What I want from John Stuart Mill is his insight about the relationship between freedom and development. The puritanical libertarian thinks that anyone who wants development (deep better-making) must presuppose freedom (contractual activity). But all around him there rages what he takes to be the contradiction between means and ends found in coercion and development.
Living, as we are, in the most coercive time of American history, instructed in schools where coercion is promoted in the history books, learning to live with non-contractual extraction from the fruit of our otherwise contractual relationships (taxation), living with the rampant insecurity of crime allowed by non-contractual security forces whose institutions equate more funding with higher numbers of arrests and not lower crime (do you note the incentive?), watching on nightly reports as those who take by force (politicians) design flowery or fiery speeches threatening to take from or to give to whomever they think will write their name again on a ballot–this time of subtle oppression–this is a time for those who want to remember what is true but never said, but what is presupposed in the saying or doing of anything–the mysteriousness of freedom. We will not get inside freedom–it would be like getting inside the god or the soul. With Kant we will not speak of the noumena. With Aquinas we will at best describe analogically (poetically). But we, in the church of good will, will strive freely to remember our freedom. It is ours whether we want it or not.
I don’t recommend John Stuart Mill more broadly. He is schizophrenic–at one point arguing for the most extensive freedoms of the individual and at another arguing that individuals can cause harm through inaction or that jury duty is a legitimate non-contractual coercively enforced task. But, no matter. What Mill understands about the human animal is what I am interested in. And, to my mind, he nails it.
Here is Mill from On Liberty:
“If it were felt that the free development of individuality is one of the leading essentials of well-being: that it is not only a coordinate element with all like what is designated by the terms civilization, instruction, education, culture, but is itself a necessary part and condition of all those things; there would be no danger that liberty should be undervalued, and the adjustment of the boundaries between it and social control would present no extraordinary difficulty. But the evil is, that individual spontaneity is hardly recognized by the common modes of thinking, as having any intrinsic worth, or deserving any regard on its own accord.
“He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself, employs all his faculties. He must use observation to see, reasoning and judgment to foresee activity to gather materials for decision, discrimination to decide, and when he has decided, firmness and self-control to hold to his deliberate decision. And these qualities he requires and exercises exactly in proportion as the part of his conduct which he determines according to his own judgment and feelings is a large one.”
Commentary is unnecessary. Mill was an eloquent and clear writer. If I may, I will simply reiterate, repeat, exposit:
What is critical for happiness (in its deepest sense) is the activation of human capacity. And this is only possible through free choice. Mill understands that the development of all that is best in the human begins with the free “yes” and “no”. The way the puritanical libertarian puts the point is to say that every man has inalienable property–material that he may put into production. It is all activated by choice. It is not activated by external but by internal control.
In the second paragraph Mill warns against the individual that “lets the world” choose for him. But what of a situation in which the coercive regime uses force and threats of aggression? Mill, living as he did in the zenith of the expansion of liberty the world had yet seen, could have hardly imagined the reconquering of the domain of free choice by the thuggish coercive regime. But here we are. If we trade “letting” for “choosing” and think of those who take themselves to have the right to coerce those otherwise engaged in contractual activity (government or thief of murderer or enslaver) then we have the following implication: government is actively engaged in reducing us to the apelike faculty of imitation. Think about it: when the thug says “jump or else” what do you do? If you can flee you flee. If you cannot, you choose between martyrdom or imitation. And so imitation is developed.
Right now given the current widespread construction of states around the world, the individual who wishes to engage in contractual activity must choose to live where the ruling central authority chooses to exercise expropriation and violence the least.
The warning of Mill, converted into a warning about the coercive power, is similar: what one can expect is a gradual infantilization of the population by a taking from the population the choice that would incentivize the development of human capacity that would lead to happiness. What is naturally good about infants is that their savagery is in inverse proportion to their strength. What is bad about the welfare state is that the savagery it creates (the undevelopment of he who has been denied choice) is matched by physical strength. A recipe for disaster.
The human animal is an animal. In that sense he is like the pig, the bear, the wolf, the rabbit. But the human in the human animal is something else entirely. The analogy can no longer be from what is below but from what is above. The human is a prime mover (poetry), a source of initiative and inhibition. It is the harnessing of the power of choice and self regulation that is most important for the human good. It CANNOT be developed through force or through choosing for him.
The first recommendation of the puritanical libertarian to himself is that he develop. This puts him in the best condition for production and trade, saving and investment, as well as for living under oppression and forced labor. First there is the development of moral capacity, the shaping of passion. Then there is the gathered experience of a calm soul that results in experience useful for reason and judgment to practice on.
He who wants development must engage freely. This is true for the self as much as for the daughter as much as for the member of the tribe. Any father worth his salt has learned to let go and let his daughter decide. Only then will the feedback loop between choice and consequence be established so that the daughter may herself develop. Only freely.
The objection: “But…but…what if people do really bad things. How will you stop them?!” Let us divide really bad doings into two categories: those done to others and those done to the self. The puritanical libertarian is all for aggression in the contact with aggression. Self-defense is to be honored. So we may let violence to others lie (unless we are thinking about the government with whom self-defense is deemed impermissible. Try defending yourself against the non-contractaul extraction of your contractual production and trade). Regarding self-violence there is the powerful but little used policy which is neither aggression nor nothing (but it is denied to the baker who wishes to not make cake for a particular customer): boycott or disassociation. The father may not use violence against the disobeying daughter. But he may abstain from support. He may withhold aid. Oh that the baker were permitted to withhold the cake from he whom the baker does not wish to bake for! He is permitted to withhold the cake from he who will not pay. But he is not permitted to withhold the cake from he who wants this rather than that inscribed on it. How oppressive is the society that thinks it can decide this for the baker. The baker is but an example. Examples could be multiplied.
In our society the power called government has accentuated the use of violence against the nonviolent AND denied the right of boycott and disassociation. It at one and the same time extracts violently and noncontractually from the productive and denies him the right to deny the unproductive his productivity. Just imagine a society that allowed one man and woman to make a child and forced another to care for the child. That is our society. It is the welfare state. Can we be surprised that it is coming apart? Can we be surprised at the confusion and trouble?
Our society, ignoring John Stuart Mill, has ignored the necessity of freedom for self-development and incentivized the ape-like (nonhuman) faculty of imitation. These are murky and muddy times. But, for he who wants, they can be times of development. Am I impatient? Am I easily angered? Am I fearful (this goes by the name of anxiety)? Am I insecure? Am I unhappy with this self I cannot get away from? Any and all of these are deserving of development. Now! Freedom. Choice.