Unlike Bentham, Mill saw little reason for confidence in democracy as a stay on the oppressive hand of government.

From The Moral Foundations of Politics by Ian Shapiro

I understand the sentence as this: Democracy is a stay. This stay is on oppressive hands of government. Am I wrong about this? Help me please to understand the sentence.

My another question is: Does the oppressive hand of government means the hand of oppressive government or it just means what it says?

  • 2
    Next time, please include the source of the quoted text. I've added it plus the first word of the sentence that you forgot.
    – RubioRic
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 7:03
  • @RubioRic Thank you. I will be more attentive next time
    – 1amroff
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 7:37
  • No problem. You're welcome :-)
    – RubioRic
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 7:55

1 Answer 1


Yes, it says that democracy is a "stay". The noun "stay" has several connected meanings. This seems to be related to the meaning "restraining rope" but used metaphorically. Democracy is said by Mills not to effectively restrain "The oppressive hand of Government"

And that phrase means just that. Whether that is correct or not depends how wise Ian Shapiro about Mill's politics. I don't know. But we must assume that "Oppressive hand of Government" means "oppressive hand of government" and not something else (though it is obviously a metaphor, as governments don't have real hands)

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