On Liberty, introduction - On Liberty John Stuart Mill 1859...

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On LibertyJohn Stuart Mill1859Chapter 1IntroductoryThe subject of this Essay is not the so-called Liberty of the Will, sounfortunately opposed to the misnamed doctrine of Philosophical Necessity;but Civil, or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the powerwhich can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual. Aquestion seldom stated, and hardly ever discussed, in general terms, butwhich profoundly influences the practical controversies of the age by itslatent presence, and is likely soon to make itself recognized as the vitalquestion of the future. It is so far from being new, that, in a certainsense, it has divided mankind, almost from the remotest ages; but in thestage of progress into which the more civilized portions of the specieshave now entered, it presents itself under new conditions, and requires adifferent and more fundamental treatment.The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuousfeature in the portions of history with which we are earliest familiar,particularly in that of Greece, Rome, and England. But in old times thiscontest was between subjects, or some classes of subjects, and the Government.By liberty, was meant protection against the tyranny of the
political rulers. The rulers were conceived (except in some of the populargovernments of Greece) as in a necessarily antagonistic position tothe people whom they ruled. They consisted of a governing One, or agoverning tribe or caste, who derived their authority from inheritance orconquest, who, at all events, did not hold it at the pleasure of the governed,and whose supremacy men did not venture, perhaps did not desire,to contest, whatever precautions might be taken against its oppressiveexercise. Their power was regarded as necessary, but also as highlydangerous; as a weapon which they would attempt to use against theirsubjects, no less than against external enemies. To prevent the weakermembers of the community from being preyed upon by innumerablevultures, it was needful that there should be an animal of prey strongerthan the rest, commissioned to keep them down. But as the king of thevultures would be no less bent upon preying on the flock than any of theminor harpies, it was indispensable to be in a perpetual attitude of defenseagainst his beak and claws. The aim, therefore, of patriots was toset limits to the power which the ruler should be suffered to exerciseover the community; and this limitation was what they meant by liberty.It was attempted in two ways. First, by obtaining a recognition of certainimmunities, called political liberties or rights, which it was to beregarded as a breach of duty in the ruler to infringe, and which if he didinfringe, specific resistance, or general rebellion, was held to be justifiable.

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