John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control

By Joseph Hamburger | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
TWO CULTURAL REFORM

An almost complete renovation must take place in some of the most rooted opinions and feelings of the present race of mankind. (John Stuart Mill)

PROVISION for control as well as liberty in On Liberty can be traced to Mill's greatly increased wish for cultural and moral reform during the 1840s and 1850s. Of course, he had never been indifferent toward this kind of reform, but at an earlier stage his goal as a reformer was limited to fundamentally changing institutions rather than to altering character or human nature. He believed that well designed institutions would discourage or deter actions that were economically irrational or politically corrupt. He was, after all, a child of Benthamism, which was primarily concerned with institutional reform—whether in the political, legal, administrative, or economic realms. While still quite young, Mill discovered in Bentham's writings “what might truly be called an object in life; to be a reformer of the world,” and he thought of reform as Bentham thought of it.1 Rules were to be made and situations created to deter the kind of conduct that prevented the achievement of the greatest happiness by the greatest number. Democratic reforms, for example, were expected to frustrate the satisfaction of sinister, that is, separate, interests and to allow the more widely shared interests of all people to be reflected in the making of public policy, and this would be achieved without altering the self-seeking character of human nature. Mill made the same assumption during the 1830s when he tried to organize and animate the Philosophic Radicals in Parliament; he urged them to seek constitutional changes—an extended suffrage, more frequent Parliaments, and a secret ballot—which would redistribute political power so that public policy would promote the interests of the majority.

Mill's approach gradually changed and by the 1850s he was no longer confident that institutional change would bring about genuine improvement. By this time he witnessed a vast change in public opinion, which had been mobilized in support of many constitutional, economic, and

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1
Early Draft, CW, 1, 136. He also described how when reading the Traité de Legislation, Bentham's doctrine “burst on one with all the force of novelty. … The feeling rushed upon me that all previous moralists were superseded, and that here indeed was the commencement of a new era in thought” (66).

-18-

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John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control *
  • Contents *
  • Editor's Note ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xix
  • John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control *
  • Chapter One - Liberty and Control 3
  • Chapter Two - Cultural Reform 18
  • Chapter Three - Mill and Christianity 42
  • Chapter Four - Candor or Concealment 55
  • Chapter Five - Arguments about Christianity in on Liberty 86
  • Chapter Six - The Religion of Humanity 108
  • Chapter Seven - Individuality and Moral Reform 149
  • Chapter Eight - How Much Liberty? 166
  • Chapter Nine - Mill's Rhetoric 203
  • Epilogue 225
  • Index 235
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