BookReview: On Liberty
by John Stuart Mill, W. W. Norton & Company, 1975, 0-393-09252-6

Norton Critical Edition which includes criticism against and support for Mill.

[p23] The usefulness of an opinion is itself a matter of opinion: as disputable, as open to discussion, and requiring discussion as much as the opinion itself.

[p28] But, indeed, the dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution is one of the most pleasant falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplaces, but which all experience refutes.

[p33] Who can compute what the world loses in the multitude of promising intellects combined with timid characters, who dare not follow out any bold, vigorous, independent train of thought, lest it should land them in something which would admit of being cosidered irreligious or immoral? [...] No one can be a great thinker who does not recognise, that as a thinker it is his first duty to follow his intellect to whatever conclusions it may lead. Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of thos who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think.

[p36] He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.

[p44] If there are any persons who contest a received opinion, or who will do so if law or opinion will let them, let us thank them for it, open our minds to listen to them, and rejoice that there is some one to do for us what we otherwise ought, if we have any regard for either the certainty or the vitality of our convictions, to do with much greater labour for ourselves.

[p46] Truth, in the great practical concerns of life, is so much a question of the reconciling and combining of opposites, that very few have minds sufficiently capacious and impartial to make the adjustment with an approach to correctness, and it has to be made by the rough process of a struggle between combatants fighting under hostile banners.

[p47] Christian morality (so called) has all the characters of a reaction; it is, in great part, a protest against Paganism. Its ideal is negative rather than positive; passive rather active; Innocence rather than Nobleness; Abstinence from Evil, rather than energetic Pursuit of Good; in its precepts (as has been well said) 'thou shall not' perdominates unduly over 'thou shallt.'

[p49] If Christians would teach infidels to be just to Christianity, they should themselves be just to infidelity. It can do truth no service to blink the fact, known to all who have the most ordinary acquantance with literary history, that a large portion of the noblest and most valuable moral teaching has been the work, not only of men who did not know, but of men who knew and rejected, the Christian faith.

[p51] Undoubtedly the manner of asserting an opinion, even thought it be a true one, may be very objectionable, and may justly incur severe censure. But the principal [sic] offences of the kind are such as it is mostly impossible, unless by accidental self-betrayal, to bring home to conviction. The gravest of them is, to argue sophistically, to suppress facts or agruments, to misstate the elements of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion.

[p56] He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. [...] Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing. [...] it will probably be conceded that it is desirable people should exercise their understandings, and than an intelligent following of custom, or even occasionally an intelligent deviation from custom, is better than a blind and simply mechanical adhesion to it.

[p57] It is not because men's desires are strong that they act ill; it is because their consciences are weak. [...] But society has now fairly got the better of individuality; and the danger which threatens human nature is not the excess, but the deficiency, of personal impulses and preferences.

[p58] I do not mean that they choose what is customary in preference to what suits their own inclination. It does not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is customary.

[p61] [T]here are but few persons, in comparison with the whole of mankind, whose experiments, if adopted by others, would likely to be any improvement on established practice. But these few are the salt of the earth; without them, human life would become a stagnant pool.

[p62] Originality is the one thing which unoriginal minds cannot feel the use of.

[p63] In this age, the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service.

[p66] The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement, being in unceasing antagonism to that disposition to aim at something better than customary, which is called according to circumstances, the spirit of liberty, or that of progress or improvement.

[p67] They [that hold the title of sages and philosophers] are remarkable, too, in the excellence of their apparatus for impressing, as far as possible, the best wisdom they possess upon every mind in the community, and securing that those who have appropriated most of it shall occupy the posts of honour and power.

[p69] A more powerful agency than even all these, in bringing about a general similarity among mankind, is the complete establishment, in this and other free countries, of the ascendancy of public opinion in the State.

