John Stuart Mill was born in 1806. He was brought, up by his father, James Mill, and Jeremy Bentham to carry on the Utilitarian tradition, and after their death he was recognised as the leader, or at least the exponent, of the philosophical Radicals., He was appointed in 1823 to a clerkship in the India House, where finally he became head of his department in 1856. When the East India Company was abolished in 1857, he refused to accept a position under the re-constituted authority, and retired in the beginning of 1858. In 1865 he was elected Member of Parliament for Westminster, but was not re-elected in 1868. . He spent the rest of his life till his death in 1873 in literary and philosophical pursuits. ■ ■.Mill's position at the India House gave him considerable leisure for writing, and his total literary output was very large. But much the greater part of it consisted in reviews and articles for periodicals, mainly for the Westminster Review, and in editing Bentham's or his father's work. Of his more permanent writings, besides the three contained in this volume, the most important are his Logic, published in 1843, the Political Economy, published in 1848, the Examination of Sir William .Hamilton's Philosophy, published in 1865, a treatise on The Subjection of Women, written in 1861 and published in 1869, and three posthumous essays on Nature, The Utility of Religion, and Theism.
Of the three works included in this volume, Utilitarianism, Liberty, and Considerations on Representative Government, the second is the most careful and studied expression of Mill's thought. It was planned in 1854 and revised with great care, owmg much, as the dedication witnesses, to the cooperation and criticism of his wife. It was published after her death in 1859. It is justly the most famous of all his writings, and .contains his most individual and characteristic doctrines. Utilitarianism, compiled from previously written - papers, was published in Eraser's Magazine in 1861, and republished in 1863. The Considerations on Representatiye Government was published in 1^61.
was brought was brought
Never was such an organised and systematic attempt to fix a young mind unalterably in one mould as that stupendous plan of studies which Bentham and the elder Mill imposed upon their young hopeful. Yet in spite of it, few thinkers have been so open-minded and so sympathetic towards very varying opinions as John Stuart Mill. He fulfilled his father's hopes by carrying on the Utilitarian tradition, but, as we shall see, it was Utilitarianism with a difference. His eclecticism is both the strength and the weakness of Mill's writings—the strength because their very great popularity was largely due to the wideness of their appeal and their evident sympathy with what was best in opposing schools; the weakness because of the inconsistency and lack of real clearness of thought which so often goes with a sympathetic mind. Mill had a very great reverence for his father and for Bentham, and hardly realised how very different was the tenor of his mind from theirs. When he found that he had sympathies which they did not share, he did his best to minimise the differences. Where his reverence and loyalty were not thus engaged, he could admire and yet criticise freely. Comte, for example, exercised a great influence upon him, but Mill was always very conscious of where he and Comte differed. Could he have examined his father's and Bentham's principle as candidly, his own position would have been very differently expressed; but it was not in his nature.
