30 Sep

John Stuart Mill was the great exponent of individual liberty and Representative Democracy. He was a high priest of Individualism. The central theme of Mill's political theory is individual liberty and representative.

John Stuart Mill was born on May 20, 1806 in London. He was he eldest son of his father James Mill who was the disciple of Bentham. J.S. Mill started the learning of Greek language at the age of three and then Latin at the age of eight. As a young boy of twelve, he had studied the philosophy of some of the great philosophers,  such as Plato, Herodotus, Homer, Aristotle and Thucydides. He also learned French language and acquired a great fluency.

 He wrote following books:

  • A System  of Logic : Ratiocinative and Inductive.
  • Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy.
  • Essays on Liberty.
  • Consideration on Representative Government.
  • Utilitarianism. 
  • Thoughts on Parliamentary Reforms.
  • The subjection of Women.
  • Principles of Political Economy.


J.S. Mill is universally regarded as a passionate advocate of liberty. He vigorously whispered for imparting great importance to individual  liberty and emphasized  that governmental interference in individual activity should be reduced to the minimum. In the middle of the 19th century, due to the utilitarian reforms, the scope of administrative activities increased . Parliament became the supreme and unchallenged law-making authority, who enacted such laws which vividly obstructed individual liberty. With the imposition of increasing state regulations, human activities were suffocated and he firmly believed that liberty was a prime factor for the development of the society. At that time, policy of laissez-faire was being abandoned in favour of greater regulations by the state. The people became politically conscious and demanded universal suffrage.

When Mill wrote , utilitarian liberalism was generally accepted in England. The democratic efforts made by the earlier utilitarian had been largely successful and political power had been extended to a considerable proportion of the population. A large number of old evils and inequalities had been removed. In this  process, some of the dangers of democracy became visible, and the tendency toward state centralization led political theory to the scope of state activities and to the liberty of the individual. The leader in the intellectual life of the period was J.S. Mill.

Mill apprehended that the growth of democracy and the increasing legislative powers of the state tended to reduce individuals to a common type and to swamp them in the tyranny of collectivism. He believed that social progress could not be achieved if each and every individual is imparted with fuller opportunity for free development of his personality. Mill favoured freedom of thought speech and action. He believed in toleration of opinions and unhampered freedom of discussion. He had confidence that truth would definitely survive in the struggle of ideas.


Originality in conduct and thought are essentially basic features efforting towards social welfare. When individuality is quelled by the law of a monarch or an aristocrat, the evil of it may be counteracted by the custom of the masses, but when the masses make the law of repression, custom unites with legislation to confirm the evil. Individual development enriches the world by a variety of characters. But the imposes two limitations on this liberty:

  The individual was not at liberty to do any harm of his fellow beings.

He must share labours and sacrifices to secure the society or individuals against harm.

Mill pleads for certain freedoms for the individual without which he cannot develop his personality properly. These are :

  • Freedom of conscience.
  • Liberty of thoughts and of its expression in speech and writing.
  • Liberty of pursuits and tastes.
  • Liberty of association.
  • Liberty to adopt his own profession in life.
  • Liberty of religion and morals.

Mill laid great stress on liberty of thought and expression. Mill's theory of liberty of the individual is based upon three essential elements:

  1. A strong plea for the importance of impulse and desire in the individual and letting the individual follow his own impulses in actions which concern him alone.
  2. Insistence on the view that spontaneity and individuality are essential elements in individual and social welfare.
  3. Revolt against the tyranny of custom, tradition or public opinion which might hinder the expression and development of individuality.

Important Points of Mill's Individual Liberty :

  1. Mill advocated that individual is sovereign over his body and mind. He must be left free in all actions that concern himself alone. And society has no right to impose any restraint over the individual because restraint as such is an evil and retards the progress of the individuals.
  2. Mill assumes that the activities of every individual are either self-regarding or other-regarding. In the sphere of self-regarding activities may be included matters which affect  the agent only, having no concern with others, e.g. gambling, drinking etc.
  3. Mill believes in the individualistic or atomistic conception of society. He says that individual is not responsible to society for his actions in -so- far as they concern the interest of himself and do not affect others.
  4. Mill vigorously advocated for absolute and unfettered freedom of thought and expression.
  5. The freedom of action and association was to be limited by the condition that none should jeopardize other's rights and freedom.


Mill was bitterly criticized because of his inconsistencies on the doctrine of liberty at the hands of Earnest Barker who said, " Mill was the prophet of an empty and an abstract individual."

Mill's theory was criticized on the following ground:

  1. Mill assumed that the individual is sovereign over his body and mind. He should be left free to act as he wished and society cannot impose any limitation on his freedom. The soundness of this statement may be doubted. The sovereignty of individual over himself is note a self-evident proposition. As Mill himself admits, " there can be circumstances under which it may become legitimate for others to intervene in a purely personal matter, e.g. when one is about to commit suicide, surely no one will call it an attack upon one's liberty."
  2. The bifurcation of human actions into two-self regarding and other regarding as made by Mill is quite impracticable. No individual is an island in himself. There is very little that one can do which does not affect other person. It is difficult to set apart a sphere of conduct which should be regarded exclusively the affair of the individual concerned.
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