Philosophy / Rousseau Versus Mill
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Autor: anton 12 September 2010
Words: 1824 | Pages: 8
The term "civil or social liberties" is one that garners a lot of attention and focus from both Rousseau and Mill, although they tackle the subject from slightly different angles. Rousseau believes that the fundamental problem facing people's capacity to leave the state of nature and enter a society in which their liberty is protected is the ability to "find a form of association that defends and protects the person and goods of each associate with all the common force, and by means of which each one, uniting with all, nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as free as before" (Rousseau 53). Man is forced to leave the state of nature because their resistance to the obstacles faced is beginning to fail (Rousseau 52). Mill does not delve as far back as Rousseau does and he begins his mission of finding a way to preserve people's liberty in an organized society by looking to order of the ancient societies of Greece, Rome and England (Mill 5). These societies "consisted of a governing One, or a governing tribe or caste, who derived their authority from inheritance or conquest" (Mill 5). This sort of rule was viewed as necessary by the citizens but was also regarded as very dangerous by Mill as the lives of citizen's were subject to the whims of the governing power who did not always have the best interests of everyone in mind. Mill proposes that the only time "power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others" (Mill 14) and this is one of the fundamental building blocks of Mill's conception of liberty. Rousseau, on the other hand, places more importance on the concept of a civic liberty and duty whose virtue comes from the conformity of the particular will with the general will.
"Man was/is born free, and everywhere he is chains" (46) is one of Rousseau's most famous quotes from his book. He is trying to state the fact that by entering into the restrictive early societies that emerged after the state of nature, man was being enslaved by authoritative rulers and even "one who believes himself to be the master of others is nonetheless a greater slave than they" (Rousseau 46). However, Rousseau is not advocating a return to the state of nature as he knows that would be next to impossible once man has been exposed to the corruption of society, but rather he is looking for a societal arrangement that would preserve man's liberty and even provide greater benefits than were found in Rousseau's idealistic vision of the state of nature. By joining civil society and becoming a part of the general will, man is enriching his actions with a morality and rationality that was previously lacking. As he states in Book I, Chapter VIII, "although in this state he deprives himself of several advantages given to him by nature, he gains such great onesÐ’â€¦that changed him from a stupid, limited animal into an intelligent being and a man" (Rousseau 56). What man posses in nature is an unlimited physical freedom to pursue everything that tempts him, although this is viewed by Rousseau as almost an enslavement towards one's own instincts. In a civil state man is benefited by "substituting justice for instinct in his behaviour and giving his actions the morality they previously lacked" (Rousseau 54). In acting in accordance with the general will man is granted the most important form of all freedoms, civil freedom.
Freedom of individuality is seen as the essential form of freedom according to Mill. The freedom of thought and speech, discussed in Chapter 2, do play a pivotal role in ensuring freedom, however, they are viewed more as a means to an end rather than being something that should be pursued for its own good. The freedom of individuality is essential for human progress and development and "it is only the cultivation of individuality which produces, or can produce, well-developed human beings" (Mill 70). It is this stressed importance on the importance of individuality that puts Mill at odds with Rousseau. Rousseau contends that surrendering to the general will be bring the greatest happiness and benefits for everyone as this is what is in everybody's greatest interest. Mill might be tempted to argue that there are aspects of the general will that citizens should be fearful of. One of the forces that Mill identifies as the most stifling towards liberty is the force of the popular opinion. Clearly, some sort of protection against tyranny of the magistrate is necessary but not enough as "there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices" (Mill 9). Mill is noticeably placing more emphasis on the individual aspects of freedom as opposed to Rousseau who is more in support of a freedom that only can only be attained through the forfeiting of some these individual liberties in order to become a part of the collective and achieve his version of civil freedom, the most important of all liberties. Diversity of opinions is a highly valued societal good for Mill and he believes this to be an important path to revealing the truths and securing liberty.
