promoting the unwanted, redheaded stepchild that is individual liberty

Posts Tagged ‘people vs. the individual’

John Stuart Mill and ‘social tyranny’

In Individual Sovereignty, liberty and rights on March 10, 2010 at 1:35 am

I haven’t studied John Stuart Mill since high school and vaguely recall something about utilitarianism. But the other day a friend of mine gave me a copy of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Now I’ve only delved into the first chapter so I’m not exactly well-versed on Mill’s philosophy.

However, I was introduced to his concept of “social tyranny.” Basically, social tyranny is the collective “voice” of the people drowning out that of the individual. It is majority rule or rule by the loudest.

Mill contends that social tyranny is more dangerous than government tyranny because “it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the souls itself.”

Social tyranny is the reason I fear socialism. It is the reason I fear conservatism. Both ideologies mean well. They see problems within a society and try to remedy them through the “collective voice of the people” otherwise known as government and law.

But too often, the good-intentioned ideologues forget about the individual. Too busy envisioning the society they consider fair and just, they lose sight of liberty and inherent rights. Such is the case with legislation that attempts to define marriage, affirmative action and drug laws.

Is there a balance to be reached between individual rights and the collective good? I’m not sure. Perhaps Mill will enlighten me.

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