The Pathos of Politics (44) John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill

The general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind. ~ John Stuart Mill

English philosopher, politician, and economist John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) was an exponent of utilitarianism. He updated Bentham’s utilitarianism by taking into account individuality, human sociality, and altruism, and in emphasizing the importance of impartiality in justice.

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercise over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. ~ John Stuart Mill

Mill’s book On Liberty (1859) was well received and very influential, owing in no small part to his lucid prose. The book’s thrust was to establish standards for balancing authority with liberty.

The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people. ~ John Stuart Mill

Mill defended free speech and the right of individuality. Unlike many contemporary liberals, Mill championed women’s rights, seeing sexual inequality as untenable, both ethically and legally.

The most cogent reason for restricting the interference of government is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power. ~ John Stuart Mill

Mill conceived that the purpose of the law was to maximize liberty, as it opened the opportunity for “self-realization.” Mill distinguished between the public sphere, regulated by law, and the private sphere, governed by morality.

English political scientist Ernest Barker called Mill “a prophet of an empty liberty and an abstract individual.” Mill’s absolutist statements about liberty jarred with his practical prescriptions of welfarism, such as compulsory education, and the need to regulate business and industry in the public interest.