After describing Mill’s great virtues and accomplishments, ibcluding gaining the admiration of William E. Gladstone, often an opponent, Marshall Cohen, continues: —

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ill was not, however, all pure reason and moral elevation. In reply to an attack made upon him by Sir John Pakington for calling the Conservative party “the stupid party,” Mill, admitting the phrase to occur in his Representative Government, went on to say, “I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it. Suppose any party, in addition to whatever share it may possess of the ability of the community, has nearly the whole of its stupidity, that party must, by the law of its constitution, be the stupidest party; and I do not see why honorable gentlemen should see that position at all offensive to them, for it ensures their being always an extremely powerful party. I know that I am liable to a retort, and an obvious one enough; and as I do not wish to allow any honorable gentleman the credit of making it, I make it myself. It may be said that if stupidity has a tendency to Conservatism, sciolism, or half-knowledge, has a tendency to Liberalism. Something might be said for that, but it is not at all so clear as the other. There is an uncertainty about sciolists; we cannot count upon them; and therefore they are a less dangerous class. But there is so much dense, solid force in sheer stupidity, that any body of able men with that force pressing behind them may ensure victory in many a struggle, and many a victory the Conservative party has gained through that power” [xxxiii/xxxiv].


Mill, John Stuart. The Philosophy of John Stuart Mill: Ethical, Political and Religious. Marshall Cohen, ed. New York: Modern Library, 1961.

Last modified 16 June 2019