Governing the “natives” at home in nineteenth century Britain

Governing the “Natives” At Home in Nineteenth Century Britain

In this chapter I look at the strategies for confronting uncertainty which I suggested were associated with the Indian acquisitions. The essence of the Revolution Settlement was toleration. But the naturally inferior and childlike nature of women, “natives” and children were observable in the examination of nature according to scientific principles. No peaceful means existed of resolving divergences of knowledge, other than acceptance that they existed, except when they were external. The non-English might be fought and, in the case of black people, enslaved, equality was not something white landlords were prepared to concede to their wives, servants or tenants, and the differences causing uncertainty in those situations could swiftly be disposed of.

But white male rulers had to find means of getting along and, as they saw it, progressing. Searches for revolutionary utopias have to current times, been disappointing, and the Whigs were certainly not revolutionaries. However, if they fell short of their principles when they were able, the principles might have lessons that could be applied more widely. The Whigs were prepared to allow uncertainty to act as a form of certainty, negotiation and compromise to take the place of an imposition.

Pedigrees established authenticity – of what it does not matter. In fact it forestalls the substantive question “of what”. The workhouse, “a place of hardship, of course fare, of degradation and humility” according to the Reverend HH Millman,1 not only sat comfortably with the authoritarian turn in political life, but was actually part of Bentham’s plan for rule. James Mill, by contrast, was convinced that, given a proper education, people might choose the kind of government they preferred through universal manhood suffrage. His son, JS Mill, came somewhere in between, initially democratically-inclined, but, with Harriet Taylor Mill, somewhat despondent both about the likelihood of significant improvements to education in face of the, as he saw it, profound ignorance, selfishness and brutality of the masses.2

The Utilitarians and the Rule of Punishments

In this and the next chapters, the range of views encapsulated by the above writers concerning the issue of how civic order was to be produced and maintained in Great Britain and the Indian empire will be explored. I am, of course, not suggesting that the technology of producing subjects compatible with social order could be, or was ever believed to be, a stark choice between legislative demands accompanied by threats – commands backed by sanctions in John Austin’s vocabulary – and schooling. Bentham’s sovereign, after all, aims to teach – in the conditioning sense now associated with Pavlov if necessary – his subjects by the legislative construction of one form of behavior as less desirable than another: the certainty of being caught and punished for stealing teaches me to defer my gratification and save my money so as to purchase the goods honestly, or forego them. Macaulay’s draft criminal code for India provided simple examples illustrating the purpose of its provisions. Schooling can certainly take a coercive path. It not only, as Arnold saw, kept naughty children off the streets. He knew that at its best, it must necessarily involve an unequal relationship. Only twentieth century neo-liberals imagine that students are somehow customers, ideally readers of consumer magazines, who are already knowledgeable about the “products” on offer and capable of dispassionate evaluation. As pedagogues of any ability have realized, this is not the case. Coleridge, as we shall see, placed enlightened education in the category of “educing”, leading out and enabling the educed to realize his or her potential. Leavis’s invocation of Marjorie Grene’s work suggests a conviction that competent and effective educators distance themselves from propaganda and make of students partners, if unequal partners, in any given project of learning. Knowledge is not a commodity resembling good drilling in certainties. From it, the worrying but necessary concept of reason must be detached. To be helpful tools, rather than coercive weapons, reason, truth and certainty must be contextualized and negotiated. An empire in which the natives were to be imbued with the truths and certainties of European rationality was less than fertile ground for this realization.

Previous chapters have suggested that, “at home” at least, the path of religious and political certitude, among rulers and men and women with the capacity to cause disruption, was gradually abandoned as a policy – in mainland Britain, if not for some time in Ireland – even as such certainties haunted the government of empire. Haunting is, perhaps, an appropriate description, since Ireland occupied an unheimlich space between “at home” and not at home. Dissenting Protestantism and even Roman Catholicism had to be tolerated in the English/Welsh and Scottish parts of the British Isles, if full equality was a while coming, because the alternative was too divisive and chaotic to contemplate. This necessity was probably more acutely recognized when the new dimensions of social difference manifested themselves more clearly. The rights of man, however woolly Burke found them (and very soon after, the rights of women3), and however inadequate, even dangerous the concepts might be as a positive social program, were powerful slogans in the rhetorical armory of working class men, and then women.

How were the bearers of these potentially disruptive, if inchoate ideas to be accommodated into the structure of orderly society? Early in the nineteenth century, the political disabilities of Jewish and Roman Catholic men were removed. Women had to wait, although many did not wait patiently, and pushed, most unseemly. How were the inequalities implied by the invocation of the rights of man to be managed? Putative solutions cannot tidily be discerned and cataloged if the purpose is to attribute to particular writers consistent and differentially identifiable solutions, but they indicate the alternative, though overlapping, frameworks considered. John Stuart Mill invokes, in order to distance himself from James Mill’s position on the ease with which a rationality recognizable as such by JS might be produced through schooling, especially the teaching of reading. James’ unflattering views on the then contemporary rationality of Indian culture we have noticed. JS is less convinced, but optimistic that in the end, in Britain at least, a less imperfect education than he saw as generally available could facilitate popular political responsibility. An educated electorate could select a legislature capable of producing harmony from conflicting demands, but if voting rights were to be extended, for JS, they had to be weighted according to education.

