"let us next examine whether the same reasons do
not require that men should be free to act upon their opinions to
carry these out in their lives, without hindrance, either physical or
moral, from their fellow-men, so long as it is at their own risk and
The "opinions" were considered in Chapter II, and the
thesis "that men should be free to act upon their
opinions" with few provisos and qualifications, is the main
thesis of "On Liberty".
"Acts of whatever kind, which, without
justifiable cause, do harm to others, may be, and in the more important
cases absolutely require to be, controlled by the unfavorable
sentiments, and, when needful, by the active interference of mankind."
H.B. Acton has
a note to this passage which reads in part
"It will be
seen that Mill includes 'unfavorable sentiments'
(= the expression of moral disapproval?) along with 'active interference' as not permissible unless
there has been 'harm to others'." (p. 427)
This I see no
reason to conclude from the quoted passage, and indeed I see no reason
why one person should not be free to criticize another, with few
provisos and qualifications.
But there is
another matter we have to consider briefly, relating to Mill's
fundamental principle, which he stated in various forms in Chapter I,
including "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."
It is that
someone may claim not to harm others, or not to act against their will,
and sincerely believe so, and the others may believe so likewise, and
yet there may be something immoral involved, at least according to many.
examples of such possibilities are: (1) much of what religions and
governments do to people is claimed by them to be for their good and
according to their will; (2) Mill's principle, as stated, allows in
principle the same freedoms to homosexuals as to heterosexuals, and the
Bible and many other religious books much disagree, as does the
Catholic church; and (3) pedofiles have claimed that the children they
love and desire to have sex with want to have sex with them and are
done no harm.
I will briefly
comment on these three possibilities.
In the first
case, it is to be observed that there is much lying by
religious and political leaders and their executives, and in general
the claim of someone else that so-and-so is or will be good for you
may be rejected out of hand if there is the slightest doubt that you
may disagree (when you are free to judge yourself) in case you
have not been asked, or if you agreed with your leaders because you
fear the consequences of disagreeing with them.
In any case,
the pretense of religious folk that they only do, or wish to do, what
is "good" is just that: A pretense, that at best is
true of their good, which may well not be the good of anyone
else, and in worse but very ordinary cases is just hypocrisy or a
search for personal or religious power.
And the worst
deeds have been done for the noblest sounding reasons or causes:
That something is claimed to be "good", "for The People" or "in the
eyes of the Lord" is actually - given what one may know about human
history - not a reason to believe it, but is much rather a
reason to doubt that it is good for anybody but the person
claiming that it is good for others.
In the second
case, I see no problem whatsoever, except for Christian homosexuals
(such as - seems disproportionally often to be the case with - Catholic
priests), since I believe consenting adults should be free to have the
kind of sexual relations they want, apart from physical maltreatment.
My reason to
make an exception of physical maltreatment, even with consent, is that
the consequences may be lasting, and may have to be borne in part by
others, and may not be wished at all nor judged desirable after the
passion for it abated.
In the third
case, I disagree with the pedofiles, for I think there are principal
differences between adults and children as regards knowledge, physical
strength, power, and the ability to foresee consequences, and I don't
think that sex between an adult and a child, even if both consent, is
right, because the differences between the two involved are so large,
and the chances for abuse of power or deception by the adult are far
So in this last
case I am in favour of legislation that forbids sexual relations before
the age of 16, at least between someone under that age and someone over
that age, just as I am also in favour of legislation that forbids
political or religious propaganda to children before the age of 16:
They are not yet able of rationally and independently judging either
the matter or its consequences, and should be protected against mental
or physical abuse. Back.
"The liberty of the individual must be thus far
limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people. But if he
refrains from molesting others in what concerns them, and merely acts
according to his own inclination and judgment in things which concern
himself, the same reasons which show that opinion should be free, prove
also that he should be allowed, without molestation, to carry his
opinions into practice at his own cost."
term "nuisance" is not the most
appropriate in the present context.
terminology, there is the problem that some may incline to argue that
while there are "things which concern" a
person there are no "things which concern"
only that person, and that accordingly every change a
person makes in the physical world outside himself eventually -
possibly after a long time, and very indirectly - may effect many or
all other persons.
This is a
fundamental difficulty for Mill's position on "On Liberty", and I have three
general remarks about it here.
First, I repeat
from note 28
to Chapter I the
following set of what I take to be true statements about human
individuals, their reasons to do things, and their abilities:
being is the only one to feel his own body and know his own mind
intimately and directly;
being can decide about many things he does, thinks, and selects
as ends, and no one else can decide these things, though others may try
to force one and may succeed by making one fear the others' sanctions
or threats enough;
being has strongly felt incentives to do as he pleases and to act so as
to further his chosen ends; and
free and rational discussion there is no good reason, in many cases,
why one sane informed adult should know better what to do and not to
do, and why and wherefore, than any other sane and informed adult.
Second, as H.B.
Acton and others also argued, it would have been better if Mill had
spoken in this and other similar contexts not of "himself"
and "others", but of one's own
interests and the interests of others.
And this for two
reasons, at least: Firstly, because it seems terminologically more
precise and correct, and secondly because one cannot reckon
realistically with interests people do not have.
Third, the factual
question is: Are there there any things a person may
do in the world outside his body "which concern"
only the interest of that person, and not the
interests of any other person?
Note first that I
have here rephrased the issue by reference to the interests of
persons - which may comprise more than they actually have, in as much
as one can sometimes argue fairly that someone should have
known or taken care to learn something, which in fact he didn't, but
which cannot comprise all possible physical consequences of all
their changes to the world outside them.
Next, with this
reference to the interests people have, or should have, reasonably
speaking, given their own ends and agreements with others, it seems
clear that at least morally and factually almost every human being
would agree that there are some things any person may do that only
concern his or her interests.
should be remarked that so far the practices of all human societies
have been to the effect that every adult person, at least, gets some
personal sphere or region of some kind - a house, a room, a bed etc. -
within which and with many things in it one is free to act as one
pleases to further one's own ends and needs, and indeed normally, and
apart from accidents and special situations, this can be done safely in
the sense that others do not feel that their interests are helped or
harmed by what the person does in his own personal sphere or region of
So apart from
fundamental metaphysical considerations, concerning how free one really
is, and how the commissions and ommissions of one relate to those of
another in the whole scheme of things, it seems that the ordinary and
commonsensical practices and presuppostions of mankind conform mostly
to Mill's presuppostions, if these are worded
"That mankind are not infallible; that their
truths, for the most part, are only half-truths; that unity of opinion,
unless resulting from the fullest and freest comparison of opposite
opinions, is not desirable, and diversity not an evil, but a good,
until mankind are much more capable than at present of recognizing all
sides of the truth, are principles applicable to men's modes of action,
not less than to their opinions."
