Sunday, July 03, 2011

Fourth thought

"Let us suppose, therefore, that the government is entirely at one with the people, and never thinks of exerting any power of coercion unless in agreement with what it conceives to be their voice. But I deny the right of the people to exercise such coercion, either by themselves or by their government. The power itself is illegitimate. The best government has no more title to it than the worst. It is as noxious, or more noxious, when exerted in accordance with public opinion, than when in opposition to it. If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

-- John Stuart Mill, from On Liberty


  1. From one of my favourite books.

  2. Mill is, as ever, a voice of reason and inspiration.

    But most Americans aren't interested in liberty. They like saying they are, they like pretending they are, but in fact they don't want to deal with the messiness and unruliness that it represents.

    They want to be told what to do, when to do it, where to do it, and how to do it. That way, they're saved from the vexing problem of thinking.

  3. Oh Lisa, so true. Too many people want freedom from, you know? Freedom from thinking, freedom from responsibility, freedom from ever having to come up with something original.

    We're a nation of political and philosophical plagiarists: unable, unwilling or afraid to carve our own truths, we'll happily trudge along the already-flattened turf behind the throngs, not especially worried where they're headed, just content to be less bothered.