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On Liberty Paperback – 1978

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Hackett Pub Co (1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0915144433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0915144433
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 13.5 x 1.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 68 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #267,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars 157 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A topical alternative… July 25 2016
By John P. Jones III - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
John Stuart Mill was born in 1806, and would die in Avignon, France at the age of 66. He was a philosopher, with a focus on political, social and economic theory. He loved another man’s wife, Harriet Taylor, and would eventually marry her. She was a true intellectual companion who was a major influence on his work, and was an inspiration for a feminist classic, The Subjection of Women, written almost a century before many of the subsequent classics of the mid-20th century, such as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Mill cited his wife’s “unrivaled wisdom” as a guide to his works. Other than a few snippets of his writings that I read as part of my formal education, lo’ those many years ago, this is the first complete work of his that I have read, now, so conveniently available and beautifully priced, on Kindle. And part of the impetus for the timing of this read is that the party that has claimed Mill as their own – rightly or wrongly – looms at a viable alternative to the current electoral madness in America.

After his introduction, he divides his work into four chapters, covering the liberty of thought and discussion, of individuality as one of the elements of well-being, of the limits of the authority of society over the individual, and the applications of his principles. His is the well-reasoned discourse that is so lacking in the political sphere today (and perhaps then!)… yet still, he seemed to have a significant influence on the discourse, and even laws of that day. It is a dense work, and should not be skimmed.

Much of his advocacy for liberty and individualism was in opposition to the societal “tyranny of the majority” as well as despotic governments. As he repeatedly stressed, it is society itself that benefits by permitting other opinions than the “received wisdom.” He specifically knocked the decadence of China, and most of “the East,” which, at one time, had dynamic societies, but had now ossified. (And if he were alive today, would he posit the opposite, in terms of the countries that have stagnated?) He was opposed to what he called the “odium theologicum,” the “sincere bigots” of religion who insisted on conformity to their fetishes, and specifically cites the Parsees in India, who fled Persia, had to agree to not eat beef as their price of admission to their new country, and then had to subsequently agree not to eat pork when the Moguls arrived.

But he is far from “anything goes.” He specifically cites numerous problems that continue to bedevil us today, in particular, in New Mexico. Long before the automobile, he recognized the problems of drunks. Sure, get drunk, if it only impacts you… but violent drunks, he believed, should be subjected to serious penalties, particularly repeat offenders, for injuring others. Prostitution and “gambling dens”? He saw neither as victimless activities, and recognized society’s right to play a role in their regulation. Or nepotism in the employment process? Mill quotes from the Koran: “A ruler who appoints any man to an office, when there is in his dominions another man better qualified for it, sins against God and the State.” Update the gender issue, as I am sure he would advocate, and it applies today.

Conscription? I’d say he would be for it: “in each person’s bearing his share… of the labours and sacrifices incurred for defending the society or its members from injury and molestation.” Charter schools? He would have been their “patron saint.” He strongly advocated that the education of youth be mandatory, but strongly opposed any “baroque bureaucracy,” to use Reich’s phrase, from having a monopoly, be it the state itself, clerical or aristocratic. And he had a strong concept of economic justice, for the weaker elements of society. Long before immigration was used to “lower the cost of labour,” he said the following: “And in a country either over-peopled, or threatened with being so, to produce children, beyond a very small number, with the effect of reducing the reward of labour by their competition, is a serious offence against all who live by the remuneration of their labour. And finally, he would have recognized the Veterans Administration in action: “no reform can be effected which is contrary to the interest of the bureaucracy…The Czar himself is powerless against the bureaucratic body; he can send any one of them to Siberia, but he cannot govern… against their will.” Amen, for his numerous insights. 5-stars, plus.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bromwich and Kateb Edition is Very Helpful. Jan. 19 2009
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I ihave read Mill's On Liberty three times now. The Bromwich and Kateb version is the most helpful, as we not only get to read Mill's essay, but 6 supplementary essays - two "introductions" and four sometimes critical "reinterpretations" by respected theorists.

Milll's basic point is simple: people should be left free to think and do as they please unless what they are doing causes actual harm to others. Mill's essay is spent both giving reasons for this principle, and exlporing what the principle means in practice.