One wonders, of course, just what “the whole population’s” reading matter would, for James Mill, comprise, and what and whose reason was to influence them. Nothing, presumably, too subversive. James’ son was more pessimistic about the ability of then-contemporary education. Arnold, we shall see, attempted a diagnosis of its failure to date – the mid-nineteenth century – and a possible recipe for its success, namely, educate the middle class to rise above their shortrun trade-school mentality for their children so as to provide better leadership in an era in which traditional aristocratic leadership, although still empirically in operation, was morally and, for the most part intellectually bankrupt.

In Millman’s view, referred to above, we have the early utilitarian ideology, which has surfaced over and again through the nineteenth, twentieth and succeeding centuries: “the secret of a stable society is to isolate and emasculate the miserable”.4 Sir Robert Peel’s police, so admired by Bentham, the “Bobbies”, introduced into London in 1829 as a coercive force alternative to the military, and thereafter copied in cities, towns and counties throughout England, had been designed to respond to the disorder created by enormous social change. This, and the changes to the Poor Law five years later, rendering it harsher – in effect criminalizing poverty and unemployment – as well as the manner in which the social changes occasioned by workplace disruption introduced by the early industrial revolution had been managed in the first place, signaled a contempt for the poor in England which mirrored that directed by the British toward Indians. The empire was striking back earlier than the text of that name suggests.5

It is an oversimplification, I have argued, to suggest a complete divide between two different approaches to pacifying a population – coercive utilitarian legislation on the one hand, and education on the other – especially since some utilitarians, such as the Mills, who, in different ways favored education primarily, whilst other utilitarians, the early Bentham more than the later, perhaps, and Chadwick, favored coercion. Chadwick would have welcomed Millman’s observations, as would Kay-Shuttleworth and Robert Lowe, former member of the New South Wales Assembly and critic of democracy, and whose reactionary and penny-pinching educational theories antagonized Arnold. With these latter, we are not far from Malthus’s famous remark in response to Thomas Paine’s writing on the right of the subject to subsistence:

A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labor, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and in fact has no right to be where he is. At nature’s mighty feast, there is no cover for him. She tells him to be gone and will soon execute her orders …6

Education advocates, such as Matthew Arnold, though seeing the liberal education of the middle class as the most fruitful step toward calming what he conceived to be the excesses of working class habits, also allowed himself moments of coercive thought, recommending draconian treatment for the leaders after witnessing the Hyde Park Reform Bill riots, referred to later.

Macaulay had earlier combined both measures, legislative coercion, combined with an explanatory gloss, or exemplification of how each section of his code was meant to function, embodying a form of education in European “rationality”.7 His projected Code of criminal law, which was not enacted in his lifetime, contained, importantly, the intended education of an elite of Indians, in an attempt to turn them into brown English subjects. It was, naturally, prescriptive, as criminal codes are. But the prescriptions were accompanied with examples of situations in which the norms were intended to apply. They were not incompatible with ordering the colonized through legislation, and perhaps they were more paternalist in intention, although in the end they offered more potential for dialog (Leavis’s famous, “it is so, is it not?” to which we shall come). As a colonial administrator, Macaulay was proposing to impose a code of laws, drawn from the perspective of the colonial power, on a colony. His work on the criminal law did not come to fruition until much later, and the other codes emerged still later in the Victorian era.

But here was one arm of the colonial state begun in principle and to be continued. As a good legal positivist, Macaulay saw normative apparatuses such as statutes, judicial decisions and codes, from three perspectives. We will further explore later, what I referred to in Chapter 1, the first and most elementary question legal positivists ask when confronted with what is asserted to be a law is – did it emanate from or was it properly issued on behalf of, the legitimate source of law-making power within the jurisdiction? A sub-question that has troubled positivists is whether that source acted with legal propriety, and who is in a position to make a decision about that? Sovereignty is frequently a vexed issue, as we have seen, one that seemed to have taken the United States in one direction and, until the appearance of the European Court of Human Rights, and the European Union, which may have galvanized the common law judiciary from its Diceyan slumbers,8 the United Kingdom in another, after the mid-eighteenth century. The “war on terror”, which seems immeasurably to have strengthened executive power in the United States, de facto may or may not overbalance the separation of powers in the United States in favor of the executive in the twenty-first century.9

A second question recognized by legal positivists is whether particular laws are good or bad in a moral sense. For the legal positivists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, dabbling with Hobbesian-influenced practices of sovereignty was not such a dangerous business as some – Hannah Arendt, for example – recognized it to be in the present, for although these early legal theorists distinguished law from morality, moral evaluation seemed as scientifically accessible to them as the assessment of whether a rule was or was not a valid law. Bentham’s “felicific calculus” concerning the greatest good of the greatest number provided the observer, he believed, with an accurate tool with which to assess whether a particular act of sovereignty was beneficial or harmful, provided there was freedom of expression and a fully informed citizenry.

