Mill’s “On Liberty”
John Stuart Mills lays out a struggle between authority and liberty in chapter one. He describes it as being the most “conspicuous feature in the portions of history with which we are earliest familiar, particularly in that of Greece, Rome, and England”(3).
Mills described liberty as what was meant to be protection against the tyranny of the political rulers. Rulers of this time came from conquering lands or from inheritance, this meant that they often did not hold the values of the people who lived in these lands. Leaders were needed for the people to have some type of control and authority over the land, however, they were feared and deemed dangerous. An idea known as the Patriots came to be and the purpose of the Patriots was to “set limits to the power which the ruler should be suffered to exercise over the community” (3). This limitation that was set up by the Patriots is what the idea of liberty is, this was supposed to be the protection against the tyranny of the political rulers. This practice set up “political liberties or rights” which was what rulers were allowed to do. If these political liberties were broken it would be looked at as a breach of duty and any type of rebellion or resistance would be justifiable.
Authority as described in the text, before the Patriots were created, was looked at as a necessary hurt. The rulers often did not have the same values as the people who lived on these lands. They also felt it necessary to use the same force on enemies on their own people at certain times. This would be considered the hurt of authority, but the necessary part of it would be having that leader. A leader is needed in order to have control over a land and to make decisions about the land and its people in it’s future.
Later in the text Mills talks about how government isn’t the only function that needed to be worried about authority versus liberty (14). Other areas of this could include race, religious beliefs, etc, any area that has a majority party and then minorities creates this battles between authority and liberty as not everyone's beliefs and ideas will be valued and represented.
The idea of Mills giving all this background information on authority and liberty is to provide insight on the Harm Principle. This principle elaborates which situations call for the restriction of an individuals liberty. Mill is specific in that the only time a person or group can interfere with the liberty of another individual is when they are doing so to prevent harm. This is the only time you can directly interfere against someones will, however, a person is allowed to try and persuade them to try and make a new decision. This idea demonstrates that the only time an individual should be punished or criminalized is when harm is caused to others. This is the only exception and the only time in which authority rules over the individuals liberties.