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Relative to the following excerpt from On Liberty by John S Mill, please confirm...

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disaza | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:31 PM via web

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Relative to the following excerpt from On Liberty by John S Mill, please confirm whether Mill is suggesting that on the one hand the government is too despotic and restrictive, but on the other hand its institutions are not restrictive enough to provide an efficient moral education:

It is only because the institutions of this country are a mass of inconsistencies, that things find admittance into our practice which belong to the system of despotic, or what is called paternal, government, while the general freedom of our institutions precludes the exercise of the amount of control necessary to render the restraint of any real efficacy as a moral education.

Please provide a translation of this passage into modern English.

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 17, 2013 at 6:19 AM (Answer #1)

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In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill went to great pains to ensure that people understand the difference between rights and obligations, purposeful harm, incidental consequences and the extension of one's own system of judgment such as it affects others. He is particularly outspoken on the duty to prevent harm to others.

Mill warns that people are drawn into a so-called "democracy" which, without regulation, actually aligns itself with those rulers who achieved their position through ascendancy or war and this "democracy" becomes nothing more than "the tyranny of the majority" (Ch I) from which people should actually be protected. 

The obvious contradiction contained within politics is what Mill attempts to qualify. In this particular passage  from Chapter V, Mill is concerned with the imposition of laws, some punitive, that  extend the power of government for their own purposes and not for the betterment of others. Some restrictions placed upon society are, he feels, contrary to a person's personal freedom of choice and do nothing more than cause them to be "treated as children or savages, and placed under an education of restraint."

The question of alcohol consumption and the right of the government to restrict trading hours and so on are the focus in establishing whether, in a "free country," any system of "paternal" government  has a place because it is nothing more than a "despotic" attempt to control rather than protect. It is the methods that are used to  " educate them for freedom and govern them as freemen," that causes the controversy and the resultant paradox.

Mill is claiming that the government's efforts are self-serving - which causes the inconsistencies - and the introduction of these practices limits the freedom of the masses but extends the freedom of the very institutions that may cause harm. This  precludes"the amount of control necessary"  in the protection of the individual, such as it becomes someone else's responsibility other than the individual himself. Any "moral education" is intended to instil boundaries on the individual such as to allow him to practise his own "restraint" allowing for his own "moral education" within acceptable guidelines.     

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