Theory of on Liberty

The theory begins with an observation that tyranny of the majority is quite a dangerous vice that individuals need protection against. Presence of democracy is not enough protection against this danger and other measures need to be taken to keep the government from ruling in a dictatorial manner against various minority groups while giving government ample time and power to provide the benefits of society. There therefore exists a need to restrict the government. Mill gives two types of action likely to be taken by an individual; actions which may involve a kind of harm to people excluding the doer, and actions which do not involve harm to other people. Mill agrees it is necessary for the government to legislate concerning actions which may cause harm to others in order to maintain the existence of a civil society. Therefore, Mill formulated the Harm Principle which states 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.” He elaborates that an individual’s own good being physical or moral, is not enough warrant (Mark, 1991). They cannot justly be compelled to do or refrain as it will be better for them to act so, as it will make them happier since in the opinion of other people doing so would be wiser or right. The harm principle holds the idea that the sole reason for the lawful enforcement of power over individuals in a civilized society against their will is prevention of harm to fellow humans.

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This school of thought insinuates that an individual is free to do anything they wish as long as their actions do not cause harm to others. Therefore the individual is sovereign over himself, body and mind. The harm principle advocates for freedom and individual liberty over the governing body in the society. In this principle, people suppose that they are entitled to thinking as they please and possess power to own opinions even if they do not match those of the majority in the community. People are free to pursue whatever interests and tastes they prefer even if some of those interests and preferences are believed to be immoral by the society at large. John Stuart Mill was of the opinion that maintenance of individual liberty over majority rule would be beneficial to everyone in society as people would not feel oppressed or harassed and society would not have to waste time, energy, and resources by enacting laws, policing people, and punishing people in an attempt to control them. He expresses strong opinion that individual liberty being above majority dictatorship is very important. Freedom is supreme as long as it does not violate others’ rights and opinions. John Stuart Mill retaliated strongly on the argument that women are by nature poor at some activities than men and so they should refrain from those activities. He argues that people are not aware of their capabilities because the society has never given them a chance to try. He ruled this argument as speculation which has poor basis and therefore no authoritative statement without evidence. Women have the right to engage in whatever activities they desire just like any other individual.

In conclusion, the main concept of Mill in On Liberty is based on the idea that liberty is vital to ensure progress of both the society and individuals. This is even more common when the society is of more importance than the state. Affairs of the state should be achieved in a democracy where the opposition between rulers and those being ruled vanish; meaning the rulers only represent the wish of the ruled. He claims that such democracy makes liberty of the individuals possible though it does not guarantee. In case the society feels free from limit but the government, it starts to entrench interests and desire of a chosen few who are powerful. This causes a threat on the liberty of an individual. He grapples with the issue of viewing the society progress in such a manner as to prevent repression of individuals by the confident majority and powerful. According to Mill social progress can only happen if limits are placed on liberty of individuals, but also necessitate individuals freeing from such limits.

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Mill then steps aside of this dilemma and explains a moral theory where the vital thing is happiness of individuals which can only be achieved in a civil society. In a civilized society people are free to decide and shape their lifestyles, interest with the skills and abilities which they have developed in a well established education system. Basically, Mill puts more emphasis on the fundamental value of individuality, personal development and progress both individuals and the society for future development and progress. Mill asserts that things done by individuals are more perfect than those done by the government. Actions done by individuals advance their mental education, which is not possible for the government rather it tends to pose a threat to individual liberty if not carefully monitored. On the role of the educated in the society, Mill advocates the government to be run by a cultural class of the intellectual elite in the society. His improved on what other philosophers like Locke and Bentham had developed. The ideas highlighted in Mill’s On Liberty are still very much part of our modern political debate and much of the issues he highlighted affect society in the 21st century.


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