[p70] Though society is not founded on a contract, and though no good purpose is answered by inventing a contract in order to deduce social obligations from it, every one who receives the protection of society renders it indispensible that each should be bound to observe a certain line of conduct towards the rest. Nor is this all that society may do. The acts of an individual may be hurtful to others, or wanting in due consideration for their welfare, without going to the length of violating any of their constituted rights. The offender may then be justly punished by opinion, though not by law. As soon as any part of a person's conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion. But there is no room for entertaining any such question when a person's conduct affects the interest of no persons besides himself, or needs not effect them unless they like (all persons concerned being of ull age, and the ordinary amount of understanding). In all usch cases, there should be perfect freedom, legal and social, to do the action and stand the consequences.

It would be a great misunderstanding of this doctrine to suppose that it is one of selfish indifference, which pretends that human beings have no business with oeach other's conduct in life, and that they should not concern themselves about the well-doing or well-being of one another, unless their own interest is involved. Instead oof any diminution, there is need of great increase of disinterested exertion to promote the good of others.

[p72] It would be well, indeed, if this good office were much more freely rendered than the common notions of politeness at present permit, and if one person could honestly point out to another that he thinks hime in fault, withou being considered unmannerly or presuming. [...] We have a right, also, in various ways, to actu upon our unfavourable opinion of any one, not to the oppression of his individuality [WHATEVER THAT MEANS], but in the exercise of ours. We are not bound, for example, to seek his society; we have a right to avoid it (though not to parade the avoidance), for we have a right to choose the society most acceptable to us. We have a right, and it may be our duty, to caution others against him, if we think his example or conversation likely to have pernicious effect on those with whom he associates.

[p76] In like manner, when a person disables himself, by conduct purely self-regarding, from the performance of some definite duty incumbent on him to the public, he is guilty of a social offense. No person ought to be punished simply for being drunk; but a soldier or a policeman should be punished for being drunk on duty. [...] Whenever, in short, there is a definite damage, or a definite risk of damage, either to an individual or to the public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty, and placed in that of morality of law. [...] But I cannot consent to argue the point as if society had no means of bringing its weaker members up to its ordinary standard of rational conduct, except waiting till they do sommething irrational, and then punishing them, legally or morally, for it.

[p77] If society lets any considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences.

[p79] And it is not difficult to show, by abundant instances, that to extend the bounds of what may be called moral police, until it encroaches on the most unquestionably legitimate liberty of the individual, is one of the most universal of all human propensities.

[p81] It is affirmed that in the country where this tendency [towards a democratic constitution of society] is most completely realised -- where both society and the government are most democratic -- the United States -- the feeling of the majority, to whom any appearance of a more showy or costly style of living than they can hope to rival is disagreeable, operates as a tolerably effectual sumptuary law, and that in many parts of the Union it is really difficlut for a person possessing a very large income to find any mode of spending it which will not incur popular disapprobation. Though such statements as these are doubtless much exaggerated as a representation of existing facts, the state of things they describe is not only a conceivable and possible, but a probable result of democratic feeling, combined with the notion that the public has a right to a veto on the manner in which individuals shall spend their incomes.

[p83] Quote of Edward Henry Stanley British Secretary of State for India, 'I claim, as a citizen, a right to legislate whenever my social rights are invaded by the social act of another.' And now for the definition of these 'social rights.' 'If anything invades my social rights, certainly the traffic in strong drink does. It destroys my primary right of security, by constantly creating and tsimulating social disorder. It invades my right of equality, by deriving a profit from the creation of a misery I am taxed to support. It impedes my right to free moral and intellectual development, by surrounding my path with dangers, and weakening and demoralising society, forom which I have a right to claim mutual aid and intercourse.'

[p84] Another important example of illegitimate interference with the rightful liberty of the individual, not simply threatened, but long since carried into triumphant effect, is Sabbatarian legislation. [...] [I]t may be allowable and right that the law should guarantee to each the observance by others of the custom, by suspending the greater operations of industry on a particular day. [...] It is true that the amusement of some is the day's work of others; but the pleasure, not to say the useful recreation, of many, is worth the labour of a few, provided the occupation is freely chosen, and can be freely resigned.

