“On Liberty” (1859), Chapter 5: Applications, by John Stuart Mill

“On Liberty” (1859), Chapter 5: Applications, by John Stuart Mill

  • We’ve laid out the principles so we can discuss their applications in government & morals. This is to bring the meaning & limits of 2 doctrines into greater clarity
    • 1 – The individual is not accountable to society if his actions don’t concern anyone but himself
    • 2 – When actions are prejudicial to the interests of others, the individual is accountable & can be subjected to social or legal punishment
    • Societal interference can’t be justified by damage to the interests of others alone
      • An individual pursuing his own legitimate interests may necessarily cause pain or loss to others. These situations arise from bad social institutions & care unavoidable while they last. This may be the case in overcrowded professions where one man’s gain comes at another man’s loss. But it’s in the general interest of mankind that individuals be allowed to purse their objectives despite these types of consequences
    • Trade is a social act. We may ask all sorts of questions when government interference is OK. It used to be the duty of governments to fix prices & regulate manufacturing. But it is now clear that in order to maintain cheapness & quality of goods, it’s best to leave the buyers, sellers & producers free in trade. Free trade is slightly different to personal liberty but restrictions on trade are a form of restraint. & Restrain for the sake of restraint is an evil
      • We must ask “what amount of public control is admissible to prevent fraud?” How far sanity precautions can go to protect people in dangerous jobs? These questions do involve liberty insofar as leaving people alone is better than controlling them. Often interferences can make it difficult or impossible to get a particular commodity. These are objectionable as infringements on the buyer & seller
    • Sale of poison may conjure up questions of how far the police should do to limit crime. One undisputed function of government is to take precautions against crimes & to detect & punish it afterwards. But the preventative function is more likely to be abused to the prejudice of liberty than the punitory function is
      • But if a public authority sees anyone preparing to commit a crime, he’s not required to wait around until the crime is committed & then jump in. If poisons were only bought to murder people, it’d be right to ban them. But they can be used for innocent & even useful purposes & they can’t be restricted
        • The public authority, seeing someone attempting to cross an unsafe bridge with no time to warn him might seize them & turn him around without infringement to liberty. Liberty is doing what one desires & nobody in his right mind wants to fall into a river. When there’s a danger of mischief, only the person can sufficiently judge if he wants to take on risk. But he ought to be warned of the danger. Precautions such as labels are sufficient & cheap enough
        • The only case where difficulties can be placed in the way without infringement is in providing “preaccepted” evidence. When a contract or transaction is entered into. The law may require formalities like signatures, witnesses, etc. in case of subsequent dispute so nothing will render it legally invalid. You can apply this to potential instruments of crime – registering time, place, quantity of transaction, etc. This wouldn’t be a major impediment to obtaining the article
    • The right of society to ward off crime by antecedent precautions suggests limitations to an individual’s freedom
      • Drunkenness itself should not be a crime. But should a crime be committed in a state of drunkenness, the person may be placed under a special restriction that if he were found to be drunk, he’d be liable to a penalty & if he was found committing a crime while drunk, the penalty would be increased
      • Idleness shouldn’t be a crime, except in receiving public support in breach of a contract. If a man fails to support his children to perform other duties society requires of him, he can justifiably be punished
    • Many acts injurious only to the individual aren’t to be outlawed but if done publicly can be seen as offenses against society. In the cases of personal conduct, respect for liberty stop society form banning or punishing a conduct because the evil falls only on the agent
      • But there are cases where the agent solicits another. To solicit or give advice is a social act & is amenable to social control. These might not be completely individual control cases but do affect personal liberty because in theory we are free to act in their own best interest, consult with one another about what’s to be done, exchange opinions, give suggestions, etc. When the instigator derives a personal benefit, society’s role will be brought up. When it’s his source of income to promote something society sees as evil, we have to think about it. This is like pimps or owners of gambling houses who earn money off evils & do their best to encourage it. Strange, though, that pimping is illegal but fornicating is legal. Gambling in private is legal but running a gambling house is illegal.
      • 2 arguments about this:
        • 1 – Toleration has us saying a profession or occupation shouldn’t be illegal when the mere act is legal. The act should either be consistently legal or illegal. But society has no place in regulating individual behavior that only affects the individual. We can only try to dissuade an individual’s behavior
        • 2 – While the public aren’t authoritatively warranted to repress or punish such behavior, they are justified in banning the influences or solicitation of the behavior in public because it’s seen as a public evil. Nothing can be lost by banning the promotion of evil
          • It’s not practical to ban the behavior outright because gambling & pimping can appear under different guises
      • It’s bizarre that we punish a procurer & not the fornicator, the gambling house owner & not the gambler
      • But anything that can be bought & sold can be used in excess. Dealers often promote excessive use. This goes beyond being a seller & now is active promotion of social evils
      • Some would argue for a sin tax on products whose excessive use is a social evil & this measure might impede excess. It is a penalty on gratifying a particular taste. Their choice in pleasure is their own concern. While taxation for purely fiscal purposes is inevitable, to tax beyond a moderate rate is injurious to the individual & society as a whole. If a sin tax is to have any behavioral effect, it would cease to have any fiscal effect
      • Making commodities’ sale an exclusive privilege is a proposal to restrict their sale. It may confine selling to certain people, in certain places, at certain times. Licenses may be withdrawn if rules are repeatedly broken, or the premises become a meeting place for criminal behavior. Limitation on bars & pubs with the sole purpose of making alcohol harder to get, or diminish temptation shows that some will abuse the place. But to do so would be to treat laboring class like children who must be controlled by an “adult” government
