Alec Arellano: Mill on Deference and Democratic Character

John Stuart Mill

Alec Arellano: “Mill on Deference and Democratic Character”


JMC fellow Alec Arellano has recently written an article for Political Research Quarterly on John Stuart Mill and deference within democratic politics:

Citizens of liberal democracies today increasingly exhibit a distrust of perceived elites, especially experts and those of advanced educational attainment more generally. John Stuart Mill’s work offers potential responses to this phenomenon. Mill regards deference to superior wisdom as an essential part of a well-developed character while esteeming independent thought. Although his emphasis on the importance of character formation is well known, his concern for inculcating a salutary form of deference has been under-explored. I show how Mill’s approaches to this task include redesigning the political process to amplify the voice of the highly educated, promoting more widespread opportunities for learning, and consistently emphasizing the partiality of human understanding. I also compare Mill’s treatment of the place of deference in democratic politics with that of Alexis de Tocqueville’s, and consider how Tocqueville might critique Mill’s strategies for cultivating deference. In so doing, I demonstrate how these authors provide us with resources for navigating the tensions between popular sovereignty and expertise, and between independent thought and intellectual authority.

Access the article at Sage Journals >>



Alec ArellanoAlec Arellano is an Assistant Professor of Politics at Occidental College, where he teaches courses in American politics, constitutional law, law and society, and political theory. His research interests include liberalism and its critics, Ancient Greek political thought, American political thought, democratic theory, and constitutional theory. Professor Arellano’s current research examines Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill’s views regarding the conditions under which critical, independent thought can be a salutary force for democratic politics. He also demonstrates how their treatment of this issue can supplement debates in contemporary political thought regarding civic education.

Professor Arellano is a JMC fellow.

Learn more about Alec Arellano >>



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