Mill "On Liberty" - Freedom & Empire | Philosophy Tube



English philosopher John Stuart Mill's essay on Liberty is one of the classic texts of modern liberalism it's been hugely influential in politics even more so than you might realize as we'll be seeing shortly the question he's grappling with is when can the government legitimately restrict your freedoms by imposing and enforcing laws always never only sometimes the technical way of phrasing this question is what is the proper scope of criminal law Mill offers a famous and pretty simple answer the harm principle if your action harms somebody else then the government can legitimately step in and try and stop you from doing it or punish you if you do but only if it harms someone else if the only person you're harming is yourself then the law should have nothing to say the classic example is drinking if you want to drink yourself to death fine that's your call but the moment you get behind the wheel of a car that's when the law kicks in because you've started endangering somebody else as the old saying goes your freedom to swing your fists ends where my nose begins note that Mill is saying that government can legitimately interfere if you're harming others not necessarily that it should in any competitive act the winner the person who gets the job or the contract or whatever gains benefits from the same process that harms in the form of disappointment or denial of goods to the loser but nor thinks that some competitive acts are good for society and therefore we might argue that we should keep them harm to others is a necessary but not sufficient condition for curbing liberties the harm principle is about the motivation behind the law so there are ways of being sneaky about it the example that was taught to me was imaginal law that requires every citizen to jog for 30 minutes a day if you're passing that law because it will improve people's health well then the harm principle says that you shouldn't do that because people's cardio fitness is their own business and if they don't want to exercise that's their call but if you pass that law reduce the cost of public healthcare and so have more money to spend on good things for other people than the harm principle says it's okay so there are ways of getting around it take for instance soft paternalism it might be inconsistent with a home principle for the government to ban you from smoking but it would be fine for them to put warning labels on cigarette packets tax smoking say you can only do it in certain areas and generally try to discourage you from doing it it would also be consistent with the harm principle for them to say it's legal for you to smoke cigarettes but make it illegal for anybody to sell them therefore effectively depriving you of smoking just via a more roundabout route so now that we know Mills harm principle and what it entails we can start looking at it a little bit more closely and as usual in philosophy the devil is in the details how do you define harm that's a whole philosophical debate in itself and it's actually surprisingly difficult to do but it's obviously going to have a huge impact on what your liberties are if my freedom to swing my fist ends where your nose begins well then the next logical question is how long is your nose mate one popular definition of harm is making somebody worse off than they would otherwise have been and that looks pretty intuitive but we get into some interesting cases involving overdetermination suppose john is going to murder Susan on Friday and we find out so we lock John up for attempted murder but Susan gets hit by a bus on Friday and dies anyway so she's not any worse off than if we had just let John kill her so how do we justify locking him up now that might not be a very realistic case but what about doctors who murder terminally ill patients that is a real phenomenon and we do punish them even though at least the doctors would say they are really harming anybody in the sense of making them worse off so how do we justify that on Mills account or argue against it now those are issues that we could get into but I'm going to leave you to puzzle over those because there are roads less traveled I think we could go down Mill doesn't think that the harm principle applies to everybody he makes some exceptions and they're particularly important exceptions given the period of history he was living in and the impact his ideas have had on liberalism today remember Millie's talking about when the government can legitimately step in and restrict your freedoms and things that so long as you're only harming yourself the law should stay out of it so listen to this paragraph it is perhaps hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties we are not speaking of children or of young persons below the age which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury for the same reason we may leave out of consideration those backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its knowledge despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians provided the end be their improvement and the means justified by actually affecting that end Liberty as a principle has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion until then there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an act bar or a Charlamagne provided they are so fortunate as to find one in other words personal liberty applies to adults but not all adults only civilize adults by which he means mainly white Europeans not barbarian races well so what mill had some Victorian ideas about Society he was a Victorian after all he lived through the high day of British colonialism in India and in the West Indies in fact he worked for the East India Company administering the bureaucracy that ran between the British government and its invading and occupying forces in India but can't we just take the good stuff from him and then forget about all that other stuff