Mill’s “Good” – Only a Personal Good

Only A Personal Good

The central message sent by Mill to the modern democracies has been his insistence that we must be left free for “framing the plan of our life to suit our character” (1), and that “the only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way” (1), as long as we do not harm or impede others in the same pursuit. Volumes could be written on these distinctions. But let us cut to the chase. The modern democracies took this directive from Mill as a sanction for the supposedly “neutral” state, or “procedural republic,” in which a framework of law is established that is supposed to be neutral as to the ends of society. But as mentioned before, this has been a deception, for this supposedly neutral environment has unleashed an egalitarian-democratic war against traditional morality and civil society in the name of the progressive welfare state, as we shall see. (more…)

Mills Two Democracies

The Two Democracies
This war between the two democracies is still under way. It had been the failure and – to most intellectuals of the time – the tremendous disappointment of the theory and practice of Rousseau’s collectivist freedom that provoked the most sensitive minds – of which Mill’s was certainly one – to retreat from it in search of a more workable alernative.[i] More than any other document, his On Liberty spelled out that theory, and the experiment in individualist freedom Mill articulated there is still unfolding, for better or worse, within almost every Western democracy.*
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Mill’s Religion of the Self

The New Religion Of The Self

In an earlier chapter we discussed the two contrasting metaphors of the Mirror and the Lamp that stand for the vast cultural shift from the Classical/Christian to the Romantic ethos.[i] The metaphor of the mirror implies the truth of the cosmos lies outside us, to be discovered first through soulwork and insight, then reflected in life and art. The lamp implies the opposite. It is in part a response to the conviction that we can only know our own perceptions of the external world, and nothing more. We cannot know the world itself. Hume said we can’t. Kant said we can’t. The Romantic reaction to the frightening idea that we cannot ever really know a common reality was to say, fine. If we are trapped inside our own perceptions, then truth must be personal, something we generate from within that glows like a lamp and can at least illuminate the external world. It is we who create reality with perception and imagination. Mill became so fascinated by this conception of truth as something sourced in the free Self that he made it the new creed for his morals and politics. Although his flirtation with Romantic ideas was entirely derivative and unoriginal, the way he constructed his new political understanding on them was to radically alter our Western concept of freedom and democracy.
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Mill’s Sham Morality

Sham Morality: Mill’s Two Fibs and The New Golden Rule

His assault began with the bold announcement that the object of his essay was “to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”[i] [italics mine]. This is referred to as Mill’s “harm principle.” I am assuming he cribbed it from the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, the infamous Article 4 of which said that “liberty consists in being able to do anything that does not injure another.” (more…)

Mill’s Contradictions – Only Apparent

Mill’s Contradictions – Only Apparent

The conflict between wholes (organic society: Rousseau, Humboldt) and parts (individual freedom: Locke, Kant, Mill) continues throughout Mill’s On Liberty, and has generated considerable unresolvable controversy about what exactly Mill meant. No wonder. He was trying to suck and blow at the same time. This often gives the impression, as one frustrated critic put it, of someone “bewildered by the intricacies of his own thought.”[i] For how could he be such a freedom-lover and also, by the end of his life, a self-admitted socialist (though of a very idealistic sort)?[ii] Are these not contradictions? Well, yes and no. The contradictions in his views are real enough at the surface. But they dissolve into a unified view once we understand his underlying assumptions. For Mill believed in absolute human freedom, as well as absolute human progress, or ‘civilization.” Now freedom implies the absence both of hard government coercion as well as the soft social and moral kind. But progress, which must be directed, implies lots of both to steer the course of civilization toward the good. (more…)

Exposing the “Harm Principle” of J. S. Mill

Trying something new.

For the next ten days or so I will be posting a a series of connected installments taken from Chapter Eight, “The Road to Hyperdemocracy,” as published in my book The Trouble With Democracy (Stoddart, 2001, and then by BPS Books, 2008).

This is basically an expose of Mill’s so-called “Harm Principle”, showing the steps that led him to it, the faulty logic of it, the philosophical and moral confusions in which he became mired over it, and how it has unfortunately become a canonical statement of modern liberty.

p.s. other than the footnotes, the in-text numerals in parentheses refer to the the relevant section of the 5 in Mill’s famous essay.

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