John Stuart Mill’s Concept of Individual Freedom and the Importance of FreedomJune 27, 2021
After the French Revolution, the successful revolution also led to the publication of the “French Declaration of Human Rights”, which aims to implement the principles of freedom, fraternity and equality.
Although slavery seems to have disappeared on legal platforms in the periods after the aforementioned declaration, slavery was kept alive in different dimensions and forms, especially in Eastern societies. Here it is consciously intended to draw attention to the phenomenon of slavery; because slavery and freedom are phenomena that contradict each other and ignore each other. It would be ridiculous to talk about the existence of the other where the one is. People should be born free and should be brought up and trained in such a way that the true nature and content of individual freedom can be investigated and determined in social life. Otherwise, there would be no point in talking about any form of freedom. For this reason, “individual freedom” began to gain meaning and find its true value, especially in the liberal societies of the 19th century. English philosopher John Stuart Mill carried out a remarkable study on the essence and meaning of this freedom in the aforementioned century.
His Essay on Liberty (1972; 2005; 2009) serves as a basic starting text for modern research in this field. Mill, who lived in the period of “Queen Victoria”, which is considered as the age of social and scientific innovations as well as imperial expansion in England in the 19th century, has become the “model of the liberal thinker” with his defense of social freedoms. Likewise, Mill felt that a book like Essay On Liberty was sorely needed in his time. Freedom in Queen Victorian England has long been subject to intermittent attacks from the right. According to Mill, however, these do not constitute the main danger to freedom. Far more dangerous is the erosion of freedom caused—often unintentionally—by “moralists” (moralists) and political reformers. As a matter of fact, Mill told his wife Harriet; “Almost all the projects of today’s social reformers are actually aimed at subverting freedom.” he writes (Thomson, 2006: 200).
So why does Mill attach so much importance to freedom? Mill sees freedom as the continuation of vitality in society and the engine of social revolution. Mill, as long as there is a richness and diversity of social experience, almost Darwinian understanding that societies can have the opportunity to change; thinks that positive changes are only possible when there is an opportunity for change.19 In other words, making the greatest number of people happy at the highest level is possible with a wealth of experience. We will find this opportunity only if we can escape the stupefying effect of social cohesion. Like all important socio-political-philosophical works, On Hürriyet is a response to danger. In fact, Mill was warned of this danger years ago in Alexis de Tocqueville’s (1994 ) “Democracy in America”. The danger that Tocqueville points out with the phrase “the domination (tyranny) of the majority” is “the tyranny of the popular ‘ethos’ over personal beliefs”. Mill, too, agrees with Tocqueville that the type of tyranny to be feared for his own Victorian era is “not over the body, but over the mind”. As a matter of fact, Mill (2009: 9) repeats in his aforementioned work that the main realization of the “tyranny of the majority” should not be perceived as the actions of public authorities and clarifies the issue as follows:
“Although social democracy does not impose the kind of sanctions imposed on the people by various regimes of political oppression, it is capable of turning into a social tyranny much more dreadful than other oppressive regimes, as it blocks escape routes, penetrates much more thoroughly into the details of life, and captures the soul itself.”
In Mill’s England, the “intellectual yoke” has become so heavy among intellectuals that only those of his contemporaries engaged in trade and industry can think independently and energetically. According to Mill’s estimation, once democratic majorities realize their power, they will tend to use it to the fullest; In this way, civil freedom will be limited by the state, not less than the limits of social freedom determined by public opinion.
What are the methods of warfare against the danger that Mill has waged in his work? Mill made no reference to any natural right to liberty. Although Mill, who we saw before that the idea of ”utilitarianism” was imposed in his youth, never completely abandoned this principle, he understood that this idea was a very narrow principle and determined that it should be supported. Therefore, the principle on which he bases his views on individual freedom is quite different from “utilitarianism”. In the words of Mill (1972: 72-73); “This principle, which ensures the salvation of humanity and gives the right to interfere with other individuals or groups, is the principle of self-defense. Accordingly, a civilized society