The Spectre of James Mill on the Woolwich Murder

As if we needed any more proof that we are living in an utterly shit and unfunny planetary version of Groundhog Day, here is a passage by James Mill from 1828 in which he talks prophetically about: September 11, the Iraq war, Afghanistan, drone attacks, the Woolwich murder, Snowden, etc, etc, and on and on out into the intolerable ‘infinite number of things’ Mill reads in the tea leaves of the eternal recurrence.


Nothing is worthy of more attention, in tracing the causes of political evil, than the facility with which mankind are governed by their fears; and the degree of constancy with which, under the influence of that passion, they are governed wrong. The fear of Englishmen to see an enemy in their country has made them do an infinite number of things, which had a much greater tendency to bring enemies into their country than to keep them away.

In nothing, perhaps, have the fears of communities done them so much mischief, as in the taking of securities against enemies. When sufficiently frightened, bad governments found little difficulty in persuading them, that they never could have securities enough. Hence come large standing armies; enormous military establishments; and all the evils which follow in their train. Such are the effects of taking too much security against enemies!

A small share of reflection might teach mankind, that in nothing is the rigid exercise of a sound temperance more indispensable to the well-being of the community than in this. It is clear to reason (alas, that reason should so rarely be the guide in these matters!) that the provision for defence should always be kept down to the lowest possible, rather than always raised to the highest possible, terms! At the highest possible terms, the provision for defence really does all the mischief to a community which a foreign enemy could do; often does a great deal more than it would. A moderate provision against evils of frequent and sudden occurrence, a provision strictly proportioned to the occasion, and not allowed to go beyond it, will save more evil than it produces. All beyond this infallibly produces more evil than it prevents. It enfeebles by impoverishing the nation, and degrading by poverty and slavery the minds of those from whom its defence must ultimately proceed. 

— James Mill  – Essays – Colony – 1829


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