Chapter Nine: Himmelfarb's Two Mills

Chin Liew Ten, Professor of Philosophy, National University of Singapore

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Chapter 9, part 3, of the author's Mill on Liberty, which Clarendon Press published in 1980. It has been included in the Victorian Web with the kind permission of the author and of the Clarendon Press, which retains copyright.

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decorative initial 'H'immelfarb does not try to show that On Liberty is not a liberal tract. She regards the essay as the culmination of the "later" Mill, as she calls him, and contrasts its doctrines with those of the other or "earlier" Mill. She believes that the "earlier" Mill has been overlooked because Mill's biographers have been overwhelmed by On Liberty, and because Mill himself rewrote his own past in his Autobiography. The [151/152] greater part of the Autobiography was written concurrently with the essay On Liberty and both works were closely supervised by Harriet Taylor. Mill's selection and editing of Dissertations and Discussions, in which again his wife shared, also distorted the picture of his intellectual development. He made significant alterations in his essay which did not appear in their original versions. Himmelfarb has edited a valuable collection of Mill's essays which, according to her, shows the "earlier" Mill. Some of these essays belong to the period 1831-1840, while the rest are drawn from the period after Harriet's death in 1858, when Mill, she claims, "reverted to the philosophical temper of the earlier period". Himmelfarb presents some earlier essays, which were reprinted in Dissertations and Discussions, not as they appeared there but in their original versions. In various footnotes she meticulously indicates those changes made by Mill in his edition of the essays in Dissertations and Discussions 'that alter the sense or the tone of the original'.

In trying to assess the correctness of Himmelfarb's account of the "earlier" Mill, one faces the problem that the contrast between this Mill and the "later" Mill is not always well defined. Sometimes the "earlier" Mill is represented as the Mill who retreated from radicalism, and at other times he is represented as the illiberal Mill who rejected the doctrines of the essay On Liberty. These two versions of the "earlier" Mill need not coincide, for it is not at all clear that the rejection of specific doctrines held by the philosophic Radicals is necessarily a repudiation of a strong belief in individual liberty. Since my purpose is only to consider Mill's views on individual liberty, I shall discuss whether the evidence given by Himmelfarb is sufficient to support her thesis about an "earlier" Mill who was at odds with the teachings of the essay On Liberty.

I shall consider first the evidence for the claim that after Harriet Taylor's death Mill once more propounded doctrines inconsistent with those of the essay On Liberty. Here I think that Himmelfarb's case is at its weakest, for her two versions of the "earlier" Mill now come apart most clearly. The examples she gives of Mill's retreat from radicalism -- his acceptance of the ideas of plural voting and proportional [152/153] representation -- do not seem to me to deviate from anything he said in On Liberty. Indeed Himmelfarb also mentions his fears of the tyranny of the majority, and on this important point there is surely no change from the essay On Liberty. There he put forward his "one very simple principle" to protect individuals from the tyranny of the majority. Now he is proposing other safeguards against the same tyranny he feared so much, though he does not seem to accord them the same status as the "simple principle". They were not held as absolute principles, but more as devices which facilitate the ventilation of minority views. Mill was not against giving power to the numerical majority, but he was profoundly afraid that it would get all the power. In his Autobiography he maintains:

Minorities, so long as they remain minorities, are, and ought to be, outvoted; but under arrangements which enable any assemblage of voters, amounting to a certain number, to place in the legislature representatives of its own choice, minorities cannot be suppressed. Independent opinions will force their way into the council of the nation and make themselves heard there, a thing which often cannot happen in the existing forms of representative democracy; and the legislature, instead of being weeded of individual peculiarities and entirely made up of men who simply represent the creed of great political or religious parties, will comprise a large proportion of the most eminent individual minds In the country, placed there, without reference to party, by voters who appreciate their individual eminency. [Autobiography, p. 220]

However objectionable his proposals about plural voting and proportional representation may have been to the Radicals, the fact is that these proposals were designed primarily to ensure that minority opinions were given the opportunity of being heard. As such they are not incompatible with anything Mill said in the essay On Liberty.