Yes indeed, and
the fallibility of every human being is an important part of Mill's
argument. I have two brief points relating to it.
should be stressed that every argument, including those that
are claimed to come from God, or to be in then name of "the people",
"society" or "mankind", in fact consists of, in the first
place, the ideas and claims of some individual, and quite
often, if he is mistaken or partially mistaken, no more or not much
more, than that: Personal beliefs.
than saying that "their truths, for the most
part, are only half-truths", I'd rather speak of partial truths
or possible truths. One reason is that I certainly don't believe that
the Catholics, the Protestants, and the Muslims all know half of the
truth, and that I also know half of it, though I am not religious at
all. Most of what men have believed in the way of religion has been
false, and to call it a half-truth is to dignify it with more than it
Or so I believe
- and so believes virtually everyone, in fact, with the least logical
capacity, for no religion ever was believed by the majority of human
beings, and therefore the majority always has been bound in logic to
know that their own beliefs were in a minority, and that the majority
of mankind must be mistaken if they themselves were
"As it is useful that while mankind are imperfect
there should be different opinions, so is it that there should be
different experiments of living; that free scope should be given to
varieties of character, short of injury to others; and that the worth
of different modes of life should be proved practically, when any one
thinks fit to try them. It is desirable, in short, that in things which
do not primarily concern others, individuality should assert itself.
Where, not the person's own character, but the traditions of customs of
other people are the rule of conduct, there is wanting one of the
principal ingredients of human happiness, and quite the chief
ingredient of individual and social progress."
I agree, but
with a qualification: It does not seem to me to be true for most
ordinary folks, that where "not the person's own
character, but the traditions of customs of other people are the rule
of conduct, there is wanting one of the principal ingredients of human
happiness" for in fact a considerable part of the happiness and
of the moral and practical ends of ordinary folks is to be and feel and
think and behave and look like other ordinary more or less socially
succesfull folks in their own society.
tendency of ordinary folks, both conscious and unconscious, is in the
directions of conformism and totalitarianism, rather than in the
directions of personal development or liberty. Back.
"In maintaining this principle, the greatest
difficulty to be encountered does not lie in the appreciation of means
towards an acknowledged end, but in the indifference of persons in
general to the end itself. "
Yes indeed: "indifference" of various kinds, notably moral
and intellectual indifferences, are an important force for both good
and bad in society, that is often missed.
And by and
large people are indifferent to what does not concern their interests
and to what they don't know.
Also, since no
one feels the pains and pleasures of any other person except by some
deliberate imaginary effort, and then also at second hand, indirectly
and imaginatively only, however correctly, it is very easy for most to
be completely indifferent to most that happens to
"If it were felt that the free development of
individuality is one of the leading essentials of well-being; that it
is not only a coordinate element with all that is designated by the
terms civilization, instruction, education, culture, but is itself a
necessary part and condition of all those things; there would be no
danger that liberty should be undervalued, and the adjustment of the
boundaries between it and social control would present no extraordinary
This is true,
but as Mill himself will point out and discuss, the majority of mankind
feels otherwise inclined, namely towards conformity and
totalitarianism: Other people are good to the extent - the average
human mind everywhere and at any time seems to have felt - that they
are, and speak, and do, and dress, and think, and feel, and value, and
look just like our own good selves. Back.
"But the evil is, that individual spontaneity is
hardly recognized by the common modes of thinking as having any
intrinsic worth, or deserving any regard on its own account. The
majority, being satisfied with the ways of mankind as they now are (for
it is they who make them what they are), cannot comprehend why those
ways should not be good enough for everybody; and what is more,
spontaneity forms no part of the ideal of the majority of moral and
social reformers, but is rather looked on with jealousy, as a
troublesome and perhaps rebellious obstruction to the general
acceptance of what these reformers, in their own judgment, think would
be best for mankind."
Quite so - but
if the "majority" is this way, which I
agree with Mill that seems to be the case and to have been the case
throughout known human history, then there is an important problem for
a position like Mill's "On Liberty",
namely that it holds ideals and desires that cannot be fairly expected
to be the ideals and desires of the majority, and that in fact often
and usually do not square with the ideals and desires of the
"Wilhelm von Humboldt, so eminent both as a
savant and as a politician, made the text of a treatise that "the end
of man, or that which is prescribed by the eternal or immutable
dictates of reason, and not suggested by vague and transient desires,
is the highest and most harmonious development of his powers to a
complete and consistent whole;" that, therefore, the object "towards
which every human being must ceaselessly direct his efforts, and on
which especially those who design to influence their fellow-men must
ever keep their eyes, is the individuality of power and development;"
that for this there are two requisites, "freedom, and a variety of
situations;" and that from the union of these arise "individual vigor
and manifold diversity," which combine themselves in "originality." "
For "Wilhelm von Humboldt" see note  to Chapter
"Nobody denies that people should be so taught
and trained in youth, as to know and benefit by the ascertained results
of human experience. But it is the privilege and proper condition of a
human being, arrived at the maturity of his faculties, to use and
interpret experience in his own way."
Yes, but see . Back.
"The human faculties of perception, judgment,
discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference, are
exercised only in making a choice. He who does anything because it is
the custom, makes no choice. He gains no practice either in discerning
or in desiring what is best. The mental and moral, like the muscular
powers, are improved only by being used. The faculties are called into
no exercise by doing a thing merely because others do it, no more than
by believing a thing only because others believe it."
perceive, feel, believe and desire only to make choices or help to make
them, seems to me a correct and rather profound observation, but it is,
of course, not true that "He who does anything
because it is the custom, makes no choice". For he chooses to
follow the custom, and one can often easily understand why, because
there are penalties of many kinds for not doing so, in all human
conformists do use their "faculties", and
so it would have been more correct to say that people who freely
conform to the majority, without physical compulsion or threat, but
because they believe that this is the right, good or natural thing to
do, in fact do as most do in most circumstances - and may be suspected
to do so because they lack the individual capacity to do differently
and better for themselves from their own initiative, based on their own
"He who lets the world, or his own portion of it,
choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than
the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself,
employs all his faculties. He must use observation to see, reasoning
and judgment to foresee, activity to gather materials for decision,
discrimination to decide, and when he has decided, firmness and
self-control to hold to his deliberate decision."
