Mill And Liberalism

But in the end, far from revealing any fundamental truth about liberalism, it can only really tell us what the Economist — and its line of powerful editors — happened to believe at key moments in history. What Zevin’s research often reveals is the transience of seemingly historic moments and, ultimately, the insignificance of what the Economist had to say about them. The Centre for Idealism and the New Liberalism was founded in 2007 by James Connelly and Colin Tyler, to provide a much-needed global focal point for the burgeoning research into the philosophy and practice of British idealism and New Liberalism. It also sought to address a series of questions relating to the theoretical and practical commitments and influences of these movements, as well as to their contemporary relevance. Relationship between amplitude of ERN component and subjective or validated political orientation. The vertical co-ordinate corresponds to the ERN component amplitude.

The thesis argues that these liberals fail to displace the importance of autonomy in liberalism, and that they cannot help but appeal to precisely this principle in order to reach the conclusions they do. The thesis extends this argument to those pluralists, difference-theorists and advocates of a politics of ‘recognition’, who seek to replace liberalism with a new form of politics altogether. It shows that these doctrines presuppose the ability of each and every individual to reflect upon their ends and to justify them to within particular constraints in the same way as liberalism. It argues therefore, that these antiliberal theorists are required to encourage and defend the autonomy of each and every individual within the polity in much the same way as liberals. Finally, the thesis questions the significance of ‘culture’ to liberal political theory and to normative theorising more generally. Most specifically, it questions the link between cultural membership and personal autonomy made by liberals like Will Kymlicka and Joseph Raz.

In passage 5 Mill in effect allows that we may indeed think about understanding `harm’ in such a way as to make it include a great deal, the secondary or indirect effects on others of self-harm. If so, a lot of state and social interference will be justified. But he promises in 5 to clear things up `in the sequel’ — i.e. later in his essay. It had better not be, since it is fatally vague in its main term, harm. So too in talk of things from which other people need protection, evil, prejudicial effects, injury, damage, mischief, and the like. Consider the matter of an individual’s not making any effort to contribute anything to himself or to society, but, as his detractors say, living off society.

Mill entirely understates the need for consistency, the consistency that can only be provided by an explicit and summative principle and then elaboration of it that is both guided by it and gives further content to it. It is not only that judgements and activities, from some one point of view, say Mill’s, will sometimes be right and sometimes be wrong if there is no principle and if there is inconsistency in its place. So there is the fact that Mill’s essay leaves itself open to the six different interpretations at which we have glanced — if several are hopeless after a little reflection, what he actually says in his essay has allowed them all to come into existence. And there is the fact that the sixth and best interpretation is itself a congeries of stuff.

Relationship of amplitude of N2 NoGo component to self-reported and validated political orientation. Each participant in the experiment is represented by a single point, the horizontal position states subjectively perceived or validated orientation on a relative scale from full liberalism (−5) to pure conservatism (+5). The vertical co-ordinate corresponds to the N2 NoGo component amplitude. The black solid line represents a regression with confidence intervals of the estimate depicted by dotted (99.9%) and dashed (95%) curves.

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The left is concerned about the particular problems of the working class. It thinks the solution is to spread power around, and control it by rules. It thinks the solution is giving power to market actors, i.e. company directors. Here is one definition of Liberalism, based generally on an academic study of how the values of people in Britain vary. The study is by Heath, Jowell & Curtice, published in 1985 by Pergamon Press in How Britain Votes. In this way the Liberals evolved from a classical to a social Liberal party, seemingly well suited to the demands of the new century until the strains of the Great War blew it apart.

The single most important thing the liberal world did to prevail in the Cold War was to make our own societies prosperous, dynamic and attractive. We must try to do the same again, hold true to the cause of persuading others that liberal societies offer a better way to live, and, importantly, keep faith with those in unfree societies who share our values. But realistically we must also recognise that we are in for a long haul of competitive coexistence with authoritarian regimes. This, as well as the stark reality of the west’s declining relative power, suggests a sober realism about the extent to which liberal powers can or should aim to transform other societies.

At the very least, we need to devote more attention to understanding what really helps countries develop, and how we can contribute positively to the process. Any prosperous democracy that spends less than the UN-endorsed target of 0.7 per cent of GDP on development aid should be ashamed of itself (and Britain’s populist Conservative government should reverse its recent move to abandon it). China’s unprecedented Leninist-capitalist version of developmental authoritarianism is now a systemic rival to liberal democracy, just as fascist and communist regimes were for much of the 20th century. It offers developing societies in Asia, Africa and Latin America an alternative path to modernity.

What is meant here, when someone asserts a right of someone to something, is that they ought to have the thing — and that this judgement has the support of a moral principle or the like. This principle may be a known thing, despite not being written into or a reality in any society’s customary or established morality. Or it may be a principle without wider support but advocated with confidence by whoever is asserting the right of someone to something. Let us go back to Mill’s passages having to do with interests, rights and obligations — 10, 8, 9, and 13. It was remarked by me that what it is for someone to have an interest in or a right to something, and for somebody else to have a distinct and assignable obligation with respect to the thing, is for the first person to have a claim that has some kind of support. Two kinds of support were mentioned — the law of the land and customary or established morality in a society.