At one point, however, Himmelfarb specifically contrasts Considerations on Representative Government with On Liberty. Representative Government is "subtle and complex" and shows no yearning for a "single truth" or "one very simple principle" (Introduction, p. xxiii). But I am afraid that I fail to see the point of the alleged contrast. If Mill's liberty principle is "very simple" then so are some of his conclusions in Representative Government, such as the idea of plural voting. And there are probably "subtle and complex" arguments in both works. But setting [153/154] these aside, I do not understand how the "one very simple principle" of On Liberty is in any way compromised by the "subtle and complex inquiry" in Representative Government. As for Mill's concern in the latter work with limiting the power of democratic government, this is another manifestation of his fear of the tyranny of the majority, which also permeates the essay On Liberty.

In her book On Liberty and Liberalism, Himmelfarb contrasts Mill's proposals on proportional representation and plural voting, as propounded in Representative Government and Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform (1859), with his views in the essay On Liberty. Whereas in these two works his proposals give an "unequal voice" to different people, and he is convinced that "one person is not as good as another" [this quotation is from Mill's essay, Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, which is included in Essays, p. 315], in On Liberty he takes the entirely different line, "that every person, every opinion, and every expression of individuality was 'as good as another'" (Himmelfarb, Liberty, p. 304 fn). But this is a distortion of Mill's defence of individual liberty. To argue against the use of coercion in preventing a person from expressing his opinion, or from developing his individuality, is not to be committed to the very different view that one opinion or one way of life is just as good as another. Mill does not go back on his view in On Liberty that the wise should only persuade, but not compel, the unwise to accept their more enlightened views and way of life. Indeed in Representative Government, Mill's criterion of a good government is its ability to promote "the virtue and intelligence of the people themselves" (Government, p. 193; a detailed and lucid discussion of this work is to be found in Dennis F. Thompson). It is on this basis that he explicitly rejects government by a "good despot": "What should we then have? One man of superhuman mental activity managing the entire affairs of a mentally passive people" (Mill, Government, p. 203). Here, as in On Liberty, Mill is concerned to promote conditions congenial to the cultivation of "intellectually active people". What he fears is the stunting of men's intellectual and moral capacities, and a good despotism is likely to do this more than a bad one: "Evil for evil, a good despotism, in a country at all advanced in civilization, is more noxious than a bad one; for it is far more relaxing and enervating to the thoughts, feelings, and energies of the people" (Government, p. 207).

As far as the period after Harriet Taylor's death in 1858 is [154/155] concerned, I do not think that Himmelfarb has shown that Mill's views differed from those of On Liberty. Indeed in Auguste Comte and Positivism, which was written in this period, there is every evidence of a continued belief in individual liberty. For example, he protests that liberty and spontaneity form no part of Comte's scheme (Mill, Comte, p. 123), and there is this echo of On Liberty:

Why is it necessary that all human life should point but to one object, and be cultivated into a system of means to a single end? May it not be the fact that mankind, who after all are made up of single human beings, obtain a greater sum of happiness when each pursues his own, under the rules and conditions required by the good of the rest, than when each makes the good of the rest his only object and allows himself no personal pleasures not indispensable to the preservation of his faculties. [Comte, pp. 141-2]

Let me now turn to the other period involving the "earlier" Mill. The last essay of this period in Himmelfarb's collection is Mill's second review of Tocqueville's Democracy in America. This review was published in October 1840, and Himmelfarb says that it was "the last of its kind for many years, the end of an epoch in Mill's life". This period of the "earlier" Mill ended, therefore, in 1840, and presumably began some time before 9 January 1831, the date of publication of the first part of The Spirit of the Age, which is the earliest of Mill's essays in her collection. There is still the Mill of the 18 20s, who was already actively publishing, and there were, according to Himmelfarb, also complications in the Mill of the 1830s. She gives a brief description of all these. Until he was twenty Mill was the good son of his father. Then in 1826 he experienced his famous mental crisis, and this led to his being influenced by the writings of extlinkWordsworth, extlinkComte, extlinkCarlyle, and Coleridge. extlinkMacaulay's attack on his father's Essay On Government affected him further, and by 1831 he had already deviated so far from the Radicals and Utilitarians that he could say that all his differences with them, unlike those with any philosophic Tory, were differences of principle. Mill wrote several articles in this new frame of mind but, according to Himmelfarb, his "awe and fear" of his father made him lead a sort of "double life". He wrote articles that would satisfy "the most fanatical utilitarian and radical". He thus tried desperately "to [155/156] appease his father while placating his conscience with occasional asides of disagreement". His father's death in 1836 liberated Mill who, for the next five years, wrote essays "free from party spirit and partisan purpose". The essays on Civilization, Bentham, Coleridge, on the Reorganization of the Reform Party, and the second review of Tocqueville, which are all included in Himmelfarb's collection, belong to this period. After this Mill came under the dominating influence of Harriet Taylor and did not revert to the frame of mind depicted in these essays until after her death.