Here Mill also
at least slightly biases the argument in the direction that pleases
And again I
would say that conformists - where there is no obvious physical threat
or danger for non-conformists, as there may well be in a police-state,
dictatorship, and many religious environments - tend to be conformists
because they lack the capacities to behave succesfully as
people generally conform if they lack the conditions to safely
non-conform or lack the capacities to succesfully
"It really is of importance, not only what men
do, but also what manner of men they are that do it. Among the works of
man, which human life is rightly employed in perfecting and
beautifying, the first in importance surely is man himself. "
Yes, indeed: As
Pope said, "the proper study of mankind is man", and the reason is that
the proper end of mankind is the development of man - and I use terms
here in the old grammatical sense, where a man is a human
"Human nature is not a machine to be built after
a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree,
which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to
the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing."
It was already
argued in the 18th century by Helv้tius in L'homme machine that
human beings are natural and living machines. The main force and point
of that was that they are not immortal souls, embodied for a short
while on this terrestrial divine testing-ground, and bound for
everlasting hell or eternal heaven, at the Lord's pleasure.
Whether this is
at all what Mill had in mind here I don't know, but he is right that,
whatever human beings are, they are born with various needs and
capacities that need some satisfaction and some exercise, or else these
capacities mostly or wholly die and there carriers get merely a very
poor and crippled life. Back.
"To a certain extent it is admitted, that our
understanding should be our own: but there is not the same willingness
to admit that our desires and impulses should be our own likewise; or
that to possess impulses of our own, and of any strength, is anything
but a peril and a snare. Yet desires and impulses are as much a part of
a perfect human being, as beliefs and restraints: and strong impulses
are only perilous when not properly balanced; when one set of aims and
inclinations is developed into strength, while others, which ought to
coexist with them, remain weak and inactive. "
Yes, and as I
have argued in my notes
to Chapter I my own
argument for what I shall the Principles of Liberty, and
understand to comprise
taste and pursuits
directing and planning one's own life
doing as one likes, if this does not harm others
is based on the
thesis that as a matter of natural fact "our
understanding" is our own: only we have it, and only we can
understand with it; and that as a matter of natural fact "our desires and impulses " are our own: only
we feel them, and can decide to act on them; and indeed also, apart
from metaphysical issues, as a matter of natural fact our choices are
our own, for only we can make them (though there may be much external
has, feels and lives through our beliefs, desires or experiences; and
nobody else can use them naturally as grounds for choices if we don't
want to, except by forcing us to obey, by threats or by violence or by
deception. See . Back.
"It is not because men's desires are strong that
they act ill; it is because their consciences are weak. "
Yes, and that
is a useful observation, but it is not all of the truth, for men may
also "act ill" because they have false
beliefs, impractisable or improper desires, have been deceived, or
believe that the "ill" that they do needs
to be done in self-defense or in defense of their society or faith. And
"if we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities" -
"To say that one person's desires and feelings
are stronger and more various than those of another, is merely to say
that he has more of the raw material of human nature, and is therefore
capable, perhaps of more evil, but certainly of more good. Strong
impulses are but another name for energy. "
H.B. Acton has
a note to Mill's last statement in this quoted passage, that says
"Mill, like Humboldt, valued energy very highly", and I suppose at
least part of what Mill meant by "energy"
in this sense is what the Americans call "drive".
That may be
desirable, but it should be noted that in some cases strong "desires and feelings" may arise because
something went wrong: one was deceived, deceived oneself, or has
psychological problems. Back.
"A person whose desires and impulses are his own
are the expression of his own nature, as it has been developed and
modified by his own culture is said to have a character. One whose
desires and impulses are not his own, has no character"
This is an
appropriate definition or description, and it should be remarked that
only a minority of people "have a character"
in Mill's sense, because the majority are conformers, for whom see . Back.
"If, in addition to being his own, his impulses
are strong, and are under the government of a strong will, he has an
energetic character. Whoever thinks that individuality of desires and
impulses should not be encouraged to unfold itself, must maintain that
society has no need of strong natures "
I do not wish
to maintain "that society has no need of strong
natures" but it may be remarked that it is also regularly
endangered by them, especially if they are religious or political
a strong nature does seem to have little positive correlation with
having rational ideas and realistically practicable ends and values.
And even if one has these, Lord Acton's diagnosis tends to apply: "Power
corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
"In our times, from the highest class of society
down to the lowest every one lives as under the eye of a hostile and
dreaded censorship. Not only in what concerns others, but in what
concerns only themselves, the individual, or the family, do not ask
themselves what do I prefer? or, what would suit my character and
disposition? or, what would allow the best and highest in me to have
fair play, and enable it to grow and thrive? They ask themselves, what
is suitable to my position? what is usually done by persons of my
station and pecuniary circumstances? or (worse still) what is usually
done by persons of a station and circumstances superior to mine?"
Yes indeed, and
I think Mill describes here correctly much of the ordinary reasoning
and ordinary motives of ordinary men and women.
"I do not mean that they choose what is
customary, in preference to what suits their own inclination. It does
not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is
customary. Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke: even in what
people do for pleasure, conformity is the first thing thought of; they
live in crowds; they exercise choice only among things commonly done:
peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned equally with
crimes: until by dint of not following their own nature, they have no
nature to follow: their human capacities are withered and starved: they
become incapable of any strong wishes or native pleasures, and are
generally without either opinions or feelings of home growth, or
properly their own. Now is this, or is it not, the desirable condition
of human nature?"
I shall answer
Mill's question at the end of the quoted passage in a moment, but first
observe that Mill is right that "It does not
occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is customary"
but not quite right in suggesting this is merely or mostly passiveness,
though this may be the cause or a good part of it.
In fact, most
ordinary men have a strong tendency towards conformism, and believe
this to be a moral virtue, and many countries and languages
have popular sayings and admonitions to that effect. Thus, one of the
most common Dutch moral sayings and exhortations is "Doe maar gewoon,
dan doe je al gek genoeg" = "Act as ordinary folks, for then you act
madly enough", and one of the common sayings of the Norwegians and
Danish is "Du skal ikke tenke at du er noen" = "You should not think
that you are someone" (namely: a person of character, with one's own
think Mill's description is appropriate, correct and melancholic, in
that I do not think that this is "the desirable
condition of human nature" but that I also think it is and has
been the ordinary condition of human nature, in most places and times.
