David R. Henderson  

Free the Jesuit Slaves!

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Much of the confusion prevailing in the historical study of liberalism can be traced to John Stuart Mill, who occupies a vastly inflated position in the conception of liberalism entertained by English-speaking peoples.1 This "saint of rationalism" is responsible for key distortions in the liberal doctrine on a number of fronts.2 In economics, Mill's opinion that "the principle of individual liberty is not involved in the doctrine of free trade," provided ammunition for the protectionist arsenal, and accepted and even elaborated socialist arguments (Mill 1977: p. 293; Mises 1978a: p. 195; Raeder 2002: p. 357 n. 76 and p. 374 n. 23; and especially Rothbard 1995 2: pp. 277-85).3
This is the opening paragraph of Ralph Raico, "John Stuart Mill and the New Liberalism," Mises.org, January 29, 2018.

The article is excellent.

Here's the excerpt that caused me to use the title I did:

Worst of all was Mill's deformation of the concept of liberty itself. Liberty, it seems, is a condition that is threatened not only by physical aggression on the part of the state or other institutions or individuals. Rather, "society" often poses even graver dangers to individual freedom. This it achieves through "the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling," the tendency "to impose, by other ways than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them," to "compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own" (1977: p. 220). True liberty requires "autonomy," for adopting "the traditions or customs of other people" is simply to engage in "ape-like" imitation.6

Where others see men and women choosing goals laid out for them by institutions whose authority over them they freely accept, Mill perceives the extinction of freedom. In a striking and utterly preposterous illustration, the saint of rationalism writes, "An individual Jesuit is to the utmost degree of abasement a slave of his order" (1977: p. 308). One wonders what is supposed to follow from this. Must we form abolitionist associations to emancipate the willing "slaves" of the Society of Jesus? How should we go about selecting our John Brown to lead the storming of the slave-pits of Fordham and Georgetown Universities? One wonders by what right Mill and his alter ego Harriet Taylor could ever have imagined themselves entitled to legislate on the status of members of Catholic or Orthodox orders, of Orthodox Jews and devout Muslims, or of any other believers.7


Liberty Fund has 3 of Mill's books on line:
1. Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy
2. Principles of Political Economy
3. On Liberty.

Aside: Here's my obit of Ralph.


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CATEGORIES: Liberty




COMMENTS (2 to date)
Weir writes:

The tyranny of social pressure, orthodox opinion, and conventions, as oppressive as all that is, isn't the end of it. Mill went further than that.

After the tyranny of society there's the tyranny of nature too. Mill's like Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen: "Nature, Mr Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above."

This is Mill: "There is hardly a bad action ever perpetuated which is not perfectly natural, and the motives to which are not perfectly natural feelings. In the eye of reason, therefore, this is no excuse, but, it is quite 'natural' that it should be so in the eyes of the multitude; because the meaning of the expression is, that they have a fellow feeling with the offender. When they say that something which they cannot help admitting to be blamable, is nevertheless natural, they mean that they can imagine the possibility of their being themselves tempted to commit it."

So Mill makes an enemy of nature too, along with tradition and religion and custom and society. Autonomy, it turns out, is a superhuman quest.

Hazel Meade writes:

All social norms represent a tyranny of society upon it's members. There is no escape from it. An absence of rules of conduct for some often implies the tyranny of those people over still others. The task is to establish a set of norms which maximize the liberty of as many individuals within society as possible.

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