While certainly not the first to portray Asian civilizations as stagnant societies, John Stuart Mill was quite adept at using the concept of ''Oriental despotism'' to warn the West that it might suffer a similar fate if its distinguishing features of individuality and political pluralism fell into a state of neglect. Such a state was imminent, Mill believed, because the tyranny of majority opinion had already begun to hold sway in most Western cultures, and centralized bureaucratic socialism appeared ready to take root in some of them. Also problematic was the fact that the democratic franchise had spread too far and too fast in his lifetime, as had a single-minded focus on material gain. Taken together, Mill feared, these last two features threatened to trap the West in a leaderless age of transition for decades and, perhaps, generations. In retrospect, however, it appears that they helped inaugurate a new ''natural'' state, in Mill's parlance, organized around the needs of the industrial economy, that has captivated the liberal project of human improvement central to his social and political thought.