The State and Political Philosophy of John Stuart Mill

The State and Political Philosophy of John Stuart Mill

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

Mill accepts the state as one of the most important elements that will ensure the happiness of the individual and the society.

He opposes those who claim that the state arose out of a common contract between people. Because Mill claims that the individual does not have any natural right other than the right arising from the principle of utility, and therefore an institution cannot be formed on the basis of a non-existent right. Therefore, according to him, it is not the right approach to draw social obligations out of such a structure that is not built on a social contract and to invent such a contract. For this reason, he considers the state as an artificial structure that emerged on the basis of the principle of utility. Accordingly, he shifts to a Platonic and Aristotelian line, arguing that the individual can achieve the happiness revealed by the principle of utility only within the state.

Mill deals with the relationship between the individual and the state in the same way that we discussed in the subject of freedom. Namely, Mill does not accept any intervention of the state in the first area of ​​freedom. However, he sees the state’s intervention on the individual as a right and more importantly a duty of the state at the point of the individual’s movements in the second area. According to him, the state derives this right of intervention from the right of other individuals forming the society to demand the defense of their freedoms from the state. Mill argues that the success of this bilateral relationship reflects the success of the state. According to him, the state that can provide the balance in these two areas of freedom is an ideal state and the society that creates this state is a “civilized”, “civilized” society. The civilized or civilized state is defined by Mill as the highest point that the state can reach.

Mill claims that the state has three basic duties over the civilized state. The first of these is to constantly monitor the actions of each individual regarding the second area, while respecting the freedom of each individual, especially in the first area. The second is to create an environment that will enable each individual to seek their own happiness in the way they want. The third task is; It is the execution of works that an individual does not want to undertake, but which are necessary for the general happiness of the society, and the establishment of institutions and organizations. Mill is not very clear about the ideal form of the state in which he expresses his duties in this way. The main reason for this is that Mill focuses on the function of the state rather than its form. According to him, if the state fulfills the above-mentioned duties, its form does not matter much. So “What form of government does Mill adopt?” A question like this is a wrong question. However, if Mill was asked to choose a form of state, Mill would prefer democracy. However, our thinker claims that democracy is not a perfect system and it contains some problems.

According to him, the most fundamental problem of democracy is the principle of “individual self-government”, which is the slogan of democracy. Because, according to him, democracy is not the rule of the individual himself, but the rule of the individual by all other people. He is concerned that society may oppress the individual by becoming the principles of the majority. According to Mill, another problem of democracy is the possibility of the emergence of a despotic structure in the future within the democratic structure. Because, according to him, power has the feature of being corrupt very easily and being a tool to use force on others. This is a possibility that is not far from him. If we look at history, we can see that those who have authority can very easily corrupt this power and turn it into an exploitative power. Based on these concerns, Mill argues that the power of the government should be limited. Mill grants the individual the right to oppose the state in the event that his concerns come true, that is, when the government corrupts the power and uses it as a tool of oppression. Mill states that these situations, in which the individual can oppose the state, can occur in three different ways.

The first of these is when an action can be done better by private individuals; second, when an action should be left to the individual for character development of the individual, even if it could be done better by government; the third one is the situations in which the government uses and increases its power unnecessarily.89 It is seen that Mill takes every precaution to prevent the state from using its power in a way that hinders the freedom of the individual. Well, what is Mill’s attitude in the opposite situation, that is, when the individual violates the rights of the state? The answer to this question introduces the concept of “sanctions”.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook; Sakarya University Theology