sabato 23 luglio 2011

Words in context

John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government, 1861, chapter 1, «To What Extent Forms of Government Are a Matter of Choice» (corsivo mio):

Politically speaking, a great part of all power consists in will. How is it possible, then, to compute the elements of political power, while we omit from the computation any thing which acts on the will? To think that, because those who wield the power in society wield in the end that of government, therefore it is of no use to attempt to influence the constitution of the government by acting on opinion, is to forget that opinion is itself one of the greatest active social forces. One person with a belief is a social power equal to ninety-nine who have only interests. They who can succeed in creating a general persuasion that a certain form of government, or social fact of any kind, deserves to be preferred, have made nearly the most important step which can possibly be taken toward ranging the powers of society on its side. On the day when the protomartyr was stoned to death at Jerusalem, while he who was to be the Apostle of the Gentiles stood by “consenting unto his death,” would any one have supposed that the party of that stoned man were then and there the strongest power in society? And has not the event proved that they were so? Because theirs was the most powerful of then existing beliefs. The same element made a monk of Wittenberg, at the meeting of the Diet of Worms, a more powerful social force than the Emperor Charles the Fifth, and all the princes there assembled. But these, it may be said, are cases in which religion was concerned, and religious convictions are something peculiar in their strength. Then let us take a case purely political, where religion, if concerned at all, was chiefly on the losing side. If any one requires to be convinced that speculative thought is one of the chief elements of social power, let him bethink himself of the age in which there was scarcely a throne in Europe which was not filled by a liberal and reforming king, a liberal and reforming emperor, or, strangest of all, a liberal and reforming pope; the age of Frederic the Great, of Catherine the Second, of Joseph the Second, of Peter Leopold, of Benedict XIV, of Ganganelli, of Pombal, of D’Aranda; when the very Bourbons of Naples were liberals and reformers, and all the active minds among the noblesse of France were filled with the ideas which were soon after to cost them so dear. Surely a conclusive example how far mere physical and economic power is from being the whole of social power. It was not by any change in the distribution of material interests, but by the spread of moral convictions, that negro slavery has been put an end to in the British Empire and elsewhere. The serfs in Russia owe their emancipation, if not to a sentiment of duty, at least to the growth of a more enlightened opinion respecting the true interest of the state. It is what men think that determines how they act; and though the persuasions and convictions of average men are in a much greater degree determined by their personal position than by reason, no little power is exercised over them by the persuasions and convictions of those whose personal position is different, and by the united authority of the instructed. When, therefore, the instructed in general can be brought to recognize one social arrangement, or political or other institution, as good, and another as bad – one as desirable, another as condemnable, very much has been done towards giving to the one, or withdrawing from the other, that preponderance of social force which enables it to subsist. And the maxim, that the government of a country is what the social forces in existence compel it to be, is true only in the sense in which it favors, instead of discouraging, the attempt to exercise, among all forms of government practicable in the existing condition of society, a rational choice.
Mai fermarsi alle frasi ad effetto...

1 commento:

Barbara ha detto...

Io sono abbastanza d'accordo con la frase, anche se si adatta a società relativamente primitive o comunque non troppo svilppate.

Però la schiavitù non è finita solo per una questione di cambiamento culturale, ma anche perché gli schiavisti si sono resi conto che non era più produttiva. Un po' come i datori di lavoro a un certo punto hanno capito che un operaio che lavora 16 ore al giorno diventa improduttivo. Forse il cambiamento culturale sta nelle percezioni dei datori di lavoro. Ma su queste credo incidano gli interessi delle centomila (o 99?) persone, piuttosto che le credenze di una.