Notes_on_Mill - Mill on Liberty of Thought and Discussion...

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Mill on Liberty of Thought and Discussion Introductory remarks on structure of lecture. Brief account of goal of second part of the course. Begin with the individual. Role of the body. Pain. Brief Discussion of Gender and Sex. Cloning and genetic manipulation. Rosen’s remarks about Tocqueville and Mill. Mill as reviewer of Democracy in America . Correspondence with Tocqueville. In the Introduction to On Liberty , Mill defines his subject as “Civil or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.” In Mill’s view, the conflict between liberty and authority is not new, it is as old as political life itself, but it has taken on a new form under the conditions of modern democracy. In non-democratic societies, the struggle between liberty and authority was a struggle between subjects and rulers, where the interests of the two parties were antagonistic to each other. The older meaning of liberty was defined by the nature of this political conflict between rulers and subjects. “By liberty, was meant protection against the tyranny of the political rulers. The rulers were conceived…as in a necessarily antagonistic position to the people whom they ruled.” Liberty thus meant setting limits on the power of government. There were two main instruments for setting such limits. First, there was the attempt to establish certain immunities or rights against the power of the government, violation of which would justify rebellion against that
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government. For example, the Magna Charta of 1215, which limited the power of the English King over the “liberties” of the hereditary nobility. (The most important right established in the Magna Charta was the right of habeas corpus.) The other was the establishment of some form of constitutional check on the power of government, which was supposed to represent the will of the people. For example, the establishment of the House of Commons in England, which was originally intended to represent the interests of the “commoners” against the nobility and the crown. Gradually, the people came to have more and more of a say in who their rulers should be. The rise of representative democracy brought with it however an unexpected new threat to liberty. This threat comes from the mistaken idea that democratic government, precisely because it is supposed to proceed from the will of the people, poses no inherent threat to individual liberty. If the will of the people and the will of the governors are one and the same, why should there be any need for checks on governmental power? “The nation does not need to be protected against its own will.” Mill, who was a careful student of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America , points to the United States as an example of the dangers involved in not limiting the powers of a democratic government. His argument is essentially Tocquevillian in character. For all practical purposes, the will
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Notes_on_Mill - Mill on Liberty of Thought and Discussion...

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