especially if the good stuff is logically distinct from it well it is tempting to do that and when Mill is taught in schools and universities we often do skip over those more nasty parts but remember my video on balcony chef and her discussion of the way power makes exceptions for people it doesn't like she focused on liberalism's tendency do this and by looking at mill we can see that liberalism's ability to make exceptions along racial grounds that's no accident we know by looking at mill but it was designed to do that from the very beginning to give you the context of this discussion there's a whole practice of taking enlightenment texts and saying okay we're not going to throw these out but some bits are very good and some bits are not so good and the reason this is historically important is because it's by making those exceptions that Mills liberalism justifies colonialism and imperialism and a case you think this is all a big exaggeration mill literally explicitly defends conquering barbarous nations elsewhere it's tempting to focus just on the harm principle but that's not everything he left behind and just as no extended discussion of Nietzsche's concept of the ubermensch would be complete without noting the way that the Nazis took it and used it I think so too no discussion of Mills liberalism would be complete without noting the ways that governments in his time and now have interpreted it but all I hang on hang on a bit Mills says that conquering other nations against their will is okay so long as you are trying to improve the lives of the people who live there and they have no capacity for self-improvement he sees imperialism as a tool to help Native peoples build the kinds of societies that they couldn't build on their own mark tunak says that Mill advocated tolerant imperialism so for instance he didn't think that Indians should be allowed to run India but he did think that they might do it one day when Britain had sufficiently improved their country now tolerate imperialism might be a long way from what the British Empire actually did in India and everywhere but that doesn't mean that Mill necessarily wanted it that way but it's what counts as improvement and who decides when a nation has been improved enough to run itself that's the rub Mill thought that industriousness is a mark of improvement as are the kinds of conditions that foster less a fair capitalism and it's for the colonial powers to decide when a nation can run itself not the actual people in other words his imperialism was explicitly capitalistic a nation is prove that made more civilized by allowing colonial powers to create new markets through which to exploit it for profit when it came to India Mill thought that the administrators should be Indian in blood but English in spirit in other words that local people should be taught to go along with colonialism and helped to shape their country according to the wishes of the colonizers not helped to build their own country from their own vision at all David Goldberg says that mill failed to recognize that whilst colonialism is great at creating new markets that is after all what it's for it's not so great at setting anybody free or laying the groundwork for them to peacefully assume that freedom he rights Mills arguments for benevolent despotism failed to appreciate that neither colonialism nor despotism is ever benevolent benevolence here is the commitment to seek the happiness of others but the mission of colonialism is exploitation and domination of the colonized generally and Europeanisation at least of those among the colonized whose class position makes it possible economically and educationally and a mandate of despotism is to assume absolute power to achieve the rulers self-interested ends thus colonial despotism could achieve happiness of colonized others only by imposing the measure of Europeanized marks of happiness upon the other which is to say to force the other to be less so Mills argument necessarily assumed superiority of the despotic benevolent or not he presupposes that the mark of progress is to be defined by those taking themselves to be superior and it presumes that the ruled will want to be like the rulers even as the former lack the cultural capital ever quite to rise to the task was male just of his time well we've got to be careful saying that because in one sense it's true that a lot of people thought like that back then but in another sense it kind of assumes albeit indirectly that that time isn't now that colonialism and imperialism have had their day and are no longer around which a lot of people both in and outside of academia would say is not in entirely true it's important to realize that the question here isn't was John Stuart Mill personally a racist a lot has been written on that and Mark tunic quite rightly points out that he was more progressive certainly than some of his contemporaries but were not worried about whether we'd be comfortable having him round to dinner right he's dead were worried about the extent to which his legacy liberalism can be used for imperialism and colonialism and what we can therefore do to improve it so that's Mills harm principle its meaning and its legacy we've done a lot of political philosophy lately so next time we could either do can art be defined or we could do the ethics of collateral damage so leave me a comment telling me which one you'd rather see and for more philosophical videos from me every Friday please subscribe I have a patreon page if you could spare a few dollars to support the show this month's top patrons were Jesse Austin DJ MacIsaac Lydia and Nate born Jeffery Glen Murphy Emiliano Haines and Horatio Cordero 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Comments
  1. I think I remember a rather telling quote from one of my ancestors who was a soldier in the Raj. "When I went to India it was not the Indians who I was in contact with who learnt from me, but I from them".

