming upon us to be fed. And we are called upon to decide instantaneously whether we will or will not undertake the office. There is no retreating, no putting off. The burden of Irish destitution is now to be borne by us. Ireland can no longer suffer alone. We must take our full share of the evil, or put an end to it. For a few weeks or months longer we have the choice which. Wait a year, and we may have it no longer. Wait a year, and the mind of the Irish population may be so thoroughly pauperised, that to be supported by other people may be the only mode of existence they will consent to. There may be a Jacquerie, or another ninety-eight, in defence of the rights of sturdy beggary. It may require a hundred thousand armed men to make the Irish people submit to the common destiny of working in order to live.

When it came to consider the Irish Question Mill was no more enlightened than Thomas Carlyle if you take the standard view of his Discourse on the Negro Question. I have reservations about the justice of that and note that his compassion increased as the suffering came closer to home.
cf: Discourse
Mill was exercised by the plight of the West Indian colonies
and the exploitation of ex-slaves. His retort that pumpkins are every bit as good as spices, a high value cash crop Carlyle recommended that the ex-slaves grow; would not have gone down well with the masters of the East India Company, his employers, for whom spice was a source of massive profit.

Zizek whose normal turgid ebullience I can leave seems to be mostly right here:
refugees and global capitalism


Mark Patrick Wallace said...

I think Farrell and yourself are misreading Mill here. The reference to the Irish as "indolent, unenterprising, careless of the future, doing nothing for themselves, and demanding everything from other people", for example, is not in his own voice. He's throwing the Times' own words back at them, to show how their own views of Irish character render their proposed aims worthless.

You can't judge the piece without taking into account Mill's final recommendation in the last part (part 5) of the Condition of Ireland articles that are being quoted from (all five are at Crooked Timber's link): it's for fixity of tenure for the peasantry. This is what the Tenant Right League campaigned for in the 1850s, and later the Land League, so Mill was actually ahead of his time here!

There was an interesting exchange between Carlyle and Mill on Ireland in 1848: Carlyle's 'Repeal of the Union' is in Rescued Essays; Mill's response is no. 372 (vol. 25) in his collected works on the Online Library of Liberty.

ombhurbhuva said...

Even given that doesn’t Mill appear to be saying in his own voice - ‘there is no point in giving them immediate relief before the underlying causes are put right’.

"Under such a mass of impending evil it is no longer enough not to make the eleemosynary system permanent. That system must be promptly put an end to. We must give over telling the Irish that it is our business to find food for them. We must tell them, now and for ever, that it is their business. We must tell them that to find or make employment as an excuse for feeding those who have a head to seek for work and hands to do it, is a thing they are not to expect either from the Government, or from the barony, or from the parish. They have a right, not to support at the public cost, but to aid and furtherance in finding support for themselves.”

Richard Reeves, Victorian Firebrand, is critical of this and also of Mill’s resistance to mass emigration as a solution. Instead the waste lands must be put to use. In the City of London Baring and Rothschild were setting up a fund to alleviate the immediate suffering which was more to the point.

Zizek is realistic in his assessment of underlying causes and their symptoms but is also I think more humane than Mill is dealing with the immediate situation in a regulated fashion.