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How do we secure our liberty?

John Stuart Mill [masked]), was not only an influential philosopher in the British empiricist tradition but also one of the great nineteenth century public intellectuals. He developed a philosophy which took an optimistic view of human potential, emphasising the importance of individual freedom. His work has a depth and groundedness which makes it engaging to read 130 years after his death.

On Liberty is probably the most widely read liberal theoretical text in the English-speaking world. Mill begins by delineating old and new threats to liberty. The old threat comes from societies with monarchs and aristocracies. Those in power in these traditional societies might claim to rule for everyone’s benefit but there is the recurrent danger and reality of their pursuing their own interests rather than those of the whole populace. Some might think that democracy would defeat this sort of threat. However Mill sees that democracies contain their own threats to liberty. Monarchies and their ilk risk the tyranny of the few; democracies risk the tyranny of the majority.

Mill sets out principles for the organisation of society in order to counter both old and new threats to liberty. His approach relies on applying utilitarian principles to the problem of the limits of authority - he sees the prevention of harm to others as the only justification for society's intervention in the affairs of an individual. He not only establishes this theoretically but also applies it practically.


Mill, JS, On Liberty



As ever, you're strongly encouraged to read the text in advance so that you can make a full contribution to the discussion.

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  • Ralph M.

    Excellent as ever, especially as most people had read some of the text and hence the conversation kept its focus. Thanks to Nathan for posting the upcoming list, no more lazy nights slouched in front of the tv for me!

    September 13, 2013

  • Michael O' C.

    Open and insightful

    September 12, 2013

  • Rupesh V.

    Dear all, in our discussion I mentioned a recent article by John Kay in the ft. It's titled Sometimes the best that a company can hope for is death and I hope this link works
    See you next time.

    September 12, 2013

  • Clara D.

    Hello, just found this page and looks rather interesting. Looking forward to meeting you all.

    September 9, 2013

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