Talk:Henry James Sumner Maine

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Biography assessment rating comment[edit]

WikiProject Biography Assessment

Nearly a B.

The article may be improved by following the WikiProject Biography 11 easy steps to producing at least a B article. -- Yamara 01:36, 29 May 2007 (UTC)


This article is extremely favorable to its subject (Sir Henry Maine) and appears to be verbatim from some source very favorable to Maine. I came to this page after reading an excerpt of Harold J. Laski, 1921, from Karl Marx: An Essay, pg. 43-45, in which he writes that "No group of men who exercise the powers of a despot can ever retain the habit of democratic responsibility. That is obvious, for instance, in the case of men like Sir Henry Maine and Fitzjames Stephen, who, having learned in India the habit of autocratic government, became impatient on their return to England of the slow process of persuasion which democracy implies." I came to this page hoping to learn more about Maine concerning this point, but the article is so favorable to Maine that hardly a hint of a Laski-like criticism can be found. I had the same difficulty with the page on Fitzjames Stephen. Perhaps the person(s) who originated the Maine and Stephen pages may consider looking into this. 69.140.148.109 (talk) 15:21, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

I'm not sure what Wikipedia's policy is, but the text seems to have come verbatim from the entry on Maine in the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica 17:433 (note that I can't provide a link because the site appears to be on Wikipedia's blacklist). While the entry is certainly far from objective, I do know that this text is now in the public domain, and many of the articles have been incorporated into Wikipedia.

129.67.90.215 (talk) 12:28, 27 July 2010 (UTC)

Sir Henry Maine - NPOV dispute[edit]

The Henry Maine article does look as if it's from a Britannica biography written a long time ago. I'm vexed to find that the sections on publications, references and links present last time I looked at the article have been removed, especially as these were sections I added and which are not in the Britannica article. The removal of such key sections erodes NPOV, removing evidence for views that may or may not be 'neutral'. See the unedited version of the Wiki piece on Maine in that appears in New World Encyclopedia at http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Henry_Maine The Maine article isn't mine but I have now replaced the references that were removed in a revision on 25 February 2010. Why?

I contributed the photo of Maine as a young man from a family archive. I'm aware of controversies about Maine's work - from the time they were published - and the likelihood that the neutrality of a Wiki piece about him might be challenged. As author of other Wiki articles - Handsworth Park, Denys Rayner, Jack Hargreaves - I'm used to the iterative method of modifying articles. I wish Yamara could have offered facts that could be substantiated rather than posting a neutrality dispute. I'd have something to go on.

I'd very much like to contribute to the article's NPOV, but Yamara's dispute over its neutrality relates to opinion rather than fact. No 'fact' is neutral and Wiki is all about debating them, but an opinion is a debate. So where do we go from here? Add a less favourable opinion? That's not Wiki either.

Yamara [1] wrote in June 2010 'I came to this page after reading an excerpt of Harold J. Laski, 1921, from Karl Marx: An Essay, pg. 43-45, in which he writes that "No group of men who exercise the powers of a despot can ever retain the habit of democratic responsibility. That is obvious, for instance, in the case of men like Sir Henry Maine and Fitzjames Stephen, who, having learned in India the habit of autocratic government, became impatient on their return to England of the slow process of persuasion which democracy implies." What facts - new or old - are disputable as undermining the article's NPOV?

What facts suggest the article is any more or less 'favourable' to its subject than a thousand other Wiki biographies? Without these Yamara's opinion remains an opinion supported by an opinion. If Yamara could list some of the facts that might support Laski's opinion - and opinion it is - these could be researched amended or restated. What facts verify Laski's statement that Maine "learned in India the habit of autocratic government" given that the essence of Maine's foremost work 'Ancient Law' was the discovery by a European of the genius of the Indian panchayat laws of tort, and that Maine's reputation derived from a unique critique from within of the imposition of British Law in India, and his work while on the Council of India in formulating a system of law based on extensive research into and respect for indigenous law - a method pioneered by Maine, possibly unprecedented within a Colonial power? What facts suggest that Maine became "impatient on (his)... return to England of the slow process of persuasion which democracy implies"? Is this a reference to Maine's essays on Popular Government? These included criticisms of democracy, but not ones in favour of autocracy, as Laski's criticism implies. Maine's argument was that democracy without constant constitutional revision, and attention to the rule of law risked being exploited by unscrupulous men (and women) as a form of populist dictatorship comparable to the monarchy it had replaced. In that respect Maine serves, to this day, as a vade mecum for those who want the ideal of democracy to work but have no illusions about human fallibility.

History needs to be and is constantly being rewritten to reflect the great shifts in perspective on international power relations since Maine's era, but it would be unfair to credit him with having shared the view that the population of India during that time were inferiors, needing the beneficial attention of the laws and culture of a superior power; quite the opposite, hence Maine's reputation as one of the forefathers of the modern sociology of law. I would also dispute the view that he became impatient of democracy in England and that he developed this imputed impatience through habituation to autocratic government in India. I don't dispute the talent of Laski, nor the towering genius of Marx. For this reason their opinion of Maine might well be a counter-balance to the imputation that the Wiki article, as well as being transferred from Britannica, is, in 6Yamara's opinion, overly favourable to its subject.

My difficulty is finding the fact or facts that we ought to take into account in substantiating the opinion of Laski, who like Marx was not unknown for being disputatious. Absence of 'Laski-like opinion' doesn't constitute an incorrect fact. I've no idea who posted the original article. I believe Maine's latest biographer Feaver thought it acceptable - an opinion of course. I've re-studied Wiki guidance on NPOV, including its first point: 'The vast majority of neutrality disputes are due to a simple confusion: one party believes "X" to be a fact, and—this party is mistaken—that if a claim is factual, it is therefore neutral. The other party either denies that "X" is a fact, or that everyone would agree that it is a fact. In such a dispute, the first party needs to re-read the Neutral Point of View policy. Even if something is a fact, or allegedly a fact, that does not mean that the bold statement of that fact is neutral.' Having looked over Wiki's Neutral Point of View policy I'm unsure where to go.Simon Baddeley (talk) 08:41, 12 August 2010 (UTC)

Who me?[edit]

Yamara here. I'm afraid you have me confused with an IP address. I didn't add the notice to the article, and my only interest in the article was during a 2007 sweep of Wikiproject Biography's efforts to rate the quality of their vast back catalog of self-imposed responsibilities. I haven't been contributing actively to Wikipedia for some time; while I check in now and again, I no longer enjoy the personal cognitive surplus that I once did. ;)

Just put my oar in (since you've so politely prodded me on my user page) lines such as -- "The prompt and full recognition of Maine's genius by continental publicists must not pass unmentioned even in the briefest notice." -- is plainly POV; while of the relatively harmless laudatory style of Victorian biographies, it still is outside the guidelines of WP:NPOV. Identifying such text as a specific source's opinion would be acceptable, and remember that anything without citations (Wikipedia:Verifiability, WP:CITE) may be removed without further comment. -Yamara 14:31, 12 August 2010 (UTC)

Many thanks Yamara re Maine NPOV[edit]

But I wonder where I should go to seek resolution of the dispute. I also take your point about Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff's ecomium written to draw attention to the theme of the current NPOV dispute, even though he points out that 'Maine warned his countrymen against the insularity that results from ignorance of all law and institutions save one's own; his example has shown the benefit of the contrary habit.' The language may be laudatory but it seems to reflect in Maine an approach that is hardly consistent with the criticism of him by Karl Marx that is quoted by Harold Laski and used to challenge the article's NPOV. Simon Baddeley (talk) 16:40, 13 August 2010 (UTC)