[p86] A civilisation that can thus succumb to its vanquished enemy, must first have become so degenerate, that neither its appointed priests and teachers, nor anybody else, has the capacity, or will take the trouble, to stand up for it. If this be so, the sooner such a civilisation receives notice to quit the better.

[p88] [I]t was once held to be the duty of governments, in all cases which were considered of importance, to fix prices, and regulate the processes of manufacture. But it is now recognised, though not till after a long struggle, that both the cheapness and the good quality of commodities are most effecutally provided for by leaving the producers and sellers perfectly free, under the sole check of equal freedom to the buyers for supplying themselves elsewhere. [...] [W]hat amount of public control is admissible for the prevention of fraud by adulteration; how far sanitary precautions, or arrangements to protect workpeople employed in dangerous occupations, should be enfored on employers. Such questions involve considerations of liberty, only in so far as leaving people to themselves is always better, caeteris paribus, than countrolling them: but that they may be legitimately controlled for these ends is in principle undeniable.

[p89] Nevertheless, if a public authority, or even a private person, sees any one evidently preparing to commit a crime, they are not bound to look on inactive until the crime is committed, but may interfere to prevent it. [...] If either a public officer or any one else saw a person attempting to cross a bridge which had been ascertained to be unsafe, and there were no time to warn him of his danger, they might seize him and turn him back, without any real infringement of his liberty; for liberty consists in doing what one desires, and he does not desire to fall into the river.

[p90] The making himself drunk, in a person who drunkenness excites to do harm to others, is a crime against others.

[p93] The interest, however, of these dealers in promoting intemperance is a real evil, and justifies the State in imposing restriction and requiring guarantees which, but for that justification, would be infringements of legitimate liberty. [...] Taxation, therefore, of stimulants, up to the point which produces the largest amount of revenue (supposing that the State needs all the revenue which it yields) is not only admissible, but to be approved of.

[p94] Not only persons are not held to engagements which violote the rights of third parties, but it is sometimes considered a sufficient reason for releasing them from an engagement, that it is injurious to themselves. In this and most other civilised countries, for example, an engagement by which a person should sell himself, or allow himself to be sold, as a slave, would be null and void; neither enforced by law nor by opinion.

[p97] The almost despotic power of husbands over wives needs not be enlarged upon here, because nothing more is needed for the complete removal of the evil than that wives should have the same rights, and should receive the protection of law in the same manner, as all other persons; and because, on this subject, the defenders of established injustice do not avail themselves of the plea of liberty, but stand forth openly as the champions of power. [...] Instead of his being required to make any exertion or sacrifice for securing educaation to his child, it is left to his choice to accept it or not whn it is provided gratis!

[p98] The objections which are urged which reason against State education do not apply to the enforcement of education by the State, but to the State's taking upon itself to direct that education; which is a totally different thing.

[p99] All attempts by the State to bias the conclusins of its citizens on disputed subjects are evil; but it may very properly offer to ascertain and certify that a person possesses the knowledge requisite to make his conclusions, on any given subject, worth attending to.

[p100] The fact itself, of causing the existence of a human being, is one of the most responsible actions in the range of human life.

[p102] What the State can usefully do is to make itself a central depositor, and active circulator and diffuser, of the experience resulting from many trials. Its business is to enable each experimentalist to benefit by the experiments of others; instead of teolerating no experiments but its own. [...] If the roads, the railways, the banks, the insurance offices, the great joint-stock companies, the universities, and the public charities, were all of them branches of the government; if, in addition, the municipal corporations and local boards, with all that now devolves on them, became departments of the central administration; if the employees of all these different enterprises were appointed and paid by the government, and looked to the government for every rise in life; not all the freedom of the press and popular constitution of the legislature would make this or any other country free otherwise than in name.

[p116] Harriet Taylor, 'Toleration', To all such we would say, think for yourself, and act for yourself, but whether you have strength to do either the one or the other, attempt not to impede, much less to resent the genuine expression of the others.

