Mill – On Liberty – Chapter 1

History and progress has brought the question of just intervention upon the freedoms of the individual to the fore. It is an old question, but now humanity is in such a place that it can do something about it, now that it has implemented self-governance, representational democracy, people power, constitutional checks and human rights, and the people are asking what they should do about the welfare of their citizens.

Some still distrust government greatly, so they think government should be kept at its bare minimum. Others trust that the government represents their interests, so the government should be given the power and freedom to do whatever it decides is best for the people.

History is filled with people who we now know were wrong, but at the time they enforced their values on those that disagreed, believing it was in their opponents’ best interest. For the reason Mill suggests that we need a principle upon which we can determine what is the appropriate principle on which we can know when intervention is appropriate?

The principle he proposes: Society can only intervene upon an individual’s freedom of action when his or her actions harm another. This means society would have no right to stop someone from harming them self.

Of course there are nations and people groups that are not ready for this. They require despotism in order to get them out of poverty. Poverty prevents people from being able to have free, equal, rational discourse.

At the same time, this does not discount social outcasting.


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