Chapter 1


by John Stuart Mill Icon

Superphysics Note: Mill’s system of liberty only prevents the violence of despotism. It does not prevent the slavery and oppression from the strong classes that prey on the weak. This manifess nowdays as the oppression from inequality and inflation

This Essay is about Civil or Social Liberty, not about the Liberty of the Will which opposed to the doctrine of Philosophical Necessity.

What is the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual?

This question has divided mankind for a long time. The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature in the portions of history with which we are earliest familiar, particularly in that of Greece, Rome, and England.

In old times, this contest was between the people and the government. Liberty meant protection against the tyrannical rulers which were made up of a governing One, or a governing tribe or caste, who derived their authority from inheritance or conquest.

Their power was regarded as:

  • necessary but also as highly dangerous
  • a weapon which they use against their subjects and external enemies

To prevent the weaker members from being preyed on by vultures, an animal of prey stronger than the rest was needed to keep them down. But a king of the vultures would both prey on the weak and the strong. Thus, everyone had to be in a perpetual attitude of defence against him.

Patriots therefore were needed to set limits to the ruler’s power. They called this limitation as “liberty” and was implemented in two ways:

  1. Political liberties or rights

A violation of this by the ruler justified resistance or rebellion. Most European rulers were compelled to submit to this.

  1. The establishment of constitutional checks

This came from the consent of the community. It represented its interests and was applied on the important acts of the ruler. Most European rulers were not compelled to submit to this. This is why the lovers of liberty strove for this.

People did not go beyond this point as long as they were content to:

  • combat one enemy by another
  • be ruled by a master who would not not oppress them

In time, the people felt that their governors should not be independent. Instead, those magistrates should be their tenants or delegates, revocable at their pleasure. This would prevent those magistrates from abusing the powers of government.

The popular party made this new demand for elected, temporary rulers. They made efforts to limit the power of rulers.

As the struggle proceeded, some persons began to think that too much importance had been attached to the limitation of the power itself. Their new demand was for the rulers to be identified with the people. Their interest should be the interest and will of the nation.

  • The nation did not need to be protected against its own will.
  • There was no fear of its tyrannising over itself.

Let the rulers be subjected to it, removable by it. Their power was the nation’s own power, concentrated, in a convenient form.

This feeling was common among the last generation of European liberalism, in the Continental section* where it still predominates.

*Superphysics Note= The French Revolution

The Continental political thinkers had brilliant exceptions who thought that there should be limits to government. This feeling might have been prevalent in our Britain by now if it were encouraged unaltered. But the success of the French Revolution exposed its own faults and infirmities which were hidden in from the theory.

The idea that the people should have unlimited power over themselves seems axiomatic when popular government was still not a reality. The French Revolution allowed a usurping few to suddenly and convulsively break out against monarchical and aristocratic despotism.

In time, however, most countries became democratic republics. Elected and responsible governments became subject to the observations and criticisms.

Self-Government Doesn’t Work

“Self-government” and “the power of the people over themselves” are not real. The “people” who exercise the power are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised. “Self-government” is not the government of each by himself, but of each by all the rest.

The will of the people really means the will of the most numerous or the most active, as the majority. The people, consequently, might oppress a part of them. Precautions are as much needed against this, as against any other abuse of power.

The limitation of government over individuals is not so useful when that government is regularly accountable to the strongest party in society. This view appeals to both thinkers and the ruling class.

“The tyranny of the majority” is now among the evils which society has to guard against. Like other tyrannies, this tyranny was first dreaded. But people perceived that when society is itself is tyrannical, it can practise social tyranny through:

  • issuing the wrong mandates, or
  • mandating everything .

This leads to extreme penalties which penetrates much more deeply into the details of life.

Protection against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough. There should also be protection against the tyranny of:

  • the prevailing opinion and feeling, and
  • the tendency of society to impose its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent

Such tyranny=

  • prevents the development of any individuality not in harmony with its ways*, and
  • compels all characters to fashion themselves on the model of its own

*Superphysics Note= Liberalism is naturally adharmic or non-harmonious because it lets people to refuse to be in line with the harmony of society

A good condition of human affairs must be maintained as protection against political despotism. But how do we the limit and make the fitting adjustments between individual independence and social control?

The Moral Rules of JS Mill

Some rules of conduct must be imposed by law*. For subjects not fit for the law, the rules are set by opinion. No two ages, and scarcely any two countries, have decided those rules alike.

*Superphysics Note= Without any foundation in Metaphysics, JS Mill’s Liberalism ends up being a casuistic system similar to Islam, except that it goes in the opposite direction towards the ego instead of the Supreme.

These rules are the effect of custom. People are accustomed to believe, and have been encouraged to believe by philosophers, that their feelings, on subjects of this nature, are better than reasons.

Social Rules are Based on Ego or Personal Preference

The practical principle which guides morality is the feeling that everybody should act as he, and those with whom he sympathises, would like them to act.

Morality is therefore a personal preference. If this preference is similar to that felt by other people, then it is a general preference instead of a personal preference.

To an ordinary man, his personal preference is perfectly satisfactory. It is generally his only basis for any of his notions of morality, taste, or propriety.

