John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control

John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control

Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 264
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    John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control
    Book Description:

    John Stuart Mill is one of the hallowed figures of the liberal tradition, revered for his defense of liberal principles and expansive personal liberty. By examining Mill's arguments inOn Libertyin light of his other writings, however, Joseph Hamburger reveals a Mill very different from the "saint of rationalism" so central to liberal thought. He shows that Mill, far from being an advocate of a maximum degree of liberty, was an advocate of libertyandcontrol--indeed a degree of control ultimately incompatible with liberal ideals.

    Hamburger offers this powerful challenge to conventional scholarship by presenting Mill's views on liberty in the context of his ideas about, in particular, religion and historical development. The book draws on the whole range of Mill's philosophical writings and on his correspondence with, among others, Harriet Taylor Mill, Auguste Comte, and Alexander Bain to show that Mill's underlying goal was to replace the traditional religious basis of society with a form of secular religion that would rest on moral authority, individual restraint, and social control. Hamburger argues that Mill was not self-contradictory in thus championing both control and liberty. Rather, liberty and control worked together in Mill's thought as part of a balanced, coherent program of social and moral reform that was neither liberal nor authoritarian.

    Based on a lifetime's study of nineteenth-century political thought, this clearly written and forcefully argued book is a major reinterpretation of Mill's ideas and intellectual legacy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2324-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    (pp. xix-2)
    (pp. 3-17)

    IN 1854 when planningOn LibertyMill told his longstanding friend George Grote that he “was cogitating an essay to point out what things society forbade that it ought not, and what things it left alone that it ought to control.”¹ This statement put as much emphasis on control as on liberty, which is just how Grote understood it, for he told another friend, Alexander Bain, “It is all very well for John Mill to stand up for the removal of social restraints, but as to imposing new ones, I feel the greatest apprehensions.”²

    What Mill told Grote indicates that...

  7. Chapter Two CULTURAL REFORM
    (pp. 18-41)

    PROVISION for control as well as liberty inOn Libertycan be traced to Mill’s greatly increased wish for cultural and moral reform during the 1840s and 1850s. Of course, he had never been indifferent toward this kind of reform, but at an earlier stage his goal as a reformer was limited to fundamentally changing institutions rather than to altering character or human nature. He believed that well designed institutions would discourage or deter actions that were economically irrational or politically corrupt. He was, after all, a child of Benthamism, which was primarily concerned with institutional reform—whether in the...

    (pp. 42-54)

    REGENERATION was to be preceded by destruction. Beliefs surviving from the past that were obstacles to the emergence of a new moral order were to be eliminated. Progress required hastening this demise of the old morality, which, beyond the circles of the most advanced and emancipated thinkers, still enjoyed the support of most people. “The old opinions in religion, morals, and politics are so much discredited in the more intellectual minds”; however, “they have still life enough in them to be a powerful obstacle to the growing up of any better opinions on those subjects.”¹ Mill therefore mounted an attack...

    (pp. 55-85)

    THAT MILL concealed his religious opinions in works published during his lifetime is evident. One need only compare such works with his other writing. In essays that were put aside for posthumous publication Mill did not conceal his atheism.¹ His most severe and systematic criticisms of Christian theology and of both natural and revealed religion appeared in two essays written during the mid-1850s—“Nature” and “Utility of Religion”—and in “Theism,” composed in 1868–70. These three essays were not published until 1874, the year following his death. He also reminded his wife that in the draft of his autobiography...

    (pp. 86-107)

    THE REALITY of penalties and the practice of dissimulation provided the immediate context of Mill’s writing about religion inOn Libertyand elsewhere. These things influenced what he wrote and determined the way he wrote. He made it clear that about religion he would not publish all his thoughts, and he implied that in what he wrote he would practice the kind of equivocation which he regarded as justifiable. Yet the need to conceal affected more; it also shaped the substance and the rationale for the book. His purpose was to establish liberty for those who would implement his plan...

    (pp. 108-148)

    THERE WAS widespread interest in the religion of humanity during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. This “religion,” which was supposed to promote a widely shared, communal, anti-individualistic morality without the aid of conventional religious belief, attracted Mill’s interest, and his growing belief in its utility from the 1840s onward had far- reaching implications for his evaluation of Bentham and James Mill and their version of utilitarianism; for his political agenda, including his plan for moral regeneration; and for his views about the value of liberty and for the argument ofOn Liberty.

    Mill discovered the religion of humanity...

    (pp. 149-165)

    MILL’S CELEBRATION of individuality in chapter three ofOn Libertyis passionate and compelling. He presents a picture of a free-spirited, independent person with a distinctive personality who lives in accordance with original and worthy ideas and values. The person with individuality is spontaneous, original, and makes choices in accordance with strong desires that reflect individual character rather than with what is fashionable or customary. Such a person, moreover, is courageous and thus not afraid to defy society. Of course Mill believed that these qualities of individuality were inherently valuable. He indicates that individual spontaneity had “intrinsic worth” and deserved...

  13. Chapter Eight HOW MUCH LIBERTY?
    (pp. 166-202)

    WHILE MILL enjoys a reputation as an unequivocal defender of liberty and as one who asserted its claims against the restrictions imposed by society, including its customs, “received opinions,” and expectations, his reputation is not fully deserved, for his plan for moral reform would have led to many restrictions on individual liberty, and this was a consequence he foresaw and accepted. So great was his wish to stamp out selfishness that the achievement of moral reform coexisted with and sometimes superseded individual liberty.

    Liberty would be diminished in two ways. First, as shown in chapter one, the harm principle would...

  14. Chapter Nine MILL’S RHETORIC
    (pp. 203-224)

    THERE IS SOME IRONY in considering thatOn Liberty, a book that pleads for candor and openness, is also a book in which Mill disguises, conceals, equivocates, and seeks to mislead. He wrote less as one seeking to present the truth than as a practitioner of rhetoric seeking to shape beliefs. This dimension of Mill’s writing was recognized by R. P. Anschutz: “As war is sometimes said to be an extension of policy, so philosophy for Mill was an extension of politics. If, then, he sometimes failed to declare his whole mind on some speculative question, he was merely practicing...

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 225-234)

    MILL—especially the Mill ofOn Liberty—has always been linked to liberalism. Mill’s essay was published as liberal ideas were gaining great influence, and it seemed to breathe the spirit and articulate the values of the emerging ethos. This association has continued to our time, and in recent commentary he is portrayed as the emblematic liberal by those upholding the traditional interpretation (Berlin, Ten); by the revisionists (Rees, Ryan); by those who suggest he developed a conception of positive liberty (Semmel); and by conservative critics, as well. Cowling, for example, calls him the godfather of modern liberalism. Even John...

  16. INDEX
    (pp. 235-239)