I am of two minds about J.S. Mill. He was a famous believer in freedom, an individualist, and a “liberal” when the word meant the opposite of what it now does in this country: that is, a proponent of less government and a larger sphere of action for each citizen. In all those ways, Mill is an appealing figure.
But he was also a rationalist, an evangelist of abstract formulas, and a powerful voice against the inherited wisdom of the past: that is, against custom and tradition. And in all those ways, he was a a powerful voice against the very protections that sustain liberalism. Mill helped forge the beliefs, held today by many both right and left in the political spectrum, that freedom can be somehow detached from its consequences, and that community institutions must pass some sort of formulaic test to receive our endorsement.
He was the first libertarian; and as libertarianism seems to be the theme of the week, I offer, without comment, this piece by Ralph Reiland, offering a rather vague defense of Mill’s place in the pantheon of freedom.