James Mill's 'History of British India' in its intellectual context
This thesis argues that James Mill's History of British India is, on the one hand, intellectually linked to the Scottish Enlightenment, while, on the other hand, moves beyond that intellectual tradition in the post-French Revolution age. This thesis makes three central claims. First, it argues that in reacting to Montesqueiu's idea of oriental society, the contributors to the Scottish Enlightenment used ideas of moral philosophy, philosophical history and political economy in order to create an image of a wealthy Asia whose societies possessed barbarous social manners. Some new writings about Asian societies that were published in the 1790s adopted Montesquieu' s views of oriental societies, and started to consider the history of manners and of political institutions as the true criteria of the state of civilisation. These works criticised some Asian social manners, such as female slavery, and questioned previous assumptions about the high civilisation of Indian and Chinese societies. This thesis argues that Mill's History, following William Robertson's History of America, was based on a study of the historical mind to interpret the texts published in the 1790s and the early nineteenth century. Second, this thesis argues that Mill adopted Francis Jeffrey's idea of semi-barbarism in his study of India. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, William Alexander and Francis J effrey started to think of history in the context of a tri -stadia! theory, which was more idealist and less materialist than the earlier four-stages theory. Mill tried to develop a holistic view of Asian society. In so doing, he came to criticise the British government's mistaken mercantilist view of government, which he regarded as unsuitable for the conditions of Indian society. Following Adam Smith's moral philosophy, and inspired by the socio-economic progress of North America, Mill suggested that the primary goals for the British government in India should be to improve its agriculture and to secure social freedom. This thesis also concludes that the discussions about Chinese society played an important part in shaping Mill's view of the concept of semi-barbarism. The theory of semi-barbarism helped Mill to reject the cultural ideology of Hindu superiority over Muslim societies. Lastly, this thesis argues that Mill's History was influenced by and sought to accommodate Benthamite Utilitarianism. Mill believed the supposed semi-barbarous and problematic native of Indian society could be reformed without following the steps taken by European history or institutions. He prescribed a powerful state for India in order to remove the mercantilist view of government, and to execute administrative and judicial reforms. This thesis concludes that, while Scottish philosophical history helped Mill to create a critique of the British government's attempts to govern India as a commercial society, Benthamite Utilitarianism taught Mill to see history from a teleological viewpoint.