Therefore, men’s opinions are are affected by all the multifarious causes which influence their wishes in regard to the conduct of others.

These causes are:

  • their reason
  • their prejudices or superstitions
  • their social or anti-social affections
  • their envy or jealousy
  • their arrogance or contemptuousness
  • commonly their desires or fears for themselves, as their legitimate or illegitimate self-interest

Wherever there is an ascendant class, a large portion of the country’s morality emanates from the interests and feelings of superiority of this class.

The morality between the following have been mostly the creation of these class interests and feelings=

  • the Spartans and Helots
  • planters and negroes
  • princes and subjects
  • nobles and roturiers
  • men and women

On the other hand, the feelings of formerly ascendant class dislike the superiority of the ascendant class.

Social Rules are Based on Servility

Another grand determining principle of the rules of conduct is the servility of mankind towards their temporal masters or their gods.

This servility, though essentially selfish, is not hypocrisy. It leads to perfectly genuine hatred. It made men burn magicians and heretics.

Among so many baser influences, the general and obvious interests of society is a large one. It has a large share in moral feelings. The likings and dislikings of society thus has determined the rules which are laid down.

Those who have advanced the interest of society have come into conflict with it in some of its details. They instead ask what things society should like or dislike, than in asking whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals.

They preferred changing the feelings of mankind rather than defend freedom. They are only consistent with religious belief. Religion is proof of the fallibility of the moral sense. The odium theologicum, in a sincere bigot, is one of the most unequivocal cases of moral feeling.

The religious admit the duty of toleration with tacit reserves. One person will bear with dissent in matters of church government, but not of dogma.

Non-Harm as the Basis for Liberty, Implementable only in Civilized Nations

This Essay aims to assert that the very simple principle of self-protection can allow the interfering with the liberty of action of mankind. Power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, in order to prevent harm to others.

His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.

This doctrine applies only to mature human beings and not to children or teenagers. They need to be cared for by others and must be protected against their own actions and external injury.

This doctrine also does not apply to backward societies. Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided:

  • the end be their improvement and
  • the means are justified by actually effecting that end.

Liberty can only be applied to people who have can be improved by free and equal discussion. Until such a long period has passed to allow that, they should be obedient to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate as to find one. But as soon as people can be guided to their own improvement by conviction, persuasion, or compulsion, either directly or directly as legal pains and penalties for non-compliance, then despotism is no longer admissible.

Utility is Not the Basis of Liberty

Utility, in the general sense, is the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions. This utility is based on private interest which can be controlled externally if it affects the private interests of others.

If anyone hurts others, then he can be punished by law or general disapprobation.

He could also be compelled to do positive acts that will benefit others such as:

  • giving evidence in a court of justice
  • help with the common defence or any social work
  • doing beneficent acts such as saving a life or protecting the defenceless

We have a duty to do these things. But these can be forced on him. A person might cause evil to others by both his actions and his inaction.

My rule is to make any one answerable for doing evil to others. The exception to my rule is to make him answerable for not preventing evil.

Generally a person has a duty to protect society. But sometimes he can be exempt from this responsibility. An example is when he can help society better in his own way instead of forcing him to help which might cause greater evils. How to help society is up to each person’s conscience.

Human liberty requires the following:

  1. The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions

This might seem to be a different principle, since it belongs to individual conduct which concerns other people. But since it is as important as the liberty of thought itself, then it is practically inseparable from it.

  1. The liberty of tastes and pursuits

The framing the plan of our life to suit our own character; of doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow= without impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong.

  1. The liberty, within the same limits, of combination among individuals for any purpose not involving harm to others

This comes from liberty of each individual. The persons combining are supposed to be of full age, and not forced or deceived.

A society is not free if it does not have all these liberties.

Freedom means pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.

This doctrine is not new.

The regulation of every part of private conduct by public authority was practiced by the ancient commonwealths and supported by the ancient philosophers. They based it on the fact that the State had a deep interest in the bodily and mental discipline of its citizens. This mode of thinking is admissible in small republics surrounded by powerful enemies.

In the modern world, the greater size of political communities, and above all, the separation between spiritual and temporal authority (which placed the direction of men’s consciences in other hands than those which controlled their worldly affairs), prevented so great an interference by law in the details of private life.

But the engines of moral repression have been wielded more strenuously against divergence from the reigning opinion in self-regarding, than even in social matters; religion, the most powerful of the elements which have entered into the formation of moral feeling, having almost always been governed either by the ambition of a hierarchy, seeking control over every department of human conduct, or by the spirit of Puritanism.

Some of those modern reformers who have placed themselves in strongest opposition to the religions of the past, have been noway behind either churches or sects in their assertion of the right of spiritual domination.

Mr. Comte wrote about his social system in his Traité de Politique Positive. It aims to establish, through moral ways, a despotism of society over the individual.

The world has an increasing inclination to stretch unduly the powers of society over the individual, both by:

  • the force of opinion
  • the force of legislation

This strengthens the power of society and diminishes that of the individual. This encroachment is an evil which will grow more and more formidable.

The disposition, whether by rulers or fellow-citizens, to impose their own inclinations as a rule of conduct is so energetically supported by the best and worst feelings in human nature.

I focus on a single thesis as the Liberty of Thought.

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