On the Catalyst of Change: Vital Individualism against the Conformity of Public Opinion
John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty published in 1859 is a powerful defense of human liberty and individualism against the perverse mechanizing nature of traditional customs as well as the tyranny of public opinion. In the essay, Mill proposes that individuals take the road less taken in a strategic manner which uses their reasoning to choose and deliberate the best decision to act upon. On Liberty to a degree was written as a reactionary response to the tyranny of public opinion posed by Victorian England’s stringent social climate which stifled progress by promoting a tradition of social and morals that bound individuals to a circular range of undertakings. Ultimately, forming mimetic personal cultures within the masses that restrict intellectual, cultural, and social progression as well as diversity. Rather than letting public opinion dictate and predetermine one’s path by caving into the social pressure to conform, Mill rightly, I believe, affirms that individuals in order to progress need to use and reassert their faculties to: “…see, [reason], and judgment to decide, and when he has decided, firmness, and self-control to hold to his deliberate decision.” The solution of freedom and vital individualism as the means for social progress to combat the crushing wave of conformity is arguably reasonable. Mill’s perception of the individual in society through his solution of maximizing freedoms within the limits respecting other’s rights (harm principle), such as the freedom of action to cultivate vital individuals, I believe, forms the essence of social progress. It’s through the aid of exceptional minority minds that push and perpetuate intellectual and social boundaries that critical discourse and negotiations of higher diverse truths serve against the constricting objections of customs which stagnate progress such as the web, in today’s society. Mill’s On Liberty serves as a reactionary critique to Victorian England’s fixation with customs and public opinion since it’s social customs are antithetical and devoid of Mill’s required means for the cultivation of social progress, namely the precept for freedom of expression and diverse means of self-actualization as an individual. The context of his work can be can be perceived in defense against the culture of indentured slavery to the tyranny of public opinion and conformity. Individuals to an extent can be grasped as slaves to majoritarian opinion in traditional Victorian England since they were more prone to absorbing the biases of other people thus further reinforcing the tyrannical intrusive nature of opinions taken as truth rather than as objects of contemplation and dispute needing further rectification. “Errors as corrigible,” is a concept which did not truly resound in England’s conformist civil society and the religiosity of the era. Though English society was highly rooted in traditional conservative practices hindered by the tyranny of opinion, the fact that an individual such as Mill rose up to critically express and defend his stance on the nature of social reality and organization to the progress of society self-affirms that individuals should hold assertion over their existence to participate and deliberate decisions that constitute their nature and lead them towards their personal happiness. It is only through engagement and deliberation of ideas rather than passive acceptance or tolerance to ideas and customs that leads to the refinement and sharpening of both parties’ opinions on disputed subjects and if the concept gains popularity in society, further rectification through additional critical exchange of ideas. Firstly, Mill strongly believes the cultivation of vital and principled individuality to be important in promoting the well-being of the nation-state in a reciprocal way which elevates the whole of society through the maximizing of liberties and as a...
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