In this chapter, Mill tries to show that individuality and nonconformity are valuable both on the level of the individual and on the level of society. Mill believes that society naturally prefers conformity, and that this preference is exacerbated by democratization and the control of society by the masses.
Mill’s concern with the stifling of individuality extends to both legal and social realms. He believes that in the face of public pressure to conform and the institutionalized power of aver-reaching laws, the individual is obstructed from an ability to make meaningful choices. and thus from personal development. More broadly, and extremely important to any argument resting on the concept of utility, conformity hurts society as well as the individual in the minority, since inconformity people lose out on potentially desirable ways of approaching life and stop learning from each other. Mill believes that social progress requires a dynamic give and take between conflicting ways of life.
Mill’s views of social progress are intimately tied up with his views on individuality and conformity. Mill subscribes to the belief that there are better and worse was to live life: barbarians and savages, Mill believes live more poorly than civilized man. But, with civilization comes a tendency toward conformity. And since Mille believes that it is through a free and dynamic development of one’s self and the interaction with people with different ways of life that an individual perfects himself, and similarly, that it is through discussion and dissent that “truth” is kept alive in society, conformity leads to social stagnation. There may be such a thing as too much individuality, as a barbarian nation is structured (or unstructured). Conformity, however, the opposite of too much individuality is similarly problem.