Friday, November 19, 2010

Major Themes in 'On Liberty' by J.S. Mill

The Struggle between Liberty and Authority:
Individuals have often felt as thought their rights were being infringed upon by an overzealous government and have fought for the ability to have their government act they wish. Individual liberties have been trampled on by various governments and this fear of authority has resulted in democracies, where the majority of the people get to decide what actions are best for the state.

Tyranny of the Majority:
With democracies, it is supposed that the will of the people is the impetus for the government’s actions and that people are participating in a type of self-governing state. However, says Mill, this is not true, democracies enable a tyranny of the majority where public opinion stomps out the voices of the minority groups and pays their needs and opinions no mind. Mill thinks that this tyranny is the gravest sort, and seeks to find the maximum amount that society can impose itself on an individual while still maintaining personal liberty.
Self-Regarding Actions and Autonomy:
A person whose actions only affect himself is not eligible to be coerced or punished for his deeds. According to Mill, it is not society’s duty or even its right to protect a person from him or herself. The only punishment that can result from a self-regarding action is the weight of individual public opinion and the consequence of the actual action itself.
The Veracity of Public Opinion:
There is no guarantee, and even a strong possibility that what the majority deems to be best indeed is not. The majority’ s opinion is tainted with motives and biases that shouldn’t come into play when deciding what is best for society as a whole. An analysis of past events, wars, and discriminations can show us that sometimes the majority’s opinion is not rooted in good faith. Allowing the minority’s opinion to be involved in debates and decisions can only be a good thing, no matter what the opinion is.
Religion and Liberty:
Supporters of religion tend to view those who are less religious as less credible in their ideas for society. Mill refutes this theory and says that religious affiliation or lack thereof should play no role in the ability of a person to make an informed opinion about what is best for all society the truth of matters. Mill points to nonreligious men with impeccable morals as proof that religious affiliation does not indicate trustworthiness.
Mill is against societal or individual coercion in all cases, except when a person’s actions are harming others. He thinks it a clear abuse of liberty when coercion is used to persuade a person to stop an action that only affects himself. When a person is injuring other members of society, however, Mill think s it fine that he be coerced to stop his actions and punished in a court of law if applicable. Mill also believes that the public has the duty to warn each other about a dangerous person and coerce one another to stay avoid him/her.
Society’s Obligation:
Society has an obligation to throw its influence towards those who are unable to process information and exercise their own liberty in a rational way. Examples of these individuals are children and undeveloped minds. Society has an obligation to children to try their best to make them rational, reasonable adults who want to follow their passions and be dynamic personalities. Part of this obligation, one that is shared by parents, is providing a strong education Mill suggests that there be universal educational standards for all children so none fall behind.
Danger in the Government:
Mill is very fearful of the power of the government and all his theories are molded not to give the government any more power of persuasion or procedure. Mill thinks that governments should not be allowed to make the final decisions regarding its constituency, that rather local officials should be appointed and with the central government advice, but most importantly with the input of all citizens, make the decisions.

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