[p125] 'Case Against Mill' [Anon] The despotism of public opinion in America is not due to the gradual disapperance of local types of opinion and sectional habits of mind, and the natural fusion of political creeds which thus results, -- but to the complete political victory which a false constitutional system has given to the largest and most ignorant class of the community overa ll those whose wishes and judgement were entitled to greater weight.

[p133] The only liberty he [Mill] would deny the nation is the liberty to be a nation. He distrusts social and political freedom.

[p146] James Fitzjames Stephen, 'Mill's Fallacies', There is a period, now generally reached all over Europe and America, at which discussion takes the place of compulsion, and in which people when they know what is good for them generally do it. When this period is reached, compulsion may be laid aside. To this I should say that no such period has yet been reach anywhere, and that there is no prospect of its being reached anywhere within any assignable time.

[p147] Where, in the very most advanced and civised communities, will you find any class of persons whose views or whose conduct on subjects on which they are interested are regulated even in the main by the results of free discussion? [...] A young man who is educated and so kept under close and continuous discipline till he is twenty-two or twenty-three years of age will generally have a much more vigorous and more original character than one who is left entirely to his own devices at an age when his mind and his tastes are unformed. Almost every human being requires more or less coercion and restraint as astringents to give him the maximum of power which he is capabale of attaining.

[p148] The way in which the man of genious rules is by persuading an efficient minority to coerce an indifferent and self-indulgent majority, which is quite a different process.

[p151] Before an act can be treated as a crime, it ought to be capable of distinct definition and of specific proof, and it ought also to be of such a nature that it is worth while to prevent it at the risk of inflicting great damage, direct and indirect, upon those who commit it. These conditions are seldom, if ever, fulfilled by mere vices.

[p152] If we now look at the different acts which satisfy the conditions specified, it will, I think, be found that criminal law in this country actually is applied to the suppression of vice and so to the promotion of virtue to a very considerable extent; and this I say is right.

[p153] It has been plausably maintained that these laws [on marriage and inheritence, that is, illegitimate children inherit nothing] bear hardly upon bastards, punishing them for the sins of their parents. It is not necessary to my purpose to go into this, though it appears to me that the law is right.

[p162] Willmoore Kendall, 'The Open Society and Its Fallacies', Mill's proposals have as one of their tacit premises a false conception of the nature of societ, and are, therefore, unrealistic on their face. They assume that society is, so to speak, a debating club devoted above all to the pursuit of truth, and capable therefore of subordinating itself--and all other considerations, goods, and goals--to that pursuit.

[p164] In order to practice tolerance on behalf of the pursuit of truth, you have first to value and believe in not merely the pursuit of truth but Truth itself, with all its accumulated riches to date. The all-questions-are-open-questions society cannot do that; it cannot, therefore, practice tolerance towards those who disagree with it. It must persecute--and so, on its very own showing, arrest the pursuit of truth.

[p165] Still another tacit premise of the proposals is the extraordinary notion that the discussion process, which correctly understood does indeed forward the pursuit of truth, and does indeed call for free discussion, is one and the same thing with Mill's unlimited freedom of speech. They rest, in consequence, upon a false conception of the discussion process. What they will produce is not truth but rather only deafening noise and demoralizing confusion. [...] Of the latter point we may sufficienly satisf ourselves, it seems to me, by recalling how the discussion process works in those situations in which men who are products of the tradition organize themselves for a serious venture in the puruit of truth--as they do in, say, a branch of scholarship, an academic discipline, and the community of truth-seekers corresponding to it.