  • The liberty of an individual implies a liberty of individuals to regulate by mutual agreement if nobody else is concerned. When this is the case, the agreed upon rules should be kept they can’t violate the rights of 3rd parties. But they may be able to release themselves from engagement injurious to themselves
    • This is why no free man can sell himself into slavery. To do so, a man abdicates his liberty & forges any use of it beyond that act. He’s defeated the justification for allowing him to perform that act & disposed his freedom to perform that act. The principle of freedom can’t require him to be free not to be free
    • The principle that demands uncontrolled freedom of action requires those bound to one another should be able to release one another from engagement & without voluntary release, there are no contracts that can ever be retracted. Engagements involving person relations should never be legally binding beyond a limited duration, especially marriage, unless the feeling of both parties is in harmony with it. Once a person through express promise or conduct has encouraged another to be reliant on his behaving a certain way, building expectations, a new series of moral obligations arises
      • If the 2 contracting parties place a 3rd party in a peculiar position or even bring a 3rd party into existence a mode of fulfillment is affected by the continuation or disruption of the relation of the 2 original parties
  • Liberty is often granted where it should be withheld. A person should be free to do as he likes in his own concerns. He ought not to be free in acting for another under the pretext that the others’ affairs are his own. The state is bound to maintain control over his exercise of power it allows him to have
    • This applies to families. There’s a despotic power of a husband over his wife. The easiest way to remove this evil to give the wife equal protection of the law. Defenders of established injustice are champions of this power. This also applies to children. You’d think the way the laws are applied a child is literally a part of a man’s person & not metaphorically
      • The state should require & compel the education of a child up to a certain point. It is a sacred duty of parents to give an education. It’s a huge responsibility to bring a child into this world & requires those who do to provide food & education because not to do so would be a moral crime against society & the child
      • The question arises what sort of education would be required? The state may leave this to the parent to decide on where, when & how. The state may defray some or all of the costs for those who can’t afford schooling. State education, however, is usually a contrivance to mold people to be just like each other. The mold chosen is determined by those who currently hold political power. It establishes a despotism over the mind
        • State education should only exist alongside other forms as if in an experiment only when a state has a society so backwards can’t justify only proving one type of education by taking on the lesser of 2 evils
        • Different ages ought to have public examinations required for children to prove they have a modicum of skill & general knowledge. Tests ought to be on facts & positive science & not on matters of opinion like religion & politics
        • Nothing is wrong with being taught religion per se, but adherence or belief in it should not be compulsory. Higher levels of education should also be voluntary
      • Causing a human to come into existence brings about many responsibilities. To have a child is either to bless or curse another being. & not to provide for that being is a crime against the child & society. Often countries will not allow a marriage to occur legally unless the partners have the means to support themselves & children. However, the current view on liberty will easily bend to real infringements on individual freedom but will scoff at anything like that
  • Questions about respecting the limits of interference. Objections to government  interference
    • 1 – When the thing is better done by individuals than the government. No one is better fit to do business than those personally interested
    • 2 – Individuals may not do something as well as the government but its best that they do it to exercise their own judgment to acquaint them with the subject. This is a question of development – to take a person out of the narrow circle of his own life. Without these habits & powers, a free constitution can neither be worked nor preserved
    • 3 – There’s a great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power. It causes more & more hangers-on to the government, hoping to become a part of it. All parts of industry want to be departments’ central administration
      • In England, civil service is looking for employees by giving the potential hires a tests & the best results would be hired. The government also tries to attract competent people by offering higher salaries. But if they attract all the best talent, the government would be filled with the best talent
        • But this leaves the outside population unqualified to criticize or check the bureaucracy
          • This is the case in Russia where the people rely on the government for everything making the bureaucracy as a whole more powerful than the Czar. The people have no way to check its power
          • In France, most men have been in the army at some point. Any popular insurrection already has competent men to lead & improvise a decent plan
          • In America, almost every civil business can be done by private citizens because they have sufficient intelligence & ability to perform the roles
      • Countries with the ability to understand how a bureaucracy should act, when it’s acting badly & how to check that behavior. They can draw from the ranks of the community where we are each subject to the system but together we can dominate it
        • Absorption of all principal ability of a country into the government would be terrible. The system wants to keep all of its ability & once it’s in there, nobody on the outside can see or understand what’s going on on the inside
        • It’s very hard to see where evils begin in deteriorating human freedom & advancement. Removal of obstacles stands in the way of it. We want some ability in the Central government without getting too big
        • Having a superintendent within the central government intelligent enough to spot rule-breaking & corruption while leaving the rest of government function to the civil service would be an adequate arrangement. If something bad is seen, it’d have the power to remove those who have broken rules
  • The worth of a state is the worth of individuals composing it. A state that delays in its development of its intelligence dwarfs its men & with small men, nothing can be accomplished

Author: knowit68

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