This, then, is Himmelfarb's picture of Mill from the 1820s to the late 1850s. How true is it? My first difficulty is with her account of Mill's relationship with his father. I do not doubt that Mill held his father in some awe, and he tried to avoid conflicts and disagreements with him. But I find it difficult to believe that his fear of his father was so great as to lead him deliberately to publish views at odds with what he actually believed. He had, after all, stood up to his father over his friendship with Graham and Roebuck [Packe, p. 68]. It is true that during this period of his life Mill could not see eye to eye with the Radicals and Utilitarians. But he still had some sympathies for them. This, combined with his familiar habit of always presenting the other side of the picture, is probably a better explanation of those writings of his which were sympathetic to the Utilitarians than deliberate intellectual dishonesty designed simply to appease his father.

Himmelfarb's account of the dominating influence of Harriet Taylor on Mill is also puzzling in some respects. She does not think much of Harriet personally or intellectually, but she believes that her influence on Mill was enormous. Mill first met Harriet in 1830, and in spite of his professions to the contrary in the Autobiography, Himmelfarb is surely right to claim that "their relationship became intimate and confidential almost immediately" (Introduction, p. xv; Himmelfarb, p. 209). This being the case, why is it that in Himmelfarb's account Harriet's great influence on Mill did not show itself until almost a decade later, when the "later" Mill emerged in the 1840s? Packe, who also believes in the dominating influence of Harriet on Mill, dates this influence from 1832, with the publication of Mill's essay [156/156] On Genius in October of that year. If indeed Harriet's influence was so important, 1832 instead of the 1840s would have been a more likely date for its manifestation in Mill's writings. Perhaps Harriet's influence was suppressed by Mill's fear of his father, but that fear died with James Mill in 1836. Mill was then free to fall under Harriet's spell, but on Himmelfarb's account did not appear to have done so for another few years.

In On Liberty and Liberalism, Himmelfarb says that in the first decade of their friendship Harriet did not decisively influence Mill's thinking. But she now argues that On Liberty conflicts with nearly everything else Mill wrote except the two essays on women. Whereas the Mill of On Liberty propounded and defended the "one very simple principle" of liberty, the other Mill was aware of the complexity of social and political life, and sought to qualify the pursuit of individual liberty with other values, such as "duty, morality, discipline, the public good, tradition, community, nationality, society" (Himmelfarb, Liberty, p. 168). Evidence of the other Mill is now to be found not only in those periods when Harriet's great influence had not asserted itself, but also when her influence on Mill was at its height. The Mill of On Liberty is no longer the Mill of the 1840s and 1850s (up to Harriet's death in 1858) as she had earlier postulated. The sentiments of the other Mill were expressed in other writings even at the very time Mill was working on On Liberty (Himmelfarb, Liberty, pp. 144, 206 fn 42). So the Mill of On Liberty lives only in that essay and in the essays on women. As Rees has pointed out (pp. 372, 375), in the earlier version of the "two Mills" thesis, Himmelfarb grouped together Utilitarianism, Political Economy, and On Liberty as works not belonging to the other Mill, but as works produced during the period of Harriet's greatest influence. But in her book, Utilitarianism and Political Economy are included among the works of the other Mill and set against On Liberty.

In On Liberty and Liberalism, Himmelfarb argues that Mill was preoccupied with the question of women's liberation, and it was this urgent practical issue which led him to formulate his principle of liberty: "the doctrine of liberty was required for the liberation of women" (Liberty, p. 181). By showing that men too, though to a lesser extent, were victims of society's [157/158] tyranny, Mill gave both men and women a common interest in promoting individual liberty against the claims of society, custom, and tradition. On Liberty was written under the close supervision of Harriet, and her influence pushed him to adopt the absolute value of liberty, an extreme position that contrasted with his customary, moderate mode of thought.

