Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On Liberty

At at time when our government is reeling in our liberties one by one, it's instructive to be reminded of what liberty is all about. This is Michael Levin on John Stuart Mill:

In On Liberty Mill suggested or intimated, with varying degrees of explicitness and clarity, four separate reasons why liberty was necessary:

1. Individual liberty leads to the development of the faculties and capacities that are intrinsic and, to a significant extent, particular to each individual.
2. Individual liberty is a need of our human nature.
3. Liberty leads to truth
4. Individual liberty is a prerequisite for the advancement of society.

It is this fourth aspect that will be our concern here. This brings us to the fundamental political purpose of Mill’s book: that he wrote On Liberty because liberty seemed under threat and, consequently, the very foundations of European pre-eminence were endangered. We have, then, two levels of concern that Mill was seeking to express: that of individual autonomy and that of social progress. The connection between the two was that only the former makes the latter possible. To an extent, then, liberty was a need of the individual nature; it was an end for each person but simultaneously individual liberty was the means by which society itself advanced.

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