Mill On Liberty Booklet one

Revision notes for Mill's On Liberty

Booklet one notes include the kind of liberty mill is concerned with, the development of democracy and its inherent dangers and tyranny of the majority

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  • Created on: 21-06-11 12:28

Stages of democracy : stage one

What kind of Liberty is Mill concerned with?
In On Liberty Mill focuses on civil and social liberty; How much power society can legitimately have over the individual. 

The development of democracy
Stage One:
In this stage of history the governing power was either an individual or small group who had gained their power through inheritance or conquest. They were not elected and therefore not necessarily who the public wanted to rule them; this also meant that they were unaccountable to the public and could readily abuse their power. 
At this stage liberty was protection against the tyranny of political rulers and could be obtained by the recognition of political liberties which if infringed would be a breach of duty; meaning that rebellion would be justified. Also they could have constitutional checks made by a community or selective body over important acts of governing powers. (this is much less likely to be successful)

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Stages of democracy: stage 2

Stage 2:
At this stage leaders are temporary and elected allowing the people to decide who would be ruling them. The rulers power is the nations power, concentrated, and in a form that is easily exercised. The ruler is no longer all powerful and is on the side of the people.
This stage can be viewed as more free than stage one as the people can choose who is in power and what they do with it. The power is revocable if abused and the people no longer have to worry abour their ruler turning against them.
There are however issues with stage 2. The majority may try to take advantage of the minority. There can be legal tyranny of the majority where laws are passed which suppress the minorities or there can be social tyranny of the majority where the actions of the minority are oppressed by the majority 'frowning upon them'. To keep people free in this democratic state; Mill says we must find out exactly where the limit is for how much influence the majority are just in having over the individual to protect them. 

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Examples of Tyranny of the Majority

Legal Tyranny:
Modern examples could include the smoking ban or fox hunting ban 
Mill gives the example of prohibition

Social Tyranny:
Modern examples could include things such as relationships with large age gaps
Mill gives the example of controlling peoples incomes by frowning on extravagant spending 

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How laws have been made and how they should be

Mill shows how laws appeared to be based on the 'likings and dislikings' of society and the likings and dislikings of the majority or powerful section of society; and that time is spent on deciding what society should or shouldn't like, not whether the likings or dislikings of society should be the basis of law. 

Mill gives a number of examples of what caused laws to be made:
- prejucice  - morality  - envy  - arrogance  - class superiority  - self-interest            - superstition 

It appears strange that there isn't any agreement between different time periods and countries. People don't question their own rules as they become custom and believe its right as that is how it has always been.

Mill says that there should be some legal rules against things which cause harm to others such as murder and some social laws for things that don't fit the operator of law. There should be a rule or principle to determine the correct level of state intervention (harm to others principle) and whether it is good or bad. He said that currently whether a law is correct or not is down to chance and a test would eliminate bad laws.

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Dangers of tyranny and how to avoid it

Mill feared that Tyranny of the Majority would lead to a collective mediocrity. he felt that individuals were lost in the crowd and public opinion was what ruled. The people who count as the majority changed from place to place; for example in america the majority is 'the whole white population' whereas in England it is the middle classes. 

He showed how newspapers and the media helped to spread and enforce public opinion. He states how it would be better to be ruled or guided by a 'highly gifted and instructed one or few' (people who know what they are doing) and this would aid a state out of mediocrity. We can solve mediocrity with more individuality from smarter people.
People, instead of being deterred as they are in todays society, should be encoraged in acting different from the mass.
Eccentricity is of great importance to Mill as it shows strength of character and enables people to go against custom; something key to progression.  

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According to Mill, tyranny of the majority can have major implications on society.

He shows how the only way to improve society is via freedom.
Custom acts as a 'standing hinderance' to progress and therefore prevents liberty.  

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