But why is it that Mill's abiding interest in the liberation of women is not reflected in all his writings of the same period when he was under Harriet's strong influence? Himmelfarb gives two reasons. First, the liberation of women is more directly and immediately related to the subject of liberty than it is to the topics Mill dealt with in his other works (Liberty, p. 206 fn 42). Where the cause of women was not directly involved, there was no need to argue a case for absolute freedom, and Mill was able to assume his more usual mode of thought. But this explanation runs counter to her account of the nature of Harriet's influence on Mill, Himmelfarb quotes Mill's remark that in On Liberty the "whole mode of thinking" was Harriet's, and that he too was thoroughly imbued with it (Himmelfarb, Liberty, p. 258). She identifies Harriet's distinctive mode of thought as "absolutistic and simplistic". One would therefore expect to see in all of Mill's writings which are heavily influenced by her, expressions of the same distinctive mode of thought. So how was Mill able to escape to his more customary, moderate, and complex way of thinking? Himmelfarb herself is at pains to show that Harriet held strong views on many issues, and Mill, on her account, willingly, and indeed obsequiously, gave in to her on many points of disagreement. Himmelfarb also quotes from Mill's Autobiography on the influence of Harriet in the writing of The Subjection of Women. It was through her teaching that Mill became aware of the way in which "the consequences of the inferior position of women intertwine themselves with all the evils of existing society and with all the difficulties of human improvement" (Liberty, pp. 206-7). But this shows Mill's consciousness of the connection between his plea for the equality of the sexes and many other social and political issues which interest him. If therefore it was the liberation of women which led him to adopt Harriet's mode of thought in On Liberty, then he had reason [158/159] also to stick to that mode of thought when he was dealing with other subjects impinging on the liberation of women.

Himmelfarb's second explanation of On Liberty's special position is that it was written during the period of Mill's marriage to Harriet when the extlinkcause of women dominated his thought more profoundly than at other times. But some of the works of the other Mill were also written or revised during the same period. If the cause of women was in the forefront of his thought when he wrote On Liberty, it should, by the same token, also be his dominant interest when he was writing other works at the time.

But assuming that there are indeed two Mills, and setting aside the problem of when and where each Mill expressed himself, how plausible is Himmelfarb's explanation of the driving force behind On Liberty? If, as she insists, Mill's purpose in writing On Liberty was to promote the cause of women, then why is it that the emancipation of women features only fleetingly in the essay? She speculates that Mill had hoped that by using safer examples, such as religion, he would win support for the general proposition of liberty, and after that, "all the particulars, including women, would fall into place" (Liberty, p. 182). However, this does not explain why, in his letter to Harriet of 15 January 1855, in which he stated the urgency of writing and publishing the essay, there was no reference to the cause of women, but only a reference to the necessity of combating illiberal tendencies.

On my way here cogitating theron I came back to an idea we have talked about and thought that the best thing to write and publish at present would be a volume on Liberty. So many things might be brought into it and nothing seems to be more needed -- it is a growing need too, for opinion tends to encroach more and more on liberty, and almost all the projects of social reformers in these days are really liberticide -- Comte, particularly so. [Collected Works, Vol. xiv, p. 294]

Several things are evident from this letter. First, it was Mill, and not Harriet, who first drew attention to the urgency of publishing On Liberty. Secondly, there was no single issue, like the cause of women, which led him to the belief in the importance of the essay. Himmelfarb's search for a single issue is therefore misguided. The liberation of women may have been too delicate an issue for Mill to write directly [159/160] and at length about in a published essay. But if, as Himmelfarb claims, "On Liberty was the case of women writ large" (p. 181), then one would at least expect Mill to mention it in his private communication to his wife. So at the most the cause of women is only one of the "many things" that the essay is concerned with.

I have argued in Chapter 2 that Mill wanted to revise the whole framework within which the question of individual liberty was discussed, and to make the case for liberty on the "higher ground of principle". It was only in the area of religion that this higher ground was acknowledged to some extent, and this is why he picked on religious examples. Mill wanted to show that a principled defence of individual liberty involved its extension from the religious to other areas as well. Himmelfarb's failure to understand the nature of Mill's case for liberty is manifest in her argument that Mill did not write On Liberty to defend "the more serious forms of social and sexual deviancy" because he had "no great liking" for them (p. 152). But what Mill liked or disliked is irrelevant, for Mill wrote On Liberty precisely to combat the view that the limits of individual liberty should be determined by the "likings or dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it".

