John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control

By Joseph Hamburger | Go to book overview

Chapter One
LIBERTY AND CONTROL

Liberty is often granted where it should be withheld, as well as withheld where it should be granted. (John Stuart Mill)

IN 1854 when planning On Liberty Mill told his longstanding friend George Grote that he “was cogitating an essay to point out what things society forbade that it ought not, and what things it left alone that it ought to control.”1 This statement put as much emphasis on control as on liberty, which is just how Grote understood it, for he told another friend, Alexander Bain, “It is all very well for John Mill to stand up for the removal of social restraints, but as to imposing new ones, I feel the greatest apprehensions.”2

What Mill told Grote indicates that he intended On Liberty to be a defense of both liberty and control, and also an explanation of the circumstances that called for one or the other. And knowing about this intention, announced in the mid-1850s, makes it necessary that we at least examine the text of On Liberty, published in 1859, to determine if it reflects what the author intended when it was first planned. This is called for all the more by the inclusion in On Liberty of a passage similar to the explanation of his purpose in the conversation with Grote: “liberty is often granted where it should be withheld, as well as withheld where it should be granted” (301; citations in parentheses are to On Liberty).3

The report of what Mill told Grote was published in 1882 in the wellknown first biography of Mill written by his friend Alexander Bain. Yet Mill's statement of his plan for On Liberty is almost never discussed in any of the vast array of articles and books offering interpretations of On Liberty. Nor is the possibility, suggested by the conversation with Grote, that Mill advocated substantial controls as well as liberty, ever seriously considered. Instead, most all commentators have regarded Mill as wishing to expand the realm of individual freedom to the greatest possible extent and as reluctantly providing minimal constraints on each individual to

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1
Alexander Bain, John Stuart Mill: A Criticism with Personal Recollections (London, 1882), 103. According to Bain, Mill had for Grote “an almost filial affection, and generally gave him the earliest intimation of his own plans.” Ibid., 83.
2
Ibid., 104.
3
Citations in parentheses are to On Liberty, CW, 18, 216.

-3-

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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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