And the general
reason is that the great majority of men and women do not have a strong
character, and do not have a strong mind, and therefore find it
convenient to conform usually, if only because this is safer and they
do not see or understand reasons to do and dare otherwise.
the majority of mankind, and until there arrives eugenetical measures
to improve the qualities of mind with which they are born, this will
remain so forever, if the past 30 centuries of human history are a safe
guide to and sufficient rational evidence for what the human future may
be, with such average human gifts as evidenced in the
"It is so, on the Calvinistic theory. According
to that, the one great offence of man is Self-will. All the good of
which humanity is capable, is comprised in Obedience. You have no
choice; thus you must do, and no otherwise; "whatever is not a duty is
a sin." Human nature being radically corrupt, there is no redemption
for any one until human nature is killed within him. To one holding
this theory of life, crushing out any of the human faculties,
capacities, and susceptibilities, is no evil: man needs no capacity,
but that of surrendering himself to the will of God: and if he uses any
of his faculties for any other purpose but to do that supposed will
more effectually, he is better without them. That is the theory of
Calvinism; and it is held, in a mitigated form, by many who do not
consider themselves Calvinists.."
This seems to me
to be a correct description, though I should add, as someone who did
study the histories of Holland and England of the 19th C at least a
little, that for people living in the beginning of the 21st C or the
second half of the 20th C, in so far at least as they have not been
raised in a strict Protestant climate, it will be very hard to
adequately imagine the great narrowness of mind and feeling, and the
very limited freedom of acting spontaneously in almost any way, of even
the ordinary Protestants - I mean: the non-fanatics among them - of
that day and age. It must have been very depressing and frightening,
what with the daily threat of eternal hell for sinners, for the great
majority of the Protestant believers. (Dutch readers should at this
point be referred to
Woutertje Pieterse, which is about what growing up in a
Protestant climate of opinion, behavior and hypocrisy means and does to
And while I am
myself no Protestant at all, and have been an atheist all my life, I
should remark that I think there is a certain amount of metaphorical
verisimilitude in the story of the Fall of Man, that has it that human
nature is "radically corrupt", possibly
not because it is mostly or on average evil, or disposed to do evil,
but because the great majority of men and women do not have a strong
character, and do not have a strong mind, and therefore are easily
deceived into doing all manner of things, following all kinds of
leaders, and believing all sorts of ideas that are evil, or result in
evil, where in either case "evil" is to be understood as "harm" -
violence done to persons or their possessions.
The lack of
character and lack of intelligence of the majority also explains to a
large extent why so much evil has been done in the name of the highest
and noblest reasons and motives: They were deceived by their leaders,
and believed they served the interests of their country, party or
religion when they agreed to kill or persecute their
"It is not by wearing down into uniformity all
that is individual in themselves, but by cultivating it and calling it
forth, within the limits imposed by the rights and interests of others,
that human beings become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation;
and as the works partake the character of those who do them, by the
same process human life also becomes rich, diversified, and animating,
furnishing more abundant aliment to high thoughts and elevating
feelings, and strengthening the tie which binds every individual to the
race, by making the race infinitely better worth belonging to."
Yes indeed - but
with the rather bitter provisos of notes ,
 and :
Most men cannot
do much better than they are doing already, and one can see the sort of
human societies and behaviour and priorities that will result.
advice and hopes must be mostly directed at and concerned with the
minority that has the natural gifts to develop an individual character,
and not the majority that mostly lacks these gifts, that feels
therefore mostly forced to conform both in behaviour and in ideas and
values to what their surrounding society desires and seeks to
"In proportion to the development of his
individuality, each person becomes more valuable to himself, and is
therefore capable of being more valuable to others. There is a greater
fulness of life about his own existence, and when there is more life in
the units there is more in the mass which is composed of them. As much
compression as is necessary to prevent the stronger specimens of human
nature from encroaching on the rights of others, cannot be dispensed
with; but for this there is ample compensation even in the point of
view of human development. The means of development which the
individual loses by being prevented from gratifying his inclinations to
the injury of others, are chiefly obtained at the expense of the
development of other people."
Yes, but see note
: the development of "individuality", and indeed especially of such "individuality" as is capable of contributing
positively to art or science, is - as it were - the birthright only of
a gifted minority. Back.
"To give any fair play to the nature of each, it
is essential that different persons should be allowed to lead different
lives. In proportion as this latitude has been exercised in any age,
has that age been noteworthy to posterity."
This seems true,
with some fairly obvious provisos to the effects that we are speaking
of a minority in any case, and the free development of an individual's
inclinations, also if this is a gifted individual, need not be
invariably in the interests of his fellows, but may well harm
"Even despotism does not produce its worst
effects, so long as Individuality exists under it; and whatever crushes
individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called, and
whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions
True, but see , ,  and  for some
realistic glosses and limits on this, even outside despotisms.
Also it should
be remarked that not all "individuality"
is desirable, for people like Nero, Caligula, Bluebeard (Gilles de
Rais), De Sade and Mengele, and o so many more or less megalomaniac
political and religious leaders also exercised their "individuality", to little or no good effect,
and with much resulting harm, misery and pain. Back.
"it is only the cultivation of individuality
which produces, or can produce, well-developed human beings"
Yes, this is
true, and it should be remarked that human beings and human societies
are so complex that human individuals do need some 15 to 25 years of
education to be fit to take properly part in human society, in some
social function, and play the role of an adult civilian of some kind,
with some competence, besides being capable of playing many social
animals need far less education to function well, and indeed have far
less complex societies, and - perhaps excepting a few species, whose
brains are large but who don't seem to have any complex language or
culture - far less complex brains. Back.
"It will not be denied by anybody, that
originality is a valuable element in human affairs. There is always
need of persons not only to discover new truths, and point out when
what were once truths are true no longer, but also to commence new
practices, and set the example of more enlightened conduct, and better
taste and sense in human life. This cannot well be gainsaid by anybody
who does not believe that the world has already attained perfection in
all its ways and practices."
Well, yes - I
agree, but it should be remarked, again with reference to , ,  and , that
Mill's position is to a considerable extent one of taste and
preference, and that ordinary folks as a rule are not very thirsty for
radical innovations of any kind if they are mostly satisfied with their
"It is true that this benefit is not capable of
being rendered by everybody alike: there are but few persons, in
comparison with the whole of mankind, whose experiments, if adopted by
others, would be likely to be any improvement on established practice.
But these few are the salt of the earth; without them, human life would
become a stagnant pool. Not only is it they who introduce good things
which did not before exist; it is they who keep the life in those which
The last claim
of this - "it is they who keep the life in those
which already existed" - may well be doubted or denied, since
there have been despotic states, like Byzantium, that went on and on
and on with little change or innovation through many generations.