In consequence we find him in all his books enunciating with firmness the Utilitarian principles, then compelled by his fairness and openness of mind to admit exceptions and insert qualifications which the older Utilitarianism, complete but narrow, had never recognised. The resultant picture is much fairer to the facts, but presents much less of a consistent doctrine, and the critical reader is always wondering why, if Mill admits this or that, he persists in maintaining general principles with which the facts admitted are clearly inconsistent. The truth is that Mill's open-mindedness was too large for the system he inherited; his, power of system-making too small for him to construct a new one. Had Mill possessed Bentham's saving irreverence, he would have broken away from Benthamism altogether, and tried to construct a system truer to the facts which he recognised, He was both too loyal and too little systematic, and preferred, like many others in a similar case, to make the principlejLto which he was loyal as elastic as possible, not troubling very much whether he stretched them beyond what they could bear. This procedure had certainly its temporary advantages, as such procedure always has. The open and candid character of Mill's writings won many adherents to the system; but it has had in time a prejudicial effect on Mill's reputation as a philosopher. For there are two ways of interpreting his writings. The first and the more natural is to take him on his own profession as a Utilitarian in the sense in which Bentham and the older Mill were Utilitarians. If we begin in that way, Mill's very open-mindedness works his downfall. For every admission and qualification becomes an excuse to recall him relentlessly to his professed creed, and to make him an unwilling witness to ^its inadequacy and falsehood. Such a method has its value as a logical exercise and in an examination of the historical development of Hedonism, but it misses the real value of Mill's writings. On the other hand, if we recognise that, just because of his historical position, we cannot look for a complete systematic exposition, we may take his writings rather as pointing the way to a new philosophy than as constituting one in themselves. Philosophy may suffer as much from narrowness as from inconsistency, and it is a great mistake to undervalue those writers who, by their receptive sympathy, ensure that philosophic problems shall be stated as widely and broadly as possible. At the same time, we must not minimise the debt Mill owed to his Utilitarian predecessors or regard his professed adherence to their principles as only a mistake to be regretted. He owed to Bentham and his father a'love of clearness and precision, and a distrust of vague generalities and what he called mysticism, which were of great service in his work. In all study of human activity, whether in ethics, politics, or economics, the data with which we have to deal are so manifold and complicated that we are apt either to fix upon principles which shall be clear and simple and allow the facts to shift for themselves— that had been the mistake of Bentham in politics and of the older economists in political economy—-or, when we recognise that the facts are too big for these simple theories, to give up principles altogether and take refuge in suggestive but vague words which cloud as much as they reveal, or to advocate an empiricism which shall somehow describe the facts without discerning in them any principles whatsoever. Mill keeps Igrmly before himself and his readers the double necessity oljiiear thinking and unprejudiced observation.
Whether he achieved that clearness of thought to which he attached such importance is a question on which opinions vary. Consistency and lucidity can never be far apart, and behind the immediate clearness of Mill's style there often lurks a confusing ambiguity of thought. In this he resembles his great predecessor Locke. Locke had the same openness of mind, the same unprejudiced willingness to admit facts. Both achieved popularity by the apparent ease of their writing, and both have suffered from the same repeated charges of inconsistency. With both the desire for precision and their dread of anything that savoured of intuition made them reluctant to follow up the full consequences of their admissions. Locke seems the simplest of writers in a cursory reading: try to work out the implications of his thought, insist that he shall always mean the same thing by the same words, and you find his system riddled with ambiguities. It is the same with Mill. The truth is that, while words which Mill disliked, such as organism and intuition, may in some cases cover confused and cloudy thinking, they need not do so, and without these conceptions no true view of society or of knowledge is possible. We constantly find Mill being led by the facts towards an organic view of society and then pulling himself back lest he should fall into ambiguity. The only way of escape was to go right on and think out a conception of society which should be clear because really philosophic. That he never achieved though he pointed the way.
These characteristics of Mill's writings are illustrated nowhere better than in the short treatise on Utilitarianism. It was published later than Liberty, but, as its scope is wider, a general sketch of Utilitarianism as a system, it deserves prior consideration. In the chapter on the meaning of Utilitarianism, Mill begins by a statement of what was practically the position of Bentham. " The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals utility, or the greatest happiness principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain: by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure." To the first part of this statement Mill adheres throughout, and it is the main principle which this treatise advocates; but to the second he appends so many qualifications and exceptions that its presence is only confusing. For Bentham* the second part was all - important. For his system 0jks founded on a psychological assumption, as simple as it is unwarrantable, that pleasure or relief from pain is the sole possible object of desire or will. That implies that there is no sense in saying that you ought to desire pleasure. Every one, as a matter of psychological necessity, acts in that way which he thinks will give him most pleasure. This is the essential fact of human nature, the inherent selfishness of mankind, with which the