Tag Archives: individualism

COVID-19 and J S Mill’s “On Liberty”

At a time of unprecedented restrictions on the liberty of the individual (in the democracies), one can not, I think do better than to turn to J. S. Mill’s 1859 essay “On Liberty”:

“The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”
(See https://www.econlib.org/library/Mill/mlLbty.html).

It is, of course dangerous to attempt to precisely determine what a 19th-century theorist would think as regards the problems facing us in the 21st century. However, on the basis of “the harm principle” outlined above, I think that one can hazard an educated guess as to what Mill would have thought about the lockdown measures introduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mill would, I believe have accepted (albeit reluctantly) the necessity of some kind of social distancing measures on the grounds that an individual has no right to infect another person with a disease. I am, however not convinced that he would have advocated compulsory lockdown measures such as social distancing enforced by law. and, given his defense of individual liberty he would, in my view have rigorously opposed measures aimed at preventing members of different households from mixing indoors – for example the ban on couples who are not living together from becoming intimate due to concerns over the Corona virus.

Mill was a Liberal, but his views have influenced liberals (with a small l) in all the major UK political parties. It is my hope that liberals (of every party) will make their views heard so as to ensure that in the natural desire to combat Corona, the rights of individual human beings do not get forgotten.

Kevin

Liberty2

Liberty is the mind unconfined.
It is the right to decide
Whether to remain at home, alone,
Or go outside
To walk,
Or talk
With friends.

Liberty has no ends
(Other than it’s own).
It is the right to be left alone
(Providing one respects the liberty
Of others to live free
Under law,
Where the state’s claw
Remains sheathed,
Save in case of direst need).

Yet we
Know not
What
It is to be
Free,
Until we are not.

James Burke Predicts the World in 2030

Today’s World this Weekend, on BBC Radio 4, contains reflections by the science writer, James Burke, on the developments he believes will take place by 2030.

Amongst Burke’s predictions is that by 2030 humans will be able to live autonomously, in a location of their own choosing, people will be able to create anything using nanotechnology, we can “forget privacy”, and climate change will be solved by technological developments, for example the production of artificial meat negating the need to keep livestock.

I am no scientist (my degree being in history and politics), however Burke’s view that science will solve all problems strikes me as overly optimistic, and that’s putting it mildly!

Whilst I’m sure that some of the things predicted by Burke will come to pass – indeed some, such as the use of nanotech to solve health issues are already baring fruit – I’m sceptical of the timeframes postulated. Also his implied view that we don’t need to change our way of living to tackle climate change (as science will solve everything) is not one shared by most scientists and I, also am unconvinced by Burke here.

I am a believer in individual liberty and I’m extremely wary of governmental intervention in the lives of consenting adults. However individuals don’t exist in a vacuum. We owe duties to one another and our lives are enriched by friendships and other social interactions. Listening to Burke’s broadcast it is, to my mind to individualistic and lacking in an appreciation for the complex relationships, institutions etc which make it possible for individuals, families and communities to live the good life. His view does, I believe chime with libertarians (of left and right) rather than with the one-nation Conservatism which, broadly speaking shapes my outlook on life.

You can find Burke’s interview approximately 25 minutes into the podcast, which can be found here, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000cnbw.

Freedom

What is it to be free?

Freedom is walking barefoot as dawn lights up the sky, damp grass underfoot, wild birds flying unconstrained above.

Freedom is speaking without fear of consequences, no glancing with trepidation over one’s shoulder.

Freedom is letting go,, being who you want to be, not the personification of the desires of others.

Freedom is the passionate kiss, love unbound.

Freedom is life, the opposite of death.