Such men demonstrably proceed on some such principles as these: (a) The pursuit of truth is indeed forwarded by the exchange of opinions and ideas among many; helpful suggestions do indeed emerge sometimes from surprising quarters; but one does not leap from these facts to the conclusion that helpful suggestions may come from just anybody. (bi) The man or woman who mishes to exercise the right to be heard has a logically and temporally prior obligation to prepare himself for participation in the xchange, and to prepare himself in the amnner defined by the community. Moreover (c), from the moment he begins to participate in the exchange, he must make manifest, by his behaviour, his sencse of the duty to act as if the other participants had something to teach him--the duty, in a word, to see to it that the exchange goes forward in an atmoshphere of courtesy and mutual self-respect. Next (d), the entrant must so behave as to show that he understands that scholarly investigation did not begin with his appearance on the scene, that there is a strong presumption that prior investigators have not labered entirely in vain, and that the community is the custodian of--let us not sidestep the mot juste--an orthodoxy, no part of which it is going to set lightly to one side. (e) That orthodoxy must be understood as concerning first and foremost the frame of reference within which the exchange of ideas and opinions is to go forward. That frame of referenc is, to be sure, subject to change, but this is a matter of meeting the arguments that led originally to its adoption, and meeting them in recognition that the ultimate decision, as to whether or not to change it, lies with the community. (uf) The entrant, unsofar as he wishes to challenge the orthodoxy, must exect barriers to be placed in his way, and must not be astonished if he is punished, at least in the sholt term, by what are fashionably called 'deprivations'; he must, indeed, recoginze that the barriers and the deprivations are a necessary part of the organized procedure by which truth is pursued. (g) Access to the channels of communication that represent the community's central rutual (the learned journals, that is to say) is something that the entrant wins by performing the obligation to produce a craftsmanlike piece of work. (h) The ultimate fate of the entrant who disagrees with the orthodoxy but cannot persuade the community to accetp his point of view is, quite simply, isolation within or banishment from the community.

[p168] The point about Mill's model is that by giving equal privileges to those who are in fact opposed to or ignorant of the discussion process, it constitutes a major onslaught against Truth. [...] It would not be easy, of course, to transfer the rules of the discussion process set forth here to the public forum of a society; nor is there any point in denying that the transfer would involve our openly conceding to society far greater powers, particularly as regards silencing the ill-mannered, the ignorant, the irrelevant, than it would ever enjoy under Mill's perscription. Here, however, two things must be kept in mind. First (however reluctant we may be to admit it), that society always has, and constantly exercise, the power to silence. And second, that no society is likely, within the foreseeable future, to remake itself in the image of either of the two paradigms.

[p181] If men and women try to create a society in which there is no fundamental agreement about good and evil they will fail; if, having based it on common agreement, the agreement goes, the society will disintegrate. For society is not something that is kept together physically; it is held by the invisible bonds of common thought. [...] The bondage is part of the price of society; and mankind, which needs society, must pay its price.

[p185] How are the moral judgements of society to be ascertained? by leaving it until now, I can ask it in the more limited form that is now sufficient for my purpose. How is the law-maker to ascertain the moral judgements of society? It is surely not enought that they should be reached by the opinien of the majority; it would be too much to require the individula assent of every citizen. English law has evolved and regularly uses a standard which does not depend on the counting of heads. It is that of the reasonable man. He is not to be confused with the rationalman. He is not expected to reason about anything and his judgement may be largely a matter of feeling. [...] He might also be called the right-minded man. [...] Immorality then, for the purpose of the law, is what every right-minded person is presumed to consider to be immoral.

[p186] I do not think that one can talk sensibly of a public and private morality any more than one can of a public or private highway. Morality is a sphere in which there is a public interest and a private interest, often in conflict, and the problem is to reconcile the two. [...] No society can do without intolerance, indignation, and disgust; they are the forces bedind the moral law, and indeed it can be argud that if they or something like them are not present, the feelings of society cannot be weighty enough to deprive the individual of freedom of choice. [...] Every moral judgement, unlless it claims a divine source, is simply a feeling that no right-minded man could behave in any other way without admitting that he was doing wrong. It is the power of a common sense and not the power of reason that is behind the judgements of society.