legislator must reckon. To this was added the all-important assumption that pleasure is calculable: that there is meaning in talking of a sum or calculus of pleasures. That involves that all pleasure is qualitatively the same, for pleasures of different qualities cannot be summed. Pleasure, therefore, is an object of desire, which can be regarded in complete abstraction from the objects which produce it (pushpin is as good as poetry) and from those who feel it (each to count as one and no one to count as more than one). It is not too much to say that all those assumptions are clearly untrue. For desire is not for pleasure but for objects. We only feel pleasure when we get what we want. We must therefore want something first. That in its turn involves that we cannot separate pleasure from the objects which produce it. Only a crude psychology could suppose that pleasures were statable in " amounts " of each other. There is no meaning in talking of two sums of pleasure being the same, although the pleasures making up the two sums are entirely different. There is as little in assuming that the pleasures of different persons can be quantitatively compared: that we can regard society as an aggregate of individuals each of whom the wise and successful legislator would see to possess or enjoy an equal lot of pleasure. Now none of these three assumptions are really essential to John Stuart Mill's position. The second he explicitly denies in his well-known statement of the qualitative distinction of pleasures, which immediately follows the preliminary definition we have quoted. The third is denied in the statement, p. 9, " Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." The first is thrown over in Mill's statement of the paradox of Hedonism that, " the conscious ability to do without happiness gives the best prospect of realising such happiness as is attainable," p. 15. Within thirteen pages there is nothing left of the main principles of Benthamism. For the calculus of pleasures and self-interest are the very gtffepce of Bentham's Utilitarianism. His is a philosophy for fMhpisl,ator who is to deal with men as units capable equally of pleasure, which he, the legislator, is to put within their grasp* If the law is to be impartial, it cannot afford to deal with fine shades of qualitative difference. Its only concern is to ask whether each individual has the chance of an equal amount of pleasure; of what kind his pleasures may be is not the law's concern, provided always that the enjoyment of them does not interfere with other people. This determined narrowness and heroic simplification of the problem was a strength in *a system whose object was mainly to destroy " sinister interests " and to remedy abuses. When it had to face the problem of construction its weaknesses were more apparent, and, as we shall see, John Stuart Mill came at a time when the destructive work was mainly done, and the difficulties of constructive work were beginning to reveal themselves.
If Benthamism then is given up, what is left, or what has taken its place? This will best be seen if we examine more closely Mill's qualification of pleasures and his treatment of the relation of the individual's pleasure to that of other people. Pleasures, Mill asserts, are so different in kind that any question of quantity may be disregarded. "A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering, and is certainly accessible to it at more points than one of an inferior type; but in spite of these liabilities, he can never really wish to sink into what he feels to be a lower grade of existence." Pleasure, then, as such, is not the good; men do not as a matter of fact simply desire pleasure. The motive that determines them to seek one pleasure rather than another is not statable in amounts of pleasure. A man will b4e happier in one way with less pleasure than he would be in another way with more. This is asserting a distinction between happiness and pleasure, and in doing this Mill is taking part with Aristotle against Aris-tippus, with Eudaemonism against Hedonism. But because he never explicitly recognises that he has committed himself to this distinction, he recurs to the arguments of Hedonism and does not thoroughly face the problem of Eudaemonism. If happiness be the end of man, how is that happiness constituted ? Once see that pleasurableness cannot be the test of happiness and it becomes apparent that some other test must be found. Further, that the question cannot be solved by simple empiricism, for different men are made happy in different ways. We must come to some decis^F between them. For Aristotle this is the main probl^Bpi ethics, and its solution is the task of reason. Now Mill's perception of the complexities of men's natures and their very different capacities for happiness seems to be leading him in the same direction. "Happiness," he says (p. 35), "is not an abstract idea,, but a concrete whole;" or again, "The ingredients of happiness are very various.'' He sees, therefore, that there is a problem; that some decision must be made between these qualitatively different pleasures. He leaves it in the end to " the verdict of the only competent judges." That is reminiscent of Aristotle's appeal to the wise man. But for Mill the competency of the judges is determined in an almost mechanical way. "Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure," and also, Mill's argument involves, the nobler and the higher. If taken literally this reduces itself to a mere counting of heads, and it is questionable whether such an operation would give the result Mill assumes. Further, when Mill talks of " those who are equally acquainted with and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying both," how is this capacity of equal appreciation to be judged? May not the gourmand object to the philosopher that, while no doubt the latter has eaten dinners, he has not the palate to appreciate them properly, and that therefore he the gourmand is as authoritative in his sphere as the philosopher pretends to be in his. The truth is that Mill is not really prepared to submit to any such mechanical test, and it is impossible to read these pages without feeling that the competent judge for him is not the man who has had most experience, who, like Plato's democratic man, tries everything in turn, but the best man or the most reasonable man. He is pointing to a position very like that of Aristotle, but in the actual argument he stops short of it.
