HOW MUCH LIBERTY?
The spirit of improvement is not always a spirit of liberty, for it may aim at forcing improvements on an unwilling people. (John Stuart Mill )
WHILE MILL enjoys a reputation as an unequivocal defender of liberty and as one who asserted its claims against the restrictions imposed by society, including its customs, “received opinions,” and expectations, his reputation is not fully deserved, for his plan for moral reform would have led to many restrictions on individual liberty, and this was a consequence he foresaw and accepted. So great was his wish to stamp out selfishness that the achievement of moral reform coexisted with and sometimes superseded individual liberty.
Liberty would be diminished in two ways. First, as shown in chapter one, the harm principle would be applied broadly and enforced extensively, and liberty in all social relations, especially in the family, would be adversely affected. Not only conduct but also inclinations, or, as Mill called them, dispositions, would be subject to punishment. And punishments, were not merely to be legally defined and enforced, but moreover were also to include the unregulated, spontaneous, and therefore arbitrary reactions of opinion, what Mill called moral reprobation, moral retribution, and social stigma.
It was not only the harm done to others that would lead to a diminution of liberty, however, for Mill provided that self-regarding conduct, which was defined as not causing harm to others, also would “suffer very severe penalties” (278). The threat to liberty following from this kind of conduct, only briefly mentioned in chapter one above, is the subject of this chapter, which will also focus on the responsibility of those with individuality of character for penalizing those engaging in objectionable selfregarding conduct.
By introducing penalties for self-regarding conduct, which he did in chapter four of On Liberty, Mill expanded the contest between the adversaries struggling against each other in chapter three of On Liberty— between those with individuality and those who were complacent, passive, customary, intolerant, and resistant to challenge and change. Whereas in chapter three these adversaries were characterized as either resisting or advancing the movement of history, in chapter four Mill was