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John Stuart Mill’s Essay "On Liberty" — It's 150th Birthday

October 30, 2009

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of John Stuart Mill’s famous essay “On Liberty.”

With the growth of Big Government over even more of our life, it is useful to remember and reflect on Mill’s warnings of the various types of tyranny that can threaten our freedom, and to emphasize more than Mill did the importance of the recognition and protection of private property rights if liberty is to be preserved.

Mill made an eloquent defense of freedom of thought and personal freedom. And he warned that the individual’s liberty can be threatened by the tyranny of the minority, the tyranny of the majority, and the tyranny of rigid custom and tradition that can stifle a person’s self-expression and unique individuality.

Alas, he failed to see that individual freedom is indefensible in the long run without a clear recognition and protection for private property rights. Unfortunately, Mill had come under the influence of too many socialist ideas by 1859, when he published his essay, to see the inseparability of freedom from property.

But, nonetheless, his essay remains a classic statement of the defense of the individual and his freedom of thought and action.

I explain Mill’s argument and the weakness of his case for freedom due to his failure to see this link between liberty and property in my article, “John Stuart Mill and the Dangers to Liberty.”

Richard Ebeling

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