[p187] We should ask ourselves in thefirst instance whether, looking at it calmly and dispassionately, we regard it as a vice so abominable that its mere presence is an offence. If that is the genuine feeling of the society in which we live, I do not see how society can be denied the right to eradicate it. Our feeling may not be so intense as that. We may feel about it that, if confined, it is tolerable, but that if it spread it might be gravely injurious; it is in this way that most societies look upon fornication, seeing it as a natural weakness which must be kept within bounds but which cannot be rooted out. It becomes then a question of balance, the danger to society in one scale and the extent of the restriction in the other.

[p189] The fact that adultery, fornication, and lesbianism are untouched by the criminal law does not prove that homosexuality ought not to be touched.

[p190] Society cannot live without morals. Its morals are those standards of conduct which the reasonable man approves. A ratinal man, who is also a good man, may have other standards. If he has no standards at all he is not a good man and need not be further considered. If he has standards, they may be very different; he may, for example, not disapprove of homosexuality or abortion. In that case he wil not share in the common morality; but that hsould not make him deny that it is a social necessity. A rebel may be rational in thinking that he is right but he is irrational if he thinks that society can leave him free to rebel.

A man who concedes that morality is necessary to society must support the sue of those instruments without which morality cannot be maintained. The two instruments are those of teaching, which is doctrine, and of enforcement, which is the law. If morals could be taught simply on the basis that they are necessary to society, there would be no social need for religion; it could be left as a purely personal affair. But morality cannot be taught in that way. Loyalty is not taught in that way either. No society has yet solved the problem of how to teach morality without religion. So the law must base itself on Christian morals and to the limit of its ability enforce them, not simply because they are the morals which are taught by the established Church--on these points the law recognizes the right to dissent--but for the compelling reason that without the help of Christian teaching the law will fail.

[p195] Albert William Levi, 'The Value of Freedom', Intereference with public discussion in an attempt ot safeguard sacred institutions from attack is intrinsically an illegitimate power, and even when public opinion is itself at one with coercive government in this attempt, it cannot be vindicated.

[p205] David Spitz, 'Freedom and Individuality', But Mill valued liberty and diversity precisely because he rejected the possibilty of such an absolutistic conception of morality.

[p221] And this, too, is why, howerver we define it, individuality cannot be understood save in such terms as incorporate the elements of spontaneity, diversity, and the latitued of choice provided by freedom of expression and mutual criticism.

[p223] For happiness, as Mil was later to argue in his Autobigraphy, eludes men when they seek it as a direct or immediate aim; it is rather a by-product that comes to men in the course of their other activities.

[p229] Mill, like any other political philosopher, is writing a book of political principles, not a catalogue of do's and don'ts. As such, his book cannot anticipate all contigencies, nor can his examples don more than illustrate his meaning. [...] If, therefore, a man were actually to express a willingness to contract himself into slavery, it could only be because the circumstances which surround him are such as to 'force' him into this action; seeing no feasible alternativ, he finds himself compelled to become a slave.

[p230] One of the moste glaring faults for which Mill's essay can properly be taken to task is its curious failure to deal with wahat was then, and remains now, one of the greatest sources of danger to individual freedom--the power of social and economic organizations.

[p238] What is fundamental to Mill's whole approeach, of course, is the altogether salutary reminder that we are not infallible creatures; that truth cannot be attaned in any complete and final sense; that what we take to be truth must therfore be held tentatively and undogmatically; and that wemust always be prepared, as rational men, to subject the beliefs we hodl to be true to the test of new data and new experiences.

[p250] H. L. A. Hart, 'Immorality and Treason', We must ask a question at two different levels which Sir Patrick [Devlin] never clearly enough identifies or separates. First, we must ask whether a practice which offends moral feeling is harmful, independently of its repercussion on the general moral code. Secondly, what about repercussion on the moral code? Is it really true that failure to translate this item of general morality into criminal law wil jeopardize the whole fabric of morality and so of society?

[p252] 'Morality, what crimes may be committed in thy name!'

Via Rob 1990