His treatment of the problem of the relation of the happiness of the individual to the happiness of other people has the same features. He gives up Bentham's notion of the happiness of society being built up of the irremediably selfish interests of the individuals who compose it, a paradoxical combination of an unshaken optimism as regards social law, and a most pessimistic view of individual character. He admits that in the imperfect state of the world the happiness of others ■: may best be served by the absolute sacrifice of the happiness of the individual. Instead of looking forward cheerfully to tl every one being selfish, he insists that the power of doing without happiness is a necessary social virtue. But that involves the existence of motives quite other than the universal desire for pleasure which Bentham postulated. This Mill freely admits, and, except in the grotesque argument at the beginning of chapter iv., bases his Utilitarianism on social motives. The firm foundation of the Utilitarian morality is, he says, "the social feelings of mankind: the desire to be in unity with our fellow creatures." "The social state," he says, "is at once so natural, so necessary, and so habitual to man, that, except in some unusual circumstances or by an effort of voluntary abstraction, he never conceives himself otherwise than as a member of a body." This doctrine that man is by nature a social being means that society cannot" be regarded as an aggregate of individuals, moved only by self-seeking motives. It involves an organic view of society. Here again Mill's real thought seems to point to profounder principles than he will himself recognise. His nominal adherence to his inherited system makes him obscure those principles by his use of the doctrine of sanctions, a doctrine only in place in a Hedonistic system, and the abstract distinction between motive and intention, and patch up any incoherence by the theory of indissoluble association, that mysterious maid-of-all-work of Utilitarianism. But these are excrescences. His real teaching has little to do with the mechanism of sanctions or association.
The force of Mill's doctrine is understood best in contrast with the theories to which he was mosif opposed. Throughout the Utilitarianism he refers to the intuitive school as providing to his own position an alternative which is clearly wrong. It is the great merit of Mill's work that he insists on those elements in morality of which intuitionism is unappreciative. He has no mercy for that way of thinking which prefers to leave things uncriticised, and does so by calling them mysteries. Utilitarianism for him is primarily an insistence that all moral acts shall conduce to one end, and that an end recognised and attainable in life. A great deal of his argument is really a contention on behalf of reason, a demand that all human life should be seen as having a rational purpose, a demand inspired by an optimistic conviction that the clear recognition of that purpose is a long step towards its attainment. Yet Mill does not make the mistake of supposing that you may demand a reason for everything. That ultimate principles cannot be proved he asserts as strongly as any intuitionist, but contends at the same time that this does not mean that they are unintelligible and cannot be reflected upon. He is able to conceive of the moral life as a slow growth, as having its origin in something that would not be recognised as distinctively moral, and yet to see that the absolute validity of moral laws is in no way affected by their history. He is afraid of an a priori which would do without experience or an intuition which would save the trouble of thinking; but his own position, if its implications are properly understood, affirms a moral experience involving ultimate principles for which in the end he claims intuitive assent. No rationalist system of morals can afford to ignore the importance of the empirical element in ethics, so well brought out in his analysis of conscience or his admirable account of justice in the last chapter.
That last chapter ends with the assertion of a principle of much importance for Mill's political doctrine. The belief that utility is the ultimate standard of all value is quite compatible with holding that there are "certain social utilities which are vastly more important and therefore more absolute and imperative than any others are as a class (though not more so than others may be in particular instances), and which, therefore, ought to be, as well as naturally are, guarded by a sentiment not only different in degree but in kind." The greatest of these in Mill's eyes was liberty. While Utilitarianism seems to demand that every thing ought to yield to the demands of social happiness and that we can lay down no absolute principles as to what constitutes that happiness, but must follow th® guidings of experience, his treatise on Liberty is an eloquent assertion of one principle which is so truly the foundation of all social happiness that any experiment which encroaches on it is foredoomed.
