Friday, November 19, 2010

Write a brief critique on Mill’s treatise On Liberty.

“I do not know whether then or at any other time so short a book ever instantly produced so wide and so important an effect on contemporary thought as did Mill. On Liberty in that day of intellectual and social fermenta­tion (1859).
It was like the effect of Emerson’s awakening address to the Phi-Beta-Kappa Society in New England in 1832. The thought of writing it first came into his head in 1855, as he was mounting the steps of Capital at Rome, the spot where thought of the greatest of all literary histories had started into the mind of Giobon just a hundred years before. It was the composition of this book and the influence under which it grew that kept him right. Mill believed that no symmetry no uniformity of custom and convention, but bold, free expression in every field, was demanded by all the needs of human life, and the best instincts of the modern mind. For this reason, among others, he thought Carlyle made a great mistake in presenting, Goethe as the example to the modern world of the lines on which it should shape itself. For this bold, free expansion to which Goethe’s ideals were the opposite, these two hundred brief pages, without being in any sense volcanic, are a vigorous, argumentative, searching, noble, and moving appeal. The little volume belongs to the rate books that after hostile criticism has done its best are still found to have somehow suded a cubit to man’s stature.”
“It was easy to show its inconsistency with language used in the Political Economy to argue that though he had made the case for non-interference more com­plete he had not established a precise middle axiom in Utilitarianism ; and to press the acknowledged point that it was not original, but came from Germany [Wilhelm Von Humboldt]. These things did not matter in face of appeal the vital fact that like Rousseau it was a moral appeal to tie individual man and woman, and only secondarily to the legislator.”
“As literature it will not be compared with Areopagitica, the majestic classic of spiritual and intellectual freedom, with its height and spaciousness, its outbursts of shattering vituperation, in its inflammatory scorn, its ,boundless power and overflow of passionate speech in all the keys of passion. Mill’s On Liberty supplied, however, a real wart of the 19th century : a sustained argument for democracy. “Literary grandeur, however, matters little where the kernel is a restatement and new restatement of Tolerance, a discussion without restric­tion, the fret life of the individual, so long as he does not injure other people, the fair play for social experiment. Of all this nothing could be more bracing than Mill’s handling of his lofty case, and the idealism of it, the enthusiasm sustained as it was for page after page, very nearly approached the electrifying region of the poetic, in. the eyes of ardent men and women in our age.”
Mill’s doctrine of Liberty was likely to be misunderstood. “That there were risks of misunderstanding was not unperceived by all—risks, for instance, that people eccentricity to be good for its own sake, or that the fanatic may still be thought useful in his way, Sad is never other than respectable; or that it is wise to ride opinions to death, or that the ultra must always be in the right. There were cases where this misinterpretation carried into practice made dire havoc of life.”
“Macaulay agreed with Mill in thinking a Chinese or Byzantine state would be a terrible ------------- and calamity but quarrelled with him as crying re Noah’s flood Macaulay insisted that there never was such triumph of individuality at then. Inventions were never bolder. So great was the taste for oddity that men with no recommendation but oddity stood high in public estimation. Such was Macaulay’s demurrer. eager acceptance of the book however, was proof enough that he had taken its true measure.”
Liberty was not the work of the Demagogue. rather of Rationalism or anything else, because it was evidently a potent war cry against the infallibility of Public Opinion, and the usurpation of Majorities, whether by Act of Parliament or social boycott.” Even Ruskin; who railed at Mill, felt drawn towards some of the truths in Liberty which he found both important and beautifully expressed though not without the rider that “the degree of liberty, you can rightly grant to a number of men is commonly in the inverse ratio of their desire for it.”
Q. 17. In his other writings (for example, Considerations on Representative Government), Mill writes in favor of imperialism and despotic rule over “inferior” peoples. How could Mill justify’ this stance, given his commitment to individual liberty? (Look to his first chapter in On Liberty, particularly to his discussion of children and barbaric people).
It is important to realize that Mill does not believe freedom to be an inherent right belonging to all men simply because they are human. Mill specifically rejects trying to justify liberty claims in this manner (by things like natural law or divine will). Rather. Mill wants to show that liberty is beneficial to the individual and to society; his book is an attempt to show the utility of individuality. As a result, he sets limits on how far liberty should extend. It would seem natural that Mill’s support of liberty extends to support self-government, and in general it does. However, he believes that children and “barbarians” lack the necessary tools to enjoy liberty. For these people, it is the state’s job to try to provide them with the civilized ability to enjoy freedom. For children, this results in measures like mandating public education. For barbarians, Miff leaves open the possibility of imperial rule, by which people are ruled with the hope that they can one day rule themselves. Thus, Mill accepts imperialism because he has a hierarchical conception of societies where only some are advanced enough to benefit from the protection of individuality. Mill sees barbarians as inferior peoples in some sense childlike. As a result, the most beneficial way of treating them is as children. Mill thus would accept a kind of benevolent imperialism whose goal was to civilize people to a state where they could benefit from self-government. For those people who were capable of self-government, however, liberty protections would still hold.

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