In ensuring people will enjoy the liberty they deserve, Mill leaves a lot more room for government intervention than Rousseau does in his version of the best society. This can be mainly attributed to the fact that Rousseau seems to have more faith in people and sees them as inherently good as their only source of evil was the corrupting forces of the early societies man entered into. Mill seemed to have a lot more difficulty in adhering to this idea of the inherent goodness of man. The fallibility of society is a very important component of Mill's argument for freedom of speech and opinion and from this fallibility stems the idea that the government is needed to step in to prevent people from freely following their self-interests which could be potentially harmful to others. Mill mistrusts unrestricted men and a general theme recurs throughout his work that if man if left to his own devices he will pursue his self-interests, even at the cost of harming others. This opens the door for governments to interfere in people's lives and actions in the case that they are causing harm to someone else. As he states in Chapter 1, "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" (Mill 14). If a person's actions negatively affect the interests of another member of society than the government will have authority over that conduct. This gives the state a lot of room to interpret and intervene and mediate exchanges between citizens however they see fit. Mill gives some examples of warranted intervention in Chapter 5 of On Liberty. For instance, Mill argues that parents should be forced to provide education for their children regardless of whether they want to as not providing it would be doing harm to the child and society as a whole. He also restricts marriages to only those that are capable of supporting a family. Man's actions must be governed by the state in some instances to secure others' liberty.
Rousseau holds the position that the general will should govern man and that this will will always be acting in the best interests of everyone involved. By everyone giving themselves to the state they are all forced to act in the best interests of society, not what is seen as personally beneficial for them. As Rousseau states in Book I Chapter vi, "since each one gives his entire self, the condition is equal for everyone, and since the condition is equal for everyone, no one has an interest in making it burdensome for the others" (Rousseau 53). It is this submission to the general will that will ensure that everyone is acting in the best interest of all concerned. Anything that is done to harm others would essentially be harming themselves as upon entering the social contract each member is now viewed "as an indivisible part of the whole" (Rousseau 53). Also, it is important for Rousseau that the sovereign only demand what is necessary from the individual and nothing more. Rousseau's statement that "the sovereign, for its part, cannot impose on the subjects any burden that is useless to the community" (Rousseau 62), serves as check on the sovereign's power and to protect the subjects from its arbitrary will. Rousseau's concepts coincide with Mill's in that the sovereign should only concern itself with those things that affect the collective as a whole and not interfere too much in people's private lives. Rousseau, much like Mill, stresses the importance of "making a clear distinction between the respective rights of the citizens and the sovereign" (Rousseau 62). However, it does not seem that causing harm to others is the only prerequisite needed to justify state interaction, as Mill suggests. For Rousseau an issue has to merely concern the collective in any way for the state to have jurisdiction over it. This may seem to imply that Rousseau is advocating for a greater involvement of the state in people's lives but since he believes that the sovereign and the people to be united as one, this intervention is really just the people acting in their own best interests.
Rousseau does leave one subject that he finds it totally acceptable and necessary for the state to act against one's interests. This is the case of dissenters against the state and the general will. Rousseau contends that, "every offender who attacks the social right becomes through his crimes a rebel and traitor to his homeland" (Rousseau 65). Once this offense has been undertaken, the criminal is longer a member of society and is now viewed as an enemy. The state's preservation is at odds with the preservation of the offender and therefore the offender must be put to death. Also, Rousseau feels that the danger of members trying to enjoy the benefits of civil society without performing their required duties is a serious threat to civil society. Such actions must be constrained by all other citizens and offenders to this agreement must be "forced to be free" (Rousseau 55). This is a rather paradoxical argument as the idea of forcing someone to be free hardly works in most people's definition of freedom. What is essential to remember here is that Rousseau believes that the true form of freedom can only come about once an individual enters civil society and accept the terms of the social contract. Therefore by forcing someone to adhere to society's order, you are really granting them with civil freedom, the most important freedom of all.
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