The rest is
mostly true, because of the fact that everything that raised human kind
above the other apes has been first invented, thought of, and made
public by some human individual. Back.
"Persons of genius, it is true, are, and are
always likely to be, a small minority; but in order to have them, it is
necessary to preserve the soil in which they grow. Genius can only
breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom. Persons of genius are, ex
vi termini, more individual than any other people less capable,
consequently, of fitting themselves, without hurtful compression, into
any of the small number of moulds which society provides in order to
save its members the trouble of forming their own character."
Here I have
three remarks, apart from the remark that I agree with Mill that there
are and have been "Persons of genius". This
happens to be a thesis that is disbelieved by the great democratic
majority of the Dutch - of which I am unfortunate enough to be one -
for they sincerely believe that there are no "Persons
of genius" outside the field of sport (soccer), and also tend
to hold that there should be none, for this is unfair to the many who
are not. (Yes, the small mind tends to be envious and unfair.) Also,
after my three remarks I have a fourth remark on Mill himself and his
there is considerably more knowledge about human intelligence,
consciousness and development, there will be no really viable and
widely applicable eugenetics, but the possibility for this grows with
the growth of science, and deserves serious consideration, as one of
the cures for the ills of the world that are due to human stupidity or
lack of self-control.
Second, while I
believe "an atmosphere of freedom" is
mostly necessary for a genius to enable him to do what makes him great,
it should be fairly remarked that as a rule those whose genius is
outstanding, obvious and of no social danger tend to find protection of
their own personal interests when their genius has been recognized and
Third, the same
remark applies to "the small number of moulds
which society provides" and the crippling effects this tends to
have on genius, character, and individuality.
freedom that Mill is pleading for in the passage I now comment is of
more importance for the merely talented than for the very few warranted
geniuses. But for the merely talented it is important to develop and
blossom, and also for the society they belong to.
should be remarked that Mill himself was a prodigy as a child, with an
IQ that was later estimated to have been 250 when young; who was raised
and educated by his gifted and original father, without any "benefit"
of ordinary schools or universities; and that Mill certainly was one of
the most able, intelligent and learned men of his time, in which there
were quite a few very able, intelligent and learned men.
There are quite
a few biographies of him, including an Autobiography.
"I insist thus emphatically on the importance of
genius, and the necessity of allowing it to unfold itself freely both
in thought and in practice, being well aware that no one will deny the
position in theory, but knowing also that almost every one, in reality,
is totally indifferent to it. People think genius a fine thing if it
enables a man to write an exciting poem, or paint a picture. But in its
true sense, that of originality in thought and action, though no one
says that it is not a thing to be admired, nearly all, at heart, think
they can do very well without it."
Yes, but as I
argued in  the freedom Mill argues as
necessary for the development of "genius"
also holds for, and is besides more important for, the considerably
larger group of merely talented persons.
And while it is
true that ordinary folks "nearly all, at heart,
think they can do very well without" genius, and society also is
quite well off, thank you, in their opinion, without them, it is also
true that real genius tends to be less important for the persons of
their own age than for persons of later ages.
Newton probably did little good to most of the men and women of their
own times, and also little or no harm, but all of mankind that
lived after them and their generation profited from the very many
technological applications their ideas were found to have by later
And it is quite
likely that if they had died before they made their discoveries then,
the truths they discovered, being natural and presumably valid as long
as reality exists, would have been discovered later, by other men, if
mankind had survived without these discoveries when they were made, but
it might have taken several centuries. Back.
"Originality is the one thing which unoriginal
minds cannot feel the use of. They cannot see what it is to do for
them: how should they? If they could see what it would do for them, it
would not be originality. "
Yes, with the
minor qualification that the genius of a few, such as Edison and
Einstein, has been admired by very many, but usually indeed with very
little or no understanding, and only by reputation and because of what
was said in the media. Back.
"nothing was ever yet done which some one was not
the first to do, and that all good things which exist are the fruits of
Also, it is true that one of the things ordinary minds tend to miss is
that all they enjoy in the way of technology in the end is due to the
doing and thinking of a few extra-ordinary individuals, and possibly to
its later applications by a gifted minority. Back.
"In sober truth, whatever homage may be
professed, or even paid, to real or supposed mental superiority, the
general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity
the ascendant power among mankind. In ancient history, in the Middle
Ages, and in a diminishing degree through the long transition from
feudality to the present time, the individual was a power in himself;
and if he had either great talents or a high social position, he was a
considerable power. At present individuals are lost in the crowd."
It is true that "the general tendency of things throughout the world is
to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind", and
indeed this also has some justification, in as much as the great
majority of mankind belongs to the "mediocrity",
and it may be assumed that the more capable members of that class are,
by and large, better fit to understand and rule the others of the same
class, than the few who are not mediocrities.
And indeed, these
few tend to be not in government, but in the arts or the sciences,
which is were they also should be, apart from exceptional circumstances
and conditions, because that is where the few can usually do the most
good, and that is also what their individual talents makes them most
fit for. Back.
"In politics it is almost a triviality to say
that public opinion now rules the world. The only power deserving the
name is that of masses, and of governments while they make themselves
the organ of the tendencies and instincts of masses. "
Mill wrote in a
time when the printed paper was the main medium by which opinions were
circulated. Since he lived there have been at least three major
innovations as regards the media: radio, television and the internet.
And I find it
difficult to say "that public opinion now rules
the world". It is true that in some sense the human world is
made by and depends on human ideas and values that are mostly known and
spread by the media, but because so much of those opinions and so much
of those media are spindoctored, used for propaganda, directed at the
largest and least gifted segment of the population, and anyway largely
consists of trivialities and superficialities even if true and humanly
important, a great part of "public opinion"
must be manipulated opinion.
In any case,
the arrival of the internet has been of major importance for men with
original minds, for it now is the first time in human history that
anyone with access to the internet can publish his ideas. (However...
as men are on average, most of the traffic on the net concerns
pornography and consists of spam, much of which promises to enlarge
one's member and keep it erect. Humankind is a mammalian kind, after
"This is as true in the moral and social
relations of private life as in public transactions. Those whose
opinions go by the name of public opinion, are not always the same sort
of public: in America, they are the whole white population; in England,
chiefly the middle class. But they are always a mass, that is to say,
collective mediocrity. "
public" is on average and concerning nearly everything a "collective mediocrity". Back.