Here again Mill differed from the earlier Utilitarians. They recognised the claims of liberty, but they regarded it only as a means to social happiness and that not necessarily the most important. It had sometimes to yield to security. The change in.John Stuart Mill is intelligible in the light of the political developments of the time. The elder Utilitarians had been warring against privilege and the sinister interests of the few. They could easily persuade themselves that social distress and political abuses were the work of those minorities whom they were attacking. But Mill wrote at a time when much of this destructive work was done, when it was becoming apparent that the taking away of unjust privileges from minorities did not of itself give social happiness. Power had passed from an oligarchy to a democracy, and the people for whom the Utilitarians had , laboured so hard were not at all inclined to follow their advice. The comparatively simple task of amending the machinery of government had been largely successful, but that success had raised the problem as to what the renovated machinery should do, and the orthodox Utilitarians saw with strong disapproval that the people were disposed to make government interfere not less but more than formerly. The stricter Utilitarians held on to their principles and cursed the facts. If all was not well, it was because sinister interests though scotched were not killed; or if the workings of unrestricted competition were not so beneficent as Bentham had supposed they would be, interference with them would only make matters worse. Mill's wider sympathies made him view the problem differently. He agreed with Carlyle on the urgency of the "condition of England'.' question. He had sympathies with Chartism. He was not prepared to condemn trade unions. He came to have a qualified approval even of socialism. He had an optimistic belief in the amount of good that could be done by wise social interference. His treatise is, therefore, no mere individualist's denunciation of government, not one of those common announcements of the woe and misery certain to foliow# on political changes which the course of events has so often falsified and relegated to a just oblivion. Certain fears expressed in thé treatise have been falsified; certain distinctions Mill makes between right and wrong interference would now be given up by almost universal consent; but as a whole this book has much more than an historical importance. It is an eloquent and reasoned appeal on behalf of a principle whose recognition. Mill thought to be the most precious thing in society, and has as such a permanent value and interest.
Mill, however, imagined himself to be doing much more than urging the inestimable value of the spirit of liberty. He professed to discover a principle which should enable us to decide what legislation impairs that spirit. This is a very different matter, and one where Mill's, arguments are much more open to question. For its proper answer depends on a just conception of the relation of society and liberty. Mill clings to some extent to the notion that a state interference as such is an infringement of liberty, with the implied prejudice against any interference at all. Yet his ideal of liberty as described is not merely negative but quite clearly implies society. He sees that without the state and without considerable state interference liberty is impossible; but his principle of differentiation is based on a distinction between what concerns the state and what concerns the individual, which is really incompatible with his ideal.
His real problem might be presented more clearly with reference to present-day opinions. There are no more enthusiastic defenders of freedom of thought than many modern socialists. This is ndt merely because they are in a minority and have suffered from intolerance, Many of them obviously care intensely for individuality, for that variety and freedom of experiment which Mill prized so highly. They would emphatically deny that this betrayed a general inconsistency, but would assert that they were socialists because only through socialism could a state be developed in which personality had free scope. While desiring an immense amount of collective interference by society, they would be the first to insist that there are some things which must not be organised just because their life is in their spontaneity. Now their position is not in principle very different from Mill's. He wanted more interference on some lines. His fault was to believe too strongly in the improvability of society by educational and political machinery. Yet he was intensely jealous of state interference on other lines. Now a fair appreciation of this position must qaake us recognise two things. Firstly, that state interference as such is not incompatible with liberty. Only a shallow thinker or a political partisan will argue that if state interference is approved in one thing it must be approved in all, that voting for municipal trams is a step towards voting for municipal churches, or that you cannot approve of the collective control of capital without wishing for state-produced poetry. Secondly, that the most ardent advocates of state interference are strenuously opposed to some forms of interference, and it becomes necessary even for the socialist to discover what is the difference between the interference you are to welcome and that which you are to forbid.