I conclude that although Himmelfarb's emphasis on Mill's continued interest in the emancipation of women, and her story of Harriet's influence on him, are most interesting, she fails in her attempt to weave these fascinating accounts into her general thesis of the two Mills.

But what about the textual evidence drawn from the period before Mill came under Harriet's deep influence? Does it support Himmelfarb's view of the other Mill? I find the same difficulty with the two reviews of de Tocqueville, and with the essay on Reorganization of the Reform Party, as I did with some of the essays in the post-Harriet period. Again, I do not doubt that they show Mill to be an imperfect Radical; and if this is all that Himmelfarb wants to establish, then it would be impossible to disagree with her. But if her case is that anyone who is not a perfect Radical violates the letter or the spirit of On Liberty, then I fail to follow her. To plead for the gradual instead of the [160/161]immediate introduction of universal suffrage is not necessarily to violate anything of importance in the essay On Liberty. In the second review of Tocqueville, Mill in fact displays the same concern he was to show in the essay On Liberty with the provision of opportunities for the expression of individuality, and for the propagation of opinions opposed to those generally held in a society. There is also the fear that the majority may impose its wishes through coercive measures outside the framework of the law (Mill, Essays, p. 239).

In her book, Himmelfarb acknowledges some similarities between the themes of the essays on de Tocqueville and those of On Liberty (pp. 82). But she argues that Mill attacked the qualities of the commercial class even though these were the very qualities he celebrated in On Liberty (pp. 83-84). Thus, whereas in On Liberty Mill regarded "freedom and variety of situations" as necessary for the promotion of individuality, in the second review of Tocqueville he valued the absence of the commercial spirit among the agricultural class. Unlike the commercial class, farmers in England still had strong attachments to places and persons, and to traditional ways of life. Himmelfarb seems to think that Mill's notion of individuality implies "freedom from all ties", and that therefore only the commercial spirit is a true expression of it. But Mill pleaded for "freedom and variety of situations" in order that different individuals might develop in different ways. No doubt some would exercise their freedom by freeing themselves from previous attachments, whereas others would want to cling to them. In the second review of Tocqueville, Mill was fearful of the complete dominance of the commercial spirit because, "whenever any variety of human nature becomes predominant in a community, it imposes upon all the rest of society its own type; forcing all either to submit to it or to imitate it" (Essays, p. 263). He praised the commercial spirit as "one of the greatest instruments not only of civilization in the narrowest, but of improvement and culture in the widest sense" (p. 263). But the agricultural class was still necessary as a counterbalance to the predominance of this spirit. The predominance of any one class or spirit was undesirable because, "The unlikeness of one man to another is not only a principle of improvement, but would seem almost to be the only principle" (p. 263).[161/162]

Mill made alterations to the original versions of the essays, on extlinkBentham and Coleridge when editing Dissertations and Discussions, but the alterations in Bentham do not seem to bear on the issue of individual liberty. Indeed the fear that individual liberty would be suppressed by the "despotism of Public Opinion" is as strong here as in the essay On Liberty. However, in the essay on Coleridge there are some remarks to which Himmelfarb attaches significance (pp. 45-7, 76-80). The most important of these for our purposes are concentrated in a passage where Mill is discussing the second of his three essential conditions of all permanent political societies. Himmelfarb lists them among the examples of the more flagrant changes made by Mill which altered the sense and tone of the original ("Introduction," p. viii fn; Liberty, p. 47 fn; the changes are collated in the Collected Works, Vol. X, Appendix D, pp. 503-8). In Dissertations and Discussions Mill's changes seem to be designed to underline his belief in freedom much more than was suggested in the original version. There are undoubtedly some important differences in the two versions, but the really crucial question is whether the original version is inconsistent with the acceptance of the principle of individual freedom. Taken in itself, the original version seems to be susceptible both of an interpretation which would make it an illiberal doctrine, and of one which makes it clearly liberal [but see Capaldi]. The belief that it is an essential condition of the stability of a society that there should be something which should be settled and not to be called in question could, if narrowly interpreted, set severe restrictions on individual freedom of opinion and action. But, on the other hand, it could also be interpreted more widely to include the principle of individual freedom itself as a factor which stabilizes a society. In the later version of the passage in question Mill in fact adopts the wider interpretation. In his biography of Mill, Bain refers precisely to this passage and Writes: "Grote never ceased to convert this remark into an expression for the standing intolerance of society towards unpopular opinions" (p. 57). But Bain apparently gave it a different interpretation.