He offers a plurality of reasons for his libertarian ideas, some utilitarian in nature and some based on (what some might call) natural law. Not only does freedom of action and thought encourage innnovation, keep public discussion vigorous, and lead to a more effective social network than government incursion, but people just-plain prefer directing their own lives to being directed from outside.

Mill gets into sticky territory, however, when he talks about the libertarian principle in concrete terms, as his distinction between what is private and what is public is often less clear than he might want. Should persons be free to tell others to do harm to themselves? Yes. Should parents be free not to educate their children? No. Should "vice-merchants" like bars, gambling parlors, and pornographers be free to conduct business without heavy government regulation? No. Should people be free to marry a plurality of spouses? If mormon, yes. If British, no.

My biggest criticism - and a criticism offered in Richard Posner and Jeane Bethke Elshtain's essays - is that Mill is all over the map when his principle is "put to the real world" because the distinction between public and private is just-plain fuzzy. Another interesting criticism, brought up in Elshtain's essay, is that Mill demonstrates a very unjustified bias in favor of experiment over tradition (where the former seems always presumed inferior to the latter).

In short, I like Mill's essay but see it as an edifice built on not-quite-solid sand. Mill relies on seperate categories, public and private, that are just not clear and distinct enough to be distinct. (While Dewey may have gone too far in the "all acts are social" direction, I think Dewey hit closer to the truth.) This is why the six supplementary essays in this edition are a nice touch.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Keen Analysis of Liberal Thought June 25 2007
By Matthew K. Minerd - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In many ways, one is tempted to think that there is no such thing as liberalism alive in America today. It would do many well to read the work of the Englishman Mill in order to understand much of what is called both "liberalism" as well as "individual liberty." In addition, one of the growing issues of the contemporary political landscape in America is a polarization which is wholly unnecessary when analysis is applied the current plane of consideration. The reason for this conspicuous lack of reason for polarization is made obviously clear when one reads a work on liberal thought like that of Mill's. For Mill, individual liberty is a question both of social and political proportions, demanding a lack of interference by both government and social pressures. Additionally, he is keen in his analysis of the need for humility when it comes to humanity's apprehension of the Truth, thus necessitating free speech as a vehicle for the continual realization of those parts of the Truth which man so often forgets because of personal bias.

However, the analysis is weak insofar as it also denies the need for structures to educate humanity in a fallen world. His criteria for legal and social sanctions does overlook the necessity to draw on tradition to properly shape those in the world (while maintaining individual dignity). While he acknowledges that it would be preposterous to deny the necessity of interrelationships and sharing of experience, Mill remains somewhat weak on the necessity of tradition and community as related to individual liberty. However, on the whole, the work presents a decent overview of the need to acknowledge individual dignity through the liberty of the individual. Indeed, all communal criticisms aside, On Liberty does indeed serve as a corrective against crass traditionalism which propagates itself without true individual consent and embrace. Therefore, even in its weakness, it remains strong as a key text on the primacy of the human individual as the recipient and follower of the Truth. In a day when liberty is shouted by groups who have no interest in talking to each other, such a small text would do well to make all groups realize that our American (and indeed Western) goals aren't that different, that we are united in trying to express human dignity through the individuals.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars After all, it has survived the test of time. March 20 2005
By Kazuma - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What J.S Mill proposes in "On Liberty" is still now convincing and interesting and I believe it should draw more attention than is the case today. True, Mill's ideas are not easily applicable to practical problems and his arguments are sometimes so defective as to be justifiably called "fallacies," but still his fundamental principle is noteworthy and defensible: You can think, speak and do, as you like, unless you do any harm to others. Mill claims that this freedom, rather than spoiling our society, contributes to the progress of human beings in the long run, and this in the sense that so long as we humans do not achieve absolute infallibility, it is nothing other than human diversity that prevents us from falling into limited attitudes and courting fatal consequences. I agree from the bottom of my heart with this idea of his, and hope more attention will be paid to the book and its philosophy.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars Oct. 20 2016
By Richard Alured - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The ideas should, hopefully, seem self evident- but it's still valuable to have them so forcefully and judiciously put.