Read the following excerpt from John Stuart Mill’s classic essay On Liberty (1859), and write a critique of around 1,000 words, addressing the following questions: 1) In what respects does this excerpt exemplify liberal democratic thought? 2) What does the excerpt tell us about Mill’s view of human nature? 3) How might Mill’s ideas be applied, in one (or more) specific policy areas? A Liberal Democracy is a merging of liberalism and democracy. Ludwig von Mises (1927) describes liberalism as a strategy for achieving the dream of freedom, rather than merely a theory.Liberalism inspires political emancipation (Kelly, 2004) to the extent where all citizens can exercise their natural rights without infringing on those of others and inevitably, ensuring the citizens’ autonomy. This objective is achieved through operating in a democracy. Democracy is a system of rule by the demos where government is formed to protect the peoples’ rights and liberty and possessions.
In order for a man to truly be free, that is, to be sovereign over “himself, over his own body and mind” and not simply a subject of the state, he must have complete ownership of his property.A man’s property allows him to sustain himself in the best possible way, giving him the ability to pursuit his desires. Therefore a system needs to be put in place whereby that sovereignty is respected, encouraged and protected.
Liberal democracy enables this ideology through capitalism, a system that allows people to own property, make a profit and keep what they earn though they may have to pay taxes. In J. S Mill’s essay On Liberty (1859) he attempts to display a principle of a liberal democracy demonstrating that the only time it is acceptable to act in a way which restricts the liberty of another is in self-defence.The individual is sovereign over himself and is therefore responsible and accountable for his own actions. Consequentially, if a member of society is acting out his freewill in a way that we believe is disadvantageous to his own well-being we may only reason with, persuade or ask him to change his actions.
However, if his actions will cause a loss of liberty on another individual the government may, by force or coercion deter him from making that action. In actions affecting only him he is allowed full authority. Without autonomy, a liberal democratic society ceases to exist.The actions described above by Mill promote this principle through allowing a person to have control over his life and actions. Autonomy is paramount to the success of a liberal democratic state.
And in order to be a true liberal democratic state, government needs to govern people as such. Government must respect that all men have the right to make decisions that have an effect on them and that the only time government can coerce or force a man to do something is if his actions will impede on the liberty of another individual. This is the harm principle.Mill captures this image well when he says that “… the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to someone else. ” The system of government that Mill has demonstrated is congruent with that of a liberal democracy.
A system where citizens are free, and rulers are not above the law, and must act to preserve the liberty of the people. Mill’s harm principle states that “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. From this we can gather that he believes that man is capable of making his own decisions about his life. It also shows us that man has the tendency to abuse his freedom and harm others as and a result a society without government would cause a ‘state of nature’ one where there is unlimited freedom. Thomas Hobbes (1651) describes life in this kind of state as “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short”. An unconstrained freedom for humans would leave us in a society where others are allowed to harm us and we are allowed to harm others.
In essence as human beings we can have no liberty without a liberal democracy. In society there do exist some policies that seem to violate basic human rights. In order to cut down expenditure the NHS, a government organisation, has decided to offer to pay overweight citizens with money or shopping vouchers to lose weight and to sustain a healthy lifestyle (Donnelly, 2010) The goal of this is to encourage more people to live healthily, therefore cutting the treatment costs of attending to the health risks of overweight people due to the neglect of their own bodies.It would also help the staff to cope with the amount of patients, thus improving the quality of service which the NHS can provide. However in Mill’s essay it states that in a liberal democracy man “cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right”.Offering money is a form of coercion and it has already been established that coercing somebody to something that is good for them is not a demonstration of liberalism. Every man has the freedom to live his life the way he desires, even if his habits are detrimental to him. The only time that government is legally allowed to interfere with a person’s autonomy is when his actions will harm somebody else.
This policy cannot be allowed in a liberal democratic state because the government has no right to force a person to change or improve his life.The NHS can remonstrate, reason or persuade unhealthy people to change their habits but not coerce them. Mill’s account of liberty does agree with the principle of a liberal democracy.
It is also the best way for human beings to achieve the dream of freedom because it give the individual control over himself. The citizen has the right to choose who he wants to lad him, and has the right to do what he pleases with himself as long as he does not harm another person.Governments who aspire to grant liberty to the people should abide by the principles described in Mill’s essay as it is the only way to achieve autonomy and thus a liberal democratic state. References Donnelly, L. (2010 September 21).
Taxpayer should fund ‘bribes’ for obese and smokers. The Guardian Hobbes, T. (1651) Leviathan, Echo Library (2012) Kelly, P. What is Liberalism? http://www. polity. co.
uk/keyconcepts/samples/kelly-chapter. pdf J. S Mill. (1859). On Liberty Von Mises, L.