An examination of the second and third chapters of Mill's treatise will make it clear that his praise of the spirit of liberty is independent of his principle for deciding between free and tyrannical legislation. These chapters are much the finest part of the book, and serve as an inspiration for all who care for personality, whether they be socialists or individualists. Mill is expressing what was best in himself, his sympathy and reverence for others' individuality, and his own generous nature shines through the writing. The liberty he praises in these chapters is no mere negation. It is a very positive ideal. His complaint is not against the state and its organisation, but against the servile and intolerant spirit of its citizens. His ideal demands a state whose members are really individuals, proud of their individuality and variety, and respecting personality in themselves and in their neighbours, contrasting as much as possible with that ape-like imitation he deplores. It was a characteristic Greek view that the best state was that which is most like a society of friends. Mill seems to be holding up to society the highest ideal of friendship, where friends are different and respect each others' differences. Now this is a spiritual ideal, and its attainment is only possible through the spiritual development of men* It is not an ideal which legislation can affect. This Mill himself admits (p. 115), "In maintaining this principle, the greatest difficulty to b£ encountered does not lie in the appreciation of means towards an acknowledged end, but in the indifference of persons in general to the eiid itself. If it were felt that the free development of individuality is one of the leading essentials of well-being: that it is not only a co-ordinate element with all that is designated by the terms civilisation, instruction, education, culture, but is itself a necessary part and condition of all those things: there would be no danger that liberty should be undervalued, and the adjustment of the boundaries between it and social control would present no extraordinary difficulty." It is the spirit that matters: if only individuals will feel and act rightly, the laws can take care of themselves. Given a society of individuals who cared intensely for liberty, they might do the most socialistic of things and take no harm from it. It is not the laws but the spirit of the people who work them that preserves or destroys liberty.
This is all very well, but unfortunately there is a woeful lack of the true spirit of liberty, Mill thought, in present society; and some legislation may help and some may hinder its growth. Thus we pass to the question of the criterion of justifiable state interference. But here a difficulty presents itself. Is there anything to be done beyond exhortation ? Gan a public opinion as intolerant as Mill describes be induced to pass tolerant laws without being converted to real tolerance? It can in either of two ways: if the laws are the work of an enlightened minority whom the intolerant majority will follow, taking their principles on trust; or if the intolerant people can be convinced that intolerant laws will defeat their own ends. The first point will be considered later. Much of what Mill says seems to regard legislation as always passed by some people for the benefit of others, and so the question of how far a society of individuals are justified in putting restraints on themselves becomes confused with the question how far the superior people in the community are justified in disciplining the inferior for their good. No doubt the two are confused in practice, but the difference is important.
The second point deserves more emphasis. For it furnishes a real and valid criterion. There are some things which legal compulsion cannot do. You cannot by any exercise of force make a man think as you do, though you may make him say that he does. You cannot by force make a man really more careful of his own interests. Not that such legislation is impotent: it may do great harm, but it will not effect its professed end. The first step towards real tolerance of opinion is the recognition that compulsion is a useless and dangerous instrument in affairs of the spirit. It may mar, but it cannot make. This is the real basis of Mill's principle, that the law must not interfere with purely personal conduct. It holds in the sphere of criminal law. The aim of punishment is not primarily to make people good—force cannot do that—but to uphold a system of rights. The application of compulsion to those elements of social life whose value is in their spontaneity and freshness stands self-condemned. «
But society can interfere in other ways than by direct compulsion, and Mill, in two striking passages, p. 134 and p. 169, would seem to approve of such interference in cases where compulsion would be condemned. The greater part of legislative interference consists not in punishing people for not being self-regarding, but in insisting that they shall perform certain actions—maintain a certain standard of sanitation, e.g.—which they might or might not have done if left to themselves, or in using government organisation to do what might have been left to voluntary action. What is the relation of such legislation to liberty ?
Mill distinguishes carefully between these-two methods of interference: the first as enforcing action on the individual may infringe liberty, and here the principle applies that " the individual is not accountable to society for his actions in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself." With the second method " the reasons against interference do not turn upon the principle of liberty: the question is not about restraining the actions of individuals, but about helping them."
