John for the realisation of various issues of

John Stuart Mill ‘s work, Representative Government, is considered an outstanding topic in
political philosophy the world over. He takes a radical position in arguing for
improvement in public participation in government, such as the giving of rights
to women and the poor (Mill, 1861). This position suggest that Mill’s believe
the majority of individuals in the population ought to take a key role in
government affairs. Also, Mills identifies a representative government as the
best option compared to other political systems. Accordingly, this essay is to
examine the benefits and limitations of representative government as examined
by Mill.

Mill suggests that there are three
conditions that ought to be fulfilled in identifying which form of government
best suits a certain country. To begin with, the individuals who are to be
governed by the type of government in question ought not to be opposed to it.
Moreover, citizens should be ready and willing to support the government, and
to facilitate in the realisation of its objectives (Mill, 2010). On the basis
of these three set of conditions, Mill argues that forms of government and the
associated institutions is an issue of choice.

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Mill identifies the best form
and structure of government should be able to meet the founding objectives for how
it was formed. Mills further identifies various purposes of government,
including to enable the advancement of intellect among its people, facilitating
the mental wellbeing of members of the public and to promote efficiency in the
realisation of such purposes (Held, 2004). This forms the basis for Mill’s idea
of a representative government.

In developing his view of a
representative government, Mill takes into account the assessment of the value
of “government machinery”. Mill’s description of government machinery is in
reference to the formal structures of government, along with their operations,
including bureaucratic departments, Parliament, and such citizen obligations as
voting. Mill identifies such government structures and their associated
operations as playing a contributory role in the realisation of utility to a more
or less extent in diverse political settings (Thompson, 2015). In this case,
Mill identifies a government is responsible for the realisation of various
issues of public interest, including taxation, policy protection, and national
defence, among others. Once these functions of the government have been identified,
he then examine the efficiency of the government in fulfilling its roles.
Specifically, Mill argues that representative government is more efficient in
meeting various government functions to the same level as if not better than,
other forms of political system.

Therefore, Mill contends that
public participation adds to the effectiveness of the government in that the
involvement of more people as evident in a representative government ensures
that an additional varied resources are brought on the table to take care of
the public interest (Vickery, 2012). Although there is no doubt that extra
experiences and resources brings in some much needed value, it is not clear yet
if all individual possess political interest or acumen to make the desired
political contributions, and if they may end up facilitating progress or
hindering it. Besides, the involvement of a large group of  people in the government is likely to trigger
coordination issues.

In his argument for a
representative government as the better option for the realisation of
authoritative public participation, Mill is essentially comparing his
perception of representative government vis-a vis a “good despot” which is his
idea of the best option of a government (Mill 1861). The despotism is thought
to as being near perfect in terms of the identification and execution of
various government functions. However, such a hypothesis tends to oppose any
argument to the effect that a representative government might be a better
option in the realisation of government functions. While Mill contends that
good despotism is unsustainable, this position is not evident in his comparison
of the benefits of representative government with the alternative government.


On the other hand, Mill’s view
of public participation as permitted by a representative government is that it
helps to transfer real government authority to the people (Held, 2004).
Consequently, citizens are more likely to take an active interest in diverse
public roles out of a realisation that their decisions are characterised by
real consequences, not to mention authoritative. Such maximization of public
participation is also likely to draw the government’s attention as it is
periodically called upon to actively engage its citizens in its activities,
thereby improving efficiency in service delivery.


Mill also identifies that a
representative government would be unsuitable if the aforementioned three
conditions are not met namely, that the people are unwilling to accept it; that
the people are neither able nor willing to preserve such a government; and that
the people are unwilling and not in a position to meet the execute the
functions and duties that the representative government has imposed on them
(Mill, 1861). To Mill’s mind, whether a people are ready and willing to
acknowledge representative government only becomes an issue in case the country
falls under the rule of an enlightened leader, or the country is governed by a
foreign nation. What this means is that in the absence of foreign rule of an
enlightened ruler, the people of a given nation are less likely to demonstrate
their willingness to acknowledge a representative government. 

Moreover, the people must
demonstrate sufficient attachment to, and value for a representative
constitution, if at all a representative government is to work. In this case, the
executive arm of the government possesses the immediate authority, not to
mention that it enjoys the privilege of direct access to the people (Mill,
2010). Consequently, the people are more likely to express their fears and
hopes to the executive. More importantly, the executive acts as a symbol of the
prestige and terrors of the government in the eyes of the members of the
public. If at all the executive is not checked to ensure that it represents the
interests of the public, there is the risk that it could set aside the feelings
and opinions of the people, thereby putting the representative government into

 Mills is also of the view that representative
institutions rely on the willingness of the people to back them in the event
that they become endangered (Mill, 1861). In the event that the people attach
limited value on the government, they are less likely to realise the problem on
this matter, thus leading to the failure of a representative government.
Furthermore, in case nobody or just a small fraction of the people shows the
willingness to take an active role in the affairs of the state, there is a risk
that the electors will rarely take advantage of their right to vote. For
example, to serve the interests of their communities, or indeed their own
private interests. This then creates an opportunity for a small group of people
to take over the representative body to meet their own selfish ends. In case of
a weak executive, this could distract the state from executing its roles.

Mill’s Representative Government remains a desirable source in political
philosophy. He is in favour of the general public taking an active role in the
affairs of the government and he reckons that when people are willing to
support a government by showing an interest in its activities, this leads to the
efficiency in the realisation of the government’s purposes.  However, such a representative government may
not work in the absence of a representative constitution, if the executive
abuses its powers or in case the citiznes are not willing to engage actively in
government affairs.




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