  2. The point about cultures and forcing "others to be less so". Well, ironically, it seems the system of the colonizers WAS superior, since even after colonialism, and despite the hatred it garnered against the Western nations, globalized culture has been just that – a trend of everybody pursuing the system of the West, of trying to be less "other".

  3. suppose you could travel back in time America in 1800, if you could force the US to give up slavery, racism, sexism, ect against their will, would you?

  4. Who were they to decide whether one can run their country well or not …😒
    They made us bleed by colonizing ,now we indians are bleeding those Englishman by taking away jobs and grabbing every possible opportunity to set up a industry in their country😏
    Anyways peace may prevail everywhere ✌

  5. To say that Mill's liberalism is racist, is to say that 'empire' is racist. Neither define their targets using racial criteria and so aren't racist. Despite this, their targets may fall neatly within racial categories.

  6. Sir as Mill said and you quoted that imperialism in India was justifed and was for development of India, to his followers I'll say my ancestors didn't developed they were captured, India that is land beyond indus was a land of seekers not of believers , our education was the most developed till the time nalanda and Takshshilla were destroyed, britishers left our economy devastated , 24.4% economy of the world was drained to 4.4%, is it the development mill's imperialism brought, although all of you talk about railways sir check japan an Asian country too developed railways without being imperialised.although we were imposed with british education which wanted well fill mind not well formed mind and is devastating our country till now

    I know no one would read but before judging us, check how developed we were before islamic and british invaders came to India.

  7. thank you philosophy tube for helping me both with anarchist tendencies and first year university classes

  8. he had a point when he said that about other races. I am from Iraq and I strongly believe that we became worse off when the british left. Our societies needed more time to govern itself

  9. I submit that the modernization of Mills disposes of the argument, as we would agree that colonialism and imperialism are wrong and, hopefully obsolete. Not throwing out the baby with the bathwater, there are arguments Mills proposed which apply to our world and lives today…

  10. Missed the mark completely. The argument in the book was about the assurance of individual liberty, that individuals were better at handling their own business than governments, that strong individuals with good leadership skills were desired, that an environment which fostered these was the best, and that if a people went to an undeveloped area and developed it themselves- they should be left to their own devices (like in the discussion of polygamy).

    In areas of the world where people are being killed by their government (as an example), a people who stand by and watch are socially guilty of allowing the slaughter- even though no international law may require that outside people to intervene, because what happens to one person happens to us all.

    In the pursuit of these ideals (including the use of the discussion of young people who cannot take care of themselves) there is a time and place to intervene and it must be done carefully to ensure that the liberty of individuals are not suppressed. Thus an argument for "the greater good" is not off the table, but should only ever be used when individuals do not have liberty.

    When Mills talks about slavery, he says that a person should not be allowed to make themselves a slave because in that one act they lose their liberty. But, if in their daily pursuits they carry out that task on their own (without being legally a slave) then that is good because the person is asserting their liberty.

  11. Jesus Christ, these comments are an open sewer.

    Because if you ever talk about the failings, weaknesses of an ideology or a person, the material and potential harm of those failings, and the further harm of those negative aspects being brushed under the rug and arbitrarily ruled as "not worth discussing" because it's inconvenient or uncomfortable, then you are and can only be viciously attacking and disregarding the work, theory, as worthless in its entirety, right? Because when someone has projected themself and their values onto a belief, any critique of that belief can only be malicious falsehood, because to question that belief is to put one's identity into existential crisis. Because THAT's a healthy way to construct your identity, right?

  12. Mill was a utilitarian, hence he supported liberty only when he felt it would better society. Modern liberals, influenced more by the social contract theory of Rawls or the idea of innate rights, are far more likely to give all adults the same rights on the same grounds.

  13. The reading of India is incorrect, India already had a powerful external influence when the British arrived. The culture of India had considerably changed from core values. If Mill considered it barbaric – well it might be said it was. I am sure if core values were not destroyed by invaders from else where and if universities like Nalanda were not destroyed, India would have been very different.

  14. Modern Liberalism? I would have classed Mill as a Classical Liberal, and later philosophers like Rawls as Modern. Am I wrong?

  15. Mill said nothing wrong and history has absolved him. The British Empire dissolved with hardly a shot fired and those countries that kept up the British liberal tradition and civil code are today successes and those that sided with the soviets and "muh de-colonization" are shitholes. Compare and contrast Zimbabwe and Botswana on wiki, to take one example.
    When the British arrived in Africa (and to a lesser extent India) they met only barbarians (relative to the English) and when they left they had caught up a 1000 years and were ready for the modern world – exactly as Mill wanted.

  16. I read as far as page 108 in the Bart Schulz book (in the references top of age), and the Uday Mehta quote – which is patently, evidently, and obviously post-Marxist nonsense. What evidence is there for oppression in the Late British Empire in India, or anywhere else for that matter, and in particular a 'hardening of authoritarian policies and a racialising of political and social attitudes'. Ludicrous, tragic, miserable Marxist derived lunacy! Get real. And make a world, surely?

  17. Van att be delfiner World be awesome! Speciellt in there Days of pizzagate and the remake artist Marina something with ger spiritcooking!

  18. Mill probably would of considered the “exceptions” would include mediaeval dark age Western Europe and Britain… it was an era fitting of the description “barbaric” if so then that questions his apparent “racism” …Anyway that word has been utterly destroyed over the last 5 to 10 years by the SJW crowd that apply it as a silencing stick to any dissenting opinion.

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