The distinction is not always clear. For legislation may interfere with some people in order to help others in a way in which they might have helped themselves, as when an eight hours day is enforced by legislation instead of being left to be settled by collective bargaining; and, on the other hand, interference of the second kind undoubtedly does indirectly restrain the action of other people, in so far, e.g., as competition is cut off by a government monopoly. Mill, however, finds reasons against the second kind of interference which are at least closely connected with the principle of liberty. It is better that actions should be done freely and by choice than by government: and anything which increases the power of government is bad. His views on both kinds of interference represent the same general attitude towards the state, an attitude not fully expressed in the general principle which he formulates, and one held by some thinkers who would admit that that principle cannot be taken strictly.
Three distinct propositions regarding the relation of the state to liberty seem to be implied in Mill's treatise, besides the valid principle that compulsion cannot be employed to effect what is in its essence a spiritual end.
These are (i) that an increase in the power of the state is prejudicial to liberty.
(2) That a distinction can be drawn between the part of human life "in which it is chiefly the individual that is interested" and the part "which chiefly interests society;" and that liberty is infringed if the state interferes with the first part.
(3) That as the most valuable element in human life is spontaneous choice, anything which is done by a compulsory power diminishes the scope of that choice and thus infringes liberty.
Let us examine shortly these three positions. The first, if taken strictly, presupposes that state action and liberty are antithetical; that if there were no state interference there would be complete liberty. This position, as we have seen, is not maintained by Mill, yet he displays a general prejudice against state action which seems based upon it. It involves these two fallacies, (i) That the individual is prior to the state, and that if the state does not stop you from doing what you like, you have power to do it. . But in reality, liberty, as Mill describes it, is a positive virtue, implying a character and disposition in the individuals which only the most highly-devoloped society can produce. (2) That the alternative is between state interference and no interference at all. Mill recognises that this is not the case, but the mistake is commonly made and the results arising from its correction are important. The justification for state interference is that it saves the individual from being interfered with by other individuals who are more powerful than himself. Real liberty is possible, not in a world where we have no relations with other people, but where our relations with them are the expression of reason. In so far, therefore, as the state substitutes ordered and reasonable interference for the arbitrary interference of individuals, it increases freedom. The workman has more liberty under a factory act which forbids contracting out than when he is subject to the will of the individual employer; he may have more real liberty by the collective bargaining of a trade union than if he has to make his bargain for himself. There is a general presumption in favour of and not against state interference increasing liberty. But this involves that the extent to which state interference increases liberty will depend on the wisdom displayed in that interference, and that wisdom cannot be determined beforehand by rules. Further, we may see that once it is recognised that liberty is only possible through society, there is not the same reason to fear the tyranny of the majority as there is to fear the tyranny of a powerful individual. For, other things being equal, a measure approved by a majority just because the individuals composing it have had to give up their individual and anti-social interests against each other in order to form a majority, is more likely than a measure supported by an individual to represent that collective and reasonable will of society which alone makes real liberty possible. Mill thinks so constantly in terms of individuals that he never recognises the force of this.
But to these considerations one most important proviso must be added. State interference promotes liberty if it-expresses collective as against individual interference. But government is impossible without giving power into the hands of individuals, and hence arises the danger that that interference which claims to represent the collective will may really be the fad of an individual bureaucrat or be administered by a tyrannical official. There is, therefore, a vital connection between liberty and democratic government, inasmuch as democracy is an effort to ensure that government shall only be exercised subject to popular control and criticism. Liberty is possible, onfy where there is a government sufficiently strong and sufficiently skilled to substitute ordered and reasonable for arbitrary and capricious interference, and where there is a guarantee that state interference shall represent the collective will and not the arbitrary will of officials, in democratic institutions, and, above all, in the spirit of a people who, in Walt Whitman's words, " rise at once against the never-ending audacity of elected persons." Mill is alive to the importance of the second condition: his failure to recognise with sufficient clearness that the state is essential to liberty made him pay too little attention to the first.