"And what is still greater novelty, the mass do
not now take their opinions from dignitaries in Church or State, from
ostensible leaders, or from books. Their thinking is done for them by
men much like themselves, addressing them or speaking in their name, on
the spur of the moment, through the newspapers. I am not complaining of
all this. I do not assert that anything better is compatible, as a
general rule, with the present low state of the human mind. But that
does not hinder the government of mediocrity from being mediocre
Mill describes here has mostly worsened since he wrote, in that with
the arrival of radio and TV the general standards of communication, and
the usual topics and treatments, lowered again, so as to better reach
the public these media mostly had.
I agree with
Mill's concluding lines: "I do not assert that
anything better is compatible, as a general rule, with the present low
state of the human mind. But that does not hinder the government of
mediocrity from being mediocre government." Back.
"No government by a democracy or a numerous
aristocracy, either in its political acts or in the opinions,
qualities, and tone of mind which it fosters, ever did or could rise
above mediocrity, except in so far as the sovereign Many have let
themselves be guided (which in their best times they always have done)
by the counsels and influence of a more highly gifted and instructed
One or Few. "
Yes, I agree,
but with the qualification that "a more highly
gifted and instructed One or Few" still may be mistaken.
But it is true
that politicians are almost never geniuses, and that if they are wise
and mean well, they choose good advisors, who really know the fields
they advise about, and they select their policies mostly from such
"The initiation of all wise or noble things,
comes and must come from individuals; generally at first from some one
individual. The honor and glory of the average man is that he is
capable of following that initiative; that he can respond internally to
wise and noble things, and be led to them with his eyes open. I am not
countenancing the sort of "hero-worship" which applauds the strong man
of genius for forcibly seizing on the government of the world and
making it do his bidding in spite of itself. All he can claim is,
freedom to point out the way. "
I suppose - no,
I know that the vast majority of modern Dutchmen, however
educated, will feel offended by Mill's "The honor
and glory of the average man is that he is capable of following that
initiative; that he can respond internally to wise and noble things,
and be led to them with his eyes open", first because they
sincerely believe, as ordinary folks, that "all men are equal" (and fit
for forced equalization if not), and second because they find it
offensive to write and speak this way.
But I agree
with Mill, and indeed, though I do not at all regard myself as an "average man" I know I am mostly average in most
things, and am in most fields only "capable of
following", since I lack the requisite talent. And indeed this
is the same for all men, whatever their genius, if any. (See also ).
Next, "hero-worship" is mentioned by Mill because he
knew and was for some time befriended with Thomas Carlyle, who made a
sort of cult out of it. Mill didn't, and I don't, i.a. for the reason
Hazlitt gives in .
"It does seem, however, that when the opinions of
masses of merely average men are everywhere become or becoming the
dominant power, the counterpoise and corrective to that tendency would
be, the more and more pronounced individuality of those who stand on
the higher eminences of thought. It Is in these circumstances most
especially, that exceptional individuals, instead of being deterred,
should be encouraged in acting differently from the mass. In other
times there was no advantage in their doing so, unless they acted not
only differently, but better. In this age the mere example of
non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself
I agree, but
then the reader should realize - and probably has inferred a while ago
- that I am myself somewhat of an eccentric and an "exceptional individual", who also can say that
he has lost many chances lesser gifted men did unproblematically get
only because I was known to have other opinions than the majority. (For
example, I protested the arisal of post-modernism in Dutch universities
at a time almost any so-called Dutch intellectual welcomed
postmodernism and cultural relativism as the best chance one ever could
get for having one's cake while eating it, since postmodernism holds
there is no objective real truth.) Back.
"Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such
as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break
through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has
always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and
the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional
to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it
contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger
of the time. "
As I said in my
previous note, I am eccentric, indeed mostly in my opinions, ideas and
values, and not in my behavior or appearance, and I can testify that
one important reason why "so few now dare to be
eccentric" is that one gets discriminated as a matter of course,
along the lines of "He is not like us - off with his head!".
Also, there is
another point in this connection: In the country where I live, which is
Holland, it has been fashionable for several decades, say from the
seventies to the nineties, to be eccentric in a superficial way, in
clothing and behavior, especially if one was or aspired to be a "Media
This is not the
true eccentricity, but is at best a parody, a mockery or a hypocrisy of
it, for it is the would-be eccentricity of actors and people who live
by selling their picture or opinions to the people by way of the
"There is no reason that all human existences
should be constructed on some one, or some small number of patterns. If
a person possesses any tolerable amount of common sense and experience,
his own mode of laying out his existence is the best, not because it is
the best in itself, but because it is his own mode. "
Yes, that is
what I also think, but it is not what ordinary folks think and want,
for they usually see no reason why "all human
existences" should not "be constructed"
along the lines they know, and like, and are familiar with, and many
reasons why they should.
See , ,  and 
"If it were only that people have diversities of
taste that is reason enough for not attempting to shape them all after
one model. But different persons also require different conditions for
their spiritual development; and can no more exist healthily in the
same moral, than all the variety of plants can in the same physical
atmosphere and climate. The same things which are helps to one person
towards the cultivation of his higher nature, are hindrances to
another. The same mode of life is a healthy excitement to one, keeping
all his faculties of action and enjoyment in their best order, while to
another it is a distracting burden, which suspends or crushes all
Indeed, and it
should be noted that even the most gifted, is especially gifted only in
one or two ways out of several hundred ways in which a man can be
gifted, scientifically and artistically. As Hazlitt wrote in his
Particular talent or genius
does not imply general capacity. Those who are most versatile are
seldom great in any one department: and the stupidest people can
generally do something. The highest pre-eminence in any one study
commonly arises from the concentration of the attention and faculties
on that one study. He who expects from a great name in politics, in
philosophy, in art, equal greatness in other things, is little versed
in human nature."
And note that
it is neither my nor Hazlitt's aim to deny there is genius (see: ) but only to insist that it is generally
limited to one field or part thereof. There just are no men and there
never have been any men who excel at all or most things men can excel
"Such are the differences among human beings in
their sources of pleasure, their susceptibilities of pain, and the
operation on them of different physical and moral agencies, that unless
there is a corresponding diversity in their modes of life, they neither
obtain their fair share of happiness, nor grow up to the mental, moral,
and aesthetic stature of which their nature is capable. "
attenuate my previous note somewhat: The human mammal is peculiar in
many ways, and one way is the great individual variety in the species,
that seems greater than in any other species. Back.