Even in the original version of the essay Mill says that the feeling that there should be something which is not to be called in question "may attach itself to laws; to ancient liberties, or ordinances; to the whole or some part of the [162/163] political, or even the domestic, institutions of the state". With regard to laws which restrain the individual's inclinations to cause harm to others, like the laws against murder and assault, it is surely not illiberal to maintain that unless there is a general recognition that they are right and not to be done alway with, there can be no peace and security in a society. Apart from these, Mill's account of the essential conditions of stability in a society need not imply that there would be other specific laws and institutions which should remain unchanged. He may mean no more than that respect for law and ordered government in general should remain unchanged, and not the respect for this or that law or government. Men may seek to change particular laws and institutions by constitutional processes, but they should not disregard and refuse to obey any law they find unacceptable. In seeking to rid society of particular institutions, they should be conscious of the possible cohesive effects of some of these institutions. That something like this is what Mill really meant can be shown if one looks at the passage in question, not in isolation, but in the wider context of the essay as a whole. I have already done this in Chapter 6, and here it is only necessary to summarize some of the relevant points. The essay was written for Radicals and Liberals. He thus sought to emphasize those elements of what he called "the Germano-Coleridgian school" from which he felt they had most to learn. One of the important problems which this school of thought saw was how to achieve improvement in society while preserving the conditions of social stability. Mill's intention in putting forward the essential conditions for the stability of political societies was not to set severe restraints on freedom of discussion and individual liberty, but to warn reformers to be cautious, and to be sensitive to whatever important values may still reside in old institutions and beliefs, and not to destroy everything regarded as bad without at the same time being able to replace them with something better.

Other passages in the essay on Coleridge show that Mill was aware of the importance of individual liberty and freedom of opinion. Thus he writes:

All who are on a level with their age now readily admit that government [163/164] ought not to interdict men from publishing their opinions, pursuing their employments, or buying and selling their goods, in whatever place or manner they deem the most advantageous. Beyond suppressing force and fraud, governments can seldom, without doing more harm than good, attempt to chain up the free agency of individuals. [Essays, pp. 163-4]

And later he speaks of "unrestricted freedom of thought" as the very foremost condition of philosophy (p. 168).

The essay on Civilization (1836), which is also included in Himmelfarb's collection, shows Mill to be firmly committed to freedom of inquiry. He argues that the purpose of education is not to impose any particular dogma on individuals, but to teach and equip them "to seek the truth, ardently, vigorously, and disinterestedly". Once they have been given the necessary instruments for this search, they should be left to "the unshackled use of them" (Essays, p. 69). A university teacher is not obliged to teach the accepted truths of a society. The test of his suitability is whether he knows all creeds, and whether in putting foward his own views he "states the arguments for all conflicting opinions fairly".

In this spirit it is that all the great subjects are taught from the chairs in German and French Universities. The most distinguished teacher is selected, whatever be his particular views, and he consequently teaches in the spirit of free inquiry, not of dogmatic imposition. Were such the practice here, we believe that the results would greatly eclipse France and Germany, because we believe that when the restraints on free speculation and free teaching were taken off, there would be found in many individual minds among us, a vein of solid and accurate thought,... [Essays, p. 73]

The essay therefore gives no indication of illiberal views or tendencies.

In this essay, as Himmelfarb points out, Mill laments the fact that there are too many poorly written books. But he does not argue, as Himmelfarb seems to suggest, that freedom of discussion is the cause of the proliferation of bad books, nor does he believe that the remedy is to be found in restricting such freedom. The source of the trouble was that, "almost every person who can spell, can and will write" (Essays, p. 61). Mill suggests two remedies. First, there should be co-operation among individuals, and especially among the "leading intellects", to provide better guidance to the general public [164/165] in distinguishing between good and bad books. Himmelfarb seems to think that an appeal to co-operation goes against the discussion and competition which On Liberty seeks to stimulate (Liberty, pp. 44-45). But surely Mill intended the co-operating intellects to discuss vigorously the competing ideas in various books before they issued their verdict. Nor is there any suggestion that the general public should merely accept, and never discuss, the choices and recommendations of their guides. Indeed Mill's second remedy is a proper education, which, as we have just seen, will inculcate a desire for truth and a spirit of free inquiry.