If we bear these considerations in mind, we need not dwell very long on the distinction between that part of life "in which it is chiefly the individual who is interested, and the part which chiefly interests society." For this distinction either means that there are some things which are only of value if done by the individual spontaneously, which legal compulsion cannot effect but can only spoil—this is the valid principle upholding liberty of thought which we have discussed already— or it implies a possibility of separating between individual and social interests which must be denied. This does not mean that individual and social interests may not conflict, but that there are no individual interests with which society is not concerned. Society is vitally concerned even with what the individual thinks. It ought not to interfere there because compulsory interference is worse than useless. Mill, as we have seen, recognises that much social interference is not directly affected by the principle of liberty. The real force of his arguments is directed against compulsory interference with thought.
He does, however, suggest another principle akin to the principle of liberty which applies where that does not. It is stated on p. 164, " In many cases, though individuals may not do the particular thing so well, on the average, as the officers of government, it is nevertheless desirable that it should be done by them rather than by the government, as a means to their mental education." A more recent panegyrist of liberty, Lord Hugh Cecil, in his book Liberty and Authority, has set up what is substantially this principle in the place of Mill's, and it is worth examining. The principle may be stated thus: "The only real moral worth is in choice and spontaneity: government action destroys choice and therefore destroys moral worth." This argument depends on an almost wage fund theory of choice. It supposes that if the state does for me compulsorily what I might have done for myself, I am robbed of an opportunity for choice. Actually, if the state action is at all sensible, my opportunities for action, and therefore for choice, are greatly increased. If it were left to me to mend or neglect the road in front of my house, I might go through an excellent moral discipline in making up my mind to mend it, however much the state of the road where my neighbours had not responded to their moral opportunities made traffic impossible. If the state levies a compulsory rate on all, and provides a good road, though that particular moral discipline may be gone I need not sit and mourn that I might have been mending the road had not a paternal government robbed me of my choice. Easy communication made possible by good roads will bring the opportunities of countless social duties never thought of before. The notion that the moral struggle in itself is the only thing of value iijiplies that we ought- never to form moral habits since in so doing we shall decrease the* area of moral struggle. Given that I am a person who cannot pass a public house .without going through a moral struggle against the temptation to get drunk within, is it really an advantage that I should pass a hundred rather than one? I shall have a hundred more moral struggles, provided I do not succumb ; but I shall be incapable of thinking of anything else. If I never thought of it at all I should have the opportunity of proving myself a really good citizen instead of struggling not to be a very bad one. To suggest that any means which produced this result would destroy true temperance is to suggest that getting drunk or not getting drunk is the only moral alternative which we are capable of considering. The theory is abstract. It isolates, not only the individual, but the action of the individual, and examines the effect of social action in that. No account of liberty can be satisfactory which does not see the individual as he actually exists, a member of society in relation to other members. Society may not give him full liberty, but without society he can have none at all.
The Considerations on Representative Government does not raise such important questions of principle as the other two treatises. It concerns the application of principles already expounded and is in some ways out of date. It reflects strikingly Mill's curious political position, combining, as it does, an enthusiastic belief in democratic government with most pessimistic apprehensions as to what the democracy was likely to do. As in Liberty, Mill too much regards the state as consisting of isolated individuals who come together for the first time in the state. Not realising sufficiently that any political machinery which may be devised will be worked by individuals formed or ready to form in groups of their own, he exaggerates the probable effects of such devices as the scheme of Mr. Hare, and minimises the importance of political parties and other organisations inside the state. But at a time when all the emphasis is laid on the unconscious and unmanageable elements in politics, there is much value in Mill's plea for thought and principles.
Books which may be consulted:—
Leslie Stephen—The English Utilitarians, 3 vols. George Grote—Examination of the Utilitarian Philosophy. Douglas—The Ethics of John Stuart Mill. MacCunn—Six Radical Thinkers.
Fitz James Stephen—Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Lord Hugh Cecil—Liberty and Authority. Bosanquet—Philosophical Theory of the State. . Ritchie—Principles of State Interference.
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