Ana səhifə

John stuart mill

Yüklə 0.53 Mb.
ölçüsü0.53 Mb.
  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   13
John Stuart Mill: On Liberty




Harvard Classics Volume 25

Copyright 1909 P.F. Collier & Son

About the online edition.

This was scanned from the 1909 edition and mechanically checked against a

commercial copy of the text from CDROM. Differences were corrected against the

paper edition. The text itself is thus a highly accurate rendition. The

footnotes were entered manually.

This text is in the PUBLIC DOMAIN, released September 1993.

Prepared by . Further enhanced and converted into HTML

by Jon Roland of the Constitution Society.



THE subject of this Essay is not the so-called Liberty of the Will, so

unfortunately opposed to the misnamed doctrine of Philosophical Necessity; but

Civil, or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be

legitimately exercised by society over the individual. A question seldom stated,

and hardly ever discussed, in general terms, but which profoundly influences the

practical controversies of the age by its latent presence, and is likely soon to

make itself recognized as the vital question of the future. It is so far from

being new, that, in a certain sense, it has divided mankind, almost from the

remotest ages, but in the stage of progress into which the more civilized

portions of the species have now entered, it presents itself under new

conditions, and requires a different and more fundamental treatment.

The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature in

the portions of history with which we are earliest familiar, particularly in

that of Greece, Rome, and England. But in old times this contest was between

subjects, or some classes of subjects, and the government. By liberty, was meant

protection against the tyranny of the political rulers. The rulers were

conceived (except in some of the popular governments of Greece) as in a

necessarily antagonistic position to the people whom they ruled. They consisted

of a governing One, or a governing tribe or caste, who derived their authority

from inheritance or conquest; who, at all events, did not hold it at the

pleasure of the governed, and whose supremacy men did not venture, perhaps did

not desire, to contest, whatever precautions might be taken against its

oppressive exercise. Their power was regarded as necessary, but also as highly

dangerous; as a weapon which they would attempt to use against their subjects,

no less than against external enemies. To prevent the weaker members of the

community from being preyed upon by innumerable vultures, it was needful that

there should be an animal of prey stronger than the rest, commissioned to keep

them down. But as the king of the vultures would be no less bent upon preying

upon the flock than any of the minor harpies, it was indispensable to be in a

perpetual attitude of defence against his beak and claws. The aim, therefore, of

patriots, was to set limits to the power which the ruler should be suffered to

exercise over the community; and this limitation was what they meant by liberty.

It was attempted in two ways. First, by obtaining a recognition of certain

immunities, called political liberties or rights, which it was to be regarded as

a breach of duty in the ruler to infringe, and which, if he did infringe,

specific resistance, or general rebellion, was held to be justifiable. A second,

and generally a later expedient, was the establishment of constitutional checks;

by which the consent of the community, or of a body of some sort supposed to

represent its interests, was made a necessary condition to some of the more

important acts of the governing power. To the first of these modes of

limitation, the ruling power, in most European countries, was compelled, more or

less, to submit. It was not so with the second; and to attain this, or when

already in some degree possessed, to attain it more completely, became

everywhere the principal object of the lovers of liberty. And so long as mankind

were content to combat one enemy by another, and to be ruled by a master, on

condition of being guaranteed more or less efficaciously against his tyranny,

they did not carry their aspirations beyond this point.

A time, however, came in the progress of human affairs, when men ceased to think

it a necessity of nature that their governors should be an independent power,

opposed in interest to themselves. It appeared to them much better that the

various magistrates of the State should be their tenants or delegates, revocable

at their pleasure. In that way alone, it seemed, could they have complete

security that the powers of government would never be abused to their

disadvantage. By degrees, this new demand for elective and temporary rulers

became the prominent object of the exertions of the popular party, wherever any

such party existed; and superseded, to a considerable extent, the previous

efforts to limit the power of rulers. As the struggle proceeded for making the

ruling power emanate from the periodical choice of the ruled, some persons began

to think that too much importance had been attached to the limitation of the

power itself. That (it might seem) was a resource against rulers whose interests

were habitually opposed to those of the people. What was now wanted was, that

the rulers should be identified with the people; that their interest and will

should be the interest and will of the nation. The nation did not need to be

protected against its own will. There was no fear of its tyrannizing over

itself. Let the rulers be effectually responsible to it, promptly removable by

it, and it could afford to trust them with power of which it could itself

dictate the use to be made. Their power was but the nation's own power,

concentrated, and in a form convenient for exercise. This mode of thought, or

rather perhaps of feeling, was common among the last generation of European

liberalism, in the Continental section of which, it still apparently

predominates. Those who admit any limit to what a government may do, except in

the case of such governments as they think ought not to exist, stand out as

brilliant exceptions among the political thinkers of the Continent. A similar

tone of sentiment might by this time have been prevalent in our own country, if

the circumstances which for a time encouraged it had continued unaltered.

