On Liberty - John Stuart Mill

Topics: John Stuart Mill, Liberalism, Political philosophy Pages: 3 (1119 words) Published: March 10, 2004
John Stuart Mill was a great philosopher of the nineteenth century and the author of 'On Liberty.' In this writing (written in 1850), Mills voiced his ideas on individual freedom, both social and political. His intended audience is educated, healthy and 'civilized' adults. He equates our personal freedoms with the pursuit of happiness, in particular, freedom of speech and expression. Mill defines the meaning of liberty as the relationship between the State and an individual, in regards to the power the government has over an individual. He says that power needs to be guarded against if man is to develop and succeed. He argues that the government should not interfere with an individual's civil liberties as long as a person's action does not harm another. He feels that the basis of a healthy democracy is our personal right to freedom and expression without censorship. He also raises the question surrounding the limits of power that can be legally exercised by the state over an individual. In other words, where do we draw the line between individual liberty and authority? What role should government play in our lives? These questions have influenced the practices of societies throughout history and are relevant to the political climate of today and also the future.

He builds his argument by tracing the struggle between liberty and authority throughout history, using Greece, Rome, and England as examples of Classical and Post Classical models. Power was either passed down by inheritance or was won through conquests (with the exception of Greece for a short period of time). There were two types of power, 1) power of the state through its laws and 2) power from popular opinion (hoi polloi). Through the evolution of civilization, the role of the state became procedural. The state became rule makers and could only punish if the rules were broken.

Mill feels that the state should interfere, by imposing consequences through the law, when a person's behavior impacts...
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