In retrospect, there is an obvious point of tension, even if it is not contradictory or an incompatibility between the “discipline” of the canon, education in how to be a proper English subject – giving him something intelligible say, as Macaulay saw it of natives in India – and punitive measures. The natives, like the British “populace”, as Matthew Arnold was to call them, were in need of control, so far as their rulers were concerned. Was this to be accomplished coercively by law, or by teaching them how to behave? In the twentieth century, HLA Hart, whom we met in Chapter 1, was at pains to reject any definition of law as simply punitive – a command backed by a threat. Law is, he thought, enabling, for the most part. In India or in the United Kingdom, law enables me to make a binding contract or a valid will, for example, if I follow its directions – and if I can afford to mobilize it on my behalf.

But of course, within the machinery of the law, there is always ultimately coercion. Where legal rules stipulate that a particular contract or will conform with the law and that I have failed to comply with a duty to give effect to them, I will be penalized.10 If I have not followed its directions, my transaction will be unenforceable. Opinions may vary about the fairness of a legal device, but the judge or other official will generally not be able to entertain a debate other than one that concerns the applicability of a rule. Education may also, as I have suggested, be coercive. It may amount to no more than the rote learning condemned by Arnold in the second half of the nineteenth century. However, it does contain more evidently the seeds of subversion and change, the possibility of comparing evaluations – of legal rules themselves, which, as we have seen, writers such as Locke recognized.

The early Whigs, like Locke, Shaftesbury and others, were concerned with differences of opinion among an elite and with how they could be peacefully managed. The English subject they had in mind was a gentleman or a lady11 whose influence might spread much wider by their example – and this could, in Macaulay’s opinion, be applied to natives of a “suitable class”. Education of the “populace” at large was incipiently less predictable in its outcome than education for the privileged, but this was concealed whilst the truth about social order was believed to be revealed by science – the science of utilitarianism. The early positivists were insistent that citizens could be both informed about the general good and positioned to compare their situation with that good so as to take responsible steps to remedy anything unsatisfactory – their own behavior or that of others. An informed morality, in other words, could act as an effective curb on both demands for social change and exercises of sovereignty by asking the question, “does this law promote the greatest good for the greatest number?” Like ordinary language philosophy, though its bland assumption elides the question, who decides what is ordinary usage or, in this case, the greatest good?

Macaulay was more cautious when it came to the strict application of utilitarian principles, but his aspiration to educate an elite of the colonized was recognition that sovereign law-making alone was too blunt an instrument with which to govern effectively and required supplementation. He was confident that the exposure of Indians to the culture behind which lay the principles of liberty and property established by the men of the Revolution was the foundation on which greater rationality responsibility and ultimately perhaps independence could be laid. People, largely but not exclusively men of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, surveying the political horizon, noticed the challenge – or the threat – of democracy. For Bentham and James Mill, it was a challenge. Freedom of expression, which would be possible only when the potential electorate could make informed choices, was a sine qua non of real representative government as, although he did not put it in this way, it was for Macaulay. But, just as the utilitarians believed that the greatest good of the greatest number could be calculated and demonstrated irrefutably, so Macaulay believed in an objective rationality that could be taught. Free thought and free expression were neither of them dangerous since they were both subject to arbitration on objective principles.

Macaulay, JS Mill and other utilitarians, in short, believed in the “unlimited possibility of improving the moral and intellectual condition of mankind by education”,12 but JS as opposed to James, his father, as I have said, did not think that this had been accomplished by mid-century. So convinced was JS Mill by this failure of accomplishment that, although in favor of an eventual extension of the right to vote, a major criticism he makes of Disraeli’s later suffrage reforms is that plural voting was tied by Disraeli’s reforms to property rather than education.13 But it is clear, I have argued, that neither Macaulay nor the Mills nor any of their followers was unaware of the normative dimension of education: normativity was, indeed, its whole point. Although they did not quite put it in this way, before the sovereignty of political and legal institutions, in fact, legitimating them, rendering those institutions something less than sovereigns, was the voice of the citizen. But s/he had first to be taught how to speak or to sing, although, as is clear from the fact that JS was advocating tentative steps toward democracy, he was taking a line not dissimilar from that of Locke two centuries earlier. In a progressive and free society, what is required is not a chorus, but an agreeable way of informedly disagreeing. It is the fine line between teaching to learn and to accept peacefully that others’ learning may lead them to different conclusions, on the one hand – this is the ideal of democracy – and teaching right answers, in other words, intolerance to others’ views.

As briefly alluded to in Chapter 1

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