"Persons require to possess a title, or some
other badge of rank, or the consideration of people of rank, to be able
to indulge somewhat in the luxury of doing as they like without
detriment to their estimation. To indulge somewhat, I repeat: for
whoever allow themselves much of that in dulgence, incur the risk of
something worse than disparaging speeches they are in peril of a
commission de lunatico, and of having their property taken from them
and given to their relations."
This shows one
way to become rich in the 19th C in England: Have someone you inherit
from declared insane. Mill says more about this in the next quotation.
And it still is
the case that the common people - ordinary folks, the hoi polloi,
whoever considers himself "middle class", or whatever you want to call
them - are such that they feel, in vast majority, that one is allowed
to deviate from the common and accepted patterns and behaviours that
the common people, in their great wisdom and democratic majority, deem
right, and normal, and healthy, only if one already deviates from the
rest in a way which is acceptable to them, such as a title, or great
fame as Media-Personality. All of the rest should behave like everybody
else, the comon people feel, and also feel this is what morality is
about: To be just like everybody else. Back.
"There is something both contemptible and
frightful in the sort of evidence on which, of late years, any person
can be judicially declared unfit for the management of his affairs; and
after his death, his disposal of his property can be set aside, if
there is enough of it to pay the expenses of litigation which are
charged on the property itself. All of the minute details of his daily
life are pried into, and whatever is found which, seen through the
medium of the perceiving and escribing faculties of the lowest of the
low, bears an appearance unlike absolute commonplace, is laid before
the jury as evidence of insanity, and often with success; the jurors
being little, if at all, less vulgar and ignorant than the witnesses;
while the judges, with that extraordinary want of knowledge of human
nature and life which continually astonishes us in English lawyers,
often help to mislead them. These trials speak volumes as to the state
of feeling and opinion among the vulgar with regard to human liberty."
This is from a
footnote that amplifies the previous quotation. I have quoted it
because I believe that "the state of feeling and
opinion among the vulgar with regard to human liberty" are
basically the same now as they were in Mill's time, and will get
noticeably better only if "the vulgar"
have had, in majority, the benefits of eugenetics, so as to improve at
least their general intelligence, or else only if they have been
considerably better educated than they have been the last centuries -
which probably is not possible with the native gifts of the average.
Further see the
previous and next quotations and notes. Back.
"There is one characteristic of the present
direction of public opinion, peculiarly calculated to make it
intolerant of any marked demonstration of individuality. The general
average of mankind are not only moderate in intellect, but also
moderate in inclinations: they have no tastes or wishes strong enough
to incline them to do anything unusual, and they consequently do not
understand those who have, and class all such with the wild and
intemperate whom they are accustomed to look down upon."
This seems to
me quite correct, and is very much in line with my own experiences.
Whoever disagrees, and knows himself to be not highly gifted, very
probably never took the risk to distinguish himself from his fellows by
publicly having different ideas and different values from more ordinary
folks, and having the intellectual capacities to maintain these
verbally against all comers. Back.
"Now, in addition to this fact which is general,
we have only to suppose that a strong movement has set in towards the
improvement of morals, and it is evident what we have to expect."
As the reader
can see in Mill's text, this quotation directly follows the last. And "what we have to expect", then, according to
Mill and me, is a rise in conformism, collectivism and totalitarianism.
We get Mill's
opinion about it in the next quotation: Back.
"These tendencies of the times cause the public
to be more disposed than at most former periods to prescribe general
rules of conduct, and endeavor to make every one conform to the
approved standard. And that standard, express or tacit, is to desire
nothing strongly. Its ideal of character is to be without any marked
character; to maim by compression, like a Chinese lady's foot, every
part of human nature which stands out prominently, and tends to make
the person markedly dissimilar in outline to commonplace humanity."
And indeed: "that standard, express or tacit, is to desire nothing
strongly. Its ideal of character is to be without any marked character".
This is what it normally comes down to, apparently as the expression of
the ordinary tendencies of the ordinary mind in ordinary circumstances.
See also .
note that this fact - or so Mill thought it is, and I think it is,
based on apparently similar experiences as he had, more than 150 years
before me - implies that one will have considerable difficulty with a
position like Mill defended in "On
Liberty" in a democracy, which indeed is that form of government
that possibly may be most inclined to equity, but certainly is the form
of government most prone to levelling. Back.
"Instead of great energies guided by vigorous
reason, and strong feelings strongly controlled by a conscientious
will, its result is weak feelings and weak energies, which therefore
can be kept in outward conformity to rule without any strength either
of will or of reason."
Yes, and in a
sort of excuse it should be said that ordinary men usually cannot do
much better than they do. Back.
"The despotism of custom is everywhere the
standing hindrance to human advancement, being in unceasing antagonism
to that disposition to aim at something better than customary"
Yes, that is
true, but the main reason is not the "custom"
but the native mental gifts of the majorities who maintain such
Also, it should
be said that there are better and worse customs, and that generally the
more religiously or politically fanatical the belief system is that
forms the basis of "custom" in a society,
the worse and the more oppressive that society and those customs will
"the only unfailing and permanent source of
improvement is liberty, since by it there are as many possible
independent centres of improvement as there are individuals. "
Yes, and this
is in fact a good general motivation for "liberty"
- though it must be allowed that no society can admit more than a
certain amount of liberties before it falls apart, though this also
depends on many other things, such as the levels of education, of
income, and of fairness.
As long as most
members of a society may expect that conforming to its standards and
ends keeps them alive in a way they find tolerable, there is a good
chance that the society will continue to exist, ceteris paribus.
"The greater part of the world has, properly
speaking, no history, because the despotism of Custom is complete. This
is the case over the whole East. Custom is there, in all things, the
final appeal; Justice and right mean conformity to custom; the argument
of custom no one, unless some tyrant intoxicated with power, thinks of
resisting. And we see the result. Those nations must once have had
originality; they did not start out of the ground populous, lettered,
and versed in many of the arts of life; they made themselves all this,
and were then the greatest and most powerful nations in the world."
Here one may
doubt Mill's wording and stresses, but it is true that his first
statement is largely correct, and that at most times and places where
there have lived human beings over the last 20 or 30 centuries they
have been ruled despotically and have shown little development,
innovation or changes while these despotisms lasted, which in some
cases was for many centuries. Back.
"A people, it appears, may be progressive for a
certain length of time, and then stop: when does it stop? When it
ceases to possess individuality. If a similar change should befall the
nations of Europe, it will not be in exactly the same shape: the
despotism of custom with which these nations are threatened is not
precisely stationariness. It proscribes singularity, but it does not
preclude change, provided all change together. "
This seems to
me to be quite true, except that I would answer Mill's question "when does it stop?" in a verbally different
way: When it starts to repress individuality on a social scale, and
forbids deviance, originality, free discussion, and unfettered
speculation and investigation. Back.
