Mill, Constant & Macaulay 1; Lind 0

Jason Kuznicki is generous indeed to describe Michael Lind’s latest screed against libertarians and classical liberals as merely “uninformed.” Of the many absurdities in Lind’s piece, the one that caught my eye was his description of the Nineteenth Century trio of John Stuart Mill, Benjamin Constant and Thomas Babington Macaulay as advocates of “autocracy,” the only evidence he proffers for this view being that none of the three thinkers embraced current thinking about universal suffrage. That the fight against “autocracy” might historically have been a multifaceted affair fought on many fronts besides the extension of the franchise – involving issues of civil liberty, the rule of law, freedom of conscience, separation of powers, federalism, and curbs on arbitrary governance on which these thinkers wrote works still highly relevant today – does not restrain Lind from sloughing them all into a rhetorical pit better suited to de Maistre or Schmitt. Mill and Constant never get another mention, but Lind lingers to insult Macaulay as supposedly wishing “to limit voting rights to those who drink champagne and ride in carriages.”

Readers might never guess from this that perhaps the best known episode of Macaulay’s career as an orator in the British Parliament – the one that “made his name,” per Wikipedia – came with his speeches in favor of expanding the franchise in the historic Reform Act of 1832. (Not long before, his famous maiden speech had deployed every resource of eloquence on behalf of the cause of removing the civil disabilities of the Jews.) Lind’s “champagne and carriages” slur would be less than accurate even as applied to many of the hidebound Tories of the time. But to apply it to the best-remembered Whig advocate of a measure extending the franchise to ten-pound (middle-class) householders is – well, “uninformed” seems a bit mild.

It would be hazardous indeed for one’s sense of history to be shaped by perusing the writings of Michael Lind.