But, in political and philosophical theories, as well as in persons, success

discloses faults and infirmities which failure might have concealed from

observation. The notion, that the people have no need to limit their power over

themselves, might seem axiomatic, when popular government was a thing only

dreamed about, or read of as having existed at some distant period of the past.

Neither was that notion necessarily disturbed by such temporary aberrations as

those of the French Revolution, the worst of which were the work of an usurping

few, and which, in any case, belonged, not to the permanent working of popular

institutions, but to a sudden and convulsive outbreak against monarchical and

aristocratic despotism. In time, however, a democratic republic came to occupy a

large portion of the earth's surface, and made itself felt as one of the most

powerful members of the community of nations; and elective and responsible

government became subject to the observations and criticisms which wait upon a

great existing fact. It was now perceived that such phrases as

"self-government," and "the power of the people over themselves," do not express

the true state of the case. The "people" who exercise the power, are not always

the same people with those over whom it is exercised, and the "self-government"

spoken of, is not the government of each by himself, but of each by all the

rest. The will of the people, moreover, practically means, the will of the most

numerous or the most active part of the people; the majority, or those who

succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently,

may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed

against this, as against any other abuse of power. The limitation, therefore, of

the power of government over individuals, loses none of its importance when the

holders of power are regularly accountable to the community, that is, to the

strongest party therein. This view of things, recommending itself equally to the

intelligence of thinkers and to the inclination of those important classes in

European society to whose real or supposed interests democracy is adverse, has

had no difficulty in establishing itself; and in political speculations "the

tyranny of the majority" is now generally included among the evils against which

society requires to be on its guard.

Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still

vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public

authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the

tyrant — society collectively, over the separate individuals who compose it —

its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the

hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own

mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at

all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny

more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not

usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape,

penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul

itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not

enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing

opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means

than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those

who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the

formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all

characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to

the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence;

and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as

indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against

political despotism.

But though this proposition is not likely to be contested in general terms, the

practical question, where to place the limit — how to make the fitting

adjustment between individual independence and social control — is a subject on

which nearly everything remains to be done. All that makes existence valuable to

any one, depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other

people. Some rules of conduct, therefore, must be imposed, by law in the first

place, and by opinion on many things which are not fit subjects for the

operation of law. What these rules should be, is the principal question in human

affairs; but if we except a few of the most obvious cases, it is one of those

which least progress has been made in resolving. No two ages, and scarcely any

two countries, have decided it alike; and the decision of one age or country is

a wonder to another. Yet the people of any given age and country no more suspect

any difficulty in it, than if it were a subject on which mankind had always been

agreed. The rules which obtain among themselves appear to them self-evident and

self-justifying. This all but universal illusion is one of the examples of the

magical influence of custom, which is not only, as the proverb says a second

nature, but is continually mistaken for the first. The effect of custom, in

preventing any misgiving respecting the rules of conduct which mankind impose on

one another, is all the more complete because the subJect is one on which it is

not generally considered necessary that reasons should be given, either by one

person to others, or by each to himself. People are accustomed to believe and

have been encouraged in the belief by some who aspire to the character of

philosophers, that their feelings, on subjects of this nature, are better than

reasons, and render reasons unnecessary. The practical principle which guides

them to their opinions on the regulation of human conduct, is the feeling in

each person's mind that everybody should be required to act as he, and those

with whom he sympathizes, would like them to act. No one, indeed, acknowledges

to himself that his standard of judgment is his own liking; but an opinion on a

point of conduct, not supported by reasons, can only count as one person's

preference; and if the reasons, when given, are a mere appeal to a similar

preference felt by other people, it is still only many people's liking instead

of one. To an ordinary man, however, his own preference, thus supported, is not

only a perfectly satisfactory reason, but the only one he generally has for any

of his notions of morality, taste, or propriety, which are not expressly written

in his religious creed; and his chief guide in the interpretation even of that.

Men's opinions, accordingly, on what is laudable or blamable, are affected by

all the multifarious causes which influence their wishes in regard to the

conduct of others, and which are as numerous as those which determine their

wishes on any other subject. Sometimes their reason — at other times their

prejudices or superstitions: often their social affections, not seldom their

anti-social ones, their envy or jealousy, their arrogance or contemptuousness:

but most commonly, their desires or fears for themselves — their legitimate or

illegitimate self-interest. Wherever there is an ascendant class, a large

portion of the morality of the country emanates from its class interests, and

its feelings of class superiority. The morality between Spartans and Helots,

between planters and negroes, between princes and subjects, between nobles and

roturiers, between men and women, has been for the most part the creation of

these class interests and feelings: and the sentiments thus generated, react in

turn upon the moral feelings of the members of the ascendant class, in their

relations among themselves. Where, on the other hand, a class, formerly

ascendant, has lost its ascendency, or where its ascendency is unpopular, the

prevailing moral sentiments frequently bear the impress of an impatient dislike

of superiority. Another grand determining principle of the rules of conduct,

both in act and forbearance which have been enforced by law or opinion, has been

the servility of mankind towards the supposed preferences or aversions of their

temporal masters, or of their gods. This servility though essentially selfish,

is not hypocrisy; it gives rise to perfectly genuine sentiments of abhorrence;