"We have discarded the fixed costumes of our
forefathers; every one must still dress like other people, but the
fashion may change once or twice a year. We thus take care that when
there is change, it shall be for change's sake, and not from any idea
of beauty or convenience; for the same idea of beauty or convenience
would not strike all the world at the same moment, and be
simultaneously thrown aside by all at another moment."
extent to which the vast majority are and feel like sheep, with a great
fondness and pride in following the herd in its habits and behaviors,
can very well be seen in fashions of all kinds, and notably in dress.
And note that
ordinary people not only conform because they fear the consequences of
not conforming, but also because they like to conform, and take
pride in being "just like everybody else". Back.
"It is not progress that we object to; on the
contrary, we flatter ourselves that we are the most progressive people
who ever lived. It is individuality that we war against: we should
think we had done wonders if we had made ourselves all alike;
forgetting that the unlikeness of one person to another is generally
the first thing which draws the attention of either to the imperfection
of his own type, and the superiority of another, or the possibility, by
combining the advantages of both, of producing something better than
Yes, I agree,
but having been born in 1950 and having lived through the Sixties and
what followed these - punk, hiphop, gangsta' rap - I should add I have
also seen fake and neurotic individualism run wild.
The brief moral
is: There is little room for genuine individuality that is useful to
science, to art, or to civilization, in the average mind and heart, and
average folks who try to appear as if they are special individuals,
which they may do when they have become pop stars or media celebrities,
usually know to do no better things than to dress in odd ways, drive in
special cars, and try to seem to be special human beings by all kinds
of status behavior. As a rule their opinions still are common,
their command of language mediocre, and their general knowledge of
science and civilization poor. Back.
"What is it that has hitherto preserved Europe
from this lot? What has made the European family of nations an
improving, instead of a stationary portion of mankind? Not any superior
excellence in them, which when it exists, exists as the effect, not as
the cause; but their remarkable diversity of character and culture.
Individuals, classes, nations, have been extremely unlike one another:
they have struck out a great variety of paths, each leading to
something valuable; and although at every period those who travelled in
different paths have been intolerant of one another, and each would
have thought it an excellent thing if all the rest could have been
compelled to travel his road, their attempts to thwart each other's
development have rarely had any permanent success, and each has in time
endured to receive the good which the others have offered. "
seems to me to be in principle a correct explanation: Europe owes its
outstandingness in economical, scientific and artistic respects
especially to its "remarkable diversity of
character and culture". Back.
"In a passage already quoted from Wilhelm von
Humboldt, he points out two things as necessary conditions of human
development, because necessary to render people unlike one another;
namely, freedom, and variety of situations. The second of these two
conditions is in this country every day diminishing. The circumstances
which surround different classes and individuals, and shape their
characters, are daily becoming more assimilated. Formerly, different
ranks, different neighborhoods, different trades and professions lived
in what might be called different worlds; at present, to a great
degree, in the same. Comparatively speaking, they now read the same
things, listen to the same things, see the same things, go to the same
places, have their hopes and fears directed to the same objects, have
the same rights and liberties, and the same means of asserting them.
Great as are the differences of position which remain, they are nothing
to those which have ceased."
And in the
almost 150 years that passed since Mill wrote this, the legal "freedom" and their rights have been improved in
the West (with ups and downs, and with differences in development, for
there also were socialist, fascist and national socialist countries and
governments), but what Mill calls the "variety of
situations" has much diminished. Back.
"And the assimilation is still proceeding. All
the political changes of the age promote it, since they all tend to
raise the low and to lower the high. Every extension of education
promotes it, because education brings people under common influences,
and gives them access to the general stock of facts and sentiments.
Improvements in the means of communication promote it, by bringing the
inhabitants of distant places into personal contact, and keeping up a
rapid flow of changes of residence between one place and another. The
increase of commerce and manufactures promotes it, by diffusing more
widely the advantages of easy circumstances, and opening all objects of
ambition, even the highest, to general competition, whereby the desire
of rising becomes no longer the character of a particular class, but of
all classes. A more powerful agency than even all these, in bringing
about a general similarity among mankind, is the complete
establishment, in this and other free countries, of the ascendancy of
public opinion in the State."
All of this has
mostly continued and grown since Mill wrote, and with the sort of
general consequences he attributed to it: Fewer differences and less
variety in almost all ways, about which the most optimistic thing one
can say is that it also came with fewer differences of income and
status, and better chances of education for many. Back.
"The combination of all these causes forms so
great a mass of influences hostile to Individuality, that it is not
easy to see how it can stand its ground. It will do so with increasing
difficulty, unless the intelligent part of the public can be made to
feel its value to see that it is good there should be differences,
even though not for the better, even though, as it may appear to them,
some should be for the worse. "
Yes, but the
only way I see this continue is if the academically educated minority
succeeds in keeping the universities good in intellectual quality and
education, and in maintaining, as it were, the caste of academics -
people who, because mathematicians, engineers, doctors, and scientists
are necessary for the continuation of the natural welfare, are allowed
in their education and their lifes to show some individuality, some
quirkyness, some originality, and who are allowed, as a class or caste,
to be not quite like everybody else who is not highly educated.
in the universities in the West, since the early seventies at the
latest, are quite different: Ever more students, of ever smaller
capacities, in ever more fields of study that are presented as if they
were science, but which are in fact mostly fashions dressed up in
academic clothing with scientific pretenses, and ever fewer students in
the real sciences (mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology).
Those who like
to look for optimistic signs everywhere may note that, in contrast, the
growth in the real sciences in India and China the last decades has
been enormous. Back.
"If the claims of Individuality are ever to be
asserted, the time is now, while much is still wanting to complete the
enforced assimilation. It is only in the earlier stages that any stand
can be successfully made against the encroachment. The demand that all
other people shall resemble ourselves, grows by what it feeds on. If
resistance waits till life is reduced nearly to one uniform type, all
deviations from that type will come to be considered impious, immoral,
even monstrous and contrary to nature."
what Mill feared did not quite happen - or at least did not happen in
England, while where it did happen, such as under Soviet socialism,
German national socialism, and Spanish and Italian fascism, this
totalitarian tendency to forbid "all deviations"
was due mostly to political creeds, and to the native tendencies in the
average human heart towards collectivism, totalitarianism and