Finished On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. Classic short work of political philosophy establishing the basics of liberalism.
Very lucidly written, and full of quotable passages. Very convincing as far at it goes.The basic thesis is that
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 civilised 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[Pg 18] 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.Most people these days I think would subscribe to the basic principle. In particular the arguments for freedom of religion seem a bit unnecessary in the Western world today.
The weakness seems to be the question of where you draw the line about what harms others. Mill is no libertarian: he clearly explains that you can harm your neighbour by inaction as well as action:
There are also many positive acts for the benefit of others, which he may rightfully be compelled to perform; such as, to give evidence in a court of justice; to bear his fair share in the common defence, or in any other joint work necessary to the interest of the society of which he enjoys the protection; and to perform certain acts of individual beneficence, such as saving a fellow-creature's life, or interposing to protect the defenceless against ill-usage, things which whenever it is obviously a man's duty to do, he may rightfully be made responsible to society for not doing. A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.Mill himself draws a fairly limited set of state powers. He thinks things moral harm, the corrupting of others by your own bad character, your own heavy drinking do not justify state or social intervention. However he does think that taxes on alcohol are justified: since some revenue has to be raised, it might as well be on something immoral or harmful.
However, by drawing the harm-by-inaction line a bit wider, the same philosophy could be used to justify a highly intrusive and controlling state, though one allowing a minimal level of liberty.
Mill is also a bit selective on who liberal government applies to:
Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion.Overall though, an interesting book, worth reading. Some extracts:
Wherever there is an ascendant class, a large portion of the morality of the country emanates from its class interests, and its feelings of class superiorityWhat I'm Watching
while every one well knows himself to be fallible, few think it necessary to take any precautions against their own fallibility
Another grand determining principle of the rules of conduct, both in act and forbearance, which have been enforced by law or opinion, has been the servility of mankind towards the supposed preferences or aversions of their temporal masters, or of their gods. This servility, though essentially selfish, is not hypocrisy; it gives rise to perfectly genuine sentiments of abhorrence; it made men burn magicians and heretics.
Some, whenever they see any good to be done, or evil to be remedied, would willingly instigate the government to undertake the business; while others prefer to bear almost any amount of social evil, rather than add one to the departments of human interests amenable to governmental control. And men range themselves on one or the other side in any particular case, according to this general direction of their sentiments; or according to the degree of interest which they feel in the particular thing which it is proposed that the government should do, or according to the belief they entertain that the government would, or would not, do it in the manner they prefer; but very rarely on account of any opinion to which they consistently adhere, as to what things are fit to be done by a government. And it seems to me that in consequence of this absence of rule or principle, one side is at present as often wrong as the other; the interference of government is, with about equal frequency, improperly invoked and improperly condemned.
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.
But, indeed, the dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution, is one of those pleasant[Pg 52] falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplaces, but which all experience refutes. History teems with instances of truth put down by persecution. If not suppressed for ever, it may be thrown back for centuries. To speak only of religious opinions: the Reformation broke out at least twenty times before Luther, and was put down. Arnold of Brescia was put down. Fra Dolcino was put down. Savonarola was put down. The Albigeois were put down. The Vaudois were put down. The Lollards were put down. The Hussites were put down. Even after the era of Luther, wherever persecution was persisted in, it was successful. In Spain, Italy, Flanders, the Austrian empire, Protestantism was rooted out; and, most likely, would have been so in England, had Queen Mary lived, or Queen Elizabeth died. Persecution has always succeeded, save where the heretics were too strong a party to be effectually persecuted. No reasonable person can doubt that Christianity might have been extirpated in the Roman Empire. It spread, and became predominant, because the persecutions were only occasional, lasting but a short time, and separated by long intervals of almost undisturbed propagandism. It is a piece of idle sentimentality that truth, merely as truth,[Pg 53] has any inherent power denied to error, of prevailing against the dungeon and the stake. Men are not more zealous for truth than they often are for error, and a sufficient application of legal or even of social penalties will generally succeed in stopping the propagation of either. The real advantage which truth has, consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favourable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it.
He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion
In politics, again, it is almost a commonplace,[Pg 88] that a party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life; until the one or the other shall have so enlarged its mental grasp as to be a party equally of order and of progress, knowing and distinguishing what is fit to be preserved from what ought to be swept away. Each of these modes of thinking derives its utility from the deficiencies of the other; but it is in a great measure the opposition of the other that keeps each within the limits of reason and sanity.
It is not because men's desires are strong that they act ill; it is because their consciences are weak.
No person is an entirely isolated being; it is impossible for a person to do anything seriously or permanently hurtful to himself, without mischief reaching at least to his near connections, and often far beyond them. If he injures his property, he does harm to those who directly or indirectly derived support from it, and usually diminishes, by a greater or less amount, the general resources of the community. If he deteriorates his bodily or mental faculties, he not only brings evil upon all who depended on him for any portion of their happiness, but disqualifies himself for rendering[Pg 151] the services which he owes to his fellow-creatures generally; perhaps becomes a burthen on their affection or benevolence; and if such conduct were very frequent, hardly any offence that is committed would detract more from the general sum of good. Finally, if by his vices or follies a person does no direct harm to others, he is nevertheless (it may be said) injurious by his example; and ought to be compelled to control himself, for the sake of those whom the sight or knowledge of his conduct might corrupt or mislead.
As soon as any part of a person's conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion.
Chico and Rita is an animated musical about the tempestuous relationship between a pianist and a singer in Cuba in the forties, following them to America as well.
Good Cuban/jazz music. Decent storyline, though it gets a bit sentimental at times, doesn't make the characters too perfect.
Animation style is interesting. It's sort-of rotoscoped, with live actors traced at two frames per second, but a very traditional-looking drawing style and interstitial animation. The backgrounds are lavishly 3D modelled in the same style: feels strangely disconcerting to see them moving in perfect continuous perspective instead of in Disney-style layers.
Basically a lovely film to watch though. Worth a look if you can tolerate a bit of romance and a bit of jazz. Review.
Saw the new Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern. Liked it a lot: he did a lot of semi-abstracts that are based to varying degrees on real scenes, some just colours and shapes, some cartoonish exaggerations of reality. Some really beautiful work there: I really liked the fish paintings of stylized aquariums. Definitely worth seeing. A bit crowded, though it was the opening weekend.
Socioeconomics. Not much has changed between Madonna and Miley Cyrus. Crap article but this was interesting:
The US unemployment rate – those actively seeking a job – is 7.3 per cent, whereas in Europe it is 12 per cent.I think it's another strike against the idea that welfare states discourage working.
However, the participation rate – that is the percentage of those of working age in some form of employment over the preceding year – is just 63.2 per cent in the US for those aged 16 and over, and 68.5 in Europe, for those aged 20 to 64.
Politics. "The crisis in American politics won’t end until the larger crisis in American life finds some resolution". We need to raise the bar on being an ally. The Convenient Fiscal Restraint of Conservatism. The sound of terror: experience of a drone strike. UK: Libel tourism is at an end, say lawywers.
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