Himmelfarb argues that, unlike On Liberty, the main idea of the early essays was a denial of any "single truth". But the conflict here is only apparent. The "single truth" that Mill asserted in the essay On Liberty is the importance of individual freedom. One reason for his advocacy of freedom of expression is his belief that the truth on specific issues is likely to be complex, many-sided, and shared by more than one system of thought. The acceptance of the "single truth" ("Introduction," p. xx; , Liberty, Ch. I) of the importance of individual liberty is therefore not only compatible with the belief that on specific problems no single system of thought has the monopoly of truth, but it is also in part supported by that belief.

Himmelfarb also contrasts the "absolute" nature of Mill's defence of liberty with the moderate and complex mode of thought of the other Mill. In Chapter 2 I have tried to elucidate the sense in which Mill's liberty principle is "absolute". But it is important to notice here that Himmelfarb robs Mill's principle of whatever plausibility it has by ignoring the limited scope of its application; this is a point well made by Ronald Dworkin, p. 261. The principle is to be applied to cases in which the state or society interferes with the individual's conduct simply to enforce the values of a dominant or any other group, or to prevent the individual from harming himself. Mill's principle condemns such interference, and seeks to restrict intervention to cases where there is the prevention of harm to others. But Himmelfarb converts this principle to cover "the entire range of action" (Liberty, p. 299), and she makes liberty into Mill's "only value" (Liberty, p. 272). She is thereby able to claim that the Mill of On Liberty, unlike the other Mill, did not qualify and supplement liberty with other values [165/166] like "duty, morality, discipline, the public good, tradition, community, nationality, society" (Liberty, p. 168). With this caricature of the liberal Mill it is not surprising that she finds evidence of the other Mill all over Mill's other works. Thus she asserts that On Liberty is a rejection of "community, fraternity and morality" (Liberty, p. 91). On the other hand, she points out that in Utilitarianism Mill refers to the development of morality by means of sanctions or punishment (Liberty, pp. 106-8). But she does not show that Mill believed in using punishment for any other purpose than to prevent harm to others, and this surely is the crucial point if there is to be any contrast between the two works. Again, she picks out Mill's reference in the essay on Coleridge to the need for "restraining discipline" as further evidence of the other Mill (Liberty, pp. 78-79). But she fails to notice Mill's remark in On Liberty: "To be held to rigid rules of justice for the sake of others, develops the feelings and capacities which have the good of others for their object" (p. 121). The question to which On Liberty addresses itself is not whether there should be sanctions, punishment, or restraints, but where they are to be applied.

Himmelfarb also treats Mill's doctrine of individuality as if it were a plea for selfishness and self-indulgence (Liberty, pp. 91, 107, 139, 269), when in fact Mill in On Liberty is quite explicit that individuality should be developed "within the limits imposed by the rights and interests of others" (p. 120), and he pleads for "a great increase of disinterested exertion to promote the good of others" (p. 132).


Bain, A. John Stuart Mill, a Criticism. London, 1882.

Capaldi, Nicholas. "Censorship and Social Stability in J. S. Mill" The Mill News Letter, Vol. ix, No. 1 (1973).

Dworkin, Ronald. Taking Rights Seriously. London, 1978.

Himmelfarb, Gertrud. "Introduction" to John Stuart Mill. Essays on Politics and Culture. New York, 1963.

_____ On Liberty and Liberalism: The Case of John Stuart Mill. New York, 1974.

Mill, John Stuart. Essays on Politics and Culture, ed. Gertrude Himmelfarb. New York, 1963.

_____ Autobiography (World's Classics Ed.).

_____ Auguste Comte and Positivism. Ann Arbor, 1961

_____ Representative Government (Everyman ed.).

Packe, Michael St. John. The Life of John Stuart Mill. London, 1954.

Rees, J. C. "The Thesis of the Two Mills" Political Studies, 25 (1977).

Thompson, Dennis F. John Stuart Mill and Representative Government. Princeton, 1976.

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