it made men burn magicians and heretics. Among so many baser influences, the

general and obvious interests of society have of course had a share, and a large

one, in the direction of the moral sentiments: less, however, as a matter of

reason, and on their own account, than as a consequence of the sympathies and

antipathies which grew out of them: and sympathies and antipathies which had

little or nothing to do with the interests of society, have made themselves felt

in the establishment of moralities with quite as great force.

The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are

thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for

general observance, under the penalties of law or opinion. And in general, those

who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling, have left this

condition of things unassailed in principle, however they may have come into

conflict with it in some of its details. They have occupied themselves rather in

inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning

whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred

endeavouring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which

they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of

freedom, with heretics generally. The only case in which the higher ground has

been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, by any but an

individual here and there, is that of religious belief: a case instructive in

many ways, and not least so as forming a most striking instance of the

fallibility of what is called the moral sense: for the odium theologicum, in a

sincere bigot, is one of the most unequivocal cases of moral feeling. Those who

first broke the yoke of what called itself the Universal Church, were in general

as little willing to permit difference of religious opinion as that church

itself. But when the heat of the conflict was over, without giving a complete

victory to any party, and each church or sect was reduced to limit its hopes to

retaining possession of the ground it already occupied; minorities, seeing that

they had no chance of becoming majorities, were under the necessity of pleading

to those whom they could not convert, for permission to differ. It is

accordingly on this battle-field, almost solely, that the rights of the

individual against society have been asserted on broad grounds of principle, and

the claim of society to exercise authority over dissentients openly

controverted. The great writers to whom the world owes what religious liberty it

possesses, have mostly asserted freedom of conscience as an indefeasible right,

and denied absolutely that a human being is accountable to others for his

religious belief. Yet so natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they

really care about, that religious freedom has hardly anywhere been practically

realized, except where religious indifference, which dislikes to have its peace

disturbed by theological quarrels, has added its weight to the scale. In the

minds of almost all religious persons, even in the most tolerant countries, the

duty of toleration is admitted with tacit reserves. One person will bear with

dissent in matters of church government, but not of dogma; another can tolerate

everybody, short of a Papist or an Unitarian; another, every one who believes in

revealed religion; a few extend their charity a little further, but stop at the

belief in a God and in a future state. Wherever the sentiment of the majority is

still genuine and intense, it is found to have abated little of its claim to be


In England, from the peculiar circumstances of our political history, though the

yoke of opinion is perhaps heavier, that of law is lighter, than in most other

countries of Europe; and there is considerable jealousy of direct interference,

by the legislative or the executive power with private conduct; not so much from

any just regard for the independence of the individual, as from the still

subsisting habit of looking on the government as representing an opposite

interest to the public. The majority have not yet learnt to feel the power of

the government their power, or its opinions their opinions. When they do so,

individual liberty will probably be as much exposed to invasion from the

government, as it already is from public opinion. But, as yet, there is a

considerable amount of feeling ready to be called forth against any attempt of

the law to control individuals in things in which they have not hitherto been

accustomed to be controlled by it; and this with very little discrimination as

to whether the matter is, or is not, within the legitimate sphere of legal

control; insomuch that the feeling, highly salutary on the whole, is perhaps

quite as often misplaced as well grounded in the particular instances of its


There is, in fact, no recognized principle by which the propriety or impropriety

of government interference is customarily tested. People decide according to

their personal preferences. Some, whenever they see any good to be done, or evil

to be remedied, would willingly instigate the government to undertake the

business; while others prefer to bear almost any amount of social evil, rather

than add one to the departments of human interests amenable to governmental

control. And men range themselves on one or the other side in any particular

case, according to this general direction of their sentiments; or according to

the degree of interest which they feel in the particular thing which it is

proposed that the government should do; or according to the belief they

entertain that the government would, or would not, do it in the manner they

prefer; but very rarely on account of any opinion to which they consistently

adhere, as to what things are fit to be done by a government. And it seems to me

that, in consequence of this absence of rule or principle, one side is at

present as often wrong as the other; the interference of government is, with

about equal frequency, improperly invoked and improperly condemned.

The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to

govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of

compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of

legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is,

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. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully

exercised 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. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because

it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because,

in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good

reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or

  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   13

Verilənlər bazası müəlliflik hüququ ilə müdafiə olunur © 2016
rəhbərliyinə müraciət