Maarten Maartensz

Text Philosophy - Mill - On Liberty - Chapter III
 

 

 

 


Notes to: CHAPTER III
ON INDIVIDUALITY, AS ONE OF THE ELEMENTS OF WELLBEING


Note on these notes

These notes are from 2006, based on notes in my paper copy of "On Liberty" that date from 1977.

The format is that I quote the text of Mill that I comment in blue, and write my own notes in black, with a "Back" at the end of every note that moves the reader back - provided he or she is on line, or has downloaded the relevant files in similar directories,or uses a CD of my site - to the beginning of the quotation the note is concerned with. (See also the TOC.)

The result is that my quotations + my notes take more space than Mill's original text, but one advantage of the procedure I use is that the reader can read my quotations + my notes independently from the text, yet be moved thence - provisos as above - with a single click.


[1] "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 peril. "

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".     Back.


[2] "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.

Three different 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 too great.

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.


[3] "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."

Perhaps the term "nuisance" is not the most appropriate in the present context.

Apart from 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:

(1) every human being is the only one to feel his own body and know his own mind intimately and directly;
(2) every human 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;
(3) every human being has strongly felt incentives to do as he pleases and to act so as to further his chosen ends; and
(4)

without 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.

Finally, it 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 interest.

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 properly.    Back.


[4] "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.

First, 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.

Second, rather 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 truly contains.

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 right.    Back.


[5] "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.

The common 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.


[6] "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 most.    Back.


[7] "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 difficulty."

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.


[8] "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 majority.     Back.


[9] "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 [1] to Chapter 1.    Back.


[10] "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 [3].    Back.


[11] "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."

That people 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 societies.

Likewise, 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 strength.    Back.


[12] "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 him.

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 non-conformists.

More generally, people generally conform if they lack the conditions to safely non-conform or lack the capacities to succesfully non-conform.    Back.


[13] "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 being.    Back.


[14] "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.


[15] "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

  • liberty of conscience

  • liberty of thought and feeling

  • liberty of opinion and sentiment

  • liberty of expression

  • liberty of publication

  • liberty of taste and pursuits

  • liberty of directing and planning one's own life

  • liberty of doing as one likes, if this does not harm others

  • liberty of cooperating with others, 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 pressure).

Nobody else 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 [3].    Back.


[16] "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" - Voltaire.     Back.


[17] "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.


[18] "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 [12].    Back.


[19] "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 leaders.

Besides, having 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."    Back.


[20] "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.     Back.


[21] "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 individuality).

Otherwise, I 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.

Therefore, for 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 past.     Back.


[22] "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 persons).

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 opponents.     Back.


[23] "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 [20], [21] and [22]:

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.

Hence Mill's 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 impose.    Back.


[24] "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 [23]: 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.


[25] "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 them.    Back.


[26] "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 of men."

True, but see [20], [21], [22] and [23] 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.


[27] "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 roles properly.

All other 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.


[28] "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 [20], [21], [22] and [23], 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 lifes.    Back.


[29] "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 already existed."

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.


[30] "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 genius.

First, until 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 acknowledged.

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.

Indeed, the 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.

Finally, it 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.    Back.


[31] "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 [30] 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.

Galileo and 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 generations.

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.


[32] "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.


[33] "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 originality"

Precisely. 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.


[34] "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.


[35] "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 all.)    Back.


[36] "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. "

Yes, "the public" is on average and concerning nearly everything a "collective mediocrity".    Back.


[37] "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 government. "

The situation 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.


[38] "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 advice.    Back.


[39] "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 [43]).

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 [43].     Back.


[40] "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 a service."

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.


[41] "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 Personality".

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 media.    Back.


[42] "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 [20], [21], [22] and [23] .    Back.


[43] "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 internal life."

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 Characteristics:

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: [30]) 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 in.    Back.


[44] "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. "

And to 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.


[45] "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.


[45a] "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.


[46] "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.


[47] "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.


[48] "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 [21].

Incidentally, 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.


[49] "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.


[50] "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 customs.

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 be.    Back.


[51] "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.    Back.


[52] "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.


[53] "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.


[54] "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."

Indeed: the 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.


[55] "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 either."

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.


[56] "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. "

Again, this 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.


[57] "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.


[58] "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.


[59] "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.

The tendencies 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.


[60] "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."

Indeed, but 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 conformism.    Back.